When flying on an airplane, travelers generally don’t care if the maker of the plane is Boeing or Airbus, but they do care if the carrier is United or Southwest. Apply that thinking to the world of cars as autonomy sets in over the next decade or so, and perhaps it won’t matter if the maker of the car is Ford or Chevrolet, but if the operator of the car is Uber, Lyft, or even IBM.
Automotive News published an in-depth article about the future of car brands, and it doesn’t look good for automakers as we know them today.
AutoNews quoted Bob Lutz in its article:
‘In the long term, automotive brands are gone,’ said retired General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, 84, who green-lighted BMW’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine” slogan when he ran global marketing for the German automaker in the 1970s. ‘If you get on a city bus or an airplane, do you care who made it? There won’t be anything left to car brands in 20 years.’
Yes, folks, the future of automobiles could render brands such as Lexus, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Ford, and Chevrolet obsolete. So how are they going to respond and guarantee themselves an existence in the next decade or two?
It might come down to partnerships with tech companies and moving the brand experience from behind the steering wheel to behind the smartphone. Driving dynamics, which many brands are built on, appear to be on the way to becoming less important than features like wireless connectivity. The companies that can translate their experience to the online world and stretch beyond the confines of a vehicle are more likely to remain relevant in the coming decades.
What might that look like?
A Chevy vehicle, operated by autonomous software powered by IBM, might be managed by a Chevrolet app that allows the car to be summoned. Perhaps a Ford app will allow for comfort and technology settings that are not available in other vehicles.
The specifics of what the auto industry might look like in 20 years are shaky at best, but we can look at the signs today and make educated guesses about what’s to come.
Autonomous cars are still a few years away from being legal on all U.S. roadways, a reminder of which happened this week in San Francisco when an autonomous Uber vehicle (notice how the media isn’t calling it a Volvo) ran a red light. California responded by sending Uber a notice to cease autonomous operations within the state.
Humans will be driving themselves for quite some time as problems like this are ironed out, but the longterm future of driving appears to be in the hands of computers.
Will you care what brand of car you’re riding in if you’re not driving it?