By on November 7, 2011

MyFordTouch was supposed to build on the SYNC system’s momentum, extending Ford’s edge in mass-market infotainment gizmology. Instead, MyFord nearly killed the golden egg-laying goose, by earning Ford a sharp downgrade from Consumer Reports and widespread criticism. Ford has decided that 40-minute training sessions weren’t going to cut it as a response to the complaints that the system was balky and confusing, and The Blue Oval is now trumpeting the all-new for 2013 version of MyFordTouch. Because, in the words of Ford’s spokes-interior-designer-person

As you can see, with a software platform like SYNC, it’s easy to continuously improve and upgrade your system.

You know, in comparison to the all-new Ford Escape she’s sitting in. It’s still not quite as easy as a computer software update: instead of downloading the reflash, you have to go into a dealer to get the upgrade. Meanwhile, this is just the latest hurdle in the hot-hot in-car gizmo side of the business. The big one comes in 2014, when the government issue rules on distraction-mitigation in voice-activated in-car systems. That could make this minor public beta testing fiasco look like nothing…

By on October 30, 2011

Here’s hoping your weekend motoring has been a little bit safer than surfboard designer Roberto Ricci’s…

By on October 21, 2011

In hopes of escaping Chevrolet’s recent past as what he calls a “truck funded, Midwestern and Southern” business, GM’s Mark Reuss is leading a revamp of Chevy’s Southern California retail environment in order to establish a stronger presence in that key market. Now that Chevy offers higher-quality, more-efficient cars that can compete in the SoCal market, Reuss and company say it’s time to focus on the retail experience. The GM North American boss tells the LA Times

We are really going to have a go at California. This is not some half-baked plan. We will be putting a serious amount of money into this.

Serious money is good… but money alone won’t change the culture of a car dealer that’s always played second fiddle to import brands. So, how will GM tackle cultural shortcomings at its SoCal dealerships? Let’s just say that, for all the apparent seriousness with which this issue is being tackled, GM has come up with a Mickey Mouse plan… literally.

(Read More…)

By on October 15, 2011

One of most common complaints that traditional “car guys” have about the modern auto industry is that cars have become so complex and computerized that repairs and modifications have become too complex for their mechanical skillset. But, on the other end of the car guy spectrum, EV enthusiasts are taking over the mantle of the homebrew automotive modifications. The New York Times reports that Nissan Leaf owners are taking the lead to fix issues with the first mass-market electric car, creating more reliable state-of-charge indicators and rapid-chargers, tipping the balance of power from the manufacturer back to the savvy, hands-on consumer.  And as EV enthusiasts build communities, share their experiments and improve vehicles like the Leaf, automakers like Nissan are listening.

Despite the antipathy between old-school auto enthusiasts and their new-wave EV counterparts, these two groups have more in common than you might realize… which can only be good news for the larger automotive culture.

By on October 5, 2011

Onstar may have been pressured by privacy activists into dropping changes to its terms of service, but the telematics service is still betting that people want to be more connected than ever. So much so that it’s going offer a service allowing you to rent your car out to strangers.

(Read More…)

By on October 5, 2011

It was Tamara’s first new car. A 2003 Saturn VUE AWD with a 4-cylinder and all the options. Out the door at $25,000.  Overjoyed to have finally afforded her very own new car, Tamara splurged and spoiled it. Saturn seat covers soon adorned the interior and a chrome grille guard was added to give her cute zonker yellow ride a bit more gravitas. The Vue would be her absolute pride and joy for the next seven years.

Until it died. Seven years, two transmissions and only 69k miles, Tamara got fed up with being one of many victims of an under-engineered CVT. Besides she couldn’t afford the $5000+ bill.

Yet she wasnt alone. Far from it. Tamara is just one of thousands of folks who have been given the stiff arm by a manufacturer. All the major manufacturers do this to a degree and no, it’s not because they are evil and uncaring. You have to draw a line somewhere.

