The Truth About Cars » Gizmology http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (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 » Gizmology http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/news-blog/gizmology/ Is This The Future of In-Car Infotainment? Continental’s Flexible Smartphone Docking Station http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/is-this-the-future-of-in-car-infotainment-continentals-flexible-smartphone-docking-station/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/is-this-the-future-of-in-car-infotainment-continentals-flexible-smartphone-docking-station/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 16:31:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=797898 file_CO1676_Flexible_Smartphone_Docking

Former Hyundai executive John Krafcik recently spoke about connectivity and autonomy and of the possibility that electronic gizmos in our cars may make us less connected to the driving experience. That’s not the only challenge automakers and drivers face when it comes to electronics in cars. After seeing the missteps that Ford has made with Sync and MyFordTouch, with systems seemingly too complicated or not reliable enough for many drivers, it appears to me that the challenge of chasing a technological treadmill to try and keep cars, which most consumers keep for years, electronically up to date, is a fools errand. Comments to Derek’s post on Krafcik’s statement indicated that there’s definitely a market for less complicated car electronics. People have asked, “why does my car need to duplicate the more up-to-date services that my smartphone provides?” Well, someone at Continental Tire’s electronics and instrument division, VDO, asked that same question and they came up with the Flexible Smartphone Docking Station.

Actually, they didn’t ask that precise question because the FSDS seems to have been originally intended for use in commercial trucks, not passenger cars, but it should work with any 12 volt electrical system. I found out about Continental’s phone dock while I was updating our coverage of Elio Motors and the inexpensive three wheeler they say they’ll start making and selling next year. As part of the deal for Continental to provide Elio with electrical and electronic engineering services that include the vehicle’s wiring harness and engine control unit, Elio will also offer the FSDS system as an option on their trikes. It’s a clever and seemingly cost-effective way of providing what we now call infotainment without having to spend lots of money developing software that will be obsolete while the original owners are still driving their cars. I go over the FSDS in my update about Elio, but not everyone is interested in the Elio trike, and this has relevance to the general discussion of connectivity complexity so I thought I’d break this out into a separate post with a bit more detail.

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Continental’s Flexible Smartphone Docking Station (FSDS) has simple controls and software designed for one-click operation.

Continental’s Commercial Vehicles & Aftermarket division, along with VDO, introduced the Flexible Smartphone Docking Station (FSDS) at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show and has been showing it since then at trucking industry trade shows as part of a suite of connectivity products. The FSDS system was designed to let truck drivers’ integrate their smartphones with their vehicles. It appears that Continental is also marketing it as AutoLinQ™Mobile. AutoLinQ is Continental’s brand for in-vehicle connectivity.

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The FSDS installed in the Elio Motors trike.

The phone mounts to the FSDS with a mechanical clamp designed to hold most smartphones and comes with a phone app, developed by Continental, that enables the availability of phone features, including online services, while driving. The unit, which connects  to the smartphone via standard Bluetooth profiles, has an onboard audio amplifier with four channels rated at 20 Watts per channel, an integrated station seeking FM tuner, a 5 volt USB tap for charging your phone and it’s already configured to interface with your vehicle via the CAN bus (which to me sounds like your phone could theoretically be used to control some of your car’s features, just like a built in touch screen). Audio files on thumb drives and memory cards can also be accessed via the USB port on the FSDS’ mounting plate.

In terms of what you can do with it, VDO says that the FSDS app includes the smartphone functions drivers require most while driving, such as phone calls, maps, online points of interest, and music selection. All features use text to speech to reduce distracted driving, and the app bundles related services such as Community (communication & social networking), Vehicle (audio entertainment) and Proximity (individual add-ons) so they can be accessed with a single click. The FSDS is sized to fit a standard single height DIN slot so it can easily be installed in any vehicle made to take a radio. The controls appear to be simple, with just a power switch and a four-position controller.

When they introduced it last year Continental was promoting the FSDS to OEMs and fleets, though it’s being marketed by the same part of Continental that sells to the aftermarket and it’s got obvious potential as something people might want to use to update older cars that have “radios” and “stereos”, not “infotainment”. TTAC has a request in to Continental for pricing information and any news on consumer availability.

With production lead times measured in years rather than months, car makers can’t possibly keep up with the changes in digital consumer electronics and related software applications. By the time a car company’s latest revision to their infotainment systems hits the showrooms, it’s obsolete compared to what many car buyers already have in their pockets and purses. My first thought was that other car companies may follow Elio’s lead and offer the FSDS or something very  much like it in order to provide modern infotainment features in their entry level cars. On second thought, considering that Audi had some consumer issues with early iterations of their MMI system, some folks hate Cadillac’s CUE interface, and Jaguar’s touchscreens’ slow response became a cliche for car reviewers, smartphone or tablet based “infotainment” systems may not be restricted to just the low end of the market.

