Will Driverless Vehicles Eliminate Luxury Cars?

Luxury cars provide consumers with a higher quality ride (bigger engines, better handling, faster acceleration) and, most notably, owners typically enjoy the status associated with owning a high-end name brand vehicle.  So what will happen when the driverless technology is available?  This article suggests that luxury cars will have no purpose in an all self-driving future.

On the one hand, driverless vehicles will all leverage similar technologies, so the quality of the ride will (in theory) be comparable across vehicles. Even in this article about the Rolls Royce driverless concept and this site on the Mercedes F015 concept, most of the features highlighted in the article are aesthetic (sleek design, “luxury lounge,” and a virtual assistant); the focus is no longer on the ride.  Moreover, in theory, private vehicle ownership will decrease substantially, so the likelihood and, ultimately, the image associated with owning a vehicle could decline accordingly.

On the other hand, I have to believe a sub-set of our population will always own their own vehicle (despite what government policies are put in place to discourage it). Price has never and will never discourage the purchase of luxury vehicles, so that will not change, and companies will always find ways to differentiate their products.

My hope is that we will have mostly shared fleets (at least in our urban and suburban areas) and the shared fleets will have a range of products that are priced accordingly. A high-end, sophisticated shared vehicle with a sleek design, “luxury lounge,” and Starbucks coffee offered will cost more than the basic shared vehicle service.So what do you think?  Will we see the end of the luxury car market?

About Lauren Isaac

I am the Manager of Transportation Sustainability at Parsons Brinckerhoff. Recently, I won the William Barclay Parsons fellowship for my research proposal to study how the United States government should respond to driverless cars. As I'm working on my research, I thought this blog would help to disseminate my findings and provide a forum for feedback.
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3 Responses to Will Driverless Vehicles Eliminate Luxury Cars?

  1. cheryl says:

    I think uber black and XL exist for exactly the demographic that still want luxury even if they don’t own the car!

    CIA cheryl.i.aaron@gmail.com

    On Thu, Aug 11, 2016 at 1:38 PM, Driving Towards Driverless Cars wrote:

    > Lauren Isaac posted: “Luxury cars provide consumers with a higher quality > ride (bigger engines, better handling, faster acceleration) and, most > notably, owners typically enjoy the status associated with owning a > high-end name brand vehicle. So what will happen when the driver” >

    Like

  2. johnc66 says:

    The supposition is that the end game of autonomous vehicles is to remove human driver control over the vehicle. That is a flawed assumption. You do not have to remove the driver in order to achieve the goal of no accidents. These systems intervene to compensate for driver error. Most drivers can go very long distances without making such major errors. The overall probability of being in an accident is relatively low. These systems augment human capabilities. They do not have to replace them entirely. So I submit that there will still be a substantial market for the same classes of vehicles as we see today. Sure, part of the car using public will choose alternative mobility solutions, but I don’t see automating vehicles as necessarily making driving by a human illegal. The public goals can be achieved without this and outlawing human drivers would be politically unpalatable for the foreseeable future.

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  3. rickdonnelly says:

    I’m totally with Cheryl on this one. I totally get that one-off renters will care less about what they ride in than availability and reliability, and not care about brand any more than any of us care about brand of escalators we ride today. But I can easily imagine a future where fractional AV ownership among friends or family would result in purchase based upon similar tastes, features and comfort, and social statement the car makes. Combine them with those who privately own their AV, who are likely to be well off, and you’ll probably cover a fair chunk of the market. And if I have a privately-owned AV that I rent out to Uber when I’m at work (but only allow them to rent to users with a high-enough trust score, of course) I might buy a nicer AV than I might otherwise afford. Finally, I’ll never own a high-end sports car, but if I could order one up from Uber for a splurge trip I’d definitely do it, probably more often than I should. All of that suggests to me that we’ll have more luxury cars in the future, not fewer.

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