London - Study any car advert and one thing's clear; if they're not selling canny finance deals, they're selling passion.
"As advanced as you are,” trumpets the Volkswagen Passat ad. “The competition need to watch their hatchbacks,” boast Volvo of its V40 R-Design. But what happens when self-driving cars rule the roost? How will they advertise those?
Opinion is divided on when the autonomous car will arrive. A recent Government report said motorists would be able to surf the internet or read a book without needing to look at the road by 2030, but experts all agree on one thing: they're coming, and already four UK driverless car trials are underway.
First, we may see convoy-style 'trains' on motorways. But driverless cars will swiftly move to cities such as London. “We are at a fork in the road - on one hand, many cars will become utility-driven products based on providing a great mobility experience,” says Dylan Stuart, a partner at Lippincott, a brand consultancy. He foresees a world when convenience, connectivity and comfort will trump emotion, performance and pleasure.
“On the other hand,” he says, “the enthusiast will continue to cherish cars that seduce with their sheet metal and driving experience. However, this may well become a niche for the impassioned few.”
BIG CHANGES COMING
Experts who recently gathered at the Michelin Challenge Bibendum global conference into future transport trends held in Chengdu, China, say self-drive will bring huge changes. Miller Crockart, vice president of global sales at the transport consultancy PTV Group, said that summoning a self-drive car (choose between a 'TaxiBot' shared simultaneously with other passengers or an 'AutoVot' that picks up single passengers in sequence) could happen in cities such as London and New York within two decades. “Children born today may never need a driving licence. And their children may not be able to drive,” says Crockart.
He believes that far from being excluded from future city transport solutions however, car makers will play a pivotal role. “You won't need a car for inner-city trips,” he says. “They might be banned. Car manufacturers will run fleets of zero-emission self-driving cars constantly moving from one customer to the next. By replacing private cars and not needing to park they will free up lots of road space and, because they'll be computer-controlled, they won't crash. Self-drive cars won't be distracted by texts or drive intoxicated: accident levels will tumble.”
THE MENTAL BARRIER
“I think we're over halfway down the road to public acceptability on autonomous cars,” says transport analyst Kulveer Ranger, who was formerly London mayor Boris Johnson's transport policy advisor. “Motorists already accept that traffic is managed in real time, adapting what happens on the roads. Why not send this data direct to the vehicle itself, telling it what to do and where to go?”
Will it remove the joy of motoring? Possibly, at least in cities, but there will be gains too. “If anything, our cars are more courteous and defensive than normal drivers,” claims Chris Urmson, Google self-driving cars director. “Imagine never losing someone to a traffic accident. Imagine a world where you get in your car and it takes you where you want to go.”
Adds Stuart: “For manufacturers it means reimagining the car as a completely different consumer experience. Mercedes recently presented the FO15 (pictured) that points the way towards a 'digital living space'. Will we choose our cars based on the living and working environment they provide more than any other factors? Will we choose different types of vehicle for every journey, calling up exactly the vehicle we need when we need it? This reality may be closer than you think.”