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Autocar - - NEW CAR PRICES - Matt Prior GET IN TOUCH [email protected]­mar­ket.com @mat­ty_prior

Ideas of shared mo­bil­ity only truly work if you re­move the paid driver

As you may have read in our on­line cov­er­age of the LA mo­tor show, visitors to the Volvo stand on the press day of the event did not find any Volvos to look at. Weird, but there you go: Volvo would like to talk to show visitors about things other than new metal, as it reimag­ines the fu­ture of the car com­pany.

It isn’t alone. Volvo’s one-time owner, Ford, is dead into the idea of recre­at­ing it­self as a mo­bil­ity provider, hav­ing set up a car share scheme in Lon­don a few years ago, and rolling out Char­iot, its rideshar­ing (read: bus route) scheme.

I get the vibe that, in ad­di­tion to the core fo­cus of mak­ing cars peo­ple want, there’s a lot of this kind of chin-stroking, naval-gazing ac­tiv­ity go­ing on in­side car com­pa­nies.

It al­most re­minds me of the time in the 1990s when big com­pa­nies ab­sorbed smaller sup­pli­ers, credit providers and af­ter­mar­ket ser­vice agents, as they at­tempted to ra­tio­nalise the in­dus­try – ‘let us be your one-stop car shop’ – be­fore they re­verted to the busi­ness of mak­ing cars when it didn’t work out.

This time, though, there are stronger mo­ti­va­tions. Com­pa­nies aren’t just ab­sorb­ing oth­ers be­cause there are boom times and they see a way of tak­ing over the world. This time there’s fear. Fear that, in fu­ture, peo­ple won’t want to own cars the way we do now. Fear that we won’t even want to learn to drive. Fear that cities might just switch off ac­cess to cars to im­prove the air. And in a way there’s the big­gest fear of all: if, some­day, a car can drive it­self, why own one at all? Just call for one.

They would all like to be the provider of such a ser­vice, and there’s the al­lure of data to help them do it: it has never been eas­ier to know where and when peo­ple are go­ing, be­cause de­vices are cre­at­ing moun­tains of data. Those who can an­a­lyse it best will re­spond best.

But in a world with­out au­ton­omy, the big­gest cost of hired trans­port is al­ways the per­son at the wheel. With­out the hu­man el­e­ment, what we now know as taxis would be­come ex­tremely cheap – and in­deed most of th­ese ideas of shared mo­bil­ity, or shared cars, only truly work if you re­move the paid driver. Oth­er­wise, you’ve still ef­fec­tively got a bus ser­vice, taxi ser­vice or car rental ser­vice, just with a new name and a more ef­fi­cient data set, but still with the over­bear­ing cost of send­ing some­body with a ve­hi­cle to where you are, and from where you end up.

So un­til au­ton­omy makes it to the real world, the big­gest out­lay in any hired ser­vice – the hu­man be­hind the wheel – un­der­mines such a busi­ness, and still makes own­ing a car, even one that spends 90% of its time go­ing nowhere, cheaper and more con­ve­nient than hav­ing one on-call.

Ques­tion is when, or whether, that day will ar­rive, or whether the shared fu­ture looks as empty as a show stand with no cars on it.

Brows­ing car news on­line this week, I came across an Aus­tralian fi­nan­cial news­pa­per with a list of Christ­mas gift ideas, at the top of which was a KTM Duke mo­tor­cy­cle. Cripes. If only. How­ever, if you are in the midst of Christ­mas shop­ping, and you do some of it via Ama­zon, search Ama­zon Smile, which will see 0.5% of the net price got to a char­ity you nom­i­nate. I’ve gone for our char­ity part­ner Mission Mo­tor­sport.

Hu­man be­ings tend to com­pli­cate ev­ery good busi­ness idea

KTM Duke: not avail­able on Ama­zon

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