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The Autonomy Quatrains ….a Reality Check.

Nostradamus would be having a field day.

When pondering the impact of Autonomous Driving Vehicles, the predictions about the future of automotive (and the resulting impact to society) are, if anything, vast. In a world that requires constant content, everyone has an opinion and the ability to publish their opinions. So they do.

The Unbridled Technophiles:

  • Less than 4 million autonomous cars will replace 50% of all commuter traffic in the U.S.1 With roughly 250 million people in the U.S. living in urban communities, 3.75 million autonomous vehicles will handle 50% of peak commuter traffic in the country.
  • Overcrowding will officially come to an end.1 One thing that symbolizes overcrowding more than anything else is traffic. Once traffic flows smoothly, people will begin to regain control of their lives and our sense of feeling overcrowded will begin to disappear.
  • Driverless technologies will cause 1 in 4 jobs to disappear.1 Over the next 2-3 decades, driverless technologies will be either directly or indirectly responsible for the loss of 25% of all of today’s jobs.
  • We won’t need to teach our children how to drive. Today’s infants will wonder how or why we let people drive cars.

The Unbridled Technophobes:

  • Self-driving cars will never be safer than the human eye. Even military fighter drones need remote human pilots.
  • We can’t have machines running the world. “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” — Steven Hawking2
  • The insurance industry will never let it happen. Billions of dollars of insurance money will find a way to quash this fad.
  • It’s already over. Apple laid-off it’s staff from Project Titan3, and Uber is crashing cars in Arizona4.

Start at the far left, and travel to the far right, and you will undoubtedly pass a few sensible predictions and even find a few realisms along the way. So let’s look at the items that reach easy consensus and see if there are logical conclusions.

The Demand for On-Demand Transportation Will Not Wane

In the future, there will still be distance, and there will still be time. People will want to get from X to Y and back again, and they will want to get there when they want to get there. Autonomous Vehicles (AV’s) certainly broach the topic of ownership and convenience, but they do not change the fact that multi-wheeled technology will traverse distance — miles — carrying a payload. Miles driven do not decrease, even if the number of units in the marketplace decreases.

If a shared or fleet-owned marketplace takes shape, fewer vehicles driving the same amount of miles creates the realism that these vehicles will quickly accumulate miles — like taxis. And autonomous as these vehicles may be, they are not magic: more miles equals more maintenance. People get upset when their own vehicles break down — imagine the drama when the Uber AV breaks down halfway between home and taekwondo practice with your 12-year-old in the car.

Prediction: Preventative maintenance will be more critical than ever.

The Demand for Specialized Maintenance Will Increase

Manufacturers build things. Things that are built wear-out and break. Things that are built to travel 60+ miles per hour over potholes, through rain, snow, heat and freezing temperatures carrying various cargo wear-out and break more often than manufacturers prefer. So manufacturers foster relationships with entities designed to care for and repair their things. The more intricate the thing, the more intricate the relationship between manufacturer and maintenance/repair entity.

Today’s vehicles are intricate things, and they are not getting any simpler (I recently witnessed an 11-year old get into a 2000 Jeep Wrangler and ask, “What is this?” while pointing to the window crank). Removing the driver from the equation substantially increases the intricacy of the vehicle.

When was the last time you changed your own oil? When was the last time you diagnosed a software anomaly that applies the brakes too soon before they are needed? The Dealership Service Department is the place where this knowledge is executed. The need for specialized knowledge will be tremendous and the ability to apply this knowledge to AV’s critical.

Prediction: The dealership’s Service Department will become the #1 focus of a dealer’s efforts.

Auto manufacturers already recognize the increasing need to emphasize the Service processes and practices of their franchised dealerships.   As vehicles become more intricate, and as customers become more demanding, the relationship between consumer, dealer, and manufacturer, as expressed through interactions in the Service Department, has never before been the subject of such scrutiny; just ask your friendly neighborhood dealer what they’re talking about with their OEM reps these days. A progressive dealer recently averred, “Think about where the Service Department was located in the 90’s and prior — out in the back. Today’s dealership places the Service Department right up-front next to Sales — a prominent entry point into the facility.”

Now, how the vehicle gets to the Service facility and who is paying the bill may very well be changing, but as mileage and intricacy increase, so goes the need for specialized OEM maintenance and repair. That space is the sole domain of the dealership Service Department. Technology companies wishing to expand and enhance their relationships with dealerships that recognize this need will be well served when emphasis begins to “shift” from Sales to Service. Some tech companies already are.