The Truth About Cars » Google The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 05:18:32 +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 » Google BlackBerry Fights Google, Apple To Maintain Connected-Car Lead Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:44:33 +0000 Blackberry-QNX-Car-Entertainment-and-Telematics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ur-Turn: Autonomous Cars Are Already Here Tue, 18 Mar 2014 14:19:57 +0000 Jurvetson_Google_driverless_car_trimmed

TTAC reader and former auto journalist Michael Banovsky writes about the inexorable move towards autonomous cars

Autonomous cars are already here.

It doesn’t matter if you’re testing an actual Google Car or cruising the Keys in a Pagoda-roof 230 SL, CUVing the kids to Hot Yoga or signing “11″ on a deserted road. Autonomous cars are here, the debate is done, so enjoy driving while you still can.

Let’s start with a story.

I was driving to work and glanced in my rearview and noticed a lady talking on a cell phone. Is that a chil…yes, that’s a child-in-child-seat, too.

We were at a moderate speed, we stopped, we got going again…and she didn’t hit me. I even watched, two minutes later, as she put the phone down and resumed the school run.

What was I supposed to do, publicly shame her? Call the cops, telling them someone was making a call—a possibly important one—and they should speed over, tout de suite?

This happens all the time, of course, all over the world. Are we to vilify everyone who safely makes a call or text while behind the wheel? Drives drunk? Drives high? Drinks coffee without spilling it? Changes the radio station without crashing?


I don’t think so. That would be—caution, nasty word – surveillance, and we’re probably going to give up driving before it’s monitored or taken away, anyway.

Here’s why: Any anti-social and anti-public safety behaviours* are drivers showing they’ve chosen something else over operating a vehicle. Taking a call while driving is proof, proven thousands of times a second, that we feel talking on a phone is as important to us as driving.

For a driverless future to happen, two things need to happen. First, non-compliance with road laws and rising costs will make driving much more expensive—to say nothing of fuel prices. Second, technology will make it possible.

Now tell me either is unlikely.

The key to adopting driverless cars without outcry is to make drivers feel like they have a choice. The lady I saw talking on her phone? If you could have given her a big green “Autonomous” button, I bet she’d have pushed it before taking that call.

Fines for not complying will keep increasing, making a driverless car system—either built-in or aftermarket— seem cheap in comparison. The aftermarket devices will become so small as to be unnoticeable. What will stop companies from offering ad-supported ones? “Saving $20 on groceries this week will only take 9 minutes, Ms. Greer. Would you like me to set a route?”

Autonomous vehicles could allow us to:

  • – Safely accept phone calls
  • – Safely interact with passengers
  • – Safely navigate through stressful or dangerous driving conditions
  • – Appoint an adult bus monitor instead of driver, making the now-autonomous school bus safer
  • – Drive your drunk ass home
  • – Travel more quickly on highways (what government would argue against higher speeds if they were sure crashing wasn’t possible. Yes, your car will drive faster than you.)
  • – Substantially reduce insurance premiums
  • – Substantially improve pedestrian and cyclist safety
  • – Substantially improve fleet-wide fuel economy
  • – Revolutionize semi-public transit, like airport shuttles and taxis
  • – Send our vehicles for service while we’re at work
  • – Offer incentives to shop in certain stores, or drive in certain places
  • …and many, many other things.

Roads were humanity’s last great analog system, until of course we started mapping things digitally. GPS and Google Streetview for our system of roads. Radar, specialized cameras, sensors for vehicles themselves. The vehicles are irrelevant—at the point machines move for themselves, does it matter if it’s a cement truck or smart fortwo? Does it matter if the data required to move a machine comes from a satellite or the car in front?

Once machines can read the road surface, signs, and conditions accurately (and reliably), these systems will flourish, and the vast majority of motorists will benefit.

Don’t like it? Don’t speed. Don’t use your cell phone. Drive more smoothly. Don’t crash. And tell millions of others the same. Then keep it up for the foreseeable future.

A future where driver-less cars outnumber driver-with cars isn’t crazy. It’s certainty, certainly if drivers keep breaking the rules. Statistics proving how bad we are at driving will allow the technology a foothold, and a few machine generations will work out most problems.

