Category: Studies & Reports

By on June 23, 2020

When Sir Thomas More coined the term “utopia,” he lifted two words from Ancient Greek that roughly translate into “not a place.” Turns out people from the 16th century still understood satire, perhaps better than we do today. After all, we are the ones operating under the assumption that we can remap society in order to build consequence-free transportation network without a shred of humor to keep us grounded.

We may not need satire in this instance, however. A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health asks questions about how just effectively the shift to autonomy will benefit society as a whole. Industry leaders have broadly framed the shift toward self-driving as kicking down the door to an idyllic universe where no one wants for transportation, with autonomous taxis serving as the first wave of this planned paradise. The reality may be vastly different that what’s being sold, however.  Read More >

By on June 5, 2020

When the United States began passing legislation allowing automakers to begin testing self-driving vehicles on public roads, it was framed almost entirely as a safety issue. Proponents claimed that the only way to eliminate roadway fatalities was to take the human brain out of the equation and let cars drive themselves. Having enacted a similar no-thinking policy themselves, legislators agreed — pleased to have ensured a death-free future on little more than empty corporate promises.

At the time, we were still complaining about the unreliable nature of advanced driving aids, and how such systems seem custom-made to dull your reflexes behind the wheel. There was a sense that, if everything went perfectly, maybe autonomous vehicles (AVs) could reduce accidents by previously unheard of levels. That feeling didn’t last particularly long here at TTAC and, by 2018, we started noticing we weren’t alone.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) grew increasingly critical of AVs starting a couple of years ago. On Thursday, it released a report claiming the idea of a no-crash future spurred by automation is a fantasy. Instead, the IIHS says cutting-edge technology will likely struggle to stop just a third of all accidents.  Read More >

By on March 25, 2020

Road traffic across the United States is dropping drastically, thanks to social-distancing efforts taking place to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. For yours truly, traffic in New York City has gone from frequently hectic to downright pleasurable and relaxed. While there’s a statewide initiative in place to keep residents in their homes, the days leading up to the shelter-in-place order saw a decline in roadway activity I’d only previously witnessed during Hurricane Sandy.

According to INRIX, a Washington-based firm providing traffic analytics, road use in the United States dropped by about 30 percent last week — with regions affected by state-mandated shutdowns seeing even larger declines. The study compares the national traffic volume from the 14th to the 20th of March to volumes recorded between the 22nd and the 28th of February — noting that March 13th was the first day traffic started trending downward in most regions. Moving forward, INRIX says it wants to continue offering up a weekly synopsis of national traffic volume until the health crisis ends.  Read More >

By on March 16, 2020

Domestic automakers are enamored with the full-sized pickup segment because it’s a reliable way of securing hundreds of thousands of sales in North America on an annual basis. Here, Ford’s F-Series reigns supreme. That might not always be the case, however, especially with younger buyers opting to purchase their pickups at competing brands.

Last month, Edmunds released a study claiming Ram is leading the charge with buyers under 35 — saying the brand had won over “the most coveted section of the market.”  Read More >

By on March 12, 2020

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has issued a set of guidelines for advanced driving aids, suggesting that the key to automated safety is making sure drivers are perpetually engaged with the vehicle’s operations. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a Catch-22 scenario due to the way these systems function. Semi-autonomous features are supposed to be there to help promote safety by adding an extra layer of protection; however, many encourage motorists to disengage by nature of their design.

Adaptive cruise control with lane keeping is probably the worst offender. Implemented as a way to keep cars a safe distance apart on the expressway, it offers an experience that borders on having the car chauffeur you around. The effectiveness of these systems vary widely, with none actually being capable of any legitimate self-driving functionality. You’re also not supposed to be able to tune out while they’re in use, but they all seem coyly contrived to do exactly that. The IIHS is concerned this phenomenon will only get worse as driving aids evolve and become increasingly commonplace.

