By on November 27, 2017

2017 Porsche 911 Carrera - Image: Porsche

Like BMW, which aims to keep gas-powered M cars in production for as long as humanly possible, Porsche is also making a commitment to motoring purity in the face of new technologies and government overreach. That circular device positioned in front of the driver? Porsche wants to keep it there.

The specter of Big Government and Big Safety conspiring to kill non-autonomous motoring is a real fear, one that’s been talked about more than a little here at TTAC. Call it the Red Barchetta scenario.

Porsche seems aware of it, too, though it tiptoes around the entity at the center of the issue. Nevertheless, the automaker claims a future Porsche “will be one of the last automobiles with a steering wheel.”

That’s the view of Lutz Meschke, vice-president of the company’s executive board and head of finance and IT. In an interview published by the automaker, Meschke lays out the short and medium-term future for both self-driving technology and the steering wheel.

No one knows what the long-term holds, but many of us, Meschke included, seem to believe it’s a future where safety tops personal autonomy. A future where your car drives you, no ifs, ands, or buts.

“A Porsche will always be a car that you will want and be able to drive yourself,” he said, adding much later that the act of driving “will hopefully remain the most important thing at Porsche for a very long time.” Still, Porsche isn’t going the Luddite route when it comes to assist-type features that drivers might want to pay extra for — or demand as standard kit.

From the parking lot to the racetrack, “We see digitalisation and autonomous driving not as a threat but as a tremendous opportunity,” Meschke said. For the former scenario, traffic jam assistants and automated parking systems are seen as the most useful features for the brand. For buyers in Porsche’s price range, these will soon become “must haves,” he said.

Luxury car ownership obviously means the option of taking it as easy as possible. Next year’s Cayenne brings the brand’s most advanced driver’s aids yet, Meschke claims. After that, the Mission E electric sedan (due to appear in 2019) represents the next big leap in autonomous features.

For the weekend racer, automation could mean the ability to navigate a track like your favorite pedal jockey — just download a particular race, recorded by a driver piloting the same car on the same course, and learn from your vehicle. Porsche calls that idea the “Mark-Webber-function,” named after its seasoned brand ambassador.

“With this function, the vehicle could drive autonomously on a racetrack like the Nürnburgring – just like Webber would drive,” said Meschke. “The car drives an ideal course and demonstrates perfect brakes in the curves, where to best shift and where to accelerate. First, software saves the exact course Mark Webber drives on a racetrack. These data are used by the autonomous vehicle to drive the course identically. Afterwards the customer can reclaim the steering wheel and let the car show him the ideal course, thus training and improving his skills as a driver via direct feedback from the car. This is technically possible already. Of course, the driver can improve over time and learn new things.”

Naturally, other tracks and drivers would be part of such a hypothetical feature. Back in the real world, Porsche plans to make more of its money from digitalisation, the less-sexy, once-removed cousin of automation. For example, it already offers German customers the ability to order additional insurance online (“Porsche Shield”) before heading to the track.

In the medium term, Porsche hopes to generate a two-digit percentage of its business from digital services. As for the long term, well, that likely involves a rogue Porsche engineer in the last production 911 deftly avoiding Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt road safety drones as he races for the Swiss border.

[Image: Porsche]

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9 Comments on “You’ll Have to Pry the Steering Wheel From Porsche’s Cold, Dead Hands...”

  • avatar

    What’s the point of a self driving sport car?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a godsend for “performance” enthusiasts and bench racers. You know two types of people who really care and are passionate about stat blocks.

      Show me a car that could flawlessly run a drag race or road course with zero human interaction and I’ll effortlessly find you somebody that will endlessly brag about how “they” whipped your ass all the while calling you a luddite and a geezer.

  • avatar

    The hand wringing and jubilation over the impending inevitability of autonomous cars is reaching a fever pitch, while also being ridiculously misplaced. The hurdles-

    – the technological hurdles to be crossed to make this actually commercially viable
    – legal cupability in an accident
    – the whole issue of replacing the 1B+ cars on the road today by an industry that can do about 8-10% of that a year, tops
    – the abysmal state of infrastructure in much of the developed and developing world

    won’t be crossed any time soon, so any suggestions otherwise are a guarantee of either ignorance/zealotry/paranoia and/or the pushing of an agenda.

  • avatar

    You might wonder why people have confidence in self driving computer programs
    after viewing the innumerable updates required to fix bugs in operating systems like Microsoft Windows, which has been operational for 15 years. There are still bugs in code written 15 years ago and run every day by millions of users. I have zero confidence in the ability of programmers to write code for something as complex as driving a car, which travels in a not-well-defined area and encounters all manner of cicumstances. Even software that operates trains, which are restricted to and guided by fixed steel tracks, have errors and cause accidents. Ditto for automatic pilots in aircraft, which have been around for generations, and face an enormously simpler task than driving a car. I laugh at the demonstration of parallel parking, which has to be one of the simplest autonomous driving scenarios imaginable. It is also something that few drivers ever have to do. Nobody parallel parks these days, outside of city streets, where there generally is no parking. Then there is the case where the car must take some kind of action to avoid a mishap. The available options must be evaluated instantly
    and may be innumerable. Having written computer code for many years, I have zero confidence in anyone’s ability to write code that can determine the proper action in every instant of driving time. There simply does not exist any standardized and universal guides to such things as – where is the lane
    that I should be travelling, what type of pavement (if any) , you can’t count on lane markers – they may be wrong because of road repairs, etc, etc I see nothing but disaster from autonompous driving that attempts to do more than simply maintain a safe space (if possible) between your car and the car in front and in the rear, and brake if required. Beyond that …. leave me out of it.

    • 0 avatar

      How about something I routinely do living in Colorado’s snowbelt: driving in a blinding white out blizzard on slick roads? I suspect that would challenge the software.
      Who knows, maybe pinpoint GPS road mapping and some sort of obstacle detecting radar wave that is not attenuated by powdered water crystals in the air, but I am skeptical.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    Hey autonomous fanboi’s…Roll this puppy out in Mumbai first, and lets see how THAT goes. Until then, its totally misplaced and underbaked. For First World urban transit bus routes, I can get it. The way its postulated as the next big thing? Not so much.

    • 0 avatar

      I have heard uncontrolled intersections in India are quite entertaining, to say the least.

      I fear the next bit thing will be advertisement driven social media that causes cultures and societies to lose their collective minds and self destruct.

    • 0 avatar

      Obviously, roll out of technology will occur at different rates and levels of autonomy. I also think there is great debate as to the timeline.

      However, having seen the levels of chaos on a recent trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, I fully get these challenges. Autonomy is easy in concept, but throw in a 5-to-1 ratio of mopeds to cars with a completely optional set of traffic laws and who knows how that’s ever going to work.

  • avatar

    BMW, Porsche and a few others recognize that some of us actually like driving and have no intention of giving up the enjoyable activity to computers.

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