I was recently asked:

Do you think:

A) Self-driving cars will be a thing soon? Will you be so bold as to predict a year?

B) People will embrace it?

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For long trips, yes, I could see it. But I think drivers will always enjoy driving. Have you seen the Kit Harington Infiniti ad? People like driving their cars!

Here’s what I think:

Automotive manufacturers hope that people continue to like driving their cars…

because those are the people who make irrational decisions when car shopping. This leads to “springing for the tech package” or “going for the up-rated engine”, etc, which nets a lot of money. (I’m pretty much one of these people, so I totally get it.)

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Yes, that’s $13,000 in options.

The truth of the matter is that the younger generation doesn’t seem to like driving or aspire to drive or own a nice car at anywhere near the rate of our generation or the generation before us. In fact, I’d say one problem isn’t texting while driving, it’s having to drive at all while performing all these tasks we and the ‘kids these days’ do. There are just so many other things out there that’s more accessible and–seriously, maybe–more rewarding that the freedom and satisfaction previously associated with car ownership.

american-grafitti-1We will see self-driving cars sooner than you think. Next year? No, nothing fully autonomous and approved for US roadways. But soon. (OK, maybe I’m a little conservative with that prediction) And they’ll be commuters and long distance runners and carshare cars and delivery vehicles.

Right now, there are already various systems in place that enable cars to act as partially-autonomous vehicles that will also be used in self-driving cars. In fact, much of this technology has been commonplace in luxury vehicles for over 5 years. When your car knows its about to hit something, tells you about it, then actually stops the car faster than you can specifically in order to avoid the collision, you’re looking at partial autonomy–this was available in 2011 on the MB S-class and Volvo S60. This “super cruise” or “smart cruise control” would match speeds with cars ahead of you, come to a complete stop, and return to max speed without any driver input and also had add-ons like lane-keeping warning, assist, and active collision avoidance (the S, E, ML, and CLS would swerve AWAY from people floating toward you from other lanes!!)

What we see Tesla doing is taking that ‘next logical step’ before the large manufacturers. (Not unfathomable when it’s a corporate mindset) And their cars already do all that stuff I just mentioned if you opt for the “Autopilot suite”. It’s not a credit to their technological prowess or manufacturing expertise, but it is a credit to their vision and business acumen–and perhaps bravado and transparency. This is a false Achilles’ heel and they know it.  The ‘real’ manufacturers have to up their game A LOT more then they are already upping it. The strangest thing, to me, is that they are chastising Tesla for doing what they wouldn’t, while pointing to EVs as low sales failures waiting to happen while Tesla is A) constantly improving the product and B) selling them so quickly they can’t manufacture them quickly enough.

And what’s crazier still is that Porsche has said “our electric car will be faster, charge faster, and have 40 miles more range (seriously) than a current Model S when we sell it to you for a lot of money in 2020″. Wait, in 4 years your car will be more expensive and just a little bit better than the Tesla that’s on the roads right now? Are you sure you’re Porsche?

I’ll admit to being a Tesla fanboy, but not only a Tesla fanboy. I love Porsche. I love cars in general, and the automotive industry, and I’ll also admit that it can be seen in in black and white and grey.

There is a HUGE shift happening right now and we are pretty much witnessing dinosaurs saying it’s not a meteor that will bring acid rain and nuclear winter, “it’s just a storm that will pass and we’ll be OK!” Except in this instance, the dinosaurs have the opportunity to change their ways and get with the new program before dying… and are, instead, throwing stones and mean tweets at the meteor.

Now, an off-Telsa point that’s a big deal: Federal Regulations.

Do you remember when cars didn’t have side impact airbags? Or any airbags? Or 3-point seatbelts? Or ANY seatbelts? Or crumplezones? Or the third brakelight? Or Daytime Running lamps? or ABS? Or steel-belted radials? These things are all standard these days, and most of it is due specifically to federal regulations around the world. (OK, some of it is because it makes sense to preserve human life, but the reason it’s standard on cars sold in the US is due to regulation) And did you know that modern cars have a higher nose and a broader strikeface specifically to mitigate pedestrian injury on impact? Yep, regs. Thanks, Euro NCAP.

So, that being said, collision avoidance and smart cruise control, et al. will soon be mandated on all new vehicles manufactured for sale in the US. And then we will have only those to choose from when we need a new ride–old, non-self-driven vehicles will fade away through damage, use, etc. Some may be retrofitted with advanced systems, but really only a sacred few would be worth doing that. I’ll keep my 928 in the driveway or garage and drive it occasionally and wonder how much gas I’m really wasting… And there will always be collectors. Just fewer and fewer, I think. But when it comes down to it, I want my family to be in the safer car–and that’s the one with the tireless super-computing-robot-brain deciding how to drive.

If an avid automotive enthusiast like myself can say “Yes, I’ll keep my vintage car but drive my modern one” how many others will there be on that side of the argument? My guess is: by far most. And that’s OK. With fewer and fewer non-self-driving cars on the roads, the roads will be safer.

I still see people riding horses, they just do it for different reasons now.

What's on your mind?