Ageless love of driving is on crash course with the 'autonomous car'

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comNovember 3, 2012 

Retired GM vice chairman Bob Lutz is shown with his 1971 Monteverdi at the Berkeley Hall Clubhouse on Friday. Lutz is honorary chairman of the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d'Elegance that ends Sunday at Honey Horn.


Automobiles are rolling sculptures, says a man driving one of the Michaelangelos on Hilton Head Island this weekend.

Bob Lutz should know. He has spent a lifetime studying the automobile, and producing them.

He is the retired vice chairman of General Motors. He has been executive vice president of sales for BMW, head of Chrysler's global production development, and executive vice president and member of the board of directors of Ford.

This weekend, he is honorary chairman of the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d'Elegance, which closes today at Honey Horn.

Lutz rolled into town in his 1971 Monteverdi, a car from his native Switzerland with American mechanicals and an Italian body.

On Friday, he joined about 25 others in their vintage cars on the "Stars & Stripes Driving Tour" from Palmetto Bluff to the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, and then to a luncheon at Berkeley Hall honoring Concours leader Paul Doerring.

Lutz led me to believe in a brief conversation that the automobile is on a crash course.

On one hand, the car remains the target of intense personal passion.

"In fact, there is probably more emotional baggage and beliefs and imagery in cars than in almost anything else we buy," Lutz said.

That's why he wrote the book "Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business."

"That was basically a plea for more creativity and right-brain thinking in any industry or any field of human endeavor, and to get away from the overly analytical left brain, dispassionate, sort of what I call Harvard Business School way of thinking."

But at the same time, human creativity is about to get kicked to the curb in the lusty art of driving. It's an emotional, incurable yearning that leads people to collect classic cars, relishing their lines, aromas and feel.

Merging into that world is what Lutz called the "autonomous car."

The technology for it is already here, he said.

"I think those of us who are under 60 (he's 80) will live to see the day of getting into a car at your home, programming in the destination and then sitting back and the car will take you via GPS, radar sensors and vision sensors to your destination," he said.

"The car will merge into freeway traffic, it will exit the freeway at the right exit, then it will take you to your final destination. When you are at your final destination, you can actually send the car away to park itself and then you call it up again on your iPhone and it will come and pick you up."

Cars will have automatic distance control so they can be tightly spaced on the freeway, all doing 90 mph.

This can be a good thing because electronics are more reliable than people.

"The electronics in the car don't drink, they don't smoke pot, they don't go to sleep at the wheel," Lutz said. "So will there be accidents? Sure, but it is going to be vastly fewer than we have today with human drivers."

Most cars won't smell of fuel, according to the man who worked on the electric Chevrolet Volt before leaving GM at the end of 2009.

"At some point we'll have inductive rails in the freeways so that the cars can charge while they're going down the freeway," he said. "And with the next generation of lithium batteries, we will see ranges of 300 and 400 miles per charge. Once range limitation goes away, which is probably five to 10 years out, if every morning you've got 400 miles in your battery, why would you need a gas engine?"

For the same reason you need your horse, of course.

"The same thing will happen to the car as we know and love it that happened to the horse," Lutz said. "It will be banned from the streets as a form of transportation and it will migrate to automotive country clubs like the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill., or various others cropping up around the country.

"The horse today is no longer a means of transportation, it's an instrument of pleasure and that's what's going to happen with cars."

That will increase the importance of events like the Concours d'Elegance, now in its 11th year on Hilton Head.

"It's basically, to me, an historical preservation event for one of the most important artifacts of any society," Lutz said.

"You really do have to look at the automobile, especially historic automobiles, as a manifestation of folk art, of the period in question and its reflection of the economy of the time, the psychology of the time.

"Cars are rolling sculptures that are artifacts from history, and therefore are worth preserving."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at

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