The Right Car, Right Now

Stability vs. Flexibility

Buying and renting anything — a home, a car, a movie — involves a tradeoff between stability and flexibility. Buying provides the stability of permanent ownership and availability, whereas renting provides the flexibility of adjustment to fit changing needs and wants.

The automotive market is moving from an ownership model to a rental model, as ride-sharing services push the stability-flexibility trade in favor of renting, rather than owning. And what we’ve seen with ride-sharing is just the tip of the iceberg. Self-driving cars will push this tradeoff an order of magnitude further.

Mass Customization

As consumers come to value flexibility in transportation, we can take lessons from the manufacturing industry on the practice of mass customization.

Today, car buyers have to purchase a one-size-fits-all vehicle. If I need to drive in snow twenty days a year, I might get a four-wheel drive vehicle, even though I would be better off with a compact car the other 345 days. Similar considerations govern the purchase of a car capable of occasional carpooling, or downtown parking, or a client visit.

In the self-driving car future, we’ll be able to rent the car we want, and the companies that win will get good at doing this really fast.

Need a minivan this morning? It’ll be there in 30 seconds.

Want a convertible this evening? It’ll be there in 45 seconds.

What Do People Want?

In this world, getting the right car to somebody’s door in 60 seconds or less might be the easy part. Mass customization has been studied and optimized and is mostly a solved problem.

The harder challenge is to figure out what people want.

We have some basic starting points: sedans, vans, SUVs, pickups, sports cars.

But these are all built for human drivers in a one-size-fits-all world.

In a mass customization world, we no longer have to make tradeoffs between scenario. We can tune each vehicle option to a specific use case.

It could even be that we’ll hail one car service if we want a maneuverable short-haul vehicle, and a different service if we want a fast, long-haul vehicle.

What kinds of vehicles would you like to see in a self-driving world?

How do you envision the future of vehicle mass customization? Share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

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