Self-Driving Cars – End of the Road for Classics?

I was struck by a thought today as I saw another article on self-driving cars. The article was talking about their inevitability, and hell they would save time money and environmental resources. It went on to talk about how most people these days are increasingly not dependent on their cars or would like not to be. They use mass transit, services such as Uber, or rental cars such as zip car and others like it. When we get to the point where there are easily available service to take us personally where ever we want to go, then most people will not want to have the time expense and hassle of a new car. They want to get somewhere, they don’t care about the car. I, on the other hand, especially being a British car fan, don’t care about getting anywhere all. I just want to have a car that I love.

Self-Driving Cars - End of the Road for Classics?

But let’s keep that line of reasoning going. If more and more cars become self-driving, and so the fertility rates an accident rate goes down because of that, the best thing to happen for yourself driving cars is for all of the other cars to be so also. Or at least digitally detectable, with an information feed going back-and-forth between them. This will require new cars, not old cars. I cannot imagine trying to retrofit self-driving system or information system to a 1966 MG.

So, as more and more of the cars on the road become intelligent, they will benefit from, and therefore the entire system will benefit from, all the other cars on the road being intelligent. This means the government insurance companies the police and everyone else will want the dumb cars off the road. By by dumb cars I mean the cars that you and I like. This is very similar to the situation with cars versus horses in the last century. As cars and other motorized transport became more and more prevalent, the horses who were a first just a nuisance eventually became a hazard. And like horses, our cars may be first relegated to secondary roads, then country lanes and exhibition runs, and finally museums and the odd parade.

And just as the cars are legislated out of existence due to the safety factors and perhaps environmental factors, they will cease to be able to find places to refuel. As the electric and other alternative-powered cars become more prevalent, gas stations that we know and you will start to fade out in the same way that fuel containing lead was legislated out of existence and then ethanol began to creep in. I don’t know about your car, but my 50-year-old A-Series engine hates Ethanol. Combined fuel sourcing issues with legislation for safety and inter-vehicle communication, and it paints  a very dark picture.

Horse Carriage

The final nail in the coffin will probably be the repair industry not just the actual labor to do the repairs, but the parts and availability. As cars become more finely tuned, digitized, and aware of each other through networks, security is an increasing risk. With increasing regularity the parts industry will start to be locked to the casual mechanic barring the hobbyist from it. Some automotive manufacturers are already looking to prohibit non-licensed technicians from working on their cars. Just take a look at the emission systems regulations and you will get a hint of what is to come. When you have to have a degree or certificate to work on a car, and when parts suppliers have a harder time stocking parts because of the technical components and legislation around them, it becomes harder and harder for us to keep our own cars on the road for general use.

Our cars are becoming horses. They will be relegated entirely to hobby and exhibition. Just as horses are, for the most part, a rich man’s hobby today. So will our older cars become a rich man’s hobby tomorrow, out-of-reach for all but the very lucky few.

How can we stop, or at least delay, all of this? I am not sure we can. I think you will see most of this HVA - HIstoric Vehicle Associationwithin the next 30 years. But, if we can do anything, it is through the lobbying (how I hate that word!) and education of groups like The Historic Vehicle Association and SEMA. Yes, SEMA – the home of racing machines and street modders.

Recently SEMA has been taking the EPA to tasks for proposed regulations that certified motor vehicles and engines and their emission control devices must remain in their certified configuration even if they are used solely for competition. That regulation would mean no more “track cars”. No more carb switching. No more tampering with any bit of the system.

So stay alert folks, read the rules, and look to the future. That same Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that you thought was supposed to protect songwriters from getting ripped off or kids from pirating movies may actually be used to keep you from getting into your cars systems or modifying your exhaust.

Michael Carnell
Editor at Just British
Michael Carnell is the editor and founder of the Just British Online Motoring Magazine. As a lifelong British car fan, he has owned or driven British cars of all ages from Austins and MGs to Jaguars and Triumphs. He currently owns a 1966 Vanden Plas Princess 1100, a 1977 MGB, and a 2002 Land Rover Discovery.

