Thrill of driving at risk
The intelligent car is threatening driver enjoyment, reports Martin Brennan from the Frankfurt Motor Show
Cars with no steering wheels may soon be with us, but what will they look like? The intelligent car is making much of today's driving expertise redundant and possibly style will suffer also. But the day of zero crashes on our roads is also around the corner.
The Frankfurt Motor Show was teeming with new and future car technology. Cars will become more robotised, will talk to us and other cars and make decisions before we can blink. Driving instructors and testers look out - technology is threatening your future.
The pace at which driver skills are being replaced by computers is amazing, but sad for the driving enthusiasts who savour the raw joy reining in the hundreds of horses under the bonnet. Soon, too, these will disappear to be replaced by a battery. Even exhaust gurgles and interior revs noises have to be computer generated as battery-pack driving progresses.
We are in exciting and fast-changing times but the motor industry is in a race to let us all multi-task in our cars and with increasing in-car technology it is in a way threatening driving enjoyment and possibly shooting itself in the foot in terms of future new model launches.
Fiat-Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne put it well when he said, "why buy a Ferrari if you can't drive it". So what will the car of the future attractions be? There is the danger that the excitement of exotic designs for models of the future will be less relevant if the focus is on interior comfort and space-age gizmos that take control away from the driver. And will today's cutting-edge exterior shape and design matter if the car of the future is to become an office on wheels? Google's first attempt at driverless cars look like a moving igloo.
Under threat is the thrill of showing off your flashy new model and answering the inevitable question of how fast will she go? This is about to give way to the question of how many iPads, laptops and iPhones can it handle at the same time, can it talk to other cars, read road signs and tell you the weather conditions.
And what of driving skills. Some may say the art of driving is already dead. Our reliance on technology grows greater by the day. Even the skill of parking a car is becoming a thing of the past. The danger now is that drivers will become too complacent and preoccupied. Eventually the final control over a moving vehicle must rest with the driver.
The chief executive of global giant VW, Martin Winterkorn, painted a picture of the future which will become the norm for the industry when he said: "By 2020 we will have transformed all our new cars into smartphones on wheels." The day of the out-of-office Sunday drive is to become a thing of the past.
Easier and safer driving is here but it is the beginning of the end of an era of getting behind the wheel and the thrill of being in full control. In fairness it is the motor industry responding to the needs of a growing urban driver pool with a hunger for more media connectivity for the wired lifestyle of their modern customers.
For the motor industry it is a new way of connecting with a burgeoning generation who cannot drive. Smart cars are a good lure to get more of their bums on seats when it is combined with the easy payment renting system that is PCP.
A new, big challenge for the industry now is to ensure that the new wave of computers behind the dash are tamper free.