Friday, April 8, 2016

Coffee Brake: What's In A Decade

A lot can happen in ten years.  Just look at the first decade of the 20th Century.  In 1900 most cars were hand-built things steered with a tiller by a central mounted driver, but within the next ten years, the Wright brothers had conquered the air, and Henry Ford was pumping out Model Ts with a driver seated on the left steering a wheel -- those were exciting times and the change in the industry was palpable.  On the other hand, you can look at the first decade of the 21st Century, and (other than headlights becoming melted pieces of modern art) there isn't much to distinguish a 2000 model year car from a 2010.  Obviously, cars are faster and more fuel efficient, (and there was that recession thing...) and connectivity (so you can snapchat your friends while driving) has made huge advancements -- but for the most part the industry was stagnant.  But these things come in waves and we could be on the cusp of dynamic change.

 The Truth About Henry Ford, by Sarah T. Bushnell, Public Domain

I'm not going to sit here and proclaim that the promised flying cars are going to be delivered within the next decade, but I can say with some certainty that 2026 model year cars could be considerably different from what you can find in the showroom today.  Electric cars are becoming a real mainstream thing (325,000 people pre-ordering a Telsa Model 3 has to mean something), google's self driving car is trying hard not to kill anyone, somebody is launching a self driving race series, and Apple's Project Titan is going to stir up the pot.  I'd even be willing to bet that the automotive dinosaurs major players will get into the spirit of things and surprise us.

My question to you guys is -- what do you think are going to be the biggest changes in the next ten years of the industry and what do you look forward to the most/least?  I'm just upset that we don't have flying cars yet.


  1. I'll guess that safety improvements will advance significantly in the next decade. But instead of mechanical improvements (airbags, crumple zones, etc.) to guard against other motorists we will see electronic improvements -- sensor driving, phone text jamming, breathalyzer ignition lock, etc.

    We will go from protecting ourselves from external risks to protecting ourselves from ourselves.

  2. i fear for the future of manual transmissions - to me, that's the indicator species of total ecosystem transformation - once that's gone, cars will generally suck - i suppose there will be aftermarket desuckification boutiques that will cost an arm, a leg, both whatsits and an elbow - they might be able to make things a notch better, but i seriously doubt anyone will be creating homebrew manual transmission kits - smoke em while you got em, ladies and gentlemen

    1. this is what I'm talking about Brand new 1960s Italian sports car - 5-speed stick, carb, Alfa engine... maybe you'd make different choices (Toyota engine?) - $320K

      why not something less exquisite, more affordable, reasonable for daily driving - the answer is Miata, I guess, but for how much longer?

  3. I don't forsee autonomous cars being quite market ready by 2026, but I could be wrong. Electric cars might be another story, though, if they can get the price down. And while Tesla has general made their cars look like gas burners, these cars can end up looking completely different as they don't put the same constraints on the designer that an internal combustion engine does.

    On the internal combustion end, I'm predicting a lot more "downsize the motor and boost it to the moon" options which could end up looking like the '80s all over again. Although it probably won't lead to new retro versions of the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, LeBaron Turbo, SVO Mustang, MX6 GT, and Starion, DTers can dream.

  4. BionicTorqueWrenchApril 8, 2016 at 3:05 PM

    Manual gearboxes have already all but gone for practical purposes in new cars. Exceptions like the Miata, BRZ, Corvette. Porsche, Ferrari, all the supercars have all largely gone the way of the flappy paddle.

    Penetration of electric vehicles is going to be big. Chevy is about to release the Bolt, which gets 200+ mile range for around $30k. I like a nice Internal combustion engine as much as any of you. But I really like electric vehicles for most purposes. Quiet and clean and efficient.

    I think most people under-estimate how quickly the lower forms of AI are advancing, and therefore how close autonomous vehicles are in a technically possible sense. (Legal frameworks, market penetration and infrastructure are another thing.)

