The Truth About Cars » infotainment The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 18:21:49 +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 » infotainment Crazy Ads & Car Stereos: How Earl “Madman” Muntz Changed Car (and American) Culture Sun, 16 Mar 2014 14:00:47 +0000 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


Not only did Muntz lose money on his car venture, by the mid 1950s with color television about to hit the market and with major television set manufacturers selling more expensive console models, sales of the inexpensive black and white Muntz sets plunged. Once worth millions, Muntz’s stock in his television company was sold for just $200,000.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Ever the tinkerer, through his connection to the radio industry, Muntz had become aware of the Fidelipac 3-track recording tape cartridges used by radio stations for commercials and jingles. The developers of Fidelipac had figured out a way to pull tape off the outside of a spool and then feed it back into the center of the spool, creating an endless loop. You couldn’t reverse and fast forward was iffy, but Muntz could put an entire Long Playing 33 RPM album on one cartridge. Adapting the design and adding a fourth track so it could play in stereo, in 1962 Muntz opened up the Muntz Stereo factory in Van Nuys, California, he made some licensing deals with record companies and started selling Stereo Pak prerecorded cartridges and players. In time Muntz licensed others to make 4 track players for both home and car applications. Stockholders in Muntz Stereo included Bill Cosby, Jerry Colonna, Sammy Davis, Jr., Robert Culp, Joey Bishop, Frank Sinatra and Rudy Vallee.

The Stereo Pak was a huge hit. Customers lined up for blocks outside the Muntz factory store to get players installed in their cars. While today it’s cool to snark about eight track players in TransAms driven by guys with mullets wearing wifebeaters, in an era of $5,500 audiophile branded factory installed car stereo systems that indeed rival some very good home audio systems, it’s hard to imagine the impact tape cartridge players for cars had. For the first time the masses could have more than just an AM radio playing through one tinny sounding small speaker in the middle of the dashboard (musical trivia: Barry Gordy and the other producers at Motown’s Hitsville USA studio did their final mixes using a cheap car speaker as the monitor because that’s the way most people would end up hearing the music – oh and those late 1950s and early 1960s AM car radios used pretty sophisticated tube circuits and actually had good audio quality, even if they did take a mile or two to warm up and were played through crappy paper cone drivers).

It wasn’t just the sound quality. Perhaps even more important was the use of portable media – you could now play your choice of music in your car and not just what some disc jockey or Top 40 radio station program director chose. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but soon after tape cartridge players for cars started proliferating, so did so-called “freeform”, playlist-free FM radio stations. In addition to reflecting what was going on in the music industry in the 1960s, “underground FM” stations playing a broader variety of music, including longer cuts and extended jams may also have been the radio industry’s response to what Muntz had wrought.

Muntz’s invention of the Stereo Pak 4 track cartridge and player was a landmark event in what we call in-car infotainment today. Before then the only choice you had to play music in your car was either the radio or the completely inadequate Highway HiFi vinyl record players that offered limited content and skipped badly when going over bumps. While some automakers did offer stereo on vehicles equipped with AM-FM radios, the only place you’d find them would be in expensive Cadillacs and Lincolns. With the Stereo Pak 4 track players, for the first time drivers could have stereo audio in their cars, playing music of their choice, at an affordable price.


Muntz Stereo Pak 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.



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.


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.


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 ]]> 33
Apple to Show iOS in the Car at Geneva … in a Ferrari Sun, 02 Mar 2014 16:49:11 +0000 Ferrari Apple iOS

According to Brand Finance and other business experts, Ferrari- not Apple- is the world’s strongest brand. Apple, however, are no dummies- and they’ve decided to hitch their “iOS in the Car” wagon to Ferrari’s ever-rising star when both companies step out onto the stage at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show and show off Apple’s in-car operating system … in the new, production-ready LaFerrari hybrid super car and the new for 2014 Ferrari California T.

Apple and Ferrari first announced their collaboration almost a year ago, after last year’s Geneva show. It makes perfect sense, then, that the first fruits of their labor should appear now, on the largest automotive stage in the world … and not too long after Ford hilariously announced that it would be integrating- *snerk!* a version of Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS into its own cars.

Further evidence for the upcoming announcement comes in the person of Eddy Cue. Eddy’s the vice president of Internet Software and Services at Apple, likely one of the people most involved with iOS in the Car, and just so happens to have been named to the Ferrari’s board of directors last November, making the Ferrari/Apple connection that much more obvious.

SO, while we wait for the official announcement to happen at Geneva, let’s take a look at the highly visible Ferraris that are expected to carry the new Apple iOS in the Car system, below. Just, you know, don’t expect Siri to be any good.


