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Get ready for 3 billion more cars on the roads

Here are some of my key messages that I give to senior leaders of the world's largest auto companies and to governments, as a Futurist keynote speaker on travel, transport and related trends.  I have been advising global transport companies on trends for over 20 years.

COMMENT in July 2022:  

Below you will find an extract from The Future of Almost Everything - one of my 17 books - published in 2015 and updated in 2018.  It's here so you can JUDGE for yourself the accuracy of my previous predictions. 

In that book I also warned in Chapter One of major Wild Card risks that could hit our world. Number One in my list was a new global viral pandemic.

I also warned of significant risks that a powerful nation would make a military miscalculation resulting in regional instability and chaos. And I made many forecasts relating directly or indirectly to the auto industry.

Auto industry has evolved much as I forecast over the last two decades

The race towards an auto world dominated by electric cars (not hydrogen powered) has happened more or less as I predicted, accelerated even more by the increasing concerns over climate change, themselves becoming more intense during the COVID pandemic.  

Also as I predicted, progress towards wide acceptance of autonomous vehicles has been steady but rather slow, despite all the hype.

Limits on future external shape and seating in cars

As I always point out in keynotes at auto industry conferences: the truth is that whatever happens to auto innovation, the balance of different types of vehicles on the roads will change very slowly compared to - say - Big Data, Internet of Things, Predictive Analytics, Robotics, Mobile Payments and so on.

Why is that?

Well firstly even if every new vehicle sold in Finland from tomorrow is an electric vehicle capable of driving itself, because the average life of a vehicle in Finland is over 35 years, it would take over a decade and a half before such vehicles became more than 50% of those on the roads.

That is, unless the government bans petrol / diesel vehicles from the roads, which of course may happen but unlikely in the next 10-15 years.

Secondly, we are up against the limits of physics and physiology.  

PHYSICS: All fuel efficient vehicles are designed to reduce drag to the minimum - and the properties of wind are constant.  There really is a limit to what you can do to the outside of a vehicle before you make it less efficient.  Big problem for creative designers.  It's why so many cars from different manufactures look almost identical, compared to diversity 30 years ago.

PHYSIOLOGY:  And the shape of human beings also imposes severe limitations. There really are only a very limited number of ways you can squeeze four or five people into seats within a very confined space in a comfortable and safe way.  

So we can already take a reasonable guess about external vehicle shapes in 40 year's time, and about the structure of internal space (with or without steering wheels).

Finally, the whole thesis of The Future of Almost Everything is that every global trend impacts other trends, often in surprising ways.

So if we want an accurate view on the future of the auto industry, we need to take on board all the other factors in the book.

Ranging from supply chains to growth of emerging markets, urban migrations, increased life expectancy and obesity, increased urban smog in megacities, and rapidly growing anxiety about all carbon emissions, including emissions in manufacturing of electric vehicles.

Extract from The Future of Almost Everything

More than 1 billion cars are on the roads today. But we would need to see that rise to 4 billion for the whole world to have the same level of car ownership as America.

By then, almost all of them will be electric powered, and the majority driven entirely or assisted by robots.

Inevitably, roads will be very congested, especially in city centres, many of which will ban private vehicles most or all of the time by 2030.

Most car sales will be in emerging markets from 2020-2050

Most new car owners will be in emerging markets over the next 50 years.

Chinese people are driving 230 million cars, most than any other nation, 8% owned by 40,000 car rental companies.

Private car ownership in China jumped from 1% to 21% from 2002 to 2019, with more than 24 million new cars now sold a year.

Around half the population in the Philippines and Indonesia do not yet own a car, compared to only 3% in Malaysia, where 53% of households own more than one vehicle.

In Thailand and Indonesia 80% of consumers hope to buy a vehicle in the next two years, and in most cases this will be the first car they have ever owned.

Traffic jams in many larger cities will be a growing nightmare, especially in emerging nations where car ownership is growing far more rapidly than road construction.

Drivers and passengers spend 90 billion hours a year in traffic jams. In some cities, a third of all fuel consumption is used simply in trying to find a parking space.

Car ownership will fall in developed nations

On the other hand, in many developed nations, car ownership will fall, as a younger generation refuse to follow “unsustainable” ownership patterns of their parents, preferring to rent as they go.  

This pattern will be accelerated by driverless cars, which will be more expensive to buy, and may feel ridiculous to actually own.  

We are already seeing the impact of the sharing economy on the number of households in many nations who are opting not to own a second car.

Mobile Apps will make it even easier to hire and drop vehicles for long and short journeys, at very short notice, and easier to hire a car with a driver (despite legal challenges to Taxi Apps like Uber).

We will also see more tax breaks, traffic lanes and other incentives to encourage car sharing by commuters as well as more car leasing.

Better petrol and diesel engine efficiency

Fuel efficiency of all fossil-fuel engines will improve, with use of nanotech coatings for all moving parts, and many other advances in engineering, as well as lighter vehicles.

