Don’t fret, car fanatics. Self-driving cars won’t replace your rides. John Krafcik, auto industry veteran and chief executive officer of Google’s self-driving car project, said Tuesday he envisions a bright future for car enthusiasts who hold steadfast to the idea of driving their own vehicles in the oncoming era of autonomous developments and ride-sharing options.
“I think we will still have as many – or maybe more – exciting, emotional, wonderful performance cars in the future,” he said Tuesday in an appearance one day before the start of the New York Auto Show. “I don’t see that going away.”
The approaching autonomous-car era has become a flashpoint for a lot of car enthusiasts, who dislike the technology for reasons ranging from the homely shape of some of the test vehicles to fears the government could eventually prohibit human driving. Google has been the focus of much of their ire, partially because the company is a leader in self-driving development and partially because the company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, said last year that future generations will look back on an era of human driving, and “all giggle and say, ‘You let that guy drive a car? What a dangerous concept!”
Krafcik’s words might provide some measure of relief. But he also offers a cautionary tale. A self-professed car guy who held executive positions with Ford and Hyundai prior to joining Google, Krafcik has seen his own automotive habits shift since joining the company in September. Like so many others in growing urban areas, he’s eschewing use of a personal car. As one of the few commuters in America who has an option to take an autonomous car to work, he’s even bypassing that choice. Krafcik walks.
“I’ve had times where I’ll go two weeks or more without getting in my personal vehicle, and the biggest personal transformation hasn’t been the technology, but rather that aspect of my life going from ‘extremely important’ to ‘meh,'” he said. “I don’t miss driving. It’s the most amazing thing: I don’t miss driving.”
That transition away from daily driving is exactly the sort of thing that makes industry experts and car dealers uneasy. They were in Krafcik’s audience Tuesday at the 2016 Automotive Forum. Although the car industry has never been healthier, with 17.5 million units sold in 2015, there’s disagreement on whether the autonomous era will help or hurt those numbers.