With so much attention and investment centered on a future when driverless vehicles will shuttle people from Point A to Point B, one might wonder if the days of traditional high-performance cars and motorsports are numbered.
As one guest noted Tuesday night at an invite-only dinner hosted by Fortune and The Drive, it seems as if the cradle of innovation has shifted to the streets of Mountain View, Calif. (where the testing of self-driving cars is commonplace).
In other words, are motorsports and high-performance vehicles going to lose their relevancy? And what do they have left to teach us?
A panel of experts, including IndyCar driver JR Hildebrand, former Porsche board member Wolfgang Hatz, and Faraday Future’s senior vice president of R&D Nick Sampson, still see racing and high-performance vehicles as a way to make technological breakthroughs. And they believe that there will always be a place (and demand) for high-performance vehicles in the marketplace.
There is a huge market out there that still enjoys the “fun and emotion of driving,” said Hatz, who led the development of the entire 911 line at Porsche. “I think this will not change.”
That said, Hatz, who played a leading role in the development of the Mission E all-electric sports car, also sees plenty of room for efficient and electric vehicles in the high-performance vehicle space. He even sees automated driving playing a role.
“The perfect solution is when the driver doesn’t feel like you’re helping them,” Hatz said.
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Sampson of Faraday Future pushed that idea even further by suggesting that future automated cars could provide a high-performance experience that lets drivers feel as if they’re in charge at the wheel—even if they’re not.
Hildebrand, who is also an adjunct professor at Stanford University’s School of Engineering REVs program, says once people develop an understanding of the engineering behind high-performance cars and racing, they realize it’s not as simple as just a mode of transportation to get from point A to point B.
Still, Hildebrand looks forward to the future of mobility. “I think we’ll be able have more options that will allow us to have what we want as consumers, and that, in some ways, may allow for the human experience to be even better because we’re making fewer compromises around the performance space,” he said.
The second-annual Fortune/The Drive event featured two panels, one focused on the ethics of autonomy and another on the role of technology and high-performance vehicles. The guest list and the panel speakers were a who’s who of automotive and technology, with executives from Bentley, Hyundai, NextEV, Nvidia, and Porsche as well as the three finalists in the Top Ten Automotive Startup Competition.