If you’re waiting around for your flying car, don’t hold your breath. The dream that launched a thousand Popular Mechanics issues in the 1950s is no closer to reality today than it was then. But there are technologies and innovations that once may have seemed the stuff of science fiction that are just around the corner, or here in showrooms today.
Cars that drive themselves were featured in magazines from almost the second World War II ended. The promotional photo above comes from General Motors, which experimented with autonomous cars all the way back to 1955.
The technology that allows autonomous cars to work is here now. Cars can already brake and turn themselves. The challenge isn’t technology. It’s societal. We’re working on a followup to our MIT survey from 2016, to find out just how interested consumers are in this technology. Do they really want a car that drives itself? Are they truly interested in turning over functions of operating a car to a machine?
Regardless, worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey & Company thinks that 15 percent of all cars sold by 2030 will be fully autonomous, “once technological and regulatory issues have been resolved.”
Electric cars are here, obviously, and they’ve been for quite some time. But despite Telsa’s success at the highest end of the market, electric cars represent a tiny niche. Forbes reported that electric vehicle sales “soared” in 2016, and it correctly points out that EV sales jumped 37 percent that year. But it downplays the fact that total EV sales for the entire year were just 159,139 vehicles, or .99 percent of the entire vehicle fleet that sold in 2016.
The same thing that held EVs back 100 years ago continues to be a challenge today: overall range and lack of a charging infrastructure. It’s true that most Americans vastly overestimate their average commute distances, but if you’re forced to make a couple of side trips on your way home from work, a 100 mile total range at optimal temperature can be depleted pretty quickly. And despite years of trying, public charging stations are few and far between.
Range is being addressed, but it’s currently being addressed with more batteries, leading to heavier weight and less efficiency. As new battery technology emerges, and a charging network is established, electric vehicles as daily transport for a large number of Americans will become a reality.
Car sharing seems like on of those ridiculous futurist ideas until you think about how quickly companies like AirBnB established themselves, loaning out houses to strangers.
It requires a dispassionate distance from the car, though. Nobody is going to loan out her prized ’55 Chevy Bel Air to some hipster with a smartphone and a man-bun.
But if you view your Toyota Camry as a costly appliance that sits idle for 20 hours a day, the idea of making some money off of it becomes a lot more appealing.
Mobility solutions that are both here now and yet to be offered are going to have a huge impact on our relationship with transportation, according to McKinley & Company: “up to one out of ten new cars sold in 2030 may likely be a shared vehicle, which could reduce sales of private-use vehicles,” according to its recent report. “This would mean that more than 30 percent of miles driven in new cars sold could be from shared mobility. On this trajectory, one out of three new cars sold could potentially be a shared vehicle as soon as 2050.”
Non-Franchised Automotive Retail
It’s clear that our cars are going to change over the coming decade, and it’s also clear that we might not have to own them to access them. What’s also going to change is how we purchase them. Tesla bumped up against powerful dealer lobbies in many states when it sought to skirt the traditional franchise system. Major automotive players have to live within the traditional dealer franchise models, but they’re also looking for ways to deal more directly with consumers.
After Tesla’s hit-and-miss success with state dealer lobbies, the Federal Trade Commission held hearings in early 2016 to examine franchise laws. It opens the possibility that manufacturers could evade the traditional franchised system and open factory stores that compete with dealers, the way an Apple store competes with any other retailer that sells an iPhone.
“I’m more concerned, not so much about Tesla, but about the notion of the factory selling direct,” Don Hall, president of the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association told Automotive News “It opens up the Pandora’s box.”
Even before non-franchised automotive retail takes hold, auto manufacturers are looking for innovative ways to get their cars into the hands of people who want to buy just the convenience that a car offers, rather than the physical machine. Think of it the way Netflix has completely decimated the sales of DVDs.
Hyundai is actively piloting a new Unlimited+ subscription program in California for its new Ioniq Electric. Instead of a traditional purchase — requiring a hefty down payment, big payments and a long-term commitment — or a traditional lease — requiring close attention to mileage — for as little as $275, customers simply sign and drive.
For that monthly payment, subscribers get unlimited mileage, reimbursement for charging, complementary maintenance and replacement of wear items, and payment of all tax, title and license fees. In a presentation to the New England Motor Press Association last month, Michael O’Brien, Hyundai’s Vice President of Product, Corporate & Digital Planning, mentioned that Hyundai was even working with states to try and bundle insurance into the monthly payment.
In Car Advertising
If you’re not staring at your phone while you’re trying to drive, your car is kind of a sensory deprivation tank for advertising. Sure, some of it comes through the radio — if you’re on of the few people still listening to terrestrial audio — and some messages appear in podcasts, but it’s pretty easy to ignore and skip past those ads.
Auto manufacturers are working with advertisers to come up with new ways to get you to buy products that go way beyond traditional advertising.
At the CES show in Las Vegas, technologists and car companies alike showed an array of products that projected ads on the inside of the windshield. According to Bloomberg, “Panasonic Corp. demonstrated technology…that lets a driver order and pay for fast food through a heads-up display, before pulling off the freeway to collect it.”
Panasonic wasn’t alone. “Corning Inc. is starting to sell carmakers the glass used in Apple Inc.’s iPhones for windshields and in-car entertainment systems. The company said the durability and thinness of the glass means that any image projected onto it is sharper than onto a typical windshield. While the product is less than 10 inches wide, Corning is working to expand it to a full windshield-size display.”