Bob Lutz has been a senior figure in the automotive industry for longer than most, so when he speaks about where it’s headed there's a certain authority behind what he has to say.
Some zingers include his skepticism of man’s effect on climate change, as well as the long-term viability of Tesla. On one of those fronts he may be proven correct in the not too distant future.
Speaking of the future, he has some grim predictions for what the industry as a whole might be like in the coming decades. In the first of a 5-part series of articles by Automotive News (subscription required) outlining the future of the industry, Lutz states that we are “approaching the end of the automotive era.”
As self-driving technology advances, he sees fully autonomous pods you hail for a ride replacing privately owned cars. Some people will still want to own their own pod but the majority is likely to just hail a ride when needed. Remember, the average car spends around 95 percent of its life sitting and doing nothing.
The pods will be able to merge into long, high-speed moving platoons on highways where speeds of well over 100 mph would be possible, meaning you could live much further out of town. Part of your work day could even take place in the pod. Lutz describes the concept as a blend of cars and trains.
It gets worse. Lutz says most automotive brands will disappear. Instead, the pods will carry the brand of the fleet that owns them, perhaps Lyft, Uber or Waymo. Some automakers will still be around, churning out pods for the various companies that own fleets. Lutz gives the examples of manufacturers that churn out mobile phones for major providers.
And naturally, performance won’t matter if no one’s doing the driving. The pods will still be differentiated, however. For example, there will be different body styles available depending on your need. There will also be different grades available from basic to luxury. Some automakers such as Rolls-Royce or Bentley could still be around, offering flashy, privately own pods. People wanting to flaunt their wealth likely won’t change anytime soon.
Lutz’s grimmest prediction, however, is a banning of cars that still allow humans to drive, something he sees happening as early as the next 15-20 years. He says such cars will be legislated off highways because self-driving cars will be shown to be incapable of accidents. You’ll still be able to drive your classic, though only at a private track. Driving will become a pastime just like riding horses is today, he says.
There’s enough practicality in Lutz’s predictions to guarantee that we’ll likely see some of it happen. If the predictions are accurate, let’s just hope he’s off on his timing, because it will be a very sad day indeed when driving is banned.