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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New York 2014: Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept Live Shots http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-land-rover-discovery-vision-concept-live-shots/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-land-rover-discovery-vision-concept-live-shots/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:58:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=802778 Land-Rover-Discovery-Vision-Concept-06

The future of the Land Rover Discovery family — the Discovery Vision concept — was unveiled before attendees at the 2014 New York Auto Show Wednesday.

The concept SUV’s design language will be echoed throughout the entire family that will begin entering showrooms in the coming years, though that’s only the beginning for the Discovery’s silver future.

Among the many driving enhancements on-board the concept include Remote Drive Control — allowing the driver to maneuver their Defender out of the bog without needing to be behind the wheel — Transparent Bonnet display for avoiding obstacles obscured by the height of the bonnet, Laser Terrain Scanning, and Smart Glass augmented reality system.

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Wash. Governor Inslee Signs Pro-Tesla Legislation, Hackers Find Ubuntu Inside http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/wash-governor-inslee-signs-pro-tesla-legislation-hackers-find-ubuntu-inside/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/wash-governor-inslee-signs-pro-tesla-legislation-hackers-find-ubuntu-inside/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:45:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=797458 Ubuntu_GNOME_13.10_ScreenShot

Automotive News reports Washington state governor Jay Inslee signed legislation that would allow Tesla to continue with its direct-sales business model within the state while also clarifying current law that favors traditional franchise dealership networks by preventing other automakers from following in Tesla’s path. The EV automaker thanked the state government “for supporting a culture of innovation and ultimately making the right decision for consumers” with the introduction of the bill into law.

In other government news, the California Air Resources Board is considering cutting EVs priced at $60,000 and above from the agency’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Program as funding continues to run low, according to Capitol Weekly. Though the move would be temporary, the cap would push-out both the Cadillac ELR and Tesla’s Model S and upcoming X, a move that Tesla feels is disappointing:

[CARB] aims to paint Tesla as the sole purveyor of EVs (electric vehicles) to the wealthy, while disregarding the fact that individuals of similar affluence may still continue to receive a rebate by purchasing a different EV.

Finally, Autoblog Green reports a group of tech-savvy Tesla owners have dug into their EV’s console via its exposed Ethernet connector, discovering a subsystem powered by Linux distribution Ubuntu. The individual behind the dig, known only as ‘nlc,’ was contacted by the automaker through its service center, warning him that his exploration could void his car’s warranty should he persist.

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Suppliers Biggest Beneficiaries Of Backup Camera Mandate http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/suppliers-biggest-beneficiaries-of-backup-camera-mandate/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/suppliers-biggest-beneficiaries-of-backup-camera-mandate/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 14:00:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=788682 backup-camera

With the mandate that all vehicles post-2018 possess backup cameras set to begin its ramp up in 2016, suppliers will be the biggest beneficiaries of a growing safety market.

Automotive News reports current cameras supplied by Magna — who claims the largest piece of the market by 40 percent — Delphi, Panasonic, Gentex and Valeo already meet the standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, though Magna’s director of image vision systems Joel Gibson believes the cameras will receive rapid upgrades in order to meet consumer expectations of high-resolution images like those found on current smartphones.

In turn, the cameras could drive business toward more safety systems — including pedestrian detection, automated parking and blind-spot alerts — that would compliment a 360-degree situational awareness system.

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Tesla Leads Charge To Replace Side Mirrors With Cameras http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/tesla-leads-charge-to-replace-side-mirrors-with-cameras/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/tesla-leads-charge-to-replace-side-mirrors-with-cameras/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 10:08:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=785609 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/blackberry-fights-google-apple-to-maintain-connected-car-lead/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/blackberry-fights-google-apple-to-maintain-connected-car-lead/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:44:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=782913 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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Volvo Drive-E Modular Engines Lay Foundation For Future Hybrids http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/volvo-drive-e-modular-engines-lay-foundation-for-future-hybrids/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/volvo-drive-e-modular-engines-lay-foundation-for-future-hybrids/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 12:01:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=776865 volvo-drive-e-engine000-1

Beginning with the 2015 model year, Volvo’s S60, V60 and XC60 will come with the automaker’s new Drive-E Volvo Engine Architecture family of small three- and four-pot gasoline and diesel engines, laying the foundation for PHEVs down the road.

Autoblog Green reports the VEA engines now making their way into 2015 models include a turbo/super-four gasoline monster pumping 302 horsepower, a 240-horsepower turbo-four, and a twin-turbo-four diesel good for 178 horses. All three displace 2 liters under the bonnet, and are mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission designed to Drive-E’s goal of enhancing fuel efficiency.

By MY 2017, Volvo will introduce an additional pair of 2-liter turbocharged gasoline engines and a trinity of 2-liter turbodiesels, all organized in two clusters of four split between performance and economy. The economical gasoline engines are expected to range between 148 and 186 horsepower, while the diesels will move 118 to 147 horses.

The VEA family came about in 2007 during Volvo’s time with Ford, where the automaker’s engineers used Ford engines to build upon their own ideas, only to realize a better way by making the business case for building their own engines so as to not disturb Ford’s manufacturing processes.

