Cars for kids, movie-length commutes and mega-garages. What the strange new world of self-driving cars means for you and your property.
There’ll be far more cars in future, not less!
There’s a lot of excitement at the moment about self driving cars and how they’ll transform cities to become far more efficient. Futurists say the rapidly approaching self driving cars will bring an end to car ownership. Consumers will wake up to how much more efficient it is to just “rent from the cloud”. Parking spaces, wide roads and garages will give way to more productive urban uses and everyone will get to where they want to go faster.
That would certainly be efficient for urban modelling people but I just can’t see that happening. Consider these 5 points:
- Cars are about status and comfort
First, it’s not getting from A to B that you pay for. In India, you can buy a new car for $5,000. The cheapest available car in Australia is about $11,000. The fact that there isn’t even a market for cheap cars tells you something about what cars are really for.
How many 4 wheel drive ads talk about urban planning or even fuel efficiency? No, they feature jealous pedestrians, self-assured upper middle-class drivers free to roam and explore.
Most people don’t see your beautiful home but wherever you show up, if driverless taxis really take off, people will be ask if it’s yours, just like they ask if you own your home or rent.
2. Cars will become personalised comfort pods
Cars are already our mobile homes. They have your spare pair of glasses, a soccer ball for the kids, some emergency suncream. But imagine what they’ll be like when they’re also your super-comfortable home cinemas, bedrooms and offices. Soon you’ll be able to catch up on your favourite TV shows without any danger of carsickness as the road is still there behind you. In fact, a really smooth drive would be a selling point of self-driving cars. You could enjoy a movie on the way to work but half a movie is only half as satisfying. This is not far off. You can already buy windscreen heads up displays today:
If you’re feeling diligent, your work day could start the moment you sit down at the (now comfortably absent) wheel. Or if you’re not a morning person, it’ll be your mobile sleep pod.
It’ll be your zone, customised to you. It wouldn’t be as cozy spending 90 minutes in a taxi. The longer you spend in a car, the more status and comfort will become important.
You want a home, not a hotel room. You already have the garage space. Why convert it to a rumpus room that never gets used when it could house your new prize possession?
- Car ownership won’t be limited to drivers anymore.
Currently only drivers have cars. The young, the old, the disabled and the fearful are excluded from this and by extension they’re not full participants in the suburban dream. For millions of people, driverless cars brings the exciting prospect of owning a car for the first time.
- Advertisers will make you want one
There’s far more money to be made in selling everyone their own car. Capitalism has been very good at getting people to own things they don’t rationally need. Does your street really need more than one lawn mower? You buy single-use objects like books when you could borrow them for free from the local library.
Are you going to feel safe at high speeds in some taxi with hundreds of thousands of kilometres on it? Whether or not private cars will actually be safer, advertisers will tell you so. Your child is much safer on a public bus but that doesn’t stop parents picking their kids up from school and exposing them to the biggest killer of young people: car accidents. There’s a fundamental belief now shared by all classes that privately owned cocoons are safe and the public sphere is dangerous. Perhaps it’s not that likely you’ll sit on a used drug needle in a driverless taxi, but you can bet the media will let you know when it happens.
- Advertisers will make you want several!
Sometimes you need an 8 seater to transport the family, the dog and the daughter’s best friend. Sometimes your son wants to go out hooning. Sometimes you want to weave through dense traffic to work and that width really slows you down.
Yet most homes only have one car per driver – a compromise vehicle that’s rarely the right vehicle for the job. Why? Driving ability! You don’t want your teenage son driving a sports car. You don’t own a bus license. You don’t think motorcycles are safe.
With self driving cars, your options are limited only by your imagination. Sports cars will be marketed at 12 year old boys. Beauty spa cars will be marketed at mums. Older people will be be enticed to own classic cars that were hard to drive. Some cars will be all about sending your kid to dance class and keeping them safe and stimulated on the way. Touring will be much more pleasant in the future, so there’ll be holiday cars too, addressing a larger market than currently buy RV’s and caravans.
Advertisers sell personal choice, freedom, status and comfort. Their job will actually be much easier in the era of driverless cars. There’s nothing authentic or special about being carted around in a headless public taxi.
With so many more uses, and no need for a responsible driver, it all adds up to more time on the road. We already know prolific drivers own more cars.
- There’ll be much more space to garage all those extra cars
The rise of the comfort pod vehicle will make outer suburbs and satellite cities far more attractive. The further you go out from a city centre, the more supply there is. In this future, all existing residential house owners will lose and farm owners within 90 minutes of the city could massive windfalls.
And this is even before you take human drivers off the road, when self driving cars have to stay slow and follow road rules to avoid accidents. Once the humans are gone, cars will sail through intersections in all directions and accelerate as fast as the passengers can bear.
Just as the car lead to much lower density housing further from the city centre, the speedy self-driving car will give people even more land to share. Big land calls for big houses. And what major lifestyle change determine which room grows in size? The self driving car.
So what does this mean for property owners?
So self driving cars won’t be creating space-efficient suburbs. There’ll be more cars and even more parking spots: Instead of dropping your daughter off at piano lessons, you’ll be able to send her off in the self driving car. That car will stay parked there, dutifully waiting for your daughter like you have your own private driver.
This is good news for property owners too. If the future did go rental, governments would start eyeing all that unused land on suburban streets – roads that no longer need parking or buffer zones. You and your neighbours will want it turned into public land to protect your area’s privacy, tranquillity and character. But developers will be very keen to get in on your sought-after street, so expect some serious urban consolidation too. This would be a nightmare for property owners, as every part of every city would be inundated with new supply.
So far from creating a communal hub of common property with a public fleet of cars, self-driving cars will make people more suburban than ever – with bigger houses further from the city and more cars. Buckle up!