There’s one basic rule when it comes to being successful in business, and that’s give the customer what he wants. So tell me this: who in hell is demanding the self-driving car?
I want to know who said, “It’s too much trouble to steer this car, so I need one that’ll do it for me!” I need to know who said, “I can’t park this thing! Why won’t someone make a car that parks itself?” And I demand to know who said, “Who would buy a car that doesn’t do everything on its own?”
Now, just so you know, I’m not the type to romanticize the past. If anything, I’m frequently criticized by old-car buffs because, while I own and adore a couple of 1940s vehicles, I’m also the first to say that “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” is a very good thing. New cars are far superior in their driving dynamics, their engine efficiencies, their fuel economy, and their safety.
But sometimes it seems that auto technology leaps forward in positive directions for a while. Then the automakers momentarily run out of truly useful new-and-improved, and so they turn to WOW-LOOK-WHAT-WE’RE-GIVING-YOU-NOW!
Of course, the self-driving car hasn’t happened in a vacuum. It’s because the automakers can finally stitch together all of the various items they’ve been slowly adding to their vehicles—stuff like drive-by-wire technology, active lane departure systems, adaptive cruise control, and the like—although most of those are items that I don’t really recall the public crying out for the engineers to invent.
I’ve never really believed that you can get to a point where something simply can’t be improved any more. In 1912, Ransom Olds brought out a Reo model he called his “Farewell Car,” because “I do not believe a car materially better will ever be built,” he said in its ads. Of course we all know how that went.
But there’s also a point where you can go overboard, and that’s the self-driving car. What’s the point of great steering feel, if you don’t steer it? Why have great handling, if you don’t want to know how it handles? Why buy something you’re supposed to drive, when you don’t want to drive it?
It seems that one of two things has happened here. Either the automakers are giving us something we didn’t want, or there are people out there who, unbeknownst to me, are clamouring for the autonomous car. And if it’s the latter, and you’re out there, then listen up: there already is a self-driving vehicle available to you. It’s called a bus. Get on it and shut up, and maybe the carmakers will get the idea, and just give the rest of us the drive-it-yourself versions that we really want.