When cars drive themselves, luxury will be cars that don’t drive themselves and a track on which to relive the 20th century?

It would be fun to own a new mid-engine Corvette, but for the fact that the average daytime speed on Boston-area highways is now down around 25 mph. A 1957 Fiat 500 with 13 hp offers ample performance for commuting.

Aside from the chronic traffic jams of a country of 330 million trying to use roads built for 150 million, what is the point of a high-performance car when human drivers may soon be outlawed on public roads? Six young people died in “school shootings” in 2019 (NYT; but one seems to have been more of a personal dispute that ended up being fatally settled on school grounds) and that is enough carnage to prompt roughly half of Americans to demand that the government take away their Second Amendment rights. The carnage due to human drivers is roughly 8,000X worse: about 40,000 people killed per year here in the U.S. Especially given that it is not a Constitutionally-protected right, do we really want to take the risk of 17-year-olds in 6,000 lb. SUVs?

Taking a rare break from its all-impeachment-all-the-time format, the NYT gives us a story about residential clubs built around a race track: “Country Clubs Where Drives Can Hit 150 M.P.H.” Get up in the morning, zip around the track in the Corvette, then let the robot take you to work.

Some excerpts:

But the Concours Club and its ilk do not come cheap, with six-figure initiation fees and five-figure dues that make private golf clubs look reasonably priced.

The idea for Concours was born of escaping the winter up north. “Five years ago, I’m sitting down in Miami in our condo in South Beach and there’s every kind of car outside,” said Neil Gehani, a real estate investor and the club’s founder. “I thought, there has to be a club down here.”

After a call to his club outside Chicago, the Autobahn Country Club, where he raced Ferraris and got hooked on country club racing, he found there wasn’t one in South Florida. “I was told the land was too expensive,” he said. “That wasn’t acceptable to me. I wanted to be in Miami and I needed a private auto country club.”

The club, which is within Miami’s Opa Locka private airport, 14 miles west of Miami Beach, has cost $70 million to build so far. Mr. Gehani said 40 founding members were invited to join, paying a one-time $350,000 initiation fee with no annual dues. The club just released 100 additional spots, with an initiation fee of $150,000 and annual dues of $35,000. It plans to limit those memberships to 200.

Other tracks helped inspire the Miami club. The Thermal Club, outside Palm Springs, Calif., has four tracks over 450 acres, two restaurants and a BMW performance driving school. The club has 48 bungalows for overnight stays, as well as 268 home sites overlooking the racetracks. The initiation is $85,000, with monthly dues of $1,200.

Members at the Thermal Club are obligated to buy a lot and build a house within five years, said Tim Rogers, the club’s founder. The lots cost from $750,000 to $900,000, with the finished 8,000-square-foot homes running about $3 million.

Good fodder for politicians stirring up envy with talk of inequality?

(Fake News alert: the Opa Locka airport is, in fact, publicly owned (by Miami-Dade County) and “open to the public” (airnav), not “private” as the NYT says. Google Maps shows a track under construction next to KOPF, but not obviously “within” (usually tough given that the FAA can be strict about non-aviation uses of airport facilities; this might be county-owned land that was outside the airport fence? Google Maps shows a public street separating the track from the airport proper).)

26 thoughts on “When cars drive themselves, luxury will be cars that don’t drive themselves and a track on which to relive the 20th century?

  1. I hate when journalists make such unforced errors like the private airport snafu here. It makes me doubt lots of other facts in the article.

    • Motorsport Ranch in Cresson, TX. Just outside FT. Worth, TX. My son and his best friend, who is a member, drove, and I rode along. It was way better than the traditional country club. Also look at Lifetime Fitness, a health and exercise country club. The only things missing at LTF? Fine dining and golf.

  2. “Aside from the chronic traffic jams of a country of 330 million trying to use roads built for 150 million, what is the point of a high-performance car when human drivers may soon be outlawed on public roads?”