These gains will slow down sales of pure electric vehicles.

Electric car sales boom 

Electric cars have taken off more slowly than many manufacturers and governments hoped, held back by expensive batteries.

New types of battery will be lighter, cheaper, more efficient, with faster charging and longer life.

Tesla cars already have a range of 400 miles and 600 miles will be normal by 2025.  

It’s to do with scale as well as innovation: Tesla’s new battery factory will have a greater output than the entire world’s battery production today.

Most sales of electric vehicles over the next decade will be smaller models designed for city use, encouraged by tax breaks for owners and subsidies for manufacturers.

But even with a huge boom, it will take 20 years or more for most petrol and diesel powered vehicles on the roads to be scrapped.

That's because, unless they are forced off the road by regulation, most vehicles sold in the last 5-10 years will still be in reasonable condition by 2035 or longer, if properly looked after.

Ban on diesel / petrol car sales will drive global e-car growth

But the greatest push towards electric cars will come from governments who ban all sales of carbon-fuel cars within the next 15-20 years.

By early 2020, 14 nations had already announced dates by which it will be illegal to sell fossil-fuel driven cars, or had announced that they would soon set their own dates.

Expect many more nations to follow - these are "easy wins" for governments: a simple signature on a piece of paper is all that is required to create such regulatory changes. 

As a result of this highly significant step, and following tremendous pressure from customers, every car manufacturer in the world had already switched most of its innovation budget to electric vehicles by 2019.

Governments will lose tax revenues from diesel and petrol sales

An additional challenge will be loss of government tax revenues on petrol and diesel fuel.

Therefore we can expect subsidies for e-cars to be phased out, replaced gradually by ever-steeper taxation on buying and owning these vehicles.

Looking for a world-class Futurist keynote speaker on auto industry trends, transport, future of cars, trucks and roads?  Contact us now to discuss.

Self-diagnosing and self-repairing cars - with variable insurance

In many nations it is already impossible to buy a car that is not online all the time, able to summon rescue, police or ambulance automatically in case of accidents or breakdown.

Brazil will soon require every new car to have a built-in tracking device to prevent theft.

America’s highway agencies are working on proposals to force all new cars to have the ability to network with each other (Vehicle to Vehicle or V2V).

Expect all large car makers to adopt the technology from 2021 onwards, well before legally forced to do so.

Revenues from services, devices and infrastructure for online vehicles could be worth more than $200bn by 2025.

All new cars will self-diagnose problems before they happen, with sensors across vehicles to monitor tyre pressure, brake pads, piston compression, battery condition, gas emissions, power use.

We will see more head-up displays, with speed and fuel indicators, and a wide range of informatics including navigation and messaging.

Cars will also watch driver behaviour, so that insurers can price each day’s premium on yesterday’s driving patterns for that particular driver.

This will help people to drive better and at lower cost, because insurers reward good behaviour.  Police will argue that the should be able to get access to the same data.

Who owns the driver?

Drivers will expect new features for the basic price, so manufacturers will be stuck with more costs.  

As in banking, the key issue will be who owns the customer? Indeed, who owns the vehicle?

Manufacturers will try to hit back with a one-stop solution.

So, for example, they will send details of breakdowns, faults or accidents directly to their own dealers, rather than to local garages.

Car manufacturers are already offering a far wider range of ownership, as motorists move from traditional ‘buy and keep’.

Telcos, makers of networking devices, producers of Apps and V2V services will build their own clusters of technologies.

They will try to push back manufacturers into more limited roles. 

Semi-automated cars will soon be almost universal

Apple and Google both want to control car information.

The vision is that cars will constantly exchange useful information without bothering the driver.

Live traffic information, common mechanical problems, best fuel prices, updates to maps.

V2V communication will eventually mean the end of traffic lights in some cities, as each vehicle perfectly times its approach to every junction.

Self-driving cars – with legal issues

Several companies will soon be selling 100% auto-drive vehicles, but they will not be widely used outside European cities, America and Asia until 2030, because of fears about safety.

Expect rapid growth in robotic farm tractors and industrial vehicles, for example in open-cast mining.

But in cities, it will only take some high profile deaths of a few child pedestrians to slow down the introduction.

The question is this: if a robot kills a pedestrian or an occupant in another vehicle, whose fault is it? Who goes to prison? Vehicle owner? The manufacturer? Software company?

More than 1.3 million people die in road traffic accidents a year (more than deaths from malaria or TB) and 50 million are injured.

A key argument will be this: Robot drivers make fewer mistakes, so even if some people are killed by robots, fewer will die than if humans drive.

Cheaper and more ethical to let a robot drive your car

Once insurers recognize that accidents are less when robots drive, expect a discount for every mile on “Robot” mode, and extra costs to drive on “Manual”, with normal rates for “Assist”.  