11 Comments

  1. They call it progress! Remember a time before computers, cell phones, and fuel injection? Those of us that love our cars will fight to the bitter end before we give them up.

    • True! Doesn’t mean I have to like it. I am indeed torn though. When I am just commuting I want easy, fast, and troublefree. When I am driving … I really want to drive. And since I love trains and trolleys too, I love mass transit!

  2. Most thought-provoking; thank you for sharing. But let me add some opposing comments:

    1-While no longer novelties, the much-hyped Prius and other hybrid cars remain expensive and small. Technological advances are nice, but must be affordable to all if they are make a difference.

    2-The all-electric Tesla remains a toy for the very rich, and the lack of charging stations remain Tesla’s weak spot.

    3- The oil & gas industry going away? With gas prices so low, and MPG’s increasing, Exxon, BP, Valero, Total, Elf, China Petroleum, etc, are not going away for many generations – and drivers worldwide don’t want them to go away.

    Our cars are are 40-50 years old; frankly they’re more at risk from rust and lack of someone able to properly balance the SU’s than by Google’s self-driving cars!

    • All very good points, but …

      1 – The prices are coming down. As more of the cars are bought, the prices come down. Also, as further restrictions by our and other governments are put on car makers, cars like these become a necessity. The legislation, both for environment and for safety around autonomous cars, will push a lot of people and cars out of the market.

      2 – I wouldn’t say very rich, but wealthy yes. But even they are looking at less expensive models. And again, what is looked for is a tipping point to make charging stations or home / office charging affordable.

      3 – Ah, the biggest players are those large corporations. That is who I am really looking towards because you are very right that they do not want any of their profits to disappear!

      I certainly hope you are right. Selfishly for my own same – well and for the sake fo my current and future cars!

  3. I am one who shudders at the new “cars”. Modern cars as so ridiculous in that they are making humans redundant. But we tend to forget that self-driving cars have been around since the beginning of the 20th century. They had various names such as “bus”, “taxi”, “train” and “subway”. Todays cars that still have to be driven have reduced drivers to mindless couch potatoes with the mental ability of a loaf of bread. Who the heck developed a device that gave a warning that the car/lorry/etc was stopping because it was faced with having to stop. The term “red light” applies to those things on the back of a vehicle – not just houses in the tourist areas of Amsterdam. Do we really want to know what the outside temperature is, do we have to select from a number of setting for rear axles. throttle, etc etc etc. No wonder todays youth has become uninterested in cars because his smart phone is more exciting and there are no rules about direction. Perhaps if we set up challenges for teenagers they would come round. Offer them a challenge driving a simple car (the original Mini!) round a test track which was not too too difficult. Pit schools against schools.

    Last week I had three teenagers stop to watch me work on my 1957 Aston Martin. The garage door was open so they got up close and took photos on their gizzillon dollar smart phones. There were much machinations with fingers and thumbs. Then they walked away in group still fingering those little flat things. But the thing that really got me to wonder was I had not been asked one question – they apparently had no interest in finding out about the car or what car it was. But there is a bright thing at the end of the garage – my granddaughter wants me to teach her the gear shift thing because she wants my MGB GT V8 when I get too old to drive !!!!!! She says it’s “cool”.

    • You can’t win them all over Barrie, but as long as you win over a few like your granddaughter, there is hope. And I agree with her by the way, MGBGT V8s are indeed cool!

  4. Those teens missed such an opportunity! I always seem to attract both neighbors and passers-by when I work on my ’68 B; from the ‘I drove a ___ ‘ to the ‘wow, what’s that car?”, my end of the street can get rather social- and how nice is that!

  5. Self driving cars are just the Segways of the future. A few large companies want them to force you to watch commercials while they drive you to where they want you to go. Their flawed vision is that you will get into a car and say “dinner” and they will take you where a corporation has paid them big bucks to deliver customers.

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