In 2018, Expect Personal Mobility Appliances

Reuters is running a series of commentaries from auto industry observers about what cars and the industry will look like in 10 years. The following article by Bradley Berman, editor of, was published on July 31, 2008.

The size, shape, and primary attributes of a 2018 model American car will bear little resemblance to today’s vehicles. The most visible signs of a car revolution already in the works can be seen today in the shift from large SUVs and trucks to small cars—and the growing popularity of gas-electric hybrids. But there’s something more transformative at play. By 2018, the American love affair with the car will become platonic.

Sure, you might still adore your car, but with the lusty “need for speed” tied up in gigahertz instead of get-up-and-go. Your car, reborn as a personal mobility appliance, will be more about what it can do, and less about stimulating your senses.

The price of a gallon of gas in 2018 will make you remember $4 gas with nostalgia. Smaller will be inherently better. Minicars will become common in U.S. cities, just as $10 gas makes them popular in Europe and Asia today. But these small cars will be big with creature comforts and gizmos. In fact, the car itself will become one big gizmo. That’s already evident in the Toyota Prius’s joystick shifter and touch-screen dash monitor, and the all-electric Tesla Roadster, which uses almost 6,000 commodity batteries—each the size of a AA flashlight battery —to deliver the two-seater’s racecar-like performance. Electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and hybrids with varying degrees of battery storage, will own much of the market. Battery packs will become a commonplace primary or secondary “tank” used to store electric fuel that emit no tailpipe emissions.

The marketplace itself will go digital. Forget broadcast TV spots sending scattershot messages to mostly disinterested viewers. “Imagine auto marketing going on steroids in terms of its ability to reach owners and prospects,” said Lonnie Miller at auto market intelligence firm R. L. Polk & Company. “Web 2.0 will long be a thing of the past. Web 5.0 will be in front of us with customer-driven advertising reaching all available outlets known to them in ways we really cannot imagine now.”

The personal mobility appliance will zip along an increasingly networked roadway. Wired and wireless cyber networks will improve safety. “Artificial intelligence via distributed computing power will be embedded in the cars and the roads, bridges, and other infrastructure,” said Walter McManus, an auto economist at the University of Michigan. “One day the system will become self-aware and kill us all.”

McManus is being facetious, but in fact, the transition to this new way of motoring will be a matter of life and death—for car companies. John DeCicco, an automotive strategist at Environmental Defense, expects that some auto companies will cling to “traditional measures of mobility”—horsepower, size, and 4-wheel drive—while others will embrace the attributes of what he calls a “post-mobility” age: connectivity, entertainment, information, navigation, safety, and mobile workplace features. This transition will not be complete in 10 years, but it will be in full swing. Companies preparing today to make the switch from “horsepower to gigahertz” will win. The others will go the way of the horse.

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  • Rob D

    I only hope it becomes true. Unfortunately, the only way it will happen is if people have an inner though process shift from self gratification to preservation of our planet and mankind. We’re killing ourselves with size, speed, glitz and consequently pollution right now.

  • Samie

    “”Companies preparing today to make the switch from “horsepower to gigahertz” will win.””

    I agree that electronic gizmo’s will help increase profits if downsizing continues form truck to car base vehicles. But the EV part of the article I’m not sure 2018??? This depends on government regulations & incentives. The article could have been published in the 90’s EV1….. People underestimate the influence that large petroleum producers have over media, policy, and market choices. There is also competing ideas for the future of cars. eg natural gas, biofuels, ect… Until those ideas are discredited we will see slow change to the EV personal mobility appliances that this article talks about

  • Da Cronic

    Ha…if anyone thinks this is going to happen by 2018, they need to send me some of that stuff their smokin!

  • Brett Borders

    An excellent article and glimpse into the future. I have “sensed” that this type of scenario ($10 gas + tiny, low-speed cars) will unfold for the past 15 years or so. It seems like America is just now barely waking up to the possibility.

  • Anonymous

    Um, I really don’t need any of that. A car is a tool that I use to get from point A to point B. Trying to pretend it is anything more is consumerism bull. Give me a $10,000 electric two seater with decent crash protection. I realize that won’t replace the profit margins lost from SUV sales, but I think we just have to admit that the current pile of car maker dinosaurs is just not sustainable. The futures lies not just in car design but company design as well. They should be talking about how the company must change not just their cars. The future is simplicity and small dedicated companies, like Aptera.

    And try spending less time in your car, then maybe you won’t think it needs all of that stuff. And try taking driving seriously instead of considering it entertainment. Your life and the lives of others depends on it.

  • Anonymous

    I sold my car back 2001 and since have been using mostly public transportation. On time to time I rent a car, last year I did rent only two times. I read books and study with a cup of coffee when I go to work by buss. I save about more than 400 eur month by using buss and not a owning a car.

  • Shines

    I don’t know about 2018, but we already see lexuses that can park themselves, anti-tailgating, stability control, cruise control. Reminds me of the Simpsons where Homer sees the cruise control and says, “Ah cruise control. Take me to work car.” Then he puts his feet on the dash as the car swerves out of control and crashes. GPS navigation systems already tell us where to turn, who says they won’t be telling the the cars steering control where to turn by 2018. I can see getting into my electric car and it asking me, “To work Shines?” I reply, “No rush.” because if I tell it to hurry, it would operate in a performance mode that would charge my account 20% more to get me to work faster. It was just over 100 years ago that most people thought air travel was absurd. I can see sitting in my transport watching the news or catching up on my communications (whatever follows emails)… Where are your imaginations? ;-}

  • GR

    Shines, I totally know what you mean. The more I read about advances in hybrid and electric cars such as the Prius, Tesla, and the Volt, the more I think cars are finally evolving to cars in movies such as in I, Robot and Minority Report.

