Cars of the Future: What Will We Be Driving in 25 Years?
It’s not a recent phenomenon. Over the last few decades, technology has been pushing big innovations in the cars we drive, according to Cars.com, with everything from the engine and brake controls to the navigation and entertainment systems in our vehicles going digital.
So what will the next few decades bring? We talked to an automotive technology and strategy expert. He clued us in on what he thinks we can realistically expect to be driving in 25 years (in the year 2041) and what our relationship with our vehicles may be. Below are his predictions, followed by the opinions of two of our favorite auto experts and contributors to The Allstate Blog, The Humble Mechanic and Eric the Car Guy:
PREDICTION: Cars will be self-driving, but not entirely. By 2041, we’ll likely see broad adoption of self-driving cars, as similarly predicted by the Wall Street Journal. But don’t expect roadways to be filled entirely with computer-controlled vehicles. Instead, we’ll likely see a mixed approach, where specific segments of our journey may be turned over to self-driving mode (highway driving, for instance), and other portions where we’ll switch back to having a human behind the controls. We won’t be fully autonomous because there will likely still be limited infrastructure to enable greater numbers of such vehicles to safely navigate the roads.
HUMBLE MECHANIC: I totally agree here. I think the first segment to adopt autonomous driving will be things like shuttle traffic. Trips from hotels to airports make perfect sense for a self-driving vehicle. Looking to visit the Grand Canyon while you are in Las Vegas? The best form of transportation may just be a self-driving vehicle. Public transit is an easy sell to the public. Overcoming public transportation is one of the bigger obstacles to self-driving cars, so it makes sense that autonomous vehicles will attempt to infiltrate that market. We will also see more and more driver-assist features become standard. Things like parking aid and blind spot monitoring might become required on vehicles. It may also be very common to have the option of self-driving or not. If you’re a little tired after a long day of work, you may be able to let your car take care of the drive home. But if you want to take that therapeutic Sunday drive, the wheel is all yours.
ERIC THE CAR GUY: I agree with the prediction in that I think there will be a multifaceted approach to future transportation needs. I think the biggest changes will be in the very nature of vehicle ownership itself. Vehicle ownership among young people is on the decline, according to The New York Times. They don’t have the same attitude toward vehicles as their parents did. They may see it as more of a mode of transportation over an outward projection of personality, or a rite of passage.
PREDICTION: We’ll still own cars, but also share them. USA Today reports that the emotional connection we have with cars may be dipping, if recent trends are any indication, but it won’t entirely go away. People may still want to own some sort of “mobility.” But, whereas today we may own an SUV and use it for everything from our morning commute to moving day hauls, by 2041 we may own one vehicle for a specific purpose (weekend road tripping, for instance) and then share a vehicle for every other task. Expect car design to dramatically change to help make the most of those use cases — and to continue the drive for “aspirational” ownership (compare, for example, the difference in design/price point between two current electric vehicle manufacturers: Prius and Tesla). Cars won’t be commoditized any time soon.
H: Ride share — or more accurately, “vehicle share” — may be able to help penetrate many segments. The car share model works; we even use it now. When we rent a car, we are using a car share service. This service will most likely evolve in the future. We may have more of a vending machine style service for sharing cars. And it might not be only big companies doing the sharing. The average person may be able to share their car with anyone.
We must also look at housing and job trends of today. As more and more people are able to telecommute, the need to own a car decreases. The need for access to a car on an as-needed basis increases. This can propel vehicle sharing to a whole new level. In addition to that, online delivery services are currently exploding. One can only imagine what that would look like in 20-plus years. Perhaps a self-driving car will be delivering our Thai food.
PREDICTION: In 25 years’ time, the brand of car we’ll be buying (or sharing/renting) may be vastly different than today. In fact, some traditional automakers likely won’t be around to see 2041. Expect potential mash-ups (traditional car makers merged with Silicon Valley brands), more global car makers, and plenty of new car brands from companies outside the auto sector. I expect Google and the Chinese equivalent, Baidu, to be much bigger players by 2041.
H: We have seen a number of car companies come and go over the years. Will a company like Subaru pair up with Apple to make a car? Only time can tell. But technology companies will most likely be working hand in hand with car manufacturers to help build fully connected cars. I also see companies buying technology from other companies. Could a small startup car maker buy the electric battery system from a company like Tesla? Sure they can. In fact, that type of open sourcing and licensing of technology systems can help spike the number of fully electric vehicles on the road.
