I was struck by a thought today as I saw another article on self-driving cars. The article was talking about their inevitability, and hell they would save time money and environmental resources. It went on to talk about how most people these days are increasingly not dependent on their cars or would like not to be. They use mass transit, services such as Uber, or rental cars such as zip car and others like it. When we get to the point where there are easily available service to take us personally where ever we want to go, then most people will not want to have the time expense and hassle of a new car. They want to get somewhere, they don’t care about the car. I, on the other hand, especially being a British car fan, don’t care about getting anywhere all. I just want to have a car that I love.
But let’s keep that line of reasoning going. If more and more cars become self-driving, and so the fertility rates an accident rate goes down because of that, the best thing to happen for yourself driving cars is for all of the other cars to be so also. Or at least digitally detectable, with an information feed going back-and-forth between them. This will require new cars, not old cars. I cannot imagine trying to retrofit self-driving system or information system to a 1966 MG.
So, as more and more of the cars on the road become intelligent, they will benefit from, and therefore the entire system will benefit from, all the other cars on the road being intelligent. This means the government insurance companies the police and everyone else will want the dumb cars off the road. By by dumb cars I mean the cars that you and I like. This is very similar to the situation with cars versus horses in the last century. As cars and other motorized transport became more and more prevalent, the horses who were a first just a nuisance eventually became a hazard. And like horses, our cars may be first relegated to secondary roads, then country lanes and exhibition runs, and finally museums and the odd parade.
And just as the cars are legislated out of existence due to the safety factors and perhaps environmental factors, they will cease to be able to find places to refuel. As the electric and other alternative-powered cars become more prevalent, gas stations that we know and you will start to fade out in the same way that fuel containing lead was legislated out of existence and then ethanol began to creep in. I don’t know about your car, but my 50-year-old A-Series engine hates Ethanol. Combined fuel sourcing issues with legislation for safety and inter-vehicle communication, and it paints a very dark picture.
The final nail in the coffin will probably be the repair industry not just the actual labor to do the repairs, but the parts and availability. As cars become more finely tuned, digitized, and aware of each other through networks, security is an increasing risk. With increasing regularity the parts industry will start to be locked to the casual mechanic barring the hobbyist from it. Some automotive manufacturers are already looking to prohibit non-licensed technicians from working on their cars. Just take a look at the emission systems regulations and you will get a hint of what is to come. When you have to have a degree or certificate to work on a car, and when parts suppliers have a harder time stocking parts because of the technical components and legislation around them, it becomes harder and harder for us to keep our own cars on the road for general use.
Our cars are becoming horses. They will be relegated entirely to hobby and exhibition. Just as horses are, for the most part, a rich man’s hobby today. So will our older cars become a rich man’s hobby tomorrow, out-of-reach for all but the very lucky few.
How can we stop, or at least delay, all of this? I am not sure we can. I think you will see most of this within the next 30 years. But, if we can do anything, it is through the lobbying (how I hate that word!) and education of groups like The Historic Vehicle Association and SEMA. Yes, SEMA – the home of racing machines and street modders.
Recently SEMA has been taking the EPA to tasks for proposed regulations that certified motor vehicles and engines and their emission control devices must remain in their certified configuration even if they are used solely for competition. That regulation would mean no more “track cars”. No more carb switching. No more tampering with any bit of the system.
So stay alert folks, read the rules, and look to the future. That same Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that you thought was supposed to protect songwriters from getting ripped off or kids from pirating movies may actually be used to keep you from getting into your cars systems or modifying your exhaust.