By Lloyd Graff.
Could driver operated gasoline cars be the next Kodak film? With Tesla’s stock valued at $20 billion today, selling 20,000 cars at most, and Nissan valued at $42 billion, selling over 1 million vehicles, the market is telling us that Tesla is headed in the right direction and that traditional models could be toast in 10 to 15 years.
Google is investing heavily in the driverless auto, so it is not a stretch to imagine that the epicenter of the car business will move to Silicon Valley in a few years.
The big car companies have a Hummer of a dilemma. They need to show profits for the next decade with human driven, gas-propelled vehicles that 30- to 65-year-old buyers will spend money on, like SUVs and pickups. Young people moving to big cities are opting for public transportation and a rental car for a weekend jaunt. Driving is not necessarily their gig, and fumes are passé. Will today’s F-150 be tomorrow’s Kodak Instamatic?
Elon Musk thinks he knows the answer.
Ina Pinkney is a tough Brooklyn born entrepreneur who runs Ina’s, one of Chicago’s best breakfast restaurants. She just announced that she is hanging up her spatula, and closing the restaurant at the end of the year. She chose not to sell the place or try to franchise it. It was her baby, and she was not going to let somebody else ruin what she had built. I love what she said to Chicago restaurant critic, Phil Vettel, in an interview announcing the shutdown.
“You know, a cake is raw for a long time, perfectly baked for a short time, and overcooked forever. I think I’m going out at the top of my game.”
For many years, my brother Jim planted cherry tomatoes every summer in two 4 x 4 feet square steel parts containers on Graff-Pinkert’s property. This year, I decided to let the soil lay fallow. But in the 3-inch space between the two containers a strange thing happened, one tomato plant decided to grow out of the ground. Not a single tomato plant has appeared in the containers full of old dirt, and the tiny crack of space between the containers barely gets any sunlight, yet the single robust tomato plant is now four feet high and full of yellow blossoms rather late in the usual growing season. I find the confined plant an inspiration every day as I drive up to our factory. Nature is resilient.
Finally, a comment about how I am thinking today, which is exactly five years after the day I probably should have died from a 100% blocked coronary artery. Lloyd Graff, a Jewish guy from the south side of Chicago, went to St. Francis Hospital, a Catholic institution, to see Chris Costas, my Greek Orthodox doctor, who wheeled me to the Emergency Room where African American and Filipino nurses worked on me until Dr.. Mohammed Akhbar, a Muslim doctor, saved my life with a stent and balloon pump that day. It was one day after the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous Washington speech. It’s my AMERICAN dream.
Question: Will you miss driving?
Some times I will miss it. Many more I will not.
I am 57 and will not willing stop driving. I live in the country and own a truck as old as I and a diesel Benz from 1970. Driving will not go away for all but city dwellers because of the installed base.
I believe that when our cars are primarily driverless, the erosion of skills will lead to some serious crashes. If the occupant has to take over from the automatics, they will not be able to handle the situation.
Just like the airlines are right now, many aircraft can take off, land and fly in between with no pilot intervention. When the pilot has to jump in during an equipment failure or other emergency, they haven’t flown enough to have the skill level needed for the situation. I want pilots like Sullenberger in the cockpit when I fly and cars on the roads driven by experienced human beings.
Your last paragraph is reason enough why you shouldn’t have died five years ago. It’s a gem. Keep ’em coming, please, for a long, long time.
I am sure I will miss driving. Not for the reason you mention, replacement by electronics. It won’t happen in my lifetime, or probably yours, Lloyd. I will miss it when one of my daughters has the guts to take away my keys when I become “unsafe at any speed”. I am only 65, and renewed my license yesterday at the DMV. I don’t plan on my daughter’s key seizure any time soon, but I hope they will do it when necessary. Then I will miss it. I still remember the thrill of waiting outside the DMV on my 16th birthday, ready to get my license. Like a few other “rites of passage” for us old folks, today’s teens seem to be less thrilled with the prospect of driving. It is but one thing I don’t understand about them. (There are plenty of other things.)
