Self-driving and electric cars are coming at us fast. The landscape for them right now is similar to what it was for home computers in the early 1980s. We know they're here to stay and we know they're going to impact our lives drastically, but we don't know yet how drastic that impact will be.

While Google and other companies continue to speed ahead with self-driving cars, Elon Musk continues to ramp up the spread of electric cars, and Uber continues to propel ride sharing services forward, you might as well start brainstorming about the possible business ideas these technologies and services present.

Here are five that I came up with:

1. Car customization and decoration

A certain portion of the population already loves customizing and decorating their cars, but many others simply see them as a means to get around and don't pay much attention to their aesthetics because they just see them as purely utilitarian. But, if those same people no longer have to drive their cars, they might take more of an interest in customizing and decorating the interior since they'll spend more time looking at it. Might be business opportunities there to create and sell products that will help self-driving car owners customize their vehicle interiors.

2. Car dining

One activity that we already do a lot of in cars is eating and we're only bound to do more of it if we're not distracted by that pesky driving thing. There could be products or services related to dining in cars. With no need for a driver, families might be able to have a "regular" meal in their cars and sit around a small table, making for a more natural (if cramped) dining experience on the road.

3. Remote productivity

More time spent in cars means opportunity for increased productivity for work or school. Nowadays, that usually takes the form of apps on our phones, but maybe there are other opportunities to exploit this new realm of increased productivity time like a laptop stand for the car or something else that could promote productivity during commutes.

4. Transitioning businesses

Many pundits believe fewer people will opt to own cars when they become self-driving and more people will simply rent cars or opt for ridesharing services when they need them. This will shift the maintenance burden of vehicles to the rental companies and likely mean a lot of the little oil change and repair shops that service cars won't be needed anymore.

Likewise, gas stations, highway restaurants, truck stops and other similar places will also have to transition, sell or close down. All those shops needing to transition to a new business or closing down could open up opportunities in consulting or real estate, perhaps.

Places like gas stations also require environmental cleanup before they can be turned into anything else, so there will likely be an increased need for businesses that provide that service. Aside from self-driving cars, gas stations will start decreasing because electric cars will eventually start to overtake them. There are about 150,000 gas stations in the US (down from 200,000 in 1994). As their numbers continue to drop, that is a lot of real estate to clean up and find uses for.

5. Parking spaces

Self-driving cars mean self-parking cars, too. If more people are renting cars or opting for ridesharing services, it stands to reason that there will be less of a need for parking spaces. And for people who still own cars, they'll be able to send them away to go park themselves in inexpensive lots rather than having to pay for an expensive spot in their downtown condo.

We might see downtown parking garages in both commercial and residential buildings shrinking or disappearing and those empty spaces are going to need to be filled with something. They could  hold new commercial or residential properties or they might be used for something else entirely. Deciding what to do with them and actually doing something with them could hold new business opportunities for people.

Self-driving cars may still seem like they're a long way off, and the point where electric cars outpace gas cars may seem but a distant dot on the horizon, but they'll be here sooner than any of us realize. Being prepared for that day will ensure that you're in a prime position to take advantage of the opportunities they present.

Published on: Oct 18, 2017