Evolution of cars and society, what does foresight tell us?

Author: Manu Steens

In this post I share my own opinion. Not that of any organization.

The evolution of transport in the west can partly be outlined with ‘PEST’. PEST is a mnemonic that helps to map the environment of an organization or society. It stands for ‘Political’, ‘Economic’, ‘Social’ and ‘Technological’.

‘P’: There is a strong call for electric cars and it is not yet clear whether the technical evolution will fully evolve towards only fully electric cars and other vehicles or not.

‘E’: the question is whether, once the electric car breaks through as a standard means of transport, the insurances, partly due to technical evolution, have a clear picture. There is a debate about who will be to blame for damage. One of the occupants, or one of the automotive companies that took care of the software development…

‘S’. Common use (car-sharing), which has long been promoted for classic internal combustion engine vehicles, will continue to apply to electric vehicles. This will need continued political support to become more successful. People don’t all like to share a car. As the livelihood increases, this is an option for more and more people.

‘T’: The ‘Society for Automotive Engineers’ created an evolution towards autonomy in 5 discrete steps. Here’s how they did it:

  1. First there was the ‘driver assist’ (also known as cruise control)
  2. Afterwards ‘partial control ‘, (known as lane control)
  3. Then comes ‘highly automated’ (limited vehicle control)
  4. The fourth step is ‘fully automated / driver override’ (default vehicle control)
  5. To get to ‘fully automated’ (complete vehicle control).

Cars today have level 1 and 2 and some vehicles use level 3 like a certain brand with its ‘autopilot feature’.

Here, in this situation, eight possible futures arise, depending on the following three uncertainties:

  • Does the electric car break through completely or not? In the latter case, the classic combustion engine will again play a more important role than expected, or the market will shift towards hydrogen gas as a fuel.
  • Is car sharing breaking through or not? In the latter case, man is too attached to owning his own car.
  • Will there come a period in which the technology succeeds in providing sufficient certainty to people with a fully automated vehicle (level 5) or not?

In this article I want to look at the consequences of the future with ‘yes’ to all three uncertainties in 15 to 20 years:

  • Pure electric cars are the standard.
  • Car sharing is becoming the main mode of personal transport.
  • ‘Fully automated’ completely breaks through with cars.

What does this possible future mean for people and society? Thinking through PEST provides the following possibilities:

Politics

  • Power plants will have to become ecological, because the defense of fossil power plants will become incomprehensible in the eyes of future generations. This is due to the great need for electricity.
  • Politicians will demand a major say in technological development in terms of cyber security for cars.
  • Ambiguity of liability in the event of damage must be decided politically. Possibilities in the legislation must be investigated. This differs for the vehicles depending on their technically automated level.
  • Electric classic cars will not have a number of advantages in terms of insurance due to a lower level of safety in automation. This requires a political decision with changes in traffic legislation. If necessary, they will be banned.
  • Police can conduct multiple types of investigation on any vehicle. This requires legal protection of the owner. (route, location, times of use,…) .
  • By sharing cars for short distances, public transport will be more attractive for longer distances.
  • As state revenues from cars fall, other excise duties and taxes go up.

Economic

  • Fewer impulse purchases of snacks and soft drinks by drivers in those gas station stores that survive the switch with charging stations. Many products will have to reinvent their outlets, or they will suffer potential loss of sales.
  • Less shelf length for soft drinks and snacks, CDs and DVDs and booklets and magazines in remaining gas station stores.
  • Insurance is becoming cheaper for car-sharing users. Car owners may be the victims.
  • Transport costs with more car sharing become less per kilometer: you only pay when you drive.
  • Savings on personal transportation costs favor other expenses.
  • Electric cars are getting cheaper and cheaper. Until they become more expensive again?

Social

  • Less serious or less likely damage.
  • Less or no speed violations depends on the rigor of the legislation and its technical implementations.
  • Less pressure on emergencies in hospitals in terms of accidents on weekends. More intoxications on weekends or during the week. This entails a reorientation of doctors’ specializations.
  • In the cities, the air becomes purer, resulting in fewer particulate matter-related patients.
  • When you drink, cargo is safely delivered to your home. Will that be allowed?
  • The police will have to invest in cyber technology for vehicle checks.
  • Cybercrime for transport is also becoming a problem on a social level. It is not whether cars will be hacked, but when and what will happen to them.
  • Illegal drug deliveries with fully automated cars become possible.

Technological

  • Car sharing makes it technically more feasible to provide sufficient electricitypoles for the cars in cities.
  • They are working purposefully to phase out fossil fuel plants: as they are insufficient in terms of efficiency for transport compared to other electricity generation, they become irrelevant.
  • Society is taking a big step forward with AI in traffic. This will require greater availability of the Internet.
  • Cybercrime is becoming a challenge. The vehicles of the future must in no way be an open system for intrusion from the Internet, except by police services.
  • The police and customs will be able to stop cars and freight transport for inspection in a secure manner.

Conclusions:

Governments will have to determine good indicators to see if this possible future will materialize. If necessary, they will have to develop regulations.

The insurance companies will work with governments to develop a method to allocate liability in the event of damage. This becomes more difficult when cars of different technical levels are involved in a claim.

The food industry will have to look for and find new outlets.

Automotive companies will have to invest heavily in the development of quality software algorithms and their implementation.

There will be a pressure reduction in urgency. Emergency services and their emergency physicians will partly reorient themselves to other specialties. Universities should follow the evolutions of traffic to see when they need to make and what changes.

A new type of crime or terror will eventually emerge: cybercrime on cars to disrupt them and associated extortion. Police and government departments will prepare for this. This will be difficult with the ‘war for talent’ that is already present. The automotive industry is therefore also making an effort to secure this, making cars as ‘unhackable’ as possible. Cooperation between the car industry and the police forces is inevitable.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields. Since 2012, he has been working at the Crisis Centre of the Flemish Government (CCVO), where he has progressed in BCM, risk management, and crisis management. Since August 2021, he has been a knowledge worker for the CCVO. As of January 2024, he works at the Department of Chancellery and Foreign Affairs of the Flemish Government. Here, he combines BCM, risk management, and crisis management to create a tailored form of resilience management to meet the needs of the Flemish Government.

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