Lessons Behind the Wheel

One of the most gratifying aspects of becoming insolently rich is the ability to grind small people’s faces in foreign manure. I know this more from observation than experience. Though given its frequency I am certain the result must feel quite luxurious. It’s certainly something to aspire toward.

So with that universal ambition in mind, one of the business opportunities I always recommend is one that takes advantage of slack infrastructure. Making money off something that already exists rather than something you have to build is a capacity utilization play.

Airbnb and Uber are examples. As far as I know the only houses or cars those companies actually own themselves are the mansions and Maybachs used by their owners. You provide the capital-intensive inventory (and labor), while they just provide a match.com for buyers and sellers.

I am certain additional opportunities in this genre will emerge. So if you see something that many have, but few often use (like border guards, for instance) I do hope you’ll contact me discreetly with the idea. We may be able to stand up an app that puts idle ICE officers to work on Honduran landscaping crews.

I mentioned Uber as a cap-ute play, though it’s only partially so owing to the confines of driver fatigue. Most people only use their cars a fraction of the day. An Uber driver can increase his vehicle’s utilization rate dramatically. But eventually he is going to fall asleep at the wheel and bowling ball a dozen street-camping BLM protestors. Though I’m sure there’s a downside.

One way that downside is being dealt with is by the development of fully-autonomous vehicles. Ford, one of America’s lingering auto mongers, has recently announced that these mobile morgues will be on sale in the 2021 model year.

Imagine in five years buying a car devoid of any driver inputs. No steering wheel, no gas pedal, no brake. Hopefully manufacturers will at least install dashboard urns for convenient collection of the driver’s remains.

I joke about the certain fatalities (probably less so if I become one), but driving deaths are already quite high. And the proper comparison is not between driverless casualties and zero, but the technology’s delta with human pilots. In honesty, it will be a remarkable achievement if it actually comes to fruition.

An achievement that could actually bankrupt its progenitor if some analysts are accurate.

A Barclays analyst, Brian Johnson, recently predicted that once autonomous vehicles are in widespread use, auto sales could fall as much as 40 percent as people rely on such (fleet-sharing) services for transportation and choose not to own cars.

The thought here is that a shared vendor-fleet of hundreds of autonomous cars, carousing about 24 hours/day, could functionally take the place of thousands of vehicles which sit idle most of the time. The result being significantly less aggregate demand for new cars.

This is a valid concern, though probably overstated outside the densest urban catch-basins. Many people, consciously or not, use their cars as status markers and value them as possessions. The extent of this isn’t going to be captured in a strictly utilitarian evaluation. Consider just the means by which men attempt to distinguish themselves in mating displays. A young guy may not at all need a BMW, but when competing for female favors with boys on a ride-share subscription, I know on whom I’d wager. An impressive house serves the same function, but you can’t pull one of those up curbside.

Interesting that both our transportation and our political ideologies are often acquired solely as a signal to others.

But one item in particular was worthy of mention.

The world is changing, and it’s changing rapidly,” he (Ford’s CEO) said, adding that Ford now sees itself as not just a carmaker but a “mobility company.”

That’s an atypically lucid statement. I’ve written before about how critical, but frequently elusive, is the ability to understand and embrace one’s true role rather than what we have grown comfortable to imagine.

The 19th century Abbot Downing Company thought it was in the stagecoach business, and made the best of these money could buy. But it was actually in the personal transportation business, and thus got buried by Mr. Ford.

It seems Henry’s corporate posterity hasn’t lost the lesson–a form of which applies to people and politics as well. That lesson being: you’re not actually in the ideology business. Those who take this to heart will find an open road ahead.

11 thoughts on “Lessons Behind the Wheel

  1. Pingback: Lessons Behind the Wheel | Reaction Times

  2. I’m inclined to believe that Mark Fields is full of shit. This is a guy who commutes to work from Florida to Michigan in his private jet. Airlines fly the same route, so the reason Mark eschews this mode of transportation, is doubtless the same reason that people, i.e., Ford’s customers, will prefer to ride in their own cars rather than in an automated taxi bearing the accumulated residue of people such as one might see at the courthouse or WalMart.

  3. I haven’t heard it mentioned on the news yet, but yesterday this blog exceeded its 2015 visitor total, as it did 2014’s around May.

    So welcome new readers. I invite you all to contribute in the combox–particularly you, Erick Erickson.

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