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What’s The Future Of Car Ownership?

03/12/2019 @ 6:24 am

For a long time, learning how to drive a car was seen as a right of passage.

It came with a sense of freedom and accomplishment that you couldn’t find anywhere else. Getting the chance to hop in your car at any given time is a liberating feeling, even now for the most experienced drivers.

Believe it or not, we may be one of the last generations of people who know how to drive or own a car. By the time our grandchildren and great grandchildren grow up to be of driving age, they might not even need the skills to get behind the wheel — the car might just drive for them!

Thanks to technological innovation in the auto sector, the move towards automated, self-driving cars is coming a lot quicker than we think. The things that we thought were reserved for sci-fi movies are now becoming reality. Once these automated vehicles start hitting the road, there’s no question that it will have an immense impact on how we live and how we go from place to place. But how will it affect the future of car ownership?

There’s no consensus on the topic, in fact for many industry insiders it’s a very polarizing issues. If we’re going to dissect it properly, we’re going to have to dive into both sides of the argument.

Where do you think you stand? Let’s find out!

Side A – Car Ownership Will Become Obsolete

If you plan on buying a car sometime in the near future, many experts believe that’ll probably be the last car purchase you’re ever going to make. Sounds crazy, right?

In a remarkable 2017 report co-written by Antonio Seba, one of the industry’s leading energy and transportation disruption experts, he predicts that a majority of Americans won’t own a car by 2030. In fact, within the next decade, he predicts the number of passenger vehicles in the U.S. to drop by 80%. Instead, he claims people should get ready to ride in electric, autonomous vehicles owned by fleet operators.

This would undoubtedly disrupt the transportation industry and the way we look at driving forever. For the first time in a long time, generations coming after us will no longer be expected to know how to drive. Car crashes caused by human error will be a thing of the past and we’ll no longer have to worry about intoxicated drivers getting behind the wheel.

It’s hard to say when these changes will actually take effect, but Seba notes that as soon as any form of autonomous driving starts to hit the market — we’ll start seeing major shifts in the transportation industry and how we live. Even now, if you take a step back to look at the bigger picture, you’ll start to see that we’re already paving the way for a world that requires zero car ownership.

close up of woman using ride sharing app on smartphone

Ridesharing Ready To Take Over

In the last couple years, ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft have soared in popularity.

So much so, that in less than a decade, ridesharing has become a billion dollar industry. Between the two apps, there are over 8 million users who use it globally and these trends show no signs of stopping. With automated vehicles expected to make their official debut within the next decade, many experts believe that ridesharing will only continue to grow and potentially eliminate the need to own a car, especially in major cities.

In a 2018 press release that was shared by the car sharing program Car2Go, the company announced a 30% increase in new users over the last year. On a global scale, the company saw its membership rise to a whopping 3 million people. With services like Car2Go already available to drivers, it proves that there’s already a market of people interested in rental or short-term “ownership”, a segment that can grow even bigger with the help of automated vehicles.

Subscription Car Service Will Be The New Norm

Imagine waking up every morning and right as you head out the door, you see an automated vehicle waiting for you. It arrives at the same time everyday and takes you where you need to go, and all you have to do is manage your account on your phone.

Much like Netflix and Spotify, experts like Seba believe car ownership will phase out to make room for car subscriptions. Instead of having to worry about maintenance fees, or car loan payments, subscription based car sharing is expected to blow up for it’s overall convenience to users. Seba believes the market will essentially be owned by fleet operators who will lease cars to ride-sharing programs like Uber and Lyft.

Because of the mass appeal, subscriptions will be a lot more affordable than having your own car. Because of these changes, he predicts car ownership will start to look less appealing to drivers and consequently, decline in popularity over time. While, we’re not entirely there just yet, a number of automakers have already made promises of unrolling fleets in the near future, bringing us even closer to a subscription-based reality.