Advertising will take care of the rest.

What, did you think for a moment that companies would allow one of our last, great freedoms—driving—to remain free from monetization forever? “Driving” will become “moving people around.”

If you’re in doubt, take a few minutes and read US Patent #8630897. Search for “Autonomous.”

*As defined by our road laws—if you don’t like them, change them! (Ha.)

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Exclusive: Google Cars Is Dead Mon, 27 Jan 2014 23:00:43 +0000 jsw

TTAC has learned that Google is shutting down its car shopping service, which existed only in beta form for San Francisco Bay Area shoppers. Visitors to the site have received a message stating

“The Google San Francisco Bay Area car search beta program has been discontinued as we focus on building the next version of our experience for car-related searches. Stay tuned for more news!”

Google previously tweaked their new car search in late 2013, allowing users to see results on the main search page. TTAC had previously touted Google Cars as a potentially disruptive car shopping tool, though dealers apparently had some reservations about the way their inventory and pricing was displayed (namely a lack of differentiation among different stores), as well as the higher cost of leads.

One can only wonder what’s next for Google.

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GPS Tracking: Catch This Fly With Honey Tue, 14 Jan 2014 21:22:19 +0000 Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Last week, Ford’s Global VP of Marketing and Sales, Jim Farley, told a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that Ford has access to data on its customers’ driving habits via the GPS system installed in their cars. “We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone,” he said. The next day Mr. Farley adjusted his statement to avoid giving the wrong impression saying that the statement was hypothetical and that Ford does not routinely collect information on, or otherwise track, drivers through their GPS systems without those drivers’ consent and approval. That approval comes from turning on and opting into specific services like 911 Assist and something called Sync Services Directions, a system that links the GPS system to users’ cellular phones. So that’s that, right?

I’m going to say right here that I believe Ford when they say they aren’t collecting information on individual drivers because, if you think about it, they really don’t need the level of detail that sort of tracking can provide. It matters little to Ford whether or not you like to run 5 MPH over the speed limit on your morning commute or just how often you go to the gym so it seems unlikely that they would seek to collect that kind of data. No, I think that, just as Mr. Farley speculated in the comments that followed his initial revelation, they really are interested in the big picture issues, the kind of data that urban planners may want or even the sale of bulk data to other marketers, say a retailer trying to determine the best place to open a new store.

Of course, what’s true about the Ford Motor Company may not be true of others. The Federal government, for example, may want to track the movements of certain people and state and local governments may want to link into that data stream to determine whether or not people are obeying traffic regulations. Right or wrong, necessary or not, the government using your cars’ onboard computers to keep tabs on you is something that will continue to evolve in the years to come, but it the actual topic I wanted to discuss today wasn’t government intrusion into our lives, it was where I think this is really headed – a new form of advertising.

Years ago I read a factoid that said when most Americans have the opportunity to opt out of junk mail, things like advertising brochures and store catalogs, we actually sign up for more. I think that’s as true today as it was back then. We don’t like intrusive forms of advertising like phone calls during the dinner hour and pop-up ads in our browsers, but generally speaking the average American doesn’t mind things like targeted ads that appear off to the side or above a website’s banner. These things are, we know, a necessary evil, the price we pay for free content. After all, someone has to pay the bills in order to keep a website running and targeted ads based on my browsing history are an effective way of getting me to see a product I might actually buy. I’m OK with that. If I read an article about a mini-van and, as a result, get links to companies that sell mini-vans, that’s actually helpful.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior, Infotainment, Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

So why aren’t these things happening with our GPS units? If I frequent hamburger joints, then sponsored content might actually get me to try some place new, right? If I search for an auto parts store, why not do what Google Maps already does on my home computer and put sponsored links on top and then others down below? It’s the way the yellow pages used to work and so long as I get all the information I need then I’m willing to look at your sponsored content. Of course, I want something in return, maybe a free GPS head unit or a free satellite radio subscription, but if you make it worth my while and it could be a win-win situation.