However, when the case was presented to CEO Alan Mullaly, Mullaly directed the Swedes to future owner Geely, as Ford was in the process of selling Volvo to the Chinese automaker at the time. The VEA project became a key part of the sale to Geely in 2010, receiving a huge push to the tune of $11 billion, shared with Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture set to underpin future vehicles.

Speaking of the future, the engines were designed with PHEVs in mind, and thus include necessary components that could be easily connected to an electric motor system fitted either with the engine — thanks to the latter’s compact size — or in the rear of the vehicle. At present, the VEA Drive-E family offers stop-start technology, brake regeneration, CVVT and more.

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Crazy Ads & Car Stereos: How Earl “Madman” Muntz Changed Car (and American) Culture http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/crazy-ads-car-stereos-how-earl-madman-muntz-changed-car-and-american-culture/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/crazy-ads-car-stereos-how-earl-madman-muntz-changed-car-and-american-culture/#comments Sun, 16 Mar 2014 14:00:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=771162 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

T2eC16dHJGoE9nuQg1-kBRTKuttN4Q60_57

 

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.

earl-madman-muntz_6

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.

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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

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Porsche 919 Hybrid LeMans Racer Goes After The Two Thirds of Gasoline’s Energy That’s Wasted As Heat http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/porsche-919-hybrid-lemans-racer-goes-after-the-two-thirds-of-gasolines-energy-thats-wasted-as-heat/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/porsche-919-hybrid-lemans-racer-goes-after-the-two-thirds-of-gasolines-energy-thats-wasted-as-heat/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 19:19:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=763457 2014 Porsche Motorsport- Porsche 919 Hybrid- Angle

The problem with battery electric and fuel cell cars is gasoline. Petrol is genuinely a superior fuel, at least in terms of energy. It has so much energy per gallon, 116,000 btu/gal, that we can use it in an engine whose theoretical maximum efficiency is only 37%. That means that with all the gizmos a modern gasoline powered internal combustion engine has that increase fuel economy, still two thirds or more of the energy in the fuel is being turned into unusable heat, not motive force.

 

Even with all that waste it still is a more practical powerplant than using batteries or other alternatives. It’s long occurred to me that in addition to improving the efficiency of the engine itself, recovering energy from that waste heat might be a productive way of improving the overall efficiency of the car. Porsche is returning to international endurance sports car racing this year with the 919 that they plan on racing at LeMans, and as part of its hybrid system it incorporates a device that in fact generates electricity from the heat in the exhaust, recovering energy from what would normally be waste heat.

Porsche isn’t the first car company to look into recovering waste heat. In 2005 BMW announced their “TurboSteamer” test bed concept that they said gave 10-15% improvements in fuel economy and power. The TurboSteamer integrated a series of sophisticated (and probably very expensive) heat exchangers into the exhaust and cooling systems to power a two stage Rankin cycle engine that assisted the internal combustion engine. A second generation TurboSteamer was announced in 2011. By then BMW had succeeded in miniaturizing the components enough to fit in the standard packaging of a 5 Series sedan.

2014 Porsche Motorsport- Porsche 919 Hybrid- Technical Drawing- Engine

One difference between turbochargers and superchargers is that superchargers are mechanically driven by the engine while turbos’ turbines are driven by the pressure and heat energy in the waste gases that are the product of combustion. For that reason, turbocharged engines have greater thermal efficiency than normally aspirated motors. The Porsche 919′s hybrid drive puts a new spin on recovering energy from exhaust gases with turbine devices. The 919′s V4 engine does have a conventional exhaust driven turbocharger, but it has another exhaust driven device that’s part of the race car’s hybrid drive. The 919 is a through-the-road 4WD hybrid. In other words, it has gasoline power driving the rear axle and electric power that can power the front axle on demand. The batteries for the electric motor are charged by two different systems. One is Porsche’s “conventional” KERS-like system that’s used in the 918 Spyder supercar which is essentially a regenerative braking setup. Porsche’s describes the other source of electrons as “a system that recovers thermal energy from exhaust gases via an electric generator driven by the exhaust gas stream.”

2014 Porsche Motorsport- Porsche 919 Hybrid- Technical Drawing- Hybrid System

What that sounds like is that instead of driving an impeller that pressurizes the fuel/air charge, as a conventional turbocharger does, Porsche’s ”fundamentally new” device is an exhaust gas driven turbine that spins a generator. In a sense it’s a reversed setup for an electrically driven supercharger. Instead of a belt drive running off the engine, an electrically driven supercharger uses an electric motor to pressurize the induction. Porsche apparently did the equivalent of flipping one of those around and mounting it on the exhaust system.

