Is the Model T Coming Back?

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Ford’s recent announcement that it will effectively exit the passenger sedan market suggests a deeper shift in the ways we will get around in the future.

“May car sales are flat. The sedan heads toward irrelevance,” declared a headline in the Los Angeles Times almost a year ago. It hasn’t gotten better since: In addition to Ford’s announcement, Chrysler is nixing models, and GM is cutting jobs & investments in sedans.

Overall car sales have trended down over the past few years, while SUVs have increased their share of the mix. This happens like clockwork every time gas prices go down, which fools people into thinking they can afford to operate gas-hungry light trucks. Manufacturers are usually boneheaded, too, and focus on marketing SUVs because they’re priced higher than sedans (and have fatter profit margins).

Once prices go up, the market swings back again to smaller vehicles…only this next time, America’s Big Three won’t have any to sell.

My guess is that the onset of autonomous driving will break the cycle. Just like Henry Ford’s Model T disrupted transportation in the early 1900s, vehicles that drive themselves will change things in the 2020s.

And, just like the Model T, those vehicles will be identical, and there’ll be less of them.

The what-if designs of self-driving vehicles all look like boxes on wheels. Toyota’s ePalette and VW’s Sedric are devoid of any exterior differentiation, as is a concept from design firm Rinspeed. Another designer imagines a transparent box.

Concepts from Waymo portray a car that looks like a Beetle only stripped of any personality. Mercedes Benz chooses to focus on interiors, with a layout that looks like a living room setting.

Many them could be electric, as electric car sales skyrocketed last year, and some forecasts see car sales disconnecting from fuel oil pricing by the middle of the next decade.

And many, if not most of them won’t be bought by people looking to make some symbolic expression of their inner selves via branded car models; rather, they’ll hail rides via an app on a smartphone. Uber, Lyft, Ford’s Chariot, and a lot of other players are vying to operate such services.

Like airliners buying thrust instead of engines, or consumers renting space in the cloud instead of buying hard drives, travelers will buy transportation from Point A to Point B.

It won’t matter if they do it sitting in identical boxes driven by robots...

Read the entire essay at Medium

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