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 HybridCars.com, 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.