We’ll probably seem more efforts, for both racing and road cars, to turn that 63% or more of the energy that’s currently waste heat into usable power. Turbocharging guru Gale Banks, who knows a thing or two about using waste heat energy, recently said on The Smoking Tire’s podcast that he was hopeful that engine waste heat could be recovered by large scale Peltier devices. Peltier devices are what heat and cool your drink in heated and cooled cupholders. They’re very interesting electronic heat exchangers. If you apply DC voltage, one side will heat relative to ambient temperature and the other side will cool. Reverse the polarity and hot and cold change sides. Fortunately, like piezoelectric devices, the entire process is reversible. If you make one side of a Peltier device hot and the other side cold, it will start generating electricity, something called the Seebeck effect. The term Thermo Electric Generator, or TEG, has been coined for devices that use the thermoelectric effect to make power.

Banks hope may actually see the light of day. Purdue professor Xianfan Xu is indeed heading a research team that is developing large scale Peltier devices designed to work with the temperature differentials one finds in a typical car engine and exhaust. BMW is also working on TEGs in addition to their work on the TurboSteamer concept.

Porsche isn’t saying just how many kilowatts their exhaust driven generator puts out, but it’s safe to assume that the power it harvests is worth the weight it adds to the race car or it wouldn’t be there. Race cars may use technologies that are not yet economically practical, but the engineers who design and build them aren’t going to use something that is a net energy loss.

Source: Porsche

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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Finally, Flying Car Mode http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/finally-flying-car-mode/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/finally-flying-car-mode/#comments Sun, 02 Mar 2014 14:00:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=756641

Click here to view the embedded video.

A flying car is one of the evergreen fantasies of car guys, and finally Chevrolet has fulfilled that fantasy, sort of. GM engineers have developed what they call “Flying Car Mode” for the Camaro Z/28, the most track-capable version of Chevy’s muscle car. While it doesn’t make the Camaro fly, it is a rather clever use of technology that’s already on board when the Z/28 does get off the ground that allows the car to do faster laps.

Though getting air is not typically an issue on the road, on a race track with elevation changes you can get all four wheels to leave terra firma at the same time. While developing the new Z/28, the car was taken to the Nurburgring and they discovered that because of the way the vehicle’s traction control system worked, whenever the car got air the system sensed wheel spin and cut power to the driving wheels, which meant that it slowed down when it hit the ground, producing slower lap times. Since bragging rights from the ‘Ring have become a part of performance car marketing and since you can get air several times a lap there, a solution had to be found. The proposed solution GM engineers came up with was to deactivate traction control when the car is in the air. That will keep the wheels spinning under power, allowing the car to accelerate as soon as the wheels are back on the pavement. The question then becomes, how do the computers running things know that the car is off of the ground?

While the Z/28's Flying Car Mode was developed to around the 'Ring faster, this looks more like Milford, Michigan than Nürburg, Rhineland-Palatinate.

While the Z/28′s Flying Car Mode was developed to go around the ‘Ring faster, this is the road course at the GM Proving Grounds near Milford, Michigan, not the Flugplatz near Nürburg, Rhineland-Palatinate.

GM’s highest performance cars like the ZR1 Corvette, and the ZL-1 and Z/28 versions of the Camaro feature what the automaker calls the Performance Traction Management system, or PTM, which integrates traction control, Active Handling, and chassis mode selection to work together. Cars with PTM are equipped with ride height sensors. On the Z/28, when the PTM system senses full chassis drop from the ride height sensors, it goes into Flying Car Mode, deactivating traction control. GM says that keeping the wheels spinning when getting air saved them 5 seconds a lap at the ‘Ring’s Nordschleife circuit.

Bill Wise, Camaro Z/28 vehicle performance engineer, explained the details. “PTM uses torque, lateral acceleration and rear-axle wheel slip to define the amount of traction control required, but when the car clears a rise on the track, it normally wants to decrease torque to increase traction. The unique logic in the system uses the ride-height sensors to determine the reduction in force on the tires that’s unique to track driving and allows the car to continue with uninterrupted momentum and, ultimately, a better lap time.”

Once the ride height sensors detect that the wheels have touched down, the PTM system reactivates traction control.

PTM has five performance levels and the flying car logic is active, to varying degrees, in all five modes, so if you manage to catch some air while tooling around on public roads, you’ll still hit the ground running, so to speak, but flying car mode is most effective in Mode 5, the setting Z/28 drivers would likely use on the track.

Source: General Motors.

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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Tesla Unveils $5 Billion Gigafactory http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/tesla-unveils-5-billion-gigafactory/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/tesla-unveils-5-billion-gigafactory/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 15:10:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=755721 Tesla Gigafactory

After months of speculation, Tesla drew back the curtain on their most ambitious project to date, the Gigafactory.

Yahoo News reports the Gigafactory’s price tag would total $5 billion, $2 billion of which would directly from Tesla — including a portion from a proposed $1.6 billion convertible note offering that will also be used for future vehicle development — with current partner Panasonic and their partners fronting the remainder of the investment. Interestingly, Morgan Stanley announced it was expecting to collect underwriting fees from the note just one day after also issuing a research memo that called for a doubling of their price target for Tesla shares.

