Marc Winterhoff sees the great auto shake out coming over the next 15-20 years. That’s when self-driving, or autonomous drive, vehicles will take off, according to the head of the automotive practice for the business strategy firm Roland Berger.
“When we start to see critical mass with autonomous drive vehicles, there will be clear winners and losers in the auto industry,” said Winterhoff. “The losers will include the mass market auto brands.”
In a new study looking at the future of mobility and how we’ll transport ourselves in the future, Winterhoff sees a surge in demand for vehicles that offer a premium experience, like Mercedes-Benz or BMW.
He also expects tech firms like Google and Apple to be big winners because they can offer vehicles or branded models where we can take our “connected lives” into our cars in ways we may not be able to imagine right now.
“Autonomous drive vehicles will mean many families will need fewer cars and if you only have one car instead of two, you will likely make it a premium brand,” he said.
Winterhoff is careful to point out Chevy, Honda or Volkswagen could ultimately survive the transition to self-driven cars, but he truly believes we will see fewer mass market brands.
“If you don’t have something special or unique to make your autonomous drive car stand out, buyers will move towards the higher end models,” he believes.
Shared Mobility Coming
Winterhoff estimates the ramp up in autonomous drive models will lead to an increase in shared mobility, allowing many people to use cars without owning them.
That trend will be both good news and bad news for automakers.
The good news is that annual vehicle sales are expected to increase by 750,000 annually as more people have a chance to gain mobility.
The bad news is many families will need fewer vehicles and consumers may opt to not own a vehicle, hitting the mass market brands hardest.
“This is the reason every automaker is being so aggressive developing autonomous drive vehicles,” said Winterhoff. “They all know the train will soon leave the station, and they want to be on it, because if they aren’t, they won’t survive.”
By 2020, automakers like Nissan have said they expect to have fully autonomous drive vehicles.
While the technology behind these cars is coming along quickly, it remains to be seen when regulators approve self-driven cars.
By 2030, Winterhoff expects to see self-driven cars on the road with regularity.
But one thing he doesn’t expect to see are some of the brands we’ve known for decades.
“Self-driven cars will change the auto industry and not every brand will survive,” he said.
Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.