The year 2020 is shaping up to be pretty incredible: not only does it sound tantalizingly futuristic, it will forever be known as the year when fully autonomous cars finally started to become commonplace; Tesla’s affordable Model 3 will have been with us for three (ok, probably two) years; and, mercifully, Porsche will have launched their breathtakingly gorgeous Mission E sports sedan.
Best of all, this fascinating time will no longer be reserved for only the aristocracy: finally available will be the first of the genuinely affordable breed of autonomous electric vehicles: the forthcoming Chevy Bolt, for instance; future iterations of BMWs superlative little i3; Volvo’s foray into electrification; not to mention Audi’s bold claim of 25% battery-powered vehicles.
Indeed, if the 1900s were the horse-and-buggy generation; the 1910s the Model T generation; and the 1950s the muscle car generation; then the 2020s will herald the start of the fully autonomous and electric car generation.
What’s interesting — in an historically ironic sense — is that we will once again be living in “the ’20s” which will, come the turn of the 22nd century, sound woefully old-fashioned: “Really? You guys were actually still allowed to drive cars yourselves?” little kids will ask in genuinely — and legitimately — shocked disbelief. “That’s crazy!! I can’t believe you guys actually did that! People must have died all the time in those things!”
Yes, yes they did. Er… they do.
Really, kids’ reactions to the first, human-driven generation of the automobile, will be no different to our reactions today when we see an old movie from the 1940s and 1950s — to speak nothing of the 1920s — when we see the types of cars people drove, with their utter lack of any safety elements whatsoever.
Our mind-numbing acceptance of today’s terrifyingly dangerous automotive world is only marginally less asinine than that of the past 100 years. Unfortunately, we just don’t usually see it that way because we’re living in it. The toad in boiling water, then.
But perhaps the coolest thing of all, is that 2020 isn’t that far away at all: as we bring 2014 to a close, it’s now just a mouth watering four years away.
That Porsche has just green-lighted the knee-weakening beauty that is the Mission E is actually a very big deal. Slated to go head-to-head with the Tesla Model S, it validates both Tesla as a very real entity with which to be reckoned, while simultaneously embracing the electric car revolution head-on.
But look what else we’ll have come 2020: Tesla’s Autopilot will be fully autonomous; Volvo will achieve its Vision 2020 goal of zero deaths or serious injuries to occupants of Volvo vehicles; Ford will have launched its line of autonomous passenger cars; Google will have probably licensed out its tech to other companies just as it has done with its Android OS; Apple will have launched its hyper-secretive car (perhaps co-created with another player in the automotive world); NAVYA’s fully driverless buses will be enjoyed by urban cores around the world; today’s already-admirable 270-mi range of the Tesla Model S will be as high as 400 or even 500 miles; and, if Porsche’s Mission E 800 volt charger becomes standard, we will enjoy 80% charges in just 15 minutes.
In plain terms then, 2020 — just four years from now — will mark the start of the era when fully autonomous cars finally start to enter the market and begin to reduce our appalling 3,000 vehicular deaths per month; electric car “range anxiety” sounds as absurd and archaic a thing as leaded gasoline; and buying pure electric cars will be as common a thing as buying a Prius today.
I’ve echoed Elon Musk before, and I’ll echo him again: manually driving a car will be like riding a horse. And just as the latter is still enjoyed for pleasure, so the former will of course still be used for pleasure. We’ve seen the same thing with the transition to automatic transmissions from manual gearboxes. This transition — though seemingly more radical — will similarly be regarded as a sort of “well of course cars should be autonomous” moment, the same way we say “well of course cars should have seat belts / air bags / ABS brakes and traction control systems / etc.”
To whomever still regards this tremendous paradigm shift in our lives with trepidation, don’t: welcome it and embrace it with open arms. All of our lives are about to get a whole lot better. Better even than our transition to the motor car from the horse-and-buggy more than 100 years ago.
I cannot wait.