The automobile industry will look a lot like the airline industry if manufacturers don’t rethink their offerings. Enter the un-car.
Here are two important characteristics of the airline industry: Just two manufacturers produce 99% of the world’s airplanes for airlines, and everyday passengers have a hard time telling those aircraft apart—and mostly don’t care anyway. Weirdly enough, though, these characteristics are important to the future of cars. Why? Because the present of Boeing and Airbus could be the future of the automotive industry.
There are already indications that automotive is following aviation’s path toward a future in which there are fewer brands and models. The exteriors of many autonomous vehicle prototypes are similarly shaped mobile boxes; see examples from Muji, Olli, Transdev, and, yes, Teague. The interiors of autonomous vehicle concepts are also very uniform—evident in examples from the likes of Audi, Mercedes, and Volvo, with lie-flat seats and tables for working and meeting among the common characteristics. This uniformity inside and out points toward a future of mobility that is based on utility, which is very different than our history of using cars as transportation as well as expensive expressions of our personalities. There is, after all, no logical reason to own a Lamborghini.
It’s easy to see where this is headed. In a world where ride-hailing companies are now incentivizing people to give up their cars and rethink transportation as a service rather than a piece of hardware, we will only need a couple manufacturers to make fleets of urban taxibots. The century of automotive brand building that produced the 911, Golf, Land Cruiser, Mini, Mustang, Wrangler, and thousands more will give way to a new era of boxy autonomous pods.
This future isn’t inevitable, though. There are at least two alternative futures that are each possible. But the onus is on carmakers to start imagining and designing the vehicles we’ll be using in 2030 and beyond that are more than boxes on wheels.
Making A Case for New Models.
Ford is planning for its 2020 North American product portfolio to consist mainly of trucks, SUVs, and commercial vehicles, and GM has a similar vision for its near-future lineup. This all makes a lot of sense when looking at the present state of vehicle sales. However, designing and manufacturing fewer kinds of cars moves the automotive industry toward a future in which fewer carmakers are required to meet our needs for four-wheeled vehicles. So, if carmakers want to avoid that scenario, at some point they actually need to stop contracting and make new cases for different kinds of vehicles.