Self Drive Car - GoogleThe number of cars on the road surpassed 1 billion in 2011. By 2050 the projection is for at least 2 billion cars and a global population of 9 billion.  There would certainly be challenges in bringing another 1 billion vehicles on to the road.  Of course the majority of these would be in developing countries but we have already seen the extreme health implications in China and India by going from bicycle to car in just a few short years.  Air quality issues are of such magnitude in China that vehicle quotas are now being imposed in cities and municipalities such as  Tianjin  Beijing,Shanghai, Guangzhou and Guiyang.

But is continued car ownership and growth in numbers a given?  Disruptive technologies have illustrated how whole industries can change virtually overnight.  This has been especially true of IT technology and there are many examples of how this can happen – email replaced fax which had replaced telex (does anyone know what telex is?) mobile phones replaced landlines,  mobile devices replaced desktop.  The internet itself has been one of the most disruptive technologies to come about over the past 20 years.

As far as the automobile is concerned the disruptive technology looming on the horizon is the ‘driverless car’ – this technology although relatively recent is so new it hasn’t found it’s name yet (sounds like horseless carriages for cars).   The technology is there now – the hold up for this type of vehicle will be the legislation required to bring it onstream.  Expect to see these within the next few years.

We may still not have worked out just what it will mean for the automobile but it will change and challenge many things.  Is car ownership one of those?  Why own a car when one can be summoned literally in minutes from your mobile device.  It will drive to the pickup point, drop you at your destination and return to base.  Call it what you will – automated taxis, auto car share – the reality for a lot of city folk is that such a device will mean them not having to put up with the hassles of car ownership (costs, parking, servicing etc.) but still have a vehicle when they need it.

Already the Kandi company in China are dispensing electric city cars from vending highrise carparks that can be booked by the hour.  The whole system is automated.  The next logical step of this model with self drive cars is to automate delivery and return of the vehicle.  Where does that leave our projections for 2 billion cars by 2050?  Thankfully perhaps a little less certain.

Google has recently demonstrated the technology as has Mercedes Benz- take a look at the future.