I CAN'T GET EXCITED ABOUT THE FUTURE OF CARS Posted on 22 Apr 16:40
Every car pictured in this article represents the old way, and not simply because they are late model or vintage examples. To me these cars (photos I took at SEMA 2015) represent the spirit of automotive enthusiasts. They embody the joy of owning or driving a car, but they are all built around the "old way" of gas powered transport. It is impossible to examine the current state of the automobile industry, and not get the feeling that it is approaching a critical crossroads. All the rumblings suggest revolutionary changes may be coming, and in the minds of many may be inevitable. Today a hybrid electric or purely electric powered car, no longer seems like a marijuana haze induced pipe dream of a hippy engineer. The electric car is now forward thinking, and for many the inevitable future of automobiles. Elon Musk and Tesla Motors has been the upstart revolutionary at the forefront of this sea change, proving you can deliver electric powered cars in a practical and, importantly, desirable package. You can not discount the incredible change his efforts have made, not just in proving the viability of electric, but also in growing the necessary infrastructure around that type of car. However, in the process they have come upon the real revolution of the automobile, and it isn't the act of moving a car with electric power alone.
While certainly a milestone in automotive history, the "new way" is not solely the Tesla Model S silent means of propulsion. The ability to blast from 0-60 in the amount of time it takes you to unlock your iPhone, all without the use of a single drop of gasoline is a remarkable feat, but not necessarily life changing. The real future is the Model S (and the upcoming Model X) auto pilot feature, and the idea of autonomous cars. Whether powered by electric or the old fashioned stuff, the idea (or threat, depending on your perspective) of self driving cars, is what will likely deliver the most radical change. Tesla surely was not the first to delve into this technology, many major manufacturers have been working on this same technology for quite some time. However, short of novelty features like self parking or guided cruise control, none until Tesla have been able to implement it in practical use so extensively. Now even companies like Google and Apple that have previously had zero involvement in developing cars, have gotten in on the act. The other component of this perfect storm is the advent of ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft. Revealing to the industry that perhaps not everyone wants to even own a car but would rather share one on a needed basis, opens the door further to a fully automated future. Are we destined for a subscription based model, where you simply pay a monthly fee to have a drone car chauffeur you from place to place?
I have to admit, being someone that is passionate about cars and seeing them as more than just another home appliance, the thought of that future gives me some trepidation. I begin to imagine my personal automotive future much like the curmudgeonly Spooner in iRobot, distrustful of the machines and scolded for "driving manually" (in what looks suspiciously like an early R8 concept). What of the joy of driving? Will this be a thing of the past, leaving cars relegated to antiques that are coddled and gazed upon but never actually used? The very thought to me is like the assault of red lit robots that ascended on Spooner and his 2035 Audi R8, and like him I can only respond with the action movie standard, "Oh hell no". I suspect I am not alone in this sentiment, as increasingly there seems to be a wave of people seeking older sports cars, searching for a more analog experience than what even today's cars offer. Will the future be a world where our daily driver is an autonomous ride share brought to you by Tesla-GM-VW-Apple-Google-etc., and our garage houses our fun car for track days or weekend excursions? That thought seems enticing, I mean in theory it's more money for fun cars and less spent on utilitarian transport right? For some reason, even that idea seems hollow to me, like something is missing. Perhaps I am being overly sentimental and romanticizing, but I can't help but want more than that.
Truth is, I love cars, and I love driving them even more. It does not matter if it is commuting to and from work, running to the grocery store, a vacation road trip, track days, or even just driving with no agenda at all, I love it all the same. If the future truly is autonomy, that is equivalent to riding the bus or train to me—joyless. I understand all of the logic and the positive impacts on traffic flow, the increase in safety, the energy costs, and the environmental impact. It all makes logical sense, but love is never really rooted in logic is it? We are indeed at a crossroads and I can not profess to know exactly which road we take and what lies ahead, I just hope I get to drive wherever it is we're going.