I’m serious! It’s how the free market works and I, along with a great many others I am sure, don’t mind the intrusion as long as you make it worth my while. All that other “big brother” stuff is going to get sorted out eventually and I am firmly in the camp that believes that, since I’m not doing anything wrong, someone looking over my shoulder doesn’t hurt me at all. Give me something for free while avoiding pop-ups and you can track me all you want. In fact, I’ll be the first in line to subscribe and I’m sure that tens of millions of Americans will be right behind me. Bring on that better, brighter future.

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

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Scrambling the Politics of Mass Transit in San Francisco Mon, 23 Dec 2013 11:00:22 +0000 googlebus

Image from Twitter @craigsfrost

Positively or negatively, mass transit is often viewed as a social leveler. Rich and poor alike ride the subway in New York, London and Berlin. Atlantans of all economic and social backgrounds make use of MARTA’s facilities, as they do in many other American cities where public transit is the most efficient way of navigating the inner cities. Of course, these are public systems, funded by fares and taxpayer money.


They fulfill the transportation needs of a wide segment of the population, and they generally give the same level of service regardless of income or status. In areas that aren’t as densely urbanized as the aforementioned examples and where car ownership for city dwellers is a more practical proposition, mass transit usage tends to skew towards a less affluent demographic. As a political football, mass transit can thus be kicked in many directions depending on ideological necessity. However, the underlying assumption for either end of the political spectrum remains the same: mass transit is an equalizer. But what happens when this typical political equation is turned on its head? Could riding the bus be considered a show of affluence instead of equality or penury? Protestors in the San Francisco bay area seem to think so.

On December 20th, demonstrators blocked the paths of two private buses (operated by tech firms Google and Apple) in a protest action. In Oakland and in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, protestors held up the buses when they stopped to collect employees. This was the second such action in two weeks. Previous protests were peaceful, but in Oakland things got ugly. The Google bus had a window broken and tires slashed; protestors dispersed after police were called, with no arrests or citations issued. Before they left, protestors harangued bus riders and handed out copies of this supremely classy flyer. Many of the largest tech firms with headquarters in the area run private bus lines that ferry workers from the city to the suburbs. This sort of anti-Levittown arrangement has led to simmering tensions between employees of the tech giants and other city residents.

So what’s driving these protests? In a word, gentrification. The expansion of tech firms on the city’s outskirts and general economic recovery since the Great Recession has driven up rents enormously within the city. The median rental rate for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is now almost $2800 a month, a 27% increase since 2011. Protestors blame new arrivals to the city for skyrocketing rents, a new wave of evictions, and overall social unrest. They claim that Google, Apple, and other tech companies are turning older neighborhoods into bedroom communities for their employees. This is done, they say, with little regard for the impact on long-term residents, many of whom live in rent-controlled apartments. The bus services are the most obvious manifestation of this trend, and have thus become a target for protestors.

Tech companies offer shuttle service between the city and their suburban campuses as an employment perk. These unregulated private buses often use public stops to pick up and drop off employees, without paying anything to city. This has generated complaints about congestion and obstruction of public buses. Some metro San Francisco buses have been forced to stop short or to let passengers off in the middle of the street, undoubtedly an irritating circumstance. The city is currently in negotiations with Google and other tech companies to institute a fee system for use of public stops, and to prevent congestion. But it’s clear that frustration with the situation has already transcended bureaucratic dialogue.

One can sympathize with the concerns of protestors about the upheaval in established neighborhoods and the misuse of public facilities. Forking over the better part of three grand a month for a one-bedroom apartment seems insane anywhere outside of Manhattan or Tokyo. But attacking the workers responsible for a city’s economic renaissance is surely a self-defeating strategy. New construction may help alleviate housing pressures, as thousands of city apartments are scheduled to become available within the next several years. Until then, the city’s longtime residents and the architects of the new tech boom will have to learn to live with each other. In this case, riding the bus divides citizens rather than uniting them.