“Unfortunately, the more sophisticated and reliable automation becomes, the more difficult it is for drivers to stay focused on what the vehicle is doing,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “That’s why systems should be designed to keep drivers actively engaged.” Read More >

By on February 21, 2020

The annual Automotive Franchise Activity Report asserts that the number of new-car dealerships in the United States has shrunk for the first time since 2013. The difference is marginal when viewed from a national perspective, but could support prior theories that larger dealer networks are consolidating while smaller, less competitive shops are being forced out of the market. The report claims the total number of storefronts fell from 18,294 in 2018 to 18,195 at the start of 2020. Dealership throughput was similarly down, decreasing by eight units from 2018 to 940.

While not particularly alarming, the figures do seem to mirror national population trends when placed under a microscope. The states that lost the highest number of showrooms  tended to be regions that had the most trouble preventing people from moving.  Read More >

By on January 9, 2020

When I was an adolescent, it was made clear to me that the first step toward adulthood was getting my driver’s license. Even without an automobile, it provided unimaginable freedoms and brought me closer to my goal of doing a burnout in the high school parking lot. That dream was ultimately achieved, leaving me to rethink roadway safety as my first car was loaded onto a flatbed while the scent of tire smoke and bleach clung to my clothing.

Fortunately, hitching a ride home was easy, as most of my friends had also acquired licenses and cars of their own. But that’s probably not going to be the case for teens coming of driving age in these modern times.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the percentage of American teenagers bothering to get their licenses has effectively plateaued at a low point. Nearly 48 percent of 16-year-olds in this country could legally drive in 1984; that number settled to just 25.6 percent in 2018. The reasons are more complicated than just the younger generation’s snubbing of the automobile.  Read More >

By on January 6, 2020

Uber released its first safety report on Saturday, primarily to address concerns surrounding rider welfare. The media has become increasingly critical of Uber as a brand after its corporate culture was dubbed toxic — allegedly loaded with sexism and financial progress by any means necessary. Following a fatal accident involving one of the company’s autonomous test vehicles, many grew fearful that the company hadn’t fallen into the habit of promoting (or appreciating) public safety. Hoping to assuage some of those concerns, Uber put together its own safety report.

Earlier in the month, the ride-hailing service said it had received reports of 3,045 sexual assaults in the United States in 2018, with 9 people murdered (nearly half of them drivers… fortunately?) and 58 crash-related deaths. Uber said these issues only affected 0.0002 percent of the 1.3 billion rides the company orchestrated in the United States that year.

The new study attempts to frame data, accumulated over 21 months, against national averages to show that Uber is simply suffering from issues inherent to our society. While noting that an estimated 44 percent of women in the U.S. have been a victim of sexual violence seems like an odd way to absolve oneself from wrongdoing, Uber’s just a fancy cab service trying to distance itself from systemic fears that may have not have been entirely fair.  Read More >

By on December 18, 2019

Vehicular privacy is one of those things we never thought we’d have to gripe about but, as automotive connectivity becomes the norm, it’s become one of the most nagging issues in the industry.

Taking a cue from tech giants like Google, Facebook, and pretty much every other website you’ve ever connected to, automakers have begun leveraging customer data on a massive scale. Always-on internet connections exacerbated this problem (feature?), but it’s extremely difficult to tell exactly what kind of information is being shot up into the cloud before ending up at a manufacturer’s data center.

While we’ve seen cars hacked for the purpose of assessing how they’d stand up to malicious entities bent on wreaking havoc, few have attempted to decode the surplus of information emitted by your vehicle. We know this because people would probably be pretty upset to learn of the pathetic level of anonymity currently afforded to them. Despite spending tens of thousands of dollars on a new vehicle, privacy is rarely considered standard equipment.  Read More >

By on November 6, 2019

With the realities of autonomous driving growing increasingly apparent, the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) decided to conduct a survey to gauge public sentiment surrounding the technology. We’ve seen these studies before, noticing a lack of consistency. While several high-profile accidents relating to autonomous (or semi-autonomous) systems have clearly shaken people’s confidence over the last two years, we’re still seeing conflicting reports — and we don’t mean minor discrepancies, either.

The SAE survey, published on Tuesday, stated that 76 percent of respondents “think a self-driving car experience is similar or superior to a human-driven experience.” However, the American Automobile Association (AAA) released a study in March claiming 71 percent of survey respondents still had serious concerns with the technology, with only 19 percent claiming they’d even consider putting a loved one in a self-driving vehicle.

