Who Will Kill The Autonomous Car?

In the future we can stop murders before they begin...

In the future we can stop murders before they begin…

 

I’ve argued in previous pieces that autonomous cars are the disruptive technology that will set the industry on its head, but the strongest evidence of the transformative power of self-driving vehicles comes from the industry’s response to the technology. As Paul Godsmark points out in one of his many thoughtful blog posts on the topic, automakers are doing everything they can to keep the driver in the picture. And not because humans are particularly good drivers, but because human desires beyond mere transportation are the source of much of the auto indsutry’s profits. Good luck getting robot chauffeurs to upgrade to sport suspension or a more powerful engine.

But the real threat posed by autonomous cars is that it will play directly into long-term trends that already have younger consumers preferring access to private transportation over ownership of private transportation. While the industry’s loyal scribes consider the possibility that the rental car business could benefit from autonomous technology, the real impact goes far deeper. As autonomous technology matures, car rental companies, car sharing companies and the taxi business will all converge, disrupting their business on a superficial level but also presenting a strong alternative to the car ownership model that underpins the modern auto industry.

To some extent, this is very similar to what we saw in the EV space: automakers have embraced the advance of technology only up to the point where it challenges their established technology base. As a result we have several EVs languishing on the market, but no serious efforts to build a battery swap infrastructure that would make EVs viable… after all, such an infrastructure would radically revise the automakers’ role in the value chain. This is the industry’s game plan for autonomous cars: find the balance between lip service and disruption of the industry’s Century of investment in certain technological and marketing norms. Fit the new technology to serve the purposes of the old technology, rather than rudely disrupting it.

So be on the lookout for subtle forms of autonomous tech-bashing, already playing at industry-serving outlets near you. Just remember, as soon as one automaker and one insurance company fully commit to serving the new technology, the game will change. And from then on, nothing about the world of cars will ever be the same again.