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Google’s New Car Search Makes Shopping Easier Thu, 05 Dec 2013 12:57:27 +0000 jaguar f-type - Google Search

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

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

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

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


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Google Glass Wearer to Fight Citation For Wearing Google Glass Fri, 01 Nov 2013 16:15:42 +0000 google-glass

Texting. Cellphones. Entertainment systems. All of these have been regulated in order to diminish distracted driving as much as possible. Google Glass may now be added to that list, courtesy of the California Highway Patrol via a speeding ticket that became more upon closer inspection.

Tuesday evening, one Cecilia Abadie was pulled over by the CHP for doing 80 in a 65 on her way back to her home in Temecula. At that moment in time, she also was wearing her pair of Google Glass. The high-tech eyewear goes for $1,500, is currently limited to beta testers willing to go through the appropriate hoops and pay the fee, and can be used in the same manner as a Nexus 5 or iPhone 5S — without having to pick up the phone.

The officer saw the silly looking fashion statement, and issued her a citation for committing a misdemeanor against style. No. Actually, the citation was for distracted driving, though Abadie claims the Google Glass was not active at time of the additional citation due to concerns over remaining battery power.

As such, Abadie has decided to fight the tacked-on citation, with plenty of attorneys ready to help thanks to the publicity generated from the first reports cluttering the scrolling news feeds of CNN, FOX News et al.

“The law is not clear, the laws are very outdated,” she said, believing that the minimalist tech could prove to be a solution to the cellphone conundrum instead of being a problem unto itself. That said, there are a few detractors for Abadie, including CHP officer Marc Hale and University of Utah Center for the Prevention of Distracted Driving director David Strayer, both of whom state that Google Glass and other technologies like it can still “divert attention from the roadway,” making driving more dangerous.

Legislatures in Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia have introduced bills that would ban the use of Google Glass while driving; Google, for its part, instructs its testers to heed the law:

Read up and follow the law. Above all, even when you’re following the law, don’t hurt yourself or others by failing to pay attention to the road.

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Japan’s Aging Population Boosting Demand For Autonomous Cars Tue, 22 Oct 2013 16:08:09 +0000 Nissan Autnomous Drive Leaf


Propelled by the fastest-aging nation in the world, there may soon come a day when senior motorists will find themselves behind the wheel (or lack thereof) of a fully autonomous car.

According to Bloomberg, Japan’s aging population is spurring innovations in autonomous car technology based on a sobering statistic: 51 percent of traffic fatalities in the graying country come from drivers aged 65 and over, with no signs of slowing at the present as more motorists enter their golden and twilight years each passing day; by 2060, 40 percent of Japan’s population will be 65 and over.

Thus, a number of automakers — including Toyota, Nissan and General Motors — are doing all they can to introduce technologies that could, by 2020 at the earliest, lead to the first autonomous cars ready for sale.

What could this bring to senior motorists in Japan, the United States, and other graying nations down the road? Freedom, if Google’s Anthony Levandowski, one of the project leaders for the company’s own autonomous car project, has anything to say about it:

This technology restores the freedom that people can’t see. This system will drive old people to see their grandkids and see doctors.

While Levandowski and other autonomous evangelists spread their gospel throughout the industry, detractors such as BMW’s Klaus Kompass caution against having too much optimism about this brave new world, which he expects won’t appear before 2025:

We are always talking about, ’80 percent or 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error.’ Nobody is talking, surprisingly, about all the accidents that human drivers have avoided.

Back in Japan, however, at least one researcher hopes for the best, at least when it comes to his country’s graying road warriors:

“Zero fatalities is definitely a feasible target,” according to Kazunoba Nagaoka of the Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis. “I would expect we can realize that by 2035.”

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Countdown 2014: National Rollout Of Google Cars Has Dealers Lining Up Mon, 18 Mar 2013 14:14:57 +0000

Google is planning a national roll out of their new car shopping service sometime in early 2014, and dealers are preparing themselves – with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Automotive News quotes one internet manager for a mid-western dealer lamenting the loss of site traffic for his stores. As much as 66 percent of dealer website traffic comes from Google itself, but that number could plummet once Google Cars is online across America.

