When the automobile was first mass-produced, it opened up nearly the entire country to travel, and tapped into mankind’s primal need for freedom, exploration and truck stop fountain sodas bigger than toddlers. Hopping in a car and driving cross country was… American. Then came driver-cars and ride-sharing apps. Nearly every major car manufacturer is developing driverless cars and autonomous transportation, and if you don’t want one of those parked in your driveway, you can call an Uber or Lyft. Because of this, many suggest that car ownership is on its way out. They are wrong, wrong, wrong!
Arguments Against the Future of Car Ownership
Given the economic costs, environmental impact, and new transportation technologies, some believe car ownership will disappear. Instead, people will pay subscription services for their sweet rides. For a monthly fee, autonomous cars will be available on-demand to take us wherever we want to go. Alternatively, others will choose a pay-per-use option with robo-taxis accommodating their needs. In turn, car ownership trends will completely disappear except for those few enthusiast collectors.
These arguments are not without merit. By some accounts, the average monthly car payment is roughly $545 per month. Likewise, cars are hardly a good investment, with the average depreciation being 40 percent over five years. And cars certainly take up space, demand tremendous infrastructure, and sit idle much of the time. These issues, as well as the safety and environmental factors, support the views these individuals express. But despite being rational in nature, they neglect some major aspects of car ownership trends.
Why the Future of Car Ownership Will Continue
The car has been a part of our lives for well over a century at this point in time. At a basic level, it has served as our means to get from one place to another. But by far, this is not the only advantages that owning a car offers. Car ownership trends have not grown out of transportation needs alone. Instead, they have expanded due to an array of additional benefits having your own car offers. For a significant segment of the population, these additional benefits will serve as obstacles to change. And because of this, the future of car ownership will last for many decades to come. Any predictions otherwise are simply failing to recognize the facts of the matter.
Let’s consider some of the most important non-transportation perks that automobiles offer us. For one, cars are our home away from home. The independence and privacy of your own car offers are still features viewed by many as being essential. They offer a sense of privacy while providing us a place to store some of our items. Certainly, Uber and Lyft have shown that not everyone demands these things from car ownership. However, car ownership trends have not changed that dramatically since the introduction of ride-sharing services. (We probed into the beneficial costs of using Uber and here’s what we found.)
In addition to these conveniences of privacy and independence, the future of car ownership will also persist for other reasons. Specifically, for decades now, cars are an extension of ourselves that allow us to express who we are. Like a nice suit or piece of jewelry, automobiles allow us to make a statement about our success and style. For many, a willingness to give this up will be met with significant resistance. Even when owning a car fails to make economic sense, this benefit will continue to drive car ownership trends. As you can appreciate, changes in the future of car ownership involve more than merely better transportation models.
(Read our story on Riding in the Cars of the Future.)
How Car Ownership Trends and New Technologies Will Merge
The position is not that the desire to own your own car will last forever. However, car ownership trends will shift over a longer period of time in a gradual manner. In fact, technologies favor this to a great extent. As electric cars are introduced, driverless cars and driver-based models offer benefits in terms of climate change. Likewise, autonomous technology also offers advantages in human safety as its capabilities improve. For many consumers, the lure of ride-sharing and robo-taxis will encourage them to cut the cord on owning a car. But for millions, these services will simply be used adjunctively in addition to having their own car in the driveway.
As the decades pass, car ownership trends will likely change. Infrastructures designed for existing car needs will evolve as the future of car ownership changes as well. But this will take the good part of a century to realize given how entrenched personal care ownership trends are. In some ways, this can be compared to differences between owning your own home and renting an apartment. Despite the economic and lifestyle advantages that renting offers, many still choose to own their own place. This even occurs when such an investment isn’t ideal. Understanding this, the economic arguments alone do not support a dramatic shift in car ownership trends overnight. The shift will occur more slowly as societies slowly warm up to the idea and long-standing infrastructures gradually fade away.