Four sites in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas are under final consideration for the site of the Gigafactory, and the finished project will employ 6,500 workers. The first goal for the Gigafactory is to begin construction this year in time to open its doors in 2017 at the same time the low-cost Model E is set to enter showrooms, with battery costs projected to fall 30 percent in the same timeframe. The milestone will be followed by a push to increase cell and pack outputs by 35 and 50 GWh/yr by 2020, where Tesla expects to move 500,000 units a year into showrooms around the world. Despite widespread reports to the contrary, Musk told Bloomberg that Panasonic’s participation “is not 100 percent confirmed“.

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Analysts: Peak Car To Arrive By 2020s http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/analysts-peak-car-to-arrive-by-2020s/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/analysts-peak-car-to-arrive-by-2020s/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:54:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=756369 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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BASF Investing In EV Battery Market Despite Industry Setbacks http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/basf-investing-in-ev-battery-market-despite-industry-setbacks/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/basf-investing-in-ev-battery-market-despite-industry-setbacks/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 15:04:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=753761 BASF BMW M1 Procar

Though some electric vehicles have seen their share of woes, from fires in individual cars to bankruptcies filed by manufacturers, German chemical maker BASF is going in for the long game by investing in the EV battery market.

Bloomberg reports the world’s largest chemical maker will use a part of its annual $2.3 billion R&D budget on battery materials — one of 10 areas targeted for growth by BASF — in the pursuit of a better battery that will help EVs run longer. Company head of global business management for BASF’s battery materials unit Adrian Steinmetz says his employer is committee to making the battery materials focus a success, noting that newer and safer batteries with a higher capacity will prove beneficial to the overall EV market:

The battery can only be as good as the chemistry inside. It’s a very technically demanding field and you really need to understand the whole interplay between different chemical compounds.

To accomplish this goal, BASF has bought four companies, established a nickel cobalt manganese plant in the United States, and bought patent licenses from rival Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corp, one of three market leaders — the others being Sumitomo Chemical and Ube Industries — whose dominance over lithium-ion technology, aided by proximity to related tech industries, reigns supreme.

By 2020, BASF aims to be one of the top three battery materials suppliers, pushing overall market valuation to $20 billion in the same time frame. Part of this plan includes taking the fight to the home turf of their Asian rivals, already begun with the company’s establishment of a battery materials research and development center in Amagasaki, Japan. The R&D unit provides BASF with the majority of its Asian sales.

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Ford Unveils 2015 Focus, 1-Liter 3-Pot Manual-Only For U.S. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/ford-unveils-2015-focus-1-liter-3-pot-manual-only-for-u-s/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/ford-unveils-2015-focus-1-liter-3-pot-manual-only-for-u-s/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 12:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=752497 focus-leak24-1

Ahead of its world debut at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain prior to making the rounds at the Geneva and New York auto shows next month, Ford has unveiled its redesigned 2015 Focus.

The Detroit Free Press reports the updated Focus, set to enter showrooms in Europe and the United States this fall with assembly in South America and Asia following soon after, takes its looks from its Fusion stablemate with a new grill, while a higher hood line, lower stance, new lighting elements and a restyled trunk lid for the sedan complete the package.

Underneath the hood, the 1.0L EcoBoost three-cylinder from the Fiesta will find a home in the Focus. Like the Fiesta, the engine will only be paired with a six-speed manual for the U.S. market; other markets will receive an automatic option, as well as the station wagon above. Though Ford hasn’t released mileage figures, the pairing is expected to deliver above the 40 mpg highway rating held by the current model.

Inside, the driver will have greater access to their car’s electronic communications with the Blue Oval’s SYNC AppLink system, allowing iOS and Android users to download and use more than 60 related apps to access everything from real-time vehicle data to hands-free notifications when a phone is connected. In addition, lane-keeping and blind-spot warning systems will be standard.

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Ford Leaves Microsoft For BlackBerry In Future SYNC Updates http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/ford-leaves-microsoft-for-blackberry-in-future-sync-updates/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/ford-leaves-microsoft-for-blackberry-in-future-sync-updates/#comments Sun, 23 Feb 2014 07:24:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=752273

As automakers seek out technology partners for their on-board electronic devices, Ford is leaving Microsoft by the side of the road for a variant of BlackBerry’s QNX-based operating system in future updates to the Blue Oval’s long-suffering SYNC/MyFord Touch infotainment systems.

Road & Track and The Detroit News report the move would bring them in-line with Hyundai, Kia, BMW and Audi, all of whom already use the real-time embedded OS in a wide range of systems beyond infotainment, including driver assistance and active noise control. Chrysler’s UConnect System also uses QNX on its 8.4″ system, and is widely praised for its excellent user experience.