E: I’d like to take it a step further than the industry insider did. Consider a future where companies like Uber, Google, or Apple offer transportation as a shared experience. No one person will own the vehicle. Instead, you pay a monthly fee to have access to their network of vehicles. These will be universal vehicles where the color, inside or outside appearance can be changed depending on who is riding/driving in them.
PREDICTION: Cars may operate as assistants. By 2041, we’ll be as connected with cars as we are with our phones today. Your vehicle will be the other device that you have. Here’s a sampling of what CNN has predicted, which aligns with my beliefs: Based on your calendar, you’ll get a notice that it’s time to leave for a meeting, with multiple data points (traffic levels, highway messages, fuel-efficient routes) determining your designated route. Getting into the vehicle, you’ll find the environment (temperature, lighting, music) to be to your exact preferences. As you drive, your car may cue up more relaxing music and a change in temperature if it “reads” that you’re stressed or fatigued. And then, once you exit, your car can feed your phone with its exact location in the parking garage. Of course, with cars operating as devices, we’ll also be managing them like devices: We’ll review charge levels and other maintenance needs online and receive operating system updates (as we do with our phones) to continuously add new features and fix the inevitable bugs.
Gasoline engines and steering wheels will still be around. The good old gas/diesel engine will still be around by 2041, but it may be on the way out. That means we’ll have a diversity of power sources for our vehicles, with batteries and even hydrogen fuel cells running the majority of our cars. In the case of the steering wheel, it’ll still be there too, because one way or another, in 2041, a human may still need to step in and take over the controls at some point. That said, future steering wheels may be smaller since we won’t need them that often; and they may even tuck out of the way when self-driving mode is engaged.
H: Connectivity in our cars has become a big priority for customers. With our cars operating as assistants, we begin to stack the functions of a vehicle built for 2041. It will know the schedule of our day. A car may self-drive to the front of our office and help us review for our big presentation. Our cars will most likely be connected to our homes as well. This can make for a fully synced lifestyle between home, work and vehicle.
The great thing is, there will always be a classic market too. In 2041 we will be able to look back and appreciate how innovative cars were. And without those steps in innovation we would not have the cars we have. As finite resources deplete, things that are considered alternative fuels may have a stronger presence in the industry. Much like the gas hybrid cars of today, we may see cars with multiple sources of power.
E: Imagine pulling up an app on your smart device (I won’t even use the word phone here) and being able to call up transportation that can come pick you up at your front door in minutes and take you wherever you need to be. When it arrives, your presets for appearance and comfort are already downloaded into the vehicle. It may look and feel like your vehicle, but in actuality, it’s just another vehicle in the fleet that conforms to each user that uses it. Once at your destination, that vehicle will go on to help another customer within the network nearby while you take care of whatever business you need. When you call for a pickup, the vehicle once again conforms to your preferences and takes you home or to your next destination.
Consider the cost savings to a customer that doesn’t have to worry about servicing a vehicle. The monthly access fee may cover all maintenance and insurance cost, thus changing the very nature of vehicle ownership.
Imagine the possibility of having your kids driven to a friend’s house in complete safety. You can monitor their progress on your smart device and even interact with them on their trip via video chat.
This also calls into question whether or not you’d even need a driver’s license. If the fleet was autonomous, there would be no need to pilot the vehicle on a regular basis. Perhaps “operator’s license” would be a more appropriate term.
I think this also makes electric vehicles more viable. In fact, I believe that makes the most sense since the technology already exists. Think about the vehicle that picks you up always having a fresh charge due to the rotation of vehicles within the fleet, thus, negating long wait times for a recharge.
Add regenerative braking and solar panels and it could extend vehicle service even further. Perhaps even an urban infrastructure similar to trolleys where the vehicle can extend an arm upward to attach to the grid and recharge while driving in certain areas that have coverage for such a thing.
Obviously this type of transportation won’t be the only form, but I think it will be a multifaceted approach. I think there will always be individuals that want to drive themselves. There will also be a need for vehicles that can travel off road, as well as other recreational and transport vehicles.
Bottom line, I think the very nature of transportation will change in the next few decades, and we will adapt to what will likely become the new norm.
There’s clearly a revolution coming in the auto world. But, as happens so often with technology, we’ll likely see a lot of innovations and many iterations come and go before we get it right.