The Truth About Cars » Technology The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Technology Android Auto vs. Apple CarPlay vs. Your Precious Bodily Fluids Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:00:49 +0000 tumblr_m9hum9gnmd1rsen2io1_500At yesterday’s Google I/O keynote speech, Google laid out its vision for Android Auto (reported here yesterday), which is quite similar to Apple’s CarPlay. I’ve ranted here before about Apple’s CarPlay when it was first announced and after more details came out last March. Both have the idea that your phone can hijack the screen in your car. What’s newsworthy from Google is that we have an enlarged list of vendors who are playing along. (Wired has the full list. Suffice to say that you’ll have plenty of choices if you want a car that goes both ways, if you know what I mean. Most interesting factoid: Tesla isn’t playing with either Apple or Google. Hear that? It’s the sounds of thousands of alpha-nerd Tesla owners crying out in terror.)

Today, I want to address why you should stop worrying and learn to love having your phone in charge of your car’s telematics display.

Using most computer crap in cars will kill you. I’ve had enough of people arguing about BMW i-Drive vs. Audi MMI vs. giant Tesla touchscreens vs. your smartphone. You all don’t get it. They’re all part of a Communist plot to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. Or at least distract us and get us into horrific driving accidents. When you’re driving, you should have your hands on the wheel, or your passenger’s thigh. No, no, definitely on the wheel.

But some computer crap in cars is exceptionally valuable. When you’re driving somewhere new, nav systems are great. Even if you’re driving somewhere you go all the time, modern nav systems like Waze give you real-time user-reported intel on the traffic and even where the speed traps are. But how do Waze drivers report speed traps? They press tiny buttons on the phone and promptly create new accidents for other Waze drivers to report.

So how can you use a computer in your car safely? What we’ve seen so far from the automakers is largely a massive failure on this front. BMW’s iDrive, no matter how much they simplify it, is still an abomination upon humanity. Tesla’s giant and beautiful touchscreen, much like the Chevy Volt and other new cars that don’t have real buttons any more, require you to look for the button you’re trying to press. Prior attempts at voice recognition are laughably inaccurate, particularly once the car is moving at freeway speed and you’ve got wind noise and tire noise, never mind a blaring stereo. What’s left? The thing that Google seems to get, and you know Apple will copy it a year later and claim they invented first, is that they have all this knowledge about you. Your calendar has your destination address right next to your appointment. And they know where you live and where you drive every day on your commute. Why is this a good thing? Because Google will (hopefully) be very good at guessing what you’re up to and will just do it with little or no user intervention at all. When you do need to use your voice to tell your nav system what to do, or what music you want to play, you’ll get the benefit of Google’s backend data center megabrain which can do a way better job of figuring out what you’re talking about than the puny computer in your car or phone. Why? Because it’s got context. If you’re trying to navigate to a some business, it’s going to compare your vocal garble to the names of local destinations, especially if you did a Google search on your computer beforehand or your buddy emailed you the address. If you’re trying to play some hipster indie band, it’s going to look at the names in your library and in its “people who like X tend to like Y” megabrain graph. Smaller search space = higher recognition accuracy.

But I don’t trust the Google megabrain with my precious privacy fluids. We are rapidly approaching a moment of truth, both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing, but the fact is that you’re already telling Google, Apple, the NSA, OkCupid, and the fiendish fluoridators far too much about yourself. It’s a huge pain to keep apps from profiling you, but you can do it if you insist. (I use the totally not user-friendly XPrivacy. My proposed solution for the real world: government regulation. But I digress.) For the rest of us, there’s a tradeoff. You give up some privacy. In return you get something. Maybe that something is a free version of some game. You could pay $1 and get the advertising-free version. But do you pay that dollar? No? That’s how little you truly value your own privacy.

When you use Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, or Microsoft Win9 Cartopia Enterprise Edition, you’re indeed giving up some privacy, but look at what you’re getting back. You’re getting good stuff. For a great price.

How will we ultimately trade our privacy for all these great features? Will Google crack down on apps’ ability to learn totally unnecessarily personal things about you? (There is a new feature in Android “L” that’s supposed to help with this.) Will government regulators ultimately crack down on Google? We’ll see. Now let’s get this thing on the hump — we got some flyin’ to do.


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EGR-equipped Buick Regal Hits 40 MPG Thu, 10 Apr 2014 10:00:56 +0000 EGR Buick Regal Gets 40 MPG

The current Buick Regal is an excellent car. I know, because I have one parked in my garage (it’s sweet). Still, it could be better- and the guys at the SouthWest Research Institute (SWRI) have figured out a way to enhance the mid-range Buick so that it produces fewer harmful carbon emissions and gets better fuel economy.

Can’t beat that!

Far from being pie-in-the-sky thinking, however, the motivation for building this 40 MPG ultra low-emission Buick Regal comes out of necessity. Namely the 2025 CAFE regulations that will force automobile manufacturers to achieve a 54.5 miles per gallon EPA rating across their product range. At the same time, the EPA is also expected to release new, more stringent emissions standards in a bid to improve air quality and save lives. Those two factors mean there is considerable industry focus on improving both emissions and fuel efficiency without incurring huge R&D costs- and the EGR system built into the SWRI team’s 2014 Buick Regal might play a big part in that.

EGR, for those not in the know, stands for exhaust gas recirculation. In the case of the Buick Regal tester, the 2.0 Liter engine was modified so that exhaust from one dedicated cylinder is run with a rich mixture of fuel and air to reform hydrocarbon fuel into carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The reformulated exhaust gas is then cooled and looped into a patented mixer where the exhaust gasses are mixed with fresh air before going into the engine intake. “By running one cylinder rich, the excess fuel is reformed into hydrogen and carbon monoxide,” added Chris Chadwell, manager of SWRI’s Spark Ignition Engine R&D section. “The in-cylinder reformation slightly reduces the carbon dioxide and water vapor while producing large volumes of carbon monoxide, which is a good fuel, and hydrogen, which is an outstanding fuel. That provides an octane boost and a flammability boost, and extends the EGR limit of the engine.”

It’s all pretty trick stuff, in other words- and it’s not that far away from being a production-ready piece. Let’s hope the next generation of Buick Regals- heck, let’s hope they build a new ROADMASTER!- has enough slick SWRI stuff on it to still be legal, then. In the meantime, you can check out an under hood shot of the SWRI EGR-equipped 2014 Buick Regal, below. Enjoy!




Source | Photos: SWRI; Originally published on Gas 2.

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Tesla Leads Charge To Replace Side Mirrors With Cameras Tue, 01 Apr 2014 10:08:01 +0000 Tesla Model X Concept

Should Tesla and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — including General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen — be successful in their petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, new cars could soon have cameras instead of side mirrors.

Automotive News reports the petition — on the heels of the agency mandating rearview cameras by 2018 in all light-duty vehicles — explains cameras could do the same job as mirrors while allowing for increased aerodynamics:

In light of future greenhouse gas and corporate average fuel economy requirements beginning in 2017, camera-based systems represent an opportunity to increase vehicle fuel efficiency through improved aerodynamics by eliminating externally mounted mirrors.

Current regulations place cameras as a supplement to side mirrors, with Nissan, Honda and Mercedes-Benz offering such systems, while Volkswagen’s XL1 is one of a few vehicles to do away with mirrors by using cameras in their stead.

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BlackBerry Fights Google, Apple To Maintain Connected-Car Lead Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:44:33 +0000 Blackberry-QNX-Car-Entertainment-and-Telematics

Though BlackBerry owns a sliver of the smartphone market they once dominated, its QNX-based connected-car systems may be the best weapon they have in maintaining its lead over the companies that drove the Canadian company nearly out of the smartphone business.

Bloomberg reports QNX — the choice for connected-car systems by Ford, Porsche and BMW among others — is now facing competition from both Apple and Google for market and mind share of an industry expected to be worth $53 billion in 2018.

According to IHS Automotive analyst Mark Boyadjis, the bigger challenge will come from Google, whose Android operating system helped finish the job Apple’s iPhone began in 2007 in pushing out BlackBerry from the global smartphone market. Google — who also collaborates with the QNX division on occasion — has already put its mark on the Kia Soul and Mercedes-AMG SLS, and established the Open Automotive Alliance with Audi, General Motors, Honda and Hyundai.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry and Apple are on more equal footing with the latter’s CarPlay platform, bringing the connect-car/iPhone experience to Ferrari at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show this month.

As for QNX itself, the BlackBerry-owned division continues to expand further into the connected-car market, with Ford dropping Microsoft for the micro-kernel OS in its maligned Sync/MyFord Touch system last month. The Blue Oval’s action would place the automaker in good company, as QNX also powers systems used by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Hyundai, and Jaguar.

The biggest advantage QNX has over Google and Apple is its proven track record in running safety systems, where a software issue could mean the difference between life and death, which Boyadjis believes will carry BlackBerry and QNX into the future against the two technology titans from California.

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BMW, Mercedes Downsize Number Of Architectures For Future Vehicles Mon, 17 Mar 2014 13:01:18 +0000 bmw-2-series-active-tourer-11

In order to accelerate development of new models while also cutting costs, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are downsizing the number of architectures to be used in future vehicles in their respective lineups.

Automotive News Europe reports Mercedes will be down from nine platforms five years ago to four platforms by 2016, with the first — the MFA — already in showrooms as the CLA; the MFA-underpinned B-Class and GLA will arrive in United States showrooms later this summer. The move would allow Mercedes to move safety systems from their flagship S-Class to lower classes more quickly than in previous years.

Meanwhile, BMW will go from five to two platforms — one for RWD, one for FWD –between its namesake brand and Mini. The latter debuted with the redesigned Mini not too long ago, and will also underpin the 2-Series Active Tourer officially unveiled in Geneva last week.

As for the RWD platform, BMW R&D board member Herbert Deiss says it will arrive in 2016 under the next-generation 7 Series. Both consolidations were brought to life to allow more affordable expansion of each brand’s lineup.

BMW’s i Series will not take part in the consolidation, nor will Rolls-Royce.

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Crazy Ads & Car Stereos: How Earl “Madman” Muntz Changed Car (and American) Culture Sun, 16 Mar 2014 14:00:47 +0000 IMG_0973

1950 Muntz Jet. Full gallery here.

When Chrysler touts its well-performing 8.4 inch UConnect touchscreen, somewhere Earl “Madman” Muntz smiles. When drivers use UConnect and other manufacturers’ infotainment systems  to play their favorite music Muntz’s smile broadens. You see it was Muntz who started the convention of measuring video screens diagonally in the early days of television. He was also an important pioneer when it came to automotive audio systems, inventing and selling the first affordable car stereo systems. Muntz could also be attributed with selling the first modern personal luxury car, or even the first American sports car (though Crosley buffs would demur). Not only did he influence the way people entertained themselves behind the wheel and at home, perhaps more importantly he influenced the way mass consumer goods, including cars, are manufactured and marketed.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Muntz was a serial entrepreneur who made and lost fortunes several times, coming up with timely ideas and riding them as long as he could. His first big success was selling used cars in southern California. Every loud, over the top television pitch for a car dealer can be traced back to the way Muntz promoted his used cars.


Billboards went up all over the region saying, “I wanna give ‘em away, but Mrs. Muntz won’t let me – SHE’S CRAZY!” and “I buy ‘em retail, sell ‘em wholesale – IT’S MORE FUN THAT WAY!”, featuring Muntz’s logo, a caricature of himself wearing a red union suit and a black Napoleon hat, and he flooded the airwaves with radio ads.


His marketing persona may have been crazy, but in reality he was crazy like a fox. In 1947, he sold $76 million worth of cars and for a while he was the largest volume used car dealer in the world.


An inveterate and flamboyant romantic, Muntz married seven times, and in between matrimonial relationships he also had a number of girlfriends, including comedienne Phyllis Diller. That seems somewhat ironic in light of the fact that all of his wives were beauties and Diller famously effected a homely comedic persona. A bit of a celebrity himself, Muntz hung out with comedians, singers and actors, in fact a number of celebrities invested in his businesses.


