Why You Will Never Own a Driverless Car

This Atlantic piece talks about the ramifications of a new innovation in electric cars by BMW. Rather than purely technological, BMW is simply packaging zipcar-like access to a conventional SUV for several weeks a year. It correctly gets to the heart of why people are leery of electric cars:

This consumer peccadillo has driven alternative transportation advocates bonkers for years. So, why do people buy 7-passenger SUVs with four-wheel drive in California when they usually carry a single passenger in 70 degree weather on a highway? 
People buy cars for their peak (imagined) need. If you can imagine that one day you'll drive more than a handful of people to Lake Tahoe to go skiing, then (if you can afford it) you might choose a massive sport-utility vehicle.

This concept is short changed by only being applied to electric vehicles. Every time I have a conversation about driverless cars, I'm surprised by how many people apply today's car ownership paradigm to them. Driverless cars are certainly a huge technological advancement, but the biggest shift they will cause will be in how they are packaged as a service.

You may want to own a driverless car, but what if instead you had access to a service that guides a public driverless car to where you're standing within 5 minutes? What if you could have a cheaper service that would come within 15 minutes, or had to be scheduled in advance? Or another service that would pick someone else up on the way? Or another service that will drive you to a predetermined drop off point?

It's easy to see that driverless cars allow a seamless gradient to exist between public transit and private cars. With only two options in this spectrum available today, people drive only to have access to their car when they really need it. More people's needs will be met by these hybrid options, and more people will be swayed away from the hassles and costs of car ownership.

When access instead of ownership is the focus, and more options are available to people, more people will shift to being served at least partially by pure public transit as well. If you formerly drove from a suburban location to a downtown office for example, it would be cheaper and more efficient to take a driverless car to the fixed point of a commuter rail hub rather than taking a car all the way downtown.

This program started by BMW is only the start of these custom hybrid packages, and proof that we're ready for this paradigm shift.


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