People ask me what driving will look like in 10 years and I always tell them I have no idea. What interests me more than what driving looks like is our framework for thinking about driving. What does that feel like in 10 years? Right now we take a lot of the driving experience for granted in the U.S., including the following assumptions:
All of the above will remain true in 10 years, but each and every one will start to evolve dramatically during that time period. All of the things I’ve listed are currently in the sights of entrepreneurs who are chasing down a radical future where our assumptions are upended.
Truthfully, many of them will fail.
But our entire way of thinking about these things will change, not in a solitary event but gradually like a tide. The reason for this has as much to do with the mobility entrepreneurs and their startups as it does the surge of technology literacy in the U.S: We will continue to expect technology to provide drastic improvements to all areas of life.
Recently Damon Lavrinc wrote a manifesto about this change, which I think will likely be one of the landmark turning points for this discussion. It has an eye toward the literal ‘experience’ for those who care deeply about driving being a personal (and highly manual) exercise of tires and engines and speed and things like they always were.
Putting it on Jalopnik was an act of civil disobedience itself, but the comments indicate it’s a conversation even the most ardent enthusiasts are comfortable having at this moment — mostly because we have suddenly arrived at a time where these futuristic-looking concept vehicles are both on sale and fantastic (see also BMW i8, Tesla Model S).
A few weeks back at Stanford we hosted the biennial conference for the Society for Automotive Historians and they capped their two-day session with a keynote by our friend and recently retired Nissan designer Masato Inoue. Masato-san started designing traditional things like the original Maxima but later in his career he spent a lot of time and effort thinking about mobility systems, EVs and a new way forward. His last big project before retirement was as chief designer of the Leaf EV.
In talking about EVs and systems, he said something quite beautiful: new systems bring new challenges, but they also bring new joys. One specific example he pointed out that hit home with me was the inherent stillness of an EV — with no vibration and very little sound, it can act as a rather effective tool to experience things near the vehicle. His cottage in Japan has a very quiet forest road nearby and he can drive his Leaf under 5mph, turn the windows down and hear everything around him. Thinking about EVs as a replacement for today’s vehicle is therefore permanently flawed; it’s just something else entirely and there will likely be things about it we don’t like but many new things we do.
Our idea of driving is evolving. It’s just happening a lot faster now than it ever has.