German automaker Porsche has decided that if you’re the type of driver who’s looking forward to the era of self-driving cars, your ride will not be a Porsche.
In a move that could be filed under: “Zig when everyone else zags,” the automaker has perhaps seen the future and decided that its best strategy is to cling to what remains of driving’s glorious past and appeal to drivers’ nostalgia for the days of the open road.
Speaking with regional German paper Westfalen-Blatt, recently appointed Porsche CEO Oliver Blume replied nein when asked whether his company would be developing autonomous vehicles, and also put the brakes on any outside partnerships with tech firms to develop the technology.
“One wants to drive a Porsche by oneself,” he said, before adding, “An iPhone belongs in your pocket, not on the road.”
While Google and Apple have concrete and imminent plans to introduce autonomous vehicles, and most other automakers, perhaps most notably Tesla, along with BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan, are actively introducing self-driving features into their automobiles, Porsche has noticed that there remains a viable niche market composed of the type of driver for whom the idea of surrendering control of their vehicle triggers a strong feeling of Angst.
Other jurisdictions, however, are placing their bets on autonomous vehicles. In Canada, Ontario is going ahead with driverless car trials, while in the U.S., Michigan, Florida, Nevada and California are all allowing driverless car testing on public roads.
Porsche aren’t exactly Luddites, though, merely reacting to the disappearance of their way of life.
They do have plans to introduce hybrid gasoline-electric models for most of their current lineup, including a plug-in 911, and are also set to introduce their Tesla killer, the luxurious Mission E, a fully electric vehicle that Porsche is spending 1 billion euros to develop and that packs a 600 horsepower engine and a 500 km range.
From a marketing perspective, Porsche’s decision to appeal to the past is actually a pretty smart move. From a “being on the right side of history” perspective, though, it’s an admission that Porsche has a greater stake in the past than it does in the future.
Drivers who still associate car ownership with wind in their hair, feeling a sense of agency, and the development of manly skills such as driving a stick, are presumably still a sizable enough market that Porsche has decided to position itself as your grandfather’s car.
Perversely, this makes a lot of sense, again strictly from a marketing perspective.
Porsche likely evaluated the competition for developing the “car of the future” and, sensing that going up against the overt sexiness of the Tesla S would be a losing struggle, instead decided that their best opportunity to differentiate themselves would be to present themselves as the “car of the past”.
Scoff at your peril. In the 1990s, pundits widely assumed that CDs would kill vinyl, yet here we are in a situation where CDs can’t even be given away for recycling. They’re basically landfill now.
And vinyl? It’s doing great. Moreover, as life becomes more and more inevitably digital, so we see the dramatic uptick of artisanal cheese, craft beards, shaving with a straight razor and a general impulse to reclaim non-virtual activity, or what our parents referred to as “life”.
Increasingly, silence and agency are seen as the truest indicators of affluence. The most striking thing about VIP areas in airports or hotels is that they are silent and free of advertising.
Pay a little extra for a computer, and it’s less likely to be pre-loaded with adware. Buy a cheap model, though, and your device will probably be packed with bloatware designed to recoup lost revenue through potential marketing opportunities. Think of it as the cost of saving money.
In a practical sense, obviously, most people use their cars for the drudgery of commuting. And for those people, self-driving cars can’t get here fast enough.
Spending hours focusing all of your attention on sitting in traffic on a ribbon of highway on your way to work will be a deeply unpleasant memory to future commuters who will be able to read the news, play with their children, watch TV, or do whatever they feel like while an autonomous vehicle brings them closer to their destination.
That, at least, is the vision of the future being sold to us by techno-utopians.
Porsche sees that same future coming and says, “Don’t bet on it.”