Born in 1914, Earl Muntz didn’t have much in the way of a formal technical education, but he was a natural tinkerer, building his first radio receiver when he was just eight years old. In 1928, at the age of 14, he built one of the first car radios. Six years later, he started his own used car lot, having his mother sign all the legal documents since he was not yet a legal adult.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Seeking greater opportunities in the Golden State, in 1941 Muntz opened up a used car lot in Glendale with a second lot in downtown LA soon to follow. He met a young advertising genius named Mike Shore and told him to come up with whatever he thought would sell cars. The billboards blanketing southern California and as many as 170 radio commercials a day made Muntz a household name in LA. With much of American industry changed over to war production, there were no new cars being made after early 1942 so used cars were in high demand, particularly on the west coast. Muntz would buy used cars in the midwest and then pay servicemen who had to report for duty on bases in California $50 each to drive the cars cross country, making it possible to sell thousands of cars that way.


A car enthusiast, Muntz loved to drive and frequently transported cars himself, taking Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, priding himself in the fact that he could do the run in 33 hours, faster than the Santa Fe Express train. In his later years, Muntz got alot of pleasure driving his customized Lincoln Continental which featured a tv set in the dashboard.


Just like late night tv comedians today joke about commercials, guys like Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Red Skelton would tell “Madman” Muntz jokes on their radio shows. That only helped publicize Muntz’s car sales, and his car lot became a major tourist attraction, a spot on the Grey Line bus tours right along with Grauman’s Chinese and the big Hollywood sign.

Early Muntz television set

Early Muntz television set

With his personal interest in electronics and his business interest in advertising his used car lots, it was natural for Muntz to gravitate to television when the first commercial sets came on the market. In short time he not only would be advertising on television, he’d be advertising his own television sets. He bought a tv set from a major manufacturer, disassembled it to see how it worked and then put it back together, removing parts one at a time to make simpler circuits. At the time, major manufacturers like Zenith and RCA devoted considerable resources to getting better reception in fringe areas, designing more sophisticated horizontal and vertical hold circuits (I wonder how many of you under the age of 40 have ever had to adjust a television set’s controls?) and features like automatic gain control and fine tuning. Muntz realized that if he restricted his marketing to major urban areas where broadcast signals were strong, simpler, cheaper to build circuits would work just fine for those customers. Whereas the major manufacturers might put four IF circuits in their tv sets, Muntz TVs got by with just two. If more expensive sets used potentiometers to set tubes’ bias voltage, Muntz sets used fixed resistors. Cheaper to make, more expensive to fix, but customers seem to have been happy with the tradeoffs.


It was Earl Muntz who first marketed video screens based on diagonal measurements. Comedian Jerry Colonna was both an endorser and investor for Muntz. Muntz liked to socialize with entertainers and use them to promote his products.

Muntz’s zeal to simplify production led to the term “Muntzing” and stories were told how even as an executive he’d carry a pair of insulated diagonal cutters in his pocket so he could start removing individual resistors and capacitors from prototype circuits his engineers were developing. He’d keep removing components until the signal would be lost and then he’d say, “I guess you have to leave that one in.”

Factory owned Muntz TV store in Miami, Florida

Factory owned Muntz TV store in Miami, Florida

As a result, Muntz was able to sell the first television set at a retail price below $100, selling them directly to consumers from factory owned stores to eliminate distributors’ mark ups. His $99.95 black and white tv set became one of the best selling consumer items in the United States. In addition to meeting that psychologically important price point, Muntz came up with the idea of advertising screen size measured diagonally, allowing him to cite a larger number for what was really the same size screen as competitors offered. Those competitors soon made Muntz’s math an industry standard. “Madman” ended up selling over $50 million worth of televisions in just a few years. Some said that he even coined the term “TV”, supposedly so skywriting planes he bought to promote his products could use the abbreviation. He even named a daughter Tee Vee Muntz. While the term undoubtedly predates Muntz’s use, he did popularize it, and like any good self-promoter he was happy with stories adhering to the Liberty Valance rule about legends.


Like most car guys, Muntz had dreams of making his own cars. In the late 1940s, race car builder Frank Kurtis, whose roadsters’ success at the Indy 500 made him famous, designed and built about 20 aluminum bodied two seat sports cars powered by flathead Ford V8 engines. Kurtis also built a custom Buick that Muntz greatly admired. Kurtis didn’t have the resources to put the two seater into full production, so Muntz bought the manufacturing rights for $200,000 and renamed the car the Muntz Jet.

Earl Muntz and an early Muntz Jet convertible. In the foreground is the custom Buick Frank Kurtis built that inspired the Jet.

Earl Muntz and an early Muntz Jet convertible. In the foreground is the custom Buick Frank Kurtis built that inspired the Jet.

Predating the four seat “Square Bird” Thunderbird by seven years, Muntz had the wheelbase of Kurtis’ car stretched over a foot so he could add a back seat. The flathead Ford was replaced by Cadillac’s new high compression 331 cubic inch OHV V8 that put out 160 horsepower and the interior was made more luxurious, including the installation of a bar in the rear console. The Jet was not a car for shrinking violets. Muntz offered the car in a variety of loud colors and exotic skins including ostrich, alligator and leopard could be used on the interior. Even without exotic skins, one could argue that the Jet was the first modern personal luxury car. Part of the Jet’s image was as a performance car so instrumentation included a tachometer and a fuel pressure gauge. It’s thought that the safety features that Muntz added to the car, seat belts and a padded dash, were less to sell the car as safe, than they were hints that the Jet was dangerously fast. Kurtis’ simple, slab sided styling, though, was more or less retained. That simple styling has aged well, and while it’s of its time, the Jet doesn’t look quite as dated as its contemporaries. As manufactured, the Muntz Jet is an open car with a removable Carson style steel roof. Though it allowed for open air driving, the roof was very heavy and there was no place to store it in the car once removed so if it rained when you were driving without the roof, you got wet.

Frank Kurtis built about 20 two seat roadsters before Earl Muntz bought the manufacturing rights.

Frank Kurtis built about 20 two seat roadsters before Earl Muntz bought the manufacturing rights.

After building about 2 dozen Jets in Kurtis’ former facility in Glendale, Muntz moved assembly to a factory in Evanston, Illinois and made some significant changes. The easily damaged aluminum body was replaced with steel and the wheelbase was stretched another three inches, to 116″. Perhaps for supply reasons the modern Caddy engine was replaced with Lincoln’s version of the flathead V8, and Hydramatic transmissions were sourced from GM. The steel body was welded to a fully boxed perimeter chassis. The resulting structure was strong, but heavy, about 400 lbs heavier than the cars built in Glendale. In a later interview, Muntz said, “The thing was built like a tank. Had we continued, I think we’d have lightened it. If you ever had one in a demolition derby, it’d ruin everything.”


Still, performance was pretty good for the era. Road & Track tested the Muntz Jet and reported a top speed of 108+ mph. Indy 500 winner Sam Hanks recorded a verified 128 mph on the salt flats at Bonneville in a Jet that was stock except for a belly pan that reduced drag.


While Muntz’s investment was relatively minimal, $200K for the rights and about $75,000 for the tooling, the Jet turned out to be expensive to build, with a lot of handwork needed to fit and lead-in the body panels. Labor costs were about $2,000 a car, a significant sum in the early 1950s. The records were lost so it’s not known exactly how many Jets were made but Earl Muntz later estimated the total from both Glendale and Evansville was 394. About one third of those have been identified as still existing.


As with his tv sets, Muntz didn’t use distributors or dealers but rather sold the Muntz Jet directly to customers, predating Tesla’s business model by 60 years. He advertised the Jet in upscale publications like the Wall Street Journal and had some success with celebrity customers, including Clark Gable, Clara Bow, Marilyn Monroe, Mario Lanza and Gloria DeHaven. While he sold every one he could make, in a *David Brown-like manner, Muntz lost about $1,000 on every Jet he sold, about what Ford lost on every Continental Mark II they built. Ford Motor Company, however, could afford those losses. A serial entrepreneur like Muntz couldn’t.

“They cost $6,500 apiece to build,” Muntz told an interviewer, “and at that price they wouldn’t sell. At $5,500, I couldn’t make enough of ‘em, but I couldn’t afford to keep it up. But as far as the car itself was concerned, we were very fortunate. We didn’t have too many problems.”

“Today the labor in that s.o.b. would run 20 grand! I lost $400,000 on that project before we closed it down in 1954,” Muntz said.


Not only did Muntz lose money on his car venture, by the mid 1950s with color television about to hit the market and with major television set manufacturers selling more expensive console models, sales of the inexpensive black and white Muntz sets plunged. Once worth millions, Muntz’s stock in his television company was sold for just $200,000.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Ever the tinkerer, through his connection to the radio industry, Muntz had become aware of the Fidelipac 3-track recording tape cartridges used by radio stations for commercials and jingles. The developers of Fidelipac had figured out a way to pull tape off the outside of a spool and then feed it back into the center of the spool, creating an endless loop. You couldn’t reverse and fast forward was iffy, but Muntz could put an entire Long Playing 33 RPM album on one cartridge. Adapting the design and adding a fourth track so it could play in stereo, in 1962 Muntz opened up the Muntz Stereo factory in Van Nuys, California, he made some licensing deals with record companies and started selling Stereo Pak prerecorded cartridges and players. In time Muntz licensed others to make 4 track players for both home and car applications. Stockholders in Muntz Stereo included Bill Cosby, Jerry Colonna, Sammy Davis, Jr., Robert Culp, Joey Bishop, Frank Sinatra and Rudy Vallee.

The Stereo Pak was a huge hit. Customers lined up for blocks outside the Muntz factory store to get players installed in their cars. While today it’s cool to snark about eight track players in TransAms driven by guys with mullets wearing wifebeaters, in an era of $5,500 audiophile branded factory installed car stereo systems that indeed rival some very good home audio systems, it’s hard to imagine the impact tape cartridge players for cars had. For the first time the masses could have more than just an AM radio playing through one tinny sounding small speaker in the middle of the dashboard (musical trivia: Barry Gordy and the other producers at Motown’s Hitsville USA studio did their final mixes using a cheap car speaker as the monitor because that’s the way most people would end up hearing the music – oh and those late 1950s and early 1960s AM car radios used pretty sophisticated tube circuits and actually had good audio quality, even if they did take a mile or two to warm up and were played through crappy paper cone drivers).

It wasn’t just the sound quality. Perhaps even more important was the use of portable media – you could now play your choice of music in your car and not just what some disc jockey or Top 40 radio station program director chose. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but soon after tape cartridge players for cars started proliferating, so did so-called “freeform”, playlist-free FM radio stations. In addition to reflecting what was going on in the music industry in the 1960s, “underground FM” stations playing a broader variety of music, including longer cuts and extended jams may also have been the radio industry’s response to what Muntz had wrought.

Muntz’s invention of the Stereo Pak 4 track cartridge and player was a landmark event in what we call in-car infotainment today. Before then the only choice you had to play music in your car was either the radio or the completely inadequate Highway HiFi vinyl record players that offered limited content and skipped badly when going over bumps. While some automakers did offer stereo on vehicles equipped with AM-FM radios, the only place you’d find them would be in expensive Cadillacs and Lincolns. With the Stereo Pak 4 track players, for the first time drivers could have stereo audio in their cars, playing music of their choice, at an affordable price.


Muntz Stereo Pak 4 track car tape player.

Then Muntz made the mistake of selling 4 track players to Bill Lear, for installation in Lear jets. Lear, another inveterate tinkerer, realized there were shortcomings in the design of the Stereo Pak system and he put engineer Ralph Miller to the task of improving it. Like all tape players, Stereo Pak cartridges use a capstan drive to move the tape. The tape is pinched between the rotating capstan and a rubber pinch roller. In Muntz’s design, the pinch roller flips up into an opening in the cartridge.



Lear realized that putting the pinch roller inside the cartridge meant making a simpler player mechanism, reducing the cost of building them. Lear also simplified the cartridge, eliminating some components, making the mechanical part of the cartridges less expensive to make than Stereo Pak cartridges. Also, by then the Phillips corporation had already introduced the Compact Cassette tape format, which used 1/8″ wide tape, compared to the 1/4″ tape used by Muntz.


With Phillips and Sony proving that tape tracks could be even narrower, Lear realized that going to eight tracks meant he could put twice as much music on the same amount of tape as Muntz and still get audio quality that consumers were accept. Eight track players and cartridges were simply cheaper to manufacture than comparable four track components. They didn’t sound as good as four track players, and the tape cartridges weren’t as reliable. There is a reason why eight track cartridges have a reputation for self-destructing, but for the most part they worked well enough for consumers to embrace them. Also, Lear made a deal with Ford to offer 8 track players as factory equipment in 1965, starting with the 1966 model year. For a consummate salesman, that was one sales opportunity that Earl Muntz missed. In a very short time 8 track cartridges took over in the marketplace. Muntz Stereo was flooded with the return of hundreds of thousands of unsold prerecorded tapes.


