Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Era of the Private Automobile Is About to Be Over

Once you think about it, it seems almost inevitable. No, the age of the automobile is not about to end, but the age of the private ownership of automobiles is passing away … at this very moment. You might ask how this will impact the auto industry, for instance. We do not have the answer, but we should, as Kara Swisher writes, pay close attention to secular trends.

I will die before I buy another car.

I don’t say that because I am particularly old or sick, but because I am at the front end of one of the next major secular trends in tech. Owning a car will soon be like owning a horse — a quaint hobby, an interesting rarity and a cool thing to take out for a spin on the weekend.

Before you object, let me be clear: I will drive in cars until I die. But the concept of actually purchasing, maintaining, insuring and garaging an automobile in the next few decades?


Of course, it all depends on where you live. If you live in large city and have a car you should probably be examined. If you live in a rural area, an area where you cannot just dial up an Uber, you might need to keep that truck.

Here is how it happens:

You start using car-sharing services, you don’t use your car as often, you realize as these services proliferate that you actually don’t need to own a car at all.

It’s obviously an easier decision if you live near a major metropolitan area, like I do, where the alternatives — cars and then car pools and then bikes and now scooters — are myriad. (Why, by the way, this is a revolution led by private companies instead of public transportation is an important topic for another day.) In other countries, often with denser populations, there are even more ideas bubbling up, from auto-rickshaws and motorbike taxis to new bus services.

But, in any area where car sharing companies function, why do you need a car? And this is before we arrive at autonomous, robot-driven vehicles.

Note that the advances in ride sharing have been produced by private enterprise, not by public entities. I trust that you do not find that surprising. In New York, government cannot make the subways function. You did not expect them to innovate, did you?

Swisher continues:

Car-sharing continues to increase (Uber and Lyft are set to go public this year), new innovations emerge all the time (Scooters! Vertical-take-off-and-landing vehicles!) and all manner of autonomous technologies are inevitable (Elon Musk, whatever you think of him or the prospects of Tesla, is 100 percent directionally correct). Private car ownership declined globally last year, and it is a trend that I believe is going to accelerate faster than people think.

We all think that maybe it will happen and that maybe it will happen eventually. But, Swisher suggests, it will probably happen much quicker than we imagine:

Consider how swiftly people moved from physical maps to map apps, from snail mail to email, from prime time TV to watching on demand. What had been long-held practices were quickly replaced by digital tools that made things easier, more convenient and simply better. Some of the shifts have been slower to develop, but then accelerated quickly, like what is now occurring in retail with online shopping and quick delivery pioneered by Amazon.

Simply put, everything that can be digitized will be digitized.

It’s probably a big deal. It’s probably going to come to us, sooner than we expect. The era of the private automobile is about to be over.


Freddo said...

Ha, in the Netherlands the media tends to breathlessly report every now and then on young people forgoing cars and how that is a victory for the environment. Of course these media types all live in a few big cities where socialist policies have made car ownership/parking very expensive and impractical. The reality when working with young people (esp. males) is that they all cannot wait to be able to get a car and the associated freedom of movement.

Ares Olympus said...

It seems like we have to depopulate the spaced-out ex/suburbs first, but certainly the reality in any large metro area is driving doesn't look like the open roads of the car commercials, rather stop and go "rush hour" traffic that now lasts most of daylight hours. And the U.S. is behind the rest of the world mostly because we have more open space that avoided population densities that makes moving and parking 4000lb vehicles, each filled with one person, both impractical and unnecessary.

Personally, I'm with H.G. Wells and see bicycles as the future, sufficient for daily travel needs. If we design cities a bit better, we can include walking seems essential and also will help us get in our 30-60 minutes of daily recommended exercise, even mixed with transit options (including ubers and hourcar rentals). Perhaps many will own low range golf cart-sized electric vehicles will fill in gaps, especially for the elderly. And insurance ought to be much cheaper at 20mph.

trigger warning said...

The end of private car ownership because smartphones. Check. Columbia J-school Master's. Check.

The country would probably be better off with the end of private smartphone ownership. And fewer Columbia J-school Master's degrees.

UbuMaccabee said...

I’ve been looking to upgrade my enormous, gas-guzzling F-150 super cab with a new gas-guzzling F-250 so I can get my wife a Bobcat T770 and a trailer for Christmas. This seems like a good time to buy. Thanks, for the initiative.

David Foster said...

I question this. Ride-sharing services are very labor-intensive. I've talked with several Uber drivers who are very unhappy with their income level, and will bolt at the first opportunity. And a lot of drivers haven't yet fully understood their costs: increased depreciation & maintenance on their vehicles.

Self-driving cars are oversold. They will be practical soon on defined and controlled routes; the general case is another matter.

Leo G said...

Interesting. In Canuckiztan, still about 70% of the population goes camping at least once a year. Maybe time to invest in rental car companies.....

(By the way Stewart, the captcha is getting ridiculous. going through at least 4 screens and told to try again at least 3 times.)

Magic Mirror said...

Everything old is new again: private automobile ownership in the USA shot up in the 1950s-60s, but well into the 1940s, almost two decades after Henry Ford's moving assembly lines made private cars affordable enough for a large segment of the U.S. population, most denizens of New York and America's larger cities didn't own a car, which was seen as the province either the rich or rural types (hence the image of Ma and Pa Kettle, or later, Jed Clampett, in a beat-up truck or a country bumpkin jalopy.)

Still, there is obviously a future in America's cities for the sort of transportation services which Kara Swisher mentions in her article.

Note to A.O.: One suspects that the percentage of American adults who are willing to bicycle in the rain, or where there is snow or ice on the ground, must approach zero.

Illuvitus said...

The thing that's actually changing is that fewer kids are being born. No one with a family of three or four kids is going to be sharing vehicles with other people. Most families will probably maintain multiple cars.

This is trend for the young, urban, childless crowd. It's hardly the first, nor is it the first to be given outsized importance by the young, urban childless crowd.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Should this trend continue (or even become a reality), the urban sophisticates will prevent people from owning cars. That’s just what they do. Social anarchy and economic collectivism. It fits the model.

I have never understood the war people seem to have with the automobile. It creates so much freedom. I get the Lefty hatred.... they want us all on trains. Collectivist chic. Everyone equally miserable, with no choices. That’s the model.

Leo G said...

Illuvitus, same line of thinking here. It seems that the younger generation is "marrying" later in life, and a lot of times waiting til their 30's or even forties to have their 1.9 children.

Will be interested in seeing who comes up with the Soccer Mom Uber equivilant. This child to 5 AM hockey practice, that child to 3:30 ballet lesson.

It is also a sad fact that in my city, I would estimate that at least 70% of school children get driven to school. An Uber school bus on the horizon?

What about the family ski day? Out to the country for the Farmer's Market? Or the ole " Feck-it! I gotta get out of here for a few days"?

I am thinking the old saw about the report of my death.......

Sam L. said...

I live in a smallish town with a ridge down the middle of it. And a goodly number of days with rain, rain, rain. Can't take a bus to Costco, and couldn't carry a Costco cart-load onto and off of a bus. Different strokes for different folks; or alternatively, different loads for different toads.

Sam L. said...

tw wrote, "The country would probably be better off with the end of private smartphone ownership. And fewer Columbia J-school Master's degrees." Add in Mizzou's J-School grads.