Google recently made public the number of crashes experienced by its self-driving cars: just 11 crashes over 2.8 million kilometres of driving. They were all classed as “minor” (light damage with no injuries) and all were the fault of other drivers. This astonishing success has even led to predictions that Google will launch full prototypes on public roads as soon as this northern summer. Some analysts predict these cars will be common in just 10 years’ time and almost ubiquitous five years later.
(Image credit: smoothgroover22 on Flickr)
Whether or not you think these predictions are optimistic, it’s worth considering the impact of self-driving cars on every industry – including yours.
1. Obvious Disruptions: Trains, Planes and Automobiles
First, of course, there are the obvious disruptions to the car industry:
- Many of us won’t own a car, and the automobile industry will shift to prioritising fleet sales.
- Even if you do buy a car, you might only need one car for the entire family (and they don’t even need to live together).
- The market for second-hand cars will disappear, along with the entire automotive after-market industry.
- Self-driving cars don’t need to park, so the parking industry (worth $2 billion a year, and employing 5,000 people in Australia) will also disappear.
Then there are the obvious services that self-driving cars will nudge, displace or replace, such as:
- Taxis would disappear, because they are essentially offering the same service as a self-driving car.
- Airlines: Instead of flying from Sydney to Melbourne, which takes about 3 hours door to door, you could “self-drive” there, being fully productive (or even sleeping) along the way.
- Ditto for trains.
- Of course, there’s no need for rental cars either.
- Freight and long-haul services would change radically.
- Many people who now use public transport will switch to self-driving cars, which provide a more direct service.
2. The Knock-On Effect: Those Who Serve
The industries listed above are just those that first spring to mind when you think of self-driving cars. There are a number of others as well, which serve the automobile industry as it is today – for example:
- The automotive finance industry will change radically, shifting from individual to corporate finance.
- The car insurance industry will also change because individual drivers no longer need to be insured.
- Most self-driving cars will be electric, which will reduce our demand for fossil fuels.
- This in turn will have a significant impact on climate change – and all the industries that hang off it.
3. It’s a Small World: Everybody Else
The industries above already represent a large part of our economy and way of life, but that’s just for starters. The effect of self-driving cars reaches much further again into almost any industry and business. Here are just a few examples:
- Accommodation: If you’re sleeping while your car drives you from Sydney to Melbourne overnight and back the next day, you don’t need to stay in a hotel. The same applies when you’re on holiday, when you can enjoy the sights during the day and drive during the night to your next destination.
- Take-away food – even gourmet meals from fancy restaurants, not just pizza and pad thai – will grow in popularity.
- Self-driving cars are much safer, so there will be fewer deaths from car accidents (currently over 30,000 a year in the USA) and serious injuries. It might seem crass to say, but that will adversely affect a number of organisations, including hospital emergency departments, undertakers, personal injury lawyers, and courts.
- If cars become too convenient, we might choose them over walking or cycling, reducing our natural exercise, leading to growth in the personal fitness industry.
- Car ownership is expensive, with running costs (i.e. excluding the cost of the car itself) averaging about $4,000 a year in Australia. Suddenly, that money becomes available as disposable income for other purposes.
What Are YOU Doing to Prepare for Self-Driving Cars?
I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
This is just a small glimpse of the impact of self-driving cars on our world. Whether they are 10 years away or 20 years away is immaterial. It’s more important to realise they are coming, and recognise they will make a difference to your industry, business, and job.