I still haven't figured out why everyone is rushing headlong into the development of autonomous vehicles.
It makes good sense to develop and market electric vehicles, as long as we are facing 54 mpg corporate average fuel economy standards. But I don't know why it's so important to develop self-driving vehicles. There may well be a market for them but no one knows yet how big it is.
Automotive companies are placing billion-dollar bets on this market before they have any concrete information on its potential. For example, are these vehicles being developed mainly for taxi fleets?
We have no idea what the retail cost of these vehicles will be and we don't know enough about the challenges of developing them. And auto makers have no clue about how long it will take until they have answers to these questions.
Meanwhile, the president of General Motors—at a time when GM is considering selling Opel and getting out of Europe—made a speech in Chicago calling for the ability to test these unproven vehicles on public streets and highways, a suggestion that could have catastrophic consequences.
The idea that the public will share the roads with thousands of driverless vehicles being tested should put a shudder through everyone.
For safety advocates, there is no doubt that the ultimate solution is to get the driver out of the vehicle. For decades, they saw the solution as mass transit—simply keeping the cars parked.
Now there is this new idea, and once again the goal is to get the driver out of the vehicle. This could be a very good idea in many situations, particularly with the elderly, but certainly not in all instances.
Autonomous vehicles have potential, but they will need years of testing in isolated environments instead of mixing it up with drivers on public streets and highways.
GM has some great proving grounds across the land. That is where the company needs to do its testing.
Keith Crain is chairman of Crain Communications, which publishes Rubber & Plastics News.