Autonomous Vehicles Are On The Way

While all this talk about autonomous vehicles may seem like ideas out of a sci-fi movie, experts say the future is a lot closer than we think and that change might catch a lot of people by surprise.

One of Sebas’ final thoughts compare this technological evolution to smartphones. If you told someone in the 1990s about the concept of a smartphone, they probably would have thought it was a farfetched idea. But when Apple first introduced their models in the late 2000s, the communications world changed almost immediately. Once it hit the market, it’s popularity was unparalleled to what anyone had ever seen before. In the span of just a couple years, it reshaped the way we communicate with each other and conduct business — effects we’re still seeing to this day.

So whether people like it or not, Sebas makes the argument that autonomous cars will have the same sort of impact. People will think it’s a crazy, unattainable future until it’s actually here.

The eventual elimination of car ownership will inevitably lead to something else — the elimination of a human driver. Experts believe it will take 10 years of regulated autonomous driving before humans are completely phased out. For those that insist on driving, they’ll likely be forced to pay unbelievably high insurance rates which may eventually persuade them to go driver-free.

Side B – Car Ownership Isn’t Going Anywhere

While many people believe that car ownership is on the way out, there’s an equally loud opposing group that believes car ownership isn’t going anywhere.

Car Ownership By The Numbers

On a global scale, car ownership has risen steadily about 4% every year. While independent cities have demonstrated their own trends, the world as a whole still values car ownership. Even with transportation alternatives like biking and public transport offering cheaper mobility options, people still value owning their own vehicle. To suggest that people will simply be persuaded away from car ownership because of affordability is a very simplistic view.

Man and woman riding in car

Car Ownership Is Personal

Experts on this side of the debate don’t weigh the economical factors as heavily as the personal ones. To start, they believe car ownership is a measure of social status, success and achievement, something people show no signs of wanting to give up. If they did, we would have all been driving smaller box-like vehicles instead of SUVs a long time ago.

For many people, their car is also an extension of who they are. They’re like your second home, another place where you can keep personal belongings in. While they may be a material item, many people are attached to their vehicles, which is why some experts believe car ownership isn’t going anywhere fast. Cars are an extension of people’s personal space and they take comfort being able to chuck an extra pair of sneakers in the backseat or carry an extra couple granola bars in the glove compartment. These are luxuries that car subscriptions and ridesharing can’t provide. Not to mention the convenience it is to have a personal car available to you at all times.

The Race For The Latest

Some people believe we’re going to see the same thing happen as it did with smartphones. Whenever new models are released, there’s going to be a race to the dealership, and people are going to want to buy, not borrow. Since vehicles are expected to go down in price in the future, it might attract eager car fanatics who want to get their hands on the hottest new wheels in the market. From new upgrades, self-driving features, artificial intelligence to sophisticated design — cars of the future are still expected to attract buyers in the future.

Hacking Concerns

While autonomous driving promises to provide additional security for passengers, it fails to address the elephant in the room — hacking. Since a lot of this technology will be running on artificial intelligence and other computer software, there’s always a chance for the system to get hacked. What if an outside source was able to take full control of your vehicle? What if it purposely crashed into oncoming traffic or pedestrians? These are concerns many people have when arguing against the rise of autonomous vehicles.

While some may argue that hacking has not stopped the use of other popular services like the internet, a hacked vehicle has the potential to physically hurt other people — a thought that’s very unsettling for many. Experts believe this fear might be enough to prevent certain segments of the population from supporting the use of autonomous vehicles in the future. In some cases, this fear might actually encourage current car owners to hold onto their vehicles for much longer or persuade them to buy a “normal” car while they still can, so they still have the power to drive manually be in charge of their own security.

To Own Or Not To Own?

The future of car ownership isn’t black and white, there are shades of grey and overlapping benefits and complications all around the issue. It’s hard to say now how accepting the general population will be of autonomous vehicles, but one thing is for sure, we’re on the verge of a huge shift in the automotive industry. Whether that’s for better or worse — only time will tell. Now tell us, where do you stand on this debate?