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Panel considers future of cars

October 24, 2014
The shortcoming with "The Jetsons," according to a former member of Google’s self-driving car team, is that George Jetson was forced to use a control stick to navigate his spacecraft around Orbit City. Instead, Brad Templeton said that the actual cars of the future will drive themselves.
And that will make driving safer, said Templeton, who noted that there were more than 33,000 deaths on America’s roadways in 2012. 
"That," he said, "is like a World Trade Center coming down every month.  Ebola is nothing compared to driving on the road."
Templeton served as keynote speaker of "The Future of the Car," presented Oct. 16 in Chicago by Zurich and The Week magazine. Speakers also forecast the future of the auto dealership, in a panel discussion that included Templeton, megadealer Aaron Zeigler, and others.
The race to perfect a driverless car is coming from two camps, said Templeton: longtime carmakers who are adding more computers to their products, and computer companies that are adding wheels to theirs. And just as Dell eliminated the middleman to sell directly to consumers, Templeton predicted that upstarts based in computers would be inclined to sell direct, as Tesla aspires.
Jason Stein, an Automotive News editor and publisher and moderator of the panel discussion, noted that online transactions accounted for 4 percent of all automobile sales in 2009, with projections that will grow to 15 percent by 2020.
"Have you been to a Borders recently? The models are changing. It is a world that is absolutely changing," Stein said.
And what do those changes mean for dealerships? Templeton said employees will have to be trained to explain how all that new technology works. Test drives might take longer in order to find congested traffic to demonstrate how a driverless vehicle responds.
"If the car does its job well, (the test drive) will be boring, a non-event," he said.
Rakshita Agrawal, principal of the Boston Consulting Group and another panelist, said that as long as all the expected change is evolutionary, and not all at once, dealerships will adapt.
Zeigler noted the upside for service departments. "If we know the customer’s car has 15,000 miles, we can call him and say it’s time to bring it in, rather than waiting for him to call," he said.
Still, there will be customers who prefer the traditional process, probably forcing dealerships to maintain procedures for both.
The panel also expects that independent online reviews of dealerships will grow in importance. "We’ve had customers ask for salespersons they’d never met before, because they read positive (online) reviews," Zeigler said.
 
 

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