Amid all the hype and hoopla over self-driving cars, Audi has gone retro by romanticizing the thrill of driving.
In its latest ad, Audi worked with advertising firm Venables, Bell & Partners out of San Francisco to imagine a city in the not too distant future. Driverless cars, at that point, are part of the routine fabric of urban living. David, an older and seemingly successful businessman, leaves his office and summons his driverless car, equipped with his omnipresent personal assistant, Clara.
“Good evening, Clara,” David says. “Home, please.”
The car serves him up a cup of coffee, and Clara, attuned to his moods, asks, “David, what’s on your mind?”
“I was just thinking of a different time, is all,” David says wistfully.
The ad flashes backwards to boys – their fresh, clean faces reveal they’ve only been driving for a couple of years – maybe even months. The freedom – and sheer fun – of driving with friends, while listening to music, is electric.
“There was a time when I used to sit up there, you know,” he continues, motioning his head towards where a driver’s seat would be.
A second flashback shows a 20-something David shifting his Audi on an open, wooded road. The windows are rolled down.
“Driving wasn’t just about being taken from place to place, but going somewhere. Feeling something along the way” he says.
Now in his late 30s, David is driving a TT convertible along a curvy ocean road, a woman in the passenger seat tames her hair being blown by the wind.
Back to the “present” time, David’s autonomous car stores itself and his house lights turn on by motion sensor. As David nestles into his wing-back chair, Clara urges David to relax.
“I’m afraid that’s just the problem,” he says.
In the next scene, David revs the engine of his 2018 Audi R8 Spyder, stored in the basement.
Cue the music, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” by Vanilla Fudge, and David drives away from the house, accelerating onto the open road, no doubt causing chaos on the grid.
The ad’s only tagline: Progress is seizing every moment.
This ad is notable for waxing nostalgic about a task that humans still have to contend with: driving. Although ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft provide some choice about when and where we drive, they haven’t allowed everyday suburbanites to break free from car ownership. And those services aren’t driverless, either … yet.
Back to the Future
Of course, Audi, like most major car brands, is working on its own self-driving future. Its A8 is considered one of the most autonomous cars on the market. And it’s seeking approval for Traffic Jam Pilot, a semiautonomous platform that maneuvers through highway snarls, without driver assistance. If it’s successful, the car maker would be the first to have a commercially available Level 3 self-driving car on the road.
In addition, Audi has announced that it plans to have fully autonomous cars on the road by 2021.
But the ad also reflects the current skepticism about driverless technology. After a pedestrian was killed by an Uber self-driving car in March, excitement surrounding autonomous vehicles waned.
A Brookings Institution survey found that 61 percent of Americans are not inclined to ride in self-driving cars. A poll from Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety found that 69 percent are concerned about sharing the road with autonomous cars.
Regardless of the current sentiments, driverless cars beckon. What Audi gets right in its commercial is that some of us will embrace that future, while others will bemoan the loss of the driving era.
While driverless cars can offer us safety and additional free time, the Audi ad captures what we’ll give up. The thrill of being behind the wheel. Seeing the road as it unfurls before us. Savoring the anticipation of what’s at the end of the road. And embracing spontaneity at any turn we damn well please.
We’ve had to make compromises along the way for other technologies. With the smartphone, disconnecting from life became harder. With dating apps, the courting timeline sped up. But this may be the first time we mourn the loss of something before it’s even lost.
Article written by MG Rhodes. Submitted: 8/15/2018
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