Do We Really Need to Own Driverless Cars?

I don’t even want to own a manual car today, so I certainly don’t want to own a driverless car in the future, but will others want to? The car companies would, seemingly, want us to keep buying vehicles (driverless or not), but we know that many of them are diversifying their offerings so that they can sell mobility services (example article). I think it’s worth exploring why people choose to own cars today:

  1. Convenience – With people’s personal car typically parked within 100 feet of where they are at any time, it really is extremely convenient to “hop in” and go directly to their destination, which likely has convenient (and free) parking as well.
  2. Driving Experience – As BMW’s tagline (“the ultimate driving experience”) suggests, people like to drive: steering around curves, driving fast, cruising down highways, etc.
  3. Status – People enjoy the status associated of owning a vehicle and, especially, with owning a high-end name brand vehicle.

I really can’t put cost on that list because owning a car really is not a cost-effective investment. Besides the cost of purchasing a car, people also need to pay for insurance, fuel, license fees, registration fees, taxes, and maintenance. See this article for an estimate of the cost of owning a car.

In a driverless society, people will likely have two choices: own a driverless vehicle or use a range of mobility options. Owning a driverless vehicle will likely cost a few thousand dollars more than the cost of cars today (source), so we know that won’t be a huge deterrent. The next question is: how will our future driverless society fare against our driving values cited above?

  1. Convenience – People may actually find that mobility options (including a mix of driverless fleets of different types of vehicles, public transit, bike share, etc.) to be more convenient – especially if there are enough options, if there is congestion (likely!) and the price is right (less than the cost of owning!).
  2. Driving experience – Well this is going to go away (in theory) no matter what! Dedicated driving aficionados can head to a race course dedicated to driving manual cars!
  3. Status – I believe that companies offering mobility services will find ways to differentiate their offerings in such a way that people will maintain their perceived status (see my last blog post on driverless service differentiators).

Despite all of these points, I do believe there will be people that will continue to want/need to own their own driverless vehicle. So be it. They may even decide to lease their vehicle out when they don’t need it to make some extra cash (check out all the ways you can already lease out your car today when it’s not in use).  What would it take for you to give up owning a driverless car?

About Lauren Isaac

Lauren Isaac is the Director of Business Initiatives for the North American operation of EasyMile. Easymile provides electric, driverless shuttles that are designed to cover short distances in multi-use environments. Prior to working at EasyMile, Lauren worked at WSP where she was involved in various projects involving advanced technologies that can improve mobility in cities. Lauren wrote a guide titled “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies” regarding how local and regional governments should respond to autonomous vehicles in the short, medium, and long term. In addition, Lauren maintains the blog, “Driving Towards Driverless”, and has presented on this topic at more than 75 industry conferences. She recently did a TEDx Talk, and has been published in Forbes and the Chicago Tribune among other publications.
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3 Responses to Do We Really Need to Own Driverless Cars?

  1. Diana Dorinson says:

    One part of the Convenience equation not mentioned in your post is the storage potential implicit in having a personal (as opposed to shared) vehicle. There are many scenarios where people are attached to the habit of being able to take along extra “stuff” and have it sitting in the car during the day. Workers in the building trades need access to different sets of specialty tools for each job. Office workers might want different changes of clothes for the gym, the office, and after-work socializing. Families typically bring a car-seat/booster, a stroller, and a diaper bag everywhere they go. House cleaners often need to bring their equipment with them. Sales people may need to have different samples on hand for each customer. Although mobility services can accommodate these items to varying degrees, and I am sure many trips do not have these storage requirements, my sense is that we need to find systems that address the logistics issues that occur in between trips to make a multi-modal approach broadly viable.


  2. Blair Schlecter says:

    Great article. Piggybacking on Diana’s comment, there are some interesting logistical and comfort considerations. For example, if you are a sales rep going from place to place with medical devices, does it make more sense to own your own care for storage or take shared vehicles from place to place.

    Also, how do we get families with kids to feel comfortable putting their kids in driverless cars? Will car seats be interchangeable? Will manufacturers be able to accommodate all the different personal requests? As far as I know, young children cannot ride an uber because they aren’t equipped with car seats. So a whole segment of society is excluded from this mobility option.

    I think the resolution of these practical issues will go a long way to deciding how willing people are to adopt a shared use model.


  3. Sarah Vader says:

    That is exactly what I am thinking, have Uber own and service all the cars and we just hail an Uber when we need it. Will all the cars look the same?


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