With every day we seem to inch closer to fully driverless cars in series production, but it’s still not clear if they’ll ever fully displace human-driven cars. One of the more cogent takes on the issue comes from, of all places, Toyota’s factory race program in Japan.
The wonderfully-named Toyota Gazoo Racing (which, despite the “Gazoo,” is Toyota’s fully-in-house motorsports shop) showed off its newest concept car, the GR Super Sport Concept. It’s basically supposed to be a Le Mans hybrid prototype for the road. It has full carbon construction, a thousand horsepower and exhausts that stick out of the roof. It’s good stuff.
Gazoo’s president, Shigeki Tomoyama, introduced the car, saying that it’s the beginning of a new era at Gazoo. “Rather than developing production cars into sports cars... this is the starting point for Toyota’s completely new challenge to develop sports cars from active race cars.” This is a tantalizing notion for anyone who reminisces fondly about the homologation specials of the GT1 era of the 1990s. But Tomoyama took the question of a company that makes sports cars a step further.
Tomoyama is admittedly biased here, but he argued to the gathered pressed at the Tokyo Auto Salon that while there is a desire to have autonomous cars, there’s also a desire for the polar opposite. There’s a desire, Tomoyama said, for an increasingly human-operated car, one that focuses on individual desire and operation:
At CES 2018, held in the United States at the beginning of the year, the e-Palette Concept was revealed as a new shared mobility model for communities. If the e-Palette Concept is the next generation of the horse-drawn carriage, the GR Super Sport Concept would be the polar opposite as the next-generation racehorse. Its appeal is more personal, like that of a much-loved horse to its owner. Despite the differences between the two concept models, both are electrified vehicles equipped with the latest IT technologies and are set to become safe and environmentally friendly connected cars.
Tomoyama turned to an almost turn-of-last-century view of the car, as something people own by choice rather than by need, a vehicle used for individual trips to out-of-the-way places not served by public transportation, trips taken at odd hours inconvenient for any major service to provide:
Even as electrification and IT techonologies accelerate, the availability of different types of cars, including polar opposite models like the GR Super Sport Concept and the e-Palette Concept, means that they will never become a commodity. Furthermore, it is an unchanging fact that people want to travel freely, access distant places, and to get there quicker than everyone else in attractive vehicles. The feelings that one has for a car that can do all this are rich and heart-pounding.
So it’s possible that autonomous cars may never completely rule the roads, and that we could end up with traffic that looks almost like the 19th century, with fire-breathing sports cars running out into the countryside while most people are better serviced by trains, taxis, jitneys and anything else that doesn’t require a driver’s license. To be honest, that’s a future I welcome.