On the other hand, dealers such as the Fladeboe Automotive Group, which operates 4 stores in Orange County, are being proactive in approaching Google, even though Google’s auction process for leads will likely be more expensive than other lead generation services. Google’s advantages, such as an immensely strong brand, a simple and easy-to-use shopping tool and the ability to place itself as the first result on any given search page will help ensure a solid footing for the service. And while Google Cars has a similar mission to TrueCar, Google’s enormous resources could prevent it from facing the same kind of meltdown and reinvention that forced TrueCar’s hand in their war against the OEMs.

Ironically, the big losers in any Google Cars victory could likely be automotive journalists themselves. Many “content sites” that make up the bulk of online automotive journalism are simply arms of car sales sites like Kelly Blue Book and Edmunds. If revenues fall dramatically, editorial budgets are often the first to go. Google Cars will notably stay out of the content game, since Google’s primary strength is aggregating everyone else’s content. Forget the new car sales race amongst brands – this will be the competition to watch over the next 18 months. Especially if NADA gets involved.

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Analysis: Google Cars Gets Ready To Retail Rumble Wed, 06 Mar 2013 07:25:38 +0000

Google’s autonomous car program tends to get the lion’s share of attention when discussing the tech giant’s auto initiatives. But lurking in the background is a more immediate project that has the potential to finally “disrupt” (as Silicon Valley types are so fond of saying) online automotive sales.

The last party to attempt such a feat was TrueCar, an innovative and well-intentioned company that ultimately ran afoul of dealers, regulators and the OEMs. TrueCar was forced to pull itself back from the brink and re-invent itself as a more dealer-friendly company, a process painstakingly documented by Ed and Bertel before I ever appeared on the masthead.

What TrueCar did was distort the information asymmetry that car dealers rely on to make money. TrueCar was able to provide data on everything from dealer invoice to transaction prices and allowed dealers to compete with one another for a sale – a major taboo in the world of car sales.

Now, Google is rolling out a service, the imaginatively named Google Cars, beyond its initial Bay Area test market. Consumers will be able to log onto Google Cars and use the handy one-stop filter box (rather than clicking through various menus and sub-menus to boost a given site’s pageview count) and get inventory, pricing and retailer information for the exact car they’re looking for, down to the color. With 66 percent of dealer website visits arriving from Google, it only makes sense for the tech giant to try and capture some of that value. Under the Google program, users can shop for their cars via the first page of any given Google search. Google will get a minimum of $10 per lead, which is determined by a bidding system. One California Toyota dealer told Automotive News that he was paying $22 per car and $26 per truck or crossover, slightly more than the $20 paid to competing services.

Reviews have been mixed, according to AN. Some dealers like the flexibility of bidding for leads, while others expressed frustration that potential customers can contact dealers anonymously (via disposable phone numbers or email accounts, which expire after a set number of unanswered calls or emails), which they say diminishes the effectiveness of the leads.

Regardless of the potential issues, Google Cars cannot be ignored. Google’s massive size and resources will allow it to be far more aggressive than TrueCar ever was when interacting with dealers and OEMs. Regulators may be a thorn in Google’s side (never underestimate the lobbying power of NADA and other dealer bodies), but again, it has the resources to put up a proper fight against the usually dominant entities.

On a smaller scale, Google Cars is likely to cause a lot of headaches for the established players in the online auto retail spaces. Current juggernauts like Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, and even TrueCar are all threatened by Google Cars, thanks to the strength of the Google brand and most of all, the superior user experience. Once consumers know that they can access a high-quality car shopping tool without ever leaving Google and have the benefit of Craigslist-style anonymity it will be a tough sell for the other sites to get their customers back. About the only criticism levied at Google Cars in this area is the lack of content, like car reviews and automotive news. But Google has never been a content company and they are wise in avoiding this space. Better to aggregate the near-infinite amount of automotive content (aggregation is one of Google’s strengths, after all) that will likely be consumed by dedicated auto enthusiasts rather than consumers. A successful Google Cars could also cause indigestion further down the on-line food chain, at sites that live mostly off selling leads, and who dress-up the lead generation with content, which all too often is not their own.