Though BlackBerry, QNX and Ford remain mum on the subject, Ford spokeswoman Susannah Wesley said the automaker would continue to work with Microsoft in spite of the impending move:

Ford works with a variety of partners and suppliers to develop and continuously improve our in-car connectivity systems for customers. We do not discuss details of our work with others for competitive reasons. We are absolutely committed to leading and innovating the smart technologies and in-vehicle connectivity that our customers want and value.

The Blue Oval’s infotainment systems have experienced the lash from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates as of late due to poor user experience, which also prompted the automaker to replace more of the systems’ touchscreen controls with physical in-car controls.

No word on when the QNX-powered systems will make their debut, though Ford made no mention of Microsoft or QNX during introductions of the 2015 F-150 and Mustang, nor was Microsoft brought up during the automaker’s 2014 CES appearances.

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Self-Adjusting Seats Find A Home In Luxury Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/self-adjusting-seats-find-a-home-in-luxury-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/self-adjusting-seats-find-a-home-in-luxury-cars/#comments Mon, 17 Feb 2014 10:00:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=743033 Auto-Adjusting Seat

With help from Faurecia SA and Johnson Controls — the latter predicting the death of the steering wheel by 2025luxury car owners could find themselves with one less thing (or 22) to worry about as self-adjusting seats aim to take the guesswork out of comfortable driving.

Automotive News reports that the two leading seat suppliers are working on self-adjusting seats that utilize cameras and pressure sensors to tailor the perfect seating for a level of comfort not easily achieved with the numerous controls currently found in luxury sedans, as Faurecia’s senior industrial design manager Olivier Boinais explains:

The complexity of a luxury sedan’s seat controls taxes the motorist’s patience. For the past 10 years, we’ve been trying to simplify the [seat] adjustments while providing comfort.

Boinais expects his employer’s seat, the Oasis, will first be found in luxury long-wheelbase sedans meant for chauffeuring executives from meeting to meeting in Beijing and San Jose, such the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8. The Oasis works its magic by utilizing a video camera to help the executive fire and hire people in comfort.

Johnson Controls’ own seat goes for a two-pronged approach: The passenger first enters their height via smartphone or onboard console, then sits back against the adjusted head and foot rests as pressure sensors evaluate posture for perfect seating.

According to JCI’s group vice president of technology management Andreas Eppinger, having the seat do the work can quickly improve driving comfort, leaving more time to focus on more important matters:

If you have ever tried to adjust a seat with 18 controls, it keeps you pretty busy. You can sit however you want, but if you are not sitting in the perfect position, you might regret it after an hour.

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Uber, Other Rideshare Services Caught In Regulatory Backup http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/uber-other-rideshare-services-caught-in-regulatory-backup/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/uber-other-rideshare-services-caught-in-regulatory-backup/#comments Mon, 17 Feb 2014 03:41:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=743073 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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Tesla S Goes AWD, Comes With Cheaper Batteries, Upgraded Firmware http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/tesla-s-goes-awd-comes-with-cheaper-batteries-upgraded-firmware/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/tesla-s-goes-awd-comes-with-cheaper-batteries-upgraded-firmware/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 16:03:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=738425 tesla-model-s-03

During a Tesla townhall meeting at the automaker’s European headquarters in Amsterdam, CEO Elon Musk announced to owners that an all-wheel drive version of the vaunted S would arrive in showrooms by the early months of 2015 at the latest.

The arrival comes on the heels of the Model X SUV, which will come standard with the AWD system when it makes its showroom debut in 2015. The system utilizes two electric motors, each driving the front or rear wheels while pushing the electric SUV from 0 to 60 in under 5 seconds for the Performance option. Power for both the X and S models will come from higher-capacity battery options, eventually including those made with cheaper batteries from Tesla’s “giga factory.”

Planned to be the largest battery plant in the world, the factory will be built in the United States sometime soon, and will be able to recycle older battery units in-house with refitting visiting Teslas with newer packs. The eventual goal is to drive battery costs down by as much as 30 percent to 40 percent while pushing 30 gigawatt-hours of production capacity, just in time for Tesla’s $30,000/200-mile EV debut in the near future. More information will be announced in March, when Musk will also divulge the location of the new factory.

For current owners, a firmware upgrade will be available in a few weeks: Version 6.0 adds real-time traffic data, more control over ride height and suspension settings, and other improvements. Down the road, owners can also upgrade their seats for greater comfort, while future owners of S and X models will have those seats as standard equipment.

Finally, owners will be able to go coast-to-coast thanks to Tesla’s Supercharger stations, whose transcontinental network was completed recently — with a transcontinental road trip to celebrate the occasion — and is now adding capacity at a rate of five of the charging stations coming online per week. The chargers are expected to recharge batteries at a max of 135 kW current.

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Early ELR Adopters Receive Free Charging Stations http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/early-elr-adopters-receive-free-charging-stations/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/early-elr-adopters-receive-free-charging-stations/#comments Wed, 29 Jan 2014 18:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=726882 2014 Cadillac ELR

If you should become one of the early adopters who purchase a Cadillac ELR soon, the brand has announced that they will throw in a free charging station as a gift for paying $75,000 over the next 36 to 72 months for the luxury plug-in hybrid.

