By on July 10, 2018

Image: Joe Ross/Flickr

Thank God we don’t have to look at that Google self-driving car anymore. You know the one — shaped like an unhappy egg wearing a little hat? That one. The one that inspired visions of a future where life is so sterile and miserable that it wouldn’t be hard to imagine masses of people throwing themselves on the road in front of these pod-like commuting appliances.

Still, even as self-driving technology advances, we’re treated to concept vehicles that don’t exactly stir the soul. Some recent designs deserve kudos, but many still resemble motor pool rejects from A Clockwork Orange, terrifying gearheads and libertarians alike.

It doesn’t have to be that way, claims one automotive supplier. You can have your sexy car and still tell it to drive you around.

Magna International, the Canadian supplier of just about everything, is eager to field its autonomous driving suite — a bundle of ultrasonic sensors, lidar, radar, and associated computer system that can be affixed to ordinary vehicles without raising suspicions that the vehicle plans to take our freedom.

To prove how subtle the bundle can be, last fall the company placed the sensors on a decidedly brawny Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT.

Thanks to Jeep’s need to suck plenty of air, there’s no shortage of grille in which to hide a center-mounted, forward-facing radar. Four lidar sensors conceal themselves in special black trim strips Magna applied to all four corners of the vehicle, while another sensor lurks inconspicuously in the lower fascia. No rooftop sensor array, no dome, no little chapeau.

Image: Magna

“I think one of the discussions that seems to be out there in society is, as we move towards these more autonomous (vehicles), will the character of the automobile go away? … People are not going to give up wanting their cars to look the way they look,” Larry Erickson, global director of Magna’s exteriors design group, told WardsAuto.

The Grand Cherokee, outfitted for Level 4 autonomous driving and appropriately named the MAX4, uses a matte black thermoplastic to cover the corner lidars, but it won’t always be that way, Erickson said.

“At this point lidar requires a different surface finish to project through, whereas the radar in the upper area (of the corner is) a little bit more flexible so it’s going through a painted surface,” Erickson explained, adding, “I think on just about any vehicle you can incorporate the sensors and not change what was the original (design) intent.”

Magna displayed the self-driving Jeep at the recent Eyes on Design event held near Detroit. The company hopes automakers take notice. Magna’s self-driving array is the hardware it wants the industry to buy when, and if, Level 4 driving becomes commonplace. Earlier this year, Magna invested $200 million into Lyft as part of a partnership that will see it develop self-driving systems for the ride-hailing company. Magna secured an equity stake out of the deal.

Just last month, Magna teamed with May Mobility to build the company’s electric autonomous shuttles, which it hopes to launch in the downtown cores of major U.S. cities.

[Images: Joe Ross/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0), Magna]

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33 Comments on “Maybe Autonomous Vehicles Don’t Have to Look Like Steaming Sacks of Garbage...”

  • avatar

    ‘59 Caddy?

  • avatar

    I don’t know if I completely agree. If you look at what so many people are buying today, they’re already leaning towards look-alike autonomous blobs. Pull the badging off of any number of CUVs/SUVs and it becomes quite the challenge to determine what is what. Tech is the new luxury and appearance/performance are taking a back seat.

  • avatar

    Motor pool rejects from A Clockwork Orange? How DARE you!

    The Durango-95 purred away real horrorshow – a nice, warm, vibraty feeling all through your guttiwuts. Soon, it was trees and dark, my brothers, with real country dark.

    Plus, a self-driving Durango-95 would almost certainly be a better driver than Mr. DeLarge.

    • 0 avatar

      Which, in the film, looked like it was concept car that resulted from some designer who wanted to out-Miura the Miura, a *very* far cry from the image Steph was trying to portray.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT


    Unfortunately it’s fuel standards and crash standards that determine the shape of today’s vehicles. How many years ago did the FEDS pass legislation saying a vehicle had to be design in such a way that a pedestrian when hit by said vehicle wouldn’t end up underneath-but hopefully on top of? This is why all vehicles are starting to look a like.

    • 0 avatar

      I could be wrong, but I think it was the Europeans who dictated pedestrian crash standards, which would explain blunter noses in general. Aerodynamics (probably) dictates everything else.

      • 0 avatar

        Something like that.

        We can’t have pop-up headlights because Pierre or Jurgen might break their wrist on the light pod while rolling over the hood of the car that just ran them down in Brussels.

