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Drive Culture Flying cars, self-driving cars, 3D-printed cars … where is it all headed?

U.S. grocer Kroger is adding an unmanned vehicle, the Nuro R1, to its fleet of self-driving delivery vehicles.

Andrew Brown/The Associated Press

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What’s the future of smart cities, mobility and transportation? What’s the solution to reducing congestion on the road and pollution in the world? Is it ride-sharing? Autonomous driving? Flying cars? 3-D-printed cars?

“The only constant in the world is change,” said Rob Jernigan, regional managing principal at Gensler, who spoke at a Nissan Future conference about disruptive changes in the auto industry.

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Most people agree autonomous vehicles will have the most profound impact on our future. But it may take longer than expected to see its effects.

“I don’t think they’re going to completely transform our cities in the next five, 10 years. It will take time,” said Jaana Remes, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute. “We have looked at the technologies of the past and typically it takes between eight and 30 years for them to actually go through the disruptive cycle.”

Besides autonomous cars, flying vehicles will also play a part in mobility and future transportation. The Terrafugia Transition flying car, for example, is expected to go sale in the United States next year for US$400,000. It can turn into a plane in less than 60 seconds and fly 160 km/h with a range of about 645 km.

“We’re not going to see them in the heavy, dense, single-person traffic, going every-which way," Remes said. "We will probably see them emerge first in some real bottlenecks. For instance, across the Bay in San Francisco, or from the Niagara area to Toronto, Montreal’s South Shore to the city.

“There are going to be hub bases and that’s where you’re going to have the flying cars – autonomous or non-autonomous,” Remes said. "Everything will be different in different cities. It will be different in New York than it is in Los Angeles simply because the cities are so different.”

A flying car made by AeroMobil was displayed at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai in November.

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Will we still own cars in the future? Yes, experts say. But we may not have multiple cars parked in the driveway and the role of the vehicle will likely change, too, according to Rachel Nguyen, executive director at Nissan Future Lab.

“A vehicle will serve different purposes than it does today, which is mainly developed for the individual," she said. "Now, it’s got to work to meet the needs of a city and a number of people riding in it at the same time.”

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But how do you motivate people who don’t car-pool or ride-share to start? It’s about behavioural change and it can be done simply through pricing, Jernigan said.

“One of the big shifts is recognizing the cost of parking vs. the cost of ride-sharing," Jernigan said. "If it’s cheaper to ride-share than it is to park all of a sudden that whole paradigm of ‘I’m going to drive because it’s easier and cheaper,’ now all of a sudden, it’s not.

“The other day, I pulled out of a parking garage and the ticket said $35! Oh my gosh! Why did I drive? That was a signal for me. I should have changed my behaviour.”

3D-printed cars, like Local Motors' Strati, could play a role in the future of the automotive industry.

Jerry Ferguson/Local Motors

Even 3-D-printed cars such as the Strati, built by Local Motors, might play a bigger role in the future, according to bestselling author Steven Kotler.

“If you want to build a car today it takes about $3-billion," he said. "The car shows up and it’s got 25,000-50,000 moving parts. It takes about 1,000 man-hours to assemble and you need about a million square feet of factory space to do it. When Local Motors wants to build a new car, it costs about $3-million. It shows up with 25-50 parts that can be snapped tougher by four people working collectively in about an hour and you can build it on a small stage.”

Whether 3-D-printed cars, autonomous vehicles or ride-sharing, there are concerns with disruption.

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“Those choices won’t be equally disrupted," Remes said. "We need to worry about that. Is the technology going to work for everyone? We have seen inequality increase. The benefits of technology need to be reached by everyone.”

In the wild ride of disruption, there will be bright spots and dark spots “but the technologies that are coming do have the power to create new opportunity,” Nguyen said. "It has to be cleaner, electric, shared, and the innovative people who will win will do it in a way that obviously adapts to what people are looking for.

"The consumer will rule. They will make the choices and we will respond to why they chose one over the other.”

Buckle your seat belts.

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