We’ve heard quite a bit of hubbub about the autonomous car within the past year or so. Car companies like BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and even Honda are looking into creating autonomous driving capabilities for their automobiles. But the bigger news has been that even non-automakers are looking into autonomous driving technology, companies like Google, Apple and even Uber. It seems as if self-driving cars are the next big thing and it may not even be car companies making most of them. But what does that mean for the auto industry?
Well, it actually doesn’t look good for the automakers, that’s for sure. As autonomous driving becomes more and more in demand, giant tech companies have a distinct advantage over automakers. Google, one of the biggest leaders in autonomous driving technology, is worth more than five times more than Volkswagen, possibly the largest automaker in the world. Apple is eight times larger. So these companies have far more money to play with, in terms of R&D, and are already in the business of cutting edge connectivity technology. They’re also far more popular amongst young people.
Automakers are aware of this, however, and understand what they must do to stay alive in this changing automotive landscape. Dieter Zetsche, the chief executive of Daimler, said “What is important for us is that the brain of the car, the operating system, is not iOS or Android or someone else but it’s our brain,” to reporters in Frankfurt just a week ago. companies like Mercedes-Benz and BMW understand that they must also become a tech company so they can compete with the giants, like Apple and Google, in developing the latest software. And this new software, connectivity and autonomy are far more important in today’s society than one might think.
It’s no secret that current teenagers and young drivers have far less interest cars, and actually driving, than their parents and surveys show this. So if young drivers currently have no interest in driving or cars, future generations will care even less. What do current teens care about? Their iPhones, social media and connectivity. Teens these days love technology and are extremely loyal to the companies that create all of it. So if Apple, Google and others were to create autonomous cars, what do you think teens are going to want to buy? Do you think they’re going to want the Volkswagen Golf or the autonomous Apple iCar? It’s not even a real question.
Admittedly, there are some benefits of the autonomous car for society. Self-driving taxi cabs, delivery services, public transport and even emergency services could be very helpful and help society significantly. But actual driving becoming backseated to mindless autonomous-driving drones filled with 17 year olds Snapchatting would be a nightmare for us enthusiasts. And it’s a nightmare that automakers are currently having because such an idea could possibly become reality sooner than they’d like.
If automakers want to stay ahead and keep the interest of young drivers, they’re going to have to beat the tech companies to the punch and create intelligent, connected and driving-assitance software for their automobiles. But not only that, but create the sort of intelligent, connected and autonomous cars that are better looking, more comfortable and more interesting than anything a tech company can make. It’s certainly possible, but for it to happen, pioneers in the industry, like BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, are going to have to start this transition now. And maybe even make cars that can drift themselves.