This week, the inaugural Code Conference took place on the West Coast and much of the buzz was about Google’s self driving car. Google co-founder Sergey Brin unveiled the car and showed at least one video of a driver-less car which pretty much looks like a gondola.
(image from recode)
I’ve been thinking about self-driving cars for a little while now. As you might (or might not) know, I enjoy cars. I’ve blogged about the automotive industry a bit, I got to work on multiple automotive pitches on the agency side, and over the years frequent the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance to enjoy the culture of automobiles. I’ve also owned my fair share of cars: some that go fast and some that go slow.
I have a relationship with my cars. Some cars I care about more than others. But if I’m leasing, that relationship ends every 36, 39, or 48 months. I’m onto my next car. If I own a car, I’m looking at where I’ll achieve maximum value for my sale/trade-in and look to optimize for that. Note, history tells us that the longer you hold onto an owned car, the more value you get out of it. For me, value is not correlated to happiness- there might be a slight correlation, but I look to switch my cars more frequently than the typical American of 11.4 years.
As Google showcases it’s self-driving car, the definition of a car doesn’t change, but the value and utility it brings is very different. Instead of having to worry about driving – and basically concentrating on the road, you now get [potentially] substantial time back in your day.
For me, I am in my car for about 30 mins each weekday. 15 mins to and from the train station. While those 15 mins each way are not significant, when you add them up over a week, that’s roughly 2.5 hours that I’m sacrificing of my time to drive to the train. Instead of buying cars that hug the road, sit low, and have 510hp, I can focus on the cabin of the car and basically ride in an office or living room on wheels. Cars will have more Bentley interior amenities than Ferrari* amenities (though Ferrari is getting Apple’s CarPlay).
My relationship is with technology when it comes to cars. At the end of the day, a car is a set of wheels, an engine, and a lot of modern day computers. Cars today just work….. and for the most part they do. I noticed my wife had a day-time-running light that was not working today… but that didn’t stress me out. The car worked fine; when we have a free moment, we’ll bring it back to the dealership and have them fix the light. Cars have become very utilitarian.
This used to not be the case. If you ask your pops, your grandmother, or anyone else older than you, you’ll see that they had stronger relationships with cars. Why? Because cars used to be a lot more temperamental and they’d break. They were also newer. They were to the left on the gartner hype cycle. When a car had issues, you put on your old jeans and you crawled under your car and fixed it. You build a relationship with your car. You might have even named your car. Or kissed it. My father named his old Land Rover, Sunny. That name stuck with me.The self-driving car might actually catch on because replacing your car today is less emotional than ever (IMHO). For most people**, your car is a utility and you are looking to maximize your efficiency in the day. If you could check your email or text messages on the way to taking your kids to their soccer game, I’m sure you’d chose that over than actually driving the vehicle.
When we do adopt the self-driving car, the actual car itself will be commoditized (if not already) and will move to the fabric of life. We won’t think about the car, we’ll think about everything we can do while in the car.
* If you’ve ever been in a Ferrari, you’ll be amazed at how little is in the car. It’s about the driving experience, not the cabin experience.
** Not everyone falls into this bucket. I’d personally want to keep a car that I could drive. I get a lot of enjoyment out of driving and taking control of the road.