Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The End of the Auto Era as We Know It May Be Approaching Faster Than You Think

 

Bob Lutz is a former vice chairman and head of product development at General Motors. And in this essay for Automotive News, he declares the end of the auto industry as we know it:

It saddens me to say it, but we are approaching the end of the automotive era. The auto industry is on an accelerating change curve. For hundreds of years, the horse was the prime mover of humans and for the past 120 years it has been the automobile. Now we are approaching the end of the line for the automobile because travel will be in standardized modules. The end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command. You will call for it, it will arrive at your location, you’ll get in, input your destination and go to the freeway. . . .

Most of these standardized modules will be purchased and owned by the Ubers and Lyfts and God knows what other companies that will enter the transportation business in the future. A minority of individuals may elect to have personalized modules sitting at home so they can leave their vacation stuff and the kids’ soccer gear in them. They’ll still want that convenience. The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways. The tipping point will come when 20 to 30 percent of vehicles are fully autonomous. Countries will look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9 percent of the accidents. . . .

CNBC recently asked me to comment on a study showing that people don’t want to buy an autonomous car because they would be scared of it. They don’t trust traditional automakers, so the only autonomous car they’d buy would have to come from Apple or Google. Only then would they trust it. My reply was that we don’t need public acceptance of autonomous vehicles at first. All we need is acceptance by the big fleets: Uber, Lyft, FedEx, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service, utility companies, delivery services. Amazon will probably buy a slew of them. These fleet owners will account for several million vehicles a year. Every few months they will order 100,000 low-end modules, 100,000 medium and 100,000 high-end. The low-cost provider that delivers the specification will get the business.

Of course don’t forget the second half of the phrase “creative destruction”:

So auto retailing will be OK for the next 10, maybe 15 years as the auto companies make autonomous vehicles that still carry the manufacturer’s brand and are still on the highway. But dealerships are ultimately doomed. And I think Automotive News is doomed. Car and Driver is done; Road & Track is done. They are all facing a finite future. They’ll be replaced by a magazine called Battery and Module read by the big fleets. The era of the human-driven automobile, its repair facilities, its dealerships, the media surrounding it — all will be gone in 20 years.

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  1. I Walton Member

    Ten to fifteen years? Almost certainly he’s right, after all we’ve really been good at predicting the future. On the other hand if I’m still around in 15 years, I’ll only use what ever replaces ubber driving what ever they drive.

    • #1
    • November 7, 2017, at 2:55 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  2. Viator Inactive
    Viator Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    It’s never going to happen. Does your smart TV always work, do you have problems streaming videos, does your computer ever freeze, reboot, or need rebooting? Do you have an automobile with the check engine light on (check engine only monitors the emissions, imagine if it monitored the whole vehicle which it would have to do with a self driving vehicle) and a mechanic pulling his hair out after the third trip to see him? Are your roads clearly marked with lines 24/7, 365 days of the year? Would your teenagers, or you, be prepared to suddenly take control of your vehicle in an instant when it relinquished control because of a fault?

    Self driving vehicles are a fantasy divorced from reality.

    • #2
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:03 PM PST
    • 11 likes
  3. Roosevelt Guck Inactive

    They said the same thing about mainframe computers. Lutz might get a kick out of the One Horse Shay.

    • #3
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:06 PM PST
    • 1 like
  4. Hoyacon Member

    It will likely happen some day, but Lutz ignores the economics of the change-over for many, many people. We are still fretting about the cost of broadband for lower income people. Now we’re going to ban their transportation? Somehow I doubt the political will be there for that in 10-15 years.

    • #4
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:12 PM PST
    • 10 likes
  5. Jim Chase Member
    Jim Chase Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Pethokoukis: The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways

    America’s love affair with the automobile remains alive and well, as much an indicator of our love of freedom as anything else, perhaps in spite of the ever-increasing level of technology being fused into our driving experience.

    There may be an emerging market for autonomous vehicles, but it will only become a dominant share if the above quote comes true. It will take a lot longer than 15-20 years, unless forces conspire to remove or reduce the choices available through legislative manipulation of the market.

