With autonomous vehicles now widely predicted to become mass-market ready some time around 2020, there are very few automakers not working on some form of autonomous vehicle technology today. And with Tesla’s beta-versioned autopilot software already capable of driving most daily trips in autonomous mode today, luxury automakers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi are all keen to catch up.
But while Audi and its parent company Volkswagen are already working hard to bring autonomous driving to the marketplace, Volkswagen’s performance brand Porsche has no intent to follow suit. What’s more, Porsche CEO Oliver Blume appears highly skeptical of autonomous driving technology in any form, despite the advances being made by its parent company in the area.
As Reuters reported earlier this week, Blume is vocal in his mistrust of cars that drive themselves. In an interview on Monday with Westfalen-Blatt — a local German Newspaper — Blume indicated that the reason people drove a Porsche was to experience the pleasure of driving. For that, they needed to be doing the driving themselves, rather than have an on-board computer do it for them.
“One wants to drive a Porsche by oneself,” Blume said. “An iPhone belongs in your pocket, not on the road.”
While Porsche has historically been a performance brand rather than a prestige or luxury brand, it has gradually blurred the lines in recent years, thanks in part to its high-performance sports SUVs and family-friendly coupes. But Blume’s comments indicate that Porsche is keen to retain its sports heritage, setting itself up as a drivers’ car rather than a luxury way of getting from A to B.
Using that argument would make more sense if Blume — and the Porsche brand — had a longstanding history of avoiding autonomous driving technology. Yet that’s not the case: back in 2011, Porsche began work on a system called ACC InnoDrive. Still in development as of last year, InnoDrive is not a conventional autonomous drive system but rather a sophisticated cruise control system designed to maximize fuel economy and speed.
It works like this: rather than do the driving for you, InnoDrive pays attention to regular trips you make, recording a whole host of data about the the car’s speed, position and road conditions. After the trip has been made a few times, the car then offers to take over the operation of the accelerator and brake for you, pushing itself as hard as is possible along a route and leaving you to just focus on the steering.
It is, to put it simply, a half-way house between full autonomy and cruise control, one that Porsche seems intent on following, despite Blume’s comments to the contrary.
What does this mean for Porsche? If we’re honest, we think the German automaker will lose out to its rival brands if it decides not to pursue autonomous drive technology, much in the same way that (to date) it has missed a potentially lucrative place in the electric vehicle marketplace by holding off on developing an all-electric sports car for as long as it has.
While Porsche is trying to rectify that particular issue — namely with the Porsche Mission E electric sports sedan it is promising will launch some time in 2018 — we can’t help but think that without at least some form of autonomous vehicle capabilities, the Mission E just won’t be able to confidently cross-shop against the competition.
By that point, Mercedes-Benz is expected to have autonomous-capable luxury and performance cars, while the Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X already have basic autopilot capabilities today. Were the Mission E far superior to any other electric car in terms of range, acceleration and performance, we could overlook the omission of autonomous capabilities. But as it stands right now, that’s not the case.
Is Porsche right to focus on the driver rather than autonomous technology? And will customers opt for the Prestige of the Porsche brand when other companies produce cars that outperform its vehicles in many areas?
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