Aside from the millions it should generate for Google, the car shopping tool is yet another way for them to collect data on consumer purchases. In this case, Google will amass significant personal information relating to what is likely the second largest purchase of one’s life, data that goes beyond whether you like a tan interior or a manual transmission. Google already can sense purchase intent from your browsing data, actively perusing a shopping service would confirm this intent. Yes, it’s ironic considering that Google subscribes to the idea that “information wants to be free“, but there’s a reason behind the internet adage “if you’re not paying for it, you are the product”.

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Driverless Car Gets Driver’s License Tue, 08 May 2012 11:05:08 +0000

Google received the first license the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles to test driverless cars. The Las Vegas Sun believes this is the first such license issued in the country. Does that mean that driverless cars will roam Nevada? Not exactly.

State regulations require a person behind the wheel and one in the passenger’s seat during tests, says the Las Vegas paper. Google’s test fleet has a distinctive bias towards imports: six Toyota Priuses, an Audi TT and a Lexus RX450h.

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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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Wild Ass Rumor Of The Day: GM And Google Discussing Onstar-Android Tie-Up Wed, 12 May 2010 22:47:01 +0000
The Wall Street Journal [sub] reports that GM and Google are discussing new ways to connect the internet giant’s Android mobile phone operating system with GM’s Onstar system. OnStar’s president Chris Preuss has hinted that “big news” is coming next week, spurring speculation about the features that a partnership with Google could yield for Onstar. If such a plan is in the works, GM’s timing is quite good. Ford had previously enjoyed an exclusive license to Microsoft’s technology which underpins its Sync system, but that agreement recently expired, prompting deals between Microsoft and automakers like Fiat and-Hyundai-Kia. By becoming the first US-market OEM to partner with Google, GM could enjoy an advantage in Detroit’s burgeoning technology wars… at least until distracted driving becomes a capital crime.

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As Google Evacuates China, SAIC Launches Google Android Powered Car Sun, 21 Mar 2010 13:57:43 +0000

Talk about unfortunate timing of a product launch: Just as Google is getting ready to pack up and leave China, SAIC is making last preparations to launch their Google Android powered homegrown luxo-barge Roewe 350 at Beijing’s Auto Show (April 25 -May 2, 2010, I’ll be there.) The Rover Roewe will be added to the growing list of Google Android-based devices just as the spat between Google and China is turning into a full-fledged brawl.

According to ZD-Net, the Android platform will help the Roewe 350 “keep drivers and passengers connected to the web while on the open road.” The DVD and GPS system will be running the most recent OS release: Android 2.1. ZD-Net says “amenities include direct web access and real-time traffic reports. The system also provides access to chat applications.” (Don’t tell LaHood. He could start at trade war over driver distraction in China.)  Chinese drivers will be protected from the distractions of Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Blogspot and more, as these sites are blocked in China anyway.

How the car will connect to the Internet is not clear yet. There is conventional GSM in China, which doesn’t have the bandwidth. Then there are two competing 3G standards. One, used by China Unicom, is compatible with worldwide UMTS standards, the other is a homegrown system that is used by the world’s largest mobile phone provider, China Mobile (527.398 subscribers as of January 2010.)

Google had planned to launch its Android phone in China in January with China Unicom, but delayed the launch over the row between Google and the Chinese government. The silence over RoeweÄs  network provider probably has a reason.

Government-owned China Daily reported yesterday that “Google will close its business in China next month and may announce its plans in the coming days.” The move appears to be definite.

A Google-obituary already appeared in China Daily, saying that “Google’s relations with the US government cannot be deeper. US media has said Google was the fourth-largest supporter of Barack Obama in his election campaign.”

Today, China’s state-owned news agency Xinhua launched a defiant op-ed missile in the direction of Mountain View: “Whether Google leaves or not, the Chinese government will keep its Internet regulation principles unchanged.”

There probably is a lot of head-scratching at government-owned SAIC over the choice of the Android platform. But there is no going back. According to China Car Times, production of the Roewe 350 has already started on March 17, including the gadgetry based on “the 2.1 Android operating system, which is the same as what you will find in Google’s latest Nexus handset.” If the Chinese will ever find the handset in China. In Hong Kong, the phone is available.

