Retalls (26.5.19)

(…) 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. (...) Radwood was first held in San Francisco, in 2017; this year, it’s being held in around a dozen cities, including Los Angeles and Sodegaura, Japan. With their molded-plastic exteriors, aerodynamic spoilers, and pop-up headlights, many of the cars at Radwood share an aesthetic. What really unites them, however, is their status as relics. They hail from an era when engine controls weren’t fully computerized, and when cars could be fixed using hand tools. They represent a relationship to technology that has now vanished—one that privileges user involvement over convenience. “The majority of people who are fans of cars in this era want to be able to work on their own cars,” Bradley Brownell, one of Radwood’s co-founders, told me. (…)