The Critical Path #156

Horace and Anders discuss Uber’s transportation business and discuss how software modularizes the world. In the second half of the show, they take listener questions posted to Twitter using the hashtag #CriticalQuestion.

Source: The Critical Path #156

  • katherine anderson

    Great listening; loved it; and thanks for reminding listeners that people love operating their Apple devices … why would operating an AppleCar be any different? All the talk of “autonomous driving” is a distraction … after the first drive, sitting in an autonomous driven car probably feels like sitting on bus.

    • Frank

      Sure, but chaufer mode frees you up to do so much more than just drink milkshakes ; ) Or to do less, like take a nap.

      • katherine anderson

        And chauffeur mode can free you to take-up knitting; buses are good for that too … probably even better because there’s lots of elbow room.

    • katherine anderson

      … or sitting in an elevator that has windows and a better view.

    • neutrino23

      There are definitely people who really want to drive and others who don’t care that much about. When I lived in Japan I took trains and taxis everywhere and didn’t own a car. An acquaintance also lived in Japan but insisted on driving everywhere. Go figure.

      Autonomous automobiles will gain a foothold in limited areas where they make sense. The Peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose, or Manhattan for example.

      A self driving car could change the landscape. If car ownership dropped a lot maybe cities would rezone to allow the removal of driveways and to convert garages into living space (officially).

      Businesses of all sort could do better if they didn’t need to offer parking.

      I think we can only guess how the world will be changed.

      • katherine anderson

        We’re definitely on the verge of world changing developments in the automobile (and perhaps it will happen sooner than we think), because a company like Apple won’t allow the regulatory hurdles of autonomous driving to hold them back when there is so much more they can do to transform the landscape … the landscape of our roadways and of our living and working lives.

        One of the vehicle developments I hope to see, because I feel this development is most needed, will be a family vehicle offering multiple, adaptable uses.

        A vehicle high enough to stand in, and large enough that it offers the option of making an income to help with the monthly bills, e.g, car-pooling for Uber, delivering packages for Amazon, delivering people for home-care services …

        And when not in service as a mobile computing device, with work stations available for neighbourhood folk who will be sharing the drive into town, or as a camper for family journeys, it will be an extra room/office space to add to the house, a gaming room/media space for the kids, or a quiet reading room retreat.

        In short a house on wheels (a MoCar, as stefnagel refers to it) … an affordable alternative to life-limiting, chained-down apartment living for young people who are spurning the idea of home ownership in droves, because for many of them there is little hope of ever being able to afford a house in the first place.

        I’m with stefnagel on this one. The way I see it, SPACE (homeownership/rental housing) WILL GIVE WAY TO MOBILITY, allowing many more millions of young people the chance to save their money, and prepare for a future with more options they can actually afford.

  • Zelectric Motors offers unbelievably precise, beautiful, and considered turnkey EV conversions that ooze the charm and benefits of owning an EV that Horace discussed in this week’s podcast.

    The photographs tell a wonderful story, but don’t miss ZM’s videos to learn about the choices ZM made and for insight into what makes the ZM driving and ownership experience so special:

    For those who want to do their own EV conversion, ZM’s electric component supplier, EV West, offers conversion packages for a variety of well-suited platforms:

    On MINI:

    MINI’s been bumping against the 300,000 units a year threshold for a couple of years, and probably shouldn’t have run into as many issues exceeding that number as it has in that time frame.

    I believe BMW expected the combination of their popular (and ironic) SAV/SUV, the Countryman, and the launch of their 3rd-generation Hardtop (tailored to remedy customer and reviewer complaints) to catapult BMW’s sub brand well past that 300k number but, simply put, those efforts have not have not been the medicine they were looking for.

    As a result, MINI’s doing a few interesting things. Some new and some ongoing.

    Since the 2002 inaugural design the Hardtop, and every model introduced since 2002, has been larger than the last. . .MINI customers want bigger cars – allegedly – and BMW’s delivering.

    BMW itself has tried to address changing customer needs with EV projects, such as the MINI E, and car sharing concentrated in Europe. Recently it opened a facility dedicated to finding further solutions for the new personal transportation reality.

    For those who follow the company, it’s worth noting that BMW.DE has taken a huge haircut in the last few months. One has to assume that BMW’s problems are coming from many fronts, not just the traditional challenges carmakers face from time to time; the world of car ownership is changing for real this time.