    Very good question, and it’s trending in that direction, for sure. All of the “smart city”/”smart roads”/”smarter than thou to save the planet” efforts will push it and keep pushing it. Most of the justifications I’ve heard for self-driving cars center around making the roads safer. Almost every form of automation wraps itself in the “this will make things safer for people” flag, and this is going to be no exception, particularly when you factor in not just fatalities, but things like DUI arrests. Here’s some data from 2018:


    Nationally, there were 301.3 DUI arrests per 100,000 people. South Dakota drivers were arrested 721.9 per 100k and the best state, Delaware is at 44.3 per 100k (SD has more than 16 times as many drunks on the road!) In places like the Dakotas, especially, you can hear the marketing now: “We have the highest drunk driving arrest rate in the country. Next time, go driverless.”

    It will phase in over 20 years but yes, in the future, the luxury will be for people who have the means and the space to drive their own cars on private facilities and/or with special permitting and transponders that alert the rest of the driverless traffic: “There’s an unreliable human behind the wheel of this one, they may be drunk, watch out!” Of course, you could stop drunk driving by having every car detect the BAC of the driver, too. If we’re going to have smart toilets, I wouldn’t bet against that, either.

    “Car and Driver” is just going to be like it is in Britain: “Car”.

    • “Nationally, there were 301.3 DUI arrests per 100,000 people. South Dakota drivers were arrested 721.9 per 100k”

      According to census.gov, the demographics of SD are: 84% White, 9% American Indian 2% black, 2% Asian and 4% Hispanic. Only NM, at 11%, has a higher percentage of American Indian.

  3. >Six young people died in “school shootings” in 2019…

    And I don’t want to belittle that because it’s six too many, but school buses are more dangerous, even though NHTSA considers them “the safest vehicle on the road.” Here’s some more data from School Transportation News. Pretty eye-opening:

    “Of the 1,365 crashes that were reported to have occurred this past school year, there were at least 2,551 injuries to both school bus student passengers and passengers in other vehicles that were involved in the crash. According to data that STN collected, 1,726 of these injuries occurred to children who were riding on the school bus. However, most injuries were reported to be minor.”

    “The School Transportation News research found 70 injuries relating to school bus crossings and 17 fatalities.”

    Overall, your child is more likely to be killed at a school bus crossing than a school shooting, and there are certainly a lot more bus accidents than school shootings. But that doesn’t matter to people who want you to surrender your 2nd Amendment rights and who try to portray gun owners as somehow being obvious or uncaring or worse about school shootings.


    Would parents accept self-driving school buses if there was even a single accident resulting in a fatality?

    • This is a completely bogus argument. The distinction is that school buses are a necessity and serve a useful purpose. Kids have to get to school. As as society, we accept the risk that comes with vehicle use because of the tremendous gains in productivity and quality of life they provide. Guns serve no productive purpose in our modern economy outside superfluous entertainment. Guns are a crutch for people who suffer from paranoia or anxiety.

    • >Guns are a crutch for people who suffer from paranoia or anxiety.

      This is a completely bogus argument. Of all the people I know who own and don’t own guns, the gun owners are probably less paranoid or anxious than the non-owners. I haven’t ever been able to discern anything like what you’re talking about, and I’ve been friends with gun owners for my entire adult life. Approximately half the households in this country have at least 1 gun owner, and Americans own almost 400 million private firearms. You can try to paint half the households and tens of millions of people as sick in some way because you don’t like their choices, but it’s not a very good way to think about people. Among my gun owning friends I count law enforcement officers, housewives, avid hunters, recreational shooters, collectors, veterans, conservationists, weekend club denizens, housewives, house husbands, and people from just about every profession and walk of life from doctors and lawyers to real estate professionals to auto mechanics and band members. I can tell you firsthand that they’re not more paranoid or anxious as a group than any other cohort of people I know, and in some ways less so, because they know they can defend themselves, their homes and families, and so forth. For more than a dozen years I’ve been with them at some fantastic events, all run by the community, zero injuries, zero incidents, hundreds of thousands of rounds fired, with live music, food, and people enjoy themselves immensely with their friends, relatives and children, on a budget. They’re a very cohesive and supportive community of people who look out for each other, and they get along remarkably well. These are families with kids in public schools (several of them are teachers) and they’re every bit as concerned and dismayed about school shootings as their non-gun-owning peers. You’re just wrong.

