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 Jul 2014 16:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 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/ Ghosn Presents 2020 Autonomous Drive Roadmap http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/ghosn-presents-2020-autonomous-drive-roadmap/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/ghosn-presents-2020-autonomous-drive-roadmap/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=869314 Carlos-Ghosn-5112012-10

Before the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan Thursday, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn issued a roadmap outlining the automaker’s path toward the first autonomous vehicles in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal reports the following steps Renault-Nissan will take towards its 2020 Autonomous Drive target:

  • 2016: The automaker will introduce a traffic jam pilot and fully automated parking systems, the former of which would allow vehicles to safely drive their passengers through rush hour and other congestion scenarios.
  • 2018: Vehicles will use multiple lane controls to safely negotiate road hazards and lane changes.
  • 2020: Vehicles will use intersection autonomy to delivery their passengers safely through intersections without the need for driver intervention.

Ghosn emphasized the difference between his company’s approach to autonomy over those like Google, who are pursuing vehicles that drive themselves:

Autonomous Drive is about relieving motorists of everyday tasks, particularly in congested or long-distance situations. The driver remains in control, at the wheel, of a car that is capable of doing more things automatically. Self-driving cars, by comparison, don’t require any human intervention — and remain a long-way from commercial reality. They are suitable only for tightly-controlled road-environments, at slow speeds, and face a regulatory minefield

He concluded that the 2020 roadmap was only the beginning, with further advancements to come on the momentum generated by the plan.

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Nissan’s D-Step Tweaks CVTs To Act More Like Traditional Automatics http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/nissans-d-step-tweaks-cvts-to-act-more-like-traditional-automatics/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/nissans-d-step-tweaks-cvts-to-act-more-like-traditional-automatics/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 12:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=865753 2015-nissan-versa-sl-photo-590018-s-1280x782

CVTs aren’t the most popular of transmission options around despite its improvements to fuel efficiency and ride on a vehicle so equipped. Nissan hopes an upcoming software tweak will change a few minds, however.

Automotive News reports Nissan will introduce its D-Step Shift logic CVT software to more vehicles for the 2015 model year, including the Versa, Versa Note and Pathfinder. The software, already in the 2014 Rogue and 2013 Altima four-pot, helps the CVT act more like a traditional automatic when it comes to shifting, emphasis on “act.”

On board vehicles like the new Versa, the D-Step will prompt the CVT to jump ahead a gear around 4,000 rpm, creating a brief drop in driving power while lending a sense of gears changing, all to ease Nissan owners’ concerns that their vehicle’s transmission is somehow broken due to the lack of a notable gear change. More models will receive D-Step in 2016.

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Jaguar Land Rover Experiment With Augmented-Reality HUDs http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/jaguar-land-rover-experiment-with-augmented-reality-huds/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/jaguar-land-rover-experiment-with-augmented-reality-huds/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 10:00:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=863225 Jaguar HUD

Jaguar Land Rover is bringing a duo of augmented-reality HUDs to its respective brands, each with a different take on the technology.

Autoblog reports the Land Rover’s setup will have what they dub a Smart Assistant handling nearly every function and task so as to allow the driver to focus on driving to their destinations. The assistant connects with a driver’s smartphone to do everything from reminding you to drop off the children at school, to playing those morning jams Jalopnik likes to recommend. Meanwhile, the technology is also at work on-board, noting how many passengers are with the driver, knowing how the driver drives, even adjusting the air suspension to make exiting the vehicle easier.

Jaguar, on the other hand, is taking the video game approach with the Jaguar Virtual Windscreen, turning a day at the track into a scene from Forza or Gran Turismo. The race-oriented HUD offers lap times, virtual racing lines and ghost competitors among other data selections. There will also be gesture controls and configuration options, as well.

