Where Cars Fit In The Future

Cities are crowded, and in the years ahead, the transportation industry will have to adapt as more markets have less room for private cars.

companies, could reduce the cost of personal mobility by 30% to 60% relative to the cost of private car ownership.

Automation promises to allow cars that can navigate on their own, without a human driver. McKinsey suggests taking the wheel away from human drivers could reduce accidents by as much as 90%, saving thousands of lives and as much as $190 billion annually in the US by 2050.

Self-driving cars sound good in theory, but many practical impediments remain. Knupfer expressed some skepticism that fully autonomous cars will be accepted on public roads. "There is a liability issue and I think that's more the issue we see," he said. "A modern airplane can pretty much take off and fly by itself, but you still need a pilot."

There's also the chicken conundrum: Driving is often a game of chicken, in which drivers take conflicting action until one defers. When software it programmed to defer, human drivers and pedestrians can be expected to take advantage of easily cowed code. People will claim right of way at intersections because they can. Software doesn't know enough to bluff and it's doubtful the programmers of autonomous systems want to subject passengers or people on foot to a self-driving car capable of road rage.

Deloitte's study, "The Future Of Mobility," looks at the changing mobility landscape from the perspective of insiders – the established auto industry -- and disrupters -- the technology industry – and consider four futures in which mobility trends play out.

The first assumes only incremental change, in which private auto ownership remains the norm and automation technology appears mainly in the form of driver assistance. The second sees growth in car sharing, which reduces the need for vehicle ownership in urban settings. The third imagines strong uptake of autonomous vehicle technology in conjunction with continued private vehicle ownership. And the fourth foresees the convergence of autonomous and vehicle sharing trends to create a range of opportunities for mobility management companies.

The economic benefits of each of these possible futures remain unclear, but Deloitte projects a possible cost for vehicle owners in each, ranging from $0.97 per mile under the most conservative scenario (more or less the cost for a driver today) to $0.31 per mile in world that has fully embraced car sharing and vehicle automation.

Deloitte's study lists various forces that may delay or accelerate the transformation of mobility. Regulation and investment offer fairly straightforward paths to encourage changes, but the social and security obstacles could be formidable. There will be much more scrutiny of driver activity and many may not welcome having every in-car action monitored and measured. Data privacy concerns will have to be dealt with.

[Stop and ask for directions? No need soon, maybe. Read: Driving Toward Connected Cars.]

Automotive and technology companies may face pressure to submit to similar surveillance. Car cyber-security remains too insecure to leave unaudited. And Volkswagen's use of software to cheat on emissions tests has renewed the debate over the place of proprietary code in devices that affect public health and safety.

Between the two studies, it's clear that transportation faces a monumental shift. What's less evident is the extent to which the shift will be manual or automatic. Chances are we'll see something in between.