What happens to the automotive industry when self-driving cars finally become the norm? That is to say, when every car is a self-driving car and, perhaps, in the interests of your own health and safety it's illegal for people to drive their own car except in certain tightly circumscribed circumstances.
The impetus behind self-driving cars has come from the luxury brands, which have to be seen to offer the latest and greatest technology, but it may not necessarily be in their interests as car companies.
After all, why do people buy a BMW, Mercedes or Jaguar? Partly, it's for the badge as a status symbol and because they have the spare cash.
However, it's also because they are objectively better cars, for which it is worth paying a premium. They have bigger engines, better handling, faster acceleration and top speeds that may well exceed the motorway limit but make them more of a pleasure to drive.
So what happens when all cars are self-driving cars controlled by pretty much the same software and all driving in pretty much the same boring way?
Today's self-driving cars, it is said, drive just like a nervous grandmother: slowly, cautiously and fuel-efficiently. Acceleration is glacial and speed limits are diligently observed.
The self-driving cars of the future might be able to accelerate with a bit more haste than today's prototypes, but it's unlikely that they'll be allowed to break speed limits or even go round corners, mild or tight, in the same way you probably do now. That fun hairpin bend in Winchelsea? Forget it. They will all drive in exactly the same way.
My point, and I do have one, is that there will be scarcely any point in expensive cars in the future when even a Jaguar F-Type or Tesla Model S drives like a Nissan Serena.
Why lash out fifty grand for the pleasure of 550 highly refined charging horses under the bonnet of an F-Type when the only tangible differences between one car and the next is the comfort of the seats, the reliability of the internet connection and the entertainment it offers to divert passengers' attention while the car takes you to Morrisons?
Indeed, what would be the point of a Chelsea tractor if there's no pleasure to be had from looking down on the proles in their Skodas and Hyundais and intimidating them at mini-roundabouts?
And that's before the self-driving car concept makes the prospect of renting cars at the swipe of smartphone a more realistic prospect. If you really can ‘dial a ride' for pennies from someone who knows you won't be able to crash it, why pay thousands to own a vehicle outright?
In other words, self-driving vehicles will fundamentally change not just driving, but the car industry itself, removing individuality from purchasing decisions and turning the industry even further into a commodity producer.
Do the luxury car brands leading the charge into self-driving cars appreciate what they are letting themselves in for? If and when the shift happens, it will almost certainly hit them the hardest, and another round of industry-wide consolidation will be inevitable.
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