In the 1997 James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies,” Pierce Brosnan’s 007 summons his BMW with a command from his mobile phone—a mere trick of remote control. To top that feat some future Bond car will have to drive itself whenever its hero is, ahem, otherwise occupied.
The movie makers had better roll the idea out soon, before futuristic dreams turn quotidian. The upcoming Bond movie, to be called “Spectre,” will include a DB10 by Aston Martin, the quintessentially Bond-ish (and very British) car maker. And Aston Martin has just announced that it may incorporate self-driving technology in its showroom cars, via its technical partnership with Mercedes.
“If I’m stuck in traffic in New York or Seoul or Jakarta, why not let the car drive me?” said Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s chief designer. “People can still see me inside, and when I do feel like driving, I can still enjoy my Aston.”
The ultra-luxury brand won’t need Q and a top-secret lab, either: It has Mercedes, the current leader in putting semi-autonomous technology in showrooms. In return for a five percent stake in Aston Martin, Mercedes will supply hand-built AMG engines and transmissions, along with its advanced electronics—all things that Aston needs to meet tougher fuel-economy standards and the demands of people who spend from US $110,000 to $2.3 million on a new Aston.
That technology infusion will begin with next year’s replacement for the Aston-Martin DB9 grand tourer. That model will become the first Aston to adopt Mercedes’ latest COMAND navigation and infotainment system, a major leap from the clunky and out-of-date Volvo-based system in its current lineup. Mercedes’ semi-autonomous functions could easily be next, Reichman said, noting how they’ve given Mercedes a technological and marketing edge in models from the flagship S-Class sedan to the affordable C-Class sedan.
Those models can manage their own accelerator and brakes even in stop-and-go traffic; steer themselves along gentle highway curves; and stop automatically to prevent collisions with cars, pedestrians or large animals. Mercedes’ investment, Reichman says, has given Aston a roughly $800 million war chest to spend on new models in coming years, including an electric Rapide sedan whose production was announced at the recent New York International Auto Show.
That cash infusion is allowing Aston to access “the full à la carte menu of Mercedes technology,” Reichman said. Each German menu item comes at a price, so the British automaker will pick and choose which features make sense for its customers.
“There’s no way as an independent automaker that we could access that level of technology, including electronics which cost Mercedes billions to develop.”