Gearheads and car laypeople alike tend to look with excitement and envy on the newest cars, which feature sleek lines, gorgeous finishes and, most eye-catching of all, high-tech amenities. For a few years now, there has been one advanced automobile capability on everyone’s minds: driverlessness.
Autonomous vehicles have been teased by car manufacturers and others since the early ‘00s when sensing and mapping tools were first integrated into dashboards. Since then, most people have taken part in conversations about when driverless cars will hit the road, how they will change what we know about driving and when they will be available on the consumer market.
If you are saving up for the day when you can buy your own self-driving car, be warned: You might never get the chance. Here’s why investing in a personal autonomous vehicle might not be wise for the average consumer.
Self-driving Cars Will Cost, a Lot
A new vehicle could set you back anywhere from around $15,000 to $8 million, and that’s the kind where you have to drive basically the whole time. The average American spends just over $30,000 on a new car, which is about half the average American household income of 2018. A prominent study shows that for financial health, the average American can truly only afford a car priced around $20,000 considering the ongoing expenses of fuel, insurance, registration, and maintenance.
The cameras, sensors, and computers necessary to pilot an autonomous vehicle cost between $70,000 and $150,000 on their own; add them to the base price of a luxury vehicle, and you are looking at a car that costs more than many Americans make in their lifetimes. Even if non-luxury brands begin producing driverless models, it’s likely that self-driving cars will fall toward the higher end of the price spectrum for new vehicles, meaning most Americans probably won’t be able to afford one of their own for several decades.
While wealthy Americans might have personal, private access to these technological marvels, the average American will need to experience driverlessness in other ways. Fortunately…
The Industry as We Know It Is Changing
Almost since cars were first invented, they were marketed as an individual consumer need. If you wanted to drive or ride in a car, you needed to own one — or know someone who did. However, since the beginning of this decade, the belief that personal vehicle ownership is mandatory has been challenged on many sides.
As more people learn about the environmental impact of owning a car, more people are disinterested in participating in that pastime. It isn’t just the emissions released when a car is on the road; vehicles also demand an overabundance of resources to be produced and stored when not in use. To reduce the environmental toll and desperately combat climate change, many people are opting not to buy cars but instead use other forms of transportation.
You might think that the people hopping on this trend make up a minority — and you’d be correct. However, it is a strong minority comprised primarily of younger people, indicating that the industry will need to change to survive in future decades when the younger generations make up the majority of potential drivers. Already, vehicle manufacturers are experimenting with new business models, which rely less-so on personal ownership and more on the sharing economy. Which brings us to the final point…
Personal Cars Could Become a Thing of the Past
When Uber first gained traction in app stores, many dismissed ridesharing as a fad. Today, hundreds of ridesharing and carsharing platforms are proving that the sharing economy is alive and thriving. Already, participation in ridesharing and carsharing has reduced personal car ownership, and as these services become more widespread, ownership could drop off a cliff in dense urban environments like New York and San Francisco.
More importantly, car manufacturers are investing in the market with their own rideshare and carshare endeavors: BMW offers ReachNow, Audi is testing Audi Shared Fleet and Toyota has invested heavily in Getaround. This signals that they are hearing their funeral knell and desperately trying to remain relevant in a world were personal cars simply aren’t as highly valued as they once were.
But what does this have to do with autonomous cars? It’s simple. While you might not own your own driverless vehicle, you will likely ride in one whenever you need to go someplace. Undoubtedly, ridesharing services will reduce their costs and increase their efficiency with the use of driverless technology. So, while you might be disappointed that a fully autonomous vehicle will never sit in your garage, you should be pleased that the industry is changing to bring this advanced technology to everyone.