The Truth About Cars » Autonomous Vehicles The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:36:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Autonomous Vehicles AlixPartners: 2014 May Be The Peak Of U.S. Auto Sales Thu, 10 Jul 2014 10:00:59 +0000 Toyota Sales Lot

The good news? Automakers are enjoying a sales boom in the United States the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Great Recession brought the hammer down, with June 2014 sales alone surpassing those in July of 2006. Should the boom continue, 2014 will close as the industry’s best year in a long time, with over 16 million vehicles sold when the calendar ticks over to 2015.

The bad news? This year may be the last year U.S. sales ever climb this high.

Autoblog reports a study by AlixPartners suggests sales will peak later this year, then head back down the mountain on the beaten path of rising interest rates — diminishing purchasing power in the process — then veer toward the long trail built upon the Millennials’ alleged preference of Uber and Car2Go over individual ownership.

In the near-term, director Dan Hearsch warns the lines of cheap credit today will dry up over the next two to three years:

The biggest factor would be this credit bubble, and without making an exact projection of when that will happen, that, to use is the window when you’ll see an impact on car sales. The other side of it is cyclical and predictable. … We’re a little more pessimistic because of these other factors.

Further up the path, rising fuel prices will temporarily give hybrids and EVs a boost in sales, but improvements in the ICE and the ongoing issues with EVs — range, higher upfront costs and production of battery packs — will mitigate whatever gains are made unless the technology comes into parity with the ICE.

Finally, AlixPartners expects 80 percent of all vehicles sold in North America by 2017 will be connected vehicles, and advises governments and OEMs to prepare for the day autonomous vehicles take their first outings beyond Google’s research facility, as such vehicles will be key to future sales.

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Ford: Automotive Industry Must Prepare To Rethink Transportation Wed, 09 Jul 2014 13:00:28 +0000 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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Musk: Location Of First Tesla Gigafactory To Be Announced By Year-End Thu, 05 Jun 2014 11:30:44 +0000 Tesla Gigafactory

For those awaiting when and where Tesla will build its first Gigafactory, the automaker announced the decision should come near the end of the year, and that said Gigafactory will have siblings.

The Detroit News reports CEO Elon Musk told shareholders at Tesla’s annual meeting in Mountain View, Calif. that as many as three states could see one of the battery factories land in their boundaries, with Gigafactory 1 delivering 6,500 jobs at a cost of $5 billion between it and its investors to one of four states before the end of 2014. Musk added the plans were “quite advanced,” and that his company talks with Panasonic — who wants the Gigafactory all for itself — on a day-to-day basis.

In addition to sharing the love with the concept of American-made battery packs, Tesla plans to boost deliveries of the Model S by 56 percent as markets in China and elsewhere come online. Musk himself will travel to the United Kingdom this week to oversee delivery of the first RHD models assembled by Tesla, with other RHD markets — Japan, Hong Kong et al — to receive theirs down the road. All Ss will also receive software upgrades to provide the owners with more customization abilities, with auto-pilot features to come sometime in 2015.

Finally, Musk himself proclaimed he would not leave the controls of his company until sales of Tesla’s third-gen EVs began, a inevitability not due for the next four to five years.

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Google Unveils Autonomous Vehicle Prototype, Roush Rumoured To Be Involved Thu, 29 May 2014 11:00:34 +0000 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 Tue, 20 May 2014 13:00:28 +0000 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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European-Backed UN Amendment Brings Autonomous Vehicle Future Closer Tue, 20 May 2014 11:00:13 +0000 Mercedes-Benz S500 Autonomous Limo

While autonomous vehicles are still in the early stages of testing, a few of the European members of the United Nations have laid the groundwork for the self-driven future to come sooner than later.

Reuters reports the U.N. Working Party on Traffic Safety received last month an amendment to Article 8 of the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic backed by Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Austria that would allow drivers of autonomous vehicles to take their hands off the wheel so long as as the vehicle’s system “can be overridden or switched off by the driver” at any time.

Should the amendment pass through the myriad of red tape within the organizing body, 72 countries — the United States, China and Japan withstanding — would have to work the new legislation into their law books.

The European-backed amendment now means automakers like Mercedes-Benz and BMW can move beyond testing their autonomous and semi-autonomous offerings toward delivery to showrooms throughout the continent, all without waiting for Google and other U.S. interests to bring the technology to market. Mercedes in particular delivered an S-Class limo in response to the search engine giant’s own efforts last August which drove the Bertha Benz route between Mannheim and Pforzheim, Germany without driver input.

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University of Michigan, Industry Partners Team Up For New Technology Testing Facility Thu, 08 May 2014 11:00:54 +0000 University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center

The University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center and its partners will soon break ground on a $6.4 million facility meant to test connected and autonomous vehicles in a simulacrum of an everyday urban environment.

