The Chauffeur Of the Future

Posted on November 14, 2014 by

The LA Auto Show is having a special Connected Car Expo next Tuesday through Thursday, and one thing I’m interested in learning more about is the latest driverless or autonomous technology to be discussed.

Talk of driverless cars is presently treated like science fiction I think among limo industry professionals, and it’s true that the technology has a long way to go. This article from MIT’s Technology Review does a pretty good job addressing the serious challenges developers face in bringing safe and functional autonomous driving to the masses. Experts differ on when this technology will be feasibly ready for market, with some saying it will take 50 years, and others predicting only five years or so.

But it’s worth noting that in May of this year Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick openly expressed his desire to transition the company to a driverless fleet as soon as the technology is available. And Google, Tesla, BMW, Audi, and more are investing in driverless capabilities.

The commoditization of transportation is a threat to limo services, because as so many operators will say, at the end of the day, it’s a people business. Anyone can have a nice car and be on time, but the small differences in customer service, and being there at the terminal to assist with luggage, are what sets limo services apart from taxis and now TNCs.

Chauffeurs are a significant operating cost. They’re training and professionalism carry the brand of the company on each trip, and as such inefficient or dangerous driving behavior is a big liability. These costs would be reduced dramatically with a self-driving vehicle, but for an up-scale transportation company to differentiate, they will still need a human body to assist the travelers.

At least until there are robots to help with that.

Happy Friday everyone.

— Tim Crowley, LCT senior editor

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