That’s a complete turn-around in just over six months. Perhaps we should look at how these surveys are being conducted and the type of questions being asked, because taking the SAE Demo Days Survey at face value makes it seem as though automated driving has finally gained public acceptance.  Read More >

By on October 22, 2019

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Tuesday that American traffic deaths declined for a second year in a row in 2018. Data indicates a 2.4 percent decline in roadway fatalities last year, with bicyclists and pedestrians being the only groups to see risk moving in the wrong direction.

“This is encouraging news, but still far too many perished or were injured, and nearly all crashes are preventable, so much more work remains to be done to make America’s roads safer for everyone,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in a statement.

The DOT/NHTSA attributed improving automotive safety systems as the primary reason for the decline in deaths, though some of the metrics included in the report’s breakdown suggest other factors could be at play.  Read More >

By on October 4, 2019

The paranoid luddites that write for this site have occasionally been accused of being hyper critical of modern-day driving aids. Be it a cursory mention of how a little snow totally flummoxed the systems of an otherwise agreeable review car, the direct addressing of an issue where road salt encouraged a vehicle to attempt to steer itself into a ditch, or one of this author’s many diatribes on how the bulk of this technology doesn’t seem anywhere near market ready, there’s always a couple of exceptional individuals ready to call us backward-looking morons.

While that’s often a correct assessment in other matters, it seems we’ve called this one correctly. The American Automobile Association (AAA) recently tested four sedans from competing manufacturers, running them through a handful of scenarios intended to replicate situations that place pedestrians at extreme risk. Taking into account the above smugness, you can probably imagine how poorly it went.  Read More >

By on August 19, 2019

vision 2.0 NHTSA Autonomous vehicles

Over the past year the automotive industry has carefully walked back the expectations surrounding autonomous cars. Yet pretty much any change in rhetoric constitutes retracted goals. With numerous companies predicting self-driving fleets of commercial vehicles before 2021, the bar couldn’t have been set much higher.

A lack of progress is partly to blame. However, a bundle of high-profile accidents have also shaken public trust — especially after it was found that Uber whistleblower Robbie Miller was trying to alert the company to issues with its self-driving program just days before one of the company’s autonomous Volvos was involved in a fatal accident with a pedestrian.

That’s not the half of it. In April, Miller released a study claiming self-driving vehicles were actually recording incident rates higher than that of your typical motorist. Contrasting data from the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) and the California DMV, he concluded that autonomous test vehicles created more injuries per mile than the average human motorist with a few years of practice.  Read More >

By on August 7, 2019

The fuel economy rollback posited by the Trump administration remains a hotly debated issue within the automotive community. Unfortunately, it has become mired in political nonsense, making decrypting the real-world impact of embracing or shunning it rather difficult. Consumer Reports recently took a stab at making sense of the matter, coming out in favor of balking at the notion of a rollback on the grounds that it would ultimately raise fueling costs.

Last year, the administration proposed capping fuel economy and emission standards at 2020 levels, instead of allowing them to rise annually as under existing regulations. The opposition, fronted by California, is vying to maintain the existing standards — with the possible compromise of delaying them by one year.  Read More >

By on August 1, 2019

After an eternity of seeing the Honda Accord and Civic topping lists of America’s most-stolen cars, tastes have finally evolved. According to the Highway Loss Data Institute’s list of vehicles most likely to be stolen, Hemi-equipped Dodge Challengers and Chargers are now the ride of choice for automotive miscreants. Interestingly, bandits seem to prefer larger vehicles on the whole — with full-sized pickups and large-engined cars topping the charts.

However, there are a couple items that need to be sorted out before we progress. You’ll probably continue seeing Accords, Corollas, Civics, and F-Series pickups on subsequent most-stolen lists. Their volume alone makes them popular targets and any study going by sheer numbers is bound to include them. But the HLDI report quantifies automobiles by their relative risk using insurance data, suggesting its big-boy season for car thieves.  Read More >

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