Soon Stereo Paks were forgotten. Muntz tried to market variations, including miniature cartridges under the Playtape brand, and even tried to create a miniaturized player that incorporated a preamp in the tape head, which sort of anticipated the Sony Walkman, but eventually he gave up on tape cartridges and moved on to other things. In time, of course, Mr. Dolby made high fidelity Compact Cassettes possible and they in turn replaced 8 track cartridges, digital music came along with Compact Digital Discs which in turn replaced the Phillips cassettes and now our car stereos play music we store on a variety of solid state memory devices. I think Earl Muntz would appreciate a car stereo with no moving parts, though he’d probably say that today’s infotainment systems are way more complex than they need to be.

Always good at spotting the next trend, Muntz went on to be among the first people to market satellite dishes, home video recorders and big screen tvs. Some of his ventures were more successful than others, but into his 70s, Earl Muntz kept finding new things to sell. By the time of his death in 1987 he had become the biggest retailer in southern California of a new device called the cellular phone. Muntz Stereo, in Ventura, California still sells cellphones, car stereos and burglar alarms.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The 1950 Muntz Jet pictured here was photographed at the 2013 Concours of America at St. John’s. It’s owned by David and Katherine Hans. From its concours level quality, you’d never guess that David Hans rescued it from a Chicago area junkyard. It’s the second Jet that Muntz made, so it came out of the California facility, has an aluminum body and is powered by a Cadillac V8. It has the additional provenance of having been featured in a number of publicity photos for the Muntz car company, posed with Earl Muntz. If the Muntz Jet strikes your fancy, they’re not that expensive to buy. They come up fairly regularly at auction and it looks like a nice one will cost you $60,000 – $75,000, which doesn’t seem like a huge amount of money for a fairly rare and historically interesting car.

*The DB in Aston Martin model names comes from David Brown, who owned the company in the 1950s and 1960s. When a friend once asked him if he would sell him an Aston “at cost”, Brown reportedly told his friend, “but then I would have to charge you more than the retail price.”

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

MuntzJet_19B MuntzJet_19A MuntzJet_18B MuntzJet_18A MuntzJet_17B MuntzJet_17A MuntzJet_12B MuntzJet_12A MuntzJet_10 ]]> 33
Alternative Technologies: The Power Of Steam Fri, 14 Mar 2014 20:58:21 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

The verdict is in. After two popular articles on the inner workings of the transmission, it is clear that TTAC loves technical articles about complicated mechanical devices. Always one to try to get into the middle of the latest fad, I thought that maybe I too could use my own hard won technical knowledge to write an informative article. The problem is that the only thing I really know how to work on involves technology that is seldom seen in cars these days: steam.

Many people think the days of steam power has come and gone but the truth is that it is still with us. It’s true that the immense locomotives that once thundered across our great land, pistons pounding wildly as they flung themselves along the rails at speeds that often exceeded 100 mph, have all but disappeared, but the reasons for their demise have little to do with the efficiency of their power plants. No, the steam locomotive was undone by the fact that most of them were one-off creations, each one of which required specially constructed parts and that, when General Motors finally began to apply the miracle of standardized parts and the production line to the creation of diesel engines, the great beasts were finally driven to extinction. No, steam simply retreated to places where it could be used to its best advantage and where it still works with such efficiency that it is utterly unremarkable.

The power of steam comes from its expansion. To people accustomed to thinking about the automobile, the way steam works can easily be compared to the combustion of gasoline which takes power from a liquid fuel, gasoline or diesel, and then ignites it into a gas which forces a piston to travel downward in a power stroke. In the case of steam power, water is heated under pressure in a boiler until it turns to vapor and is taken from the drum via a series of pipes, scrubbed of its moisture and sometimes superheated, before being released through a nozzle or inlet valve into an area where it can fully expand. That expansion can be used to cause a piston to move through its stroke or a turbine to spin. Of course, this is a simplistic explanation but just to give you an idea of the power available, just understand that water expands into steam at a rate of 1700 to 1, meaning that one square foot of water heated to 366 degrees F at 150psi will expand to 1700 feet of water vapor at Zero psi.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

The big, high pressure marine power plants I used to work with were giant systems. The boilers themselves were several stories high, had a firebox big enough for several people to walk around in and thousands of water filled tubes leading into an immense steam and water drum. The steam and water drum mounted several pieces of equipment, including several that were intended to dry the steam so that water droplets could not move through the system and impact sensitive parts downstream, and a superheater to give the steam one last burst of energy prior to its release into a high pressure steam turbine. Once the steam had gone through its initial expansion in the HP turbine, it would then flow into a low pressure turbine where it expended the rest of its energy and then flow into a condenser, basically a big radiator, to condense the steam back into water. That water was then pumped back up to a preheater which brought it back up to temperature so it could be re-injected back into the boiler.

For the most part, boiler water is recovered by the system and never really allowed to cool much below the boiling point. Once the system is up and running the energy demands are not really outrageous considering the amount of power generated and the good news is that the boiler will run on the worst kinds of fuel so long as it is liquid enough to inject into the firebox and burns well enough to make heat.

Of course, a ship’s engine room has a lot of other things going on to support the process I’ve just described. Some parts of the steam are siphoned off to run the high speed, high pressure feed pumps required to inject the feed water into the boiler at the beginning of the process and still more is taken to run other systems like the fuel heating systems and the evaporators that ships use to turn sea water into fresh water. The result is a space crammed full of machinery and a maze of pipes, many of which that are hot enough to burn you right through your boiler suit should you happen to brush up against them in the wrong place.

The steam and water cycle of a steam piston engine is much the same as what I have described above for the steam turbine. Water is heated in the boiler, run through the pipes and recovered in the form of condensate the exact same way. The difference is the where it is allowed to expand and how the energy is drawn from it, this time into a piston rather than a turbine.

Most steam piston engines are two strokes, meaning that they only have power and exhaust strokes because the gas being used does not require and induction or compression stroke. Steam is released into the chamber where it expands and forces the piston to the bottom of the stroke. The exhaust stroke is completed by injecting live steam on the bottom of the piston through a second set of intake valves and forcing it back to the top of its stroke, in what is called a “double action.” The advantage to this system is that every time the piston moves it is making power. That power is put to the ship’s propshaft or the locomotive’s wheels by a transmission in much the same way it would be with a gas or diesel engine. The exhausted steam is then recaptured in the form of condensate and then reintroduced to the boiler where it can repeat the process.

The most famous application of the steam engine to the automotive world is the Stanley Steamer. That vehicle, which was for a time the fastest in the world, utilized a simple boiler and a steam piston engine that featured two cylinders. Produced in various sizes for almost 25 years the design was a great success. The engines were rated by their steaming capacity at 10, 20 and 30 horsepower but had they been rated at their actual numbers produced at their cranks the 20 hp variant would have produced a solid 125 horses.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Although it is easy today to look back at the Stanley Steamer as some sort of quaint attempt to marry the newly developing modern age with the Victorian era, the truth is that these were well built, high powered cars that were well regarded in their era. The technology was and is solid and, were it not for the lengthy start-up times due to the need to bring the boiler up to temperature in order to initiate the process, I think it would still do well on the road today.

In the years since the Stanley Steamer left the road and steam locomotives left the rails, marine steam powerplants continued to develop and some of the problems that the early boilers faced were eventually overcome by technology. Things like automated feedwater controls, devices that ensure the boiler water isn’t over or under filled, and reliable relief valves, valves that activate in emergencies to release pressure and prevent boiler explosions, have made the highest pressure boilers safe and easy to use and it seems to me that, today, given the willingness of people to plug their car into a wall socket, that the steam car could make a quick comeback by using electricity to maintain the boiler temp while the car isn’t in use.

Today, almost a century after the car settled into the recognizable form that it has taken today, the need for greater efficiency is driving new innovation. New types of cars are being developed every day and in our rush to embrace the alternative technologies of future I think the potential of steam power deserves a second look as a well. With so many new manufacturers looking to capitalize on bygone glories, perhaps one day soon we’ll have a new version of the Stanley Steamer back on the road.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself

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Apple’s Car Play: Smartphones And The Future Of Car Shopping Mon, 03 Mar 2014 19:55:41 +0000 carplay

Last year, Apple announced iOS in the Car, which was revolutionary in that the car companies were ceding an important amount of control of the in-car experience to an external company. Now, Apple has released more details and a new name: CarPlay, which will initially work only with newer iPhone 5′s (anything with the Lightning connector) and with announced support for cars from Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Volvo in 2014 and several more in 2015. Notably absent from the list are VW/Audi, Chrysler/Fiat, and Tesla.

There’s lots of coverage in the tech press (TheVerge covers the full announcement, TechCrunch has sentiment similar to what I’m about to write). To my mind, the big issue here is lock-in. Are you an Android user? Sorry, CarPlay appears to be proprietary and will not support your phone. Oh, did you want a new VW/Audi car? Looks like they’re working with Google in the competing Open Automotive Alliance, which is a bit shy on details but does say “you can expect to see the first cars with Android integration by the end of this year.”

Let’s game this out in Q&A format.

I’m thinking about replacing my current car. Should I wait for this stuff to hit the market or should I buy now? If you’re the sort of person who can have an animated conversation about smartphones, if you want to have your whole music library with you in your car, if you use Spotify, Pandora, or other such things regularly, if you have an opinion about why Chrome is or isn’t better than Firefox, then yes, you want to wait. You’ll feel like an idiot if you buy a new car now when much, much better stuff is about to hit the market.

I love my iPhone and I want to buy a new Audi. Am I screwed? Maybe. We know that VW/Audi is playing with the Google team. If nothing else, you’ll still have Bluetooth A2DP integration (phone calls, stereo audio, and track-skip buttons), but you won’t have navigation and all the other goodies. Dump your iPhone for an Android and move on with life.

I love my Android and I want to buy a new Mercedes. Am I screwed? Maybe. As above, you’ll still have Bluetooth A2DP, but you’ll be similarly missing the new goodies. Dump your Android and join the Apple faithful.

I love my Windows Phone and I want all this great stuff. Am I screwed? And you expected what, exactly? Ford appears to be dumping their Microsoft-sourced SYNC system for something new from Blackberry. Maybe Microsoft will pile into the Open Automotive Alliance. Maybe they’ll reverse engineer and support Apple’s CarPlay without Apple’s permission. Without a doubt, Microsoft has a master plan here. They’re just not talking about it yet.

I love Pandora, but they’re not mentioned anywhere in Apple’s press releases. Am I screwed? Maybe. It appears that Apple isn’t opening up CarPlay to be a free-for-all platform for any iOS developer. Pandora will presumably kiss the ring and get its app supported. Others might not.

My spouse has an iPhone, and I’ve got an Android phone. WTF? Exactly. In the new world order, your choice in phones is going to drive your choice in cars, or vice versa, but the two decisions are now entangled. The set of car makers who are listed today as planning to support both Apple iOS and Google Android are GM, Honda, and Hyundai. If you need to go both ways, your choices will be limited.

How can I retrofit this cool new stuff to work with my older car?  If there were an actual standard that any third party could implement without asking anybody for permission, then you might see interesting hacks, like running the car-side of this on a 7″ tablet mounted to your dashboard, with line-out to your stereo. This would look about as attractive as the unfortunate love child of an aftermarket GPS and a taxi meter, but it would at least be technically feasible. Unfortunately, the absence of standards says that this is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Welcome to the future, where you car is an accessory to your phone, and personal dating web sites ask “Android or iPhone?” Choose wisely.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Apple to Show iOS in the Car at Geneva … in a Ferrari Sun, 02 Mar 2014 16:49:11 +0000 Ferrari Apple iOS

According to Brand Finance and other business experts, Ferrari- not Apple- is the world’s strongest brand. Apple, however, are no dummies- and they’ve decided to hitch their “iOS in the Car” wagon to Ferrari’s ever-rising star when both companies step out onto the stage at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show and show off Apple’s in-car operating system … in the new, production-ready LaFerrari hybrid super car and the new for 2014 Ferrari California T.