    I mean in a few years many people will be able to plug-in their cars at night and charge them from their solar panels that were absorbing sunlight during the day. Now certain cars slow down when approaching other cars, so maybe in a few years we can have more cars helping us to avoid accidents all together.

    Cars may not be automated to the point that they could drive us to and from work by 2018, but it’s definitely possible that certain auto makers will be closer to that concept by then.

  • Sheldon

    Barack Obama has advocated plug-in hybids as the future of the American auto industry. If the government is backing this, 2018 could definately see the bulk of car sales being variations of plug in hybrid cars.



  • Chaz

    I remember watching a regular TV program as a kid back in the 60s called “The 21st Century” that looked forward to the type of automated transportation infrastructure and vehicles as entertainment cocoons, though I don’t remember if it foresaw the demise of the internal combustion engine. Well, it’s the 21st Century, where is my future?

  • Anonymous

    You mean “they’re” not “their”.

  • Sedate Me

    The more technology advances, the worse drivers become. They become increasingly dependent on the technology and their skills diminish. As a result of diminishing skills and sheer human laziness, driving technology must continually improve and become much more reliable. For example, people with parking sensors become less and less likely to look while parking. Therefore, these sensors can’t just be “helpful”, they need to be flawless. Otherwise, more collisions will occur than before these things were invented. Ultimately, auto-parking will have to become commonplace because drivers will no longer be willing or able to park themselves.

    Another concern is that most drivers treat the technology (particularly speed and handling) as a kind of Arms Race in the never ending Cold War to get one or two spots ahead of the “enemy” during their daily commute. As a result, they constantly push the technology to its limits, no matter how dangerous, illegal, futile or irrational it is to do so. With each advancement, the potential for destruction increases as well. (more mass and acceleration = more force of impact)

    As automobile technology develops and as cars continue to multiply, roads will become increasingly frustrating and dangerous. I gave up my beloved standard for an automatic, just because driving it in ever worsening traffic became unbearable. Eventually, if private automobiles are to remain palatable, technology must slowly reduce drivers to mere passengers. Ultimately, these passengers will step into their personal cocoon, announce their destination, sit back and play with all the techno-toys automakers have installed to entice people into buying cars because automobile technologies and the sheer impenetrable volume of traffic have made driving boring and tedious. Once on the road, these future cars will move in formation, automatically adjusting to avoid crowding or jeopardizing the safety of their fellow passenger cars. To the outside observer, it may resemble watching trains travelling down tracks. The main difference would be that each passenger has his own car and his own engine and that the whole process occupies a lot more space than a train.

    At that point, one has to wonder what the point of car ownership is. I think the auto manufacturers figured this out a long time ago. They know they can’t maintain a thriving business by selling truly safe, practical, environmentally friendly, transportation to individuals. Not only is that not very sexy, in order to do that, you’ll eventually have to take the steering wheel out of the hands of its owners and turn roadways into virtual railways. If people wanted what amounts to quasi-mass transportation, they’d already be taking the subway at a fraction of the cost. No. In order to make money, car makers will continue to sell vehicles that capitalize on our primitive desires for status, speed, strength and the urge to get ahead of the other guy at all costs.

    Detroit stopped building “personal mobility” over half a century ago and will resist utility and practicality as much as possible. As a result, fully automated cars won’t be on the road until 30 years after the technology is perfected. (The Japanese are halfway there.) Perhaps by then, we’ll have stopped building cities around cars and we’ll build them around people instead. As much as I love my car, I can’t stand driving it to work every day. Driving the streets is a lot like being trapped in a stadium full of American Idol contestants. It’s jam packed with annoying idiots who think they’re hot stuff and it makes me want to blow my brains out.

  • Bryce


    4 wheel drive is something needed for those of us who live/work/play in the sand or snow. Not everyone lives in the bubble of the city. I don’t know about you, but it is certainly enjoyable to……enjoy nature.

    Though, I certainly won’t turn down a better car with nifty gizmos. 🙂

  • Hal Howell

    I think most of you are dreaming. Even though I drive a Prius and I see more of them on the road here in Texas, I also see a lot of cars/trucks from the ’60s, ’70s,’80s and ’90s. Much as I liked the cars in I, Robot and Minority Report, we are years away from those being reality in any significant numbers. You don’t just turn over several generations of cars in a couple of years. Think more in terms of decades. People will hold on to what they have because they can’t afford to buy a new car or don’t see the need to change. Change comes at a painfully slow process. Not only that but we are still driving on roads made of asphalt and have to deal with potholes after heavy rains. I would suspect that the roads in Minority Report and I, Robot were intelligent. Here’s a thought, why not embed electrical conduits in our roads that would allow electric cars to draw energy saving battery power and use battery power only when not on major roads such as residential areas, etc.? If Nicholas Tesla could produce wireless electricity then why not now??? His approach may be what is needed to make electric cars a reality. Maybe a car tax based on miles driven could be used to pay for electricity used in place of gasoline.

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  • Anonymous