Automotive News reports the 5-mile Mobility Transformation Facility — located on 32 acres at the university’s North Campus Research Complex in Ann Arbor, Mich. — will be designed and constructed in cooperation with the state’s Department of Transportation, with private funding to come from the likes of Ford, General Motors, Bosch and Xerox in the form of $1 million payouts made by each investor involved over the next three years.

As for the facility itself, whose goal is to help bring about a commercially viable system of connected and autonomous vehicles, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute spokeswoman Francine Romine says it will look “more like a movie set complete with fake buildings, intersections, streetlights and other obstacles like construction barriers specially tested for automated technology.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the MTF will occur in-sync with the ITS World Congress in September 2014.

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Exclusive: Say Goodbye to Chip Tuning – Open CAN Bus Going Away in Two Model Cycles Wed, 07 May 2014 13:55:52 +0000 nomoarpower

According to someone that I consider to be an impeccably reliable source, you can say goodbye to being able to fiddle with your car’s electronic control devices to make it go faster because chip tuning and the open CAN bus that allows it are going away.

When I saw that the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center (part of the university’s Transportation Research Institute) was going to have a groundbreaking for the new Michigan Mobility Transportation Facility, a 32 acre, simulated urban traffic environment where automotive connectivity and autonomous vehicles will be able to be tested by students, faculty and industrial engineers, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend. It was only a ceremonial groundbreaking, held about a 1/4 mile from the actual site of the MMTF, and there was likely just going to be some speeches from officials at the university and from Michigan’s Department of Transportation, which is paying half the cost of the $6.5 million facility. It didn’t seem that there’d be much real news at the event that couldn’t be gleaned from a press release (like the fact that several companies are joining the UMMTC as industry partners, including Bosch, Verizon, Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Xerox). Still, it was really the first nice day all spring, after a long, brutal winter, and I like Ann Arbor, having lived there for almost a decade years ago. Also, there are a number of fun-to-drive routes between my house and UofM’s north campus. While the event turned out to have as little “news” as predicted, I did find out something that will be of interest and concern to car enthusiasts, particularly those of us who like to tune their cars for more performance.

The University of Michigan’s college of engineering has had a close relationship with the auto industry that dates back about a century. The domestic auto companies and their executives have endowed engineering faculty positions as well as funded quite a bit of research at the University. Michigan’s engineering school is a major reason why Toyota, Hyundai/Kia and Mitsubishi all have their North American R&D centers in the Ann Arbor area. That’s why in addition to the various university and government employees at the ceremony, lunch and afternoon conference on the new facility that followed, there were also a number of engineers from a variety of automobile companies, vendors and firms whose business touches on vehicle connectivity.


The vendor presence explains why an old friend of mine was there. Way back in the 1980s, before the “World Wide Web”, when the “internet” meant just email and Usenet newsgroups, I was a staff member for a religious educational organization with a handful of offices around North America. It seemed like a good idea to set up a computer bulletin board system so that we could share information and communications internally as well as making our resources available to the nascent online community. I was a computer neophyte then but a friend referred me to a mutual acquaintance that I’ll call Ruby, who was a computer security professional and sat on some of the committees that established standards for the young internet. Ruby not only mentored me about early DOS based machines and software, he donated an IBM 5150 (later known as the IBM PC) with a 10 megabyte hard drive to the non-profit that I was working with, to host the BBS. Before I met him, Ruby had worked as a systems analyst and programmer for one of the major automobile companies at a time when the automobile industry was beginning to embrace the digital age in a big way. He was involved in some of the early working groups that digitally connected the auto industry. Besides the fact that he knows more about computers than anyone else that I know personally, he’s also one of the smartest people in general that I know. He’s the only person that I know who can program a computer, true a bicycle wheel and build a harpsichord.

Since then, Ruby’s worked for a variety of computer security firms, which is why he was at the event today in Ann Arbor. A few years back, a major network and data provider bought his employer and they’re now actively involved in the whole connected car thing. I spotted him at the lunch following the ceremony and when I said hello we started talking about autonomous cars. I was speaking from the perspective of a car enthusiast and I said that autonomous cars didn’t worry me. They’d probably reduce accidents from poor drivers and that all the moaning and wailing from car guys about the death of enthusiasm due to autonomous cars is a bit premature. After all, I told Ruby, when electronic ignition, electronic fuel injection and digital engine control devices came in, enthusiasts were worried that they wouldn’t be able to tinker with cars for performance, but since then we’ve seen car guys go from changing carburetor jets to “chip tuning”, making changes to the way the car’s ECU operates the engine.


