This year’s most innovative transportation companies continue to push back on the carbon-heavy transportation industry with electric alternatives—for driving, biking, freight hauling, and even flying. Also losing traction: Human operators, with advances in cars, taxis, trailers, and planes that pilot themselves.
For powering a global movement toward electric vehicles
Last March, the leader in high-performance electric vehicles, Tesla, made its 1 millionth car. The January prior, it became the most valuable American automaker of all time, and by July the most valuable in the world. After reaching profitability for the first time in 2019, Tesla remained profitable in 2020, rolled out the Model Y SUV, announced a new factory in Texas, and became a major player in the Chinese electric car market.
2. Rad Power Bikes
For electrifying the pandemic biking experience
This was the year that Americans finally, really embraced e-bikes. The successful launch of new budgeted-minded e-bikes and surging sales of its $1,500 RadRover electric fat tire bikes helped Seattle-based Rad Power Bikes—which sells directly to consumers through its website—grab the lion’s share of the market, and roughly tripling its 2019 sales.
For calling the mechanic to your driveway
On-demand mechanic RepairSmith launched in August 2019. The Daimler AG–backed service deploys a fleet of specially equipped Mercedes Sprinter vans to make house calls in metropolitan areas of California, Nevada, Arizona, and more, and uses data-driven logistics to ensure that most customers can get repairs within two to three days of booking. Offering no-contact repairs throughout the pandemic, RepairSmith expanded service from two to 325-plus locations in 2020.
For delivering the goods, with no driver
Under parent company Alphabet, Waymo opened a new urban-driving testing site in Ohio, announced a pilot with UPS to test self-driving delivery vans in the Phoenix area, and began open-road tests of its class-8 tractor-trailers in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
For guiding self-driving cars on the road
In May, Volvo announced it will begin using Luminar‘s sensor technology in autonomous driving systems in its 2022 cars. In November, the Orlando-based company announced a partnership with Intel’s Mobileye autonomous driving unit to provide lidar for self-driving taxis. The company also IPO’d through a SPAC merger in December.
6. Joby Aviation
For achieving electric vertical liftoff—and an Air Force stamp of approval
In the competitive world of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) startups, Joby Aviation gained altitude in 2020. After raising $590 million from Toyota and Uber to launch an electric air taxi service, the Santa Cruz company acquired Uber’s aerial ride-hailing division, Elevate, in a deal that allows them to use Uber’s app to offer rides when its service launches. Uber has also agreed to invest another $75 million in the company. In December Joby’s four-passenger prototype became the first eVTOL aircraft to get airworthiness approval from the U.S. Air Force.
For garnering 5-star robo-driver ratings
Running the world’s most-established robotaxi fleet with Lyft in Las Vegas, Hyundai-backed autonomous carmaker Motional completed its 100,000th paid ride, earning a 98% 5-star rating since the launch of the taxis in 2018. It’s now been greenlit to test fully driverless cars (with no safety driver) in Nevada.
For equipping planes to fly themselves
Rather than build its autonomous aircraft from scratch, Xwing makes a software “stack” that enables existing small passenger and cargo planes to fly autonomously. The San Francisco-based startup raised $10 million in May, following successful test flights in a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan. Xwing aims to operate commercial cargo service by 2022, and is also working with Bell on a NASA initiative to develop technologies that integrate unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace.
For hauling the oat milk and groceries, with no fumes
In 2020, Swedish electric vehicle maker Einride unveiled a new iteration of its autonomous freight-hauling “pods.” It also announced partnerships with the grocery chain Lidl Sweden and oat-milk maker Oatly to replace their diesel tractor-trailer rigs with electric ones. Oatly will be the first company in the world to electrify its heavy truck fleet, cutting emissions by 107.5 tons of CO2 per truck per year.
For encouraging bikers to binge
Netherlands-based Swapfiets‘ “Netflix of Bikes” offers monthly subscriptions for access to rugged transport bikes, with on-demand repairs or replacement. The service has expanded from just single-speed “Dutch bikes” to include geared and electric bicycles, and in response to pandemic-driven demand, expanded into London, Paris, and Milan.