They Don’t Make ‘Cars’ Anymore, They Enable ‘Mobility’

Originally posted from LinkedIn: “They Don’t Make ‘Cars’ Anymore, They Enable ‘Mobility,’” by @ajlfx on @LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/dont-make-cars-anymore-enable-mobility-alejandro-franceschi

For all the talk lately about autonomous vehicles (AV), how they might look, which ones are available now, how much they’ll cost, are they fully electric, etc., I haven’t seen as much discussion about how they will affect society & the economy.

Maybe the biggest paradigm shift is in the marketing and sales of cars themselves, as vehicle manufacturers change to become mobility companies.

I don’t think how disruptive this will be over the next decade can be overstated. While I cannot cover all the angles, here are some points to consider, and I look forward to your comments:

Car manufacturers have had the cold shower, and they have realized that they will no longer be able to sell cars the way they once did. For starters, looking at the success of companies such as ZipCar, GetAround, etc., it’s obvious that actually owning a car, paying for insurance, and in some cases, monthly parking, is not something that appeals to the latest generation, who are mostly migrating to urban areas. They would rather rent a car only for when they need to run errands, take a weekend out of the city, etc., and save the money they would otherwise spend on a vehicle that is not in use most of the time, for more pressing matters (crushing student loans come to mind, for one).

Car manufacturers realize that the now mostly larger ratio of retiring baby boomers, still want to move about independently. The problem is, there will be far more individuals who will want/need to get around than people who can drive them. Retirees won’t always be able to drive of their own accord, and besides the personal desire to ‘get out of the house,’ there is also the real necessity of remaining active, along with getting to medical appointments, helping friends, etc. Car manufacturers realize they are now a service. What this boils down to, is that car manufacturers will now become a service, not a commodity. Most people, in 10–20 years, more or less, won’t own a car. They’ll likely have a subscription to an autonomous vehicle service. If you think that’s crazy, know that Uber has 50 scientists working on developing their own autonomous vehicle service. Or, perhaps if you take a Google Car (a Goober? Sorry, I couldn’t resist…), you’ll watch a few ads on the way to your destination, perhaps check your mail, and buy some Rx you need after that Dr.’s visit — all while remaining in the AV. The manufacturers will either supply vehicles to companies such as these, if they don’t develop models and services for themselves. Perhaps they will do both? It remains a bit fuzzy at present to see how this model works out, but in the end, society will push for these cars, after the early adoption fear and phasing is done.

Why? I can imagine a few scenarios that will play out as to why adoption of autonomous vehicles might likely prove to be very swift:

No more fatalities from incapacitated drivers. Nearly 1.3 million people die every year in car accidents and an additional 20–50 million are injured or disabled as a result. Imagine the socio-economic impacts of a society where this number drops to zero, or less than 1%, if we include occasional human error. Wouldn’t you want, if not for yourself, your family, friends, significant others, to have a nearly perfect likelihood of never dying, being injured, nor disabled, as the result of a car accident? What happens to society when 1.3 million people, every year, continue to live and lead productive lives?

Traffic will move faster. Most car lanes are 1.5 times wider than they need to be due to human error and inability to drive perfectly centered at all times. We could move much more traffic, if that extra lane space were condensed for AVs, without having to expand more difficult areas for now. Additionally, if you’ve ever fought to ‘get ahead’ or not get ‘cut off’ as lanes merged to get on/off a freeway exit, then you can also imagine fewer accidents, rubber-necking, and less road-rage, resulting from humans and their irrational emotional responses getting in the way of driving safely. As a result, traffic will cleanly ‘zipper’ together or apart, resulting in continuously smooth, and free-flowing traffic. Should the unexpected occur, cars can be automatically re-routed, and since municipal and vehicle services should be in continuous contact, everyone should be able to reach their destination, with the least amount of disruption and delay.