There are a lot of people who are convinced that a ghost lurks in the machine of the Toyota cars. Now imagine the magnitude of the fall-out if Google evacuates China, leaving Google-powered orphaned Roewes behind. Then, a Roewe 350 smashes into a group of bicyclists …

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What’s Wrong With Tesla? How Much Time Do You Have? Fri, 05 Feb 2010 15:25:11 +0000

I’ve been warned before by the B&B not to read too much into the forward-looking statements in SEC filings, especially the ones where companies ruminate over all the things that could still go wrong with their struggling firms. These legal disclosures of worst-case-scenarios often reflect unlikely scenarios and can be downright misleading, so we held off from diving too deep into Tesla’s IPO S-1 filing [complete document here]. Others around the web have jumped in without compunction, and this week has yielded a steady drip of troubling revelations. It’s a wild and woolly collection of issues, but given that people are going to be asked to invest in this nightmare of a company, it’s only fair that we give the grievances an airing.

One serious issue hidden in the forced doom-contemplation exercise is this one, uncovered by Wired Autopia: Tesla doesn’t own the name Tesla in Europe. It has two trademark filings pending, but these

are subject to outstanding opposition proceedings brought by two prior owners of trademarks consisting of the word Tesla

Egads! How did that one slip by Tesla’s leadership? Speaking of which, another worrying issue is the fact that Tesla can’t dump its chief egomaniac officer, Elon Musk, before the Model S goes into production. Wired Autopia teased this nugget out of the S-1 filing, and strangely, it seems that keeping Musk is a condition of Tesla’s DOE loan. Per the S-1:

Our DOE Loan Facility provides that we will be in default under the facility in the event Mr. Musk and certain of his affiliates fail to own, at any time prior to one year after we complete the project relating to the Model S, at least 65% of the capital stock held by Mr. Musk and such affiliates as of the date of the DOE Loan Facility.

This is mainly troubling in the sense that the S-1 reveals Musk “does not devote his full time and attention” to Tesla, a wholly unsurprising disclosure in light of Musk’s other ventures like private space firm start-up Space X. Musk’s history of Nixonian tendencies doesn’t make a strong case for lashing him to the wheel either.

Meanwhile, Wired dug up another interesting bit: Daimler, which invested $50m into Tesla requires Musk to stay in charge until the Model S rolls out, or the end of 2012, whichever comes first (bets, anyone?). Moreover, Daimler’s investment fund Blackstar enjoys

a right of notice on any acquisition proposal we receive for which we determine to engage in further discussions with a potential acquiror or otherwise pursue. Blackstar then has a right, within a specified time period, to submit a competing acquisition proposal.

And yet, Gawker’s Valleywag suggests that Google could be moving to rescue Tesla through some convoluted financial manouvering. This would be the final nail in Tesla’s coffin, proving once and for all that it’s a Silicon Valley toy company (the alleged Google front is also investing in a zeppelin company) rather than the world-changing automaker Musk has thus far touted it as.

A Google-backed buyer is possible in the sense that Daimler is developing its own battery thermal management system and has other, bigger irons in the battery-supplier fire. Besides, Tesla’s deal was only to supply drivetrain components for an EV version of the dead-in-the-water Smart. In short, the only OEM to touch Tesla with a 50-foot pole has largely moved on. Meanwhile, BMW is showing Daimler how the EV-development game is played, getting overenthusiastic early-adopters to shell out $850 per month for the right to be guinea pigs for its MINI E development. Not only is this a smarter model than investing in start-ups like Tesla, it also soaks up the rather limited EV-at-any-price demand that might otherwise spend their money at Tesla.

All in all, the signs don’t look good.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Clunker Crunch Edition Mon, 07 Dec 2009 14:55:30 +0000 Kaboom! (

From the Calculated Risk Blog comes this manifestation of the cash-for-clunker boom, as measured by Google’s auto buyer index. Because of seasonal downturn, it seems that pull-forward may not have been as devastating as was once thought. But will next January see the usual post-holiday recovery again?

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