Apple iOS in the Car / Ferrari California T

Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari California Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari California Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari California Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari California


Apple iOS in the Car / Ferrari LaFerrari

Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari LaFerrari Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari LaFerrari Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari LaFerrari Apple iOS in a Car + Ferrari LaFerrari

Originally published on Gas 2.

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Law Firm Proposes Class Action Suit Over MyFordTouch Wed, 17 Jul 2013 11:30:34 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

A proposed consumer protection class action lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District court in California over the MyFordTouch (and similar systems in Lincoln and Mercury vehicles) system.

The filing alleges that the system often freezes, won’t respond voice or even touch commands and won’t reliably connect to cellphones. Issues with the rear view camera, the nav system and HVAC controls are also cited. The filing was announced in a press release from the Hagens Berman law firm. It doesn’t say so in the press release, but it is presumed that they are seeking certification as a class with standing to sue. Lawyers and others among the Best & Brightest are welcome to add your informed opinions in the comments below.




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MyFord Touch Doesn’t Need Buttons Wed, 19 Jun 2013 15:16:31 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 10.34.18 AM

I’m slow to embrace technology. When people say this in modern times, it usually means that they only have 274 iPhone apps and they’re still stuck using the iPad 3. But when I say it, I mean that, sitting on my desk as I write this, is an actual bill, being paid with an actual check, in an actual envelope with an actual stamp.

Undoubtedly, many of you are sitting there in awe. At this point, you’ve already decided to share this article with your friends, which probably involves Tweeting it on Spotify or possibly Pinteresting it on Google Plus. But I’m not entirely sure what any of these things are, largely because much of my online correspondence is done through – gasp! – Yahoo Mail.

By now, you’re howling at my stupidity as you simultaneously wonder: What the hell does this have to do with cars? Fortunately, the answer is: a lot.

You see, I recently had three press cars in a row that were equipped with MyFord Touch. For those of you even more behind the times than me, MyFord Touch is an in-car infotainment system that the automotive press is hailing as the actual spawn of Satan. For proof, these are a few excerpts from magazine articles on the subject:

• “MyFord Touch is like cutting your eyeballs with a razor blade, only obviously much worse.” – Motor Trend

• “MyFord Touch is almost as awful as those people who pay bills with checks.” – Popular Mechanics

• “One night, when the Explorer was parked in my driveway, MyFord Touch got out of the car and bit the head off our neighbor’s cat.” – Car & Driver

• “Ladies and gentlemen: we have a new leader.” – Spawn of Satan Monthly

So we all agree MyFord Touch is awful. In fact, I was sort of expecting President Obama to tell Charlie Rose that it’s really MyFord Touch, not the NSA, that’s responsible for all this spying. The press would’ve accepted this verbatim and we could all return to our normal lives, which apparently involve conversing with our friends and the occasional NSA agent.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think MyFord Touch is so bad. Yes, folks: someone whose most-used iPhone app is the calculator finds MyFord Touch to be logical, simple, and responsive. In fact, I’ve now tried MyFord Touch three times, in three different cars, over several weeks, and I’ve discovered that I even like the little sound it makes when you click something.

But as an unemployed writer who subsists on Cheetos, I don’t think Ford is particularly interested in my opinion. And so, after years of angry criticism, they will soon add knobs and buttons back to MyFord Touch, making it easier to use and less distracting. This upsets me, largely because I had just figured out how to use it.

There’s also an entirely different reason it upsets me: Tesla.

Tesla, as you might know, currently uses a screen that is roughly the size of a Bloomberg Terminal, and approximately as complicated. I know this because I am an expert on the Model S, having seen several in traffic.

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 10.35.12 AM

The Model S’s screen is actually considerably worse than Ford’s, because it incorporates every single vehicle function and also the Internet. Even on the MyFordTouchiest Fords, there were still a few controls on the center stack, and by God the Internet was nowhere to be found. But in the Model S, you can’t change even the radio preset without going to the screen, which is annoying because it means you must minimize the porn you’re watching.

But here’s the interesting part: no one bitches about Tesla’s screen. Actually, it’s even worse than that. Our friends at Consumer Reports, who somehow found the time to stop rolling over the Isuzu Trooper to test MyFord Touch, derided the system as being “too much like a computer,” noting that “it works OK statically, but when you’re driving it diverts too much attention away from the road.” They later went on to say “we wouldn’t recommend dealing with the frustrations of MyFord Touch on a daily basis even to an adversary.”

