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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 April 2019

You don’t want to own a car any more – you just don’t know it yet

Having your own vehicle, parked outside your house, is increasingly out of step with the realities of modern, urban life

Future generations will consider the idea of personal vehicles as archaic as the pony and trap
Future generations will consider the idea of personal vehicles as archaic as the pony and trap

We are living in an increasingly networked, digital world, and vehicle ownership is less compatible than ever before with our modern urban lives.

Consider the strain that human beings are placing on the environment and the efforts many of us are making to live more sustainable lives. The conflict presented by having a vehicle, dedicated to our sole use, parked outside our homes quickly becomes unavoidable.

Car ownership sucks away our cash and hugely compromises any efforts we may be making towards reducing our carbon footprint.

Ride-hailing apps and future innovations in mass transit, such as the much-talked-about Hyperloop, are already beginning to disrupt the idea of car ownership. And now this new paradigm is accelerating in the Middle East.

Nowadays, the global automotive industry’s business model appears to be more about sustaining itself than giving consumers what they really need. This is not unnatural when billions of dollars of revenue and millions of jobs are on the line, but we need to start looking at how we get around in new and innovative ways.

Just think of how much time it would save you never to have to worry about your car ever again.

To future generations, vehicle ownership will seem as archaic as a pony and trap does to us today

The act of going to a dealership to purchase a new vehicle or the rigmarole of buying second-hand can take up days of your life that you’ll never get back. It’s also totally unnecessary – now that we can buy almost anything with a few clicks of a mouse, you’d think that the bulk of this process would have been moved online by car retailers. Unfortunately, it hasn’t.

Online second-hand-car platforms are doing their best to improve this experience, but the banks that finance purchases and the authorities that register them still require a great deal of personal interaction.

Once you get through all of that and finally own a car, getting it serviced usually requires driving it to a garage, where it sits for a day or so before it is worked on. Even the journey to there can be seen a source of unnecessary carbon emissions – then again, driving around in an old banger that belches black smoke into the air is hardly ethical, either. Basically, the whole business is a moral minefield.

Fortunately, the future of transport is only just around the corner. Drone taxis, which are set to take off in Dubai soon, automated cars and fleets of electric buses will all allow us to break free from the shackles of car ownership.

For a century, car manufacturers have convinced us of the prestige of owning our own vehicles. However, rapid urbanisation and 5G connectivity will present a much more persuasive reality.

Ride hailing has been around for less than a decade, but the concept of car-pooling has existed for much longer. It’s a durable idea and makes sense. Once such programmes are cheaply and freely available to enough people, there will be no need to own a car.

Of course, isolated rural areas that lack infrastructure and are poorly served by public transport will continue to rely on cars for a good while yet. The industry is also pinning its hopes on newly emerging customer bases, in rapidly developing economies such as India, but the truth is that demand may never materialise.

For centuries, large areas of the globe were dependent on horses to transport people and goods. All anyone wanted was faster, bigger and better animals, and larger stables. Then steam trains came along and, not long after that, the automobile.

A few decades from now, cars could well go the same way as the horse – a nice way for enthusiasts to get around in their free time, but not something you’d ever dream of taking to the office every day.

The more mass-transit options become available, the more the idea of owning a car will seem like an enormous hassle. They will become the preserve of collectors and hobbyists, driven by aesthetics and nostalgia for the bygone age of the internal combustion engine.

Once the facts are argued, all that will be left is an emotional attachment – the rite of passage that is taking your driving test, followed by the sense of independence and pride of owning your own vehicle. To future generations, that will seem as archaic as a pony and trap does to us today.

Mustafa Alrawi is an assistant editor-in-chief at The National

Updated: March 27, 2019 04:14 PM

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