“So these scientists have predicted that people won’t own cars in 50 years’ time,” said someone who’d been reading the paper.
“You’ll just call a pod over and it’ll take you to places. Nobody will drive. There won’t be cars, really. That’ll be bad for you, won’t it?”
I’m not one to take issue with people clearly more learned than I am. But it seems a bit strong to be predicting the death of the car.
If the driven road car has to die – if driving disappears as a thing people do – that means machines have to do everything. Not just sit on a motorway or take you from suburban house to train station, but tow your caravan or horsebox down a single-track road to a field when there’s a peloton of cyclists or a group of walkers and a tractor coming the other way. Unless you’re going to automate or ban bikes and caravans as well.
Anyway, I’m sure that’s all possible, even if I think it’s vastly unlikely somebody will go to the effort of designing a vehicle that’ll line up just so, so you can retrieve the trailer in that little gap down the side of the garage, and then slot it between a pit bike and a van when you get to the paddock at Oulton Park.
And designing a machine that could do both is one thing. Being a manufacturer who decides to take full responsibility if it goes even slightly awry and scratches another vehicle – or worse – is something else. And if you did all that, you’ve still got to convince a punter that it’s in his or her interest to let a machine do it.
In short, then, I still think we’ll be in charge on the road.
I’m not so worried about whether full autonomy for everything and no driving licence for all will happen. I’m assuming it won’t. But would it be so bad if it did? Yesterday, I began writing this column while sitting in traffic – one of those ‘engine off’ backlogs on the M40 that has people standing in the carriageway and a woman next to me taking her pug for a wee on the verge, after an accident closed all three lanes. Sometimes cars are rubbish. Often because we’re in charge of them.
But it’s the ‘that’d be bad for you, wouldn’t it?’ phrase that gets me more than anything. I’m writing now at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where several hundred thousand people recently looked at cars that, in effect, serve no purpose but to inspire and entertain. Cars, as a form of fun, will go nowhere.
I’ve made the horse analogy before, I know. But 120 years ago, farriers and equine veterinarians would have been cacking themselves about the introduction of the horseless carriage. Today, they support an industry based on fun. And if, in 50 years’ time, we’re destined to become nothing more than hobbyists, but queues on the M40 will be a thing of the past? Well, that’ll be fine by me.