IBM has teamed up with Local Motors for a new autonomous vehicle. Here’s how it will handle difficult passengers – and why you won’t be able to buy one.
I am, as a product of Gen X, perhaps among the last generations of people to be obsessed with the notion of car ownership.
I love cars. I love the different body designs. I love how each one drives differently. I love the history and culture that surrounds the different automotive brands.
I love the activity of going out for rides with no objective other than to take the top down on my Camaro convertible and just drive, period.
But I don’t enjoy the burden of owning cars — particularly, two cars. My wife is the more frequent driver, so she needs a car every day. When I am not traveling, I work from home and my car sits in my garage about 90 percent of the time.
My wife does about 7,000 miles a year on her Infiniti. I only put 4,000 miles on my Chevy convertible so far and I’ve owned it exactly a year. That’s hardly justification for vehicle ownership.
Many groups of people, in particular, millennials, are cooling to the idea of not just owning homes but also owning cars.
Ride-sharing is at the height of its popularity
Services like Uber and Lyft are now at the height of their popularity and are giving people tremendous personal freedom without the burden of car and auto insurance payments, fuel/energy consumption, and maintenance.
I used to rent cars when I did business travel. Now, if I’m going to be in a city where Uber and Lyft have service, I no longer do so. It’s just that much more convenient to pick up my smartphone, click a button, and have a driver summoned within minutes.
No parking hassles, no worries about returning the vehicle and having to gas it up, and no expense reports for an expensive auto rental.
Just taxi receipts, which Uber is happy to automatically email me.
And at home in Florida, I’ve frequently summoned Uber just so my wife and I can go out locally to the many restaurants offering a happy hour and have a couple of drinks without having to worry about anything.
The ride-share trend is so popular now one would think that the existing ride-share services have a bright future ahead of them.
That being said, I think Uber and Lyft may only have a few years left.
There is a disruptive force on the horizon and that is driverless electric vehicles. Uber has (unsuccessfully) dabbled in this technology, and while it has had setbacks, I expect it to resume testing driverless vehicles again.
Lyft is also testing driverless technology in San Francisco.
However, in my mind, there are really only two companies that can sufficiently change the way the auto and ride-share industry works: Apple and Amazon.
But neither Apple or Amazon have much to do with cars now. So, why those two?
Apple’s large, secret car project
Let’s start with the Cupertino company. We know that Apple has a sufficiently large, secret project underway that has something to do with cars.
I don’t think this is some souped-up version of CarPlay that it intends to license to automotive manufacturers. I think it is, in fact, developing an actual car. But I don’t think this is a car anyone is going to be able to buy, per se.
What I think Apple is developing is its own version of Uber. But it’s going to be way, way better and far more exclusive.
I believe that Apple, in order to continue to differentiate itself as a luxury brand, is working to integrate ride-share technology with its iOS products. One of the privileges of iPhone ownership in the future could be access to an exclusive ride-share service, owned by Apple, using premium driverless electric vehicles only available to that service.
What would you pay on top of iPhone ownership on a yearly basis to be able to summon your own luxury, robotic electric car 24/7? How about $1,000? Or $2,000? Or $3,000? And what would you be willing to pay on average per ride — if not per year or per month? Five dollars? Ten dollars?
For $3,000 a year, I might seriously consider it, even though I love my cars. Maybe even $5,000 a year. It’s still considerably cheaper than a luxury car lease and overall total cost of ownership.
And at $1,000 or even $2,000 a year? It’s a no-brainer.
Apple is one of the few companies that has the considerable financial and engineering resources to work with an automotive manufacturer such as a GM, Chrysler, Nissan — or even Tesla — to build a specialized EV for ride-sharing and to create the automated charging infrastructure for these things as well as the service depots to keep this running.
Tesla would be a great partner for such an activity since it has the superchargers already built-out, but Apple wouldn’t necessarily need its help because the company can literally buy its way into anything.
While an Apple ride-share service would be fantastic, it is probably a bit further away than we would like. The driverless stuff is very close to being fully baked in terms of enabling technology, but the legislation needed to legalize something like that on a federal — let alone city by city — basis could easily take five years before the US would even allow fully driverless cars on the road.
Imagine an Amazon service called PrimeRide
While Apple toils on this in secret and perfects its driverless electric DNA, there is Amazon.
Amazon might be working on something similar, but it will be tied to incentives and rewards with Prime, branded something along the line of PrimeRide.
Due to the public way in which Windows is tested, we already know about many of the new features headed to Windows 10 next year.
Initially, these will be delivery vans (electric or gas — I don’t see CEO Jeff Bezos waiting for electric tech or driverless tech to mature) that will be driven by good ole humans.
These vehicles will serve double duty for Whole Foods and local Amazon deliveries, and when they aren’t delivering, they will pick up passengers and have limited things for sale on the van like snacks and drinks.
Amazon already offers restaurant and grocery delivery along the lines of UberEATS, with Amazon Restaurants and Prime Now, so it isn’t that far out.
I also see it offering an affordable pick-up-from-the-house-and-drop-off-to-work service for commuters in the suburbs who don’t want the hassle of owning a primary or secondary car that just sits in a parking lot all day long.
With AWS, Amazon can use big data and other kinds of analytics and computer learning techniques to schedule morning and afternoon pick-up routes as well as for dispatch.
Potentially, I can see Amazon’s next purchase being Uber or Lyft and cleaning house.
Amazon might work with Tesla or an established auto manufacturer to produce customized multi-person vehicles, but it doesn’t have to because it can go totally off the shelf.
Amazon can easily capitalize on its Whole Foods acquisition by making each location a base of operations for these vehicles to fuel up, charge, and have driver shifts.
If either of these two things come to fruition, the auto industry is going to be severely disrupted. Rental car companies almost certainly will face additional consolidation, and we will see the traditional ride-share companies face major challenges. They may disappear entirely, especially when driverless electric tech becomes not just technologically mature but more accepted.
I love my cars. But I love my freedom and not having to worry about a vehicle even more.
Are you up for a trip in Apple cars or a PrimeRide? Talk Back and Let Me Know.