Is private car ownership about to disappear?

One thing I realized. It’s been talked about for a while, and most car companies working on autonomy have discussed this “shift”.

Simply put, the economics mean that manufacturers have no reason to sell you autonomous cars for affordable prices at all. Why sell them when they can rent them to you by the mile or the month? And the liability involved means they can’t really sell them without you paying a software upgrade, maintenance, and vehicle replacement monthly fee…basically a lease.

I am aware that Tesla is still talking about this, and selling Model 3s that allegedly have this capacity, but the math just doesn’t check out.

Look at all the middlemen it eliminates :

Car dealers. Factory storage lots. Car Financing banks. Car Insurance companies. Most car advertising - no need to sex up a car so you will make a 40k purchase, you can just enjoy a nice car by the mile. Most of the gasoline sales will disappear : it makes sense for some of these vehicles to be hybrids that do burn some gas but they would only use gasoline doing long runs across big cities and between cities.

Middlemen remaining : mechanics, and a few centrally operated refueling/recharging stations per city. Probably 5-10% of the total gas stations and mechanics that we have now, since the manufacturer pays for repairs, they will design them to be cheaper to service and less likely to break. I don’t think these service/refueling/recharging/cleaning centers will be manufacturer owned because it’s more efficient to have them serve all brands.

This arrangement is the most efficient, and in a competitive marketplace where riders are choosing what to ride by the cost per mile and perceived safety ratings, only the manufacturers who collect all of the profits for themselves can compete.

And like I said, think about the liability involved. An autonomous car :

a. Won’t have manual controls, those are an accident about to happen
b. Will need daily sensor cleaning and an inspection by a certified mechanic
c. Will need frequent software updates, probably also daily
d. Once the electronics and sensors inside are 3-5 years old, at the latest, the manufacturer is going to want to “deprecate” them and either renovate or scrap all the cars using them in favor of newer, safer designs. They will not want to support the software on any cars that do not have recent compute systems - that just means extra accidents they will have to pay for, and extra programming effort.
e. Will probably cost more than 50k in materials and assembly costs

So the wealthy will probably lease them. They will have a luxury autonomous cars always waiting for them in their driveway. It probably won’t even be the same one, a sensible thing to do would be to have the cars wait on their lease-holder in shifts.

Everyone else will either cling to their existing cars or have to start leasing by the mile.

Which casts the phrase “about to disappear” in a rather different light. Even if autonomous cars were introduced right now, which they won’t be, and even if manufacture of non-autonomous cars shut down entirely within five years of the introduction of autonomous ones, which it won’t, there would still be a huge fleet of non-autonomous cars in operation for at least the next quarter-century.

Personally, I’m so far ahead of the curve that I’ve never owned a car at all, :wink: and I don’t mind how soon the rest of the driving public catches up with me. But it is not going to happen soon.

You’ll have to pry my fleet of old, dumb internal combustion cars and bikes from my cold, dead hands.

This op appears to be inherently stupid. There is no way an overwhelming majority of the world is ready to lease/rent cars. Also self driving cars are still not that close. Maybe have this conversation in another decade.

I refuse to lease by the mile. I like owning things, and I don’t like the idea of sitting in somebody else’s puke.

Count me among the clingers.

I’m quite confident the manufacturers will find some way to shift the liability. Oh, and I don’t believe for one tiny instant that a city’s entire automotive fleet will all have its sensors manually inspected every day, even if they are owned by a central authority. Can’t happen. Which means that such inspections won’t be necessary, which means that I’ll be able to have one of these cars in my garage not being inspected just like the rest of them.

I don’t know enough to have a real opinion about the entire topic, but daily maintenance inspections of individuals’ cars are not going to happen. I don’t say that’s good or bad, just not going to happen.

There are plenty of carpooling companies out there trying to apply the ‘sharing economy’ model to car hire as AirB&B does for holiday rentals. I don’t doubt that they will satisfy the occasional need for a car for people who live in cities where car ownership is increasingly unattractive. But out in the suburbs that proposition is far less attractive. We will see how far that business model goes.

