elon musk with bob lutz at North American International Auto Show January 12, 2010

  • Longtime auto executive Bob Lutz says the days of the personal car are numbered.
  • Massive autonomous fleets will replace vehicles as we know them.
  • The end of the automobile could arrive in 20 years.

Bob Lutz is a former Marine who worked for Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, and BMW, usually as the resident “car guy” — a product guru who could guide the bean-counters toward automotive glory and gruffly greenlight amazing machines.

Now semi-retired, Lutz is partnered with designer Henrik Fisker at VLF Automotive, a maker of exotic, burly very expensive supercars. But he continues to freely offer his thoughts on the car business. He’s both expressed admiration for Elon Musk — and taken shots at Tesla’s business. And he’s tried to stay on the cutting edge of transportation. 

But his latest salvo is a big one, particularly coming from a car guy’s car guy. Writing for Automotive News, he argues that “[t]he 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,” he said. “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.”

Google car

So there it is. The man who gave us the Dodge Viper has effectively surrendered. And he thinks a change will come faster than anybody expects, due largely to self-driving cars taking deadly human drivers out of the picture, reducing roadway fatalities to basically zero. In 20 years, we won’t even be allowed to drive ourselves any longer, unless we’re rich and have access to private race tracks for our vintage Ferraris.

It would be hard to take such a grim prophecy seriously if you’re a motoring enthusiast. But this is Bob Lutz we’re talking about — and he knows whereof he speaks. 

The transition will devastate automakers and car dealers, he opines. The winners will be managers of gigantic autonomous podmobile fleets — “Uber, Lyft, FedEx, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service, utility companies, delivery services,” Lutz thinks, as well as Amazon.

I’m personally a bit skeptical, mainly because I don’t know if the political or financial will is in place to remake our roadway infrastructure for fleets of podmobiles that will travel in trains at over 100 mph. But when Lutz speaks about cars, it’s worth it to listen. 

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SEE ALSO: Henrik Fisker is back — and he has a new $300,000 supercar to prove it

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