The End of the Automotive Era?

By Chirag Rabari
A rendering with vehicles with circles around them, indicating awareness of automated vehicles.

The subject of driverless (or autonomous) vehicles and the future of transportations brings about all manner of prognostication.  Some commentators think the revolution is nigh: No corner of the transportation sector will be left untouched and impacts will be felt across the entire economy – and soon. Others dismiss this all as so much hype: The technical, political and social barriers are too high and real change is decades (and decades) away.   

Count this piece from Bob Lutz – former vice chairman and head of product development at General Motors – as a provocation from Team Revolution.

Here are a few highlights:

  • “[W]e are approaching the end of the line of the automotive era. The auto industry is on an accelerating change curve.”
  • “The end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command. You will call for it… get in… and go to the freeway… [where] it will merge seamlessly into a stream of other modules traveling at 120, 150 mph.”
  • “Most of these standardized modules will be purchased and owned by the Ubers and Lyfts and God knows what other companies that will enter the transportation business in the future.”
  • “The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways.”
  • “The tipping point will come when 20 to 30 percent of vehicles are fully autonomous. Countries will look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9 percent of the accidents.”
  • “Everyone will have five years to get their car off the road or sell it for scrap or trade it on a module.”

There is much more at the link, including overviews of how:

  • The “big fleets” of companies like Uber, Lyft, FedEz, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service and others will drive industry change and adoption;
  • Vehicle performance and styling will no longer matter in a future where vehicle speed and spacing are standardized to increase efficiency and safety;
  • Car dealers are likely to go by way of the horse dealers of yore (that is, gone); and
  • The big car companies have to figure out how to create and capture value and develop superior technical ability in this environment, or they may also go by way of the horse dealers.

These points are presented just as food for thought.  MTC does not have an official position as to whether the changes described here are going to happen or not.  As seen in the video below from the November 3, 2017 meeting of MTC's Planning Committee (which provides an update on one of MTC’s primary research efforts on driverless vehicles, The Future Mobility Research Program), our commissioners believe it is prudent to plan for, and try to shape, a range of possible futures.

In the coming weeks and months, we will further highlight some of the many fronts on which MTC is working on autonomous and connected vehicles through planning, research, state and federal legislative advocacy, and pilot projects.

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