When General Motors’ advanced technology supremo, Larry Burns, retired last year, Alan Taub was the man who stepped up to take control of GM’s global R&D division.
He joined GM in 2001, having been a specialist in crash safety and materials engineering for Ford and, before that, spending 15 years in R&D for General Electric. Here, he answers our questions about GM’s latest efforts in the technological avant-garde.
You’ve just introduced the EN-V, a two-wheeled electric city car concept that’s supposed to be impossible to crash. Could you ever put it into production?
The EN-V is designed to surprise people — to really make them consider how car-to-car communications, powertrain electrification and autonomous driving technology could change the cars we drive. It’s not really designed for the road but to do 30 indoor demonstration shows a day at the Shanghai World Expo 2010.
It shows what’s possible within 20 years, more than what’s probable. Still, something very like the EN-V could become a common sight in the megacities of the future. If we’re going to avoid terminal gridlock, let alone environmental meltdown, we’ll need cars like this.
Will autonomous cars actually work on real-world roads?
Not in isolation. It will take metropolitan and national government legislation to make inner-city zones accessible only to autonomous cars to really see the safety benefits of the technology. But I believe that will happen. One million people die in road traffic accidents every year around the world, and autonomous driving technology, working in tandem with car-to-car networking, could drastically reduce that figure.