Industry vet Bob Lutz: Driving will be over in 20 years

The fate of the automobile is already sealed, as is your legal right to drive one — both of which will be confined to history books and country clubs in two decades time. The culprit of such a transformative shift in society: self-driving cars.

That’s the official prognostication of highly-successful automotive industry executive Bob Lutz, anyway, who laid out his view of the car world’s future in a blog post on Automotive News.

Over the course of his long career that included meaningful stints at BMW, Chrysler, and Ford, former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz rarely let a heartfelt conviction go unannounced, regardless of public perception. In 2008, he predicted that mass-electrification of vehicles was unavoidable, a philosophy that virtually every carmaker, from BMW, to Hyundai, to Volkswagen, and even Jaguar has rallied behind in the past year.

Lutz’s view of the future is not a vision so much as a cut-and-dry depiction of what he sees happening. If you are a fan of driving, prepare for a dystopia where the very act of driving—a symbolic rite of passage and an expression of independence of tens of millions of Americans for generations—is outlawed in the name of the common good. If you’re not, Utopia approaches, with pod-like vehicles that will virtually eliminate traffic jams, and act as an equalizer in a new society where everyone is comparably mobile.

“We are approaching the end of the line for the automobile,” Lutz wrote, “because travel will be in standardized modules.”

SARTRE self-driving road train testing on Spanish highway

SARTRE self-driving road train testing on Spanish highway

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He predicts road trains of vehicles traveling nose-to-tail — like the kind Freightliner is currently trialing — into which self-driving cars will merge while traveling at speeds of up to 150 mph. Few will own their own cars, which will evolve into pod-like transporters. Rather, the companies that successfully translate the new technology into a service will own most of the vehicles on the road.

The Ubers and Amazons, in other words.

In turn, those fleet-owners will dictate the future to automotive companies, who manufacture the vehicles but cannot control demand.

As a result, car dealerships will all but die out, as well, confined to boutique dealers for the well-to-do that prefer not to share a pod. With dealership profits already on continual decline and Autonation recently partnering with Waymo as a fleet maintenance partner, that much is easy to envision.

For the performance car enthusiast, Lutz predicts a transformation akin to horse-riding, where enthusiasts will go to country club-like areas to practice their soon-to-be antiquated skills.

The changes sound dramatic, and they certainly are, but even in Lutz’s expedited timeframe, it’s not an overnight change.

“This transition will be largely complete,” he wrote, “in 20 years.”

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