Category: Studies & Reports

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 >

By on July 31, 2019

autonomous hardware

With automakers investing heavily into the development of electrified and autonomous vehicles, it might seem there is a gigantic consumer base ready and raring to go out and buy them. But every study we’ve encountered suggests the exact opposite. Electric cars are still limited to tech fetishists with regular folks occasionally deciding to become early adopters. Meanwhile, AVs are still in their infancy with engineers keen to document every baby step they take as the public remains ill-informed on their overall status.

It was presumed, however, that this would change as development progressed and “mobility” became more mainstream. But a new study from J.D. Power, backed by Survey Monkey, has showed — once again — this is not yet the case. Based on a 100-point scale, the duo’s 2019 Mobility Confidence Index yielded a score of 36 for self-driving vehicles and 55 for battery-electric vehicles.  Read More >

By on July 25, 2019

J.D. Power’s Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study, cleverly nicknamed as APEAL, was released on Wednesday. While we absolutely wouldn’t recommend using it as the foundation for your next vehicular purchase, it is a fun way to examine how the public views the various brands after 90 days of ownership.

Technically an automotive popularity contest, the 2019 APEAL study examines an owners’ “emotional attachment and level of excitement with their new vehicle across 77 attributes, ranging from the power they feel when they step on the gas to the sense of comfort and luxury they feel when climbing into the driver’s seat,” according to its publisher.

Expectedly, premium brands performed better overall — no doubt helped by their high-falutin owners’ smug sense of self-satisfaction. But there were a few pedestrian nameplates that managed to buck the trend and find themselves in the mix.  Read More >

By on July 18, 2019

2019 Subaru Forester green - Image: Subaru

J.D. Power’s annual Automotive Brand Loyalty Study came out for 2019 this week. According to the outlet, Subaru outranks every other brand when it comes to consumer loyalty. That meshes with any anecdotal evidence I’ve accumulated by just speaking with people. Despite some nagging quality concerns stemming from the company’s swift sales growth, most people I know that have driven a Subaru still want one.

Subaru also has been running some of the best advertisements within the industry with the broadest possible appeal (as they often feature dogs) over the last few years. Almost every woman I’ve spoken with feels positively about the brand and, while I can’t say the same about the men, it’s not a nameplate that receives much ire with laypersons — minus the odd tale of a tragic timing chain mishap (I told you to take it in, Sean).  Read More >

By on June 27, 2019

While they’re typically a little older than the first time car buyers that usually approach me for advice, there is a subset of individuals that tell me they want to ensure their vehicle is American Made™ and supports the hard working men from country they love. Unfortunately, this usually occurs at the tail of our conversation. We’ve got a price in mind, narrowed down the segment, and are now circling a handful of models they might actually be happy owning. Then they hit me with the regional curveball.

It’s not easy deciding what qualifies as truly American. Sure, I could just rattle off a list of vehicles built inside the United States — and am sometimes forced to — but that doesn’t take into account the multitude of components comprising each model. Such a task would be a monumental undertaking and these discussions usually take place at a drinking establishment, where I’m inclined to get drunk distracted.

Fortunately, Cars.com does an annual rundown of the “most-American” vehicles currently in production with its American-Made Index (AMI) — leaving few stones unturned in its year-long quest for answers.  Read More >

By on June 26, 2019

A survey released by Consumer Reports this week indicated that a majority of motorists (57 percent) believed that the advanced driving aids their vehicles had actively helped them avoid a crash. The survey, which incorporated data on roughly 72,000 vehicles from the 2015-19 model years, asked drivers to weigh in on a multitude of safety systems — including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot alerts, and more. While not all of these features had majority support, tabulating them as a whole showed at least half of the people using advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) saw some value in them.

Our opinions on these systems have been thoroughly mixed. While we’ve found most advanced driving aids to be inconsistent in their operation, sometimes befuddled by fog or a vehicle encrusted with roadway grime, we’ll happily admit that adaptive cruise control offers more utility than the standard on/off inclusions of yesteryear. But we’ve also seen disheartening reports that semi-autonomous features dull a good driver’s senses to a point that effectively makes them a worse motorist and would be lying if we said we trusted any of these systems implicitly.  Read More >

By on June 20, 2019

Many consumers continue to misunderstand the driver-assistance technologies being placed in modern vehicles, according to the latest survey released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But we don’t need the IIHS to tell us that. We’ve been documenting the avoidable accidents created whenever motorists overestimate what their high-tech cars are capable of for years now.

However, the insurance institute and numerous consumer advocacy groups have suggested that big part of the problem stems from the names manufacturers are using to describe their semi-autonomous hardware. Titles like “Autopilot” or “Driving Assistant Plus” can be confusing to somebody who didn’t bother to read the manual, especially when the associated marketing materials are often helping to steer them further in the wrong direction.  Read More >

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