Sometime back in the last millennium when I was studying German at UC Berkeley, I took a bus ride with my wunderbare German professor to her house way down College Avenue. She said a simple sentence to me during that ride that drove home as much of a lesson in verb conjugation as a message of sustainability:

“Wozu bräuchte ich ein Auto?”  Why would I need a car?

In a way, SAP sustainability leaders Peter Graf and Gil Perez point out in their recent Huffington Post article — What’s Technology Got To Do With the Peak Car Puzzle? — just how ahead of her time my professor was:  “Young people are waiting longer to get their licenses and buying fewer cars than prior generations due to a decreased interest in driving, in part due to the allure of technology and devices,” they write, pointing out that digital Millennials would sooner do without a car than their smartphones.

Is this a death knell for automotive manufacturers? On the contrary, to read it as described in the article, cars may be the hottest industry for disruptive technology of this yet young millennium. Not only are hybrids, electric vehicles, and even conventional cars gaining in mileage capability and futuristic self-driving cars almost within consumer reach, but software technology is being developed and applied as we speak towards alleviating congestion, finding parking and local merchant offers, setting up your next EV charge spot, rapidly burgeoning car sharing, and more.

It’s almost as if the car is becoming more than “just a car:”

“With the cloud, mobile and big data-enabling technologies embedded in cars, they are beginning to act as a different category of mobile devices unto themselves. And what’s more, these cars are hooked into all the services a driver might need, from pre-paid parking to discounts on your morning coffee-to-go,” Graf and Perez point out, continuing: “This fits into a greater vision, one where an interconnected world operates more intelligently. It’s a future where mobile devices seamlessly trade information with the cloud, and where powerful analytics analyze these streams to respond to users with ever-more-useful guidance just in the nick of time.”

Time to “think outside the car” about the cars of the future.  We haven’t even begun to discover what these giant, energy efficient, connected and automatic ultimate mobile devices will be capable of in the future. “Wozu?” becomes “Where to next?”

Check out Graf and Perez’ article today and stay tuned for big changes in the way we think of and use cars.

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