Notes From The Harvest Summit: The Future of Cars

Sonoma vineyard

On Friday (11/10), I attended the Harvest Summit, at the La Crema wine estate in the Russian River Valley of California. I promised subsequent posts to share some of what I learned. You can find other posts about the event by scanning through my blog at This post from my Summit notes is about the Future of Transportation.

One of the breakout sessions I participated in was called The Future of Transportation. The goal was to discuss how the planes, trains, and cars of tomorrow will impact our daily lives. The discussion leaders were Karen Francis, Strategic Advisor, Autonation & Nauto, Stefan Heck, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Nauto, and Matt Carpenter, Vice President & Chief Financial Officer, Audi of America. The discussion turned out to be mostly about self-driving cars. 

Everyone agreed autonomous cars can have a huge positive impact on safety, cost of operation, and global warming. One thing I had not thought about is repair cost. We spend tens of billions of dollars per year for six million collisions at a cost of $4-8K each. More important than reducing damages is the potential to save tens of thousands of lives per year. Not only will self-driving cars be more efficient and better for the environment, they will get us where we want to go more quickly. As more and more data is collected about the routes taken by the intelligent cars, they will learn to avoid dangerous intersections. Rather than gunning it to shift lanes to try to get ahead of the traffic flow, smart cars will space themselves evenly, resulting in a better flow of traffic for all.

We had a lot of discussion about the impact of self-driving cars on the number of cars on the road, which is another way to say, will we need as many cars? Even the Audi executive acknowledged consumer purchases of cars will decline. One person suggested none of the children born today will have a driver license. They won’t need one. The trends are already clear. I have a son in Boston who does not own a car, and a nephew in New York who does not have a driver license. Another person pointed out San Francisco parking garage real estate is declining in value due to more people using Uber et al rather than driving themselves. Self-driving car services will accelerate all of these trends. The Audi executive said the company strategy is to build its brand so when a consumer makes a request for a car to come get him or her, they will specify the autonomous car be an Audi. Most of us thought that was wishful thinking. One conclusion all of us came to was there will be fewer cars on the road, but the utilization of those cars will be much higher.

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