Autonomous cars are another matter. The technology is over hyped and I doubt whether it will be practical in an urban environment for many years. Maybe convoys of trucks or delivery vehicles on fixed routes running in straight lines. Maybe some passenger shuttles moving people around airports or other controlled areas. It will be unglamorous.

Call an autonomous car to drive you home when you are drunk? Dream on!

There will always be a need for vehicles that do things that autonomous vehicles (AVs) cannot and vehicles that go places AVs cannot. Off-road vehicles are the obvious example. But I do think that AVs will, in time, become safe and cheap. And at that point it will no longer make sense for most people to own a car. You book a car and one turns up outside your door and it takes you where you want to go. As the cars people own age out, they will not be replaced and the AV will become ubiquitous.

When will that be? Perhaps 40 years.

I don’t understand the logic that bridges the gap between “cars will drive themselves” and “everybody will suddenly want to take taxis all the time”. Myself I totally want to own a self-driving car, but it makes no sense whatsoever that I would eschew car ownership in favor of being able to pay extra money to wait extra time for a still-warm-from-somebody-else’s-farts taxi to eventually appear before me.

Lots of people view their car as a private space and would react to the idea of only having leased cars the same way they’d feel about only living in hotel rooms.

Having said that, yeah I’m sure that business model will pick up. Supposedly electric cars last a long time, and most cars sit idle most of the time.

But the problem is, when cars are on the road they’re all on the road at the same time. Many people go to work in the 6-9am region, then go home at the 3-6pm time period. So the number of cars you need relative to the population may not change unless mass carpooling picks up (which I could see, some kind of app to build carpools among people who live and work close together).

But again, lots of people will happily pay more for their own car rather than have a car that constantly changes or have to carpool.

If all the cars are autonomous, how can you brag about your Honor Student or make the guy behind you mad with your political views?

It’ll never fly, Orville.

If you thought demand-pricing was bad now…

Looking at the OP… I get the feeling that if it needs daily inspection by a certified mechanic, it will not be put on the road. At most it would be programmed to head for the shop or limp to a safe parking spot upon a particular diagnostic code being detected, and to phone home every night for backup and to report the day’s data, but daily inspections? The car companies don’t want that.They want high reliability.

As mentioned, and unless for the autonomous luxury ride it becomes as cost-prohibitive as for an airplane, the better-off are going to want exclusive ownership. Because at the very least they want it right there, right now, not have to wait 20 minutes for dispatch, nor worry whose ass was on the seat last. And for all we know the autonomous vehicle, ***if and when ***fully perfected enough, need not be absurdly prohibitive in cost of ownership.

BTW, sure, you get to have periodic updates/upgrades to your computer and your smartphone. And some of the software is by paid subscription and you don’t “own” it. But the industry has largely not adopted a business model of making you pay through the nose to even switch the thing on. Oh, sure, Apple’s walled garden has a steep entry fee, but meanwhile Lenovo sells notebooks for under $500, and neither Apple nor MS charge you for updates for your OS version for howevermany years it stays supported. Adobe made Photoshop a subscription service, but Corel will sell you an equally useful (for 9/10 of the public) Paint Shop Pro for 90 bucks, once and done.

Sure, there will also be a segment of robo-carshares finally eliminating the trade of cab/livery/Uber driver, for the people who do not need regular access to one particular vehicle. But that does not make up the whole population.

The subscription model for transportation, especially for commuter rideshare applications is fairly obvious. Although it may seem like a problem that people are commuting in a relatively narrow window of time, if we assume that the future of commuter automotive is in battery electric vehicles (which every major automotive manufacturer is working toward) this actually means that the commuter vehicles can have a scheduled recharge time in midday when solar electric power is at its peak. And the convenience of having a personal vehicle waiting is offset by sharing the costs and not having to pay for parking, which at least in urban areas has become a significant expense and will probably become moreso as real estate prices continue to rise. The costs of autonomously piloted vehicles are likely to be substantially greater than current manually operated vehicles, and will require a comprehensive suit of LIDAR and other sensors instead of just relying on video for at least the foreseeable future. Ownership of a personal autonomous vehicle may be out of reach for the average worker, but paying a subscription service for commuter rideshare and an expected number of weekly miles, analogous to how we pay for cellular plans, seems pretty obvious. The other option is a cost-share model where you either buy a piece of a car, or buy a car but lend it out to a service which uses it to taxi other people and deliver packages and groceries like Uber and Lyft do now, except not requiring you to operate the vehicle.