That’s when Ruby said, almost matter of factly, “Yeah, but all that’s going away. The open bus will be gone in two model cycles.” Automakers currently use something called the CAN bus. Years ago computer designers decided to use the word bus (from the Latin omnibus, “for all”) to describe something that lets one part of a computer to talk to another part of the computer. The Controller Area Network is a bus standard used by automakers to allow electronic devices in a car or truck to communicate with each other. Because it is an “open” bus that allows data to flow in both directions, the CAN bus is also what lets you plug your tuning gizmo into the OBD port and change the engine mapping.


I pressed him and said that hackers would likely still be able to access control systems, and he replied, with dead seriousness, “The systems will be hardened. The only features that you’ll be able to modify are those that the automakers and regulators will let you modify.” While you might be tempted to dismiss that as conspiracy talk, the source is indeed one of the world’s experts on computer and electronic communications security. When I asked him for a reason, he said that he couldn’t get into details then and there, that we should speak later, but in brief it has to do with safety, liability and regulatory compliance. Liability seemed to be the biggest concern. With their deep pockets, any safety issue caused even by a third party application will end with litigation targeting the automakers. He noted that even Ford’s OpenXC open source interface, which encourages third party application development, only gives passive access to vehicle data and can’t control vehicle systems.


In TTAC’s recent discussion of the “line lock” feature that Ford will be offering on the 2015 Mustang, our readers touched on the topic of “Easter eggs” and hacks that let you, via the car’s infotainment system, alter some of the control systems. From what my computer security expert tells me, built in features like line lock may proliferate but while automakers may offer some trick software features with one hand, the other hand is tightening its grip over what third parties and users will be able to do. Since some of the restrictions seem to be related to the implementation of vehicle connectivity, I guess this is another reason why car enthusiasts won’t like autonomous cars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Google’s Autonomous Cars Face Legal, Practical Challenges Mon, 23 Jan 2012 22:03:41 +0000

Google’s nutty pseudo-utopian autonomous car project faced a reality check at a legal symposium sponsored by the Law Review and High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University. Among the challenges raised were the prospect of insuring such a car, and whether the car would be able to stop for law enforcement or construction workers.

While Google claims that their autonomous cars have driven more than 200,000 miles  of accident-free driving, issues like whether police can pull over autonomous cars, as well as technological limitations with artificial intelligence, still remain as stumbling blocks. Google is throwing a lot of time and energy into having laws changed so that autonomous vehicles are road legal, but based on the concerns raised by experts, it looks like self-driving vehicles still have a long way to go before becoming viable.

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The War On Drivers: “Car-To-X” Communication System Testing Begins Sat, 22 Oct 2011 19:30:05 +0000

Though the idea that there is a “war on cars” appeals to certain segments of society, there’s little evidence for any such effort. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that there’s a “war on drivers” on, and it’s being led by the automotive industry. On the one hand, cars are being ever-more laden with distracting gizmos and toys, while simultaneously, companies are testing systems that minimize the need for drivers at all. Though Google’s autonomous cars get a lot of media play in this country, another system is moving Europe towards a similar endgame. Known as “Car-To-X,” the system allows cars to swap information like speed and direction, not just with each other but with traffic lights and traffic data collectors. The idea is to avoid traffic and crashes, by warning drivers of oncoming traffic in a left-hand turn scenario, for example. Because who wants to use their eyes to make sure they’re safe when technology can do it for you?

According to Autobild, the first public German test of the system will begin next spring, with 120 vehicles taking part. GM is currently testing a similar system. If all goes according to plan, systems like this and Google’s autonomous technology will fulfill GM’s prediction that autonomous vehicles will be a reality by 2020, and the war on driving will be won. Or lost, depending on your perspective.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Where Are You In The Driverless Car Debate? Tue, 09 Aug 2011 20:02:07 +0000

When news hit late last week that one of Google’s driverless cars had been involved in a minor fender-bender, the anti-autonomous driver argument made itself. “This is precisely why we’re worried about self-driving cars,” howled Jalopnik.”Google’s self-driving car seems like the ultimate distracted driving machine.” But on the very same day, Google claimed that

One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car [emphasis added]

Before you know it, the other side of the debate, as epitomized by Popular Science flipped the argument, insisting that

this incident is yet another example — as if we need one — of the human capacity for error. Hopefully when cars do take over, they’ll be able to prevent these types of incidents on their own.

So yeah, there’s a pretty wide range of opinions on the issue. And with Nevada’s legalization of driverless cars, it’s only a matter of time before something happens that busts the debate wide open again. So, how do you feel about our new robot overlords? I, for one, could live with the technology for freeway/expressway use… but not without drawing some kind of clear lines around legal liability. Off-freeway? No thanks. Too few benefits from packing traffic tighter and too many other variables in traffic. What say you?

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Do Androids Dream Of Powerslide Parallel-Parking? Tue, 18 May 2010 18:47:15 +0000

You stay hoony, Stanford University [via Twitter Auto123/Leviathan101]

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