Normally, the 240-volt charging station would be installed at an owner’s home starting at $1,000, with financing available for installations between $1,000 and $3,499 spread over 24 months at 0 percent and $0 down, and 2.99 percent over 84 months with $0 down for installations above $3,500. The price range is determined after Bosch Certified Contractors look over factors affecting installation, including age of the home, location of installation, permits et al.

On top of the incentive, ELR owners will also acquire the services of their own ELR Concierge Representative, who will help their owner with information on battery care, home charging, service scheduling and other concerns regarding their purchase.

No word on when Cadillac will cease offering free stations, though the $699/month lease incentive for well-qualified consumers currently on offer will end on January 31 of this year.

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Corvette & Cosworth Introduce Industry’s First Performance Data Recorder Telemetry System http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/corvette-cosworth-introduce-industrys-first-performance-data-recorder-telemetry-system/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/corvette-cosworth-introduce-industrys-first-performance-data-recorder-telemetry-system/#comments Mon, 06 Jan 2014 11:00:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=692785

Chevrolet used the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to introduce what it says is an industry first for the 2015 Corvette, a factory equipped Performance Data Recorder that integrates video, audio and motorsport inspired telemetry recording to improve driver technique and lap times. Tadge Juechter, Corvette chief engineer, said in a statement, ”The Performance Data Recorder combines the ability to record and share drive videos with the power of a professional-level motorsports telemetry system. Drivers can easily record and share their experiences driving down the Tail of the Dragon or lapping Road Atlanta. In addition, with the included telemetry software, users can analyze their laps in incredible detail and find opportunities to improve their driving and lap times.” The PDR will be available when the 2015 Corvette goes on sale in the third quarter of 2014 and pricing will be announced closer to launch.

The PDR, system was developed with Cosworth, the British engineering company that already supplies the factory Corvette Racing team’s data acquisition and telemetry system. The PDR system has three major components, a 720P HD video camera mounted in the windshield header trim that gives a driver’s point-of-view, a self-contained telemetry recorder that uses a dedicated GPS receiver operating at 5 hz. That’s five times faster than a typical navigation system and allows for more precise locating and corner traces. The recorder also is connected to the Corvette’s Controller Area Network, or CAN, giving it access to vehicle information including engine speed, transmission performance, braking forces and steering wheel angle. The third component is a dedicated SD card slot in the glove box for recording and transferring video and data. An 8 gigabyte card will be able to record about 200 minutes and a 32 gig card will store up to 13 hours of driving time. A dedicated microphone records audio.

In addition to Touring Mode, which simply records and displays video and audio of the drive, there area three data overlay options for the display, rendered in real time:

  • Track Mode – shows the maximum level of data on the screen, including speed, rpm, g-force, a location-based map, lap time and more.
  • Sport Mode – shows fewer details on the overlay but includes key data including speed and g-force
  • Performance Mode – records performance metrics, such as 0 to 60 mph acceleration, 1/4-mile speed and elapsed time, and 0-100-0 mph runs.

The finished video can be downloaded to a computer for editing and sharing. PDR videos can also be viewed on the Stingray’s 8″ color touchscreen when the car is parked.

If drivers want to dig deeper into their performance, the package comes with “Cosworth Toolbox” software, that combines Cosworth’s professional-level motorsport data analysis with an easy-to-use graphic interface.

For users who want a more in-depth understanding of their performance, the PDR vehicle data can be opened in the included “Cosworth Toolbox” software, Cosworth’s professional-level motorsport data analysis tool. The application overlays recorded laps on a Bing-enabled satellite map of the track. Then it compares actual corner traces, vehicle speed and cornering forces from selected laps to help drivers improve their speed through corners and overall lap times.

“The ability to review laps between track sessions can identify immediate adjustments for quicker laps in the next session,” said Juechter. “It’s like having a 32-GB crew chief trackside providing you with real-time feedback to improve your driving skills.”

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McLaren Hints At Using Force Field To Replace Windshield Wipers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/mclaren-hints-at-using-force-field-to-replace-windshield-wipers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/mclaren-hints-at-using-force-field-to-replace-windshield-wipers/#comments Tue, 17 Dec 2013 14:28:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=682378 McLaren-P1-production-model-front

The techno geek community is abuzz with the news that McLaren’s chief designer, Frank Stevens, has hinted that they are looking to replace the venerable rubber windshield wiper with an invisible ultrasonic force field that will deflect rain, snow and insects away from the glass.

Several tech websites, including Geek.com, are currently speculating about how the system would work and listing the many advantages that such a system would offer. These include better aerodynamics, lack of smearing and smudging and an end to those pesky jerks at the mall who like to stuff fliers under your wipers while you are shopping. Although owning a McLaren is out of reach for most us in the proletariat the expectation is that once the technology is fully developed it will trickle down market in due time.

