Cars in the future
Cars in the 21st Century: Yes, we need them, but do we want them?
It is hard to imagine that a little over 100 years ago the car was still a new mode of transport that only the very rich could afford. But everything changed when Henry Ford’s vision to offer a car affordable to the middle classes came to life with the production of Ford Model T in 1908 (photograph on the right). Fierce global competition has since then pushed the auto manufacturers to produce better cars more effectively.
Innovations in horsepower, safety and rider amenities together with lean production enabled the auto industry to grow steady at an average 3 percent growth rate for the past fifty years.
But at the same time automobile is just one mode of transportation that is governed by extensive regulations, constrained by the need for fuel and dependent on networks of roadways and parking spaces. Over the past half century the ‘rise’ of the car has generated pollution and congestion while straining the supply of global resources. These externalities have become even more obvious with the increasing demand for automobiles in the emerging markets, especially China. Therefore change is on its way and it is a big one.
Drivers of Innovation
The first driving factor of change is government regulation. Stricter regulation has been driving automotive development for decades and as the level of urbanization and with it pollution increases so does regulation of automobile use. Singapore has led the way with using variable tolls to smooth traffic flows during rush-hours; low-emission zones to restrict vehicles with internal-combustion engines have grown in the past years in dozens of cities across Europe. Together with emission-dependent taxation there is one goal behind these different policies: zero tailpipe emissions.
This goal together with technology advances marks the beginning of the end of the internal-combustion engine’s dominance on the car market. The interplay of different forces from production costs to customer preferences will ultimately determine whether range-extended electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles or fuel-cell electric vehicles will prevail.
The next cause for transformation are innovations in the digital and information technology. Car of the future will be connected—able not only to monitor its own working parts and the safety of conditions around it, but also to communicate with other vehicles and with an increasingly intelligent roadway infrastructure. As every vehicle becomes a source for receiving and transmitting information over millions of iterations, safety, efficiency and customer satisfaction should improve since automakers and regulators can capture valuable data regarding consumer behavior and vehicle performance. Even with profound changes needed in road infrastructure there is no doubt that digitalizing and electrifying cars in its final stage means the introduction of the self-driving car.
Auto correct on the road
Implications of the introduction of driverless cars are enormous. The elderly wouldn’t have to give up their driver’s licenses as early as they do today. Drunk driving could be a thing of the past. There would be no more confusion about traffic rules (although new rules will have to develop). Keeping in mind that human error contributes to about 90 percent of all accidents, the introduction of crash-free vehicles with optimal security systems finally means no accidents. No accidents means no need for traffic police or even car insurance for that matter.
Current driverless car technology is more developed than you would probably think. Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volvo and Tesla are just some of the brands that are expecting to launch a fully autonomous driving car before 2020. Technology is not the problem, setting appropriate infrastructure and changing minds of regulators and the public in general is the issue, says Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, Board Member for Technical Development at Audi AG. Audi has been one of the pioneer companies developing driverless technology and Audi’s self-driving RS7 model holds the title ‘fastest autonomous car on the planet’ since its now famous Hockenheim Ring lap without a driver on 19th of October this year (link to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOYsI1cqUrw).
Indeed, laws will have to be changed, new driving customs will have to be introduced. Even testing autonomous cars is currently not legal in most countries in the world. We are again facing the same problem as we are with implementation with any new technology – legal systems are not catching up with the technological advancements.
Will you buy a self-driving car?
Changes are going on also with the car ownership model, especially among young drivers. Technology and connectivity pose the question of whether it’s necessary to own an automobile. Car sharing services, which allow people to make a reservation at the tap of a personal mobile device, are expected to grow significantly in the next two years.
Moreover, even though introducing self-driving cars together with a complementary road infrastructure means no more accidents and traffic jams on the roads it also defies, at least partly, with the purpose of buying a car. Car is not only a means of transportation but it is provides us with autonomy and it gives us a feeling of self-directed freedom. Google’s prototype autonomous vehicle has no steering wheel, brake pedal, or accelerator.
When a rider needs only to determine a destination, what becomes of the driving experience? Do we even want the driverless car? You decide.