Automated driving means the end of driving and caring about what kind of car you own, if you even bother to own one.
If automated cars ever do become technically feasible — and that’s a long way off, despite the trendy imminence we read about every day — it will certainly mean the end of personal vehicle ownership, at least as far as new cars.
Not because the government mandates it.
Because — why bother with it?
Take away being able to control the car and you’ve taken away the individualism of the car. What does it matter whether it’s a BMW — or a Chevy — if they all drive the same automated speed? If you just sit there and text or email or go to sleep? The automated car will go as programmed. You will not drive it.
Therefore, why buy it?
People don’t generally buy taxis. They hail them. Ride in them. Then get out of them. There is no attachment to the taxi. It’s purely an appliance, like a microwave but with fewer meaningful differences.
This is how it will work with automated cars.
But do you care whether your taxi is a Chevy or a Ford or any other make? Would you pay more for one vs. another?
GM’s Cadillac luxury car division — one of the biggest pushers of automated car technology after Elon Musk’s Tesla electric car operation — has this idea that, in the future, you will “experience the brand.”
In the same way one experiences, say, Outback — the steakhouse.
You experience that brand by visiting the restaurant and — for an hour or two — sitting at a table experiencing Outback’s food, wait staff, and the ambiance of the place. But when you leave, you leave the experience behind.
You do not own Outback.
Just so, you don’t — or won’t own — the Cadillac. You experience the brand for however long you rented the thing to take you from A to B.
Cadillac is betting you’ll pay extra to experience their brand as opposed to, say, the Chevy brand. But arguably, they are whistling past their own freshly dug graves.
In the first place, why bother with separate models when all models — in the automated scheme of things — are functionally identical? Yes, there will probably be need for larger and smaller models — to move more or fewer people, to carry more or less stuff. But sporty models? It’s oxymoronic in the automated driving environment.
Remember: No one drives faster than anyone else — or passes or does anything else faster or differently. Because no one drives anymore.
The car simply goes as programmed — and they are all programmed the same.
No individual variance as far as function. And certainly — by definition — no individual control. This will eliminate the reason for being for entire brands of cars, the ones which have defined their brand according to the different driving characteristics of that brand’s cars.
Mazda, for instance, is a goner — and the management realizes this. Which is the real reason why the company continues to emphasize driving and is among the very few brands still obviously reluctant to embrace automated cars.
This is also why brands such as BMW — which used to emphasize driving — have been switching to the embrace of technology during the past several years. It is not accidental. It’s not Me-Too-ism, either. BMW realizes that in a world of automated cars, it no longer matters how well a car “handles” or whether its steering is as precise as a laser sight. All automated cars handle just the same — and there will be no steering wheel.
Feel becomes irrelevant.
Gadgets become everything.
The problem with that — if you are BMW or any other premium brand — is that gadgets are the one thing about new cars that’s not expensive. You may have noticed that almost every new car now comes with an LCD touchscreen, for instance. And a pretty good audio system, too. You can buy a new “entry-level” car — one priced well under $25,000 — equipped with most of the gadgets you’d find in a $40,000 car. Or even a $60,000 car.
Yes, there are slight differences here and there. But the point is that any brand which thinks it’s going to get buyers to pay top dollar to experience their brand on account of gadgets is whistling past its own cold grave. The lesser brands will be just as gadgeted out and most are already so.
Take away the driving experience and you have taken away most of the reason for buying the car.
The herd is about to be culled — even if the cows have no idea what’s coming.
Photo: Steve Jurvetson/trimmed and retouched with PS9 by Mariordo/Flickr-Creative Commons