Sorry, Auto Industry! The Google Car Is A Real Car
On Monday, Google unveiled the prototype version of its purpose-built self-driving car.
This is an evolution of the mock-up car that the company showcased earlier this year. The first car lacked headlights and didn't have a steering wheel or pedals. The new version is fully equipped to be legally tested on California roads — and it has all the requisite driving controls.
This means that Google is now a car company.
This is the second car that's come out of the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem in the past 10 years. The other is of course the Tesla.
What Tesla has going for as far as the wider world of auto is concerned is that the Model S, and before it the Roadster, looked like cars.
The Google Car looks like a transportation module. It's an iPod with wheels. Google even cannily made it white, to complete the association with consumer technology versus the automotive context.
Everyone in the auto industry is now going to respectfully diss the Google Car (and maybe not so respectfully, too). Get ready.
They're going to do this because the Google Car is a profound existential threat to the traditional auto industry.
It could take decades for that threat to become serious. But the decisive outline of the threat has arrived.
The auto industry could look to Google when the company was experimenting with self-driving Priuses and not get too freaked out. Carmakers saw a bolt-on technology and a suite of software features that could be added to existing vehicles.
They didn't see an entirely different mobility concept.
But then the Google Car mock-up arrived — and it didn't have a steering wheel or pedals. You didn't drive it — it drove you.
Now Google has committed to building potentially hundred of prototypes that can be tested on California's roads.
These aren't Corvettes or Cadillacs, or even Corollas. For the next few years, you're going to hear all about how the Google Car is a glorified golf cart (it's electric and the top speed is only around 25 mph), how because it's a podmobile it contains no emotional content and therefore not evoke the spirit of the open road or channel the automobile's romantic role as an icon of personal freedom. The dystopian-minded will decry it as a deceptively adorable herald of a society in which we no longer drive but are instead relocated via a menacing web of surveillance and heartless robotic navigation.
All perhaps true, but somewhat missing the point, which is...
That a company known for creating a search engine and providing the world with witty visual updates to its corporate logo built a car whose ultimate purpose is to prove that there is a completely different way to get around on four wheels.
The Google Car is certainly very cute. It doesn't look like it would hurt anyone. But in reality it's a shot across the bow of of the auto industry.