Cars have not only made transportation easier, they have changed the world. These vehicles have shaped everything from the speed of movement to the way cities are designed. But now, more than a century after the automobile was first invented, the automobile faces a trial.
The key technology behind most passenger cars, the fossil fuel-powered internal combustion engine, is devastating to the environment. Automobiles account for more than half of all transportation greenhouse gas emissions, emitting tailpipe pollutants that impair local air quality and contribute to climate change. These vehicles also pose a direct physical threat to people inside and around them. Car crashes in the United States kill about as many people as firearms, and more than a million people die on the road each year worldwide. With the rise of the car, so has the car-centric infrastructure. Infrastructure contributes to racist, classist and socially isolating urban design choices at the expense of investments in public transport.
Internal combustion engine vehicles remain the primary means of transportation within the United States and currently represent the largest share of new vehicles sold. Still, there is evidence that these vehicles may be nearing the end of the road. The new generation of electric vehicles will not only have a lower carbon footprint, but will also be easier to operate and maintain. EVs currently make up only 3% of new cars in the US, yet the government is investing billions of dollars to encourage more people to buy EVs. These efforts include funding a nationwide charging network and developing America’s supply chain for EVs through the Reducing Inflation Act’s revised EV tax credit. President Joe Biden wants half of all new cars sold in the US to be electric by 2030.
But cars are in the midst of a transformation that goes well beyond EVs, says Brian Appleyard, author of the book. Cars: The Rise and Fall of the Machines that Shaped the Modern WorldWith the advent of ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft, the lines between owning a car for personal and professional reasons have blurred, making it easy to avoid driving altogether. . According to Federal Highway Administration data, the percentage of young people getting a driver’s license has dropped nearly 20% since the 1980s.
At the same time, advances in artificial intelligence and computer vision have facilitated the development of vehicles that are far more technologically sophisticated than their predecessors. Their next-generation software leaves much of the driving experience in the hands of technology companies and programmers, and very little of the individual car owner. Ultimately, car companies want to turn these vehicles into AI-powered self-driving machines.
“Modern machines are useless on their own,” Appleyard told Recode. “They have to be connected. A computer that isn’t connected now doesn’t matter. That connection doesn’t belong to you — you can’t control it. So will your car.”
As Appleyard sees, the end of cars as we know them may be on the horizon. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
When the car first arrived it was competing with the carriage. Well, it’s essentially a computer that happens to have wheels. What next for cars?
The car started out of curiosity. People were surprised and frightened by it, and it gradually became a toy for the rich. The turning point was the Ford Model T, which became available to almost everyone. Sold worldwide. The next step was taken by General Motors and Alfred Sloan, transforming the automobile into a consumer object. Since then, the car has become almost invisible. I became part of an environment where many people had cars and thought they were traveling by car.
With billions, possibly trillions, of dollars being put into self-driving cars in Silicon Valley, it seems that the car has basically moved from Detroit to Silicon Valley. They’ll eventually come up with something, but it’s proving to be harder than they thought. We are moving into a world of being left behind.
The car of the future will be electric, but EVs themselves are as old as the international internal combustion engine. Why didn’t they take off when they were first invented?
There was no certainty that the internal combustion engine would win. There were steam cars, steam buses, and even electric cars. In 1900, only 20% of his 5,000 cars in the United States were powered by gasoline. The rest were electric or steam powered.
One of the characteristics of steam cars is that they are incredibly fast. His one in Florida reached 127.7 mph, unthinkable at the time. No petrol car approached. People were used to trains, so they stayed home on steam.
Electric cars were trickier. Marketing-wise, it was marketed to women because it was seen as a simpler car. Back then, women were considered simple creatures. It was very rudimentary. I flipped the switch and it worked, but without today’s battery technology, the range was pretty pathetic.
According to your book, when the automobile first came out, it was considered a luxury item. Then it became more commonplace as manufacturing expanded and prices fell. How does that story play out with EVs?
The Nissan Leaf was Nissan’s guess at what an electric car should be. The guess was: it would be a small city car. It was a very successful car, very well made, but boring. No one gets the thrill of driving this LEAF. The genius of Elon Musk is that he realized that electric cars are really fast and exciting cars to really launch. Musk has succeeded in saying that electric cars shouldn’t be boring and slow. That’s all.
The EV1 produced by GM in the 1990s was a gem. everyone loved it. It was a pure electric car and easy to drive, making it perfect for city riding. Because it was an amazing achievement and they thought it was the right thing to do. And then they changed their minds. They only leased cars to people, they didn’t sell them. So when the lease ended, the owner had to get the car back. The very good EV that General Motors made before anyone else is over. They dropped out of the race and it was a fatal mistake.
As EVs become mainstream, what do you think will happen to all the infrastructure built to accommodate internal combustion engines?
The beauty of the internal combustion engine, the magic of the internal combustion engine’s electric machines, requires very sophisticated engineering. An electric motor is just an electric motor. Jobs are lost in both manufacturing and service industries because they need less services. I think removing the gasoline from the photo would also radically change things. It will not only change the way the industry works, but it will also change the way customers work.
As you said, the auto industry is shifting from Detroit to Silicon Valley and getting jobs. what is the result?
Silicon Valley is now taking over. So why are they doing this? They get another source of information like where you’re driving, how you’re driving, what you’re doing while you’re driving. I am doing this for But at this point, everyone says they’re not going to build a self-driving car. But they will make it, and the question becomes: How much do you care about your car? How much do you care about driving? People will take care of it for an inordinate amount of time, but will the next generation?
Meanwhile, these ride-hailing services are changing the world. For the first time in both the UK and the US, young driver applications are falling. they don’t care They don’t want cars. They don’t understand the expense, so they always hail a ride or rent a car from him for a day.
Will we own the cars we drive in the future?
If I buy this iPhone, the software is not mine. The software is controlled by the cloud. As with Tesla, Elon wants to pick the right one and drop it into the car without knowing anything about the software. There is a problem. Modern machines are useless by themselves. Must be connected. Computers that are not connected now are meaningless. That connection is not yours — you cannot control it. The same goes for cars.
Is this the end of cars, or at least cars as we know them?
Horses are wonderful creatures and have been trade animals for 5,000 to 6,000 years. It’s the same with cars. It was wonderful, extraordinary. Now we are finding its shortcomings. They have changed the world more radically than any other technology. Physically, they changed the world.
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