  • avatar

    I’m not sure I want my 500 HP 4X4 Jeep driving itself around. I’m not entirely comfortable with humans driving them around

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure I see the point of any performance vehicle that drives itself. The only reason behind buying something that says SRT on it is to have fun behind the wheel. What is the point if the computer is doing all the driving? To project an image? If so, of what, exaxtly? “My autonomous car can accelerate to the speed limit faster than your autonomous car, even though it won’t.”

      It might as well have a 4 cylinder from a 1995 Dodge Spirit.

      • 0 avatar

        “Alexa, outrun pursuit”

      • 0 avatar

        What about amusement parks? They don’t let you drive the rollercoasters. I can see a track mode and why not your av against someone elses? Your own private amusement ride.

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t have to buy an amusement park In order to enjoy it, and I doubt that racing on a closed course would be any fun if I’m letting the car drive.

          Besides, I don’t like rollercoaster rides lol.

          Racing cars without driving would be as exciting as racing elevators to me.

      • 0 avatar

        Autonomous mode for stop-and-go, drive yourself on an enjoyable road.

        • 0 avatar

          @scottcom36: I agree with that. I have the EV appliance for commuting and something fun with a manual transmission for the back roads. Same with autonomous vehicles. Even now, they should be able to handle stop and go commuting traffic.

    • 0 avatar

      We joke about humans being stupid, but no computer is as flexible as the human mind when dealing with non-routine situations.

      Which is why a computer should not drive a car.

      • 0 avatar

        @one alpha: I’m working on it. It can be done, but I’m still not sure of when we’ll have the computing power to get there. But, we know how to do it and we’ll get there eventually.

        It’s based on some fairly new AI technology that isn’t in any of the AV systems that are on the road now as far as I know. The flexibility will be there. In fact, it will see better and have better intuition than a human. It’s not based on the artificial neural networks that are common now. It’s something different.

        Combine that with sensing abilities beyond humans. Like using reflections and shadows to see around corners and better vision with FLIR technology.

        • 0 avatar

          When I was in Junior High, and ST:TNG was finishing its run– I made a science fair diorama about warp drive with the Playmates figures and engineering playset, using the Technical Manual as a scientific resource.

          I mean, long story short, and leaving a lot of loose ends I don’t care to type-up to inference: Warp drive is possible, we just haven’t found the dilithium yet.

          • 0 avatar

            We haven’t been able to create the exotic matter required for a working Alcubierre drive. Creation of antimatter is easy, by comparison.

  • avatar

    If I could affix the autonomous gear to an 80’s era K-Car-based limo with blacked out windows and Kazakhstan flags on the front fenders, then I’m all in.

    I’d love to roll into work like a third world dictator every morning.

  • avatar

    Of course style and performance will become irrelevant in the autonomous age. With the car driving, there will never be a time where your floor it just to hear the engine roar or to get a rush of speed – the car will accelerate at the appropriately safe and comfortable speed it is programmed to. And since the goal seems to be that every autonomous car will also be a ride share vehicle, the body style will gravitate towards the utilitarian box. Who cares what the style is if you’re just renting it out, or are just renting it?

    • 0 avatar

      I think rich people are still going to want a way to show off.

      Boxes also aren’t very aerodynamic, so you’ll AV eggs instead.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the prevalence of the McMansion proves you wrong. After all, what’s a house but just a box to sleep in and stash your stuff? And yet, a bunch of people want really big, ostentatious boxes.

  • avatar

    Well, it seems the LIDAR panels have finally made the massive lighting modules that house miniscule projectors and bulbs necessary/useful. Just a bit after the fact.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    Like Asimov’s Sally… you only need a positronic brain that fits into the glovebox.

  • avatar

    There are times when I think car culture projects its inner insecurities as snark and Steph (that’s a girl’s name btw) seems to embody it. It’s like everything from autonomous cars to electrification questions his ability to pass on his genetic material.

    The Google Self Driving car was hardly my favorite design but I can appreciate anything that tries to be different rather than the typical ‘mad fish face’ we see on everything from a Hyundai Elantra to a Camry. I’ll give it credit- it was offbeat and cute. Car guys seem to crab everything different is ugly (while rocking a janky Accord Coupe but that’s ok because its spirit animal is the E36) but then bemoan the lack of something fun and fresh.

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