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Paranoia, Porsche, Paul Newman & Self-Driving Cars

Paranoia, Porsche, Paul Newman & Self-Driving Cars
by Roger C. Lanctot on 05-11-2016 at 12:00 pm

 I was watching a documentary on the racing life of Paul Newman yesterday and I couldn’t get over the disconnect between Paul Newman’s near-obsession with auto racing and the general public’s understanding of the man. Most of us know Newman for salad dressing and iconic movie roles, but it appears, based on the testimony of friends and family members, that racing was his real passion.

He wasn’t much good at it when he got started. But like his acting he worked hard at it and ultimately became a winning driver and team owner. In interviews in the documentary he is pretty much at a loss to explain his passion other than to say that unlike the Academy Awards you don’t vote for the winner of the race, either you cross the finish line first or you don’t.

But it’s Newman’s passion for driving which fascinates me. For me, driving is an obligation, maybe a privilege, and occasionally fun. Driving can be empowering and it can be dangerous. I clearly lack Newman’s passion for this activity.

I was thinking of this because I had just visited Porsche in Stuttgart last week. I had a nice chat with the executive I was visiting and as I turned to leave I asked who at Porsche was working on self-driving car technology – the current industry rage. My host looked at me incredulously. “Oh,” I said. “Sorry. Porsche. That’s right. No self-driving cars.”

A Web search turned up February 2016 reports of Porsche CEO Oliver Blume’s comments that Porsche would never create a self-driving car. – “Porsche CEO: Don’t Expect to See a Self-Driving Porsche Any Time Soon” –

Blume’s position seems a little severe given the fact that nearly every other car company on the planet is working on this technology. Even governments are getting into the act setting rules and, in some cases, providing funding.

Where Porsche leaves off in objecting to self-driving cars, the paranoid step in. Website paints a gloomy picture of sheeple financially shackled to remote controlled drone cars under the command of car makers or the government or both. – “Why the Hard Sell for the Self-Driving Car?”

Setting hysteria and driving tradition aside it’s important to understand the spectrum of self-driving and what it means to every day driving. The industry’s and government’s effort to master automated driving is having the collateral outcome of accelerating progress toward reducing car crashes and saving millions of lives.

Mania further reflects the fact that outside of Paul Newman and millions of other driving enthusiasts driving and owning cars is a headache. The effort to master automated driving may ultimately raise questions regarding vehicle ownership (thereby undermining the assumptions behind the paranoid screed linked to above) but it will also open up new employment opportunities and may help to reduce congestion, emissions and, most definitely, collisions.

As we assess the self-driving car opportunity it is best to recall that we may only want or need self-driving in particular circumstances – while on the highway, when in the midst of a medical emergency, when we are tired or disabled, or when we are in rush hour traffic. Some of these capabilities already exist and some do not. But 1.25M annual highway fatalities is intolerable and every car company and even governments have a responsibility to explore any technology capable of mitigating that toll.

It is best not to view self-driving cars in absolutist terms. We know there are governmental organizations that have tried or expressed interest in remote control of cars and Google’s proposed removal of the steering wheel and pedals is troubling to enthusiasts. If some consumers would rather be driven than drive, then the market should decide. Just remember, it will be impossible to look as cool as Paul Newman if you are in a self-driving car.

Roger C. Lanctot is Associate Director in the Global Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics. More details about Strategy Analytics can be found here:

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