Will we even be buying cars in 2040?

The recent announcement by the UK government that sales of petrol and diesel-engined vehicles would end by 2040 made headlines, and on the face of it, remains quite a bold, significant claim.

The government have been under pressure to share details of their sustainability strategy for some time, and this pledge, while attracting attention, was also criticised for not going far enough. ClientEarth, among several key eco campaigners, were quick to note that more needs to be done sooner to improve air quality.

The hidden truth here is that by 2040, the vast majority of vehicular propulsion will almost certainly be electric. It’s already well-proven, the power can and largely will be from renewable sources, the storage tech will get better and it works seamlessly with driverless technology. The latter wasn’t specifically mentioned in the government announcement, but in my view will have a large bearing on the headline claims.

2040 is twenty-three years away, which could be described as a Jurassic age in technology given the rate of change we’re experiencing. I doubt very much we’ll be buying cars by then; self-driving tech will completely disrupt the idea of even owning a vehicle. Ford claims that its first driverless vehicles will be on the road by 2021, so we can only begin to imagine where the technology will have advanced to in the proceeding 19 years.

If a vehicle can operate itself, then the idea of owning one where it will spend an inordinate amount of time unused is pointless. It’s why Uber’s business model is so clever: the general view is that it’s a cheaper taxi service, but really, it’s about car owners using their vehicles to generate an income. Autonomy brings new shared revenue opportunities. A vehicle that takes you to the airport for your holiday might then take a family home too, or take a commuter to work before starting the school run. Why would you ever wish to buy one?

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Ride-sharing, already a growth area, will also completely change. Imagine shared, autonomous commutes that cost a fraction of what we spend today running a car over a three year lease. A car could take you home from A to B and then drive someone else from B to C, and you’ll be rewarded by way of lower costs for sharing your journey.

Never mind outlawing petrol or diesel sales; it’s unlikely the general public will be buying any vehicles by 2040. The announcement wasn’t particularly brave, but critically, little was mentioned of the many years ahead of self-driving automotive development which will have a massive bearing on car ownership in the next 20 years.

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