While Musk's Hyperloop remains merely an idea, albeit an idea that on the surface appears feasible, it offers a glimpse into the potential future of transportation. While the I-5 from LA to San Francisco isn't exactly pleasant, the direction we head as a species remains clear. Moving from a society where long road trips denote free-spirited adventure, to an era where capsules traveling close to 900 mph turn what today remains a long journey into one that could be completed during a lunch break, the glory of piloting a car along beautiful country roads appears to be dwindling.
Then we have autonomous cars; the idea of which has already received virulent critique amongst the driving enthusiasts who despise the thought of becoming little more than button pushers, despite the sizable improvement . Autonomous vehicles, too, are racing towards production, faster than previously expected.
Even in today's cars — like the Lincoln MKZ and Infiniti Q50 — a form of semi-autonomous driving can be accomplished, albeit not to the degree we will eventually see. Many cars possess adaptive cruise control and emergency braking that adjusts the vehicle's speed to that of the car in front, and can stop quickly if a situation presents itself. An adaptive steering system, like Infiniti's drive-by-wire electrical steering that initiates course corrections, can keep the car centered in the lane. So combining these assets effectively creates a car that can drive itself, with zero driver input, at least for a short period of time; at some point, driver intervention becomes necessary, but the basic ideas are already out there.
The era when cars were inbuilt into our culture has long gone. When the 1970s hit and the fuel crisis began, along with rocketing insurance costs, vehicles that were once affordable and exciting to drive became pushed out of the marketplace. And over the years, we have seen a steady decline in driving, especially among young people who now face a harder financial climb to owning a car. Today, driving has primarily become a means of transportation. People buy Camrys and Accords, not because they excite them, but because they are cheap, offer good fuel efficiency and get the job done. And there's nothing wrong with that.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing for the gear-head. The less people traveling the roads outside of the busy city walls, the better the experience for enthusiasts who are dusting off their old gems and enjoying the open road. A long road trip from coast-to-coast may seem more like the adventure it once was — leading to a boom in car culture once again — as it becomes the cool way to travel, not simply the only way.
Admittedly, many of the best cars today feel somewhat subdued and lack driver engagement in the name of a better efficiency rating. But it's time to move past the negatives and look at the positives: Cars today have never been more powerful. Five hundred horsepower has become a common sight--even Shelby Mustangs now boast 662 hp and top 200 mph. And it's finally becoming cheaper to run our cars, as the manufacturers eek out additional miles-per-gallon, making road trips more feasible for the average family.
Motoring today remains entirely different than it was in the '60s, and that disparity is only going to grow exponentially in the future. But perhaps it's that change, making the art of motoring an adventure again rather than just a means of transportation, that sets us up for a prosperous future. We needn't be afraid of change. Perhaps change will deliver our kids the inherent car culture we worry about today.