Our relationship with cars is set to change dramatically over the next ten years, but we still hold them as a critical part of our lives and identity. Clarkson-type views to one side, they are still incredibly engineered, well-constructed machines of beauty. At best, to drive gives us powerful feelings of freedom and independence. The billions of pounds in media investment and the rich heritage of car ads continue to reinforce that what we drive says something profound about who we are.
But not just that. It’s often said that all of life takes place in a car. Car trips together are deemed sacred moments of family time in a busy world. Cars are a cupboard you throw your stuff in the back of, a status signifier, a place to relax, play music and even a fashion accessory.
Yet, like many durables and products invented during the heyday of industrial capitalism as the ultimate statements of consumerism, they are increasingly known for having a downside. One that is either bad for us, bad for the planet, or both.
Cars are inefficient. They spend 95% of their time parked, and if not, stuck in traffic. We need fewer cars on the road, less congestion, less NOx, less atmospheric CO2 and less fossil fuel usage. They’ve never been great investments, requiring deposits, high monthly payments, servicing and suffering wear-out. Owning a car is like eating meat with every meal. Increasingly, we are wondering if there are ways we can be more flexible, and ultimately reduce our intake.
A wider range of electric cars and the plug points needed to charge them are on the way, and ultimately, driverless is still a dream held by many. Whilst expensive to develop and mistakes abound by founders and investors alike, Apple’s investment in dream.ai earlier this year shows the race is still very much on.
Meanwhile, flexible ways of moving around have also accelerated to the fore. There’s cheaper taxis or ride sharing, such as Uber - which despite a bungled-ish IPO has a market cap way into the billions. People sure do like it if the business model can hold up. Then there’s car clubs, Zipcar, ways to make cash sharing your cars with others, Drivy, and even executive drivers such as Wheely. Their toddler-like names are reflective of how they are still finding their feet.
Most of all, let’s not forget the original flexible car offerings - rental car brands. Around as long as cars themselves, we have the red one (Avis), the yellow one (Hertz), the green one (Enterprise) and so on. Something of a sea of commodity choices.