“The Mercedes-Benz F015 driverless car aims to bring the luxury of a limousine to autonomous vehicles. It features four space-age style seats and gesture-controlled displays on the doors and dashboard”
Like most industries, the limousine business is driven be clients’ desires.... What will the clients want in the years to come.
What is Autonomous Driving?
Any vehicle that is capable of navigating the road with little or no human input can be considered an autonomous driving vehicle. This can include either driver-supervised or driver-unsupervised vehicles. Todays’ laws mandate that all autonomous vehicles must be driver supervised. How long that will be mandated is still up in the air.
We honestly don’t see the day coming too soon where our Fords, Chevys or even our Lincolns, Cadillacs and Mercedes Benz vehicles have quantum processing computers enough to make autonomous limousines viable. Despite the amount of money being thrown at lobbyists in Washington to make the legal end happen, the tech just isn’t there.
As we have noted over the last decade, stretch limo clients have smartly been converted to understand that Sprinters are just better than stretch limousines. The ability to stand and walk around inside the vehicle is just better than needing to slide in and around and all stretches are only comfortable for the 2 passengers that get the 2 rear seats. The interiors of Sprinters and the like are easily customizable by any quality and forward thinking coach builder to make beautiful limo, coach or executive coach configurations. As we see it, unless auto manufacturers come up with something radical, Sprinters and Coaches will be the future. As we see it, this will be the future of the limousine business for transporting any amount of passengers that won’t fit in a sedan, SUV or large crossover.
Here is a super cool video produced by Mercedes Benz to show off their autonomous cargo Sprinter.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, until either a nationwide or worldwide transportation grid is built, tech companies, auto manufacturers and TNCs like Uber and Lyft will struggle to make autonomous vehicles a common site on our streets and highways. A smart grid will allow these vehicles to talk to the road and each other and ensure the safety of passengers, cargo and of course the vehicles themselves. A smart grid is not the only way but without it, the amount of ‘self-awareness’ these vehicles must have is just not achievable today without much more advanced AI and sensory data input available to the vehicle’s central computer core.
Passenger Safety? – Driver Based vs Autonomous
The difference between actual safety and perceived safety is stark and currently unknowable when it comes to self-driving limousines. Currently, self-driving vehicles are perceived as extremely dangerous as noted by accidents all over the news. Auto manufacturers are frustrated by US states adding increasing regulations designed to protect the public. Until there is a public perception that self-driving vehicles are as safe or preferably safer than those driven by humans, driver employment is assured.
What about human drivers?
Over the past few years we have seen tragic limousine accidents due to driver error and the like. It is incredibly difficult to monitor the physical and emotional states of drivers. Almost all limousine providers drug test their drivers on a regular basis which is mandated in most states and of course is great. Unfortunately, it only takes one drug or alcohol related slip to allow tragedy to rear its ugly head. We have also heard a vast amount of complaints from drivers that they are over worked with 20-hour days and are often quite tired behind the wheel. Of course, autonomous or self-driving vehicles never get tired. The assumption is that for the next many years, driver supervised vehicles will be the norm on the road whether we are talking about a limousine or any other type of vehicle which solves serval problems. Drivers will not get as tired when the vehicle itself does the driving and as the technology gets better and clients become more acclimated to the idea of self-driving vehicles drivers (much to their chagrin) will become obsolete.
According to Johnny Brenner of Hollywood Town Car and Limousine; “Passenger safety is our paramount concern and we will watch the space to see what happens with the technology while we concurrently work to ensure that our drivers are the safest in the industry.”
What Will Limousine Companies do?
Having said all of that, what can we expect to see from the luxury transportation industry as these hurdles fall or are removed? Drivers and chauffeurs are not endangered species yet nor do they appear to be in the next few years. We work on the assumption that most of our clients think they are hiring a car to transport them, when they are really doing is hiring a driver that makes them feel safe, secure and treated ‘like a boss’.
Of course, there will be a novelty factor to having your super stretch Bentley, G-Wagon or even a Chrysler 300 Limousine drop you off at that big event with no driver for the first few years, a professional driver that knows what a client wants will probably be around for quite a while.
The investment required for these new autonomous vehicles will certainly be substantial and by definition, the luxury transportation business is primarily filled with small and medium sized businesses. Making that large of an investment for any business is terrifying when you know that it is possible that either clients won’t want to use it or almost as horrible an outcome, the autonomous limousine sits in the yard or garage and becomes a giant paperweight with an equally large price tag.
The big players in the luxury transportation space like Carey, CLS, Bell Trans etc. must take the lead and they certainly didn’t become the corporate goliaths they are by taking stupid risks. Someone in the middle is going to win or lose the day by being the ground breaker in the autonomous multi-passenger vertical.
Back in the 80s in Los Angeles, (possibly in a cocaine and alcohol induced moment of insane genius) the management of Davel decided to fill the streets of Hollywood with neon-colored stretch limousines. Well the idea was a giant hit and in our humble opinion, that crazy idea may have been the one that launched them into the successful company they are today.
The bottom line on autonomous (self-driving) limousines is that we are just not there yet. Once we get there, it will be interesting to see who takes the lead and what the clients think about it. We will certainly be here watching to see what the limousine industry does and what kind of success the concept has.
How exactly is Autonomous Driving defined?
This illustration really helps nuance the answer. Here we see that vehicle autonomy is not all or nothing, but can be seen in ostensibly safer degrees.
Safety, of course, is the all-important watchword. “Driver Assistance” would be the limit today based on most state’s concerns about public safety.
“THE WAY I SEE IT…”
Will the day come soon enough when every auto manufacturer has the quantum processing computer powerful enough to make fully autonomous vehicles viable?
If the Ford/NASA partnership is any indication, it will just be a matter of time. Time, though, best thought of in the future rather than the present.
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