      I’ll tell you what they are anxious about: having someone from Washington or New York or the state capitol tell them that they’re sick, that there’s something wrong with them, and that they want to restrict, constrain and ultimately remove their 2nd Amendment rights by any and every means they can think of. That makes them angry.

      Some of the most anxious, paranoid and otherwise neurotic people I’ve ever met, come to think of it, were law professors living in a very large metropolis where it’s impossible to legally own so much as a slingshot. I knew more people who had mental illnesses that were moderate to severe among the faculty of a law school than I do in the gun club I’m a member of, per capita. Anxiety, depression, drug abuse, alcoholism, very high IQs and no guns around, and I know this because I had access to their personnel files and had to deal with the flare-ups and the consequences.

    • @Senorpablo: And I’ll say one other thing. I don’t think about it that often, but I know that if something truly catastrophic or calamitous ever did occur that required people to rely on themselves to survive, the friends I know who own guns, who know how to hunt, who know how to build shelters, who know how to purify water, give basic first aid, etc., in other words, people who have thought a little about emergency preparedness, are the *first* people I would want to be in very close contact with. I’ve lived in a cross-section of Americana from very large cities to suburbs to semirural areas and I can tell you: I’d feel much safer where I am with my gun-owning friends if the power went out for two weeks than I would in Baltimore, or any other large city I’ve lived in. In fact, if I still lived in a large city and there was a big disaster, I would do my best to get the heck out and come here. I’ve been much more directly concerned for my safety in Baltimore, and much more frequently, than I ever have been where I live now. If that’s “paranoid” or “anxious” or using a “crutch” then I guess I’m guilty as charged, and happy for it.

    • It may be that the people you know who own guns are sane. Lot’s of sane people can enjoy guns and shooting. The most sane among them probably wouldn’t miss them much if it came down to it. Not the “pry it from my cold dead hands” crowd. My words painted gun owners with a broad bush, but I didn’t mean to, and should have been more specific. When I refer to anxious and paranoid gun owners, I’m referring specifically to people who can’t stand the thought of living without a firearm, and for whom gun rights are the most important cause in their life. That’s not sane or normal. Neither is contemplating or preparing for some “catastrophic event” in which owning a gun may be the key to survival. I don’t know why you’re bringing up the sanity of law professors? As if to counter some argument I did not make, that only people who like guns can suffer mental illness. Anyway, comparing school bus deaths to school shootings in any way remains silly.

    • People try to make it super complicated, but it’s actually really simple.

      Do you believe that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” (per Article 3 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which surely every good liberal subscribes to), or is everyone merely a ward of the government, free to live only by its grace?

      If you think that you have an inherent right to life, then surely you have a right to defend it (for a right that cannot be defended is no right at all)? There’s only one tool I know of that stands a chance of leveling the playing field when a 4′ 10″ 60 lb woman is attacked by a 6′ 5″ 250 lb rugby player.

      I don’t think it needs to be any more complicated than that. Either you have an inherent right to life and self-preservation, or you don’t.

      If you’re relying on the people in magic blue shirts for safety, then you’ve delegated your right to an unreliable party. The job of the police is to come by afterwards and sweep the whole mess into a body bag.

      It should tell you everything you need to know that the people most fervent about taking guns away are themselves surrounded by 24/7 armed security. Obviously the billionaires and politicians will never give up *their* weapons. Disarmament is only for the little people.

      Come talk to me when they give up their security details and rely on normal police patrols like they want everyone else to.

    • Phik, using your logic, how do you defend yourself against an angry, irrational 4’2″ man with a semi automatic pistol? “There’s only one tool I know of that stands a chance of leveling the playing field…” a fully automatic rifle. And so on.

    • A bullet from a pistol stops an unarmed man as surely as it stops someone with a bazooka.

      But it’s interesting that, of my entire post, that’s what you chose to respond to. Cognitive dissonance is a very powerful force!

    • >> Guns are a crutch for people who suffer from paranoia or anxiety.
      > This is a completely bogus argument.
      Please keep quiet and let our adversaries drop their weapons. Just in case…

    • Phik, spoken like someone who’s never fired a pistol. The useful range is very limited as compared to a rifle. And no, a pistol round is not as effective as a rifle round.

