The Near Future Of Mobility

new trends, travel, cars

Baby Boomers and auto ABC

ABC autobuggy. St. Louis. 1906-1910.
ABC autobuggy. St. Louis. 1906-1910.

Baby Boomers, the generation that drives almost everywhere, are on the verge of discovering their automotiveA-B-C’s all over again. Over the past 40 years, Boomers have had a love affair with transportation. They have witnessed an ongoing parade of upgrades from the fanciful CB radio, to standard air and auto, antilock brakes, airbags, and GPS navigation.

The biggest vehicle innovation, the one that turns the automotive industry upside-down, is yet to come. Within a decade or so, the household car will be reinvented, an irony since the Boomers reinvented their lives around the car. There are core changes in mobility- a reinvention of automotive “A” “B” and “C.”

A stands for autonomous. The driverless car is no longer science fiction. In 2013, Nevada became the first state to allow driverless cars to apply for their own drivers’ licenses. In May 2015 a Daimler-built truck, nicknamed the Freightliner Inspiration, became the first autonomous vehicle to legally operate on its highways. Google has been testing driverless cars for six years and its blog says that it has the equivalent of 75 years of typical American adult driving experience. There have only been 11 accidents, none of them serious, and none of them caused by the driverless vehicle. The fundamental holdback today is not the technology; it is the marketplace working out matters of insurance and damages.

B is for bodily injury. This is a term encountered when you renew your insurance policy. With the autonomous car, bodily injuries will be far less, far fewer in between. In the U.S. the accident rate for the autonomous car is .6 percent per 100,000 miles; the national rate for reported crashes is .3 (30%) per 100,000 miles drive (note: many accidents go unreported). There are about 11 million automobile accidents in the United States and about 35,000 people are killed in collisions. World wide, more than 1,250,000 people die each year in car crashes. In medicine, a cure that saved so many lives each year would be heralded.

For Boomers, car accidents are an issue that plague aging. People become less safe and more vulnerable drivers as they age, so the self-driving car comes just in time” for Boomers. It will provide a healthier outcome for them, and their passengers. And, it will help make streets more “livable,” a safer place for pedestrians and bicyclists of all ages.

C represents “cars per capita” and it may the most surprising, and profound aspect of the automotive change. Since the time of Henry Ford, cars have been manufactured and marketed for individual-owners. Herbert Hoover captured this in his 1928 campaign slogan, “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. It was an important goal, but today it may be out of step with a population that is more vegan and likes the flexibility and independence of travel by Uber.

The key issue, comments futurist/author Martin Ford, is “perhaps the most important thing to understand about a future in which your car is fully autonomous is that it probably won’t be your car.” (Rise of the Robots, p. 186). If the Baby Boomers take a look inside their garage or at their workplace parking lot they may appreciate his  logic. The average car is parked for up to 95% a day and that is simply put, an inefficient use of a resource. The 95% calculation is cited in Aging in Suburbia (Chapter 7) and is attributed to Donald Shoup, a parking expert and professor from UCLA. Shoup has noted that for each car on the road, there are about 6 other parking spaces that needed to be built- think open parking spaces at the train station, the airport, church, school, the mall, work, gym, and so forth.

“C” Change and Consequence!

In the changing world of “cars per capita, Ford (Martin Ford, that is) points out that if you don’t own the car, and the vehicle comes to you (probably summoned with a Smartphone), you have little reason to care what make or model it is. Cars, he postulates, could cease to be status items, and the automotive market might well become commoditized. (In a footnote, Ford comments that auto manufacturers who do not join the bandwagon could resemble Microsoft, a company that has lagged in consumer markets for smart phones and tablets).

Since Baby Boomers began getting driver’s licenses, back in 1961, there have been a slew of changes- from occasional seatbelts to mandatory airbags. Old companies, like American Motors, Mercury, and Saturn have disappeared. New companies, notably Tesla, have emerged. But, curiously, the future may not belong to manufacturing firms. Instead, it is the companies that have developed ways to share cars– from Avis to Enterprise, and from Zipcar to Uber that could be the pace setters.

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