Road Ahead

Car Sharing, Autonomous Cars, No Existential Threat

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There is one big problem with car-sharing services and the idea one self-driving car can serve the needs of an entire family: sharing is required.

The seasonally adjusted sales rate for U.S. light vehicles edged past 18 million in October, yet forecasters and futurists are lining up to predict the doom of the auto industry.

They say it will be decimated by Millennials preferring Zipcar and Uber over car ownership and, eventually, fully autonomous cars will eliminate the need for families to own more than one vehicle. The result will be a dramatic reduction in auto production and sales.

Like most doomsday scenarios, these conclusions are based on false assumptions.

The first mistake is assuming that because Millennials reportedly haven’t shown much interest in cars they never will want to own one, not even after they get a job, have three kids and move to the suburbs.

The second false assumption is the idea that sharing one self-driving vehicle with your spouse, teenagers and aging parents is considered desirable.

The third false assumption is that human beings like to share.  

Yes, technology changes rapidly, but human nature does not. In 1 million B.C., cavemen fought over the juiciest mammoth bone. Today, highly evolved techies in Silicon Valley come to blows over who is next in line at the EV charging station.

Car sharing and connected car services are a logical evolution of the rental and taxi businesses but they are not an existential threat to the auto industry. They will never replace personal vehicles. I know, because I invented car sharing in the 1960s.

Well, not by myself.

I had help from 76 million other Baby Boomers when we did this thing called hitchhiking. Sure, other generations before us put their thumbs out, but we turned it into mass transportation.  

In the 1960s and early1970s, hitchhiking across the U.S. and Europe was all the rage. Best of all, it was free.

When I was a teenager, I hitchhiked everywhere, sometimes hundreds of miles, and so did millions of others.  

So why are Boomers now famous for driving solo in giant SUVs instead of hitchhiking, living in communes and doing the same things we did when we were young and broke?

Because we aren’t young and broke anymore. Fear of strangers, convenience and maturing lifestyles changed everything.

In the 1970s, the news media was dominated by infamous serial killers such as Ted Bundy who murdered hitchhikers.

Even though there wasn’t much real danger, fear stoked perceptions the practice was unsafe. It disappeared in a few short years.

And even when hitchhiking was popular, it still took a long time to get somewhere. As Boomers matured and had less flexible schedules and more money, they bought cars.

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on Nov 13, 2015

Car sales are doomed because of the Fed created bubble.

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Drew Winter

Drew Winter is Editor-in-Chief of WardsAuto World magazine and a Senior Editor at WardsAuto.com. He was won numerous awards for his work in both print and digital media and has been...

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is executive editor of WardsAuto World magazine, with an emphasis on technology and suppliers. He leads selection of the Ward’s 10 Best Engines and Ward’s 10 Best Interiors...
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