POSTSCRIPT / November 25, 2021 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Want a self-driving car? Better not rush

WOULD it not be almost perfect after the day’s labor, or a night of clean fun, to just board your FSD (full self-driving) car, push a button, and your computerized chariot takes you home while you nap at the back?

Reading consumer feedback and watching the video report of a CNN staff emerging from a scary test run on an FSD could discourage the average Pinoy from joining the 826,000 or so owners who had rushed to buy a Tesla. CNN story:

Teslas come with the FSD hardware. The buyer pays $10,000 to add the software as an option and it can be removed if the car owner decides not to continue with it.

A buyer has to wait several months before the car is delivered. The demand is really so high on these electric cars. Some customers who cannot wait end up buying slightly used Teslas, although these are more expensive than brand-new ones.

One reason why most Pinoys would not consider buying even the cheapest standard range Tesla Model 3 is that it has a $43,990 (P2.3 million) price tag. Only a Pharmally type, or an heir to unexplained wealth, or a premium car collector with the means of RSA, might buy.

And then the Tesla will have to stay in a driveway or garage in the United States as it cannot be charged on the road and serviced in the Philippines. (The salesman says it can be recharged overnight at home to give in the morning a full charge good for 260 miles [418 km]).

Now if the electric wonder car stalls on the expressways to Baguio, the driver/owner could go crazy. Trained technicians with the right tools and parts are as rare as an honest politician. Tesla claims they have over 30,000 superchargers worldwide, but there is none in the Philippines.

To fully enjoy his electric toy, a Pinoy may have to spend time in the US. That assumes he’s not blacklisted by immigration for sex trafficking, or a fugitive wanted for not complying with a court order to return ill-gotten wealth or to indemnify victims of his late father’s abuses.

But a Pinoy stuck in this would-be province of China is not really missing much. His old utility car or his new sports van still has thousands of kilometers ahead of it. A sour grape can console himself with the thought that a fully self-driving car still has to prove itself.

There is no car yet that is truly self-driving, if understood in the same hands-free sense of auto-pilot for aircraft. At best, FSD in cars is mostly adaptive cruise control, lane-centering steering (which is a great assist when you’re somewhat drowsy), and a few other enhancements thrown in.

The first time cruise control was introduced decades ago, it was a novelty until many drivers found it was generally unnecessary except on long freeway trips when one was not in a hurry. The driver’s foot may be resting off the gas pedal but his hands still had to be on the wheel and eyes on the road.

For some time in the useful lifetime of one’s current car, FSDs are not an immediate necessity. What might accelerate its phaseout, however, is the Climate Change pressure that pushes car-owners, among other users of fossil fuel, to reduce polluting exhausts that poison the air.

In www,, writer Kelsey Mays recalled: “Tesla’s autopilot dates back to October 2014, when the California automaker unveiled the driver-assist tech. Its name has proven controversial, since it still requires you to pay attention, keep your hands on the wheel and take over as necessary.

“Some high-profile crashes have involved drivers allowing Autopilot to drive the car with virtually no intervention. Tesla has since updated the system to shut off if it detects extended hands-free driving, but safety and consumer advocates still say its name is misleading.

“The automaker has recently dropped the radars in its new Tesla Vision system. The system now only utilizes cameras and neural net processing, with all-new Model 3 and Model Y vehicles featuring the radarless technology. (Four Tesla cars [Models 3, S, X, Y] offer Autopilot.)

“If you want an autopilot vehicle per se, only Tesla has it. But many other cars offer advanced driver-assistance features that rival — and in some cases exceed — Autopilot’s primary capabilities.”

• Manila the acid test of drivers

IT IS said, with a tinge of pride, that if one can drive in Manila he can drive anywhere. You offer your visiting American friends your best car to use while they are in town, and they push back in horror.

They groan how could they possibly drive on roads that have no lines or lanes? Huh, who needs lanes that are not mandatory, but merely persuasive? We tell them that driving in Manila is much like playing football, a comparison they should understand.

In Manila, you never drive in a straight line. You just aim the car where you spot an opening and make a dash for it, your fenders ready to bump off anything that gets in the way.

My own final test in driving school decades ago was to maneuver a bulky eight-cylinder (“de ocho”) Buick at a low speed where you have to make “timpla” – the dexterous balancing/timing of the brake, the clutch, the “cambio” (stick shift) and the gas. At that time, we knew nothing but manual-shift transmission.

With my heavily insured instructor beside me, I drove for what felt like eternity in the crowded area around the Baclaran shrine in Parañaque. That was before the MMDA stopped the “dilihensiya” (diligence?) of local authorities and cleared the area of the horde of humans and other moving objects in the vicinity.

After I passed that ultimate test, the next hurdle was how to buy on installment a decent motor vehicle (which must be manual because automatic shift was only for sissies), but that kuwento will have to wait for another time.

Years later, in San Francisco where I had resided, I would stop for the red light at any precarious intersection and hang (bitin) without my stick-shift car rolling back on the steep grade. That required deft balancing (timpla!) of the brakes, clutch and gas by a true Filipino driver who can survive without a self-driving vehicle.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 25, 2021)

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