These technologies are already filtering into the vehicles we have today. It will be a few years still before we fully get there, but in 2017, we can see before our eyes the groundwork being laid for this future.
Cars as a Service
Among the most noteworthy changes happening now is the emergence of cars as a service. Consumers are aware of Uber and Lyft, but auto manufacturers and other companies are starting to get in on this market.
Ford last year paid more than $65 million to acquire Chariot, a San Francisco-based company that lets users pay for shuttle rides to and from work as they go. A year ago, General Motors launched Maven, a competitor of Zipcar, and this month, Cadillac announced Book, a monthly subscription service that lets users pay for access to the brand's various car models.
"Any business entity that isn't thinking very carefully about participating in on-demand mobility services isn't looking hard enough or is looking to check out," said Peter Kosak, GM's executive director of urban mobility.
In Europe, meanwhile, French startup Vulog has been helping carmakers and other companies launch one-way car-sharing programs. These programs let users rent cars on demand, drive them to their destination, drop the car off at a designated spot, and get on with their day.
"It's Uber without the driver, and it's much cheaper," said Gregory Ducongé, Vulog CEO.
For carmakers, these new services serve two purposes. These businesses are setting the foundation for creating fleets of cars that could one day be used for self-driving, on-demand ride services. The second purpose is to build relationships with Millennials. This demographic has been taking longer than their parents to settle down and buy cars. That makes it crucial for brands to find new ways to serve this market.
"Ford and other leading automakers don't want to be 10 years in the future, looking behind and saying, 'We missed a trend, especially among younger consumers,'" said Ali Vahabzadeh, founder and CEO of Chariot.
More and More Semi-Autonomous
The tech and auto industries will have to clear legal hurdles before we get to fully autonomous vehicles, but in the meantime, automotive companies are releasing semi-autonomous features in dribbles.
Already, we have features such as collision assist, parking assist, and, most famously, Tesla's autopilot feature. Expect more brands to come out with models that include these types of features. Tesla, for example, will be rolling out more autopilot features next week. Others, like Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Infiniti, and BMW, are also expanding their semi-autonomous offerings. And Las Vegas just this week became the first city in the U.S. to test run a self-driving shuttle bus. Despite a failure in San Franciso, Uber is continuing to push its self-driving efforts. Finally, Waymo, the company that recently spun out of Google, has announced that it will begin testing a whole new fleet of autonomous vehicles by the end of the month.
"We are probably seeing the last generation of kids heading into high school who will need to have a license when they graduate, as self-driving cars and ridesharing services will dominate the landscape by 2022," said Phil Davis, CEO of PhilStockWorld.com.
A few years ago, hybrids and electric vehicles were still a novelty. Now, these vehicles are the norm. The question is no longer whether you can buy an electric vehicle, but rather, which one do you prefer?
The Chevrolet Bolt EV, for example, was named the 2017 Detroit Auto Show's North American Car of the Year--the first time an all-electric vehicle has won the award. As these types of cars become more common, so too do their specs start to improve. Faraday Future, a Chinese-backed startup based in California, said at this year's Consumer Electronics Show that its upcoming FF 91 will boast a driving range of a whopping 378 miles.
"What you're finally getting to is a point where you'll have multiple options by the end of the year on a midrange price, 200-mile-plus EV," said Pasquale Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, which runs a network of EV charging stations. "That's pretty groundbreaking."
Consumers have quickly grown accustomed to updating their computers and smartphones over the cloud, but that has yet to happen with the software in their vehicles. That could all start to change in 2017.
Experts in the tech and auto industries are predicting that more and more car models will go on sale this year that come complete with dashboard systems that can be easily updated and work with the profiles of the specific person who is driving. Already, we have seen this with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which have been added to more cars in recent years. Another player entering this market is Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant, which both Ford and Volkswagen at CES 2017 said will soon be integrated into some of their upcoming vehicles.
Soon, you and your spouse could both drive the same car, but depending on whose key fob is used to start the car, the vehicle will offer up the corresponding set of personalized preferences and apps, said Achyut Jajoo, Salesforce's automotive team leader.
"That level of personalization is what we think will come to the marketplace," Jajoo said. "And we are working on that very closely with some of the automakers."