Cars, as we’ve long known them, and driving, as we've long done it, are about to enter a horse-and-buggy era of their own.
Introducing: MaaS -- mobility as a service -- the auto industry’s next big thing.
It’s no secret that transportation, like communication a decade or two ago, is on the edge of a sea change, with electric engines and autonomous driving slowly grabbing market share.
How Americans will use these autos of tomorrow as a service may surprise us all.
For instance, the average person in the U.S. presently sits in a vehicle for about 56 minutes a day. As sharing grows to become the new norm, cars could be occupied up to 10 hours a day -- over ten times as much use of the vehicle.
The life of a car, with increasingly improving parts and design, could rise from about 180,000 miles today to 300,000 miles in the not too distant future. And those 300,000 miles could also be reached after only three years of usage. Nowadays, cars only run about 12,000 miles annually and last 15 to 17 years.
Importantly, for suppliers and automakers, this new aging dynamic means more cars will be built and sold each year because they will be wearing out sooner.
They also could look different -- more utilitarian for passengers, optimized for a smooth ride, with the interior comfort and style suited to the individual’s experience, and far less emphasis on a sleek exterior design.
All this will mean even more electronics inside. Internet capability will be a given.
Vehicles will likely cost more, too.
But mobility as a service means much more than altering a car’s mechanics and structure.
First, forget the traditional ideas of cars and driving. Instead, think of scores of pods on wheels roaming around like Uber cars on steroids -- but without drivers, which will save ride-sharing companies a bundle, as 75 percent of the cost of a ride right now is the driver (no wonder Uber is focusing on autonomous vehicles).
This pod-sharing paradigm should also capture market share away from other modes of transportation. It could turn traditional transit buses into dinosaurs, because there's no need to have gigantic vehicles with a capacity of 100 people crawling through traffic empty, or partially so, much of the time, when there could be fleets of pods carrying seven-to-10 people around town at a lower cost.
Of course, the future of any industry is difficult to predict, especially in the very long-term.
But remember: In the late 1800s, before cars were introduced in mass, pretty much everybody had a horse. That's how you got around. Who has a horse today? It's generally the wealthy because it's expensive to have a horse. You have to stable the horse. You've got to own a ranch, or you've got to rent stable space in a barn.
Today, everybody has a car. But tomorrow, only the elite may have vehicles they drive around themselves. They’ll be toys for hobbyists or rich people, not unlike horses.
Unfortunately, a lot of the suppliers in the industry have not really looked at MaaS very heavily. This is a mistake. They should be looking to place some bets now, to be positioned for the pod-sharing services that may lie ahead in the marketplace. Or their future could go the way of the horse and buggy.
Daron Gifford is the automotive industry consulting leader at the accounting firm and consultancy Plante Moran in Detroit.