(Read More…)

By on October 4, 2011

[Editor’s note: videos are from Youtube, and were not taken by the author]

“THE BETAS ARE COMING!” The mid-August e-mail from Tesla Motors breathlessly touted “the most exciting automotive event of the year:” an exclusive owners-only unveiling of the Model S. All 6,000 of us who’d put down $5K deposits on the electric sedan would be invited out to Tesla’s sprawling new plant in Fremont, Calif. to see, touch, and ride in the Beta version of the car, described as “over 90 percent production intent.”

A few weeks later came the e-mail invitation itself. I RSVPed the same day. Tesla had expected attendance in the hundreds, and had made initial plans for 1,000 just to be safe. But when 300 RSVPs came back in the first 23 minutes, they realized they had a tsunami of customer enthusiasm on their hands. In the end, about 2,000 owners showed up, including one guy from Kazakhstan.

Driving my rented Prius up I-880 toward Fremont on the big day, I passed a factory with huge letters on the side: SOLYNDRA. Not a good omen. The start-up Silicon Valley manufacturer of high-tech cutting-edge solar panels, the recipient of half a billion dollars in government loans, had lost hundreds of millions of dollars and just gone bankrupt amid cries of political favoritism and financial fraud.

A mile or so up the road, another sprawling factory festooned with giant letters: TESLA. A start-up Silicon Valley manufacturer of high-tech cutting edge automobiles, recipient of half a billion dollars in government loans, currently reporting annual losses of hundreds of millions of dollars….oh, never mind.

(Read More…)

By on September 30, 2011

Quick, what’s the point of having a navigation system in your car? To get where you want to be going, right? Well, IBM has another idea: maybe instead of taking you where you want to go, navigation systems should be offering to take you where a paying advertiser wants you to go. Say, right past their shop, for example. Popular Science quotes from one of IBM’s patent applications

Conventional route planning systems determine optimal routes based on different preferred conditions, including minimizing travel time or minimizing the distance traveled. By focusing on optimal route determination, the known route planning systems fail to consider non-optimal routes whose presentation to travelers may have value to other parties.

So, it’s not quite to the point of your nav system saying “I can’t let you not pass a Starbucks, Dave,” but in the future your navigation could strongly suggest that, rather than going to the farmer’s market, you stop by the supermarket that happens to pay IBM the most.

(Read More…)

By on September 28, 2011

Nobody in the auto retail business can possibly be unaware of the horrible reputation that car dealers have earned over decades of shady dealing. Heck, the internet has even created a pseudo-meme for the entire business, in the form of the passed-around image you see at the top of this post. But one industry’s horrendous reputation can be another another industry’s opportunity, and Kevin Hurst thought he had come up with a goldmine. By creating software that guides dealers through compliance with a number of federal regulations, he figured he could leverage the stereotype of the sleazy car dealer to get potential clients interested in demonstrating their commitment to walking the straight and narrow path. It’s a brilliant idea, and the kind of move that would show that market self-regulation and government regulation can work together to serve consumers. Unfortunately, Hurst made a fatal error of calculation: he assumed car dealers care about fixing their reputation and living up to national standards.

(Read More…)

By on September 27, 2011

Under attack from privacy advocates and US Senators, Onstar will be dropping plans to automatically track vehicles that are not subscribed to its service, and will make post-cancellation tracking an opt-in option, rather than opt-out. A GM statement reads:

DETROIT – OnStar announced today it is reversing its proposed Terms and Conditions policy changes and will not keep a data connection to customers’ vehicles after the OnStar service is canceled.

OnStar recently sent e-mails to customers telling them that effective Dec. 1, their service would change so that data from a customer vehicle would continue to be transmitted to OnStar after service was canceled – unless the customer asked for it to be shut off.

“We realize that our proposed amendments did not satisfy our subscribers,” OnStar President Linda Marshall said. “This is why we are leaving the decision in our customers’ hands. We listened, we responded and we hope to maintain the trust of our more than 6 million customers.”

If OnStar ever offers the option of a data connection after cancellation, it would only be when a customer opted-in, Marshall said. And then OnStar would honor customers’ preferences about how data from that connection is treated.

Maintaining the data connection would have allowed OnStar to provide former customers with urgent information about natural disasters and recalls affecting their vehicles even after canceling their service. It also would have helped in planning future services, Marshall said.

“We regret any confusion or concern we may have caused,” Marshall said.

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