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Ford: Automotive Industry Must Prepare To Rethink Transportation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/ford-automotive-industry-must-prepare-to-rethink-transportation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/ford-automotive-industry-must-prepare-to-rethink-transportation/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 13:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=862177 Bill Ford in Turkey

Sharing the pages of The Wall Street Journal’s 125th Anniversary issue with the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Summers and Taylor Swift, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford, Jr. sees a future for the automotive industry so bright, he’ll need to wear shades.

The chairman wrote in his op-ed for the paper that the automobile will become “part of a larger ecosystem,” and the industry must act accordingly. He explains that this challenge “represents a $130 billion business opportunity” to develop solutions to growing transportation concerns, such as a vehicle’s interactions with a city’s multi-modal infrastructure as a result of more people moving back into cities.

Ford also believes ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are signalling a shift from individual ownership, going as far as to proclaim the practice “may not be the primary model of vehicle ownership in the future.” He adds that future vehicles will be heavily connected with each other for high optimization of his future transportation ecosystem, noting the early phases of the connected car are already in existence.

Finally, the chairman states driving itself will need to be redefined thanks to autonomous vehicles taking the wheel — or lack thereof, in Google’s case — from the driver in more and more situations. In turn, drivers who would have handed over their keys in their twilight years would now have more time and greater mobility through autonomous technologies, as well as those with physical disabilities.

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2015 Hyundai Genesis Sedan To Receive Speed-Camera Warning System http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/2015-hyundai-genesis-sedan-to-receive-speed-camera-warning-system/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/2015-hyundai-genesis-sedan-to-receive-speed-camera-warning-system/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 11:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=857105 2015-Hyundai-Genesis-main

Speed cameras are the bane of any driver’s existence, especially if they’re more trouble than they’re worth for the municipality who experiments with them for a contract period of several years. Future Hyundai Genesis owners in Korea, however, may have a new tool at their disposal that should make dealing with the long lens of the law much easier on the wallet.

Drive.com.au reports the new generation of the Korean premium sedan will use GPS and braking technology to help would-be Alex Roys down to the limit in time to wave hello at the camera. Hyundai representative explained to reporters at the Genesis Sedan’s unveiling in Seoul how the system would work:

It knows there is a speed camera there, it knows where the speed camera is and it will adopt the correct speed. It will beep 800 metres before a camera and show the legal speed, and it will beep at you if your speed is over that.

The system will work best at fixed and average speed cameras, but not against mobile units. Meanwhile, the same self-braking tech used in the preemptive camera evasion will also bring the sedan to a halt to prevent a collision should such an event arise.

Alas, the system won’t be available to U.S. drivers anytime soon, while Korean drivers may have to wait a bit until after the Genesis makes its local debut in October of this year.

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Teamsters Aid Los Angeles Uber Drivers In Improving Work Conditions http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/teamsters-aid-los-angeles-uber-drivers-in-improving-work-conditions/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/teamsters-aid-los-angeles-uber-drivers-in-improving-work-conditions/#comments Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:00:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=854505 UberSUV

Ride-sharing service Uber has hit a few rough patches as of late, mainly from taxi operators and city and state officials who believe Uber and others like it are too disruptive for its own good. However, the Teamsters — who supported European taxi drivers in their protest of the service earlier this month — are throwing their support to Uber drivers wishing to organize.

Autoblog Green reports Teamsters Local 986 are aiding Uber drivers in organizing an association open to all app-based commercial drivers — such as Lyft and Sidecar — to gain better treatment from their employer. This follows a protest earlier this week at the service’s headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., where Los Angeles area drivers voiced their frustrations over a decision where owners of 2010 or older vehicles had less than two weeks to acquire a newer vehicle to remain a part of Uber Black or Uber SUV, as opposed to other markets where drivers had months to do the same.

In addition, the L.A. drivers are throwing their support for California Legislature Bill AB 2293, which would mandate all app-based ridesharing services to purchase insurance for any vehicle in service from the time the driver turns on the app, to the time the driver turns the app off. The drivers believe the insurance mandate would both “serve the public interest and not pose a financial hardship” to Uber, currently valued at $18.2 billion.

