Self-driving car technology continues to develop at an astonishing pace, and some experts forecast we could have fleets of personal autonomous vehicles on the road within the next decade. Some regulators and technological pessimists fear the day this happens, noting the potential ethical and legal dilemmas posed by autonomous vehicles involved in accidents. Other, more optimistic groups note the purported safety improvements autonomous vehicles could provide, as well as the added convenience of not needing to drive everywhere.
But assuming companies can perfect self-driving car technology and get those vehicles on the road, could that make older, manually driven vehicles obsolete? And if so, what would that mean for your current vehicles?
What an Autonomous Vehicle World Would Look Like
One of the prevailing visions for a future with autonomous vehicles predicts that car ownership will disappear in favor of shared car usage; an autonomous vehicle company would own a fleet of self-driving cars, which people would be able to order on demand or carpool with. This scenario would be like a hybrid of public transportation and current ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, except without any human drivers — and far lower costs. In this reality, it wouldn’t make sense to own a car, since it would be far cheaper to rely exclusively on these services.
Some people may invest in their own personal autonomous vehicles, and some may hold on to their traditional vehicles, but for the most part, traditional car ownership would no longer be necessary, and current owners may ditch their vehicles if for no other reason than to eliminate payments and save on insurance costs.
Regulations and Vehicle Requirements
A Stanford University study estimates that 90 percent of vehicle crashes are attributable to human error. That means with hypothetically “perfect” autonomous systems, up to 90 percent of vehicle crashes could be totally prevented — assuming all human drivers are kept from the roadways. Lawmakers, insurance companies, and other stakeholders, therefore, have a vested interest in getting human drivers off the road as soon as possible. It seems unlikely that legislation banning or strictly regulating human drivers could emerge while autonomous vehicles are still in their infancy, but it may come up somewhere down the line.
Why Keep Traditional Cars?
Despite regulatory requirements and economic incentives, there will be plenty of reasons for people to hold on to their traditional vehicles, including:
- Distrust. Some people will always focus on the dangers of self-driving cars, and none of the benefits. They may distrust the technology, or want an insurance policy in case autonomous cars stop working or disappear from public availability. These people will try to keep at least one traditional car in their possession, just in case.
- Nostalgia. Others may have grown up with traditional cars, and may be unwilling to transition to a system dominated by autonomous vehicles. In this case, it’s a subjective desire to have a car — not an objective need for one — that dictates their possession.
- Collection. Still others may track down and acquire old vehicles for the sake of their future value. After all, if traditional car production comes to a halt, the future value of any remaining traditional cars in the future could skyrocket.
Accordingly, it’s unlikely the entire traditional car market will disappear overnight.
What Would Happen to Obsolete Cars?
Manually driven cars are unlikely to completely disappear, as demand will remain for them among collectors and traditionalists. However, assuming autonomous cars are deployed successfully, it’s almost certain that there will be a spike of “obsolete” traditional cars that people no longer want. What could happen to those vehicles?
- Recycling. Some cars will be recycled. They could be stripped of parts or reduced down to their bare materials, or they may be used to create new pieces of artwork. People will start finding more creative uses for their vehicles, or get the most money they can out of them.
- Retrofitting. Some autonomous car manufacturers may buy up old vehicles and retrofit them, including self-driving software in the perfectly functional body of the car. If this is the case, current owners could upgrade their vehicles, or make quick money donating their car to the fleet.
- Buyback programs. Companies and government organizations might even organize buyback programs, incentivizing current vehicle owners to get rid of their vehicles and transition to the more technologically advanced, safer world of autonomous vehicle reliance.
It’s hard to say exactly what will happen to the world of traditional car manufacturing and driving when autonomous vehicles arrive, but it’s going to change how we see the car-driven world. Regardless of your personal feelings on autonomous vehicles, this is the direction we seem to be heading, and our momentum is too accelerated to pull out now.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher. A graduate of Iowa State University, he's now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant. Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, and Forbes.com, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter (@LarryAlton3), at LinkedIn.com/in/larryalton, and on his website, LarryAlton.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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