Road Ahead

Finally, Voice of Reason


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Spare me the breathless enthusiasm for cars capable of driving themselves. I’ll keep driving myself as long as the computers allow it.

AUBURN HILLS, MI – Lots of people talk about self-driving cars as if they are inevitable. They say it’s only a matter of time before computers become so smart, sophisticated and quick-thinking that human beings ultimately will be deemed dangerous behind the wheel.

I find that utopian idea ridiculous, while admitting some reckless drivers leave me yearning for stricter traffic enforcement.

What’s needed is a voice of reason from a bright executive with extensive automotive experience who hasn’t bought into the hype.

Someone like Jeff Owens, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Delphi, a supplier that spent a decade in the financial wringer and had to downsize, but realized expertise in safety electronics must remain core.

A 41-year industry veteran who worked previously for General Motors, Owens has led Delphi’s electronics business since 2001.

He doubts the auto industry ever will solve all the issues necessary to unleash a driverless car on public roads, although he admits the technology is advancing.

“Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it,” Owens tells WardsAuto during a Delphi media event here.

With its own self-driving cars in pilot testing, Google has done plenty to generate excitement about the possibilities.

But Owens frowns at the cost, which Google has estimated at more than $40,000 per vehicle, at least in the beginning. So how much are most consumers willing to pay?

“Think about the fully evolved autonomous vehicle with no driver in the seat. You’re in the back seat drinking a beer, taking a nap, reading the paper,” he says.

“The consumer will pay something for that, but will they pay the expense of literally taking the driver out of the seat? Will they pay $10,000 to be able to go to sleep or watch a movie?”

The cost would be prohibitive to adapt existing vehicles to drive themselves. Imagine the exorbitant expense of designing an autonomous car from the ground up.

The concept of an autopilot is not new, particularly in aerospace. But Owens notes even the airline industry has never crossed that threshold by placing hundreds of lives solely in the digital hands of a computer.

“You still need a pilot in even the most sophisticated triple-fault redundant systems on airplanes and usually two pilots on the big planes,” he says. “It’s just a lot of hurdles to get over.”

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on Jul 9, 2015

Owens is right about getting 80% of the benefit without full-alltime autonomy, but that is exactly what is going to make the transition possible when the time and technology are right. Assist technology is ready now and is being deployed. 10 or 20 years from now with everyone using various levels of assist routinely and the fleet having turned over once or twice, the transition from heavily assisted driving, where the driver is doing very little "driving" to full autonomy will not seem much of a leap.

on Jul 9, 2015

If we transition to fully autonomous vehicles by addressing that remaining 20%, I may be the last person to believe the technology will get me safely to my destination.

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What's Road Ahead?

Blogs with an emphasis on technology, design and suppliers.


Drew Winter

Drew Winter is Editor-in-Chief of WardsAuto World magazine and a Senior Editor at He was won numerous awards for his work in both print and digital media and has been...

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is executive editor of WardsAuto World magazine, with an emphasis on technology and suppliers. He leads selection of the Ward’s 10 Best Engines and Ward’s 10 Best Interiors...
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