A Day in Your Life 2037: A Glimpse at the Automotive Near Future
We asked a group of scientists, auto executives, and forecasters what they thought a typical day of an average person would look like 15 years from now. How would people get around and go about their daily lives? Created out of those discussions, this essay explores what the not so distant future—automotive and otherwise—could be.
Joe Average finally opened his eyes. His smart house had been trying to wake him for the past 10 minutes: The window shades had opened on cue, and the ambient lighting had been getting brighter to combat the gloomy day outside. He could hear the morning news, the broadcast projected onto the mirror in his bathroom. He thought he heard a faint electric whine coming from outside and the thump of a parcel being dropped off by a delivery drone.
It had stormed overnight. Joe wondered if his electric pickup in the garage was getting its power from the house, or had the power gone out at some point and the truck was now acting as a generator to keep electricity flowing through his home? Either way, it’s nice to never have to experience an outage anymore.
Alexa confirmed the power had not gone out. Excellent. It meant both EVs, the truck and crossover, were fully charged—the house and car and grid all talk to each other to ascertain the best time for the vehicles to charge. Home is still the cheapest alternative, but once in a while a notification says a quick top-off of electrons at his favorite coffee bar is the better choice. He can add meaningful range in the time it takes to get his caffeine hit.
Joe smiles as he remembers the days when drivers worried about when and where they could charge their EVs, checking apps and maps for the location of a charger that would work with a particular vehicle. Today, standardized fast chargers are everywhere and compatible with all models, while modern bridges, parking spaces, and taxi stands serve double duty as wireless charging pads. Mobile chargers will come to you if the need somehow arises, a concierge service offered by some automakers. Businesses offer free charging to attract customers. Stopping at a gas station and squeezing a dirty nozzle until a tank is full seems almost barbaric now, and the pumps are ever harder to find, having been replaced in droves by charging stations.
Should Joe Head to the Office Today?
Joe’s schedule shows he can accomplish everything from his home office. But the body scan during his shower, the facial scan of the bags under his eyes in the mirror while shaving, and his mood monitors suggest getting plenty of liquids and that a change of scenery would likely do him some good. His biometric patterns will be cross-checked against weather and traffic to find the best time for him to head downtown to work.
The trip there could take a number of forms. If Alexa delivered the bright news that traffic was flowing smoothly, he could tap his SUV’s 1,000 lb-ft of torque and the drive would be worth it. Today’s cars are so intuitive: Like a horse that’s nudged to one side and executes on its own, a car knows how much to brake and steer to follow the driver’s direction for a move such as a lane change.
Or he could simply switch to autopilot mode and merge into one of the express lanes dedicated to autonomous connected vehicles, allowing him to sit back and finish prepping for his first meeting as traffic keeps moving at a steady pace. Vehicle-to-vehicle networks enable constant communication between cars while data pours in from the infrastructure: sensors in the road, intersections, signs, and more. It’s no wonder connected vehicles don’t crash anymore. Maybe his next car will be fully autonomous—no steering wheel or pedals, he muses, with an interior set up like an office and functions commanded entirely by voice control. In 2037, almost all of the completely autonomous vehicles on the road are still operated by fleet and ride-sharing services. But as cost and safety issues are sorted out, more single-owner consumer models are becoming available, which means he could send the car home after being dropped off at work to avoid paying for parking. New zero-occupancy lanes are being designated on main highways, reminiscent of decades ago when HOV lanes were being added. Many of the original HOV lanes are now for automated vehicles only. The new lanes are paid for by fees calculated via vehicle telematics that factor in miles driven, time of day, congestion, and vehicle emissions. The itemized monthly bill lays out your driving habits and charges.
His home tells him if it’s a high-energy demand day, meaning Joe could save money by leaving his EV at home and selling power back to the grid. With a single voice command, he can summon an autonomous rideshare. Costs aren’t quite down to $1/mile yet, but the hassle-free aspect is inviting. Or he could go old school and take advantage of mass transit, which has become eminently more efficient thanks to fleets of electric buses, trains, and even ferries connecting the different suburbs to downtown. There are about 600,000 hydrogen-powered buses alone in service. Mass transit had to improve—his parents tell horror stories of long waits, poor conditions, and bad connections in many cities when they were young.
Sometimes Joe wishes he lived in a city with a Virgin Hyperloop high-speed vacuum tube, or that Elon Musk’s Boring Company had built more underground passages before Musk lost interest in his earthbound ventures in his attempts to colonize Mars. Closer to Earth, a smattering of flying cars have begun entering the drone-filled skies, but they’ve taken far longer than anyone thought to proliferate.
Remembering the Smell of Gasoline
Joe marvels at how car culture has changed. His kids and their friends don’t appreciate cars the way he did growing up. He grew up loving the sound and smell of a gas-fed engine, but this new generation wrinkles their nose at fumes and the impact on the environment. Igniting pistons is old school. The fastest cars today all have electric motors.
Automakers have done a good job of filling their showrooms with electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Entry-level EVs came down in price years ago thanks in part to solid state batteries that provide more range at a lower cost. Additional battery chemistry breakthroughs are expected soon. In general the cost of owning an EV is much lower now.
