It turns out the kids are alright after all.
I recently attended a Cars and Coffee in San Francisco. Okay, technically it was on Treasure Island, which sits on the water between Oakland and San Francisco. Still, the location (although not the exact one) is important because the Bay Area is the tech hub of the world. There are a ton of companies in San Francisco that want to change the way you get around town, order food, brush your teeth, etc... A few of the bigger ones—looking your way, Apple and Google—want to change how you drive.
The way these tech companies want to go about reshaping the auto industry involves autonomous cars and electrification. The latter is already widely embraced by automakers big and small after years of sitting on the sidelines. Autonomous tech has also been embraced by the industry, albeit in a limited capacity. Tesla’s Model S can somewhat drive autonomously. Ford’s new F-150 can help you unload a boat. Hell, Volvo is training some of its cars to drive along a preset route in Sweden. So, where am I going with all of this and what does Cars and Coffee have to do with it? Well, the talking heads in the tech world would have you believe that self-driving cars are the future. Full stop. Hell, some of the big shots in the auto industry think the same.
I didn’t get that feeling on Treasure Island. Cars and Coffee started early, as in 7:00 A.M. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was how many kids were lined up along the road leading into the event. When I say “kids” I’m talking 12-18 years of age. Many of these teenagers dragged their parents to the event, and I saw many moms and dads who weren’t overly thrilled to be up so early. The kids were what caught my eye and what caught their eyes wasn’t a Tesla being controlled by a computer or a goofy Google car humming along silently. These younglings had their eyes fixed on supercars, luxury European sports cars, American muscle cars and even a few slammed offerings from Japan.
The story was the same inside the event, where teenagers stared wide-eyed at the assembled McLarens, Ferraris and Lamborghinis that had converged in a central location (must be a supercar thing). A long row of C7 Corvettes attracted a ton of attention, as did a lot filled almost entirely with modern American muscle cars (Hellcats, assemble!). For the record I don’t hate self-driving cars. I think the technology could greatly improve safety and would no doubt make life easier in certain driving situations, such as during long and boring road trips. Parallel parking is a skill but it can still be a pain in the ass. I'd rather a computer program feel that pain.
But I find it hard to believe that cars controlled strictly by an artificial intelligence program and designed for maximum efficiency will capture the hearts and minds of kids the way something like the powerful and absolutely gorgeous Porsche 918 Spyder does. If children really are the future then gearheads will be happy to know that a world dominated by self-driving cars won’t be upon us anytime soon. Photos by Alden Tatum