The Future of Cars Is Here

In the coming year, autonomous vehicles will be driving plenty of conversations.

Want proof? The Consumer Telematics Show, scheduled for early January in Las Vegas, asked industry players what they thought the biggest disruptions and innovations for auto tech will be in 2017. Autonomous vehicles came in with a top 18% of responses.

Google-Lexus Driverless Car

Google-Lexus Driverless Car

The response led, by far, the second answer: 13% of respondents decided connected consumer/services, while 10% each picked data and collaboration. Other answers included regulation, software, and electrification.

It is well known that the automotive industry is undergoing a revolution. One of – if not the –biggest change will driverless cars, which are being fueled by advancing technology coupled with increasing urban congestion and a growing number of consumers averse to car ownership. By 2030, an estimated 25% of all vehicles will be fully autonomous. From assembly to sale and from dealer to driveway, consumers, manufacturers and retailers alike – including those in aftermarket parts and service – are giddy about the this coming new era and racing to be ready.

The first volume of UPS’s recently released Routes to the Future describes a world where technology will “create a new ecosystem of activities and services that change the way we live our urban lives.” Fender benders will be a thing of the past – great news if you’re a driver but maybe not so much if you are in collision repair. The “connected car” could change mass transit, eliminate traffic jams, positively impact the environment with fewer emissions. Even car ownership as we it know today will likely be changed. Instead of owning a car outright, drivers could become consumers of transportation, opting to purchase mobility services on a subscription or a “per mile” basis.

The Routes piece thinks even bigger: “Transportation officials will debate whether to raise speed limits – and how high. Imagine special express lanes or toll roads for autonomous vehicles that are allowed to travel at 85, 100, or – in remote areas – 120 miles per hour. If that happens, we could see a reversal of the urban migration that’s prompted many frustrated commuters to move in-town. If you could drive at 100 mph – and with minimal delays – the notion of commuting from Rhode Island to Manhattan suddenly isn’t so far-fetched.”

We have only begun to contemplate the possibilities, but there is also growing debate over the risks. For example, who owns the data captured by telematics? What of the ethical dilemma created by a car driving you (yes, I said a car driving “you”) which does not espouse your ethics? Will consumers have a choice between cars that embrace a Deontological and a Consequentialist ethos? (I’m only slightly kidding.) It will matter when the car, rather than the driver, must decide whether it should avoid colliding with a person walking against the light if doing so also endangers the life of another bystander. Insurance responsibility could become a tricky issue.

These are questions that we as a society will need to answer – probably sooner, rather than later. In the meantime, technology innovation is creating new experiences for automotive consumers and new opportunities for manufacturers and distributors. Make sure you enjoy the ride.

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