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.