“Everyone will have 5 years to get their car off the road or sell it for scrap.”
It’s not just you, most sensible people can feel it too. That great big pause that’s taking place, as if the world is collectively holding its breath before a disorienting change. That change will come from the exponential rise in technology’s ability to reason and become integral parts of our lives as well as from problems that’ll put our entire species to the test. Wherever the chips fall after that change, Bob Lutz seems to think that the new order of the world will spell the end of the auto industry as we know it.
That’s not to say that affordable personal transportation pods won’t roam the surface streets in the next few decades or whenever, Lutz just thinks that those vehicles will be exactly that—pods. “It saddens me to say it, but we are approaching the end of the automotive era,” said Lutz in an article he penned for part one of Automotive News’ five-part series, “Redesigning the Industry.” Lutz, a veteran auto executive with experiences working and leading automakers like GM, BMW, Ford, and Chrysler, has been vocal about his doomsday predictions for the industry in the past. His futuristic outlooks make his opinion perfect for a series that “explores the future of a business in the throes of change.”
Though Lutz’s outlook fits the typical mold of a futurist who thinks widespread adoption of driverless cars will push mainstream automakers out of business, he sounds the alarm bells more viciously than ever before. Like many, Lutz paints a picture of a not so distant date where most people won't own a car. Instead, the theory claims, they'll subscribe to a ride service owned by companies like Lyft or Uber that send a driverless transportation pod to the location of a user upon being ordered via smartphone. Lutz isn't the pioneer of this vision of the future of transportation that's so drastically different than what we have now, but what is unique about his view is the timetable in which he predicts these changes will happen.
“The vehicles will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways,” says Lutz. “The tipping point will come when 20 to 30 percent of vehicles are fully autonomous.” Some experts might not agree on that timetable, but Lutz thinks that once society gets a taste for the number of lives that could be saved by driverless cars or the amount of time the technology could recuperate by making traffic a thing of the past, the autonomous revolution will spread like wildfire. “Everyone will have 5 years to get their car off the road or sell it for scrap.” From that point forward, the auto industry will never be the same again.
The rich will still be able to buy autonomous pods of their own from specialized dealerships, according to Lutz, but the dealership as we know it today will be a thing of the past. And so will the automakers. Instead of competing for individual customers one Super Bowl ad at a time, automakers will fight over which one gets the large contracts from companies like Uber and Lyft. But what about enthusiasts? We’ll still exist, according to Lutz. We’ll just be relegated to weekend drives at a highly limited number of tracks available to the rich, kind of how the automobile made owning and riding horses a niche hobby. The outlook looks bleak, but it's not like Lutz, the father of the now-dead Dodge Viper, is a stranger to seeing the good times end.