How will you get around in the future? Here are 3 possible scenarios

October 13, 2016

Our cars have changed a lot over the past hundred years, but some things have remained stubbornly consistent. For example:

  • Most of us still buy new cars in person, at dealerships. 
  • Most of our cars still run on gasoline.
  • We still have to drive the damn things ourselves, despite being promised robot chauffeurs decades ago.

But make no mistake: change is a-coming. Shifts both big and small will alter the way we buy, power, and ride in our vehicles. A new report from McKinsey & Company and Bloomberg New Energy Finance offers some whiffs of what's blowing in the wind. 

In the report, analysts explore large-scale trends like electrification, ride-sharing, and self-driving technology, all of which will have a huge impact on the way we get around in the coming years. They then lay out three potential scenarios that could become realities in major cities by 2030:

Scenario 1. Cleaner transportation, fewer car owners: In congested, polluted cities like Mumbai and Mexico City, individual car ownership will likely decline due to lack of space. Governments may even impose laws like the kind proposed in Paris and elsewhere that restrict vehicle ownership or require would-be buyers to purchase zero-emission vehicles. In these sorts of areas, electric shared vehicles will likely become commonplace. Whether the system of sharing will look like Uber, Maven, or some new model, we don't yet know.

Scenario 2. Autonomous cars, privately owned: In sprawling urban areas like Los Angeles where mass transit can't adequately service all city residents, car ownership may still remain popular. However, autonomous cars--especially those equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems--will help reduce congestion and get commuters to and from work more efficiently.

Scenario 3. Greater mass transit, supplemented by private cars and car-sharing: Wealthy, relatively compact cities like Chicago, London, and Hong Kong will offer a complex network of options for travelers. Mass transit will remain popular, as it is today, and it will present viable options for most residents. However, ride-sharing, car-sharing, and privately owned vehicles will become increasingly popular alternatives to get people where they need to go. 

Bottom line: tomorrow's mix of transportation offerings will be more varied than today's, thanks largely to autonomous technology. Some of the vehicles on the roads will be privately owned by individuals and some will be owned by companies like Uber, but a growing number will run on electricity--which is important, given the pollution that plagues many urban areas and stems largely from transportation.

If you have time to read the full report, you can download a PDF here. For tl;dr types, you'll find an executive summary here.

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