Apple and Ferrari first announced their collaboration almost a year ago, after last year’s Geneva show. It makes perfect sense, then, that the first fruits of their labor should appear now, on the largest automotive stage in the world … and not too long after Ford hilariously announced that it would be integrating- *snerk!* a version of Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS into its own cars.

Further evidence for the upcoming announcement comes in the person of Eddy Cue. Eddy’s the vice president of Internet Software and Services at Apple, likely one of the people most involved with iOS in the Car, and just so happens to have been named to the Ferrari’s board of directors last November, making the Ferrari/Apple connection that much more obvious.

SO, while we wait for the official announcement to happen at Geneva, let’s take a look at the highly visible Ferraris that are expected to carry the new Apple iOS in the Car system, below. Just, you know, don’t expect Siri to be any good.


Apple iOS in the Car / Ferrari California T

Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari California Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari California Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari California Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari California


Apple iOS in the Car / Ferrari LaFerrari

Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari LaFerrari Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari LaFerrari Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari LaFerrari Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari LaFerrari

Originally published on Gas 2.

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Analysts: Peak Car To Arrive By 2020s Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:54:56 +0000 Ferrari 550 Pininfarina Barchetta

After a century of motoring, and with several factors rapidly changing the landscape, analysts are forecasting the peak of global automotive growth to come sometime in the 2020s.

The Detroit News reports that as more people join the exodus out of suburbia into major cities, along with other factors such as pollution, gridlock, build quality and the adoption of alternative modes of transportation — particularly among younger generations who cannot afford a car of their own — auto sales around the globe will peak somewhere around 100 million in the next decade, according to several analysts such as IHS Automotive.

Further, 44 percent of Americans surveyed by Intel said they would prefer to live in big cities with driverless cars able to keep traffic flowing smoothly, while one out of 10 households have no car at all.

The coming upheaval is prompting automakers to consider their place in the new scene, where red barchetta owners outrun silver bubble cars, and where car ownership gives way to car sharing. Tim Ryan, vice chairman of markets and strategy for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, puts the future of motoring into perspective:

The key question is: Do you sell cars or do you sell mobility? If you ignore these megatrends, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

With an expected 25 percent to 50 percent increase urban dwelling over the next decade, and 9 billion expected to live in urban areas 25 years from now, the groundwork is being prepared to meet this coming challenge. Gartner Inc. auto analyst Thilo Koslowski predicts urbanites to use ride- and car-sharing services such as Lyft and Car2Go to commute to their destination, with autonomous cars picking up their passengers, and using GPS and other communication technologies to deliver them safely.

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Sonata Quality Issues Drag Down Hyundai, R&D President Returns Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:54:37 +0000 2011 Hyundai Sonata

Just as J.D. Power ranks Hyundai fifth from dead last over quality issues regarding the 2011 Sonata, the automaker’s research and development president, Kwon Moon-sik, returns to the fold three months after quitting over a number of quality issues within the product line.

Automotive News and Reuters report Hyundai holds 27th overall on J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study, with 169 problems per 100 vehicles surveyed. Though nothing was specified for the 2011 Sonata or the 2011 Elantra — the other car from 2011 that brought down Hyundai’s rank — the industry overall developed issues with engines and transmissions tied to advanced fuel-efficiency technologies, including turbocharging. The sedan’s issues are magnified due to its groundbreaking design and said technologies, shaking up the otherwise conservative midsize sedan segment on its way to becoming Hyundai’s top-selling vehicle.

Meanwhile, Hyundai chairman Chung Mong-koo has rehired R&D president Kwon Moon-sik to help right the ship as the next generation Sonata prepares to make its debut in South Korea next month, as the automaker said in a statement:

Given his expertise, experience and leadership skills, we reinstated president Kwon to enhance quality and R&D capability from scratch.

Hyundai also said they expect their dependability ratings to improve next year when the 2012 models are evaluated, though it was “very disappointed” the results of this year’s study, and is “examining every component of the score to determine root-cause solutions” for improving their product line and services.

Kwon, along with two other R&D executives, quit three months earlier over quality issues — such as those affecting the 2011 models — that led to massive recalls in the United States, South Korea and other market. He was also one of the top aides to Chung’s son, Chung Eui-sun. His replacement, Kim Hae-jin, will return to heading powertrain development.

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A 2nd Look at the 2-Mode Hybrid – It Could Have Saved More Gas Than The Prius Thu, 20 Feb 2014 13:00:21 +0000 2011-cadillac-escalade-hybrid-4wd-4-door-side-exterior-view_100325423_l

The photo illustrating Zombie McQuestionbot’s query about what would it take to get you to buy a hybrid was of a Chevy Silverado hybrid pickup truck. I bet some of you seeing that picture didn’t know that Chevy even sold fullsize hybrid pickups and those of you who are familiar with them, may have dismissed the concept. It was called the 2-Mode hybrid system, introduced with great promise and fanfare but in the end it became the Rodney Dangerfield of hybrid drives. That’s too bad. Had the 2-Mode system been embraced by consumers on a wide scale, it might have saved more gasoline than all the Chevy Volts and Toyota Priuses put together.

Actually, the Dangerfield crack isn’t fair to Jacob Cohen, who in real life had a long and illustrious career, once he got his big break on the Ed Sullivan show. In contrast, the 2-Mode hybrid has come and pretty much gone in half a decade. Maybe part of the problem was that instead of first bringing it to the market on pickup trucks, GM introduced it as a package on it’s big body-on-frame SUVs. Perhaps the image of something that consumes combustibles as conspicuously as a Cadillac Escalade does, kitted up with four foot long “HYBRID” decals, evoked too much cognitive dissonance for critics and consumers to swallow but as contradictory as the idea sounds and looks, it made some sense.

There was a time when, unlike Mr. Cohen’s comedic persona, the 2-Mode system actually got some respect. Enough respect that in 2005 both Daimler-Chrysler and BMW joined General Motors in partnering to bring the system to production. There are vehicles from all four of those manufacturers using the 2-Mode system on the road today. Automobile magazine even named it the technology of the year in 2007.


The 2-Mode hybrid system is based around what is a sophisticated electromechanical automatic transmission. General Motors has long had a core competency in the development of automatic gearboxes. GM developed the first mass produced fully automatic transmission, Oldsmobile’s Hydramatic, and the corporation currently has two divisions devoted just to developing and building transmissions, Hydramatic, which produces gearboxes for cars and light trucks, and Allison, which makes transmissions for big commercial trucks. It was an Allison development for city buses that was the basis of the 2-Mode hybrid.

Two-Mode Full Hybrid GM-DCX Cooperation

GM 2ML70 hybrid transmission

A conventional single mode hybrid system, like Toyota and Ford developed independently, uses a planetary gear arrangement to connect both a combustion engine and one or more electric motors to a single driveshaft. Conventional hybrids can run on pure electric drive, combustion drive, or a combination of the two. That mode is known as “input split mode”. A second hybrid mode called “compound split mode” is more suitable for highway speeds, and always uses the combustion engine to drive the wheels, aided by the electric motors.

2000px-6953409graph.svg (1)

Is “sophisticated” another word for “complicated”?

In the late 1990s, Allison developed a 2-mode hybrid transmission system for transit buses, now called the H 40/50 EP Series, that by now has been installed in over 5,000 buses around the world. Their latest hybrid transmission model is the H3000, for medium and heavy duty trucks.


Allison H40 EP hybrid transmission. Note “Electric Drives” embossed on the case.

With Toyota’s Prius gaining traction in the market and giving that company some green cred, GM decided to implement a variation on the Allison design that would initially be used in fullsize rear wheel drive body on frame trucks and SUVs and later developed in FWD form suitable for passenger cars. What would become known as the GM 2ML70 transmission (in the BMW ActiveHybrid X6 and the Mercedes-Benz ML450 BlueHybrid it’s called the Allison AHS-2) added four fixed gear ratios to the mix. It has two 82 kW (110 hp peak) three phase permanent magnet AC motors, three planetary gear sets, and four selectively engaging friction clutches. A dampener replaces a conventional automatic’s torque converter.

Two-Mode Input and Compound Split Transmission

The transmission operates as two different continuously variable transmissions in one case. Electronic controls coordinate the electromechanical symphony, switching between the two modes to provide the ideal power, torque and fuel efficiency for the circumstances. One feature of the 2-Mode system making it particularly suitable for pickups and SUVs is that it allows moderate towing capabilities. Another advantage is that by locating the motor/generators where they are in the power chain, it amplifies their torque output the same way a conventional transmission amplifies the torque of an internal combustion engine, allowing the use of more compact motors, making it possible to fit it all inside the dimensions of a conventional automatic transmission. A more complete explanation, courtesy of and Wikipedia is can be downloaded here (Word doc), and one suitable for transmission mechanics can be found here.

2000px-Two-Mode_Hybrid_Transmission_Schematic.svg (1)

GM and their partners were hoping for a 50% improvement in city gas mileage, with a lesser but significant increase in highway mileage. The system was introduced on 2008 Chevy Tahoes and Cadillac Escalades. Reviews from the time uniformly praise the system as working seamlessly and smoothly, yielding a real world improvement in fuel economy of about 25%.


Despite the technical success of the system and the significant fuel savings, a lot of observers scratched their heads at GM’s strategy. What was getting headlines at the time were hybrids that were earning EPA ratings with big numbers, not SUVs that got 20 mpg. A hybrid SUV seemed like a rolling oxymoron. The thing, though, is that there was some reason to GM’s strategy if you look at the American fleet. The pickup trucks upon which those hybrid SUVs were based represent the largest segment of America’s fleet of cars and light trucks. Fullsize pickups are the best selling vehicles in America and have been for decades. They’re also the part of the fleet that gets the worst fuel economy. Improving the fuel economy of pickups from 15 mpg overall to 20 mpg saves a lot more fuel than improving the mileage of a compact car by a similar percentage. The small car is already getting better mileage so the same percentage increase is a smaller amount of saved fuel. Over 100 miles, going from 15 to 20 mpg saves 1.66 gallons of gasoline. Over the same distance, going from 30 mpg to 40 mpg saves half that amount, 0.83 gallons.

BMW's version. Note the AWD transfer case.

BMW’s version. Note the AWD transfer case.

Getting American pickups a 25% real world improvement in fuel economy would save huge amounts of fuel. Because it was pretty much a bolt in replacement for a conventional Hydramatic product (the 300 volt battery pack was mounted under the back seat), implementation was relatively simple, also allowing for the use of normal all wheel drive transfer cases.

However, when the latest generation of GM fullsize pickups were introduced in late 2013, they didn’t include a hybrid variant and none is planned. GM also stopped development on a front wheel drive version of the transmission. Chrysler discontinued the few models offering the 2-mode system and in mid 2009, Daimler and BMW  withdrew from the partnership. The 2-Mode today, if it’s known at all, is known as a bit of a technological dead end, not a tour de force. Considering that the thing worked and indeed saved significant amounts of fuel, what went wrong?

Two-Mode Hybrid Transmission Display

In a word, money. Well, mostly it was money, in a variety of ways, but there were other factors. To begin with, the 2ML70/AHS-2 is possibly the most sophisticated transmission ever made for a passenger vehicle. It was expensive to develop (the operational software to coordinate all that activity can’t be very simple) and expensive to build, which is why GM solicited partners in the project. I’ve seen the figure $10,000 cited as the manufacturer’s cost for a single transmission. A hybrid Silverado started at just under $40,000, a substantial increase over a similarly equipped four door Chevy pickup with a conventional drivetrain, just as the United States was about to enter one of the deepest and longest economic recessions in its history. Also, the first 2 Mode vehicles were introduced to the market in late 2007, for the 2008 model year, as General Motors was already on its inexorable path to bankruptcy. During 2008 and then going through the bankruptcy many programs’ development budgets were slashed or, like the Cadillac V8, were eliminated altogether.

Money wasn’t the only issue. The 2-Mode system went into production the same year that GM revealed that they were working on the Chevy Volt, an extended range electric car. A lot of the public and media’s attention that the 2-Mode hybrids could have gotten went instead to the higher profile Volt project. Inside GM, resources were being shifted. As a matter of fact, some of the same engineers who developed the 2-Mode system were granted patents that are at the heart of the Volt.

