An auto industry veterans says that car owners need to “kiss the good times goodbye” because self-driving cars are speedily taking us to the end of an era.
“Everyone will have five years to get their car off the road or sell it for scrap or trade it on a module,” former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz recently declared.
What’s the rush? Lutz believes that autonomous vehicles will take over transportation, starting with ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. He joined the show last week to talk about the self-driving future with Glenn, who wanted to know: What makes this prediction different from when people thought we would have flying cars?
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: I have been — I have been really trying to bone up on the future and reading a lot of science lately. And I’ll share some of that with you in the — in the coming weeks.
But I firmly believe that as — when I told you in 2005 that America — you’re going to wake up and you’re not even going to recognize your country. That seemed crazy. And I think we’re there. I think people are like, I don’t even understand this world that I’m living in.
You take that feeling, and, you know, you double that, triple that. That’s how you’re going to feel. By 2030, life will be completely different on planet earth. Not just the country. But all life. The way we interact with each other. The way we move. Everything. Medicine.
I think we are 15 years away from — from curing cancer and music dystrophy. There’s some bright days on the horizon. But it is going to cause a lot of turmoil, especially if you’re not prepared for it.
So I was reading an article from Auto News, and it came from Bob Lutz. It’s called, Kiss the Good Times Goodbye.
Bob is quite a credible guy. Retired as vice chairman of General Motors, 47-year career in the global automotive industry, senior leadership positions for four of the world’s leading automakers. He was the former vice chairman and head of development at General Motors. His resume is quite long and extensive. But I would rather have you just listen to him. Bob Lutz is joining us now to talk about the future of the auto industry and the automobile.
Bob, how are you, sir?
BOB: Why, thank you, Glenn. You?
GLENN: Great. I’m honored that you would come on the program.
You wrote an amazing story called Kiss the Good Times Goodbye. Where you’re talking about how everything is going to change. And you say the automobile is a thing of the past.
BOB: Yeah. And I said, you know, in that article, I said in 20 years, if some people are taking issue with that piece, nobody is taking issue with the future as I outline it. Everybody says, yeah, we accept that. That’s the way it’s going to be.
I think a lot of people have trouble with my statement, saying it’s going to be in 20 years. And, you know, as I look at it, in retrospect, I think, yeah, maybe that is a little overly pessimistic, because, first of all, what I didn’t say in the article is that the move to fully autonomous modules that are not controlled by humans, will occur in stages. And that’s what one or two of the critics of the article had pointed out. They’re quite right.
It will begin first in the urban centers, where human-driven cars will be banned. But in the outlying areas, in the rural countryside, et cetera, et cetera, it will take longer. And the whole thing may take — instead of 20 years, it may take 30.
GLENN: So, Bob, that is the one thing that I found in your article. Because I thought everything was spot-on. Except you were — you were talking about fully autonomous vehicles.
GLENN: And the problem we have now is the middle of the country is unmapped. And the middle of the country changes so often because we’re building and growing, et cetera, et cetera. That it is going to — it is going to take a long time just to be able to just to map the entire country. Is that the — is that the problem you’re seeing as well?
BOB: No, I don’t think the mapping is going to be a problem, because, for instance, one of the — one of the big mapping companies is a company called Usher. I have to disclose that I’m a board member.
But they have ways now of putting mapping devices on fleet vehicles. You know, big fleets like FedEx, UPS, so forth. So that mapping will be a continuously thing.
Yeah. That’s another thing why — why it will probably go in stages. But I’ll tell you what the metro areas are thoroughly mapped. That’s where the problem is, with human-driven vehicles, in places like LA and Chicago and so forth. There’s so much national productivity lost, sitting in traffic. Not to mention, accidents due to distracted driving, texting, intoxication, and so forth.
GLENN: So, Bob, can you take us — take us back to the beginning of this. Because there are — there are several things that are going to change life dramatically. And coming from, you know, a former chair of — of General Motors, it — it really carries a lot of weight.
Because you say these are not cars, as we know it. In fact, performance will be a thing of the past. You think that it could wipe out BMW. And, you know, Ferrari, et cetera. Et cetera. As we know it.
Is General Motors — are they going to be making these pods, or do you see them made by Google?
BOB: Well, I don’t think Google knows how to manufacture. They’re good at software. But somebody else will — they’ll be the transportation — the enablers, the transportation providers. But the so-called modules will be made by companies that know how to do that, at low cost. And that will be the global automobile companies. Except, what’s going to be gone is the whole brand value of automobiles.
You know, mine is more expensive. Mine is more prestigious. Mine comes from Germany. That’s all going to be gone because these — these driverless or control-less, autonomous modules, which of necessity have to be all pretty much the same shape, they are — they’re going to be manufactured to — to the low bidder. And the bids are going to be placed by the big transportation companies. And I fully expect that Uber and Lyft and so forth, and other companies, maven will be among the big fleets who are the value providers.
