By on March 6, 2017

volkswagen sedric

Unable to get excited about the vehicle pictured above? Maybe that’s because this Volkswagen concept embodies everything people who don’t want to read about self-driving cars hate.

See, it has a name — Sedric. Which is apparently a combination of three words — “self,” “driving,” and, you guessed it, “car.” It’s just so appallingly cute. Which, like the existential threat to personal freedom that surrounds the technology, is another thing that turns off gearheads when vehicles resembling shapeless computer mouses or refrigerators crop up.

While VW’s concept, which is more of a pod than a car, is meant to herald the company’s autonomous future and serve as the patriarch of the company’s anticipated self-driving offerings, it’s really just a testbed for VW engineers to tinker with. Designed for Level 5 (or “full”) autonomy, Sedric is just the beginning, VW claims. To many, that might sound like a threat.Spawned by Volkswagen Group’s Future Center Europe in Potsdam, Germany and Volkswagen Group Research in Wolfsburg, Sedric apparently has some procreating of his own to perform:

Sedric is the pioneer, the ideas platform for autonomous driving in the Volkswagen Group. And it is the “Father” of numerous concepts for a new form of individual mobility. Soon Sedric will also get “children” and “grandchildren” with the Group’s various brands. They will be created in typical designs for the brands and will feature tailor-made and customer-specific characteristics for equipment.

Bland. Featureless. Personalized but not romantic or stirring in any sense of the word. The act of being driven, rather than driving one’s self. A wheeled computer, which would abide by every dictate of the ruling authorities, built with the sole purpose of carting your sorry butt around to places you’re obligated to visit. No off-roading abilities.

All of these characteristics likely jibe with the features certain car enthusiasts despise about autonomous vehicles. To them, it’s an automotive version of the creamless coffee flavored with artificial sweetener that appears in Orwell’s 1984. It does the trick — it gets you around, in this case — but it does so without passion, without involvement, without enjoyment. To this crowd, each autonomous concept and Level 2 driver’s aid brings us a step closer to a future foretold in the 1981 Rush song Red Barchetta. A future where certain classes of vehicles — perhaps all human-driven vehicles — are outlawed out of concern for public safety.

Thunderbird? Firebird? No. Sedric.


Of course, I can sympathize. I harbor the same feelings and concerns. As I’ve always told friends, I’m a modern man, not a postmodern one. (Now let’s get back to that Eisenhower documentary…)

It’s funny that a vehicle like VW’s Sedric is sometimes met with visions of a future where personal mobility is restricted, as the vehicle intends to do just the opposite. The service that would be performed by this vehicle, at least in the way VW describes it, already exists. It’s simply offered in a more recognized and accepted form.

From VW:

The idea of a simple form of individual mobility for everyone is linked to a universally usable vehicle and to an intuitive and easily understood control concept. The Button is the link between the user and Sedric. It is the key to a completely new mobility experience. This is because a single touch of the button guarantees mobility for everyone, at any time, and at any location. The control element is made of a button to press and a ring which indicates Sedric’s arrival time with colored signals and vibration signal that guides a person with impaired vision to the car.

Buses! Subways! Taxis! Those already exist. But people who don’t own a car still desire a better way of getting around than what’s currently on offer. Who can blame them? Who enjoys awkward conversations about the outside temperature or traffic with their cabbies? No one. Who likes standing butt-to-gut in a crowded subway car or lurching bus, holding on to a pole or strap teeming with the contents of several dozen petri dishes, trying not to breathe?

Admit it, you’d rather have Sedric take you home from the bar. As foreign as it may be to some, the vision of mobility offered by VW is akin to a subway or taxi that stops at your door, minus the possibility of awkward moments spent with strangers. It also eliminates any chance that an angry insurance company will come after your wallet. For this purpose, what’s not to like, at least as far as your inner libertarian is concerned?

Still, the fear remains that while autonomous vehicles will certainly plug gaps in the mobility realm, the realm itself could eventually boot humans from behind the wheel. Even Volkswagen hints that a Sedric-like vehicle could one day find a home in your driveway, never mind the concept’s ride-hailing element.

That means no getting up from the couch to take a long drive out of town at midnight, no destination in mind, just feeling the wind in your hair has your feet and hands pilot the vehicle past fields and houses that recede silently in the night. That would be a terrible thing to lose. However, the act of providing new methods of getting around and the act of restricting methods of mobility are two separate things, initiated by two very different branches of society.

It’s too bad we can’t separate the former from fear of the latter.

[Images: Volkswagen]

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28 Comments on “Volkswagen’s Driverless Creation is Everything That Scares People About Autonomous Cars...”

  • avatar

    “Ich bin ein Johnny Taxi.”

  • avatar

    Drivers No Longer Wanted.

  • avatar

    What will humans do when machines do everything for us?

  • avatar

    Seems needlessly large. I’d want mine about Encore length.