In addition to the paradox of trying to market a big SUV or pickup as an environmentally conscious consumer choice, GM’s marketers faced the fact that the 2-Mode system worked well at saving fuel in real life, but didn’t show outstanding results on the EPA test cycle. The 2013 Chevy Tahoe hybrid was rated by the EPA at 20 mpg in the city and 23 highway, which doesn’t sound very impressive compared to 16/23 for the conventional Tahoe. Apparently, advertising a 25% increase in real world gas mileage isn’t as appealing as touting big empeegees. New ICE technologies like direct injection and variable valve timing have come onstream, and with 6, 8, 9 and 10- speed transmissions coming on line, V6 and even V8 powered trucks can get very impressive government ratings, without the added cost and complexity of the 2-Mode system.

Since then, hybrids of all sorts, including million dollar supercars like the McLaren P1 and the Porsche 918, have proliferated. The idea of a $40,000+ luxury hybrid SUV doesn’t seem so outlandishly contradictory these days. I was at a Toyota media ride & drive for the new Highlander that Bark M reviewed here at TTAC recently and they told us that the hybrid Highlander starts at $47,900. The idea of an Escalade or Tahoe hybrid seemed to offend some folks just a few years ago, but Toyota only offers the hybrid drivetrain on the Highlander’s most expensive, Limited, trim level. The 2013 Tahoe hybrid, in a bigger, more expensive class of vehicles, started at $53,620, not that much of a stretch from what a Highlander Hybrid costs just a year later. From behind the wheel of a new Highlander hybrid, the big GM hybrids seem less silly than they did just a few years ago. Maybe they were just ahead of their time.

I wouldn’t write the 2-Mode off as some kind of technological dead end. One thing that’s true after over a century of people making cars and trucks is that what is old often becomes new again. Technologies and designs formerly rejected can be improved and implemented as materials science and control devices improve. I won’t be surprised if we see the 2-Mode hybrid or something similar appears at some time again in the future.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Uber, Other Rideshare Services Caught In Regulatory Backup Mon, 17 Feb 2014 03:41:00 +0000 UberSUV

Ridesharing services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar have gained traction among those who prefer using their smartphones to hail a ride to the airport over traditional black car or taxi service. However, in locales such as Detroit, Atlanta and Seattle, such services are rolling up upon a regulatory traffic jam over how best to handle the disruption in the livery industry.

The issues at hand, as noted by Detroit Free Press, GeekWire and The Daily Caller, include surge-pricing (taxi and limo operators can only charge a constant fare at all times), Uber’s introduction of UberX, where customers can hail a lift from a driver using their personal vehicle (Uber’s standard service utilizes those with hack licenses), mandating commercial insurance for UberX drivers, who only have personal-grade policies for their vehicles, and whether or not Uber and companies like it are solely tech companies or transportation providers in determining what regulations apply.

In Detroit, state and city officials have demanded Uber to register with MDOT as a limo carrier while requiring UberX drivers to obtain a $300 Certificate of Authority and $110 limo operator’s license to be in compliance with current law, neither of which has happened thus far. Officials in Georgia, however, aim to take regulation of the nascent reinvention further with Georgia House Bill 907. The bill not only brings Uber et al in line with everyone else, but as far as using apps to request rides are concerned:

The use of Internet or cellular telephone software to calculate rates shall not be permitted unless such software companies complies with and conforms to the weights and measures standards of the local government that licenses such taxi service.

Washington State’s House Bill 2782, on the other hand, aims to help level the playing field through a more sane approach:

The legislature finds that Washingtonians are early adopters of technology and have come to rely on services provided by mobile application-based personal transportation services. The legislature further finds that a piecemeal approach to regulating such services could result in a patchwork of conflicting standards, stifle innovation, and reduce consumer choice.

The enacted bill would allow for a study to be conducted by the end of 2014, with a framework established the following year. The framework, according to Washington Policy Center director Bob Pishue, would supercede local regulations such as those the Seattle City Council would like to impose upon Uber et al, and that HB2782 is focused on the consumer than on the taxi companies.


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ZF’s 9-Speed 9HP Transmission Puts Dog Clutches On The Leash Sun, 09 Feb 2014 03:34:39 +0000 ZF 9HP Transmission, Picture Courtesy of Land RoverIn a week we will post our first full review of the all-new and all-controversial 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The new Jeep isn’t just raising eyebrows for the love-it or hate-it styling. Or the resurrection of the Cherokee badge. Or the constant delays in production. Or the transverse mounted engine. Or the lack of solid axles. None of that laundry list seems to cause as much discussion around the automotive water cooler than ZF’s 9HP 9-speed transmission. Click past the jump for a deep dive into the tranny with more speeds than my bicycle. If you don’t want to explore transmissions in detail, don’t click. You have been warned.

When Derek drove the Cherokee at a launch event he complained about the transmission. When I drove a pre-production model for a very brief hour and a half I was more perplexed than anything. I chalked it up to pre-production programming issues and the fact that the transmission has 50% more speeds than a 6-speed, so I expected 50% more shifting. A month later I was able to sample a different Cherokee with newer software and some of my shifting complaints had been solved but something still felt “wrong.” Now three months later a full production Cherokee landed in my hands and while the shift logic (when and why the transmission would shift up or down) was finally where I thought it should be, the shifts themselves felt different from what I am used to. The reason is all down to clutches, but let’s start at the beginning.

In general terms an engine is most efficient in a somewhat narrow band of RPMs. That exact band varies from engine to engine based on what the designers intended at the time. The longer you can keep the engine in this range of RPMs, the more efficient the car will be. Secondary to this is a desire for improved off-the-line performance, this necessitates ever-lower first gear ratios. The distance between the lowest and the tallest gear in a transmission is called the ratio spread. (You get it by dividing the lowest ratio by the tallest and that gives you a number that represents the delta between first and last.) GM’s venerable 4-speed 4L80 has a spread of 3.3 while their new 6-speed 6L80 has a spread of 6. The deeper first gear and taller 6th allow the 6L80 to deliver better performance and better fuel economy. The reason ZF’s 8-speed 8HP doesn’t have the same delta in performance over the average 6-speed as the 6-speed had over the 4-speed, is easy to explain. The 8HP’s ratio spread is 7, just 1 higher than a 6 speed while the 6-speeds had a 3 point advantage over the 4-speeds. Aisin’s new 8-speed transaxle in Volvo and Lexus models goes a small step further with a 7.59 spread. These can all be seen as progressive improvements. The 9HP is different. With a 4.7:1 first gear and a 0.48:1 ninth gear the overall spread is a whopping 9.8.


On closer inspection you’ll notice something interesting about the 9HP’s ratios. Fifth is the 1:1 ratio where the output shaft of the transmission is spinning at the same rate as the engine meaning there four overdrive ratios. In contrast both ZF and Aisin’s 8-speed transmissions have just two overdrive ratios with 6th gear being the direct-drive (1:1) ratio. As a result the 9HP’s lower gears are farther apart, especially first and second gear. When you look deeper at the numbers you’ll also notice that the 9HP is geared much taller at the top end with 7th gear being approximately equal to 8th in the Aisin or ZF 8-speed units. Many reviewers of the Cherokee noted they never experienced 9th gear during their test drive and I now know why. At 0.48:1 with the 3.2L V6 (3.251 final drive) you have to be going faster than 80 MPH to engage 9th because at 80 your engine loafs around at 1,460 RPM. (The 2.4L four-cylinder in the Cherokee Trailhawk would be going about 1,810 RPM at 80.) According to ZF this results in an impressive 12-16% improvement in fuel economy versus the same final drive ratio and their own 6-speed automatic and 11-15% when compared to their 8-speed.

OK, so the 9HP has plenty of gears, but why does it shift the way that it does? It’s all down to the clutches. While a traditional automatic uses friction clutches in the form of either band clutches or multi-plate friction clutches, the 9HP blends friction clutches and dog clutches in the same transmission case. Dog clutches are “interference” clutches more commonly found in manual transmissions and transfer cases. Friction clutches work by pressing two plates together. The friction between them allows the transfer of energy and it allows one plate to spin faster than the other or “slip.” Think of slipping the clutch in a manual car, it is the same action. Automatic transmissions use this clutch type to their advantage because changing gear doesn’t always require engine power to drop, the transmission simply disconnects one clutch as it engages another, they slip and engage and you’re in another gear. Dog clutches however are different. If you look at the illustration below you can see a dog clutch on the right. Power is transmitted by the tooth of one side pressing on the tooth of the other. This type of clutch cannot slip so it is either engaged or disengaged. This is the type of clutch used inside manual transmissions. When you move the shifter to a different gear, you are physically disengaging and engaging dog clutches. This style of clutch is used because it suffers little parasitic loss and it is simple and compact. The use of a dog clutch in an “automatic” transmission isn’t new, dual clutch robotized manuals use this style of clutch internally as well, but it is the key to understanding why the 9HP shifts the way it does.


Because dog clutches can’t slip, their engagement must be controlled and precise. Going back to the manual transmission example, this is why modern manual transmissions have “synchros” or synchromesh. A Synchro is a mechanism that aligns the dog teeth prior to engagement. Without them you get that distinct gear grinding noise. Synchros work well in a manual transmission because when you are changing gear you are disconnecting the engine with the clutch (a friction clutch), then engaging a dog clutch for your gear selection. Because one end of the transmission is “free” the synchro synchronizes the two sides and then allows the toothed gear to engage. There is a “pause” in power when a shift occurs. If you look at an acceleration chart of a car with a good manual driver and an automatic you will see pauses in acceleration in the manual while most autos just have “reductions” in acceleration. That’s down to the pause required to engage a dog clutch vs a friction clutch that slips and engages without much reduction in power.

Let’s digress for a moment and talk about the DSG. The reason dual clutch gearboxes exist is because of the dog clutch. As I said engaging a dog clutch takes time and precision. This is part of the reason single-clutch robotic manuals like the one in the Smart ForTwo and the RAM ProMaster (and other Euro sedans) have such exaggerated shifts. Double clutch gearboxes get around this by having two gears engaged at all times. DSG style gearboxes are really two manual transmissions in the same case. 1st gear is engaged via the first transmission and 2nd is engaged but not active on the second. Changing gears simply involves swapping (via a friction clutch) from transmission A to transmission B. Once that is accomplished, the transmission A disengages and engages the dog clutches to select the next gear. Going from 2nd to 3rd involves swapping back from transmission B to the already shifted transmission A.

Let’s put it all together now. To save space and increase efficiency, the 9HP uses two multi-plate clutch elements, two friction brakes and two electronically synchronized dog clutches. (The 8HP uses two brakes and three multi-plate clutches.) The way the gearsets are arranged inside the case, shifts from 1-2, 2-3, and 3-4 involve only the traditional friction brake and clutch elements. As you would expect, aside from 1st being fairly low and somewhat distant from 2nd, these shifts feel perfectly “normal.” Under hard acceleration there is a momentary reduction in engine torque (courtesy of the computer to reduce clutch wear) and the shift occurs quickly and smoothly. The shift from 4-5 however is different. The transmission has to disengage dog clutch “A” in addition to engaging a friction clutch. This shift takes slightly longer than the 3-4 shift and the car’s computer makes a drastic reduction in torque to prevent wear of the dog teeth. Shifts 5-6 and 6-7 again happen with the only the friction elements at which point we need to disconnect the final dog clutch for gears 8 and 9 so we get the same kind of torque reduction in those shifts. The result is a transmission that has two distinct “feels” to its shifts, one that has only a slight torque reduction (1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6, 6-7, 8-9) and one that has a more “manual transmission” feel where torque is cut severely (4-5 and 7-8).

2014 Jeep Cherokee Instrument Cluster

Because of the positioning of the two dog clutches in the shift pattern, the torque reduction isn’t objectionable in upshifts. Hard acceleration from a stop didn’t involve 5th gear even in the 1/4 mile. However, once you let off the gas the transmission will shift upwards rapidly for fuel economy settling in 6th or 7th in the 60-65 MPH range and 8th in the 70-75 MPH range.

