In March, 2018, General Motors announced that it would invest a hundred million dollars in a new car called the Cruise AV. On the outside, the Cruise resembles an ordinary car. But, on the inside, it’s what the automotive industry calls a “level five” autonomous vehicle: a car with no steering wheel, gas pedal, or human-operated brake. Ford, too, plans to release a car without a steering wheel, by 2021; Navya, a French company, already produces level-five shuttles and taxis, and has partnered with cities such as Luxembourg City and Abu Dhabi. Silicon Valley futurists and many Detroit executives see such cars as the inevitable future of driving. By taking people out of the driver’s seat, they aim to make travelling by automobile as safe as flying in a plane.
Last fall, the Philadelphia Navy Yard hosted Radwood, a car meet-up with a very different conception of the automotive future. The only cars allowed at Radwood are ones manufactured between 1980 and 2000. When I visited, early one morning, people had gathered around a red 1991 Volvo GL. The car was well worn from thousands of school drop-offs and soccer practices; its cracked leather driver’s seat still showed the gentle indent of its owner’s behind. Its most advanced technological feature was cruise control. Still, its hood was proudly propped open, in normcore glory. Speakers blasted the Talking Heads’ 1980 hit “Once in a Lifetime,” while, nearby, a man dressed in a nineties-style pink-and-blue windbreaker jumpsuit posed for a photo before a Volkswagen Westfalia. Other attendees cooed over a faded teal-green Ford Taurus, a twenty-year-old Mitsubishi Lancer, and a rusting Volkswagen Rabbit—the mundane cars that, in the previous millennium, had roamed the automotive landscape. Read more here