Autonomous cars will kill the car industry

Stay away from their stocks. Seriously.

In the USA (but it’s true pretty much everywhere) “cars were and remain the least spatially efficient mode of transportation in common use. It never made sense to think that by putting each driver/passenger in a steel box that takes 10 square meters of road space, we would vanquish the problem of roadway congestion."

The reality above is a quote from a review of the book Autonorama by C. Norton titled “Perennial myths of autonomous vehicles”.

According to the book, autonomous cars would be just the “latest iteration of a marketing fantasy now several generations old”.

The review, however reinforced my strong feeling that this “iteration” would be not just the “latest”, but the LAST, DOOMED attempt of cars to remain a means of mass private transportation.

In order to keep and increase profits, says Norton, the car industry

  • needs people to believe in cars that “will soon safely drive themselves everywhere”
  • wants (me, I would put it as “desperately needs”) to “sell not just new cars… but also new data”

The latter hope would be based on the religious assumption that

  • “an hour’s worth of smart-phone data from a person standing in the cold waiting for a bus”

is worth less, possibly much less, than

  • “an hour’s data from the in-car digital entertainment system in a state-of-the-art new automated car”

Ah, the irony…

The assumption above really looks more like a death sentence than an assumption to me, but from the review (I haven’t read the book yet) it seems that neither Norton nor the reviewer fully appreciate it.

Personally, I see at least two ways in which any business plan based on that assumption will spectacularly fail, and no reason why they should not both come true.

To begin with, I see no reason why, on average, a person “waiting for a bus” should generate less monetizable data than the one sitting in the state of the art car. Add public transit to the picture, with enough rides and reliable schedules, and, instead of “standing in the cold for one hour” those people will spend that same hour on their couch, or sitting inside the bus, not “in the cold”.

AND, which is what matters, they will spend that time glued to the digital entertainment system they ALREADY have, and is surely way cheaper, more personal, much more invasive than any in-car system could ever be.

Then, just for completeness because of course it’s negligible, there is the issue of spending power. If someone regularly waits at a bus stop, it’s because:

  1. thanks to transit, she can afford to not waste money and stress on a private car, which she wouldn’t drive if she got one as a present
  2. she is too young to drive (but already old enough to profile herself with a smartphone 24/7 anyway)
  3. she just cannot afford any private car, which in turn means she has little money, if any money at all, that is very little monetizable data to provide from inside anybody’s “state-of-the-art new automated car”"

The second reason why the autonomous car won’t save the car industry of today but definitely ruin it is that, even if autonomous cars, taxis, buses… will generate much more monetizable data, that money will not go to carmakers.

Because, if the goal is to farm from people much more data than today, there is no need to keep giving private cars to everybody to achieve it. Any combination of public transit and car sharing will do just as fine (probably better, by leaving people with more money to spend than if they had to maintain their own car): but if the real money comes from data (not e.g. selling gas, or spare parts), and any mass transportation system data can generate the same amount of data…

almost all that money will go straight to advertisers, and platforms like Facebook or Google. And only the carmakers who can remain profitable by selling e.g. 1000 LESS cars per years than today will survive.

Autonorama may not be saying the whole picture

Autonorama says that:

Autonomous cars will kill the car industry /img/autonorama.jpg

“Whenever alternatives to driving have been attractive possibilities, people have taken advantage of them."

But what I read in that review is a confirmation that…

Wherever alternatives to driving are MORE attractive possibilities, BIG TECH will take advantage of them, making roadkill of carmakers.

Or, as I already said for years now, do NOT buy or keep carmakers' stocks, because software will extinguish cars, because it’s software, not carmakers, that built THAT Field of Dreams.