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Mercedes Unveils Grown Up 2015 C-Class http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/mercedes-unveils-grown-up-2015-c-class/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/mercedes-unveils-grown-up-2015-c-class/#comments Tue, 17 Dec 2013 05:34:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=681770 Mercedes-Benz C250, AMG Line, Avantgarde, Diamantsilber metallic

Though the CLA has enough fans to merit a warning about supply shortages until after June of 2014, Mercedes-Benz still knows the C-Class is its bread and butter. As such, the automaker has unveiled their latest and greatest generation of the former “baby Benz” to the world.

The new C-Class is larger than the outgoing generation — adding 3 inches to the wheelbase, 3.7 inches in overall length, 1.6 inches in overall width, and a total of 17 cubic feet of trunk space — but is also 220 pounds lighter thanks to its hybrid aluminium body and other weight-saving tech. The sedan’s new nature-inspired styling provides a lower drag co-efficient and quieter interior.

In the United States, the C-Class will arrive in two models: The C300 4MATIC — powered by a 2-liter directly injected turbo-four pushing 235 horses and 273 pounds of torque through all four wheels — and the C400 4MATIC — powered by a 3-liter turbo V6 churning out 329 ponies and 354 pounds of stump-pulling power. Directing the power will be the automaker’s 7G-TRONIC PLUS seven-speed automatic transmission.

As far as technology is concerned, the CLA leesees will miss out on goodies such as the AIRMATIC air suspension — a first for the segment — which allows drivers to adjust their ride and handling through four presets and one personalized setting, adaptive braking, collision detection/prevention, lane-keeping, even attention assistance to keep you awake on long drives.

No price has been announced as of this time, though speculation states an announcement could occur as early as the upcoming Detroit Auto Show next month.

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Seventy Percent of Fords to Receive Stop-Start By 2017 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/seventy-percent-of-fords-to-receive-stop-start-by-2017/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/seventy-percent-of-fords-to-receive-stop-start-by-2017/#comments Mon, 16 Dec 2013 13:30:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=681250 2014 Ford Fiesta

For those who are adverse to hybrids, EVs and the like, yet want to do their part to be green may be in luck: Ford plans to install their Auto Stop-Start fuel-economizing technology in 70 percent of their North American lineup by 2017.

The tech, already found in the 2014 Fiesta with its 45 mpg EcoBoost 1-liter I3, and the 2014 Fusion with its 1.5-liter variant, will allow drivers to add anywhere from 3.5 to 10 percent more fuel economy when faced with stop-and-go traffic.

Aside from helping the consumer save fuel, Ford’s expansion of Auto Stop-Start is due to costs; the tech is easy to implement, and barely makes a dent in the automaker’s bottom line. No word on when other vehicles, including the C-MAX and Expedition, will see their own version of the technology.

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The Manual is Alive and Well in the United Kingdom http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/the-manual-is-alive-and-well-in-the-united-kingdom/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/the-manual-is-alive-and-well-in-the-united-kingdom/#comments Thu, 12 Dec 2013 11:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=678402 Manual - Picture  courtesy iwillraceu.wordpress.com

In the United States, most vehicles leaving the showroom today come with some form of shifting that involves very little, if any, input from the driver, from the dual-clutch driven Porsche 918 Spyder, to the CVT-powered Nissan Versa Sedan.

In the United Kingdom, however, the manual is still king.

While higher-end vehicles sold in the U.K. no longer bother with a third pedal to help move the gears along, a good 75 percent of all cars sold between January and October of this year came equipped with a manual. This may be due to the fact that driving tests administered in the country are tied to the transmission directing the power; were one to turn up in a dual-clutch variant of the RenaultSport Clio 200 for their test, they may find themselves legally unable to row their own later in life unless they opt to go through the hurdles to be certified to drive a stick.

What say you, B&B?

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Google’s New Car Search Makes Shopping Easier http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/googles-new-car-search-makes-shopping-easier/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/googles-new-car-search-makes-shopping-easier/#comments Thu, 05 Dec 2013 12:57:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=671610 jaguar f-type - Google Search

Whether you’re in the market for an F-150 or an F-Type, you may have at some point used Google to learn all you could about your next car purchase. The Mountain View, Calif. company decided to make your quest for knowledge easier by unveiling their New Car Search feature as seen above.

At the same time, Google looks to have abandoned their previous new car shopping tool, which had a separate landing page, and allowed shoppers to search for available inventory, while generating leads for dealers.

The current iteration appears to be a lot more simple, at least for now. By entering the car of interest into Google’s search bar, the results page will bring up a box with info on pricing, trim levels, MPG, and similar cars others have sought out.

That said, the current selection with this new widget is limited, focusing upon newer cars within the past three model years or so (i.e., the Chevrolet Impala). Thus, if you were hoping to go back in time to see how much a Ford Mustang II was worth when it debuted, you might have better luck going through an old issue of National Geographic for the time being.

 

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