If there's one thing transportation experts and autonomous vehicle experts can agree on it's that no one really knows what the future of mobility looks like. There are so many variables - developing technology, legislative uncertainties and shifting social norms - that still need to be determined before we know how vehicular autonomy will shape our society. Any proclamations about our self-driving future are educated theories at best, and shots in the dark at worst.
Author: Justin Tejada, The Connected Car
With book titles like Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business and Icons and Idiots: Straight Talk in Leadership, former General Motors Vice Chairman and Head of Product Development Bob Lutz has plenty of opinions on the future of the driverless car.
In a new op-ed for Automotive News titled 'Kiss the Good Times Goodbye', he lays out a blistering take on what driverless vehicles will mean to culture in general and car culture in particular.
"We are approaching the end of the line for the automobile because travel will be in standardised modules," wrote Lutz. "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."
Lutz believes these modular vehicles will be owned and operated by corporations with fleets of identical vehicles, while individual ownership of cars and the reflection of unique personalities they represent will fall by the wayside.
Lutz forsees a loss of identity for car enthusiasts as private ownership declines.
For Lutz, the increased dominance of ride-hailing services is a precursor to the removal of human agency in a car's operations.
"The vehicles 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," he wrote. "The tipping point will come when 20-30% of vehicles are fully autonomous. Countries will look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9% of the accidents."
As Lutz acknowledged, most believe that autonomous vehicles will be significantly safer than human drivers once they mature. With that in mind, it's tempting to react defensively to his critique - with all that AVs will do to save human lives, who cares what's lost along the way?
But such a response ignores the alienation of those who love cars the most.
Car culture has been a defining element of American life for a century now, and its deterioration would be a significant loss.
Of course, such a development needn't take place at all. While the tech world indeed plays an integral role in the development of the self-driving car, the automotive industry is right there alongside it. And it is possible to shape an autonomous future that erases the worst things about our roads, while keeping the best.