Driving, Ownership and Thought Experiments

The digital revolution will change everything. We should not only focus on redesigning the car, but also redesigning the “system.”

In this column, I often write about a new mobility paradigm, how we are going to move past the car ownership model and how the future is going to be great. But I know there are many people out there that like having their own car, like driving and have little or no interest in shared mobility. This is completely understandable. As a general rule, I find more people happy with their cars in more suburban areas. In downtown areas, owning a car is more difficult.

To be clear, I grew up as a total car nut. As a young child, I had hundreds of Matchbox cars. I had little interest in anything other than cars. I went to college to be a car designer. I feel I understand people who love their cars.

We all know our modern cars are simply amazing. We can transport our families in complete comfort at 80 mph, with incredible safety, while enjoying the entertainment system, in a vehicle that costs less than hamburger pound for pound.

But the digital revolution will change everything. We should not only focus on redesigning the car, but also redesigning the “system.”

Over the years, I have met very accomplished car designers and many of them all had a lot of respect for doing more with less. For example, they would appreciate Colin Chapman’s 1958 Lotus Elite design, one of the first cars with a modified monocoque and fiberglass body. They loved how fast a well-designed car could go with a smaller engine, which requires less fuel and cost. Well, if we can appreciate great-performing cars that use less, then we should also appreciate new mobility systems that also offer us a way to move far better with much less.

In the smart mobility future, it will be a lot about the scale and quality of the mobility network. For example, how would you like getting your first mobile phone that could only call 1 percent of your friends or family? It would be worthless. That’s our situation right now: the new mobility network needs to be much larger.

Perhaps you really love your car and have little interest in change. Let’s just dream for a moment on how shared mobility would be better.

Imagine Zipcar builds an underground automated carshare station just a few houses away from yours including a fleet of today’s cars. It houses nearly 300 cars and trucks of all types. When you check out a car, it takes a few minutes for the vehicle to reach the surface, or you can have your selected car in your driveway when you wake up.

You might check out a smaller car for the early part of your week, for going to work and running a few errands. Some might choose a smart car, Chevy Bolt, Fiat 500, or BMW i3. On a couple’s night-out evening, perhaps you will check out a Tesla Model S, Audi A7, Hyundai Genesis, or Cadillac CT6. Heading to the nearby farmers market on the weekend might call for a Toyota C-HR, new Ford Bronco, or VW Atlas. A weekend trip to a vacation spot three hours away might call for a Porsche Panamera or Macan, Volvo XC90, and if it’s just you; a BMW i8 will do nicely.

There will be times you might want to go all in for a more extreme sports car. You might checkout a Lexus LC, Acura NSX, Audi R8, or Lamborghini Aventador. Day trips might call for a Porsche 718, or BMW Z4. There will be a bunch of Ford F-150s and GMC Sierras to help with housework. And there are some Sprinter vans to take your kids entire soccer team out for ice cream after the game.

If the location of the carshare services were convenient, I think it would be much better to have a fleet of cars than just one.

When I hear some automotive people tell me how much people like to drive, it makes me think of a test we should conduct: offer an average driver the use of a $420,000 Rolls Royce Phantom along with a personal chauffeur, available to them 24/7. They drive nowhere for the year, just jump in the back. They no longer have to park or get aggravated by traffic. What percentage of Americans do you think would take the Rolls Royce and driver for one year? I expect a very large percentage of the population. Is it really about driving?

While dreaming of a “car library” next to your house or chauffeur-driven luxury cars for Americans, this is one way to rethink our relationship with our cars. I wonder if you find these scenarios compelling in any way?