Tuesday 25 April 2017

Top Gear star takes us for a quick spin to self-drive future

Chris Harris, left, with Top Gear co-stars Matt LeBlanc, middle, and Rory Reid (BBC/PA)
Chris Harris, left, with Top Gear co-stars Matt LeBlanc, middle, and Rory Reid (BBC/PA)
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Chris Harris of Top Gear was 'behind the wheel' but even he failed to find a way to the chequered flag.

Chris, in fact, was chairing a rather prestigious group of motoring people at a pre-Geneva 'Ford Performance' evening on autonomous/real driving.

Those with him included the man behind the Goodwood Festival of Sport, Charles Gordon Lennox; chief engineer at Ford, David Pericak; Andy Priaulx, racing car driver; and Steven Armstrong, chief operating officer, Ford of Europe.

The debate centred on where autonomous driving is going; even more pertinently: where are we going with it?

The problem, as several of the panel pointed out, is that people love to drive; people want to drive, especially performance cars.

Is autonomous driving going to take the fun out of it all? It could take the drudgery out of the stop-start commute where really you are a car occupier rather than a driver. But it should never be let take the buzz out of driving.

Jim Farley, president Ford of Europe, Middle East and Africa, said the technology behind autonomous driving will most pointedly benefit people who really need it - just to drive - because otherwise they couldn't.

I had a few words with Steve Armstrong afterwards and he told me autonomous vehicles will also really come into their own when, for example, the technology permits vans to deliver or pick up stuff in the depth of night - while former 'drivers' are asleep in their beds.

At first glance the earlier panel discussion felt a bit strange but it served a purpose: we all need to start thinking about what we want from our cars in the future. It is also obvious that the technology between driving and being driven will have common areas.

But it can't be allowed to sap the delight and energy from driving a car. There's a lot of kick left in the old driver yet. Chris Harris said as much.

But there is a lingering feeling of uncertainty about what impact having your car drive you will have on your input and expectations from it.

The signposts are blurred and we're a long way from the chequered flag.

But Chris did a good job steering under tricky conditions. He's also chuffed at the good reviews over the new Top Gear.

Coincidentally a new survey shows a substantial number of 'ordinary' drivers don't want to give up the job of steering and braking and accelerating.

Research from Auto Trader has found that 49pc of motorists are just not interested.

More than four-in-five (81pc) car owners say they intend driving for the rest of their lives.

Nearly three-quarters said independence is their biggest motivation for owning a car while 33pc said it's all about their 'enjoyment of driving'.

But only 21pc knew what a fully-autonomous vehicle could do with 81pc of over 55s admitting they don't know what the term means.

Indo Motoring

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