But General Motors gets it because General Motors has — owns a piece of Lyft. Owns Maven. And so forth. So General Motors is a company that understands that capturing the value is no longer going to be in the sale of the car. Capturing the value is going to be providing the down — the downstream transportation service.
GLENN: So I’ve always been impressed, Bob, by the history of General Motors. You know, they — they’ve — you know, Ford gets — Ford gets all the credit for the assembly line. But it was actually the former chairman of Chevy that was working for Henry Ford that actually put it together in a workable way. They also were — were Fisher Carriage originally. And when they saw the assembly line finally work. They said, okay. We got to get out of the horse and buggy business. And we’re going to make automobiles. So they’ve already transformed once. You see them on the cutting edge of transforming a second time?
BOB: I do. I think General Motors has a bigger reservoir of highly skilled people than any other automobile company on the planet. Sometimes, you know, the — with the so-called bean counters, as I like to call them, tend to inhibit creativity in the interest of short-term profitability. So every company goes through those faces. But I will tell you, when it comes to technological capability and just basic smarts, I don’t think there’s any match for General Motors out there. They’re really good.
GLENN: So, Bob, what does — because right now, people are trying to get their arms around Tesla.
GLENN: Which can drive itself, et cetera. Et cetera. But you’re still looking at a Tesla that looks like a car and everything else. What does the car of the future look like?
BOB: Well, first of all, just a word on the Tesla system. The Tesla system relies on sensors. It’s not very autonomous. It requires the drivers hand to be on the wheel at times, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Whereas, Cadillac SuperCruise will now take you from Chicago to New York or LA to San Francisco, without you ever touching the wheel.
So on vehicle autonomy, General Motors is ahead too.
GLENN: Didn’t know that.
BOB: Yeah, no. A lot of people don’t. And — and also, what most of the — the reason why some companies seem to be a little slower is that they understand the value of embedded digital super pre-sizing. That means down to four inches, max. And Tesla up to now does not use that.
They’re using a lot of eyes and ears in the car. Whereas, the GM approach is to put in — is to do this super precise mapping, to where if there were no obstacles, the car could actually get from Detroit to Chicago, without any sensors. Because the car knows so precisely, down to 4 inches, where it is at all times. The only thing you need the sensors for is other objects.
So you go from the Tesla sensing system. It’s got to see everything. It’s got to see curb stones. It’s got to see potholes. It’s got to see trees in addition to objects that are in the road.
If you have a sufficiently accurately embedded map, all you need is sensors to tell you — like for a blind person, he’s got to know that the dog is lying in its path.
GLENN: So the Tesla will see a pothole. But the GM will not see a pothole?
BOB: No, no. It will see it also because it will be in the map.
GLENN: You’re mapping potholes?
BOB: Well, it’s down to 4 inches. When they do freeway, they do every lane separately on a freeway.
GLENN: Wow. Holy cow.
Okay. So, Bob, we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. I need to take a quick break, and then we’ll come back with Bob Lutz, author of Icons and Idiots. Straight talk on leadership. In just a second. A guy you really need to listen to.
GLENN: Former vice chairman and head of development at General Motors, Bob Lutz wrote an article, kiss the good times goodbye. He says, the end state will be a fully autonomous module with no capability for the driver to exercise command. You’ll call for it. It will arrive at your location. You get in, input your destination, and go on the freeway. On the freeway, it will merge seamlessly into a stream of other modules, traveling at 120 to 150 miles an hour.
Bob, why is the average person hearing this kind of stuff, and they’re not keeping up with technology? What makes this different than the prediction of flying cars?
BOB: Well, flying cars, you wind up either with a lousy airplane, or a lousy automobile. But it’s very hard to ever get flying cars right.
And, by the way, as I never tire of saying and I remind my automotive friends of this, vehicle autonomy is actually easier — full vehicle autonomy is easier to obtain in the 3D space than it is on two-dimensional surfaces. If you have like an autonomous helicopter/taxi service that connects the inner city to the airport, just shuttles back and forth, that from a technological and software-control standpoint to solve is far easier, far easier than doing it on a surface roadway.
So, yeah, there will be — there will be a lot of flying modules that operate in three-dimensional space, probably from ground level up to about 1,000 feet so that they don’t interfere with regular air traffic and can stay at the FAA system.
So, no, your comment was a very — a very astute one. It will be both.
GLENN: I — I — there are people that I think — the vast majority of Americans can’t get their arms around how different life will be, by 2030, including their jobs.
GLENN: Can you go into that at all?