All of this assumes a continued trend of urban densification, which at least is occuring in the US Eastern Seaboard and cities like Chicago, Seattle, Denver, and San Francisco, as well as Western Europe and Asia, combined with a continued need for daily commuting (we keep being told that telecommuting is going to eliminate the need for the daily commute, but for the bulk of workers this still isn’t true and will likely remain so until automation eliminates those jobs completely), and of course, is dependent upon autonomous vehicles becoming a viable and reliable service, which I think is further off than the more optimistic estimates assume. I don’t think we’ll see fully autonomous vehicles operating on public roads beyond just an experiemental or very limited capacity for at least a decade, and likely verging on twenty years. However, once they do, licensing and insurance costs will quite probably drive individual car owners off the road as insurance companies and municipalities discover that autonomously piloted vehicles result in far fewer accidents and fatalities.

That’s what social media is for, allowing you to display your ignorance and offend masses of people from the convenience if your couch. Bumper stickers are so 20th Century!


We already have low-cost ridesharing (Uber, etc.) and subscription rental (pay by the month and get access to a fleet of cars) services, but they haven’t yet destroyed the private ownership market.

Your argument seems predicated on autonomous driving being really expensive. I dispute this claim; I think it’ll be essentially free not long after it first appears. It’s just cameras and computing power, both of which are cheap and getting cheaper. Software is expensive to develop but free to deploy.

What could happen, I suppose, is that as alternative services get more popular, fewer people will decide to buy. And this may lead to a death spiral for private vehicles, where they get more expensive year by year (high development costs supported by fewer buyers), making alternatives even more popular. Could happen but it’s not obvious that it will–it depends on a lot of factors, such as the rate of urbanization and whether middle class income continues to have lackluster growth.

Personally, I like having a car that doesn’t smell like other people’s farts. There’s an inherent giant negative to shared vehicles. Sure, there’s some price difference where I’d put up with even this, but it’s pretty high, and I imagine it’s high for a lot of other people as well. A shared vehicle is worse than even apartment living; at least there you have your own place for months/years at a time and have some freedom to make it yours.

Except it’s not just “cameras and computing power”; one of the biggest hurdles for autonomous piloted vehicles is actually forming a coherent model of the local environment, and at least for the foreseeable future computer vision systems are nowhere good enough to do that with a high degree of reliability, as seen by the Uber fatality in Tempe and the multiple failures and reported problems with Tesla’s Autopilot. Autonomous piloting systems are going to require LIDAR or another system that can perform active rangefinding, and there is inherent cost there.

However, that isn’t the real cost driver; the public at large is going to insist on high reliability in collision and other accident avoidance because of the perception of the dangers of non-autonomous vehicles, and by the time there is general acceptance I except that they will have an accident rate per operating hour that is several orders of magnitude better than a human driver. And that is what will make it prohibitive for the average private person to own a vehicle; the liability cost of an accident will increase as autonomous piloting systems demonstrate vastly lower rates of damage and fatalities.

There will still be wealthy private owners that insist on having their personal vehicle, and of course applications where some degree of manual control is necessary, such as emergency vehicles, construction and off-road applications, et cetera, but despite this desire to own “a car that doesn’t smell like other people’s farts”, the costs of car ownership, particularly in densified urban areas, will just not seem worth it for most people, just as most people who live in Manhattan today do not own cars because of the cost and inconvenience, instead using taxis and public transit which frankly smells worse than a few gaseous bodily emissions.


Personally, I can’t wait to get rid of the car and be able to summon a self-driving car any time, anywhere. I will never again need to drive around looking for parking space. No more taking time off work to take the car to the shop. No more unplanned expenses for car repair. And I really could use the garage/driveway space currently occupied by our two cars.

