There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the end of car ownership. Dan Neil argues that cars as we know them will not exist within a generation. When you want to travel, a self-driving car will be summoned by an app to your location, clean and fuelled. You can have it for as long or as short a time as you need. You don’t pay for the car. You pay for the miles. You can probably specify the size depending on how many people and what luggage you want to carry.

Will you want to worry about the colour and the features?

When you think of what goes into a car’s design and performance to create the ultimate must-have car – to say nothing of the whole advertising and promotional industry behind it – what does the future look like for the car industry? And could this seismic shift apply to your business?

For many people, a car is their second largest investment after their home and something in which they invest a great deal more than money. There is a lot of emotion around car ownership, cars have become a way of expressing our personality and that may be a hard bond to break.

Can we change this in a generation and if we can, what will force it to happen?

The most likely reason will be economic. Insurers are already looking at the issues around liability for driverless cars. If driverless cars have far fewer accidents, then the cars with drivers will have to bear an increasing insurance cost and an inflexion point will be reached when only the wealthy can afford insurance!

The BBC reported this month that Porsche have said they have no plans for driverless cars, unlike most car manufacturers – and clearly are relying on their customers being wealthy enough to keep driving their cars themselves.

Alternatively the government may simply outlaw driving as it becomes clear how unsafe it is. We currently tolerate nearly 2000 deaths and 22,000 serious injuries on our roads every year – will we be so tolerant when there is a safer alternative?

How many other changes might we see in a generation and what will drive those changes? What are the changes in your industry?

All the changes and advances that humanity has made have been driven by technology, from the discovery of fire to the man on the moon. In the past technologies have often taken more than a generation to really make a seismic shift but with the speed of technological change and global communication we will see faster and faster change.

There will be two things driving this

  • Technology that is cheaper, better and more resilient than people. There are numerous examples of this in manufacturing, in administration, in research and in many other areas. This is happening now, there is an on-going debate around how fast jobs will be replaced but no debate that the replacement will happen
  • The second area where technology will substitute is in those areas where we have real skill shortages. There are many GP practices now that are closed to new patients because of a shortage of doctors. There are schools that are struggling to recruit teachers. There are companies that cannot find the trained engineers that they need. There are many more examples where we simply do not have enough skilled people and they either cannot be trained fast enough or do not want to go into those types of job.

The politicians will stick to the existing model and claim that the answer is to train more doctors, teachers and engineers because envisaging different models and selling them to a doubtful electorate is seen as risky. But the training for these professions is long and not enough candidates are coming forward.

So other solutions will have to be found and we will need to use technology to help us solve the problem.

If we can give up driving cars in a generation we can change other things. You need to be thinking what those things are in your industry and preparing for the future.