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Ride sharing, autonomous vehicles - How future car ownership will change

Car sharing is a widely expected phenomenon of the near future. But like much of Industry 4.0 (or the Fourth Industrial Revolution) it is, for the moment, more a buzzword than reality.

Most people who share cars through Uber or Taxify in reality only do so for temporary convenience – and still own a car.

The major instance where Uber is widely used – and replaces car ownership – is in dense urban areas, where car ownership has in any case always been rare, says Jakkie Olivier, CEO of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI).

Nonetheless, car sharing is an evolving trend that poses challenges for market players such as big dealers and automotive manufacturers - do they invent new products to address it, or allow start-up tech companies to disrupt to their traditional model?

Olivier said: "Shared mobility is an attractive notion as a solution to rapid urbanisation – and it has found its ideal not in shared cars but in mass public transportation systems. There are challenges with car sharing – such as financing it, insuring it and servicing it – the costs of which ensure that as soon as one gets to over 3220km travelled a year, it makes financial sense to own your own car."

Ownership issues aside, we stand at the brink of the age of autonomous vehicles (AVs), and most attention has been riveted on the societal and behavioural changes they will bring about, rather than the more mundane aspects of who will own and care for the millions of AVs that will presumably be idling, awaiting summons via a smartphone app.

One of the big questions is whether the shared car ownership model will follow that of a mass transportation system in which you simply jump on and off like a bus or train – or the Facebook model in which the device ends up controlling you rather than the other way round. There is the question of whether people, many of whom don’t so much as like to drive automatic cars, will take to autonomous cars in which they are simply passengers.

"Whether this will be a glorious future remains to be seen. We are already seeing a backlash against monopolistic companies like Google and Facebook regarding privacy issues – how much more so will this be in the case of AVs. An AV will essentially be a large computer, a valuable asset that will be owned by somebody. Most likely, car ownership will lie with fleet operators rather than individuals. You’ll call for an AV via a smartphone app – it will arrive at your location, you’ll get in and enter your destination, and you’ll head for the freeway, and pay digitally via the same app. Riders never have to think about maintenance, never have to worry about refuelling, finding parking, cleaning, or buying car insurance or monthly car repayments," says Olivier.

However, some company somewhere will have the responsibility for all those bills – and vehicle ownership. Olivier reckons this may be an opportuni