When futurists talk about the possible end of car ownership, it’s interesting, but when Bill Ford—the executive chairman of the company that bears his name—says the same thing, it’s news.
Bill Ford has always been a forward thinker, championing electric cars long before any other Detroit-based executive did, and in the Wall Street Journal he makes it clear he’s well aware that young people aren’t lining up to buy their first vehicle, and car-sharing (along with public transportation) offers other options:
The rise of companies such as Lyft, Uber and Zipcar underlines individual ownership as not always being the most cost-effective way to obtain access to a vehicle, especially for urban customers. Individual ownership also may not be the primary model of vehicle ownership in the future. Just how this affects the current sales model is yet to be seen.
Hell, yeah! Auto companies that ignore these lessons are in trouble.
We also will need to rethink what defines the act of driving. Autonomous driving, or cars that navigate themselves, will be possible, and in certain situations, common practice. We already are seeing some of this make its way into vehicles to provide safer and easier driving….Some entrepreneurs are even pushing current boundaries further by exploring the feasibility of flying cars. While these would require significant regulatory development to become a viable option, they do provide a glimpse of what our future of mobility may look like.
The future for automakers is “to become personal-mobility companies,” Ford says. I totally concur. Probably the most significant car since the Toyota Prius is the Google self-driving prototype built without steering wheel, accelerator, shifter or brakes. Sensors, lasers, radar and cameras get it where it needs to go.
One caveat: Futurists are often guilty of irrational exuberance, and that’s a danger here. The end of car ownership and driving ourselves might be on the horizon, but it’s still a distant one. It’s only going to work seamlessly when all the cars on the road can communicate with (and avoid) each other. That’s why I think some of the first autonomous cars could run on dedicated roadways, like the ones Pittsburgh (and Curitiba, Brazil) use for buses.
Oh, and flying cars? We're still waiting, but it won't be 2014. Or 2015.