Downshifts are where the 9HP truly feels different. Because of the design, if you’re in 8th gear and want to pass, the transmission will often need to drop 4 or 5 gears to get to a suitable ratio. (Remember that 4th gear is the first ratio going back down the scale that is lower than 1:1.) To do this the transmission has to accomplish the harder task of engaging two dog clutches. To do this the transmission doesn’t use cone synchros like a manual (too bulky) it uses software. Engaging dog clutches requires a longer and yet more severe reduction in torque than the disengagement because the transmission has to align the clutch and then engage it. In most automatics when you floor the car you get an instant feeling of acceleration that improves as the transmission downshifts. Although there would be moments of power reduction (depending on the programming) during this time, the engine is always providing some force forward. The 9HP’s software on the other hand responds by cutting power initially, then diving as far down the gear-ladder as it can, engaging the dog clutches and then reinstating your throttle command. The result is a somewhat odd delay between the pedal on the floor and the car taking off like a bat out of hell. According to Volvo’s powertrain guys, this shift behavior is one of the main reasons they chose the Aisin 8-speed (shared with the Lexus RX F-Sport) over the ZF 9-speed used by Land Rover and Chrysler.

All of a sudden the “odd” shift feel made perfect sense. In the march toward ever-improving fuel economy the automotive public will continually be introduced to cars that feel different from the “good old days.” Electric power steering numbs the wheel-feel but steer-by-wire promises to artificiality resurrect it. Dual clutch robotized manuals have a particular feel that was accepted by performance enthusiasts but has been a source of complaint for Focus and Fiesta shoppers. For me, understanding why the transmission is doing what it is doing is key to my like or dislike of a car’s road manners. Once I understood what the Cherokee’s automatic was up to, I was able to focus on the rest of the car. What about you? Are you willing to “sacrifice” shift quality at the altar of fuel economy? Be sure to let me know.

Have an automotive technology question? Want to see a deep-dive on another powertrain component?

Let us know by using the contact form at the top of the page!

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EU Secretly Planning To Add Police-Controlled Kill Switch To All Cars By 2020 Mon, 03 Feb 2014 10:30:24 +0000 2007: "The Managing Director of Ferrari in Great Britain, Massimo Fedeli, boasted “our 60th anniversary tour is the perfect opportunity to provide this special 612 Scaglietti HGTS for the police service of England, Ireland and Wales to drive. This reinforces Ferrari’s commitment to responsible driving and promoting road safety.” (courtesy

The British Newspaper The Telegraph is reporting that, if senior European law enforcement officials have their way, all cars entering the European market may soon be fitted with a remote shutdown device that would allow police officers to electronically deactivate any vehicle at the touch of a button.

According to the article, which appeared in the paper’s January 29 edition, the program came to light after confidential documents from the European Network of Law Enforcement Technologies listing the development of a remote shutdown device as a “key objective” were obtained by an organization that monitors police powers, state surveillance and civil liberties in the EU. The report goes on to say that the secret papers justify the program by citing the need to protect the public from dangerous high speed chases and that the technology would put an end to the practice of spiking a car’s tires in order to end a chase. The documents, The Telegraph says, spell out a six year development plan.

Similar car stopping technology is already available on some vehicles in the United States via systems like On Star but, unlike what is being proposed in Europe, as of this writing remote shut-down on this side of the Atlantic is offered only to a car’s owner and can only be activated at their request. Still, once the technology is fully developed and mandated in Europe, chances are good that it will find its way to the United States and, given the way that most cars currently bundle their technology, it will probable be impossible to remove.

The application of this technology could change the way law enforcement works. More than simply putting an end to high speed chases, the system could conceivably be used in situations similar to the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and allow the police to shut down every car in the immediate vicinity of a fleeing suspect to prevent them from seizing control of other vehicles. Paired with systems like GPS, it could also be used to stop cars from entering disaster zones or other restricted areas and, taken to its extreme, the technology could even incorporate additional features like remote door locks that could be activated in order to contain suspects inside of a disabled vehicle until law enforcement arrives to make the arrest.

This then, is more than our cars being used to track our movements or using our on-board technology to report us when we exceed the speed limit, this is our cars being actively taken out of our control and possibly even used to imprison us against our wills should some law enforcement officer watching our actions via a camera from the safety of a computer console in a secure room believe that we are a threat to public safety. Like so many other innovations, I see the real public benefit of this system if it is used correctly, but I also fear the potential for mayhem if it is misapplied. It will be interesting to watch the debate now that the development of this system has gone public.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Daimler to Acquire Stake in Aston Martin in Exchange For AMG Engine Tech Fri, 20 Dec 2013 10:00:14 +0000 Aston Martin's current engines are assembled at a Ford facility near Cologne, Germany.

Aston Martin’s current engines are assembled at a Ford facility near Cologne, Germany.

In a non-cash deal, Daimler AG will supply Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. with technology and engine development in exchange for as much as a 5% non-voting stake in the British luxury sports car maker. The AMG performance division at Mercedes-Benz will jointly develop engines with Aston Martin for AM’s next generation models. Daimler also will get a non-voting observer on Aston Martin’s board of directors. Aston Martin currently buys engines from Ford Motor Company, an artifact of the time when Ford owned AM. The Aston Martin V12 is based on the Ford Duratec V6 and Aston’s V8 engine is based on the Jaguar V8, funded by Ford when it owned that luxury marque as well.

“This agreement is a real win-win for both sides,” Tobias Moers, head of Mercedes-AMG, said in a statement cited by Bloomberg.

Aston Martin is currently the only the only global luxury car maker that’s not part of a larger manufacturing group with which it can share development and component costs so it’s looking to control development costs of the new models.

In addition AMG supplying engine development, the companies are looking into other possible areas of cooperation including Daimler providing Aston Martin with electronic components . Today’s agreement formalizes a tentative deal reached in July. Earlier in the year, Aston Martin announced that it was going to invest 500 million pounds ($819 million) on its operations over the next four years. The century old car maker sold 3,800 cars last year.

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Section 1201 and Automotive DRM: The Future is Locked Fri, 15 Nov 2013 15:15:18 +0000 Renault Zoe

This is the Renault Zoe. It’s like most EVs on the road, with its limited range, limited power, and limited usability.

Unlike the other EVs, however, the Zoe comes with DRM attached to its battery pack. In short: If you value your ability to drive the Zoe at all, then you will submit to a rental contract with the pack’s manufacturer. Should you fail to pay the rent or your lease term expires, Renault can and will turn your Zoe into an expensive, useless paperweight by preventing the pack’s ability to be recharged, consequences be damned.

It’s only the beginning.

Ever since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act came into force in 1998, one particular section has managed to do more damage to innovation than to protect the innovators: Section 1201:

No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.

The application of Section 1201 in the past has led to actions such as: The delay in disclosing copy-protection vulnerability found in Sony’s CDs; takedown notices issued by Hewlitt-Packard to researchers for publishing a security flaw in the former’s Tru64 UNIX OS; Lexmark suing anyone who sells aftermarket refilled toner cartridges; and even displacing laws meant to deal with hacking and electronic intrusion, such as the Wiretap and Electronic Communications Privacy acts.

Regarding DRM, many a gamer has experienced their favorite games rendered unplayable because the online component — having reached its end-of-life phase and, thus, the creator no longer supports the software — can no longer be authenticated. So, imagine Zoe owners one day going to work or to visit their grandmother on her death bed when, because Renault decided to no longer support the battery pack nor verify new packs, not being able to start their car. They can’t resell the EV on the used car market, and thus, can’t make some of their $23,000 back on their purchase.

Or worse, imagine if a Zoe driver and their friends were going to a major protest — like the one that led to the Battle of Seattle, for example — only to find their government told Renault to “block” charging of the pack to hinder either their progress to the action or allow the police to “say hello,” as it were.

And of course, let’s say a Zoe owner is the target of a sociopath. They bribe a Renault employee for access to the DRM through social engineering, find “the bitch” who left them, shutdown the battery at home… you can see where this is going.

Now, imagine it happening here with the theorhetical (for now) autonomous commuter pod of 2025 your sons and daughters may end up “piloting.”

At present, Representative Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., is leading a bipartisan charge to bring about the Unlocking Technology Act, designed to limit the overzealous use of the DMCA and Section 1201 to cases where real intellectual property infringement has occurred. Should this bill become law, it would go a long way to preventing the abuses that have hindered progress elsewhere from infecting the automotive industry any further.

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Hammer Time: Old Tech / New Tech Tue, 29 Oct 2013 11:00:18 +0000

Ah, the good old days. A time when smartphones were just PDA’s with hormone imbalances.

A time of basic cell phones, brick-thick cameras, and camcorders barely big enough to require a hand strap.

I remember all this old tech like it was yesterday, and for one simple reason: I still used all of them until recently.

Until about a month ago, I used the same basic cell phone I got for free back in 2008.

Absolutely nothing special, the bare bones MetroPCS phone enabled one-handed dialing and texting without even looking at the screen.

One thumb and dome. I mean, done.

That primitive device was brutally brilliant for yours truly because it was essentially “dope resistant”. It withstood a 45-MPH launch from  a Lincoln Town Car’s hood with nary a scratch.  I lost it dozens of times, once for two days. Yet I would invariably find it again and continue to beat it like a red-headed stepchild.

In time it was scratched, kicked, dropped, thrown, and beaten all to hell.

I treasured it. With each passing month, that miniature screen would get a little bit more faded and dim. Sometimes – not often…maybe once a month – the screen would freeze up or a button would stick.

No worries. At least not for a guy in a time warp. Even a few minutes of downtime each month was not nearly enough for me to invest in modern smartphones. Five-hundred dollars for a friggin’ phone? Ha! Not from this frugal zealot!

Then something happened…


I left it on top of a Subaru Outback and gave the keys to one of my customers. After a ten-minute test drive I heard the words that would change the course of my technological future.

“Steve, I really like this Outback. But I heard this strange clunking sound when I made my first turn. Are the CV joints okay?”

“Ummmm… I think it was my cell phone.”

A futile search on the nearby intersection yielded nothing more than a shocking amount of litter, and mild amusement from the passersby.

The time had come.

It was September 19th, 2013, and the cost of not having a phone for my business was far more dire than the relatively low cost of buying a good phone…a damn good phone…maybe even…the best phone?

So I powered up my fully-functional 2001 Pentium 4 with Windows XP and Googled “cell phones” and “best.”  A relentless assault of one-worded responses confronted me:


It was not because the iPhone was better than the Galaxy S4, which was better than the HTC One, which was…. what the hell are all these things?

No, it was because Apple was releasing the new iPhone 5C and 5S models the next day.

So I went to Wal-Mart.

And the AT&T store.

And T-Mobile.

And Best Buy.

But the iPhone 5S was nowhere to be found. It was worse than Chrysler’s release of the new Jeep Cherokee. I couldn’t find this thing in my neck of the woods to save my ass from first base.

I had to do something, anything, to get a decent cell phone.

I Facebooked. I called friends. I contacted people that I’m not even sure are my friends anymore.

One guy offered me a phone, but batteries were no longer available for that (2007) model.  However, the teenage girl working at the battery store was my savior.   She ducked in the back and emerged with something small, pink, and adorned with a Hello Kitty sticker.

I quietly sighed, but left with a new battery and the following phone for $40.


The damn thing’s called a lollipop.

Back in 2010 these phones were state-of-the-art…for the low end. But it could do pictures, voice, and even send your photos off to Kodak.

Kodak! Damn!  I was hitting the big time!

Within two days, I had it deciphered and was busy texting and calling away. The flip design would keep the sub-two-inch screen in stellar shape. All would be well again in my world.

Until, that is, I attended a nearby media event. Here, I realized brutal truth of my Luddite life.

I was the sole guy at the event without a smartphone. Not only that, I was the only journalist not typing away before the event began.

When the new car rolled out, they simply  snapped photos with their phones and sent them.

To online publications…to their social media pages…and probably a half-dozen other places thanks to various apps.

Me? I go and unsheath a 2005,  5-megapixel Sony digital camera, whose lens extends like a three-inch probe. I wait for the right exposure, take two pictures, and then the thing spontaneously seizes up in my hand like the relic it is.

Confession time: It wasn’t always like this for me; I used to be a hardcore technophile.

Party on Wayne!

Party on Wayne!

Twenty years ago, I was the first student at my college with a laptop. Thanks to it helping me overcome a fine motor impairment, my grades skyrocketed.  That’s Wayne by the way…

Technology was a beautiful thing in my life, and I almost accepted an offer with an IT consulting firm before my love for cars took over.

The car business, and the interrelated world of auto auctions, became my career, and I eventually became a ”tool guy” technologically.

If the hammer works, just keep on using it. Because “new” means “money”. And “nearly-new” means “nearly free.” And “old” means durable and often perfect for my limited needs.


