Autonomous Cars And The Future Of The Enthuisiast

It’s no secret where RFD leans when it comes to our automotive preferences.  It’s certainly more Porsche than Prius to say the least.  But the automotive press is going nuts over Google’s announcement of its first self-driving autonomous prototype car.  Some hail this, and other new and emerging technology, as the end of the automotive industry as we know it, and one of many death blows for enthusiasts.   Here are the top 5 reasons why that’s bullshit.

1. Autonomous cars will keep those who don’t want to drive from driving.

You know the type, their car is an appliance, a necessary evil in their lives.  It brings them no joy or pleasure, it just gets them to where they need to go.  There is a reason why Toyota is one of the largest automakers in the World, these people are everywhere.  Once the autonomous car is in showrooms, they will buy them and use them not only on their commute to work, but also to make a quick trip to the store, to go on vacation, everything.

This will get them out of the left lane where they see it as their mission to make you drive at a reasonable speed by going as slow as possible.  Instead, their Googlecar, or something similar, will plod along, sensors whizzing, in the right-hand lane and efficiently get them to where they want to be.  Meanwhile those of us who enjoy driving can enjoy passing everyone in the autonomous lane in our petrol powered cars.

Pictured below: Steering wheel shaped cappuccino maker.

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Image credit: Blogspot

2. The ability to phase out non-autonomous cars will be difficult to implement.

But Will you say, won’t all roads have to become sensor filled techno marvels to ensure that the autonomous cars stay in their lane and don’t hit each other?  Not really, no.  There is a reason why the Googlemobile has 360 degrees of sensor equipment.  It’s because autonomous cars will be designed to share the road with non-autonomous cars.  For the most part in our lifetimes, that means good ole-fashioned steer-it-yourself cars will be around.  Well, unless they are legislated out of existence, don’t ever overlook that as a possible outlier.  Overall though, I think this part is good for enthusiasts. So refer to item #1, those who want to drive, can.

3. It doesn’t actually mean more cars on the road.

I’ve already read some columns and editorials about how this will mean more cars on the road and make things even more congested.  Again, see #1, it won’t.  You still have the same number of people traveling to the same places, they will just be in little pods doing their makeup and taking a nap now instead of doing, well, doing their makeup and taking a nap.  Sure, some folks may buy their car from a different search engine company and get a Bing powered car (I’m going with Lycos or AltaVista personally) but again, it doesn’t increase the number of drivers so it won’t increase the number of cars.

McLaren P1 - Nurburgring Nordschleife 2013
McLaren P1 – Nurburgring Nordschleife 2013

Image credit: technologicvehicles.com

4. Technology isn’t that scary folks

If you have seen coverage of the LaFerrari, McLaren P1, or Porsche 918, you already know that the next generation of hybrid cars are coming, and they are awesome.  Some say that the EPA’s 2025 requirement for a 54.5 MPG average across all automakers means the end for us RFD’ers.  Not true.  The trickle-down tech from these new supercars will mean more efficient cars to take to the track and have fun with.  Increased used of carbon fiber and other exotic materials will drive down the price and we will quickly see how awesome it is to drive cars with electric engines.  Instant torque anyone?   The idea that all cars will instantly become boring, silent appliances just isn’t true.   Even as a V8-guy, I can appreciate a Tesla or an electric drag car and the trio of Euro halo cars I started this section with are not quiet and boring whatsoever.  So I think we can figure it out.

Plus emerging tech like 3-D printing and Local Motors Microfactory and Mobifactory mean that we may see what they refer to as  “3rd Industrial Revolution”.  This means building new, fun things (like a Rally Fighter) cheaper and easier via a virtual community that can brainstorm ideas, refine designs, provide materials, etc.  Imagine an inexpensive, Caterham or Ariel Atom-like track toy that you printed and assembled in your garage.  Win.

mobifactory
Image Credit: Gizmodo

5. Even old and arcane things still have groups dedicated to them

Find any old technology, be it an 8-bit video game, a black-powder rifle, or a carbureted classic car, and you will find an enthusiast group dedicated to celebrating it.  Especially in the interconnected, internets-enabled world we live in, there is a group dedicated to whatever you are into.  So if you think that gas powered cars will just disappear one day, never to be seen again, you are incorrect.  Sure, one day we may be relegated to race tracks or specific areas (which will no-doubt feature an “anti-exhaust air purification system”) but they will continue to exist and we can still have fun with them.   So even if we do end up with some sort of autonomous-only Skynet government regulation for our highways, it’s not the end of the world.

Denouement

So rest easy, fellow enthusiast, it’s not that bad.  And truth be told, I love driving, but I loathe commuting.  DC traffic is terrible, we have crappy roads and crappier drivers.  So if I have to crawl into my Googlepod in the morning and go back to sleep while I am shuttled to my office, great.  When I wake up, I’ll plan a track day and order up some 3-D printer designs to make my own aftermarket parts.  Cool.