  • avatar

    Woody Allen came pretty close to this concept 44 years ago:

  • avatar

    This looks like the automotive equivalent of an elevator.

    Self-driving cars are the modern-day equivalent of the Zeppelin. It’s a great idea in theory, but nascent, and disastrous in practice. Any self-driving car is just one leaking capacitor or weak circuit board solder joint away from causing a fatal disaster.
    Heck, we have been using trains for centuries, and they are certainly not free of the occasional monumental tragedy. Self-driving cars operate in an environment that’s thousands of times more complicated.
    No one has yet answered the question of what Sedric or his ilk would do when something as commonplace as a tire suddenly going flat in the fast lane of the 405 freeway during rush hour.

    • 0 avatar

      No Sedric of mine would ever be in the fast lane.

    • 0 avatar

      “Any self-driving car is just one leaking capacitor or weak circuit board solder joint away from causing a fatal disaster.”

      Any self-driving human is just one distraction or brief nap or heart attack from causing a fatal disaster. To the tune of ~30k fatalities in the US every year.

      Autonomous vehicles don’t need to be perfect, they just need to be better than meatbags. I’m willing to bet that within 20 years they will be.

  • avatar

    “it does so without passion, without involvement, without enjoyment”

    Who are you, Ironsides, to need micro-control of a motorized chair for those emotions?

  • avatar

    “VW’s concept, which is more of a pod than a car”

    That’s exactly what they will be. Pods. There is no reason for them to be anything else. They won’t be any kind of “car”. They will be pods.

  • avatar

    This is the kind of stuff our grandkids will laugh at, the way we did when we saw those old ‘Cars of the Future’ articles from decades ago.
    Let’s see if it meets modern car design rules.
    Unnecessary large? Check
    Can’t see out the back? Check (but you won’t need to)
    Ridiculous huge wheels? Maybe, but they’re implied
    Gigantic gaping grill? How could they get this wrong?
    What it really is: auto-journo click bait so Vdub can say “Were making an autonomous car!” Duh, so is everybody.

  • avatar

    Is it any worse than a Nissan Cedric?

    Which, of course, was sold here as an Infiniti M45.

  • avatar

    My favorite thing about driverless cars, “oh you said a bad word?’,”Oh you did not pay your taxes”? you are now being rerouted to the police station.

  • avatar

    That is a sharp dressed man.

  • avatar

    This is why I want a mid-1960s full sized Chrysler, the kind that was banned from every demolition derby because they always won, BOF, RWD, 418 CID V8, with 3/8″ plate steel stamped by a million-pound press into bumpers and chromed, then bolted to steel beams. With a Newport or Imperial, if I see an unoccupied Cedric, I can smash it into a wall or steel pole.

    Whew! I’m sorry. Something came over me. Of course I wouldn’t do that. A Molotov cocktail would get it done more cheaply. Then I could stand there and watch, muttering Burn, Baby! Burn.

  • avatar

    “A wheeled computer, which would abide by every dictate of the ruling authorities, built with the sole purpose of carting your sorry butt around to places you’re obligated to visit. No off-roading abilities.”

    I’m sorry to say that describes 90% of my existence as a long-distance commuter. You think I’m free “of ruling authorities” on any morning commute in any major city? I can keep an old-timey vehicle with 3 pedals and a steering wheel for the <10% of the time I'm blazing new trails of freedom. But I'd be happy to let Cedric relieve me of the agony of the commute while I take a nap.

  • avatar

    On the bright side, the majority of us will be long moldering in our graves by the time replacement-capable Level 5 (ie, not just fixed-route bus-alikes) becomes anything more than a “Real Soon Now” pipe dream.

  • avatar

    The car looks dystopian. The future that is 2054 Minority Report or some bright future modernist world that was shown to use in the 90s or noughties (“00”) that is really dark underneath a shiny white modernist sheen.

    But knowning VW I bet they find a way to make it pollute the atmosphere…

  • avatar

    All the blue lights suddenly turn red, a speech synthesizer says “MURDER MODE ACTIVATE”, and Sedric goes on a bloody rampage. Just add in some clueless teenagers, a remote location, and cellphones that say “no signal” for some reason. “An evil military car computer virus gone rogue – in the Murderous Automotive Appliance!”

  • avatar

    “Everything That Scares People About Autonomous Cars”

    Yeah, walk into any crowded mall and shout THEY WANT TO BRING OUT CARS THAT LET YOU JUST STAY ON YOUR PHONE! and watch the bowels cut loose.

    Oh, the humanity!

  • avatar

    Future office cooler moment:

    Say I dialed a shared ride this morning.. 2 howling babies and a barking dachshund…

  • avatar

    I’m just surprised nobody has mentioned yet that it looks just like a miniaturized version of a public transport vehicle, or a bit like Miami’s MetroMover.

    I have to say it seems to be trying to look hideous …

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