Engine thrum? Doomed. Exhaust note? Doomed. Manual shift? Moribund already. Paddle shifters don’t count.
But those losses are just a warmup for a purely driverless future, a notion punctuated in recent days by Musk predicting full autonomy in five years and Audi winning the first autonomous testing permit in California. In a few more years, cruise control will get a lot smarter — “super-cruise” if you will. Inevitably, in little increments, automobile self-awareness will flower until the machine no longer needs our hamfisted inputs at all, other than occasional reminders about destination. And those will most likely be spoken, not typed. So we’d better brush our teeth before we speak, lest the machine detect our bad breath and spray freshener at us. Uncouth organisms like us are but a nuisance in the future of motoring.
You realize what this means? It means car enthusiasts will soon be all revved up with no place to go. We’ll have to join our five-year-olds and play with little die-cast replicas on the kitchen table, or scuttle around the yard in Fisher Price sit-ins, or hit the amusement park for some go-karting, or play or video games and reminisce. The real car in the driveway will offer no joy. Wait — nobody will have a car. We’ll summon a car to the house and use it like a horizontal elevator. Maybe the retro models will offer a little steering wheel to play with and pedals to push, and they’ll make “vrooom” noises too.
Everyone here wants Tesla to succeed. Many of us are betting large sums of money on that hypothesis. But do we all want motoring to go bye-bye during our lifetime? Probably not. This poses a conflict. With any luck, it won’t play out until, um . . . we’re too old to drive anyway. Yes, that’s it. Let the children figure this out. And let BMW figure out a new slogan besides Ultimate Driving Machine.
But here’s the upside of future “smart” cars:
Commuting time will become productive time. Freed from the obligation to sit still and stare straight ahead with hands glued to a wheel, we will be able to “move about the cabin” enough to get some work done. God knows everyone tries to do that now, what with smartphones and all, but perhaps such feverish in-car productivity will be legal in a few years. Cars may become bona fide workstations, every bit as connected and capable as your desk at work.
Dozing off won’t mean certain death. The car will fend for itself. Maybe you can program a wake-up call for a few minutes before your arrival. That will give you enough time to wipe the drool from your face.
Fuel efficiency will skyrocket. If vehicle-to-vehicle technology makes crashing unheard-of, we won’t need a robust endoskeleton in our vehicles. That will save weight. Saving weight will boost fuel efficiency and driving range, no matter what “fuel” we’re talking about.
Commuting time will decrease. The daily array of freeway accidents simply won’t exist anymore. That’s a lot of time and fuel saved.
Insurance premiums will drop. If the odds of crashing are virtually nil, and theft becomes virtually impossible thanks to the connectivity of cars with their owners, other cars, GPS and police, there won’t be a whole lot to insure against.
Body shops and towing services will go virtually extinct. Self-explanatory. No fender benders means no fenders to unbend. This complements an old TeslaMondo observation about repair shops facing a bleak post-ICE future.