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Well, I guess we now know why General Motors is so hyped on autonomous driving: It’s the Christmas spirit. And by Christmas spirit, I mean the rampant, never-ending, addicted-to-Kijjijji consumerism that is, Catholic popeism and Protestant rejectionism notwithstanding, our most fervent religion.

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What the hell am I going on about, you ask?

General Motors has just announced a new platform called Marketplace, which, says the automaker, will allow drivers to buy food, find gas and make reservations for parking spots, restaurants and hotels, among other services.

OK, but what does that have to do with self-driving cars?

Well, so far, the once and future autonomous automobile has been peddled exclusively as a safety feature, their promise of zero-fatality motoring trumpeted as a striking counterpoint to the more than 2,000 Canadians — and some 34,000 Americans — who die each year as a result of human frailty behind the wheel. Everyone from governmental agencies to consumer advocates have thrown their support behind roboticizing the transportation experience, again, all trumpeting a fatality-free future of autonomous automobiling.

That’s the sales pitch, at least. Much less talked about is the prediction, by no less than Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, that future connected cars could transmit as much as 4,000 gigabytes of data — equal to about a 2,000 HD movies — to the cloud every day. And you don’t need to be a computer guru to know that, in today’s economy, data is power. “Data is the currency of the digital age,” Jim Barbaresso, national practice leader for intelligent transportation systems at HTNB Corporation, “and vehicle data the beginning of a modern day gold rush.”

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How much money are we talking about here?

Well, according to a McKinsey report — Car Data; paving the way to value-creating mobility — all that data may be worth more than US $1.5 trillion by 2030, roughly equal to the gross global sales of the top ten automakers combined, all at a much higher profit margin, of course, than selling boring old automotive “hardware.” Indeed, Tasha Keeney, an analyst at ARK Invest, is even more optimistic, telling CNN that the autonomous taxi market could be worth as much as $10 trillion by 2030.

How will they make all this money?

Well, to start with, they’ll sell the obvious, automotive-related products and services. Parking spaces will be computerized and your car will automatically be able to find you an open space in that crowded mall parking lot. The closer you are to the mall entrance, the more you’ll pay for the service. And, since they know which mall you are in, all its stores can send you pricing alerts detailing all the screaming deals contained within.

And as the sharing economy grows, the potential for advertising only increases. According to that same McKinsey study, the car — more specifically the “shared” autonomous car that is promised as the future of mobility — will become mere loss leader, with advertisers, social media platforms and retailers all offering complementary “mobility miles” in exchange for watching “hyper-targeted commercials” or signing up for a loyalty program.

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So how long will it be until we are bombarded with ads?

Well, for now, Marketplace — available in select 2017 Chevrolet, Buick Cadillac and GMC models — is limited to participating businesses, which, for now, include Dunkin’ Donuts, IHOP, TGI Fridays, Priceline, Shell, and ExxonMobil with Starbucks to join in 2018. And, again, for now, GM promises a minimum of distraction, mainly because Super Cruise — GM’s semi-autonomous hands-free driving system — is still in its infancy and is still not ready for full, Level V autonomy.

But my, oh my, will they ever be able to target you specifically. Indeed, the demographic segmentation The General will be able to offer its clients will make Facebook jealous. Not only will they know what car you drive — Cadillac owners get screens with the full Hugo Boss treatment; sorry Chevy Spark owners, you’re being directed to the dollar store. But they’ll also have your payment history right at their fingertips. Did you pay cash? Well it’s Moet & Chandon for you. On one of those negative-equity, your-owe-more-than-your-Malibu’s-trade-in-value eight-year loans? You’re going to get so many digitized Kentucky Fried coupons you’ll be lucky to survive those 96 months without major cardiac infarction.

Uhm, how do I buy an automotive PVR?

Whatever your tax bracket, you can bet that as soon as all these roboticized drivers are fully operational, the inside of your self-driving car is going to light up with enough “C’mon downs” to make you remember the days of back-to-back TV commercials with fondness. Indeed, do you remember how much you hated TV commercials? How the greatest boon to the PVR was that you could skip through the commercials?

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Well, guess what, your car is about to become a non-stop, 24-hour mobile Shopping Channel. And, if you think late-night Ebaying is the definition of compulsive buying, wait till you’re stuck in traffic 45 minutes from the office, not even the necessity of hitting brake or gas to distract your ADHDed, shop-a-holic mesial prefrontal cortex — the part of your brain that gets all hot and bothered by promises of a huge discount — from the constant messaging “from our sponsor.”

Of course, it’s impossible to know if this was the plan all along, the whole safety advocacy just quaint subterfuge or, if this is the automakers, as they so often do, finding a profit centre in something — safety measures — they long derided as unnecessary and difficult to design. Whatever the case, with Cadillac et al in the lead, it looks like the one place we could seek refuge from rampant mercantilism is about to fall prey to the digital marketplace. GM’s vice-president for global Connected Customer Experience, Santiago Chamorro, probably summed it up — inadvertently, I am assuming — best when he said “For most retailers and consumer brands, the daily commute is the only time not accessible in a consumers’ day.”

I guess that’s about to end.

David@davebooth.ca

@MotorMouthNP

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