Car Ownership – Is it here to stay?

Imagine for a moment if you will, a future in which we no longer own our vehicles, but merely summon them to transport us from A to B as and when required. No, I don’t mean Uber or the local cabby, the future we’re imagining here is the brainchild of software developer, Mike Heam and in his world, cars don’t belong to any individual or company, they all belong to themselves.

Bizarre concept – oh yes. Heam describes it not as a concept but as a ‘thought experiment’. His vision stems from the technology which enables autonomous cars, if they can drive themselves he says, why not take it one step further and let them operate independently? Once summoned by a human via an app or the internet, the cars would respond with competitive costing for the trip in an attempt to outbid each other and win our custom. They’d maintain their own fuel levels, book themselves in for regular maintenance (with one assumes a human to help with those pesky nuts and bolts) and even compete with each other to provide the fastest and most comfortable ride.

What really got me thinking however was not so much the concern of handing over so much control to machines (did anyone actually watch Terminator?) But the idea that we would no longer operate our vehicles based on an emotional choice. Sure you could decide that you only wanted to be driven around in brand x – but where is the joy in that experience? For many people the purchase of a new vehicle is not entirely based on its affordability, fuel economy and driveability. There’s a passion that cars ignite in us that makes them aspirational, makes members of car clubs proud to stand in a field on a wet Wednesday in October, makes 450,000 people flock to Goodwood each year for the Festival of Speed – well you get the idea.

While Heam’s idea gives us a future in which cars are useful, frugal and potentially safer, it also presents a rather bleak vision of function and practicality over form and design. It doesn’t take into account the sheer pleasure that talking about, looking at and driving cars is for many people and I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that taking away our ‘ownership’ would be a great loss.

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