    Not buying it, in more ways than one.

    • #5
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:13 PM PST
    • 11 likes
  6. Stina Member

    No automated vehicles until we get our hover craft.

    • #6
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:20 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  7. DrewInWisconsin, Negative Infl… Coolidge

    James Pethokoukis: The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways.

    And the next Civil War will begin.

    • #7
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:20 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  8. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    The auto industry is highly regulated innovation. IF cars become completely electric, it’ll be because they’ve been regulated into it. The customer base certainly is NOT demanding it. I highly doubt that human driven vehicles will ever be completely banned, particularly in the places that have seasons, winter driving conditions are way too challenging for the robot drivers.

    • #8
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:22 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  9. Bob Wainwright Member

    It won’t be true that autonomous vehicles won’t have an appreciable number of accidents. When a normal car has a malfunction, it usually doesn’t cause a crash. What about driverless cars?

    Every time you want to go somewhere you have to wait a while for a car to show up? What if you just want to drive around for the heck of it? What if you want to make out with your girlfriend or boyfriend in a car?

    I think these predictions assume a degree of docility in people that probably isn’t there. A major change in people’s expectations and habits is baked in to these predictions.

    The only thing that gives me pause is the millennial “iGen” kids. They’re weird. Who knows what they will or will not put up with.

    • #9
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:24 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  10. Jim Chase Member
    Jim Chase Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    And such legislation is even more politically unlikely if you consider all the various unions that are directly or indirectly tied to these various fleets and services. If taxi drivers in NYC freak out over competition from Uber / Lyft, just wait until they are told they are being replaced by the Googlemobile.

    • #10
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:25 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  11. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    JimP,

    James Pethokoukis: The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways.

    Big lies are still lies. Human drivers are at the wheel for tens of thousands of miles each year. They drive in an incredibly diverse set of conditions and they instantaneously adapt to the totally unexpected. Your autonomous car must perform better than the humans in all situations. I don’t think that anyone will be able to write the software from scratch to do this. As in every other major software project, the bugs are never fully anticipated. When they start killing people with their autonomous vehicles, I recommend a lawsuit for massive dollars. Class-action if necessary. These deep pockets charlatans, the vast majority of whom have never written a line of code in their life, don’t think they are the irresponsible hype artists that they are.

    Let the lawsuits begin. Blind arrogance isn’t the same as innovation.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #11
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:31 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Stad Thatcher

    James Pethokoukis: The end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command.

    I reject this statement completely. Computers and their programming are more unsound than most drivers on the road. It sounds as if the powers that be want to force us into cars we have no control over. I reject it. I reject the idea I have to sit and watch as my car drives me over a cliff because it has to reboot its program (anyone else out there seen “the blue screen of death” before?).

    I’m not totally opposed to driverless cars, but I am convinced there are hundreds of unknowns still unresolved, but the left wants to go ahead and shovel us into these things so they can tell us where we can and cannot go.

    • #12
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:48 PM PST
    • 14 likes
  13. Basil Fawlty Coolidge
    Basil Fawlty Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Pethokoukis: Lutz: “You will call for it, it will arrive at your location, you’ll get in, input your destination and go to the freeway. . . .”

    Freeway? So much for Lutz’s predictive ability.

    • #13
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:53 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  14. Roosevelt Guck Inactive

    In all seriousness, I think Lutz is on to something. He says that human-driven cars will be legislated off the road. And that’s the only way his prediction about the end of automobile era will come true.

    Think about electric vehicles. As long as gas is cheap, EVs will never dominate; the economics don’t work. The cars are too expensive and they don’t save drivers nearly enough money. However, if Congress decides to phase out gas engines, EVs win.

    The question is not whether a legislature can ban one technology to benefit another technology; it is whether the product can compete and win in a free market. My sense is that Americans like cars because they express their individuality and fulfill their need for freedom.

    There’s also the philosophical question as to whether something should be banned simply because it’s risky.

