There was stark news from BMW this week with a warning that profits have been dented by investment in driverless cars and the recruitment of computer programmers. Not mechanics and designers, you understand, but geeks in trendy glasses who wouldn’t know a gear stick from a skateboard. The buzzword now is digitalisation.
If proof were needed that driving soon won’t be something any of us will do for pleasure, then this is it. The company which for years has tempted us with the concept of Pure Driving Pleasure has conceded that its customers aren’t likely to be at the wheel in the near future. It’s a bit like the boss of Big Television poking us in the eye and trying to get away with selling us a radio.
Now, it’s an entirely valid observation that driving is rarely a pleasure as it is. Congested roads have reduced most journeys to a tepid crawl.
Even so, I’ve a hunch this will one day become regarded as the end of the good old days. That’s certainly the case for anyone old enough to have tinkered with and an engine, oily rag in hand, trying to get a few more miles out of a Ford Escort. Computer programmers were of little use then: cars for my generation meant freedom, fun, responsibility, a rite of passage, dirty fingers…
And now? Well I’d say driving’s days are numbered and the end will be sooner than you think. That’s not so far fetched when you consider the pace of change in recent years and myriad global factors lining up to say it will be so. Concerns about global warming will mean higher taxes for petrol and diesel cars, paving the way for further economies of scale for electric cars, which will evolve, Transformer-like, into driverless electric cars.
The driverless car experiments are already live in the uk and charging stations are springing up. Soon they will be ubiquitous. Don’t believe me? Let my illustrate my point with a picture of an ancient iPod.
Think back to when you bought your first iPod. Mine was a 3G miracle in white plastic with a silver grey LCD screen and a wicked red neon tinge worth turning the lights off for. It held my ENTIRE vinyl record collection and more, and before I knew it, had been superseded by bigger, better, faster, smarter versions, with phones and thumb print detectors. All in less than a decade.
So what does that have to do with cars? Everything. As a piece I wrote for The Telegraph a few years ago suggested, the business model has been proven. I firmly believe we’ve reached tipping point for electric cars too. Whether by government grant or mass consumer demand, there will soon be one in every drive. Even sporty Tesla is in on the act.
We’re also approaching the point of solid state transport solutions with no serviceable parts, hence the reason why computer programmers are more in demand than mechanics.
Couple all of that with sat nav and contextual awareness, and you have self-driving cars which are only risky if there are still cars driven by actual people on the road. Far easier to legislate against human error.
BMW isn’t the only contender in a race that is already well underway. Google, Apple, Ford and Tesla – they’re all conspiring in one way or other to change the face of motoring forever.
I’d wager that this is only one aspect of a very significant change ahead. Driverless cars, powered by batteries and logic boards, will surely conclude that some journeys aren’t necessary at all if people can work from home, meet friends virtually via Facebook and share experiences though virtual reality.
And where will driving for pleasure fit in this new era of data-driven passenger transport? Quite frankly, it won’t. And sooner than you think. There will be no difference between the full Apple auto box and the dull Google auto box. They’ll all do 0 to 60mph in 2 seconds and they’ll all have gull wing doors. But they won’t be any fun because something else will be driving while you do more Google shopping on your iPhone 8. We will all be passengers.
Your daily commute may be crap but enjoy it while you can.
Simon Donohue sort of knows what he’s talking about because he is the former motoring editor of the Manchester Evening News and now enjoys cycling to work more than sitting in a traffic jam in a borrowed Porsche 911.