No. The self driving car will be a tremendous boon to productivity – imagine – road trip you can work on! Brief story –
I recently got a car with adaptive cruise control (set a speed, and distance, and it maintains either). I used to hate being behind trucks because I had to jiggle the speed setting. No more! Now I get behind a truck and drive 100’s of miles in peace. I can’t wait to set the address and take a nap!
“Young people moving to big cities are opting for public transportation and a rental car for a weekend jaunt. Driving is not necessarily their gig, and fumes are passé.”
I think this line is slightly mistaken. I am a “young person” and the issue with low car sales in the 20-30’s age group is not really a lack of interest in cars or a wholesale migration of young people to cities, it is a structural problem of low employment in that age group, increasing cost of vehicles, and expensive insurance for younger drivers.
Please look at http://www.Jalopnik.com as they routinely debunk the myth about young people not being interested in cars.
I will not miss driving to and from work. As I see it the safest place for driverless cars is on freeways and highways. There are generally few obstacles, large changes in grade, and more gradual turns. So, to get myself from onramp to offramp, I am happy to give up driving. I could understand the need for dedicated lanes on the freeway for auto-drive and others for driver controlled vehicles. It might be critical in fact that auto-drive and driver controlled vehicles be segregated to prevent erratic or unpredictable drivers from interfering with the auto-drive vehicles.
In lower speed, off highway/freeway areas it is likely that more advanced technology would be required to navigate the maze of obstacles, other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, potholes, animals, emergency vehicles, etc. I want the ability to drive in these areas. I think that driving in these situations also keeps the driver’s skills up to par for when they may have to take control in emergency situations.
Please take away the frustration of my commute and give me some time to keep up on friends, family and news but leave me the ability to take over whenever I want.
I don’t think it’s as much of an either/or proposition as you seem to think it is. The advent of autonomous cars for uncontrolled roads is still a ways off various state laws and the heavy breathing of evangelists notwithstanding. And when they do show up every manual car isn’t going to evaporate.
There are also a lot of question having to do with what’s known in the tech community as “edge conditions”.
DARPA’s Urban Challenge proved autonomous vehicles could navigate roads and even deal with more common, relatively undemanding problem situations. Where the questions mount is in the non-typical, unusual situations.
If you’re heading crosstown and the snow’s a LOT heavier then the weather man predicted what does your autonomous car do? Stop in the middle of the road? Keep slogging on until it gets stuck in the middle of the road? Does it know what to do when it hits a patch of black ice and starts to skid?
If you’re heading crosstown and that partially occluded coronary artery decides today’s the day it’s going to go 100% what do you do? What does the car do?
A kid darts into the street too close for the brakes to bring the car to a halt. What does the autonomous car do? Will it steer itself into parked cars rather then run the kid down? Or not?
Then there’s liability. Who’s liable when the driver’s some silicon and software?
I loved your “American Dream.”
I have never left a reply before, but you have found a nerve. I would love to think that I still fall into the “young” category, but I think, however I may perceive myself, those days are passed. I have always been a car guy. There was nothing more exciting to me than the sound of a V-8 Mustang passing the family car on the freeway, or someone racing past while we were sitting at the gas station pumps when I was a kid. The day I got my drivers license is in the same category for me with my wedding day and the births of my children. For my generation, that was the ultimate freedom, and though I don’t like the daily commute any more than the next guy, once in a while I find an open piece of rural two lane, and I’m seventeen again. You will never take that away from me.
I have a 92 year mother insists on staying in her home where there is no nearby public transporation (and is 103 miles from me) .. No Cab, bus or otherwise…. She has recently stopped driving.. Personally, I think a robotic driving Ms. Daisey for the elderly who sell like hot cakes as long as its less complicated then a TV remote..