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Could Car Ownership Become Obsolete Within 20 Years?

Tesla Model S line-up

Never one to shy away from grandiose statements, last week Tesla CEO Elon Musk made the comment during an earnings conference call that he thinks “all cars will go fully autonomous in the long term,” and that “it will be quite unusual to see cars that don’t have full autonomy.” Further, he asserted that owning a car without full autonomy (or fully self-driving capabilities) will be akin to owning a horse today: “You will only be owning if for sentimental reasons.”

Musk thinks that within 15 to 20 years, carmakers will mostly be manufacturing autonomous cars, of course adding that his company will be well ahead of the curve on that – producing fully autonomous cars in just 3 years. Tesla already has semi-autonomous cars on the road, which enable automatic breaking, steering, parallel parking and, perhaps mostly impressively, automatic lane changing in traffic.

Having a majority of people owning autonomous cars is one thing, but what about this question of individuals not owning cars at all? As Business Insider has observed,  there’s speculation that Tesla could also be planning to enter the transportation service market at some stage. When questioned about this, Musk replied that the company had a “half-baked” strategy on this so far, implying that the company is certainly not ruling it out.

With ride-sharing companies such as Uber experiencing phenomenal growth around the world, Tesla would be in a good position to be able to sell fully electric, autonomous cars to ride-sharing services in the future. It certainly makes some sense that Tesla and other car companies would consider getting into the ride-sharing business itself, or at least progressively buying-in.

If ride-sharing services keeping gaining in popularity over the next 15-20 years, and autonomous cars gradually take over the mainstream car market, it might become a lot easier and cheaper just to catch autonomous car services everywhere rather than drive (not to mention park somewhere) yourself.

Car ownership may well come to be viewed as a physical and financial burden compared to catching cheap and efficient autonomous car services all the time. With no driver, and expenses shared, it could be a lot cheaper and more convenient than owning a car. Individual car ownership could drop dramatically, or even become largely obsolete. Certainly, 15-20 years seems fast for the time frame, but as we have all experienced before, with smart phones and the internet for instance, exponential growth trends can bring big changes quickly.

Image: Tesla Motors, Model S line-up

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