    Lutz has seen the future. But it won’t work in the U.S.

    • #14
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:54 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. Bob Wainwright Member

    Think about this scenario. A paper bag floats out suddenly in front of a car. How long does it take a human to identify the bag and to decide not to take evasive action? Could a computer do it more quickly? Every time? I doubt it. There are literally thousands of such weird scenarios. Not to mention the question, will your car be programmed to kill you under certain situations? Such as when it must decide whether to hit someone or steer the car off a cliff?

    • #15
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:56 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  16. EDISONPARKS Member
    EDISONPARKS Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    After the first few successful bazzillion dollar lawsuits won after driverless car fatalities due to the myriad of unknown unknowns never anticipated when programming the driverless car, the auto manufacturers may find the old way was less expensive when it was much easier (and likely) to find an auto accident was due to driver(human) error.

    • #16
    • November 7, 2017, at 3:59 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  17. Bob Wainwright Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    James Pethokoukis: The end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command.

    I reject this statement completely. Computers and their programming are more unsound than most drivers on the road. It sounds as if the powers that be want to force us into cars we have no control over. I reject it. I reject the idea I have to sit and watch as my car drives me over a cliff because it has to reboot its program (anyone else out there seen “the blue screen of death” before?).

    I’m not totally opposed to driverless cars, but I am convinced there are hundreds of unknowns still unresolved, but the left wants to go ahead and shovel us into these things so they can tell us where we can and cannot go.

    That’s really it. The left loves the concept of everyone using public transportation. In many localities they try to push through light rail and similar projects even though it’s insanely expensive for the benefit you get.

    • #17
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:00 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  18. rico Inactive

    I look forward to driving the last human-driven car. Imagine — merging onto the freeway, left turns against oncoming traffic, etc. — every car on the road yields to your every whim.

    • #18
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:05 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  19. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    James Pethokoukis: The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways.

    Not a chance in hell.

    • #19
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:07 PM PST
    • 1 like
  20. Basil Fawlty Coolidge
    Basil Fawlty Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bob Wainwright (View Comment):
    Not to mention the question, will your car be programmed to kill you under certain situations? Such as when it must decide whether to hit someone or steer the car off a cliff?

    Or when it’s surrounded by Antifa protestors.

    • #20
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:08 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  21. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Justin Hertog (View Comment):
    As long as gas is cheap, EVs will never dominate; the economics don’t work.

    The irony is that the more electric vehicles there are on the road, the cheaper gas will get (due to reduced demand).

    • #21
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:09 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  22. La Tapada Member

    I am trying to imagine the events at the church shooting in Texas taking place in the context of driverless cars: The shooter arrives in his driverless car and asks it to wait for him for a few minutes. When he comes out to get away, I imagine he can’t tell it to drive over the speed limit. Can he tell it to just drive anywhere, without giving it a destination? Then, how would the pursuers follow him in a driverless car and can they tell it when to speed up and when to slow down, when to stop immediately (for human reasons the car can’t understand) and when it might be necessary to drive off the road?

    • #22
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:12 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  23. EDISONPARKS Member
    EDISONPARKS Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Justin Hertog (View Comment):
    In all seriousness, I think Lutz is on to something. He says that human-driven cars will be legislated off the road. And that’s the only way his prediction about the end of automobile era will come true. Think about electric vehicles. As long as gas is cheap, EVs will never dominate; the economics don’t work. The cars are too expensive and they don’t save drivers nearly enough money. The question is not whether a legislature can ban a product; it’s whether they can compete in a free market.

    I’ve always wondered what is supposed to happen when our entire vehicle fleet (cars, trucks, tractor trailers) goes electric.

    Wouldn’t we then need to massively expand our electric generating capacity and wouldn’t that most likely be generated by coal. We would be exchanging one carbon emitting fuel (gasoline,diesel) for another coal (most likely coal given low capacity/expense of solar and wind and the environmentalist dislike of hydro and nuclear).