The sheer amount of tech in modern cars is off the charts, making it easy for a well-equipped, high-end vehicle to cost about what Joe paid for his first house. The rich are different from you and me, he thinks; there will always be buyers for high-end luxury models and top-tier trims. But despite falling prices for new EVs, first-time buyers can still struggle. Even when they can afford their own car, they can’t afford the parking. There are enough mobility choices, though, that young people can forgo car ownership altogether. Some prefer paying a monthly subscription fee for access to a stable of vehicles.
Younger motorists tend to love vehicles in a different way. The car is a smartphone on wheels that keeps the driver seamlessly connected, and constant over-the-air updates make it possible to hang onto their cars longer. Customizing a car centers around settings and services—like a personalized playlist. Gamers embrace unwieldy yoke steering wheels. Vegans and environmentalists applaud the non-animal hides and sustainable and recyclable materials that are now the norm. It’s all about the features and fun with these rolling modern appliances.
Visiting the Kick-Gas Ranch
But Joe is also nostalgic. This weekend Joe and JoAnne have booked a couple hours of track time at the Kick-Gas Ranch, where they store their 2019 Cadillac CT6-V with the long-since discontinued hand-built Blackwing 4.2-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine. Like riding horses, vehicles with big rumbling engines are for entertainment and are no longer the primary mode of transportation. Instead, it’s 550 hp of old-fashioned weekend fun, powered by renewable gasoline (see page XX).
He keeps his Cadillac on the outskirts of town. Vehicles with internal combustion engines aren’t allowed in the city center. If he wanted to go downtown, he would have to leave it at one of the parking hubs that ring the city center and jump on the light rail or grab an electric scooter, rickshaw, e-bike, or robotaxi. It’s easy enough: Going from one mode of transportation to the next is all mapped out with times and availability on an app so there’s no waiting. Microdirections take you to the proper side of the street or entrance to a building.
Automakers don’t sell new vehicles with a combustion engine anymore. But you can still find hybrids with a gas engine on the used lot and old-fashioned ICE vehicles on the road—like in 2021 when some homes still had landlines. With people holding onto cars for 15 years or longer, vehicles with tailpipe emissions won’t be leaving the roads any time soon, and there are still mechanics in the service department with the parts and know-how to fix a carburetor. The best deals and government incentives are all on EVs, and the government now slaps a 15 percent tax on vehicles that emit carbon.
Joe still loves hitting up an auto show or concours in person. Sure, they’re a throwback. You can see and almost feel everything online with virtual walkarounds nowadays, but it’s fun to stroll the grass, admiring past models like pieces of art, or hit an auto show to kick some tires before buying. And Joe tunes into E-racing and robo-car races on weekends, in addition to coverage of NASCAR and Formula 1, both of which now deploy electric-only powertrains.
Changes to the Automotive Landscape
Most of the world’s major legacy automakers still exist, though many have banded together in some form or another in an effort to help spread out the enormous costs of the shift to electrification, developing autonomous and other advanced tech, and the modernization of plants and infrastructure. Smaller, defiant brands like Mazda and Subaru finally got offers they couldn’t refuse but continue as subsidiaries of larger companies. The former Chrysler now looks back at the merger with PSA as a saving grace given that Stellantis has become a global mainstream powerhouse alongside Volkswagen.
But the real change that has Joe marveling is the steady rise of big tech and Chinese players on the global automotive scene. Apple finally got a car on the market—more of a mobile device on wheels, really—and made the big inroads everyone feared, appealing to those more interested in wow-factor tech and personalization than design or driving dynamics. Other new brands on the road today tend to be from Chinese automakers that have the scale to compete with the legacy companies and offer the lowest-cost (despite increasingly competitive quality) entry-level vehicles, a segment that was getting less love. A long list of startups have come and gone—it’s easier to get into the game when you don’t have to worry about an internal combustion powertrain—but harder for niche players to stay there. Coachbuilding has made a small comeback in the form of creating customized top hats to fit a supplied skateboard electric vehicle chassis.
At the end of a long day, Joe turns on the autonomous mode of his SUV and merges into the express lane for the ride home. He tells Alexa to order dinner. The car says he’ll be home at 7:02 p.m., so he arranges for the food to arrive by drone, fresh and hot, at 7:15. The Thai place, where robots prepare meals perfectly every time, has a drone shortage, so his order might arrive by delivery-bot—the sidewalks are littered with food-filled rovers.
Joe settles back in his seat. The monitors in his smart seat belt can tell he’s a little agitated and his blood pressure is slightly elevated—the perfect time for a health check courtesy of the car. The ambient lighting switches to more soothing colors, filtered air with jasmine and lemon scent fills the cabin. The heated seats begin to massage him as Alexa asks which playlist he prefers. It could be a lot worse in 2037.
THE FOLLOWING BIG BRAINS CONTRIBUTED THEIR INSIGHTS:
Jeff Allen: Executive director, Forth Mobility, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to accelerate the use of smart transportation.
Bettina Tratz-Ryan: Vice president of research, Garner, a research and advisory firm. Tratz-Ryan is based in Germany.
Gill Pratt: Toyota Motor Corporation chief scientist and executive fellow for research and CEO of Toyota Research Institute.
Sam Fiorani: AutoForecast Solutions vice president, global vehicle forecasting.
Greg McGuire: Mcity associate director. Mcity is a transportation research body, part of the University of Michigan
Henrik Fisker: CEO of Fisker Inc., a manufacturer of electrified vehicles.
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