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In July I took a weekend trip with my family to the Chiemsee. Unfortunately, we had not reckoned with the start of the holidays in some of Germany’s Federal States and had to share the motorway with lots of holiday-makers, who were on their way southwards. The journey on the A8, therefore, took, not 45 minutes, but two hours – sufficient time for me to make the following observations: in the stop-go traffic, you can divide car drivers into two groups. One group wants to go with the flow of the traffic at the most constant speed possible and, in doing so, they accept a greater distance between themselves and the person in front as part of the deal. The other group tries to keep the gap between them and the person in front to a minimum – with correspondingly frequent catching-up and braking. More often than not, this group tries to make the other group aware of how much space they are wasting with much changing of lanes and nosing into the gaps that keep emerging, only to brake again and stop completely, because the column of traffic has once again come to a standstill.

Most Germans reject autonomous driving

In situations like this, I always wonder how driverless cars will respond in this kind of traffic. Machines are not affected by emotion. In particular, it is not in their nature to want to teach other car drivers a lesson in road use with some risky driving manoeuvres. This dubious pedagogical phenomenon is, moreover, something that one comes across particularly frequently in Germany. It is, perhaps, the reason, why scepticism with regard to driverless vehicles is particularly prevalent in this country. According to a survey, published at the end of July by Bitkom, on the degree of interest in the digital economy in Germany, almost two thirds of Germans said that they would not get into a driverless car. Which is a pity, really, since I am convinced that the robot vehicle would pilot even the most sceptical through the traffic jam with less stress – or indeed avoid it altogether.

Misleading navigation systems

However, I do admit that I can, to a certain extent, also understand the concerns of the technology-sceptics. Each of us has doubtless already been led astray by a navigation system, or at least been confused by its strange instructions. The notion that a navigation system like this should not only make recommendations, but should actually put these commands into practice, is disconcerting. And the most recent reports, too, about hacked vehicle systems, and the whole question of who has access to the plethora of vehicle data, which will inevitably result from computer steering and control, make it clear that there will still be a few problems to be solved, before the first traffic jams will, in reality, be minimised automatically – or even avoided altogether.

VDA pushes for early adoption of driverless travel

“The digitisation of mobility represents an opportunity for Germany to become an international front-runner in this field. […] If we don’t do it, then others will – and with a different understanding of the law” emphasised VDA, the Association of the German Automobile Industry (Verband der deutschen Automobilindustrie) in May, in an official statement of their position. I am intrigued to find out just how energetically the VDA’s members will, in reality, implement the introduction of driverless travel as quickly as possible. For these efforts actually involve doing things that are damaging to business. And by that I am not talking about negative attitudes amongst customers.

10 years to ensure the success of German cars

If the experiences that Google have had with their trial fleet of robot cars are confirmed, then there is a definite decline in the repair business to be expected. According to the Californian company’s monthly report of people’s experiences (see http://www.google.com/selfdrivingcar/reports) these vehicles were only rarely subject to accidents resulting in panel damage – and, what is more, it was always because of human failure. According to an early report, the search-engine giant, who, as Alphabet Holding, will want to be increasingly involved in the motor vehicle industry, is, moreover, also going to be represented at the IAA, not perhaps with their own stand, but as a guest in the special exhibition “New Mobility World” in Hall 3.1. On the website that has been specially created for this (http://newmobilityworld.com), the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is quoted with the following words: “The next ten years will decide whether the success story behind German motor cars is set to continue for another 125 years.” In the face of the entry of many heavily capitalised players into the business, this does not seem to be an exaggeration.