Driverless cars have been a hot topic recently, especially following the proposed launch of driverless, flying carslast month in Dubai and the recent House of Lords report this month warning about the dangers of driverless vehicles in the UK.
For years the idea of cars driving themselves has been upheld as the next level of technological evolution. But while the future of engineering is exciting, the automotive industry and consumers could lose out in this quest for driving automation.
Everyone seems to think that they would like to see driverless cars in the near future, but have they really considered if we are ready to have them? There is still a fear factor, too – a recent Randstad UK web poll found 75% of people would not feel safe in driverless cars – but that may be because they are an unknown quantity.
Not coming to UK motorways soon
We certainly won’t see any autonomous fleets in the UK for some time and when we do, the costs will be very high to start - research and development alone will be in the hundreds of millions of pounds.
Despite these misgivings, the march to automation has not slowed. In 2015, the UK pledged to invest £200m for autonomous transport development and that was to be matched by the industry; in late 2016, Uber teamed up with Volvo in a £400m joint venture to create a driverless fleet of taxis.
Who would sacrifice Aston Martin, Bentley?
These figures show just how much investment is being made, which would suggest the costs of owning a driverless car could be more than what you would pay for a standard family sized vehicle to begin with.
We must also remember that the success of the UK car industry is partly down to producing cars that give enjoyable driving experiences. Cars manufacturers such as Bentley, Aston Martin, McLaren and Jaguar Land Rover are all made in the UK and I wonder how many people would give up the pleasure of driving one of these cars to be in a driverless one.
Jaguar Land Rover would need new fleet
It’s not just high-end cars that could be affected as the same could be said for more middle range, less expensive cars. At the end of the day, a car is a huge investment and people want to be able to enjoy it.
Another change we would see, which would especially affect prestigious manufacturers, is that they will have to change the models of their cars considerably. As a result, it is very unlikely that we would see driverless Range Rovers on our motorways and Jaguar Land Rover would have to design and release a smaller car, which would be in contrast to the rest of its fleet. Again this takes away that driving experience and will cost the industry more.
Despite the aesthetic and cost implications, when driverless cars do eventually reach the UK market, the functionality and, most importantly, the safety will need to be of the best quality.