What will driving be like in 2030? Experts offer a few clues

2020 cars will look like relics, according to one longtime industry watcher.

Your car, unfortunately, will not fly a la "The Jetsons" in the next decade.

It will, however, likely be a crossover SUV that still requires a human driver. That Uber or Lyft ride? Expect an autonomous vehicle to pick you up in certain cities. Keys, like manual transmissions, will fade into oblivion. Gasoline refineries will still be in business but charging stations for electric vehicles will become more prevalent, experts say.

The next 10 years for the automobile could look very similar to the decade we're about to close out -- or radically different, depending on tech innovations, government regulations and new players in the highly competitive industry.

Here's what some longtime experts are predicting for drivers and automakers alike.

Mobility

Cellphones are expected to supplant the key fob and be able to remotely start a vehicle, lock it and locate its parked location, similar to what can be found now in Lincolns and Hyundais. This technology will go from niche to ubiquitous, according to Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Cox Automotive.

"The industry is on the cusp of incredibly exciting things," he said. "Drivers will have the ability to connect to the car even when they're not near it. The car will be a rolling piece of information."

Electrification

Electric vehicles will still face challenges in the market but they’ll become more common on the road than they are now.

"They won't be the majority of vehicles sold in the U.S. in 10 years," said Brauer. "Electric vehicles do not make sense in a lot of areas. But we will see viable options for driving a longer distance in these cars."

Brandon Mason, director and U.S. mobility leader at PwC, expects mass adoption of electric vehicles will take place before driverless cars go mainstream. Pure EVs account for 1% of the U.S. market now. That number could rise to 10% in the next decade, he said.

"Automakers are making big bets on EVs," he explained. "There's a significant amount of capital in EVs now. But we won't see an inflection point until the middle of the next decade. Battery packs are still cost-prohibitive."

China and Europe will continue to lead the way in electrification from a regulatory standpoint, according to Mark Wakefield, automotive analyst and managing director at Alix Partners.

Like Mason, Wakefield forecasts EVs to account for 10% of the U.S. auto market by 2030.

"No one is doubting this is the future, but the question is how long" before EVs are widespread, he said.

Hybrids will no longer be "special" but rather the status quo in the coming decade, said Eric Tingwall, print director at Car and Driver magazine.

"Some form of electric propulsion will be in all new vehicles sold," he noted, adding that EVs could make up an even bigger portion of the market -- 20% -- by the end of 2030.

Autonomous vehicles

Self-driving cars could replace taxis and ride-sharing vehicles in urban cities, Brauer said.

Like electric vehicles, high costs are another hurdle for automakers to overcome with autonomous vehicles, Mason pointed out. Vehicles with level four and five autonomy will arrive by 2030 at the earliest, he said.

"There's several hundred thousand dollars of technology in each of these vehicles," he said. "I don't see private ownership of self-driving cars happening for the foreseeable future."

Steering wheels and pedals are not going away in the next decade and young people will still be required to pass driving tests, according to Tingwall. But autonomous systems will be more "capable and confident," he said.

"Change is happening very quickly in the auto industry," he said. The timelines for a lot of this technology, however, are "ambitious," he added.

Newer systems will allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road -- but only in certain conditions, like highway driving, he said.

"There will be some type of advanced cruise control," he said. "You can watch YouTube videos and check social media."

Wakefield said he cannot wait for the day when cars will be able to drive themselves to dealers for maintenance or be summoned by owners in a parking lot.

"A car in 2030 will be able to do so many more things for you," he said. "2020 cars will look like relics."

A shrinking industry?

Brauer anticipates smaller, independent marques will be acquired by industry giants. China will likely continue its buying streak, adding to its portfolio of brands.

"Could China own General Motors in 10 years? It's not out of the question," he said.

Consolidation in the automotive market could accelerate, Mason agreed. But the impact on drivers may be modest.

"If the number of nameplates is reduced, it's not necessarily a bad thing for consumers," he said. "There will still be plenty of options for consumers."

He added, "I see a lot of disruption in the industry over the next decade."

Sales slowdown

Tingwall expects new car sales to dip as transaction prices rise.

"Anybody looking for an affordable vehicle will be in a crossover," he said. "We'll see a middle class that doesn't have the purchasing power to buy a new car. The market will shrink for new vehicles."

Subscription services will also gain in popularity as fewer new cars are purchased.

"They'll be like a lease, but for a shorter term," he explained.

Automakers, in an effort to cut costs, will team up to share vehicle platforms and powertrains, partnerships that exist currently between Ford and Volkswagen and Ford and Rivian, Tingwall said. Third parties in Asia will build these platforms, homogenizing the parts under the car's hood. But not all automakers may survive the next decade.

"If there is an economic downturn, the industry will be squeezed," he said. "We will certainly lose a few niche, high-end automakers."

Wakefield forecasts auto sales to stay strong in the coming years, but a downturn in the market "will come."

The market "is cyclical," he explained, noting that sales could drop to 15 million annual units from the recent trend of 17 million units.

"We won't stay at 15 million for years. It will recover," he said.

Crossovers will be the vehicle du jour for drivers in the next decade, further cementing the demise of the sedan.

"CUVs will be dominant and what everyone will be driving," Wakefield said.