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Google Debuts Android Auto During I/O Keynote http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/google-debuts-android-auto-during-io-keynote/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/google-debuts-android-auto-during-io-keynote/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 10:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=852889 Android Auto + Honda Civic

Google’s entry into the connected-car game stepped up to the next level this week when Android Auto was unveiled before the developers in attendance at the 2014 Google I/O Keynote Address.

Automotive News reports Android Auto — formerly known as Google Auto Link — will not be an embedded system, but “projected” from Android-powered smartphones through USB into the head unit. Its main feature is its voice-enabled operation, allowing the driver to receive and respond to texts, get directions to the nearest restaurant or fuel station, and dictate to-do lists for later reference, all without having to take their eyes off the road.

Android Auto was also designed for app developers in mind, simplifying the process of creating, distributing and updating their work without worrying if the embedded system will play nice with them by centralizing everything around the smartphone or tablet.

Though players such as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Volkswagen Group and Honda are among those on-board with Android Auto, Google did not say which of the members of the Open Automotive Alliance would be the first to bring the technology to the showroom. However, Hyundai product planning manager John Shon says his employer will be the first out of the gate when newer models of the 2015 Sonata arrive with both Android Auto and competitor Apple’s own CarPlay by the end of 2014; current 2015 models will receive both systems upon release.

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JD Power Initial Quality Study Shows GM, Hyundai, Porsche Leading The Pack http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/jd-power-initial-quality-study-shows-gm-hyundai-porsche-leading-the-pack/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/jd-power-initial-quality-study-shows-gm-hyundai-porsche-leading-the-pack/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 12:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=846905 2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

J.D. Power has released their U.S. Initial Quality Study for 2014, where General Motors, Hyundai and Porsche earned top marks despite consumers still struggling with the gizmology taking over their vehicles.

Autoblog reports GM’s Buick, Chevrolet and GMC captured more awards than anyone else in the 2014 IQS, with six vehicles winning in their segments. Meanwhile, Hyundai and Porsche were ranked best overall mass-market and premium brand, respectively, where the former reported 94 issues per 100 vehicles reported in the first 90 days, 74/100 for the latter. Porsche also dominated the IQS, having the best score of all brands surveyed.

On the other end of the scale, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ranked poorly in the study, with Fiat holding dead last at 206 problems per 100 vehicles reported in the survey period. Jeep came second-to-last with 146/100, while Dodge was just below the industry average at 124/100. Only Ram and Chrysler fared the best, matching or just exceeding the average of 116/100.

Part of the results may be due to automakers pushing the envelope on technology and new features to make consumers’ lives easier. J.D. Power Vice President of Global Automotive David Sargent says “almost all automakers are struggling” to introduce these pieces “without introducing additional quality problems.” In turn, some consumers are noting the technologies involved are “hard to understand, difficult to use, or [do] not always work as designed.”

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GM China Introduces Plate-Scanning App For Driver-To-Driver Texting http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-china-introduces-plate-scanning-app-for-driver-to-driver-texting/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/gm-china-introduces-plate-scanning-app-for-driver-to-driver-texting/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 13:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=845849 Chinese-English Stop Sign

Ever been cut-off by a driver and wanted to let them know exactly how you feel without the need for a PIT bumper? Did you happen to see someone attractive pass you by, but didn’t want to be as obvious as Clark Griswold about it? If you’re in China, General Motors is about to make that dream come true in the creepiest way possible.

ComputerWorld reports GM China R&D director John Du introduced an Android app called DiDi Plate before attendees at this year’s Telematics Detroit 2014. The app uses an Android smartphone’s camera to snap a photo of a license plate, which then uploads the info gathered into the cloud so that the driver can then connect with the other driver via cell.