Have you really looked at the money you spend on your cars? Not just gas, but also car loan payments (or depreciation), repairs, accessories, time spent maintaining the car, insurance, registration, cost of your parking space (how much of your mortgage payment is for your driveway and garage?), time spent shopping for a new car, etc. Add that all up, and you are likely paying between $0.60 and $1.00 per mile. So if Uber/Lyft could cut their cost 50% by getting rid of the driver, it would be cheaper to use it than to own a car.

I’m doubtful about LIDAR (humans don’t need it), and in any case solid-state LIDAR is coming soon and will drive the cost down to hundreds of dollars. Even with Moore’s law coming to an end, we will see significant improvements in specialized processing hardware for years to come.

It’s mostly a software problem. And obviously I don’t want want to downplay that (it’s not just an unsolved problem, but it’s unknown if the current approach will even lead to a solution), but the point is that it only has to be developed once. The actual information density of the “coherent model” is incredibly low. There’s very little reason to believe that more than a couple additional orders of magnitude of processing power are necessary, and that will be essentially free within several years.

Sure. Vehicles won’t be sold without autonomy. And even cars with a “manual mode” will still have their anti-collision systems on all the time. It won’t be possible to rear-end someone, run a red light, etc. (sure, some cars will have a geo-fenced track/off-road mode). But since autonomy will only cost marginally more than existing ABS/AEB/etc. systems, it won’t really exert any market pressure in any direction.

Not too long ago the idea that people wouldn’t own a land-line phone was ridiculous. Anyone suggesting as such would have been called ‘inherently stupid’.

I haven’t had a land line in over 10 years. I don’t think I’ve made a call to a person on their landline in almost as long. Even my mom gave up a landline 5 years ago and went smartphone-only.

When i was living in downtown Tokyo/New York/Hong Kong/London I didn’t own a car. No need; public transportation was more than sufficient, and we’d rent a car for longer trips.
I now live just outside central Tokyo proper (about 20 minutes outside Shinjuku). We have a car, but we are seriously considering giving it up, because there are three car sharing lots within walking distance.
We don’t drive that far on a day-to-day basis, so the modest convenience of having a car right in the driveway is offset by the insurance, regularly scheduled maintenance and other ad-hoc maintenance needs.
Not to mention the cost of the car itself - we paid cash, so no interest payments, but that’s money we wouldn’t need to spend; car sharing would be vastly cheaper unless we were using the car sharing service literally every day for long-ish rides.
Why incur that extra cost when we can walk 2 minutes to a car that’s sitting there waiting for us? Or in a few years, when we can reserve the self-driving car and have it show up in front of our house?

I agree that it won’t happen in the next year, or the next five years. Maybe not even 10 years. But probably in my working lifetime, I am reasonably confident in saying that car ownership will be the exception, not the rule.

It seems all you have to do is decorate a car with a lots of cameras and passive sensors and then active ranging systems like radar and lidar. Store and process the resulting datastreams using the onboard computing system. At the same time have the car communicate using a fast, reliable broadband link to the computer systems backed by vast databases of historic car sensor data stored at Telsa HQ where Artificial Intelligence algorithms will inform and update the onboard driving system many times a second.

Personally, I can’t wait for this to happen. The question is, how long and will it take for the technology to mature to the extent that it is reliable and can be trusted.

It seems to have taken an awfully long time for trains to become automated and that is in a very controlled railroad environment with a robust signalling system. Automated ships? Automated planes? Event military budgets don’t seem to have these toys yet.

It is going to take a while, so making predictions about patterns of ownership seems a bit premature. Who knows how it will change behaviour?:confused:

the telephone, either the mobile or the fixed line, and the automobile, they are not even the remotely similar asset in the terms of the cost or the lifespan or the utilization.

to make the prediction here it is necessary to look at the asset lifespans, not just for the initial owner but the asset market lifespan but including in this case the secondary markets, and make the analysis between different markets as the dense urban market is not at all like the suburban or the rural.

there is almost no valid lesson to take from the telephone market due to the fundamental asset differences and the completely different technology challenges including the transitioning externalities as like the safety and the interaction cost.

A wrong cellphone interoperability, it does not kill dozens of people in an accident…