A future in which we are driven, literally, by robots isn't all frightening. One bright spot for metropolitan commuters: Urban traffic could be reduced by one-third. It's one of the pieces of our autonomous vehicle future picture that car industry leaders are painting in Los Angeles this week.
Speaking to Automobility LA, the conference for upstart mobility concepts and prognostication discussions held directly before the LA Auto Show, BMW board member Peter Schwarzenbauer outlined BMW's plans to keep pace with consumer demand, with a commitment to produce autonomous vehicles by 2021. It's going to be a winding road for the 101-year-old firm. It is known for its soon-to-be-obsolete tag line, "The Ultimate Driving Machine." Now it must supply a growing and fickle market for the ultimate driverless gadget integration machine.
But changes in how buyers choose cars are good news for startups: A BMW Group survey revealed that 73 percent of people asked said that they would change their car brand for one comparable if that brand would allow them to bring their digital lives into their new car.
Schwarzenbauer sought to position BMW Group, which includes the Mini and Rolls-Royce brands, as a leader in trusted engineering and as a proven producer, casting subtle shade at the new kids on the factory block, telling the audience at the event's main stage on Tuesday, "Some people are starting to realize that scaling car production is not as easy as scaling a smartphone." It was a reference to the smartphone analogy frequently used by industry watchers, an example of a product that changed how we use all other consumer products.
He implored attendees to ask, "Who would you trust more with your life? Someone who has just built their first car, or someone who has a proven history?"
In its 31 production sites in 14 countries around the world, the company must re-engineer its products for these four impending realities:
1. You won't care so much about brands.
That 73 percent stat shows that it's anyone's game. If you can deliver a product and keep people both safe and connected in their cars, you can compete with the big names.
Business Insider Intelligence predicts 381 million internet-connected cars will be on road by 2020. There were 36 million in 2015. The same report forecast revenue from connected products to reach $8.1 trillion between 2015 and 2020.
2. Everything you can order from home via a digital assistant, you will order from your car.
Because of that connectedness, you can use your car as you do your smart house. Tell Alexa what you want from Amazon from behind the wheel, and eventually, from the passenger seat while the car does the driving. BMW has this feature now, but all cars are going that way, so that soon, automotive consumers will be consumers of every single market while in their cars.
3. You will manage your own energy consumption.
Because cars are going not just autonomous but electric, batteries will be your own units of energy that you will manage in a kind of personal energy portfolio.
With it, you can integrate your energy management between home, office, and transportation, planning the charge you need to send your car (on its own) to where it needs to go to manage your business, and where it might need to stop to charge, all from one integrated dashboard.
4. Cities will be quieter, cleaner, and greener, with charging infrastructure that presents innovation possibilities
Without drivers circling to find parking, the BMW Group estimates that traffic in urban areas with be cut by about 30 percent. That means an easier commute.
Because the cars will be electric, they'll be cleaner (no emissions) and quieter. And without curb space reserved for parking spaces, parking signs, parking meters, and cars darting in and out trying to get a precious parking space, green space can be built out to the edge of city blocks, expanding public parks, creating larger parkways, and allowing more playspace for kids.
Futurist designers and architects, take note--and queue up your greenest and most utopian ideas.
Don't forget, however, that ride-hail will still be a major transportation provider, and will be circling our cities.
And some curbs will have installations, but they'll be charging stations. And those stations, part of a global network, present innovation opportunity for construction, management, maintenance, and tech solutions.