A lot of long-time auto enthusiasts look at cars in much the same way. Older vehicles, especially those past a decade or even two, can perform the same functions as new models for a fraction of the cost.

Then again, you do miss a few pieces of technology as you go back in time: navigation, stability control, airbags. Everything from the steel polymers used to make vehicles, to the maintenance requirements for a daily driver, have changed substantially within the last ten years.

So here’s my question: Where do you draw the automotive line between old and new? Does a car with ABS, traction control, and dent resistant panels, like a 1992 Saturn, earn the right to be seen as a contemporary? Or does it have to Sync, Link, CUE and Think with mobile and hands-free technologies?

Where do you draw that line?

Oh, and if you happen to have a spare gold iPhone 5S with 30 times more gigabytes than my “pre-Ipod” computer, feel free to let me know.

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Elon Musk Buys 007 Submarine, Will Attempt To Make It Functional Fri, 18 Oct 2013 13:42:45 +0000 800px-TSWLM-LotusEsprit

Elon Musk, the real-life Tony Stark of our times, has quite the extensive résumé: Founder of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors; billionaire investor of projects and businesses such as SolarCity and the preservation of Nikola Tesla’s lab; inventor of the Hyperloop rapid mass transit concept; 007 cosplayer…

Yes, you read that right: Musk is a huge fan of the man who loves his martinis shaken and his women to have double entendre naming schemes. So much so, in fact, that he now has one of Bond’s most awesome vehicles ever conceived.

In a double exclusive with our friends over at Jalopnik, the secret buyer of the Lotus Esprit Mk I-cum-submarine from the 1977 Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” was Musk himself, who paid nearly $900,000 for the privilege of owning one of the most famous vehicles in the history of film, beating out another bidder in a duel worthy of a Bond film (or so we would hope). The star car — or, rather, the star submarine — was originally lost in storage limbo, then discovered, spruced up, and put up for auction by Canadian auction house RM Auctions in early September of this year.

Alas, Musk was a bit disappointed that all the Esprit did was look pretty and float, but since this is Musk we’re talking about (via Tesla’s PR department)…

It was amazing as a little kid in South Africa to watch James Bond in “The Spy Who Loved Me” drive his Lotus Esprit off a pier, press a button and have it transform into a submarine underwater. I was disappointed to learn that it can’t actually transform. What I’m going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real.

If his SpaceX can successfully dock with the International Space Station, and his Tesla can make EVs cool (the first was based off the Lotus Elise, no less), then Musk can make this impossible dream possible. We look forward to seeing his car arrive at San Diego Comic Con 2014 via Pacific Beach in all of its glory.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Automotive supplier prognosticator predicts demise of the steering wheel by 2025 Thu, 17 Oct 2013 11:00:50 +0000 The end of the steering wheel

Be afraid. Be very afraid. If the aspirations of one automotive supplier come to pass, your child’s first car will not have a steering wheel come 2025, rendering her or him nothing more than a mere passenger inside a tiny commuter pod.

In this frightening article from The Detroit News, Han Hendricks (no relation to Christina Hendricks), vice president of advanced product development for the Milwaukee, Wis.-based supplier Johnson Controls in their automotive electronics and interiors wing suggests that as auto manufacturers race to develop, and then improve upon, autonomous cars, the driver will figure less and less into the overall scheme of things (something that has been evolving as of late, with parking and lane-keeping technologies as two examples), leading to the deletion of the steering wheel around 2025. To quote:

After 2025, the steering wheel will play a less dominant role in the interior. With fully autonomous vehicles, you don’t have to be forward looking as a driver, you don’t need to have an instrument panel. Then you can really just think of a car as a box that you enter.

All just as well, since by then everything your child will think, do or say will be in the pill they took that day anyway.

To hammer the point home, Hendricks goes on to mention that Johnson Controls is planning to speak with automakers in China, Europe and North America in November about this brave new world, as well as the usual industry experts and visionaries who deal in such things as the transition from driver autonomy to robot car autonomy, all in order to refine their dream of the automated superhighway of tomorrow.

If you’re a driver, however, don’t expect Hendricks to ask you whether or not this is desirable:

It’ll help our vision become more robust. It’s not as if we’re going to go out and ask consumers, because people just don’t think about it.

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ZF and Levant Power Develop Regenerative Active Suspension Fri, 30 Aug 2013 19:13:09 +0000 ZF-Levant-regenerative-shock

ZF Friedrichshafen AG and Levant Power Corp., a Woburn, Massachusetts technology company spun off from MIT, have announced what they call the first fully active suspension system that includes a regenerative function that recovers energy from the motion of the suspension. The system is branded GenShock. Active suspensions are not new, General Motors experimented with an actively suspended ZR-1 Corvette when the automaker owned Lotus, which had worked with active suspensions before the technology was banned in Formula One. Going back even farther, there were the hydropneumatic Citroens and the last true Packards’ “torsion level” suspension. With road cars the goal in using such a system would be to combine good ride with good handling, soft sometimes and stiff sometimes, depending on the driving circumstances. Early tries at developing what chassis engineers call a “high bandwidth active suspension”, capable of dealing with those varying circumstances, have run into cost, complexity and power consumption issues. The GenShock system is claimed to be affordable, simple to integrate in existing suspension designs, and not only have modest power consumption but also be able to recover energy from the suspension.

The heart of the system is what Levant Power calls the Activalve TM, a device that combines electric and hydraulic motors (the companies are calling that an “electrohydraulic gear pump”) and can be adapting to standard mono, twin, and tri-tube damper configurations. Hydraulic fluid in the shock absorber is routed from the damper body through the valve, where the electric motor can be used to control the flow of fluid through the gear pump, or alternatively, the pump can be used to drive the electric motor as a generator, recovering electricity. The poorer the road quality, the more bumps there are, the more energy is recovered. Electronic controls adapt the damping characteristics to the driving situation, reducing body pitch and roll during cornering and braking. While the system adds a little bit of weight, compared to a passive suspension, it also eliminates the need to carry a jack, since the system is capable of raising or lowering each wheel independently.

Note that this is not a perpetual motion machine, like putting a wind generator on a car. It creates no new load on the powertrain, it merely recovers energy that would normally be turned into heat. ZF and Levant Power haven’t released any figures on just how much energy is recovered and whether that exceeds the power required to run the system. Like Innowatech‘s piezoelectric roadways, BMW’s Turbosteamer concept, or Purdue professor Xianfan Xu’s work recovering electricity from engine exhaust using large scale Peltier devices, the GenShock is harvesting energy that would otherwise go to waste.

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Chrysler-Roush Gemini Engine, Conceived in Auburn Hills, Born in Livonia, Killed in Stuttgart Sun, 28 Jul 2013 11:01:56 +0000 img_0150

Two or three times a year, Jack Roush’s Roush Collection has an open house. The Collection is the private museum where Roush keeps many of the race winning cars from what is now Roush-Fenway Racing as well as cars and artifacts from his personal collection of cars, motorcycles and airplanes (the “Cat in the Hat” must have nine lives indeed because the guy has survived two plane wrecks). Since they bring in tables for merchandise and memorabilia to sell during the open house, some of the items in the museum get moved around. Up against the back wall were a bunch of engines, race and prototype, from various projects or race cars. I was admiring one of Jack’s beloved flathead Ford V8s and nearby noticed an odd looking V4, banded to a pallet, with just a tag that said “Gemini engine” and instructions to send it to the Roush museum, with a couple of names after “Attn:”. One of the names was that of a senior Roush engineer.

Did I call it an odd looking V4? Doesn’t that belong in the Department of Redundancy Department? All V4s are kind of odd looking, at least as far as cars are concerned. The blond stepchildren of the car world (I’m a redhead). There have been a few V4 motorcycle engines, including the killer ‘half an LS’ from Katech (they also built the LS based V16 for the Cadillac Sixteen concept), but offhand outside of the Ford V4 used in Europe (and in Saabs) in the  1960s, Lancia’s narrow angle V4s from the 1920s to the 1960s, and in Murilee Martin’s beloved Zaporozhets, it’s an engine configuration that you just don’t see that often in cars or trucks.


Even for a V4 it was unusual, since it didn’t appear to have the cylinders in a common engine block, each cylinder was separate. To be honest, I thought it was a motorcycle engine and that it looked a little like the engine for the Harley Davidson VR1000 sportbike, a bike that wasn’t terribly successful but ultimately led to the creation of the H-D Revolution engine used in the V-Rod. Roush had worked on the VR1000 engine so it made sense. While processing the photos from that day, I jotted down the name of the engineer and through LinkedIn or something like it, I was able to contact him. Though coincidentally some of the people who worked on the Gemini project had also worked on the VR1000 motor at Roush, he told me that the two projects were in fact not related.

The unrelated Harley Davidson VR100 V-twin engine.

The Harley Davidson VR100 V-twin engine looks a little like the Gemini engine but the engines are not related.

Chrysler had an advanced powertrain program starting in 1989 called Liberty (unrelated to the SUV with the same name) and Roush was one of their primary contractors. That may surprise you because the name Roush is generally associated with Ford. The Roush racing teams have always raced Fords with a variety of series and sanctioning bodies and they are known for the high performance Roush Mustangs they sell. Jack Roush started out as a Ford engineer who liked to drag race, which led to having an engine shop, which he then built into an industrial empire that stretches across Livonia, Michigan. The truth is that Roush does business with all three domestic manufacturers and more than one car company that’s headquartered outside the United States. I’ve seen executive-used Fiat Abarths getting CPO level reconditioning prior to auction sale at one Roush facility and a Mazda 3 with mfg plates in the lot at the Roush Mustang build facility. At the large facility where Roush assembles (to order) the Drag Pak Challengers that compete in NHRA SuperStock with COPO Camaros and Cobra Jet Mustangs (Roush used to build the Cobra Jets in the same building but Ford now has a different contractor doing the final assembly), there was pallet upon pallet of brand new GM V6 engines, about 3,000 I was told. Apparently, GM caught a manufacturing defect, the result of one bad part, before the engines were installed in cars. Roush’s job is to take the engines apart so they can return the constituent parts back to the engine plant for reassembly.

So it’s not really a surprise that Roush has done work for Chrysler, including engine development. You may think that the Belchfire V8 (or today maybe the Hopes-And-Dreams Hybrid Drivetrain) under your hood was designed by the company whose brand is on the car but a lot of engineering work gets jobbed out to companies like Mahle, AVL, and Lotus. In Detroit, Roush gets a lot of that sort of work. For example, the engine at the heart of the Ecomotors startup may have been designed by Ecomotors engineers, but they’re developing it at a Roush facility.


Sp here’s the story: More than a decade ago, as part of their Liberty advanced drivetrain program, Chrysler contracted with Roush to work on a modular V4, essentially two V Twin modules hooked together with a clutch between them. The name Gemini came from the twin modules. The idea was to effect cylinder deactivation without the pumping and frictional loses associated with conventional variable displacement engines by completely shutting down one module. The two modules did share common coolant and lubrication systems so the shut down engine would always be at operating temperature. According to my source, the engine ran fine and met all the test criteria.

Publicly, Daimler-Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche praised the 50 member Liberty team, “I am always amazed at the amount of innovation this small group creates.” Privately, Daimler stepped in and essentially told the folks in Auburn Hills, “Ve haf a development team in Chermany,” and killed the Gemini project as well as the entire Liberty program. What could have the Liberty have meant for, say, the Caliber, which was certainly done no favors by its “world” engine? We’ll never know.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

img_0149 img_0150 img_0146 img_0147 img_0148 The unrelated Harley Davidson VR100 V-twin engine. ]]> 47
Apple announces “iOS in the Car” Mon, 10 Jun 2013 21:45:19 +0000 Apple Maps displaying in a car

Apple just announced a bunch of new stuff today as part of their annual developers conference. Most TTAC readers don’t really care that iOS7 is ditching the old skeuomorphic look (fake brushed metal, fake leather, etc.) for a flat design that is damn near identical to what Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows 8 have been doing. However, they’ll care about this.

Apple has announced “iOS in the Car” (TheVerge has a summary; see also Cnet, Engadget, Gizmodo). Apple didn’t say much, beyond a a few pretty screenshots and a list of car manufacturers who will support this in 2014. We don’t know if this will be an Apple-proprietary protocol or if it will be an open standard that Android and other phones can use. Regardless, we can expect non-Apple phones to be hacked in one way or another to work with this, assuming they’re willing to do battle with Apple’s patent portfolio.

