It was interesting to read about the federal government’s new Office of Future Transport Technologies. This will be the body tasked with preparing for the pending arrival of automated vehicles. A significant task indeed.
We know car makers are currently engaged in an arms race on two fronts – electric propulsion and autonomous technology.
Obviously, there is plenty to get excited about when it comes to electric cars, Tesla has convincingly proven there is nothing for motoring enthusiasts to fear. Electric cars can deliver the level of performance and driving engagement to satisfy the urges of those passionate about cars. But what about autonomous tech?
There couldn’t be a more sobering thought in the mind of an enthusiast than sitting in a car without a steering wheel being driven by an electronic chauffer.
As I ponder these complex topics, I’m driving the Kia Stinger, a car conceived, designed, engineered, manufactured and delivered for those who like to drive. It’s a car for keen drivers wanting to feel a sense of connection with the machine. There’s a buzz from behind the wheel that autonomous cars won’t be able to match.
Autonomous cars do have a place. They have the potential to offer higher levels of safety than what we have now. Human error could be eliminated making everything from long-haul drives to school runs safer for passengers and other road users, effectively eradicating the road toll.
Lost time spent commuting in our largest cities could become productive if the focus is taken off the road ahead.
Ideally, the solution would be to develop a car with autonomous tech that can be switched off putting the driver back in complete control. My fear is this will only be a transitional measure and once market acceptance has been achieved, the switch will vanish.
Of course, for the vast majority of car owners, there will be no downside to speak of. Once affordability has been reached, autonomous cars will become the default choice of many, assuming legislation doesn’t remove the choice.
Great cars, the cars that hit the all-important emotional note are already receding to the premium end of the market. Autonomous tech will hasten this process creating another niche market for the wealthy.
Unfortunately, enthusiasts are in the minority and the number is sure to decline in the coming decades. The process of getting a licence – an important rite of passage for young Australians - will be redundant. The sense of achievement and the resulting freedom that comes from obtaining a driver’s licence will become stories told to grandkids.
For those of us with a licence, now is the time to live the dream and enjoy each kilometre we can while there is still a steering wheel to hold.
Future generations won't know what they are missing.
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