Intersection Ahead: Where Are We Going — And Who Is Driving? – The Lohdown

#hashtags: #Rennsport #Porsche #Jacky Ickx #Vic Elford #Derek Bell #Hans Stuck #Jochen Mass #Mark Webber #Earl Bamber #Patrick #Brendon Hartley

In between the execution of our annual Car of the Year and Truck of the Year programs, I spent a weekend at Rennsport V, the fifth installment of all things Porsche, up at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Throughout the event, I bumped into legendary Porsche racers, guys like Jacky Ickx, Vic Elford, Derek Bell, Hans Stuck, and Jochen Mass, along with a few of the newer endurance racing studs: Mark Webber, Earl Bamber, and Patrick Long. Porsche even arranged for a ride with Brendon Hartley, factory driver of the second-place finisher at Le Mans, in the new turbocharged 911 Carrera S. The next day, I took a side trip to nearby Mountain View, California, for the polar opposite of Rennsport, a press conference on Google’s self-driving car (SDC) program. As I had flown into the Bay Area, transit between venues involved hired cars of two different types. The first was a typical black car service, driven by a talkative young man who liked to speed, tailgate, and brake late, all while frequently consulting the mobile phone on his lap. My second ride was an UberX, a brand-new Toyota Corolla so dealer fresh it still had a paper license plate and handwritten tag on the key noting car color and VIN. Such a shame the driver rear-ended another car just before arriving at my destination. Humans are just not paying attention. At the Googleplex, I glided around the parking lot in one of Google’s sensor-studded autonomous pods before listening intently to project leader Chris Urmson describe the chief attribute and concern of Google’s SDC program: safety. Later, Google founder Sergey Brin dropped in unannounced to give us 30 minutes of insight into the future of cars, self-driving and otherwise. During the Q+A session, a journalist asked whether Brin was surprised by the number of accidents Google cars have been involved in. “What has surprised me is the frequency, actually, of the number of times we’ve been rear-ended. … Humans are just not paying attention,” Brin said, noting that the majority involved human drivers rear-ending the SDCs. “That’s not the end of the world, but that speaks to the challenge, with all the phones and the other distractions of our modern age, to drive. In those situations, the car is probably much better equipped to drive than the distracted human.” I left the press conference early, racing to beat rush-hour traffic to SFO. While I boarded my flight, Jason Cammisa called from the Tesla Model X launch a few miles away in Fremont. A Model S with a beta version of the new autopilot software was waiting to drive me down to L.A. if I wanted. I declined; I was so exhausted, it would have been dangerous no matter who was driving. After a blissfully uneventful Uber from the LAX to HQ, I wandered into my dark office to find that Nate Martinez had left me the keys to a 526-hp Mustang GT350. My short drive home was a riot—a fitting end to a surreal few days. I frequently mulled over this sequence of events during the creation of the January 2016 issue, which, for the first time ever, revealed Motor Trend’s 2016 Car, Truck, SUV, and Person of the Year. Our choices will be controversial—they always are—but in the broader context of the future of transportation, they’re just footnotes. [video22] Cars, trucks, and SUVs have never been more powerful, more efficient, or more complicated than they are today. They have never been safer, easier to drive, higher performing, or more connected. And yet, the automotive industry and car culture as we know it are under siege from all sides. We are quickly approaching an intersection in the transportation landscape. The question isn’t just which way are we going—but who is going to drive? More from The Lohdown: Change of the Year 2015 Best Driver’s Car: In It to Win It 6 Reasons to Subscribe to Motor Trend On Demand Racing to Win

#videos