BOB: Well, a friend of mine was — with IBM advanced systems development system in the ’60s. And they forecasted that by the year 2000, you know, they were off in their timing, we would have a largely cybernated society, with machines producing machines, machines designing machines, machines maintaining machines. And a lot of — and a lot of the wealth in the world being created basically fully — fully automatically, without human intervention. And what do we do then?
And even IBM in the mid-60s postulated that what we were going to have to do is so much wealth is being produced by so little human input, that we would evolve a system where people essentially get a guaranteed annual salary, just to do nothing. Which would enable them to open a little cobbler store —
BOB: Or start making violins again. All things that have disappeared. So I do believe that’s going to happen. I mean, medicine can largely be replaced by technology. And —
GLENN: So, Bob, hold on just a second. I want to pick it up right there. And how life is changing. And what it means to the average person.
GLENN: We are lucky enough to have Bob Lutz on. He is the former vice chairman and head of development at General Motors, who wrote an awesome article that you really need to read, Kiss The Good Times Goodbye. Everyone will have five years to get their car off the road or sell it for scrap in the future. He says that we are — we are not going to be driving our cars. And our cars are not going to look anything like they look now. In fact, they’ll all pretty much be the same. And — and you won’t own one.
And, Bob, talk to me a little bit about what time of day to change in the mindset of Americans. You know, Americans have always loved their car. It’s personal to them.
GLENN: And we also — you know, we’re a performance generation. The new Dodge Demon, zero to 60 in 3.2 second, 850-horsepower, we like that stuff.
BOB: Well, I like it too. But it’s unfortunately increasingly incompatible with the prime reason we have cars. The others are just sociopsychological reasons. They’re kind of side benefits of vehicle ownership.
The primary purpose of cars, of course, is surface efficient — safe surface transportation. And sad to say, the automobile as we know it today is increasingly failing in those areas, because we have so much congestion. And because people — they’re not all enthusiastic drivers. A lot of them like to text, take drugs, drink, watch — watch TV on their smartphones, or engage in other risky behavior that has nothing to do with the safe —
GLENN: So I can see — I can see us regulate it out. That in 20 years, you can’t drive. You know, I don’t believe my kids, who are young, you know, 11 and 13, are going to be driving very long in their life, just because of Uber, et cetera, et cetera. But this is coming. We’ll regulate it out.
But what I can’t get around is how the average American says I don’t want a car anymore. But I see that happening with millennials. But a bigger stumbling block is people like General Motors. You guys make a ton of money on lending.
BOB: Yeah, well, that could continue. And there’s nothing to be said that the automobile companies cannot lend to the big fleets like Uber and Lyft, just like GMC does now. You know, so I fully expect to see smart car companies survive. But they’ll — they’ll just survive in a different form. And —
GLENN: Who do you think is — who do you think survives, and who doesn’t survive in?
BOB: Well, I would say the big companies that can produce efficiently and produce high quality at low costs. And basically produce an unbranded product that will be branded. Lyft or Uber or maven or whatever. They’ll survive.
It will be tougher for the small specialty companies that have sold on image. You know —
GLENN: Give me an example. Because when you’re talking about General Motors. I don’t know what you mean by a small company.
BOB: Well, specialty manufacturers like Maserati. Maybe even BMW or Mercedes. Which you have to ask yourself, do those companies add any value in the basic transportation function, or do they fail because of a whole series of social beliefs and aura that’s attached — attached to the brand, an aura of superiority that’s attached to German origin and so forth? Well, when all these things are branded, Uber and Lyft and whatever, a brand is not going to matter.
GLENN: But there is a difference — there is a difference between getting into — you know, getting into a Dodge and getting into a Mercedes. It does — even if you strip it of all of its symbols, there is a difference in the quality of the vehicle. Is there not?
BOB: Well, in terms of — yeah, maybe the materials are a little nicer. And the seat fabric is a little nicer. But at the end of the day, in terms of performing the transportation function, that’s basically the primal reason we have automobiles for it, is human — efficient rapid safe human surface transportation, in two dimensions.
You know, in major urban areas, the automobile as we have it today, not so much the car, but the people that are operating it — and it’s an integral part of the equation, increasingly failing in that task. And autonomous modules that are short. Not driver controlled. Do not depend on human reaction, where the person in front of you at a traffic light takes four seconds to wake up that the light has turned green. None of that’s going to happen anymore, and we’ll save enormous amounts of productive time for the whole economy.
GLENN: So you say that just like horses aren’t used anymore, but rich people have racehorses, you say that the Ferraris, et cetera, et cetera, will be — will be had by the uber rich. Will that be used on a race track?
BOB: Well, no. First of all, I didn’t say racehorses in general. I said you have to use the analogy of horses, in general, so that there will be off-road dude ranches for four-by-fours. There will be privately owned tracks where you can drive any car. Some of these might be public, like public golf courses, where you have to demonstrate that you can drive. And if you can drive, you can buy an hour or two on the track.