This is all well and good, and it reeks highly of the sort of folks who pay their bills by mail, so I’m in support. But less than six months later, the very same people called the Tesla Model S – home of the screen that was deemed too large to serve as the jumbotron at American Airlines Arena – the “best car ever.” They gave it a 99 out of 100, noting that its only flaw – a one-pointer – was the center-mounted touchscreen. The center-mounted touchscreen that’s half the size of the one they wouldn’t wish on their adversary when it’s mounted in a Ford.

So my question is: how the hell does Tesla get away with it when Ford so clearly can’t? Are Tesla owners simply better equipped to deal with the rigors of operating such a system? Given that many of them are coming out of BMWs, I find that hard to believe.

No, I think it’s that we expect our futuristic Teslas to come with an enormous screen, while we want our good ol’ Fords with good ol’ American buttons. And to that, I must say: come on, people. Get with the times. Now, I have to go mail my bills and buy a CD.

@DougDeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Ford Revamping MyFord Touch, Adding Buttons Mon, 17 Jun 2013 16:16:29 +0000 Limited_Touch_Close-550x361

Big news out of Dearborn; the Blue Oval will be adding buttons to its MyFord Touch infotainment system, but they won’t be getting rid of the maligned touchscreen system entirely.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Ford will be adding more buttons and knobs as vehicles get refreshed or redesigned, and move away from the near-exclusively touchscreen based interface. While Ford claims that consumers are overwhelmingly happy with the system, the automotive press has been resoundingly negative.

While MFT has improved in the years since it was introduced, it’s far from perfect. Ford has also been forced to add a full suite of tactile controls on versions of the F-Series pickup, as customers wearing work gloves were unable to use the touchscreen controls.

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Apple announces “iOS in the Car” Mon, 10 Jun 2013 21:45:19 +0000 Apple Maps displaying in a car

Apple just announced a bunch of new stuff today as part of their annual developers conference. Most TTAC readers don’t really care that iOS7 is ditching the old skeuomorphic look (fake brushed metal, fake leather, etc.) for a flat design that is damn near identical to what Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows 8 have been doing. However, they’ll care about this.

Apple has announced “iOS in the Car” (TheVerge has a summary; see also Cnet, Engadget, Gizmodo). Apple didn’t say much, beyond a a few pretty screenshots and a list of car manufacturers who will support this in 2014. We don’t know if this will be an Apple-proprietary protocol or if it will be an open standard that Android and other phones can use. Regardless, we can expect non-Apple phones to be hacked in one way or another to work with this, assuming they’re willing to do battle with Apple’s patent portfolio.

This is a big deal. For the first time, we have car manufacturers conceding a significant part of the driver’s user experience to a device or company outside of their control. For example, if you buy the most alpha nerd car available today, a Tesla Model S with its monstrous 17″ touch screen, you have well-integrated Tesla-skinned Slacker and TuneIn Internet radio, complete with a secondary display of the current song next to your speedometer. Would you prefer Pandora or Google Music? Sorry, you’ll have to stream that through your phone, which won’t be anywhere near the same slick experience. In Apple’s new world order, your car is an accessory to your phone, which is exactly the way it should be. Many people replace their phones every time their two year contract comes up for renewal and some replace it even more often. Conversely, most any modern car should handily last ten years or more with the right tender loving care. You can go through five generations of phones in the same time that you go through a single car. Your phone keeps getting better and your car (generally speaking) doesn’t. Furthermore, as I go from my personal car to a rental car to whatever else (a taxi?), I get to take “my” navigation system and “my” music along for the ride, rather than learning my way around yet another car manufacturer’s dial that spins, clicks, slides, and otherwise goes out of its way to annoy the driver.

I’d previously been skeptical that something like this would ever come to pass. Why would a car manufacturer willingly allow themselves to be commoditized like this? Why would they willingly give up the chance to upsell their customers on monthly service charges? In the new world order, a third-party app installed on your phone could use the built-in accelerometer and GPS to figure out that you decelerated in a big hurry and probably had an accident, just like GM OnStar and other such manufacturer-provided subscription services do. Would you rather have that service attached to your car or to your phone? I’d vote for the phone, since it would be with me regardless of what car I happened to be in.

If I were king for a day, I’d not only push for the phone/car video interface to be standardized, but I’d also push for the car to provide specific sensors and data to the phone. For example, the car might feed your phone telemetry data (wheel angle, speedometer, tachometer, etc.), which can aid a navigation system that temporarily looses contact with the GPS satellites, or give you great feedback on your hot track laps. They might even consider providing deeper manufacturer-specific hooks to allow for over-the-air software updates. At that point, some interesting security threats rear their ugly heads, since the phone needs to be treated as a potentially hostile component within the otherwise-friendly world of the in-car network. Still, color me excited. I’ve wanted this for a long time.


