Cars, Transportation and Free Time

Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced. They will cause unprecedented job loss and a fundamental restructuring of our economy, solve large portions of our environmental problems, prevent tens of thousands of deaths per year, save millions of hours with increased productivity, and create entire new industries that we cannot even imagine from our current vantage point.

Autonomous cars != cars are going to drive without direct human intervention. The consequences of such shift will span from the job market, the reshape of city layouts, the ownership structure of car fleets and everything in between. In these bullet points I summarize the most relevant issues with the transition to self driving cars.

  • This is already happening: there are several (partially) self driving models in the market and experiments such as self driving truck fleets crossing entire countries belong to the past.
  • Cars are shifting to electric drive trains.
  • Low usage: cars spend more than 95% of their lifetime parked, doing nothing.
  • Expensive: car ownership is one of the largest expenses of an average family.
  • Cities are built around cars: if you walk around the street, chances are you'll see parked cars, all the time. At any given moment there are more cars parked than driving. Although this is a given for most of us, we can all agree that it doesn't make any sense.
  • Parking is wildly mismanaged and it is probably our most inefficient use of resources within urban areas.
  • Interest in cars drops among millennials: for today's young people, the mobile phone is a much more potent technology of autonomy and social status, and in a neat twist, you can't use your phone while you're driving.
  • Even Toyota USA President, Jim Lentz, agrees: "We have to face the growing reality that today young people don't seem to be as interested in cars as previous generations."
  • Driver (of any kind) is the single largest profession in the USA.
  • Overall, we are really bad drivers.

We - as a society - are pretty aware of such things. But what happens when we add "autonomous cars" to the equation?

  • Less cars to do the same: cars won't be parked, unless for recharging. PWC predicts that the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced by 99%.
  • On demand effects to collateral industries: $198 billion automobile insurance market, $98 billion automotive finance market, $100 billion parking industry and the $300 billion automotive aftermarket will collapse.
  • Driver as a job won't be needed any more.
  • Morgan Stanley estimates that a 90% reduction in crashes would save nearly 30,000 lives and prevent 2.12 million injuries annually.

We could go on and on, but what fascinates me the most is the amount of time we will save as a whole. Millions of hours we will get "for free" to engage in creative endeavours, leisure, family time, reading, (listening to podcasts)... The most important question though: what we will make of it?