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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 April 2019

Aston Martin chief laughs off threat from shift to hands-free cars

Luxury car maker believes drivers will still want control of high performance autos

Petrol heads need not fear that the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera will become fully-automated anytime soon. Aston Martin.
Petrol heads need not fear that the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera will become fully-automated anytime soon. Aston Martin.

As automobile giants and innovative technology gurus race to develop automated vehicles, luxury brand Aston Martin knows customers will still buy its full-throttle driving experience and spurn hands-free options

“Not many Aston Martin customers are looking for autonomous drive vehicles. To be frank, it’s not the reason for buying,” said its Chief Executive Officer Andy Palmer, describing a business model focused on “exclusivity and scarcity”.

It’s not to say the highly sought Aston Martin, famously driven by fiction spy James Bond, is not interested in automating parts of the driving experience. There is a great sense that that it could actually make it safer.

But Mr Palmer says there has to be a sense of prudence “rather than recklessly applying populist types of technologies”. He also slammed the authorities who he believes have rushed through autonomous legislation through before the technology is properly developed.

“We risk using our customers as beta tests and that’s not how you should deploy technology,” he told the Motor Manufacturers and Traders event in London

Advocates for increasingly, or even fully, automated cars say it would bring tens of billions of pounds to the UK, save journey times and slash fatalities when fully regulated.

The industry is currently graded on five scales, with cruise control option at the first level and more sophisticated journey management like assisted lane movements.

At the top is level five, where there is zero human control over the moving vehicle isn’t expected to be offered in the marketplace until at least the 2030s. Level four, which Mr Palmer said believes remains years away from road use, would see fully autonomous vehicles operate in designated.

Mr Palmer said Aston Martin would never pursue a third level, a sort of in-between where the car could control many safety aspects.

“We have to be careful in applying new technology and new information to the driver that we are not making that worse. It’s that logical deployment and not just making a USP that makes the car seems sexy for the press.”

Statistics show some 90 per cent of road accidents are caused by driver errors or distractions, and Mr Palmer said reducing this had to be the focus.

“So cherry picking bits of the technology deploying them early potentially has the risk of making them worse not better,” said the Aston Martin CEO. He did not at any point suggest the company was actively pursuing level 4 or 5 automation for its cars, other than perhaps its less-premium Lagonda range but still urged the industry to tread carefully.

“My appeal is that we work carefully with a plan that gets is to level 4 technology rather than recklessly applying populist types of technologies.”

Automation, if used properly, should work to boost performance and the interaction between the driver and the machine. For instance, Mr Palmer is “passionate” schools and hospitals should be geocached with speed limits so cars automatically slowdown in sensitive areas. When this level 4 mode is “mature” he believes it “could save lives”.

“When we see technology coming, we need to make sure it’s deployed in a sensible and well thought out manner,” he said.

Aston Martin has conceded it like its peers will suffer from the oncoming Brexit turbulence but adds its luxury brand means a greater flexibility with its price tag to cushion the disruption.

British car industry executives gathered in Westminister on Thursday to jointly appeal to the government and European Union to find a way out of the impasse, with their hopes pinned of an agreement that allowed free trade to continue.

Updated: April 4, 2019 05:20 PM

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