When discussing future cars, Benedict Evans likes to quote Carl Sagan, who said:
»It was easy to predict mass car-ownership but hard to predict Wal-Mart.«
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And it was hard to predict – but when it came about, it showed how much of a driver of change cars and their usage really were.
Cars and mobility go hand in hand with urbanization and societal change. During and after WW2, the US and later France, Germany and Japan shaped the auto business as we know it today. Economic upswings helped create a strong middleclass, who could afford cars and would not fear a loan. Cities grew, and so did the suburbs.
Walmart and other supermarket chains arose. Their promise:
Shop anything from around the world at one place, and bring it home.
(It helped that the oil industry not only supplied gas, but also plastic to ship anything)
The concept held over 50 years. But then came the internet and the smartphone.
The promise changed to Shop anything from around the world wherever you are at the moment, and we ship it home.
Still though, and especially in rural and suburb areas, people shop in supermarkets with their cars.
The Atlantic ran a great piece on the changing retail landscape:
One of the mistakes people make when thinking about the future is to think that they are watching the final act of the play.
Mobile shopping might be the most transformative force in retail – today.
Self-driving cars could change retail as much as smartphones.
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Once autonomous vehicles are cheap, safe, and plentiful, retail and logistics companies could buy up millions, seeing that cars can be stores and streets are the ultimate real estate.
In fact, self-driving cars could make shopping space nearly obsolete in some areas.
Shopping obsolete? Not quite.
What will happen, someday, is that you won’t shop yourself, nor pick up stuff, nor take it home yourself.
A car will do the job:
CVS could have hundreds of self-driving minivans stocked with merchandise roving the suburbs all day and night, ready to be summoned to somebody’s home by smartphone.
A new luxury-watch brand in 2025 might not spring for an Upper East Side storefront, but maybe its autonomous showroom vehicle could circle the neighborhood, waiting to be summoned to the doorstep of a tony apartment building.
Autonomous retail will create new conveniences and traffic headaches, require new regulations, and inspire new business strategies that could take even more businesses out of commercial real estate.
And it will need to have interfaces between the car and all kinds of service companies:
- Via which interface will the car pick up laundry?
- Via which interface will it deliver groceries?
- Via which interface will the car collect all kinds of shipping?
Shop anything from around the world and make your car bring it to you.
I’d like that.