    • GlennC777

      Why does one have to assume that? Mini aside, BMW has been getting its lunch eaten by Audi, and has lost much of the enthusiast cachet it once had. These are very traditional competitive pressures. I don’t see anything new here.

      • “Why does one have to assume that?”

        Hi Glenn,

        In saying that, I was acknowledging the ongoing conversation here and on Asymcar about the changing nature of car ownership, and other similar topics, beyond the obvious competitive pressures:

      • GlennC777

        Fair enough. My feeling is that millennials’ attitudes to cars will prove temporary. I personally believe that the extraordinary personal mobility provided by individually-owned automobiles is one of the most fundamental quality of life improvements of the last hundred years. I haven’t finished the podcast yet, but Horace makes a comparison between Uber’s rise vs the traditional car; and the disappearance of horses as cars became common. I respectfully disagree, on the basis that cars were better than horses in every important regard, while I don’t believe Uber, etc. can replace the fundamentally desirable freedom of mobility provided by personally owned road vehicles. Admittedly, Uber along with self-driving cars (still a long way off), would make sense for many uses, but I see it as more competitive (asymmetrically so) with traditional public transport than with the car as we see it today.

        I would instead compare the car to other modern luxuries, things that are not strictly necessary but which are almost universally desirable, and which people will continue to aspire to as worldwide wealth increases. To accommodate this, I’d like to see many changes, some of which Horace talks about: more efficient designs, “cars” that have smaller footprints both environmentally and physically, so as to accommodate more of them with less negative impact. Electrification, or some other method of renewable fueling. I do think gasoline engines and today’s capital-intensive production methods will be around a long time, but in the longer term, these things have to become un-sustainable, and some evolution away from them will be necessary.

        What I would not want to see is the loss by society of one of the great personally empowering innovations of modern life. My idea of progress is the ability for people – as many as possible – to live improved lives, not to give up desirable luxuries. So far, this is the way it’s worked out, and for every millennial going without a car, it seems there are plenty of newly-wealthy in the developing world adopting them. Wikipedia shows worldwide production numbers of ~78M in 2010 and ~90M in 2014, and the increases have been steady and strong for much longer than that. So BMW’s problems appear to be just that: BMW’s problems. Worldwide, the auto industry is stronger every year, despite the industry’s many problems as it exists today.

        Sorry for such a long reply.

      • “What I would not want to see is the loss by society of one of the great personally empowering innovations of modern life.”

        One might argue that personal transportation that does the driving for you – when you want it to – is the next logical step toward realizing this notion of empowerment.

        After that, perhaps, we’ll finally add the third dimension: flying cars 🙂

        But between now and then, I believe we’ll have the option to drive the hard way for quite a while. I hope so, anyway, because I plan on keeping my fun to drive MINI forever.

      • GlennC777

        The question is whether collective ownership will replace individual ownership. An Uber, etc. future implies economics dominated by intermediaries: imagine Comcast for cars.

        Today, end-user buyers represent the main economic force in the industry. To use Asymco terminology, end-user jobs-to-be-done, inefficiencies aside, are the primary market drivers. Among these is freedom of mobility, which doesn’t translate efficiently into economic terms. Horace’s Uber future would replace end-user jobs-to-be-done with intermediary jobs-to-be-done. Economic forces would act repressively, unable to incorporate the positive externalities resulting from mobility and diminishing access to what I believe is a fundamental human desire, and even need.

    • katherine anderson

      The Zelectric website is a real delight; thanks for posting. Unfortunately, up here in the cold (in the backwoods that comprises Canada) these classic vehicles have not survived through the ice and snow.

    • Thanks for pointing out Zelectric. They inspired a lot of my thinking. I looked at evwest kits but opted for another supplier:
      Pricing was the main consideration. I might still pick up a few items from evwest.

  • I simply want to leave the audience my contribution in terms of the relevance of a driverless car. For able bodied people I would imagine the interest is low simply because there is a romance people have with cars. I will venture to say that driverless vehicles are interesting from a utilitarian point of view. vehicles that spend most of there day cleaning streets or clearing snow or garbage collecting could be a category where they can excel. I also believe less able bodied people can see advantages in owning a driverless car, allowing that group to participate where they once couldn’t so there is a democratization aspect that will have a niche and yes, niche is where I would categorize this new breed. In terms of software and modularity, it never occurred to me but I think it’s very insightful to view these vectors as potential disrupters.