04/11/2013 10:17 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 10:52 GMT

Car of the Future? And the Winner is....

By Robin Chase

I know you are expecting a glimpse of the tech-filled car of the future. Maybe something jewel-like in its shiny precision? And let's not forget something that's as photogenic as it is sexy, green, and fast accelerating?


The future of car and our mobility focuses tightly on the needs of city dwellers where 50 percent of us live today, and where 70 percent of us will live by 2050 and the personal car will not be primary.

In these dense cities (New York and London aren't in the top 50), you just can't stuff in the 1.2 cars per licensed driver that we find in America today. There's no room to park them. And even if you could afford the market rate for parking, streets are so congested that it is almost never the fastest way to get someplace in the city.

No. In the future we will travel a la carte, choosing the precise means of travel in real-time to fit each and every specific trip.

Young, healthy, and traveling solo? You'll choose to walk if it is a few blocks, ride a shared bike if it is a kilometer or two, take the metro if it is across town or raining at that precise moment. Why? Because it will be the fastest, cheapest, and most convenient way.

Need to carry heavy packages? Traveling as a large group? With an infirm parent or physically challenged person? You'll likely choose a shared car. And it is here that technology and innovation really kicks in to expand your choices.

If you are going one-way, for a short distance, you'll pay by the minute. The options:

  1. a regular taxi or a black car that is owned and operated by a company
  2. a taxi or a black car that is actually an individual's own personal vehicle that he or she drives part-time (Lyft and Sidecar); or
  3. a car that is part of a large shared fleet that you drive yourself - a self-driving taxi (try Autolib, Car2go, DriveNow).

If you are going round-trip or to a place far away, which isn't served by train or plane, you'll use a shared car owned by a company (like Zipcar) or owned by one of the individuals who will rent you theirs (like Buzzcar and RelayRides). Instead of driving yourself, you might take this trip as a passenger, sharing the ride with someone who is driving to your destination anyway (there's and BlaBlaCar).

All of these choices will be seamless, fast, easy, and you will be pleased with this flexibility. Just as you decide where, how, and what to eat in any given day on a meal-by-meal basis, so too it will be easy to discover, choose, reserve, pay for, and pick up any one of the huge diversity of mobility offerings. Shared vehicles will be highly diverse to match the huge diversity of the population whose trips they serve: big, small, inexpensive, deluxe, electric, hybrid, and non-motorized. You'll get the right-sized transport you need for each and every trip, and pay only for what you consume.

But, then there is this...

Introduce affordable self-driving cars and disregard just about everything I've just said. If these autonomous cars are owned by individuals, we will all quickly find ourselves in mobility hell. Streets will come to a stand-still with zero-occupancy (aka empty) vehicles driving back home to park for free, circling the block while their owners run a quick errand, or driving to pick up the dry cleaning, the pizza, or the kids.

The other alternative will be public transit heaven: door-to-door service in every population density. It will be game changing because it could be cheap (picking up 4 people in a close geography going to the same destination), as well as expensive (go solo in a luxury car). This fulfills everyone's dream for public transportation.

One thing is absolutely sure: the future is multi-modal and shared.

Robin Chase is the founder and CEO of Buzzcar. She is also the founder and former CEO of ZipCar.

Robin will be speaking tonight at "Smarter Mobility: An evening of debate", which is part of the Switched On series of talks and debates from Intelligence Squared, supported by Shell. Click here to watch the free live-stream from 6.30pm-8pm.

Follow the conversation on #iq2mobility