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Chrysler Adding Microsoft-Based Infotainment System To UConnect Range Mon, 27 May 2013 14:55:07 +0000 chrysler-uconnect-access-ram-1500

The UConnect system used on everything from Jeep Grand Cherokee to the Dodge Dart to the Chrysler 300, is one of the better infotainment systems on the market. But the 8.4 inch screen is getting a companion with a smaller 5-inch screen, that will run on an entirely different operating system.

Dubbed UConnect 5.0, the Microsoft-based system system uses a 5 inch screen that can support multiple devices like tablets and media players. Like UConnect, it will also support navigation, but it will use a TomTom system rather than the Garmin software used in the larger UConnect.

The smaller UConnect has been installed on the Fiat 500L in Europe since last year, but Automotive News reports that it will now be installed on lower trim levels of the Ram 1500. Microsoft is claiming that further vehicles will receive the system, but Chrysler has declined to comment on the matter. Having enjoyed largely positive press regarding UConnect, Chrysler could be putting itself in a tough spot if the Micrsoft based system doesn’t live up to the same standards as its QNX-based big brother.

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QOTD: Time For A Luddite Trim Level? Mon, 18 Mar 2013 13:28:23 +0000

In the endless rush to attract younger buyers, luxury car brands may have ended up alienating their traditional customer base – older buyers, specifically those old enough to collect social security – by implementing complex, technologically advanced features like touch screens and complicated infotainment systems. What if there were a way to opt-out?

Larry Vellequette of Automotive News has jokingly suggested a “Luddite” trim package for older buyers, which pairs traditional knobs and buttons with comfortable seating options. It may be a semi-satirical idea, but I am sure that plenty of older buyers would take well to it. I know of a few instances where older buyers have gone for the car that offers the least technology, even if it meant forsaking the brands they were traditionally loyal to.

That has meant traditional customers of Lincoln and Cadillac have shifted over to something like a Lexus ES350, because they found CUE or MyLincoln Touch to be too much of a burden. Bear in mind that these are the sort of people who find sending an email to be a great technological feat, and it’s not hard to understand their reluctance in embracing in-car computerization.

Vellequette notes that the resistance to touchscreens and their ilk is ultimately a futile pursuit. It’s also true that this demographic is literally a dying one, and the future of these brands will be with those who are technologically savvy. On the other hand, those with the means to buy new cars tend to be older. Perhaps the solution would be the ultimate automotive tech cliche – an iPad-like interface with a simple menu and easily recognizable icons. Though I’m not a “Mac Guy”, Apple products like the iPad and iPod seem to click with older users, with a minimum of futzing around required to operate them.

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Ford Opens Up SYNC To Any Interested Party Wed, 09 Jan 2013 17:49:16 +0000

Ford will be giving away its SYNC AppLink to any automaker or Tier 1 supplier, as it looks to make SYNC the standard for in-car connectivity systems.

By opening up the SYNC API (or Application Programming Interface) to other parties, Ford is hoping to ensure that SYNC becomes the dominant system, similar to how Google’s Android has entrenched itself as the leading mobile OS.

Wired Magazine’s Damon Lavrinc adroitly explains the significance of Ford’s announcement, and the impact it will have on the future of in-car infotainment

Every automaker features a different consumer-facing platform, so developers must work with a variety of APIs and SDKs[software development kits]. It’s annoying but doable for a massive outfit like Pandora, but damn near impossible for small developers. That’s where AppLink comes in. By offering AppLink to any automaker or Tier 1 supplier (the folks who build the hardware) and providing a universal API and SDK, Ford expands an app’s footprint across the industry and brings more developers into the Ford fold.

Of course, there are drawbacks; auto makers would have to cede control, moving from the systems they’ve spent time and money on, to one created by Ford. Bringing a competitor’s product into another OEM’s vehicle could also present a problem if an infotainment system has to have connectivity with something like a vehicle diagnostic system – as Lavrinc points out, that’s a boundary that no OEM is willing to tamper with.

On the other hand, there’s the less open approach that GM is taking, whereby it is making an SDK available for anyone interested in designing apps. This is more akin to Apple’s iOS system, and affords GM more control

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2013 Ford F-Series Super Duty Gets MyFord Touch With Physical Controls Fri, 09 Mar 2012 20:47:31 +0000

Ford’s revised F-Series Super Duty was announced today, and aside from the giant chrome grille, the big news here is a revamped MyFord Touch system – now available with knobs and buttons in addition to the touch screen.

