UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020
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Q: The car industry has experienced a lot of changes in the last decade. Between ride-sharing apps like Uber and the rise of semi-autonomous vehicles, the world of cars is changing. Write an essay about the future of the auto industry. How will the way we drive cars change in the next 10-20 years?
From Flying to Self-Driving: The Autonomous Future of Auto
In movies set in the future, characters traveled by jetpacks, tubes which sucked up and spout out people, and of course, flying cars. But the future of the auto industry does not necessarily feature any of these quintessentially futuristic modes of transportation. Rather, apps like Uber and Lyft as well as self-driving cars are becoming dominant features of a rapidly changing enterprise. The future of the automotive industry is impacted directly by these new developments, and in the next 10-20 years, we really won’t be driving at all. Car companies will continue to create more gas efficient cars and self-driving or self-parking vehicles. Either our cars will drive us or someone else will. In other words, the future will more closely resemble the monorail at Disneyland, rather than the self-driven flying cars of the Jetsons.
In densely populated cities, fewer people drive, but the people who do drive — usually for Lyft or Uber — drive a lot. The results of this can be explained by the Pareto principle, in which 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of the causes. For example, Lyft and Uber have incentivized drivers to lease or rent cars because the apps assist drivers. Instead of spending a fortune on a car that will sustain significant wear and tear from frequent use, frequent drivers can inexpensively lease a car through their employer. So short term leasing will become more common, and this large effect only comes from a small amount of drivers.
Secondly, if ride sharing app workers are the primary customers of the auto industry, then cars will likely become more and more fuel efficient. Uber drivers do not want a large, clunky car that guzzles gasoline as well as their earnings. More cars will be lighter, and likely electric. With the supply and steady demand of one product, comes the equally forceful demand of its accessories. If electric vehicles take over the market, then car companies will start selling charging outlets for installation outside of homes or garages.
This backwards integration will likely make charging outlet companies team up with grocery chains and other companies to install outlets in parking lots — as is already happening in most Whole Foods locations. Governments will also help facilitate the purchase of electric vehicles by funding chargers around cities and counties, since electric vehicles cuts down on a city’s greenhouse gas emissions. In Santa Monica, the city council has been discussing plans to install chargers at various points around the city.
The fabled flying car has been replaced by the more practical self-driving car. Though the average driver today does not interact much with this emerging product, every major auto company is currently in a race to create “the car of the future” as Levi Tillemann puts it. He also 2 points out in his thesis “The Great Race: The Global Quest for the Car of the Future” that the average American spends 300 hours every year behind the wheel — that’s almost two weeks just sitting in traffic! The Wall Street Journal reported that street congestion is getting worse in cities, and RethinkX, a Bay Area think tank, reported that self-driving electric vehicles will account for most road transportation by 2030. Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet 4 Inc., has already created a working self-driving vehicle.
Even if cars do not drive themselves, some are programmed to park themselves. In crowded places like Los Angeles where cars are more common than public transportation, curb space is a precious commodity. People often circle blocks and boulevards looking for parking, which clogs roads. Self-parking cars would significantly cut down on needless traffic and save people time. The car would release passengers at their desired location, and then drive itself to the nearest parking spot. If a company were to create such a car, it would likely enter the market before self-driving vehicles because self-parking ones would not be carrying human cargo. They could still cause accidents, but they would be less likely to than self-driving cars because self-parking cars would be driving less, both in terms of time and distance.
To people who have spent those 300 or more hours every year in traffic, this future sounds fantastic. And it is — drunk driving or texting and driving will become obsolete, people will have more time to relax or complete tasks in the car, and electric vehicles will be better for the environment. However, the hazards of drunk driving could give way to the danger of being hit by an autonomous car. In some of the early trial runs of self-driving cars, for example, a woman was hit and killed in Arizona . One can hope that with more research and development, 5 this risk will be minimized. Or maybe pedestrians will just become more cautious of these autonomous vehicles.
However, the efficiency of the future of driving has some drawbacks. If computer code allows people to program their cars to drive to the market or their home, then hackers pose a cyber security risk. Instead of the occasional collision because of a bad left turn or texting driver, passengers might experience a breach of security a few times in their lifetime. For example, one’s car might stop and they will receive a text asking for money in order to let the car move again. The University of Michigan published a report which states that the “vulnerabilities that come along with advanced mobility are both unprecedented and under-studied.” Important corporate officers and government officials will probably still be driven by people for those reasons.
However, cyber security risks might be worth it to avoid lethal car accidents or the wasted hours behind the wheel every week. It’s similar to dot-com startups which did not foresee viruses or hackers, and now spend money on security. Web accounts and websites are still hacked every week, but many see this as a small price to pay for the convenience and connection of the world wide web. For employees of the auto industry, the risk posed by computer programming in self-driving cars means a greater emphasis on automotive software than machinery. People are prioritizing cost effectiveness and convenience over style and appearance when it comes to cars.
At a press conference in London in 2016, the BMW group showed some of their ideas for future cars. Not only are they sleek and self-driving, they will deliver luxurious usability. The car would pick up where you left off on a podcast, put the seat where you usually sit, and remember your usual destinations. If driving becomes enjoyable, then people will drive more. Instead of driving being the vexing time waster it is today, passengers will be happy to spend two hours in their car if they can catch up on emails, call a grandparent, or watch a movie. The advent of wifi in cars will make all of this more possible. People will be more likely to work farther away from home, travel more by car rather than train or plane, and generally find themselves behind the self-driving wheel more often.
As technology progresses and cultural expectations develop, the auto industry will have to respond to these changes. Consumers are seeking a seamless, hassle free, and efficient driving experience. As glamorous as flying cars might seem, ride share services and, ultimately, self-driving cars, have the potential to satisfy the needs of a population that is mobile, busy, and desirous of minimizing travel time.