Aston Martin says politicians should slow down (then speed up) when it comes to self-driving
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Aston Martin says politicians should slow down (then speed up) when it comes to self-driving

A number of “populist policies” are forcing the automotive world to change too fast – their adoption “verges on recklessness”. That’s the view given by Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer at a recent conference in London, where he told listeners that “governments are seizing the opportunity to legislate the combustion engine out of the marketplace, frequently without considering the consequences.” Amongst his biggest gripes: the rush to approve self-driving cars and the soon-to-be-mandatory introduction of speed limiters in Europe.

Over the last five days, Aston Martin’s share price has risen by 2%

09 04 aston

Source: Yahoo Finance

The underlying problem, according to Palmer, is the speed at which governments want the autonomous vehicle revolution to progress. Within the industry, they talk about this revolution having five stages. Currently, we’re at number two: the driver is still in full control, but has access to features like cruise control, autonomous emergency breaking or parking assist. At level three, the driver basically retains control, but lets the artificial intelligence (AI) do the driving under some conditions. Comp0lete autonomy (and, theoretically, driver obsolescence) kicks in at level five.

Palmer says that the probable risks associated with level three – where occasionally-autonomous driving will mean people are expected to stay alert, but encouraged to relax – have not been fully thought through. “We risk using our customers as beta tests,” he explained “that’s not how you should deploy technology. Cherry-picking bits of the technology, or deploying bits of it early, is risky.”

Palmer’s concerns, however, don’t apply to fast-movements towards the “final product” of autonomous vehicles – they are specific to level three, where he thinks that drivers will be eager to chill out, despite still needing to be on the ball. For that reason, Aston Martin actually wants to get to level four faster than predicted – it just thinks that the world’s not ready for level three yet.

Telling listeners what the company wants to see, Palmer said: “The biggest reason for death on the road today, it’s driver error and driver distraction. We have to be careful we don’t adopt new technology which … makes that problem worse not better. We think level three tech is reckless – we want to move quickly to level four.” He added that he hoped level four would be achievable by the mid-2020s – but level five could remain more elusive, saying: “I don’t think you’ll see it in my career, and I hope I’ve got a long career. To be able to drive in New Delhi and up a mountain, you’d be dreaming if you think that’s just around the corner.”


Dominion holds Aston Martin in its Global Trends Luxury Fund.

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