Gone are the haptic controls used on Ford passenger cars with MyFord Touch, replaced by the stack of buttons mounted just below the LCD screen. Ford says that truck owners often wear their work gloves while using the car’s stereo or HVAC controls, and the physical pieces were a necessity. Anyone with a touchscreen smartphone knows that texting with gloves on is generally a non-starter, and the same goes for MyFord Touch. Automotive News reports that only the Super Duty will get physical controls. No other Ford vehicle, not even the F-150, will be available with both MyFord Touch and non-haptic controls.

We’re pretty positive that Ford owners and potential customers who don’t wear work gloves would really like to do away with the current iteration of MyFord Touch and adopt the one used in the Super Duty. Ford has endured a number of complaints from both customers and outlets like Consumer Reports and J.D. Power, who measure vehicle quality and reliability. If anything, the sheer annoyance of using the system would be enough to deter me from getting a higher trim level Ford – and it would be hard to imagine truck buyers getting to enthusiastic about a complicated touch interface when the current setup works just fine.

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Ford B-Max To Debut At Consumer Electronics Show Wed, 15 Feb 2012 13:48:38 +0000

Ford is showing its fealty to the machines putting its money where its mouth is regarding telematics systems by unveiling their new B-MAX MPV at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, a week before the Geneva Auto Show begins.

The B-MAX is also expected to show off some of Ford’s newest in-car mobile technologies (which have not yet been announced to the press). Bill Ford, the company’s chairman, will deliver a keynote address on the future of mobility as well as the role that mobile technology will play in the automobile’s future. The move is not without precedent for Ford, as the company unveiled their Focus EV at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which overlapped with the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Ford’s new habit of unveiling cars at electronics shows is something to look out for – don’t be surprised if other OEMs start copying the Blue Oval as they look for greater exposure for their new product. The car is not necessarily the star of an automaker’s lineup, and if major tech companies like Microsoft are on board, then launching a new car at a geek show, rather than an auto show, might be the way of the future for OEMs with major tech tie-ups – especially when their partner is launching a brand new mobile platform.

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2013 Ford Fusion, Ford Flex To Get SYNC As Standard Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:08:03 +0000

As lifetime President of the “Auxillary Cable Fan Club”, it saddens me to see that Ford’s annoying system will be standard on the 2013 Flex and 2013 Gamechanger Fusion, with Ford boasting that over 4 million vehicles have had SYNC installed since 2007.

My latest annoyance with SYNC came yesterday with the 2012 Lincoln Navigator (yes, it still exists). SYNC did not allow my passenger to pair their phone while the vehicle was in motion – ostensibly this is to cut down on driver distraction and any potential liabilities, but pulling over to a stop in rush hour is not possible, especially with “no standing” by-laws that prohibit idling in curb lanes. Pairing phones at traffic lights wasn’t an option either, was the system took longer to pair than the length of a red line, and as soon as the vehicle is rolling, SYNC automatically cancels the pairing. Oh yeah, the iPod integration sucks too.

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Kia Uvo Syncs To Ford’s Level Thu, 31 Dec 2009 15:24:28 +0000 Uvo?

Amid the cries of shock around the blogosphere at the sudden death of the Kia Borrego, another tidbit of more consequential Kia news remains undercovered. And it’s actually bigger Ford news than anything else. Ford had deal with Microsoft for exclusive access to the technology underlying its Sync system. But with Ford’s 18 month term of exclusivity expired, Kia is set to formally announce its Sync-alike at next Tuesday’s International Consumer Electronics Show. Shooting for the middle ground between Ford’s apt “Sync” brand name and Fiat’s asinine “Blue&Me” moniker, Kia has called the system “Uvo” (Short for “Your Voice,” believe it or not).

It’s no surprise to see Microsoft’s technology appearing in Korean cars, but the fact that Hyundai group is gracing its Kia brand with the technology is a bit unexpected. According to Automotive News [sub], no plans have been announced for Uvo to appear in Hyundai-branded cars. By placing a technology that Ford swears has saved its sales bacon in cars branded with its value marque, Hyundai is going for Ford’s value-proposition jugular. Sure, Microsoft and Kia insist that Uvo will be distinct from Sync, but the differences are likely to be cosmetic at best. Uvo will debut sometime in 2010 on “an unnamed Kia vehicle,” probably the Amanti-replacing Cadenza, which is rumored to launch later next year. Here’s hoping Kia markets Uvo as an entertainment system, instead of spuriously pushing it as a “safety feature.”

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