Autonomous vehicles are now technologically feasible. What does this mean for the ~$15 trillion in automotive assets currently on the road in the United States? Enlightenment raconteur Voltaire counsels that man should be judged not by his answers but rather by the questions he asks. What question are you and your organization asking about a future that celebrates autonomy?
One important question is how long will it take for autonomous vehicles to become the primary mode of transportation? How long will it be before the general consumer changes how they think about transportation? According to David McCullough [The Wright Brothers] it took seven years between proving the technical feasibility of powered flight with controlled turns and safe landings and popular acceptance of the concept of man flying.
The general consensus is that driverless cars will evolve in three stages:
2015-2020 Continued Experimentation and Pilots
2020-2035 Messy Transition
2035-2040 Fully Autonomous
Continued Experimentation through 2020
Many vehicles already incorporate elements of autonomy. In the next three to five years, we can, at the very least, expect cars to drive themselves during traffic jams and highway cruising, but cede control to human drivers the rest of the time. Auto OEMS forecast a reasonably controlled evolution whereby expanded driver-assistance features will gradually trickle down from luxury vehicles to mass-market cars, just as electric windows and power steering did before them.
Auto industry newcomers Google and Tesla operate under a different and much more disruptive timetable, predicting what Elon Musk, Tesla Motor’s CEO describes as “true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination” – will be available to the public by 2020. Musk says that their 2015 models will be able to self-drive 90 percent of the time. Mercedes and Nissan, which plan to offer cars with autonomous features by 2020.
Some futurists forecast that car purchasers of the future will not be you and me. Cars will be purchased and operated by ride sharing and car sharing companies. Luis Martinez of the International Transport Forum, a think-tank division of the OECD envisions a totally changed environment where auto OEMs would end up selling autonomous vehicles to fleet operators, rather than to individual drivers. The value in the car business will shift from hardware to software and from products to services.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates that currently 884,000 people are employed in motor vehicles and parts manufacturing, and an additional 3.02 million in the dealer and maintenance network. Truck, bus, delivery, and taxi drivers account for nearly 6 million professional driving jobs. Virtually all of these 10 million jobs will be eliminated within 10-15 years.
The real question: When Will Consumers Be Able to “Give Up the Wheel”?
A report on self-driving cars from Morgan Stanley predicts that attitudes will quickly shift from “I don’t want to share the road with robots” to “I don’t want to share the road with other human drivers”. Bill Gurley, Uber investor at Benchmark Partners explains: “We may have hit what’s called peak car. Kids aren’t showing up on their 16th birthday to get a driver’s license. The smartphone is more of a social status than a car is.”
What do you think?