In my future world patterned as a dystopia of Western society, I want cars, more or less as we have them today (four wheels, metal crush cage with weathertight windows fully enclosing passengers, driver required at least for some of the trip, some sort of mechanical powerplant whether ICE, fully electric or hybrid). The number of cars will be minimal for a number of reasons, but I don't want one of those reasons to be that technology is moving human transportation beyond that point, especially for the super-rich; that makes my use of a car anachronistic.

About how much longer, in your estimation, will passenger cars exist in a form that a 2015 human would recognize as such? Obviously styles will change on a cycle of 5-7 years, and DARPA and other government agencies and NGOs have been directing manufacturer efforts on self-driving cars, but even many of these guys say a fully self-driving car is still decades away, primarily because a driver needs to be there for all the edge cases that confound the computer (bad weather, construction detours, unimproved roads, etc).

Even if the car is semi-autonomous, able to follow a route on freeways but requiring a human driver to negotiate driveways and parking, four wheels on the ground, a steering wheel in the driver's hands and a mechanical engine to power it all has been a staple of the machine since its invention, with a sturdy metal shell to protect driver and passengers since about the '30s; how much longer can we expect to have these elements in an individual passenger transport?

  • $\begingroup$ Freeways but not driveways is extremely unlikely. The current automated cars can already handle driveways and parking. For liability reasons, we don't allow them on public roads without a backup driver. $\endgroup$
    – Brythan
    Oct 27, 2015 at 1:26
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    $\begingroup$ Just a hint: one of the major concerns with self-driving cars is not technology, but the law: if a self-driving car hurts someone or damages something, who is responsible? This appears to be the biggest hindrance so far. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Oct 27, 2015 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ Your definition of "car" seems to include Ancient Egyptian chariots. If cars have been around for millennia, will they disappear soon? $\endgroup$
    – abcde
    Oct 27, 2015 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ I work in software quality assurance. It's my job to think about all the ways in which bugs can happen - and so I'd trust a self-driving car about as far as I can throw it. Even if you think of the human mind as software, it's software that's had several kajillion more years field testing than any robot car will have. Anyway, it will take us a long time to get most of the bugs ironed out, and self-driving cars won't be universal until they are. $\endgroup$
    – user867
    Nov 10, 2015 at 4:38
  • $\begingroup$ @user867 - I'm also in software development, and I tend to agree, there's a lot of edge cases that self-driving cars don't handle well. I think, however, that once self-driving technology reaches a critical mass of adoption, many of the problems will go away because a self-driver will act the way another self-driver would expect it to, so the instances of collisions due to another driver's erratic actions will drop as the percentage of manually-driven cars do. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Nov 10, 2015 at 15:45

3 Answers 3


Car guy here. It's not an easy question to answer, but I'll put in my two cents. Look up a Ted talk about self driving cars and I think you'll see just how much a computer can handle better than a human. My friend is a pilot and he told me a pilot can essentially taxi onto the runway and get out. So I think the whole self driving thing is definitely in our future. However, look how many '57 Chevys and even model T's are still on the road today. I think what we'll see are many decades of trying to reconcile the old with the new. I speculate that it will start with super highways where the cars drive themselves followed by a slow expansion to other roads from heavily trafficked where it advantageous to the most, to smaller roads which may never become automated.

I believe tires are here to stay. Unless you can come up with really powerful, long lasting energy sources where the energy can essentially be wasted, it doesn't make much sense not to let a car rest on it's wheels. Plus cars that don't like the land speeders in Star Wars are just a different kind of car. Notice how the Jawas giant crawler vehicle had tracks and didn't hover. Same thing goes with the flying car of Bladerunner. Cars with wheels still existed.

I think the sturdy compartment will stay as well, due to the need for humans to be protected from the elements. You might look at some pictures of concept cars to get an idea of how the shape of that cabin might change.

I think for a futuristic story, the powerplant could be ignored as far as appearance goes. It could just live under the hood as always. If you need some way for it to function, then realistically, things don't change too fast. We have electric vehicles and hybrids that are common now, but did you know some of the first cars on the road were electric vehicles. As it turns out ladies didn't like the idea of breaking their wrists cranking old engines into life. They loved the convenience of a starter button. The electric starter and cheap gasoline which was a waste material, spelled its demise. . . until now.

So I guess it depends on how far in the future you want to go. I'd say you have many decades even a couple hundred years before the forms of power we have now completely disappear. I hope this helps.

  • $\begingroup$ Form follows function. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Oct 27, 2015 at 7:14

As others have said, many aspects of current vehicle design are likely to survive for a long time. Wheels and hardened crash cages would appear to be permanent parts of our transportation future. But other features that you've mentioned, such as steering wheels, driver autonomy and self-contained power supplies may not survive the test of time. And in your case, that might be a good thing.

You mentioned that you are writing a dystopia, a story which highlights the darker aspects of the future which might be approaching. What better metaphor for that dark future, than the enslavement and subjugation of one of the greatest symbols of Western Freedom, the automobile. Have your 2015 human enter a future vehicle and find that it has no steering wheel. He has to ask the Traffic Control Center for permission to go to his desired location. Later, have your character attempt to re-establish his freedomeby wiring a joystick into his assigned vehicle. In response, have the Traffic Control Center stop sending power to his vehicle's engine.

The pursuit of freedom, stymied at every turn.

  • $\begingroup$ In my case, what I need in general is a form of autonomous personal transportation that conspicuously points to wealth and status. Beyond that, the vehicle is simply a setting in which a scene will occur between two characters, and the specifics of that scene require the kind of visual and audible privacy a car gives you for free. I chose a limo, but the narration points to this being a relatively recently-manufactured vehicle, not any sort of antique or curio. Hence the question; how far in the future would you expect the rich and famous to be driven around town in a stretch limo? $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Nov 10, 2015 at 19:15

Given that it's been about 130 years since the first automobiles arrived, and the modern car would still be recognisable as a car to drivers from once they came into mass production, I think we're likely to still be seeing recognisable car concepts for at least another 100 years, although goodness knows what they'll look like, and what technologies we won't have predicted. Different styling, and featuresets and technologies that don't currently exist, but still cars.

Even the flying Spinners in Bladerunner were still cognitively cars, and they didn't even drive on the road.

  • $\begingroup$ Plus, arguably a car is not very different from a carriage, only the energy source isn't an animal. $\endgroup$
    – Jason Bray
    Nov 11, 2015 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JasonBray that leads us down a somewhat slippery slope as to what consitutes a car. Cars don't get tired or produce waste in the same way a horse-drawn carriage might, and are also capable of much greater speeds and distances. Cars are also arguably much more controllable(try scaring a car - it won't bolt). I would argue that a line has to be drawn somewhere and a car as we know it requires some sort of mechanical power plant. $\endgroup$
    – ktyldev
    Sep 27, 2016 at 12:28

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