I promised myself I would not write about the Google Car, but promises are made to be broken and here we are. Like you I have a lot of questions on what this creation means for the future of transportation. Will it save the planet? Will it solve congestion? Will it kill car-enthusiasts? My guess is probably not to all 3. However, the Google Car could post a very serious threat to an industry already feeling defensive...car-dealerships.
"The key thing to remember here is that what Google has made here is not a car. It's a robot. A robot whose primary mission is to take you from one place to another, within a very specific set of circumstances."
So what is a "car" anyway? The definitions vary, and most are outdated-
- a road vehicle, typically with four wheels, powered by an internal combustion engine and able to carry a small number of people.
Well except for the internal combustion engine part, that is pretty much on point. But how do drivers or lack thereof factor in? If no one is driving is it still a car? These are some deep auto-philosophical questions.
As of now Google is calling it a "car" because that is the terminology we are all comfortable with. But what if they didn't, what if they referred to it as an RTM (Robotic Transportation Module) or something to that effect. One commenter called it a "self propelled internet device." So for the sake of discussion let's say Google doesn't call it a "car," how then would it be sold?
Tesla Motors is the first real automaker to emerge from Silicon Valley. They want to sell their product the way other Silicon Valley products are sold, mostly direct through the manufacturer. But there is a problem, Tesla Motors makes cars, and in the United States it is illegal to sell cars direct through the manufacturer. Thus Tesla has struggled in many states to either open showrooms or keep them open. So because Tesla is selling a "car" they are inevitably bound by these laws.
However, if and when this Google "car" becomes a viable consumer product and the brand chooses to not to market it as a car, but rather something else, they could effectively bypass the very obstacles holding Tesla back. Previous Google car prototypes were actual cars, but with Google modified autonomous equipment. This new thing is nothing like those vehicles. As gradual proliferation of autonomous vehicles becomes more commonplace, I can see Google lobbying to have passive means of transport not labeled as "cars" as to ensure that this this digital giant radically changes not only how we are move from place to place, but how we acquire this product.
The ongoing Tesla battle has shown that the dealership lobby is not going to let some California company eat into their market share. Which is why Google might not "sell" this product at all but rather have you subscribe to a service. The service could be somewhere between Netflix and a car-share program like ZipCar. Uber has seen the writing on the wall and plans to use this Google creation in their fleet.
So maybe this won't be so bad. Instead of "buying" a car and having to worry about maintenance, insurance, and fuel costs, you could just subscribe to Google Transport and depending on your subscription tier, use everyday or as needed. Then you can use that savings for your dino-juice powered bachelor sports mobile. Wes Siler thinks we should be investing more in public transport. But what if the Google car is the future of public transport. Our public transit system is inadequate mainly because it is difficult for trains and buses to serve all the people living outside of a city. A coordinated fleet of Google cars could retrieve and deliver passengers as long as there is a road. There is the issue of electric charging infrastructure, but putting that together is a heck of a lot cheaper than rail.
Of course this is all crazy talk...but Google has been pretty successful with crazy ideas.
Oh Google, if you want to use the term RTM, I expect a healthy compensation :)
(photo credit- Outofbit.it)
I'm Tom and I run AutomatchConsulting.com; I also write articles about car buying. If you have any questions about the car-buying process feel free to drop me a line in the comments or find me on Twitter @AutomatchTom and Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting