The most interesting thing about cars that drive themselves is that they have the potential to change the ownership model of a vehicle. A fully autonomous vehicle opens the door for Mobility as a Service or “MaaS transit” as I like to call it. If a car can get you door to door without intervention why would you ever leave it parked and un-utilized?
So the question becomes – what high value services could autonomous cars provide that we haven’t thought of? In this post I would like to examine the idea of a “sleeper car”. Imagine that most of the interior of this car is taken up by a bed. Without the need for a steering wheel or driver visibility there is much more design flexibility. With a skateboard PHEV chasis there can be a large amount of interior space as well. Assuming that the autonomous car is safer there is not a need for seat-belts, or we can imagine some demolition man style safety device.
Why is the idea of a sleeper car so appealing? Imagine that you can literally get into bed from your point of origin, and wake up at your destination. There are no other people, no security lines, no stop and go traffic. How much would you pay for something like this? A 500 mile trip from Boston to DC might take 8-10 hours, but you could complete remove the hassle of the flight. Assuming what would otherwise be a $150 flight (another $50 in cab fare), and $200 for a hotel – it might be possible to charge $500 for such a service. $1 per mile would actually be cheaper than a cab at that rate.
A service like this would be more likely to take off in an area that did not have good airport connectivity, and perhaps where the roads are easier to navigate than the east coast. The operator might not be a cab company, but rather a hotel chain that already has the staff for changing sheets and providing a shower at your destination.
The numbers don’t quite work out yet. If we assume $1/mile and lifetime for the vehicle of 300,000 miles – it’s really not that much money. Even making plenty of other assumptions like high fuel economy, and low cost of the vehicle – this is not so compelling of a return. If the car made 6 trips a week of 500 miles each it would reach the end of it’s service life in just 2 years.
Ok – so maybe I won’t get my sleeper car just yet, but we should think creatively about what happens to a car when you take out the driver.