Buying a car in 2027

By 2027, you'll care far more about the software in your car than any of the hardware.

Mercedes F 015 autonomous concept vehicle

Mercedes F 015 autonomous concept vehicle

Ten years ago you probably weren't even aware that there was any software running in your car. Yet there were millions of lines of software code running in most cars, even back then. This software was in the engine control system, the anti-lock braking system, and other subsystems in the car. Today, any car with navigation, bluetooth connectivity, or a fancy digital dashboard obviously has even more software running in it.

Back in 2007, you primarily thought of your car in hardware terms. And you chose it based on how much hardware you could get for a given price. You might have considered things like how many cylinders the engine had, how many speakers the banging stereo had, or how many cup holders could be found scattered around the vehicle.

Here in 2017, we tend to have a more nuanced view of cars. The petrol heads will always obsess over the engine's capabilities, and of course most of us care about how our car looks. But to a large extent cars have become "good enough" and so you don't really worry too much about the engine, the transmission, or most of the other hardware in the car. Whichever car you choose, you know it is likely to be fairly reliable and have enough oomph to get you around.

We are in a transition period for cars that is similar to the transition that phones went through in the last decade. People care more and more about the connectivity of their cars, and they are starting to care more about the software features of the vehicle: braking assist, steering assist, parking assist, and so on.

By 2027, you'll choose your car based on the software it's running and how many cool apps it has. You might even think about what operating system your car runs on, and how well that operating system interfaces with the other smart objects and systems in your life--the operating system that runs your phone, your home, or your life. 

Source: Mercedes

Source: Mercedes

Source: Mercedes

Source: Mercedes

Cars will be spaces that we spend time in. Spaces where we do things other than driving. And so cars will evolve to provide a range of in-journey services. That means lots of new software. We will expect apps for in-journey entertainment, apps to keep the kids occupied, apps so that we can do office work on the go, apps that turn the car into a meeting room, apps for sleeping, and so on.

The killer app will, of course, be autonomous driving. I agree with Elon Musk's recent statement that a decade from now every car will have autonomous capability as standard. The cost of adding autonomous driving features will continue to fall as sensor and computing prices tumble. Once the cost adder for autonomy heads below $1000, and then below $500, why would anyone bother buying a car that doesn't have it? The benefit of having it is just so compelling. It was the same way with ABS. It's pretty hard to buy a car today that doesn't have anti-lock brakes as standard.

By definition, an autonomous vehicle doesn't need a driver. And with no driver there is less reason to have a single owner. That means that self-driving cars are innately more shareable. And when autonomous cars are shared they become even more valuable.

A fleet of on-demand autonomous vehicles in our major cities will improve safety, aid traffic flow, and reduce environmental impact. They will also allow us to repurpose land in our cities, widening our sidewalks and freeing up space that was given over to parking lots and street corner gas stations. Perhaps most importantly, on-demand autonomous vehicles will improve access to mobility services for people that previously were unable to drive: blind people, people with disabilities, people who are too young/too old to drive, or people who previously could not afford to travel by car. By 2027, an autonomous car will be a lot cheaper to ride in than a taxi (or even an Uber or Lyft) is today because you no longer have to pay for the human driver's time.

Volkswagen Sedric fully autonomous concept

Volkswagen Sedric fully autonomous concept

People will still own cars. But they may own less of them, especially in cities. A family that previously owned three or four cars might go down to two, or even one vehicle if they also have access to a high-quality, responsive on-demand transportation service.

As software becomes the most important part of our cars we will think about them in a totally new way. They will become a space that we inhabit. They will become a service we can enjoy on demand. And they will become far safer. Many thousands of people will no longer die in road accidents each year. We are talking about a total transformation of human mobility the likes of which we have not seen since the arrival of the steam engine.

It's an exciting road ahead.