So the car hobby will continue to exist. It’s just not going to continue to exist on public roads. And I don’t think — these — these places are cropping up all over the United States already. There’s one in Michigan, in Pontiac, called M1 Concourse. There’s one in Illinois. Autobahn. One in New York called Monticello. And so forth. And you buy — you basically buy — it’s like a country club.
BOB: You pay an initiation fee, and then you pay your dues membership. You can actually leave your cars out there.
And there will be manufacturers that continue to cater to that market. The nice thing about those cars, is they’ll be totally regulation free. You can make them any way you want, because since they’re not on the highways, the feds in the local states have no jurisdiction over it.
GLENN: So, Bob, as I look into basically what IBM said would happen by the year 2000 — they were off by probably 30 years, but we are moving in that direction. And as I — I see the rate of change that is coming, the best thing we can teach our children is that change is constant. And to — and to not cement their thinking into anything. To always be looking for new things and experiencing new things.
I don’t know how to teach that even.
BOB: Oh, it’s not being taught. In fact, the liberal establishment is teaching exactly the opposite. I mean, every time some species happens to fade away out of the ocean or the rivers, it’s considered a major tragedy, because these people behave like, okay. So the world is millions of years old, but now it’s finished. And, you know, the world is never finished. It’s in constant state of flux and mutation. And the same thing is true for society and technological progress.
You know, I’ve been asked to describe automotive transportation 150 years from now — you know what I tell them? I said, we won’t even travel anymore. It will all be virtual.
GLENN: So, Bob, what — if you are somebody who is working in anything that involves an automobile now, what should you be working on? What should you be thinking?
How can you prepare, if that is your livelihood? And, second, how can we prepare our kids?
What should we be teaching our kids now, to prepare them for a different America?
BOB: Well, I think you put it right. You’ve got to teach people that change is a constant, other than death and taxes. The third thing that’s for certain is change. We have to make people comfortable with it. As far as if you’re working in the automotive or automotive related industry, keep your — keep your nose to the grindstone. Learn as much as you can about autonomy. Be prepared for a change.
But, you know, this is going to be a gradual transition. So most of the people working in the industry today will live out their — they’ll live out their careers in the automotive industry. It’s not like it’s all going to happen in five years. But as we were saying earlier, happen at will. And again, I think you said it right, when it comes to teaching our kids what’s important, you have to teach them about the inevitably of change.
GLENN: Bob Lutz, it is an honor to talk to you. And thank you so much for all of the work that you do with Marines and our service men and women. We’re — we’re appreciative to — for what you’ve done.
BOB: Thank you, Glenn. I’m surprised you know about my Marine Corps service.
GLENN: We do our homework. We do our homework. So thank you, sir. God bless you. Bob Lutz.
Former vice chairman of General Motors and had of development at General Motors.
STU: Incredible. I mean, the vision of that future. You think of all the things that would need to change. You know, we’ve been talking about a trillion dollar stimulus bill, over the past year or so, in Washington.
How differently should that money be spent, if it were to be spent, when thinking about
GLENN: No, you talk to people. Because I have. You talk to people in Washington now. They wouldn’t even understand what he’s saying. And I believe he’s too pessimistic on the time line.
STU: You think 20 years is not too far out?
GLENN: I think — no, I think 15 years is right on the money. And it may be changing — he might be — I might be wrong on the banning of cars. But we will, by 2030, we will be talking about that seriously. And I don’t know when the technology really cements itself. But by 2030, you won’t recognize — you will not recognize your life. You will not recognize the country.
STU: Well, you think how fast this stuff happens. The i Phone was released ten years ago, ten. I mean, think of how different the world is because of that invention and others like it. And I think a lot of people look at that stuff and they think, eh, it’s so far in the future. And, you know what, people aren’t going to accept those changes.
GLENN: Yeah, they are.
STU: And Bob outlines it really well in his article. You don’t have to. You know who is going to do it for you? Amazon. Google. Lyft. Apple. All these things are going to buy these things in the hundreds of thousands. And they have so much power and so much influence, that over time, it’s going to change not only the market — why are companies going to keep building these things for individuals when they can sell hundreds of thousands to large companies? But also through regulation. These companies are already huge donors, huge lobbyists. They’re already moving policy like crazy. And as this stuff happens, and they’re the ones manufacturing those cars, it’s going to move fast.
GLENN: And you also see — if you look at any of the trends of millennials, they’re not buying cars. They’re just not buying cars like we used to. When I was a kid and I turned 16, I was dreaming about my first car. That’s not happening now. It’s just not the same. And they’re looking at cars and saying, why would I carry that load? Why would I want one? Especially in bigger cities, when I could Uber. And it will happen in the cities first.
But it will eventually — it will eventually hit everywhere. And it’s going to come faster than you think.