  4. Enjoy driving on a race track while you still can, it’s a disappearing luxury. Race tracks far enough away from civilization not to bother anyone are dying to due to expensive maintenance and lack of customers (few people willing to drive 2-3 hours). Tracks near cities are closing due to encroaching real estate development, and the noise complaints it brings from neighbours. Building a new track takes an act of god. I know of a proposed track that has been in the planning stages for almost a decade, still doing endless environmental studies (traffic, water, soil, noise, owls, squirrels, coyotes, migrating birds, etc).

    • That’s not the case here in Los Angeles, in fact quite the opposite. They tore down a golf course with driving range, and an adjacent apartment complex in order to build the Porsche Experience Center. It may not be a full size, or proper noisy race track per se, but it’s very large.

  5. Once the state figures out how much revenue they are going to lose from the DUI industry, speeding tickets, and no more ‘I pulled you over because you touched the painted line’ BS stops they will not permit driverless cars. Add in the loss of insurance surcharges from being guilty of the above. Self driving cars are a financial nightmare for the state and big insurance.

  6. > When cars drive themselves

    Cars will not drive themselves. They will, at most, drive under the supervision of a qualified person when conditions permit, as is possible now. They will never reach “level 5”. Self-driving cars are a special condition of the general AI hype from which no genuine AI will ever emerge.

    • Boy I hope you’re wrong. In fact, I’ll take the other side of that bet. I’ll set the over/under at 1/1/2040 and take the “under” for a generally (maybe only in a limited access model a la today’s freeways) available level 5 autonomous vehicles. I’m actually hoping for more like 2030-ish.

    • “never” – that’s a very bold claim on lack of progress. You think there will *never* be enough progress, not in 100 or 1000 years?

  7. A few thoughts:

    1) Active safety systems (sometimes called ADAS) that are as competent as automated driving systems can potentially make human driving as safe as automated driving. So the argument that people won’t be allowed to drive in the future is probably wrong. ADAS systems can also advise human drivers and if necessary limit their behavior to prevent traffic congestion, just like automated driving.

    2) Safety is important to everyone as are other ancillary potential benefits of active safety and automated driving. But the largest motivating force for automated driving is economic, particularly in the Mobility as a Service business.

    3) The advent of circuit boards, surface mount components, etc … seemed to spell then end of the electronics hobby phenomenon that followed WWII, yet other aspects of the programmability and low cost of modern components resulted in the boom of the Maker movement. It is likely a similar thing will happen with active safety and automated vehicles. No one will mourn the loss of the need to drive a vehicle to commute the same way to work every day through a traffic jam. But the joy of driving and the increasing effectiveness of active safety will likely lead more people, not fewer, to enjoy driving at other times. If similar active safety systems were common in small aircraft to make them almost impossible to crash, lowering both danger and training requirements, wouldn’t there be a similar uptick in the popularity of private aviation ?

  8. Like horses and passenger ships before them, we’ll make autonomous cars so cheap and efficient that non-self-driving cars will be banished from the general roadways and only the rich will be able to afford their care and “feeding”.

  9. Nobody has any idea how to make a self driving car. There may be none in my lifetime. Ten years ago they thought deep learning would work. It didn’t. Now nobody as a clue how to proceed. Moravec’s paradox strikes again.

  10. It will be interesting to see how motorsports holds up once self-driving cars can regularly beat human-driven cars. A couple of months ago there was a bunch of chest-thumping about Tesla and the Nurburgring. I think Tesla set an unofficial record for its class. I’d imagine they had all the sensors on, so there’s no good reason a version of AI driver couldn’t take a crack at it. One imagines that it’s just a matter of time before the AI driver gets better at this weird edge case of driving than a person. I wonder if that will dampen the world’s enthusiasm for this sort of thing.

    • This is a great question.

      My feeling is that interest will not change because of this.

      An anology is running. No one cares that a bicycle or car can do the Boston Marathon route faster than a person can run it. Watching people compete is still just as exciting.

      Similarly for athletes that are not assisted by banned drugs … Putting limits on what is allowed doesn’t lower the excitement.

      There may be a lowering of interest if driving becomes less common. But hopefully not, and that is different than the effect of a machine beating a human.

      An interesting question is to what extent active safety may be allowed or required to make human driven races safer.

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