Published: May 1st, 2014

I finally convinced my wife that it’s time for her to get a new car.

Didn’t really realize it until I was walking the show floor at CES but think about how “old” your car is if it’s five, 10, years old.

That’s OLD!

Still use Bluetooth to connect your phone, punch up the map, hand dial-in Pandora? What a pain.

The car folks at CES loved talking about all the new stuff and what’s coming.

No wonder they’re enthusiastic. Last year, they sold over 60 million cars (165,000 a day). And with the promise of autonomous cars being introduced in 2020 and becoming firmly in place in 2030, they’re optimistic about the coming years.

World of cars

While every auto manufacturer has a world headquarters, cars and trucks are made (at least in part) in every industrialized country and more are moving assembly activities into emerging countries. Last year, the 100-plus manufacturers produced over 60 million autos and have bigger plans for the years ahead.

In addition to all the infotainment, what they’re pushing now are all the safety features.

Transportation folks around the globe pushing for connected-vehicle technology – wireless components that let cars communicate on the road – sending data back and forth and translating it into driver hazard warnings.

Safety focus

While there is a lot of personal infotainment stuff being packed into the new cars, there is a major thrust to improve the safety of the vehicles to reduce auto/truck accidents and save lives.

You know, a cooperative car network even to the point of telling you better/faster routes as well as anyone else who wants to listen in.

Nevertheless, autonomous cars are coming and depending on whose report you read, 30 per cent of the cars could be connected by 2020.

On the road now

Even though Polk Research found that the average age of a car today is 11 years, it doesn’t seem to affect the autonomous push.

According to an Experien report, transportation is the second largest household expense (17 per cent) behind 34 per cent for housing.

The report also found that:

  • 34 per cent had one vehicle
  • 37 per cent had two
  • 14 per cent had three

And they must need them because so many drive themselves to work.

Wasteful Habit

Despite the high cost of the car, gas, insurance, parking and service/maintenance, the majority of people in the U.S. (and most industrialized countries) still drive to work. The distance from home-work and the poor public transportation infrastructure just make driving more convenient.

Of course, they spend an average of two hours in their cars – mostly in heavy traffic – and the rest of the time, they’re parked.

Since cars cost so much, that’s a little high for driving a couple of hours a day plus:

  • It costs $8 million to $12 million to build and maintain a mile of road;
  • Resurfacing costs $1.25 million; and
  • Driving around looking for parking is about 40 per cent of your car’s gas (or electricity) consumption.

That may be why PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) found the love affair with cars is fading. Which may be why there was a drop in customer satisfaction with vehicles (cars/trucks) in recent years.

In fact, according to J.D. Power millennials have shown a distinct disinterest in owning a car.

Declining interest

While global auto manufacturers are happy with last year’s sales and the prospects for the coming year, they are taking note of the apparent lack of interest in cars by millennials. New car sales continue a steady decline in the younger age groups.

So the auto folks figure a car loaded with more and more tech (estimated to be up to 40 per cent of the cost today) is a good way to entice them back.

Sit back, enjoy

More tech looks like it might work, especially with the longer-term promise of a completely driverless car … sit back, enjoy the scenery, read, have breakfast/dinner, whatever.

Tomorrow’s Driver

Since the 1940s futurists have been selling the dream of driverless cars that whizzed along the highways so you and your passengers could arrive at your destination refreshed and calm.

Everyone in the PC/CE industry sees the possibility (and profits) – Apple, Google, AT&T, GM, Cisco, Broadcom, Nokia–everyone.

You probably remember Nokia as a phone maker, but they also have a tremendous mapping operation (along with Google).

They make up to 2.7 million changes in their global maps every day and have turn-by-turn navigation apps in place in the Americas and Europe that use roadside sensors, crowdsourced data and even live traffic camera feeds to provide navigational congestion data around the globe.

With a little tweaking it can help your autonomous car drive with ease.

Transportation network

If it works for cars, why not buses, taxies, delivery trucks, trains, subways/BART, ships?

We already have drones, so the network of things/everything can logically take over your plane too!

Volvo is already testing driverless trucks and cars.

Road Tests

Every major manufacturer is working on tomorrow’s driverless car/truck with commitments they’ll begin delivering vehicles in quantity by 2020-2030. Autonomous trucks are being used already in specific applications, a number of states have authorized the driverless cars on regular roads/streets, but they still have a human sitting behind the wheel … just in case.Volvo is actively testing truck/car “trains.”

Rio Tinto – the global mining company – already has 10 driverless trucks and plans to add 150 more in the next few years.

If the autonomous truck becomes widely used that means 1.6 million truck drivers will be displaced (that’s what Eno Center for Transportation calls laid-off).

And if autonomous autos become the norm rather than the oddity, that would mean many of the 240,000 U.S. taxi drivers will be “displaced” because you would have an app that could schedule your trips in/around town.

Use it as a service and your garage really can be a place you store your stuff.

Service Transportation

Car rental services have been around for years and a growing number of young entrepreneurs have entered the field and are achieving increasing success by offering transportation-as-a-service. Simply call up and reserve your car, use it for a day or trip and pay a modest fee. When autonomous autos become more prevalent, the concept could dramatically reduce the need to own your own car.

Imagine the savings.

Yeah … but

That also begs the questions:

  • The auto industry already reduced their manufacturing costs with automation, but would they sell as many cars if folks shared a car or used a service?
  • With an automated car, you wouldn’t need as many police because cars would drive the speed limit and there wouldn’t be red light/DUI tickets or accidents.
  • Doesn’t that reduce the workload on emergency vehicles to pull you out of wrecks and rush your broken body to the hospital?
  • You’d reduce highway/road/street traffic/congestion, so maintenance staffs would be reduced, right?
  • If it becomes “just transportation” would you care what kind of car it is, how sleek/sexy it is? … it’s just a car!

Run the numbers and an autonomous car that you call up the auto control center and reserve from someone like ZipCar is probably the way most kids will go.

That also implies you don’t have to have as many auto manufacturers – just a couple that make sub-compacts, compacts, medium-sized and luxury vehicles.

Just imagine all the data that will be accumulated from your “driving” habits – where you go/when, what you’re going by, just about everything. And Google, Facebook, Nokia, NSA/government agencies, Cisco and Apple will be able to monetize it all … or just store it for later.

All of that data will have to be open source so cars/trucks can communicate with those they share the road with and the world around them.

Did I mention hackers love open source as well as the folks who are setting up the internet of things?

They do!

Of course, it kinda’ makes me wonder what are all those people – globally – who were just displaced, going to go?  How will they pay for the shared autonomous auto?

I’m sure the technology/auto/transportation industries and governments around the globe are focusing a lot of time, money, attention on solving those “minor” issues.