The automobile has been around for generations, and while you might not think of carmakers as all that innovative, you'd be wrong. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find an automaker that doesn't have an office in Silicon Valley these days, says Eric Larsen, who heads up Mercedes-Benz's research and development team in Sunnyvale, California.
In an interview with The New York Times, Larsen expanded on some of Mercedes recent tech-enabled steps toward robotic cars and built-in sensors that assist drivers. He also shared his top five expectations for the future of driving.
1. Cars are here to stay.
"America has a robust demographic, a higher birthrate than in Brazil or China, and immigration," Larsen said. "And the American lifestyle lends itself to vehicles."
People do everything in cars, from sleeping to drinking--and most people spend hours at a time in their vehicles, waiting in traffic or waiting on their kids, Larsen adds. The personal vehicle is as much a cultural necessity as it is a mode of transportation, and the market for luxury vehicles is as big as ever.
2. They'll be safer, too.
He predicts more safety features, better seats, and more green technology in future luxury cars. But Larsen still questions the practicality of electric vehicles. "This part of the model isn't broken for most car owners," he explains. "If electric cars become popular, are they really going to put a charger in every space in the garage?"
3. They'll get to know us.
He also predicts advancements in the "awareness" of car controls, expecting cars that will recognize when they are at rest and allow the driver to sleep or watch TV in the front seat. And outside companies will know much more about how we drive, with phone sensor technology able to track a driver's speed and how tight he or she takes corners.
4. Carpooling will become a necessity.
Even private car sharing is a large part of Larsen's vision for the future of the car industry, as Americans become more interested in long-distance transportation, he says, with kids traveling "20 miles to a soccer coach or violin teacher." Larsen adds, "That is a pain point for affluent parents, our customers, people who have more money than time."
Mercedes has already created a business called Boost, in which minivans, operating like school buses, drive children to their afterschool activities. The van comes complete with a driver and a concierge, who escorts the child to his or her activity.
5. Room to roam will remain a priority.
But people, Larsen stresses, won't be giving up their own big cars. Young people today will still want homes in the suburbs with children and a fenced-in yard.
"They fill up a car with kids, dogs, and stuff from big-box supply stores," he says. "That means people will still want big cars."