Bob Lutz, 83, has been around longer than most in the auto industry. The former General Motors, BMW, Ford and Chrysler executive knows a lot about change because he's seen so much of it.
At a recent Automotive News roundtable discussion (see Pages 23-26), Lutz offered his vision of personal mobility in the future. He didn't say when it would happen, but he was fairly explicit about what it would look like.
"The end state is going to be the fully autonomous, fully electric module with no capability for the driver to steer it or exercise any sort of command. You will call it up, it will arrive at the domicile, you'll get in, input the destination and go to the freeway.
"On the freeway, it will merge seamlessly into a stream of other standardized modules that are traveling at 120, 150 miles an hour. It doesn't matter. You have a blending of rail-type transportation with individual transportation.
"Then, as you approach your exit, your module with split off and go into deceleration lanes, take the exit, [and] go to your final destination. You will be billed for the transportation. You key in your credit card number or your thumbprint or whatever it will be then. The module takes off and goes to its collection point, ready for the next person to call it up.
"On the freeway, [the vehicle will] be on inductive rails, not using its own battery. Of course, the batteries will be much more capable.
"What we're seeing now are various transitional elements -- shared cars, Uber, all of these things. It's on-demand transportation without the need for actually owning a car.
"You could look at Uber as an intermediate stage, a stepping stone on the way to fully autonomous. They basically serve the same purpose as autonomous cars, except there's a driver and in most cases, there's an internal combustion engine.
"The [next stage] will be autonomous driving on the freeway, which is pretty much feasible now. That doesn't solve the problem of getting off the freeway and going to the final destination, which is still going to be hands on the wheel.
"If we look at that end point of these standardized modules ... [they] have to be the same length, the same width, the same shape and so forth. You think, how is the automobile industry going to supply that nondifferentiated demand?
"That is a scary proposition. That's where you have to worry about people like Apple and Google, because 90 percent of the content of the vehicle is going to be in the electronic systems and the connectivity and, of course, the battery. The module itself is going to be relatively trivial."