By 2035 it will be considered by some to be selfish, antisocial and dangerous to insist on driving yourself.

In the meantime, robot drivers need to be far more efficient – self-driving cars consume 20% more energy because of computing and sensors involved.

Homeless cars, car trains and flying cars

In the world of driverless cars, you will step outside your home to find the car roll up. You don’t own it but it feels like yours.

A variation will be ‘car trains’ where many cars are in convoy on motorways, metres apart, to save 20% energy. 

So-called flying cars will still be rare and expensive in 2030 as privately owned vehicles, owned only by the super-wealthy, or rented per trip by premium taxi / air transport firms, but only permitted in most nations outside major cities, partly because of noise pollution.  

The most common technology will be drone-like rotors offering stable computer-driven, battery-powered flight for one or two passengers over short distances.

Urban Air Mobility Revolution - section added in 2022

More than 250 companies around the world are now investing in next-generation, low-cost, electric powered flying taxis.


Most Urban Air Mobility companies are small startups that you have never heard of, while the largest aircraft manufacture are also innovating in this area.


The top ten UAM startups have received over $6bn in funding over the last 5 years, with successful test flights over more than 150kms between charges.

History of short-hop air travel is long

For decades, many airports in congested cities have been serviced by companies offering helicopter flights from city centres.


Other airports offer similar links because of their geography eg linking Nice airport to Monaco, or transport to a remote airport on the Marquesia islands in the middle of the Pacific.


But such flights are expensive and emit high amounts of carbon per passenger mile, compared to most other modes of transport.

Drone technology points to future of short-hop air travel

At the same time, we have seen dramatic improvement in drone technology – highly stable, efficient, reliable, autonomous vehicles.


680,000 commercial drones were sold in 2020 alone, with $13bn of sales expected to grow 60% or more per year - for uses such as surveying crops or buildings, military intelligence and so on. 


That does not include a further $490m of sales of drones as toys in 2021.

Impact of urbanisation - 1 billion people on the move

All this has to be seen in the context of global urbanisation with over 1 billion people expected to migrate from rural areas into cities over the next 30 years. 


In most large cities the average driving speed across a typical journey is getting longer, as investment in roads falls behind expansion in car ownership. 


Drone tech is already being used of course for freight deliveries, especially into remote rural areas, and we can expect to see very rapid growth of this sector. 


The main safety issues are collision with other flying vehicles / aircraft and mechanical failure leading to forced landings.

How long before Uber flights as easy and cheap as Uber road taxis?

The obvious question has been how long it will be before electric-powered drone-type aircraft are large enough and reliable enough to carry passengers, and how far they will be able to travel on a single charge? 


How long before ordering a flying Uber becomes as straightforward and low cost as ordering a traditional Uber taxi?

Expect global consolidation in flying vehicle production

Expect no more than 5 manufacturers to seize over 50% of the global market, with possibly $10-12bn a year of sales by 2030. 


That may seem a huge market, but to keep in proportion – this is tiny compared to the entire aviation industry in 2022 of $3.5 trillion a year or 4% of the global economy. 


Traditional helicopter services will be replaced in most cities by electric-powered vertical take-off and landing aircraft, with a typical range of up to 100kms. 


But expect growth too in longer range eVTOLS, especially for high-value, urgent freight – eg medicines or human organs for transplant.

Safety, silence and sustainability - challenges to overcome with regulators

The entire sector will be held back over the next 15-20 years in many nations by safety and regulatory issues, in a similar way to the constraints on fully autonomous road vehicles. \


At the same time, expect activist campaigns against the widespread use of eVTOLS, on grounds of sustainability, safety and nuisance from noise. 


The fact is that overcoming gravity requires a huge amount of energy, even if the vehicle is stationary, hovering just half a metre from the ground. 


Such vehicles are therefore only fully efficient if travelling very fast over relatively long distances. 


And such vehicles also create a lot of air disturbance / vibration noise.  Just think how annoying it can be to hear a tiny toy drone buzzing overhead.

What about energy efficiency?

Some eVTOL companies have claimed that energy per mile per person travelled could be less than for people in a car, but such claims will be closely scrutinised in future. 


A key factor will be aerodynamics and average number of passengers per flight. Another will be embodied carbon - energy used to make the aircraft etc, divided out by number of actual flights.


Cars have to stay on the road surface and create a lot more wind resistance, compared to aircraft. 


But another is weight to power ratio of batteries, and recharge time, which can limit numbers of flights per day. 


Key to widespread acceptance will also be smarter navigation tools for air traffic control, allowing hundreds or even thousands of autonomous flying machines to work their way around cities.


And key to afforadability will be ensuring each flying eVTOL is heavily used because they will be very expensive to buy compared to a car.


Looking for a world-class Futurist keynote speaker on auto industry trends, transport, future of cars, trucks and roads?  Contact us now to discuss.


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