The creeper part? Du explains it best:

Even if the other driver didn’t register this app, you can still give them greetings and comments.

Du added that the app can also be used with Google Glass, allowing the driver to simply look at a license plate to find the other’s personal online profile prior to arranging a date, telling them to move their car so the driver can get out, or telling them off as far as their driving skills are concerned.

However, GM would like DiDi Plate to be embedded in a connected-vehicle environment rather than reside on the driver’s smartphone of choice; thus, the app may not make it out of the prototype phase in time to warn the car ahead that they missed the stop sign, among other, more personal actions.

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Data Privacy Concerns Rise Within Connected-Car Industry http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/data-privacy-concerns-rise-within-connected-car-industry/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/data-privacy-concerns-rise-within-connected-car-industry/#comments Fri, 06 Jun 2014 13:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=838401 2013 RAM 3500 Interior, uConnect 8.4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

As more vehicles come with infotainment systems mounted in the dashboard console, consumers are beginning to face the issue of losing privacy behind the driver’s seat.

The Detroit News reports data from a vehicle so equipped is collected every time the ignition is turned, from where one fills up their tank and stomach, to how fast one drives and their preference for doing so. While the data goes back to the automaker in question, there are few security measures as to who all is allowed to view — and use — the data for their own needs. Strategy Analytics associate director Roger Lanctot explains:

(Your car’s) presumably tracking you all the time. Somewhere along the way we need to have a better understanding because right now, the reason why it feels like the Wild West is that it’s so open. You’re basically letting the carmaker gather whatever data it wants and share it with whoever, including marketing partners and law enforcement.

His concerns were voiced during the keynote speech before attendees of this year’s Telematics Detroit 2014 in Novi, Mich. as part of a day devoted to privacy and security with automotive infotainment and diagnostics technology. Though the focus comes in light of knowledge of the National Security Agency’s overreaching hand upon U.S. citizens, a survey found some of the attendees weren’t too concerned over what their car tells anyone else. Others, however, were more worried about their car pulling a GLaDOS on the highway in traffic.

Lanctot believes consumers will have “a privacy button” in their vehicles down the road, which would at the very least provide transparency on who exactly sees the information in any given vehicle. The feature would, in turn, empower the consumer with control on their information and instill trust with the automaker at the other end of the signal.

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Google Unveils Autonomous Vehicle Prototype, Roush Rumoured To Be Involved http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/google-unveils-autonomous-vehicle-prototype-roush-rumoured-to-be-involved/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/google-unveils-autonomous-vehicle-prototype-roush-rumoured-to-be-involved/#comments Thu, 29 May 2014 11:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=833985 google-car-1-1

The autonomous vehicle has taken a step closer to traversing the streets and highways of the world with Google’s new prototype, which may have racing — and Skynet — in its cybernetic blood.

Autoblog reports the toy-esque prototype has room for two, push-button start and no manual controls of any sort. Speed is limited to 25 mph — no source of power has been mentioned — with a visible integrated roll cage providing structural integrity. Project director Chris Urmson adds:

On the inside, we’ve designed for learning, not luxury, so we’re light on creature comforts, but we’ll have two seats (with seat belts), a space for passengers’ belongings, buttons to start and stop and a screen that shows the route-and that’s about it.

As for the racing link, Roush has been rumoured to be the ones building the proposed 100 prototypes set to undergo testing this summer according to an anonymous source. The source also says assembly will take place in Michigan, and the company — who also improves Ford Mustangs on occasion, as well as deliver the goods for transportation and military applications — is hiring engineers for the project.

Public use of the Google commuter pods is expected to come online in a California-based pilot within a couple of years per the search engine giant.

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Google’s Autonmous Vehicle Project Readies For Next Step http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/googles-autonmous-vehicle-project-readies-for-next-step/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/googles-autonmous-vehicle-project-readies-for-next-step/#comments Tue, 20 May 2014 13:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=826690 Google self-driving car

Google’s autonomous vehicle research has come far over the five years since the Silicon Valley giant started down the road. Though more is yet be accomplished before the future comes, Google is ready to move forward with the next phase of its research work: jumping from test units into the real world.