    Not to mention abandoning a well developed driver retail fuel distribution system that has worked remarkably well for nearly a century.

    • #23
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:16 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  24. rico Inactive

    La Tapada (View Comment):
    I am trying to imagine the events at the church shooting in Texas taking place in the context of driverless cars: The shooter arrives in his driverless car and asks it to wait for him for a few minutes. When he comes out to get away, I imagine he can’t tell it to drive over the speed limit. Can he tell it to just drive anywhere, without giving it a destination? Then, how would the pursuers follow him in a driverless car and can they tell it when to speed up and when to slow down, when to stop immediately (for human reasons the car can’t understand) and when it might be necessary to drive off the road?

    When manual-driven cars are outlawed, only outlaws will have manual-driven cars.

    • #24
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:18 PM PST
    • 14 likes
  25. WI Con Member
    WI Con Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jim Chase (View Comment):
    And such legislation is even more politically unlikely if you consider all the various unions that are directly or indirectly tied to these various fleets and services. If taxi drivers in NYC freak out over competition from Uber / Lyft, just wait until they are told they are being replaced by the Googlemobile.

    Not only that but all the gov’t jobs: traffic courts, judges, bailiffs, traffic cops, speeding tickets. Think the insurance industry is just going watch itself dry up? I think Pethokukis is getting paid or ‘comped’ on a lot of what he pushes. Can we automate AEI already?

    • #25
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:22 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  26. rico Inactive

    James Pethokoukis: CNBC recently asked me to comment on a study showing that people don’t want to buy an autonomous car because they would be scared of it. They don’t trust traditional automakers, so the only autonomous car they’d buy would have to come from Apple or Google.

    THIS is the truly huge breakthrough: We’ll all place our trust in Apple and Google.

    • #26
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:24 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  27. rico Inactive

    WI Con (View Comment):
    Not only that but all the gov’t jobs: traffic courts, judges, bailiffs, traffic cops, speeding tickets. Think the insurance industry is just going watch itself dry up?

    No worries. There’ll be apps for all that.

    • #27
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:27 PM PST
    • 1 like
  28. Elizabeth Salinger Coolidge

    Before making the 2002 movie Minority Report, Spielberg gathered a bunch of folks together in a creative think tank and asked how the world would look in 25 years. Each time I watch it, I’m always impressed with how very possible everything seems and how much of it is right on the money. When they go to the part about transportation, the think tank didn’t say “oh, we’ll make them flying cars,” they realized that the Jetsons idea wouldn’t cut it, that Americans love their cars and they love to drive, but that in highly populated areas, as cars became more techy and less mechanical in nature, it would be more efficient for the computer to take over.

    If that’s the case, I think it will start where cities contract out their transportation grid to a tech company that owns the responsibility for the whole thing. It will be illegal for a human to drive within that vicinity. But as soon as you get into a rural setting or interstates that are outside metropolitan areas, you get control of the vehicle again.

    Thanks for posting, btw. Born and raised in Detroit, general interest in the auto industry is ingrained in you for life. :)

    • #28
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:36 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  29. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    What a bunch of [redacted].

    My car is My Liberty, no government will make me give it up, ever. I will never voluntarily own a vehicle that subjects me to constant range anxiety. When Congress does away with the tax credit for electric vehicles, sales will crater, where they belong. In fact, drivers of electric cars should pay a $500 tax every year, to make up for the road maintenance they are not paying for through gas taxes.

    • #29
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:46 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  30. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):
    What a bunch of [redacted].

    My car is My Liberty, no government will make me give it up, ever. I will never voluntarily own a vehicle that subjects me to constant range anxiety. When Congress does away with the tax credit for electric vehicles, sales will crater, where they belong. In fact, drivers of electric cars should pay a $500 tax every year, to make up for the road maintenance they are not paying for through gas taxes.

    Thats a good point. Electric self driving cars would bankrupt the states and cities that depend on gas taxes and speeding tickets for a fair percentage of their budgets.

    • #30
    • November 7, 2017, at 4:50 PM PST
    • 3 likes

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