The cost of using a vehicle drops to the cost of municipal transportation, and/or is subsidized by advertising, making it affordable for everyone or free. Imagine a labor and student force, unrestricted in its ability to move, day or night, despite most weather conditions, on time more often. A lot of people who have the will, but are restricted by means, to get to that better job, or to get to their education institution, are now empowered by mobility. Consequently, physical mobility will be tied and lead to, greater socio-economic mobility.

What happens to an economy where more people are able to climb out of poverty? What happens to an economy with a more diversified, intellectually skilled workforce? What happens to an economy and society where more income is available to spend on goods, that previously may have been spent on a car, educating against buzzed driving, or on the care of the incapacitated resulting from car accidents (temporary or life-long)?

Jobs, Jobs, and more Jobs… Yes, really, for example, the automation of the automobile industry displaced many traditional laborers, but many, thanks to unions, were re-trained, and re-entered the workforce in other capacities. History will repeat itself. Since people will want to do something in the car, AVs will be outfitted with high-speed WiFi. If paying for a service, you’re paying for a company that creates, houses, maintains, operates these vehicles, their code, their connection, their security, their display content, etc. That’s a lot of different industries working together, and that’s a lot of untapped market potential, especially for those willing to listen/watch ads in exchange for a free car service, or wanting to play video games, watch a show/movie, etc. Most AVs are bound to be electric. There will be a huge boom for renewable energy, especially solar. Don’t be surprised if companies like Apple, which is building a near $1 billion energy farm in Tucson, also become not just a provider of AVs, but also the energy required to power them. Yes, Apple might very well become a utility provider itself. Solar panels, solar paint, solar tarmac technologies, anything that can convert the sun to energy will experience a boom. This will also decrease pollution in congested cities. For areas where this is a considerable problem, like New York, Shanghai, etc., don’t be surprised if AVs become a mandate to be able to reach them with a car.

Greater productivity: for those who cannot always telecommute, getting to the office, getting back home, can remain a fully productive experience, permitting for longer personal/family time and greater flex scheduling, while maximizing profits. If this is the case, don’t be surprised if some companies subsidize AVs for their employees, not unlike Google or Facebook providing shuttles from San Francisco to areas around the peninsula.

Privacy?

Perhaps the least discussed issue is the question of privacy. Since AVs will be connected to a network, and people will likely be ‘always on’ to some kind of service via their smartphone, wearable, or other IoT device, the system will always know where you are. This poses some interesting questions for society too:

Will users be able to mask their commutes? It’s safe to assume that, in a future where most cars are connected, those that are not, will be tagged in some way. The system will require a way to keep track of them in the same way it does AVs, if they are to drive on the same roadways simultaneously. In a world of perfect AV driving, human error will become frowned upon, ramping up adoption, and human drivers will, for the most part, be negatively connoted as the ones responsible for accidents. Since the system will know where it dropped one off, and where it picked one up, it’s not going to be difficult to extrapolate where one was and what one was doing. In a world of hyper-surveillance with these AVs, cameras everywhere (not just in merchant stores, but public spaces, user devices), etc., it’s inevitable that crime falls. Not everyone is going to be doing something illegal, but perhaps personal and professional issues, as varied as infidelity and corporate espionage, are going to become problems that garner demands from the public that there be some way to remain anonymous, when desired, when requesting such a service. No doubt other industries will spring up to address these very issues of privacy when in AVs. Who would want their conversations recorded, video-recorded, or to have what they were viewing/accessing en-route, be freely available, or too easily hacked? A new industry of, dare I call it, ‘dark drivers,’ will rise. These cars will not be tagged in any system, and it’s likely that only criminals, politicians, and the incredibly wealthy will have access to such vehicles. Or, perhaps the casual user can as well, but for a price.

As one can well imagine, the socio-economic shifts are going to be enormous, and to some extents, painful. Hopefully, on the other side, before too long, it will result in a more vibrant economy, full of greater possibility for more people, increased independence, new industry verticals, longer/healthier/happier lives, more breathable cities, and booms in construction, manufacturing, and tech.

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