Google’s Self-Driving Car: A New Era in Transportation



  • Google has ordered 100 prototypes of a driverless vehicle with no steering wheel or gas pedal, just an emergency stop button
  • The company plans to offer the cars as an on-demand service rather than selling them directly to consumers
  • If the vehicles catch on, car dealers, manufacturers, and the gasoline industry might take a hit — but taxpayers could benefit from reduced spending on public transit and traffic enforcement

In case you missed it, Google has unveiled the prototypes for its self-driving car. The company has been testing self-driving concept cars on the streets of Mountain View for four years, and now it has ordered 100 prototypes of an entirely self-driving vehicle — no steering wheel, no gas pedal, just an emergency stop button. 

The real news here is that this is not just another new car — this is a new transportation system that could turn much of the transportation world on its head. In the Google concept, you don't need to buy a car, just a service. Using your mobile device, you inform the service of your need for a vehicle and where you want to go. The car shows up, you get in, and it drives you on the fastest route directly to your destination. When you arrive you get out of the car and it goes on to service another customer. When you are ready to return, or go somewhere else, repeat the process. This is real mass transit.

The older cities in this country, those that grew up in the 1800s, were developed around the mass transit approach of that time, trains and buses having been running since the early part of the century. Since these cities grew up with that infrastructure in mind, it works reasonably well. 

But for the newer cities, those that prospered in the 1900s, the car was the transportation mode of choice. Why? Trains basically take you from where you are not (at the station) to where you don’t want to go (another station). Not a very efficient use of your time. Buses typically are more local, but they run around most of the day nearly empty, blocking up the streets. Thus, mass transit has become, in many cases, the transportation of the lower socioeconomic groups. 

The Google approach actually takes you from where you are to where you want to go, in appropriately sized vehicles that are not adding to the city’s traffic or pollution problems when they are not in use. This is an ideal solution to one of our greatest issues, and the economic effects of this approach will be significant. There are several pros and cons to consider as this new era of transportation approaches. 

On the negative side: 

  • Car dealers would have more than Tesla to worry about. 
  • Car manufacturers would sell fewer cars, as Google’s service will buy closer to the number of vehicles it actually needs, whereas now at least 50 percent of the fleet is parked at any point in time. 
  • Google’s cars will most likely be electric, so the gasoline industry could suffer if the driverless vehicles go mainstream. 
  • Auto insurance companies would not have as many vehicles to insure.
  • Lawyers might not have as many lawsuits to settle over auto accidents (assuming there are fewer wrecks and injuries).

On the positive side: 

  • Bars, restaurants, and the entertainment industry would do better — you don’t need a designated driver for a car that drives itself. 
  • Companies that drive and embrace the change would prosper.
  • Massive amounts of money being spent on new trains and other old-style mass transit projects could be saved.
  • Huge numbers of police officers could be transferred from ticket writing to crime prevention.

All in all, this is an amazing move that is clear in its benefits and full of promise for Google and for everyone.





The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily The University of Texas at Austin.

About The Author

John Highbarger

Lecturer, Department of Marketing at the McCombs School of Business

John Highbarger joined the faculty of the Marketing Department in 2003, after retiring as Global Managing Partner in the Strategy Practice of...

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