I was thinking about Back to the Future 2 the other day and thought ‘What is the actual advantage of having a hover-car?’ It could remove the need for roads, which would allow easier access to utilities lying under the roads, or more houses to be built, but we see roads are still used, just to a far more limited extent (in Hill Valley at least). Perhaps it could reduce road congestion, but no, that still exists!

I realised I couldn’t actually think of any reason provided in the film as to why this was such a great development, other than being ‘cool’. Is there any in-universe reason provided across the various BTTF sources as to why hover cars were so beneficial and, if so, what is this advantage?

  • In the film hover cars and ground cars exist side-by-side. You'd also still need roads for limited excursions and to facilitate off-plot parking. I'm also guessing that hover-tech allows you to travel much faster outside of city limits. – Valorum Apr 27 '15 at 5:40
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    Because hovercars are cool. – Valorum Apr 27 '15 at 5:40
  • Retro-tech is always cool. – Valorum Apr 27 '15 at 5:43
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    Conversely, here is a fairly beneficial advantage ground cars have over hover cars: When a ground car has a major malfunction it doesn't fall out of the sky. – Major Stackings Apr 27 '15 at 7:43
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    They're pothole proof. – Daft Apr 27 '15 at 10:30
up vote 7 down vote accepted

I'll leave it to Goldie Wilson III to give us the in-universe reason, the main selling point appears to be the ability of hovercars to avoid traffic jams:

EXT POV Billboard:

"Hi, friends, Goldie Wilson III here for Goldie Wilson Hover Conversion Systems. You know, when my grandpa was mayor of Hill Valley, he had to worry about traffic problems. But now, you don't have to worry about traffic! I'll hover-convert your old road car into a skyway flier for only $39,999.95."

enter image description here

Off the top of my head there also seem to be some other benefits

  • Reduced fossil fuels : The hovering tech appears to be powered by a compact fusion generator that can run on rubbish.

  • Multi-layer traffic : Even if there are traffic jams above and traffic jams below, that still doubles (or more) the capacity of travel routes

  • Speed of travel : When the Doc arrives in the future, the traffic moving the other way seems to be traveling at incredible speeds (200+ MPH) on the "skyways". Although this is possible for supercars and racers, these speeds are certainly well beyond those that could be accomplished in a standard family saloon.

  • Hover tech is relatively new (and hence cool) : Hovertech has only come about in Marty's lifetime. It's reasonable to assume that those we see in the skies are still under the impression that flying to work is exciting.

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    "No fossil fuels" is not really an argument here, since you could use that to power the normal motor(s) for the wheels as well. Obviously it isn't the case (plot device?), but it would be possible. – Mario Apr 27 '15 at 7:43
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    @Richard♦ No roads: Less infrastructure to maintain. – Boelabaal Apr 27 '15 at 9:06
  • @Boelabaal although one argument here is the duality of the road infrastructure. Also we clearly see the roads are used to some extent. – Often Right Apr 27 '15 at 9:37
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    Wasn't it a plot point in 3 that Mr Fusion only powers the time machine, and not the car's engine? – George T Apr 27 '15 at 9:58
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    @GeorgeT -The Doc says that the flight systems are shot. – Valorum Apr 27 '15 at 13:38

The most obvious advantage is the third dimension. Using hover cars, you can stack several “roads” over each other with ease, increasing the capacity dramatically. The roads on the ground are only used for short trips or for reaching the actual destination which makes only a fraction of the traffic.

In the movie we see mostly inner city traffic. It might be that ground based interstate highways ceased to exist in that future.

Besides that, traveling without the rolling friction of tires on the ground is more efficient. But you could achieve the same by just hovering a few inches over the ground. So the third dimension and ease of re-routing roads is the bigger advantage here.

Some options:

  • Lack of things to crash into (trees, etcetera)
  • Lack of rolling drag. WW2 airplanes go ~7x faster than top highway speeds - because they don't have rolling drag from a tire.
  • Better packing in 3d.
  • Maybe google cars (that drive themself) were more popular and could handle complexity and reliability issues more effectively than humans.
  • Roads are expensive. Highways cost something like $1 million/mile. Maybe the updated control system made removal of highways as required infrastructure a better alternative than fixing potholes at all. It would also be better for maintaining biodiversity, reducing dependence of hydrocarbon resources (how many cubic km of asphalt used per year), and such.
  • If there is a high-atmosphere, orbital, lunar, or martian colony then the 3d dimension will become very popular for use.

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