By Craig Hastings
Tesla, Autonomous driving, Autopilot, all fixated with one idea; no drivers needed.
I’m from the 1970’s first time driver’s generation, the height of the muscle car era, and the beginning of performance killing smog regulations. The aftermarket performance replacement parts industry (SEMA) was at the top of it’s game. Every part they designed and produced had one intention in mind; to give the driver of his or her vehicle a more exhilarating driving experience than what the original auto manufacturers could when their cars were new. Most every new car advertisement I/you read in any magazine or newspaper or saw on television for my first forty years of driving focused on “The Driving Experience” of any auto manufacturers new automobiles. “The driving experience” are the keywords here.
I was performance infected then and still am somewhat today. The difference in me is that today I prefer to buy my performance already dialed in by the auto manufacturer as they delivered their performance cars when they were new. And I have just one right now that I bought new and I haven’t changed a thing about it. It’s the only car I’ve ever owned that can scare me when pushed to its limit which I’ve never come close. A true “driver’s machine.” The others I own were carefully chosen and already driven by a previous owner, but, when new, the original manufacturer’s; Pontiac, Ford, and Chevrolet, had produced and promoted these cars as performance “driver’s” cars. Ready to be driven as high performance cars right out of the box, no help needed unless….you felt the need!
New trucks have been blessed for several years with the same high performance amenities as their cousin cars. Turbo chargers, sway bars, high horsepower engines, performance speed rated tires, and factory supported performance add on parts. Why? To provide the drivers with an even better driving experience than ever before. Drivers and driving!!! And it isn’t just about moving fast either. Manufacturers have focused on just how comfortable they can keep the drivers of their vehicles. Seats are now as much as sixteen-way adjustable in some cars and most all are at least eight-way adjustable. Accelerator pedals move fore and aft. Steering columns move up and down and fore and aft. And why? To give drivers a more pleasant experience in comfort and control as they drive their cars on roadways at home and across America.
So what’s my rant this week about anyway? I don’t know how many of you keep up on the quickly and ever changing world of transportation, but if you haven’t picked up a magazine or newspaper that regularly reports on what’s new in the industry; you should. Three years ago we were exposed to the thought to be impossible car that could stay in it’s own lane driving down designated highways in America. America’s own Cadillac was one of these. Not only could these prototypes designate their lanes of traffic but, they could also brake as needed should the driver not be paying attention. This was about as close to “George Jetson” as the world had ever seen only still on the ground.
Enter unknowns by most average citizens; Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. In 2003 these two genius engineers founded Tesla Motors. The company name was a tribute to a man thought by many as a man here on earth way before his time. He was an engineer that understood the principles of conductivity arguably better than most scientists do still today. Financially backed by billionaires Elon Musk and J.B. Staubel, Eberhard and Tarpenning went to work manufacturing electric only automobiles. Not the skinny tired, light as possible, bad interiors, gas and electric combination cars other manufactures were producing either. These guys were gunning for not only electric power but, tons of fun high performance electric powered cars. Their cars to date are fast, comfortable, quiet, sculpted bodies, and outrageously complicated electronically controlled functionality works of art. Soooo…why isn’t every other car company duplicating their own?
They are…well, they’re trying. The rest are playing catch up. All the rest were continuing to piddle around with building the gas/electric combo cars. You know, just in case the charge ran out before a driver made it home. A nice gesture, but I think Tesla got it right the first attempt. Either do it or don’t do it. With both, if an owner fills their tank with gas but also keeps a good charge and never needed that gas, in a year even if the owner needed that gas motor it’s likely the gas would be bad and the car wouldn’t run anyway. So what’s the point? Have we ever relied on an electric motor backup in our gas powered cars in the past seventy years in case we ran out of gas?! No!! So why the need for gas backup if our battery powered car dies? Check the dang electric available power gauge before you drive away!
My fear isn’t electric cars that can navigate lane changes and brake when needed should I fall asleep. The newest motor vehicles on our horizon are all electric and all you and I do is open the doors, sit down, gps your destination, and sit back and enjoy the ride. And ride is all you will do. There won’t be a steering wheel in the sense you know a steering wheel today because you won’t have a need to steer, brake, or pay attention to the next exit. Your car will be programmed by you to do those things with the touch of a button or two, maybe by voice recognition. Four passengers will be able to swivel in their seats and face one another if they so choose all while the car is moving at 65mph.
I’m sure all of this sounds absolutely wonderful to anyone sixteen to twenty-five, but not to me. I want to drive my cars, get lost if it happens, brake when it’s needed, mash the throttle so to feel and hear the high performance engine under the hood, and laugh at my fun. And here’s one more thing from the age of the dinosaurs I want to do if I choose…shift gears manually as fast as I can and with a foot pedal clutch! I don’t want paddle shifters on my steering wheel nor do I want a gear position rotary dial gizzmo that I rotate to put my car in drive. Oh yeah, recently I’ve seen push button gear selectors! No, No, No! Didn’t Dodge try the push buttons in the 60’s? So that’s not new! If we’re gonna go back to the sixties and resurrect something; how about chrome bumpers? Not the 70’s and 80’s square and ugly crash compliant chrome bumpers but the sleek, small, and decorative chrome bumpers the likes of Camaro, Mustang, Challenger, etc.! Please just let me drive!