Automotive News reports in a rare media presentation held last week, Google’s autonomous vehicle boss Christopher Urmson stated his company talks to automakers often about how best to bring what Google has to offer to the public:

It has to be at a price point where the value to the customer exceeds the cost to the customer. We’re working on that.

Urmson added that such technology would not come to market until it was ready with all safety issues have been worked out to the best of Google’s ability, proclaiming the driver needs to be able to trust the technology before letting the vehicle take the wheel.

Said autonomous technology has been developed through the use of GPS and 3D mapping systems linked to a roof-mounted laser that scans the environment around the vehicle. So far, 2,000 miles of road — within reach of Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. — have been mapped out and traversed, but with over 4 million miles of road in the United States, the search engine giant has more work to go before the autonomous Nexus Auto is ready for primetime, which Urmson expects will come by the time his son turns 16 in 2020.

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Nokia Enters Connected Vehicle Fight With $100M Investment Fund http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/nokia-enters-connected-vehicle-fight-with-100m-investment-fund/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/nokia-enters-connected-vehicle-fight-with-100m-investment-fund/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 12:00:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=819377 nokia evolution brief

Having moved its smartphone business to Microsoft, Nokia’s next project is a $100 million investment fund for companies specializing in smart cars.

BBC News reports the fund will be administered by Nokia Growth Partners, while Nokia itself aims to bring its navigation offerings — one of three key points the Finnish company will pursue alongside networks and new technologies — into the connected car market.

Nokia is only the latest to enter into the fray, with Google, BlackBerry, Apple and Intel — who has its own $100 million fund for the rapid development of Internet-connected vehicles — seeking to make their mark on the potentially disruptive market. While Google’s Android will soon find its way into offerings by Hyundai and Audi, Apple’s iOS-based CarPlay has found partners in Ferrari and BMW.

As for what’s at stake for all who enter, the connected car market promises to not only bring the smartphone experience into the vehicle, but to connect vehicles with each other, altering driving behaviors while increasing safety as NGP partner Paul Asel explains:

For the last few years there has been a surge in innovation that has brought technological advances leading to safer, cleaner, increasingly connected, intelligent and more affordable vehicles. Vehicles are becoming a new platform for technology adoption very similar to phones or tablet.

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Acura TLX Launch Delayed Until Later This Summer http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/acura-tlx-launch-delayed-until-later-this-summer/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/acura-tlx-launch-delayed-until-later-this-summer/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:15:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=808514 2015-Acura-TLX-22

Acura fans hoping to ditch their TL or TSX for an all-new 2015 TLX in time for the start of the summertime driving season will have to make do until sometime later this summer, as the automaker has delayed the launch of its newest sedan.

Autoblog reports the reasoning behind delaying both press and customer launches of the TLX — which made its production-ready debut at the 2014 New York Auto Show last week — is due to its various technology needing more work, as explained by an email sent to all Acura dealers:

The TLX has more advanced and customer-relevant technology than on any other Acura model in our history, and we must assure that all systems are ready for mass production. Further, it is critical that we have a stable and sustainable supply of vehicles and components to support the strong customer response that we expect for this all-new Acura sedan.

To achieve these goals, we have determined that it is necessary to modify the production schedule for the 2015 TLX, which will move the on-sale date to late summer.

Spokesperson Chuck Schifsky added the automaker doesn’t view the delays as “major,” but has opted not to bring the TLX to the showroom for sale “until it’s perfect.”

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

MuntzJet_19B MuntzJet_19A MuntzJet_18B MuntzJet_18A MuntzJet_17B MuntzJet_17A MuntzJet_12B MuntzJet_12A MuntzJet_10 ]]>
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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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