Those guys are pretty intent on sticking to that whole “Ultimate Driving Machine” mantra.
By the time Elon Musk’s dream of a driverless future comes to fruition, the last holdouts will be automakers that sell status and experience rather than just transportation. That’ll leave large luxury carmakers with a tough decision: to go fully autonomous and risk lessening the differentiation between high-end models and standard fare or to let drivers take the reins for themselves. Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche may not have a tough time with that decision.
BMW, on the other hand, might struggle figuring out which side it’ll take. The Blue and White has recently steered itself in a new direction, saddling its models with so much technology that it skews towards complexity. On the other hand, it’s produced so many home run hitters like the M2 and M4 Competition that it’s hard to fathom an era where the “Ultimate Driving Machine” becomes nothing more than the "Ultimate Riding Machine." That’s the same sentiment Robert Irlinger, head of BMW i, iterated to Car Magazine when speaking about the future of autonomous Bimmers. While he sees partial robot takeover as a given, he simply does not think a BMW will ever come with level 5 autonomy.
In case you need a refresher, that’s when a car’s autonomous systems are so good that no steering wheel or pedals are needed. Level 3 and 4 autonomy allows for systems to take over functions to an extent that a human driver could check emails or preform other tasks while getting from A to B, but lets a driver take control if they wish to. ‘Will there be huge demand for Level 5 autonomy in BMW cars? No there won’t, but will there be Level 3 or 4 where you can read your emails? Definitely,” said Irlinger. A rough draft of that technology will come in the BMW iNext concept due in 2021. BMW will spend that time refining the SUV’s technology, which will include next-generation composites and an all-electric drivetrain. Let’s hope it’s worth it.