    Autonomous trucking is already here. Daimler has a big project in Nevada that started in 2015. This is going to roll-out much more quickly than cars, because it is a business, and trucking companies will invest because it cuts costs.

    Autonomous trucking is going to have a massive impact on professional drivers, and also on the service industry that surrounds long distance trucking. 3.5 million truck drivers in the US, along with circa 5 million in the trucking service industry. That is a big group of people to become unemployed over the next ten or twenty years. Here is a good article about the impact of autonomous long distance trucking.

    The impact on professional drivers notwithstanding, I'm quite looking forward to autonomous electric vehicles. I lived in London for four years, and in Silicon Valley for the last three. I've enjoyed driving on some holidays to France, and a few road trips around Northern California and into the mountains. But day to day driving - I haven't enjoyed that pretty much at any time in the last seven years. I would much rather have a little robot drive me up and down the 101 than have to deal with it myself. And I would especially prefer that all the other people on the 101, checking their smartphones at the wheel, were also being driven by little robots.

    Autonomous vehicles require infrastructure. No-one will want to own them. You just want to call one on your smartphone, and have it pootle up to your location. Hopefully sounding like a vehicle from the Jetsons. I look forward to keeping my old Alfasud in a garage for the occasions when I can get out of town and actually drive, and then using an autonomous vehicle for my day to day pootling.

    1. If Daimler just started in 2015 they are way behind. I worked for Lockheed Martin on Darkstar and a couple of DARPA projects involving autonomous vehicles in the 90s and was recruited to volvo AB in 1999 to work on their autonomous vehicles in 1999. Some of the items that we worked on are used today such as adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and lane change control. The vehicles were able to function just fine several years ago. The downside was cost and liability.
      I am hesitant at predicting the future. The percentage of electric vehicles is falling not rising, and I see interest waning for multiple reasons. I have seen hydrogen and a dozen other possibilities explored all with great promise, bit no follow through. To be honest I see the ICE continuing it's dominance for the next 10 years. But then again perhaps I'm wrong.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. BionicTorqueWrenchApril 9, 2016 at 10:07 AM

      Daimler have started running autonomous trucks on actual roads and delivering goods - a commercial rollout.

  5. My guess is that once autonomous cars become safe, the race will be on to meet the demand. The parts that go into them will plummet in price like any other electronic devices. The end of the non -autonomous vehicle will follow closely, as cars with drivers will become the liabilities. Driving will be regarded as a nuisance by even the most die hard of drivers, who will be able to drive off road if they care to. If you had the ability to flip a switch and go to self drive mode, my guess is that you would opt to turn the task over to a computer 100% of the time within a matter of days.
    We are in the golden age of driving as we know it with extremely fast cars of all kinds available for little money. Fuel prices are also extremely low. My prediction is that the transition to electric, autonomous cars will happen soon and be complete soon after. Car ownership will be the exception, rather than the rule, as well.

  6. So what I'm hearing is autonomous electric cars will be the wave that sweeps the industry. Add some paranoia after a few autonomous accidents, so a switch that allows a driver to take over the car. Then add insurance monitoring, which will become a big carrot to reduce costs, and encourage people not to take over driving the car. Then add big sticks of extra insurance costs and extra taxes for people that do not have these devices. Then add virtual reality headgear that allows you to pretend you're driving a Ferrari through Italy as your Tesla Commubox 5 takes you carefully to your video screen at work, where you communicate electronically with other electronic identities, until you get back in your Commubox; which takes you home to watch some electronic entertainment.

  7. "desuckification boutiques".........this will be the growth sector in the coming years. Everything from toaster like modern cars to politician's promises to self annointed political commentators would benefit from a visit to your local desuckification boutique. You'll be able to purchase all manner of aftermarket products that will enhance not only your pathetic dweeb like robocar but your inflated sense of self importance. Whoops...I'll be back I have to go visit mine now!


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