Friday, August 5, 2016
Mazda Doesn't Believe in Self-Driving Cars Except For One Scenario
Mr. Hidetoshi Kudo isn’t your typical PR guy. The heavy metal-loving Mazda global public relations head once served as an engineer. He’s largely the man behind Skyactiv—the suite of technology in every new Mazda vehicle that enhances environmental performance without affecting the fun-to-drive factor. Given Mazda’s shift to a more human-centric design philosophy, his job as PR chief is important. After all, who can better explain what Mazda engineers are up to than one who’s a former engineer himself.
So while everyone else questioned Kudo-san on subjects such as G-Vectoring Control and the upcoming rotary engine, there’s one question I’ve never heard anyone ask: autonomous driving. Is Mazda developing their own version of self-driving cars? Expecting a short, casual reply, I threw the question over a couple of beers. And then Kudo-san put down his drink and sat up straight. This is going to be a long answer, I thought.
Self-driving cars has become the buzz word in the automotive world and every carmaker is rushing to develop their own version of it to the market. And while recent accidents involving Tesla’s Auto Pilot system (which isn’t true autonomous driving per se), may have dented enthusiasm, there’s no stopping the self-driving car craze.
That is, except for Mazda.
Kudo-san explains that, for the foreseeable future at least, Mazda remains committed to cars which are fun-to-drive. By removing all controls from the driver, cars simply become a transportation appliance. It removes the inseparable bond between car and driver—something Mazda is working so hard to achieve. Driving, for Mazda, is meant to stimulate both physical and mental faculties. And providing a conducive driving environment actually promotes safe driving and prevents accidents. In the right environment, drivers will ultimately feel more relaxed in controlling a vehicle, and the vehicle behaves completely as the driver intended.
The case is highlighted by Japan’s aging population. Kudo-san says that elderly Japanese still drive cars equipped with manual transmission. And studies show that this stimulates both left and right hemispheres of the brain, becoming an exercise for the mind thus promoting longer life.
That’s not to say that Mazda isn’t investing anything toward autonomous driving. Kudo-san believes the roll of self-driving car technology should be more to prevent or mitigate accidents. Drivers should continue to operate cars and the role of technology is to make them less stressful. Mazda’s technology such as G-Vectoring Control is an example of this.
Moving forward, Mazda believes that cars should only intervene when it detects an imminent danger from a crash. In fact, Mazda is looking at technology which applies steering and/or braking force to avoid an accident. It appears Mazda remains committed to provide cars which are fun-to-drive for the foreseeable future.