"I've used a quote from Bill Ford very often the past year, because I find it so apt. 'The way people and things move around will change significantly the next few years, and that change will be as dramatic as the switch from horses to automobiles'."
Jan Hellåker, Programme Director at Drive Sweden, a national mobility programme, has a better grasp than most Swedes of a trend that first gained momentum 20 years ago. In 1999 he was involved in founding Gothenburg-based Wireless Car, a company that realised early on the opportunities offered by connecting vehicles to the internet.
The telecom and automotive spheres had in fact already begun merging at the beginning of the 1990s. Jan was involved back then as well, helping bring connectivity to Volvo trucks via text messages.
This trend is now one of the Gothenburg region's true competitive advantages. Much of this is centred on Lindholmen Science Park, where the Drive Sweden programme is also located.
"It's great that so many of us are sitting within a few hundred metres of each other. In this building alone there are hundreds of people moving the entire Volvo Group's telematics development forwards. When we eat lunch together with people from Ericsson and CEVT… ideas can spring to mind over lunch simply because you happen to sit next to the right person."
Is there anything like this elsewhere in the world?
"Not with this concentration. If you go to Detroit, all the different actors are there, but they're not gathered together in the same way."
At Lindholmen in Gothenburg, for example, Volvo Cars and Autoliv are establishing their major engineering venture Zenuity to develop software for self-driving cars. This compact piece of Swedish real estate is a global centre for the extremely major transition currently under way throughout the automotive industry. Here in Lindholmen and in California's Silicon Valley is where it's all happening.
"In Gothenburg, not everyone has understood just how highly we're ranked in the world. We're right up there with the very best," says Jan.
With his years of experience to fall back on, Jan also warns of the financial bubble he sees developing around the new technology.
"One indication that the hype has got out of hand is the valuations of companies within self-driving vehicles. It's gone beyond reason. I've seen this first hand before, when the IT bubble burst. I think it will be set right; things have just moved a little too quickly."
So it's not the technology shift itself that's been exaggerated?
"No, I don't think so, but we need to consider things in the longer term. How much automation can we actually achieve? It will take a very long time to reach level 5."
That's when you could sit in a car without windows and be transported in an urban environment?
"Yes, in principle, with no pedals or anything, it can find any destination in the world, at any time and in any weather conditions. That will take time."
"I have a good friend, one of the world's foremost researchers at Berkeley, California. If he's having a good day, he says 2075, if he's not having such a good day, he says 2085. That's a long way off, but a lot will happen at the lower automation levels, and even at the higher levels, but within limited scenarios."
What sets the limits?
"If there's a harsh, heavy snowstorm, conditions aren't optimal for a self-driving car to cope on its own."
"Many people believe that the cars use their GPS units to navigate, but in actual fact there are a great many sensors on the cars that register fixed known objects in the surroundings. If there's a large snowdrift covering an otherwise visible telephone pole whose location the cars know to the nearest millimetre, we lose some of that accuracy."
"The entire infrastructure changes if half a metre of snow falls. And if it's ploughed to the roadside, this just makes matters worse."