Can Autonomous Cars Give Families in Big Cities a Good Reason to Have a Personal Vehicle?


University_of_Michigan_Transportation_Research_InstituteThe automotive world is changing. That much is clear, thanks to a report that was just released by The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Their January 2014 report titled “Has Motorization in the U.S. Peaked? Part 4: Households without a Light-Duty Vehicle,” examines the 30 largest cities in America, and the car ownership rates for families that didn’t own a car between 2005 and 2012, and then again in another analysis between 2007 and 2012. The results point towards a high-percentage of families without cars, and declining rates of ownership.

Results worth mentioning include the fact that approximately 56.5% of families in New York City are without cars, topping the list of the 30 largest cities. Also, 30% or more of families in the six largest cities proved to be car-less. Overall, between 2007 and 2012, 21 out of the 30 cities had declining rates of car ownership.

Does this data point towards a simple peak for motorization, as the study seems to ask, or a backing away from the personal vehicle altogether? This particular question will be vital for automakers to get a grasp on as competition increases along with the stakes for innovation. In particular, automakers will want to determine if the rise of the autonomous car may change the tide of the declining rates of car ownership.

This January was the Detroit Motor Show, and the Consumer Electronics Show, which both gave unique insight into the development of autonomous cars. One of the latest automakers to announce their part in the race was Ford, which will be partnering with MIT and Stanford University to further their already impressive technology.

Paul A. Mascarenas, the Chief Technical Officer and VP of Ford Research and Innovation, commented in a video on the technology that is being used in their Ford Fusion Hybrid. Specifically, the project is part of the “Blueprint for Mobility,” an outline of Ford’s Vision for transportation in the coming decades. The prototype Ford Fusion maps its environment in 360 degrees around itself, all the time, which Ford points out is naturally superior to what the average driver is able to do. Although safety is one of the biggest concerns laid forth by the general public, it is also one of the defining benefits of autonomous cars. A driver’s situational awareness is limited, whereas the awareness of an autonomous car is practically endless. Other automakers getting in on the autonomous vehicle trend include Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, BMW, General Motors, Volvo, Lexus, Toyota, and of course, Google.


Autonomous vehicles, once widely available to consumers, will occupy a strange new place in the automotive industry. People who love to drive, and who seek out the sportier cars for that purpose, may shun the vehicles. On the other hand, people who find driving to be a hassle, especially in areas of heavy traffic, such as large cities, may find the autonomous vehicle to be a preferable option. If the decline of the personal vehicle in large cities is rooted in hassle, and safety, then autonomous vehicles may just break through the motorization peak that the University of Michigan has just recently revealed. But what if the decline is a symptom of the recession, the high cost of acquiring and maintaining a car, and a growing trend towards alternative, eco-friendly forms of travel? Whatever the cause is, we’ll soon see how the autonomous car changes our roads, cities, and our transportation options in the very near future.



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