The End Of “The Golden Age Of The Automobile” Is Nigh – Now What?

Crusty old Brit Jeremy Clarkson recently said the automotive world is going to hell in a hand basket.

Clarkson is easily dismissed as an overrated troll with bad teeth and an irritating accent, but he’s one of many that have “rung the bell,” signaling the inevitable death of the automobile.

Ex-GM visionary and lifelong, salty octogenarian Bob Lutz, sent ripples through the car business earlier this year when he fielded an opinion piece declaring the end of the auto industry.

He gazes into a crystal ball with the following dystopian take, “It saddens me to say it, but we are approaching the end of the automotive era. The auto industry is on an accelerating change curve.

For hundreds of years, the horse was the prime mover of humans and for the past 120 years it has been the automobile. Now we are approaching the end of the line for the automobile because travel will be in standardized modules.

The end state will be the fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command. You will call for it, it will arrive at your location, you’ll get in, input your destination and go to the freeway. On the freeway, it will merge seamlessly into a stream of other modules traveling at 120, 150 mph. The speed doesn’t matter. You have a blending of rail-type with individual transportation. ”

Check out the prototype of a train-like, “stream” of autonomous vehicles, from Volvo.

Lutz continues by saying “The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by people because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways. You will have to get your car off the road or sell it for scrap.”

Yikes.

For a good laugh, see what GM thought the future would look like in the Fifties:

Today, the General’s mantra is a “Zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion” future of transportation. See the company’s declaration below to get a whiff of what’s on the horizon from the biggest car maker in the United States. GM head honcho Dan Amann explains:

Anyone with kids felt the change before any of us adults, much less car enthusiasts. What was once a right of passage, today’s teenagers have no urgency to get licensed to drive and are perfectly fine Ubering around and twiddling their smartphones.

The implications run deep and will create an incredible “disruption,” not just in the car industry, but in every city, town and municipality in the union.

Why?  Most towns are anchored by several automotive related, income producing revenue streams: licensing fees, gas taxes, registration, tabs, auto excise tax, smog stations, parking fees, insurance, and traffic fines.

One look at another pillar of modern America is a grim precursor. Shopping malls are dying and they’ve been obsolete ever since Amazon took over. What are cities, towns and counties to do when major revenue generating streams of income disappear because no one goes to a shopping mall or owns, maintains, fuels or smogs a car?

Scary stuff indeed, but here’s the good news.

Battling modern traffic, getting a ticket, getting in an accident, paying big bucks to the state for registration fees and smog certification is a drag.

To rid the planet of this stuff would be a tremendous advance, as much as that dismays me to say.

One car trip in Southern California–or any other big American metropolis–is a testament to how dangerous and ridiculous getting around has become.

Dangerous is an understatement too. In 2017, there were millions of automobile accidents and over 40,000 deaths in the US, with 1.2 million casualties around the globe. Over 90 percent are the result of human error.

What does that leave for us hot rodders and car enthusiasts?  Eventually cars piloted by humans will be illegal on public roads. Ironically, a look to the past might offer illumination.

Horses and early autos shared the road back in the day, but eventually the equine beasts were banned from public byways. Folks who were horse fans could buy into equestrian neighborhoods, get involved in horse racing or take their horse on approved public land.

I think the same thing will happen with cars. Think of communities with designated places to drive your car. Parks or road courses available to drive your car at speed without fear of getting a ticket or hitting an animal or worse, a human.

How this will work with the demise of many race facilities and noise complaints across the country remains to be seen.  Car shows and meets could incorporate more off-road cruises and driving related attractions as well.

The best part is there will be a huge surplus of dirt cheap gasoline.

With America’s daily commute handled by electricity, gasoline will be for all intents and purposes become an obsolete fuel.  Petroleum products will be with us for decades, but gasoline powered cars will be like whale oil lamps and coal powered trains.

I can almost hear the responses now…”I will never give up my car!”  “Why is this in Rod Authority?”  “I come to the website to forget about Kanye West, Nissans, and the insanity of the modern world…”

We hear you.

But a change is coming folks, and we better figure out how we are going to preserve the fantastic history, art and glory of “The Golden Age Of The Automobile.” Nothing like it will ever come this way again. We better educate future generations and preserve the beauty and art of this monumental achievement of mankind, or it will be lost, forever.

Lastly, get your modern American super cars NOW.

Corvette, Camaro, Hellcats, Mustangs and V-Series Cadillacs are the end-of-the-line with over 100 years of internal combustion engine refinement. They are the last and best of the breed. Buy one to your exact specification and sock it away in the garage.

And in a perfect tomorrow, think of a Nurburgring-like driving circuit snaking through the mountains, where you can let your rod, muscle car or end-of-an-era super car frolic freely, driving it the way it was meant to be driven.

Now that’s good news.

 

 

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
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