This is a big deal. For the first time, we have car manufacturers conceding a significant part of the driver’s user experience to a device or company outside of their control. For example, if you buy the most alpha nerd car available today, a Tesla Model S with its monstrous 17″ touch screen, you have well-integrated Tesla-skinned Slacker and TuneIn Internet radio, complete with a secondary display of the current song next to your speedometer. Would you prefer Pandora or Google Music? Sorry, you’ll have to stream that through your phone, which won’t be anywhere near the same slick experience. In Apple’s new world order, your car is an accessory to your phone, which is exactly the way it should be. Many people replace their phones every time their two year contract comes up for renewal and some replace it even more often. Conversely, most any modern car should handily last ten years or more with the right tender loving care. You can go through five generations of phones in the same time that you go through a single car. Your phone keeps getting better and your car (generally speaking) doesn’t. Furthermore, as I go from my personal car to a rental car to whatever else (a taxi?), I get to take “my” navigation system and “my” music along for the ride, rather than learning my way around yet another car manufacturer’s dial that spins, clicks, slides, and otherwise goes out of its way to annoy the driver.

I’d previously been skeptical that something like this would ever come to pass. Why would a car manufacturer willingly allow themselves to be commoditized like this? Why would they willingly give up the chance to upsell their customers on monthly service charges? In the new world order, a third-party app installed on your phone could use the built-in accelerometer and GPS to figure out that you decelerated in a big hurry and probably had an accident, just like GM OnStar and other such manufacturer-provided subscription services do. Would you rather have that service attached to your car or to your phone? I’d vote for the phone, since it would be with me regardless of what car I happened to be in.

If I were king for a day, I’d not only push for the phone/car video interface to be standardized, but I’d also push for the car to provide specific sensors and data to the phone. For example, the car might feed your phone telemetry data (wheel angle, speedometer, tachometer, etc.), which can aid a navigation system that temporarily looses contact with the GPS satellites, or give you great feedback on your hot track laps. They might even consider providing deeper manufacturer-specific hooks to allow for over-the-air software updates. At that point, some interesting security threats rear their ugly heads, since the phone needs to be treated as a potentially hostile component within the otherwise-friendly world of the in-car network. Still, color me excited. I’ve wanted this for a long time.


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Ten Best and Worst Automotive Gadgets Wed, 17 Apr 2013 18:44:47 +0000

As the line between automotive electronics and consumer electronics grows ever closer, the list of new-car options has grown at an incredible pace. As a person who’s constantly in a new vehicle and has an insatiable love for gadgetry, click through the jump for my top 10 must-haves and the 10 options you should avoid at all costs. Picking the right options can help your car’s resale value and choosing the wrong ones can lower it or even limit the market for your ride.

1. iPod/USB integration with voice commands

We all love tunes and you know that we all secretly love to tell our car what to do. It’s a match made in heaven.

2. Adaptive cruise control

I’m not convinced self-driving cars are going to pass legislative and legal hurdles, not to mention the inevitable flood of lawsuits, but one key technology the systems depend on is available on a wide variety of cars: adaptive cruise control. Using a radar system mounted on the front of the car, the car’s computer works the stop and go pedals for you to keep you under your pre-set speed and a safe distance from the car you’re following. The steering and panic stopping are up to you of course, but if you’re in moderate to mild freeway traffic I find it makes me a better driver by dealing with the slow down, speed up, slow down nature of traffic that drives me crazy. The fact that most systems will alert you if you’re not paying attention and are about to rear end the school bus is just icing on the cake.

3. Keyless entry/go

Keys are so last century.

4. Collision mitigation systems

A car that’s out to save my bacon (and my insurance premiums) ranks high on my list. I dislike systems that intervene too early, but the systems by Lexus and Volvo wait until the 11th hour (or the 11th nanosecond) to do something about your rear-ender-in-progress. I was a skeptic at first, a Volvo XC60 stopped itself automatically when I was momentarily distracted and that made me a believer.

5. Bluetooth integration

One of the greatest changes sweeping the industry over the last 5 years is the near universal availability of Bluetooth. While many new cars come with the technology standard, it is still on option some so do your homework. Don’t order a car without it. Aside from speaker phone capability, Bluetooth allows you to stream audio from your music device to the car and is one of the few technologies likely to survive for your car’s lifetime.

6. Dynamic beam headlamps

You know, the ones illegal in the USA? Yea. Them. In a nutshell the car scans the road ahead with a camera and using a sophisticated projection headlamp array it “blocks out” the light that would shine onto a car ahead of you (your direction or the opposite side of the road) so that your high beams can light up the rest of the road without blinding anyone. I’ve had the opportunity to drive several prototype vehicles and the system has to be the best thing since French car sales stopped in the USA. Sadly the Feds won’t let us have snazzy headlamps.

7. Heated steering wheel

Much like anal sex, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

8. Automatic climate control

Many years ago I decided that any new car I own must have certain features. Power seats, a telescopic steering wheel, heated seats and lastly automatic climate control. Over the years I have added plenty of must-haves to my list, but none top the automatic climate control. Why? Because I am that buy that’s too lazy to adjust knobs and buttons on my own.

9. Active suspension systems

I’ve owned three vehicles with active suspension systems and driven at least 40 to date. The systems on offer vary from simple load-leveling systems like the one in my GMC Envoy that drastically improve vehicle behavior when towing (and make it easy to deal with heavier-than-normal tongue weights) to fully-dynamic systems that alter the ride height and damping firmness. While the early systems on the Volvo S60R/V70R  had some software bugs, every modern system I have tested has done exactly what it says on the tin.

10. Heads-up displays

As the name implies, the goal is to give you information while keeping your eyes on the road. While I wouldn’t pay extra for the GM or Toyota systems, BMW’s full-color system is gorgeous and is the first system to display enough information to be worth ordering. In addition to the usual suspects of speed, tachometer, and gear information it will also show you your cruise control info, the speed limit on your current road and you can browse your media device. Last time I was in a dealer I broke my “never interfere” rule and told a customer “no, seriously the sales dude is right, the heads up thing rocks, get it.” If you own a 2013 BMW 3-Series and don’t have it, you should be forced to drive a Chevy Spark.

1. Lane watching cameras

The idea sounds good, it’s kind of like blind spot monitoring with a camera. At the press of a button, or when you use your turn signal, the system shows the video feed on your infotainment screen. My problem is: the same information can be gleaned by turning your head and looking over your shoulder and/or in the mirror which is on the side of the car anyway. If you must have a blind spot nanny, get one that beeps if someone’s in your blind spot, that’s more helpful.

2. Electric parking brakes

Sweet Jesus, save me. I love gadgets as much as the next person. I love power seats, power mirrors and power windows, but why on earth would I want an electric parking brake? Sure, they automagically set themselves when you turn the car off, but releasing them is an exercise in frustration. By all indications they are less reliable than the traditional mechanisms and should you ever need to use it as an “emergency brake,” they are a royal pain. Pray to whatever deity you believe in that the creator of this lever of horrors is struck by lightning.

3. Capacitive touch buttons

I love an easy-to-clean surface as much as the next guy, but I’m bright enough to know that if you are trying to pay as much attention as possible to the road, buttons that you can stab without looking down are the way to go. Instead, the automotive trend has been moving towards “touch” buttons. The button-free buttons don’t move when you press them and are impossible to find by feel. Sure, some companies but little bumps on them so you think you can hunt by feel. When you attempt that process you just hit all the wrong buttons sending your infotainment system into a crash-inducing tailspin. Of course, Cadillac’s CUE system doesn’t need any help to go haywire and crash.

4. Night vision

Night vision is a great technology if you’re hunting the enemy in Desert Storm part 2. In suburbia it’s just a $2,500 option that won’t get you laid. Trust me, I’ve tried. The systems allow you to “see” further than your headlights in the dark, but don’t try driving by looking at the screen you’ll get yourself into a world of hurt. The field of vision is too narrow, the response time is too slow and it’s in the wrong position anyway. I have a better idea: if you can’t see at night, don’t drive. Problem solved.

5. Launch control

Launch control sounds like a great idea and I couldn’t wait to get in a car with a modern launch control system. Sadly, like most things you eagerly anticipate, LC isn’t all its cracked up to be. Most systems are overly complicated with too many steps to follow before you’re ready to race. By the time you follow the procedure, the modded pickup you were trying to race has forgotten all about you. Adding insult to injury I have yet to test a system that made a difference in our 0-60 tests. The M6, M5, Challenger SRT8, Grand Cherokee SRT8 and others all posted better numbers when I used my 1990s launch control system: a properly calibrated right foot. Trust your instincts.

6. Satellite mapping

Don’t confuse this with navigation. I love me some navigation. I’m talking about Google satellite imagery overlayed on the car’s nav map. Until I get the flying car that was promised on the Jetsons, I don’t see why I need a mile-high view of the mall. Maybe if it was displaying big brother’s “creepy-live” data so I could see what parking spots are free, but until then just say no to yet *another* cellular data subscription.

7. Integrated booster seats

They sound like a great idea. You’re either planning on having kids or you have kids. The trouble is, if you’re planning on having kids, plenty can happen between the vehicle purchase and the time your progeny are age/weight appropriate. If you have kids already, it won’t be long before they are too old or too heavy to be in the booster seat. This just means you’ve paid for a very expensive set of booster seats that you’re stuck with until you ditch the car. Oh, and the seats are less comfortable for everyone, the kids in the seat and any adult unfortunate enough to have to sit in it.

8. Fog lights

In N. America we’re talking about front fog lights, not the rear fog lights required in some countries. Although, I really should talk about both. Front fog lights stopped being about fog and started being about fashion soon after they started. I live in a foggy area and I have yet to drive a vehicle whose fog-lights helped visibility. At best they light up the area immediately in-front of your bumper, but nine times out of ten they throw light everywhere making visibility worse. Rear fog lights are great, except nobody in America knows how to use them, especially Audi drivers who think its cool to leave them on 24×7.

9. Sports appearance packages

Just say no. Sports appearance packages do nothing to make your ride go faster, they usually just make it depreciate faster. Ouch. Sports handling packages can help the car’s dynamics with stiffer springs but your money is usually better spent on better tires.

10. Rear seat entertainment systems

Yep, RSE systems are totally cool but they are also one of the worst things you can spend your money on. Aside from the fact that most RSE systems have small displays, clunky software, crappy integration and are expensive, they are often integrated into strangely shaped front seat headrests that destroy the aesthetics of your car. Save yourself some cash and get an iPad or two. Not only are they better at entertainment duties while in motion, the digital babysitter is portable and will go with your kid on the plane.

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Better Brighter Future Delayed: Commercial Airliners Vulnerable To Hacks Via Android Fri, 12 Apr 2013 15:22:09 +0000

As the technology that will one day network cars together and reorganize the roads in the name of safety and efficiency continues to rush towards us, word comes that the computerized systems used to control commercial aircraft in flight are now vulnerable to hackers via android devices. is reporting on an April 10th presentation at the “Hack in the Box Conference” by German security consultant Hugo Teso during which he demonstrates how a wireless device can be used to transmit malicious code into an aircraft’s computer through at least two different systems currently used to exchange information between aircraft and ground stations. Those of you who are already afraid to fly will want to read all of the excruciating details here:

Like many people, I believe that the highways of the future will be heavily automated. The possibilities of computerized roads are enormous and the technology could change the way our society functions by combining the benefits of cheap, efficient public transportation with the convenience enjoyed by car owners today. Imagine a world where a car will arrive at your doorstep moments before you leave for work, carry you in comfort and privacy on a trip that will meet with no traffic jams, stop at no lights, and during which you will be free to watch TV, browse the internet, catch a nap or just look out the window. Upon dropping you off, the car will then head off to its next customer or, if you are one of the Neanderthals who insist on owning your own vehicle, head off to a designated parking facility until you summon it again.

That future is heavily dependent upon the seamless integration of a number of networks and like modern aircraft, cars of the future will need to exchange a great deal of data to coordinate even the simplest of trips. Within that coordination lies the opportunity for mayhem and our lives will hang in the balance. While I look forward to that better, brighter future, for the time being I will keep my feet firmly on the ground and my hands wrapped around the steering wheel.

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