NHTSA Says Human Controls Now Unnecessary for Autonomous Vehicles

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had decided there’s no need for modern vehicles to possess steering wheels, pedals, or other human controls — provided they’re intended to be fully autonomous.

Considering self-driving cars have become something of an engineering boondoggle after the automotive industry falsely claimed they’d become commercially available by 2019, it’s easy to assume regulators are putting the cart before the horse. But we need to remember that automakers have wanted this for a long time, are used to getting their way, and have well-paid lobbyists at their disposal. For example, General Motors and its autonomous technology unit Cruise has long been petitioning the NHTSA for permission to manufacture and field self-driving vehicles without human controls.

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Audi Skysphere Concept Previews Transforming Automobiles

It often feels like the automotive industry has hit a creative wall where every concept vehicle has to be another electric vehicle offering next-generation connectivity and some self-driving claims that will later be tamped down. We’ve gotten used to being disappointed but there has been one brand that’s been furnishing concept vehicles that are at least interesting.

In 2018, Audi debuted the PB18 E-Tron Concept (AI:RACE) in an attempt to highlight what’s possible with a pure EV using the skateboard platform. Without a driveshaft hogging interior space, the automaker felt it could build a supercar with an interchangeable driving position that allowed the pilot to transition from a central F1-style cockpit to something that’s more suited to the daily commute. The company has since decided to build on that idea with the Skysphere Concept, which alters the roadster’s exterior based on whether it’s you or the car that’s doing the driving.

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Volkswagen - and With It, Ford - Secures Self-driving Deal

U.S. self-driving startup Argo AI has completed a deal with Volkswagen AG on self-driving vehicle technology, fulfilling VW’s wishes for a secure and affordable source of gee-whiz gadgetry for future mobility solutions.

The deal, valued at $2.6 billion, will see VW fork over a cool billion while folding its Autonomous Intelligent Driving team into Argo AI’s operations. The automaker’s alliance partner, Ford, pledged $1 billion (over five years) to the startup in 2017, before last year’s tie-up with the German automaker.

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Toyota Ramps Up Electrification Timeline, Outlines Nuanced Strategy

Following announcements that Toyota would be working on a shared electric vehicle platform with Subaru, as well as a jointly developed crossover, the brand conducted a press conference on Friday regarding its decision to “popularize BEVs.” While the announcement didn’t deal with the specifics of cutting-edge tech, auxiliary business opportunities, or even a total shift toward battery electric vehicles, it did represent a major commitment from a manufacturer that’s notoriously cautious in its decision making.

Opening the conference, Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi focused largely on the challenges of electrification. Terashi said Toyota’s intent has always been to support “social progress” and curb CO2 emissions while acknowledging that it had only made formal commitments to electrification within the last couple of years. However, he showed that the automaker has been busy within that time, and had several initiatives in the works aimed at repositioning Toyota as a mobility brand, by outlining the company’s extremely complex EV strategy.

Buckle up, because there is a lot to this — including some new cars.

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Bark's Bites: Crossovers Are the Gateway Drug For Self-Driving Cars

Automotive Twitter really is the worst Twitter, for many reasons. First of all, it’s not very “automotive.” With the exception of our dear friend, Bozi Tatarevic, who is a must-follow for his encyclopedic knowledge and Holmesian sleuthing skills, nearly every other autowriter on Twitter views the platform as an opportunity to share the wonkiest political views possible. When they aren’t doing that, they’re all sipping from the same “I am an expert on financial matters but I also dress like a flood victim” Kool-Aid, chanting the same mantra over and over.

Last week was particularly objectionable, what with the GM decision to mostly abandon passenger cars in favor of light and heavy trucks. “People are buying the wrong cars!” they shout to their literally dozens of followers. “Crossover bad! Car good!” they shriek, neglecting to share with you that nearly all of them are childless and nary a one of them has ever tried to fit a collapsing stroller, a diaper bag, and a breast pump into the trunk of a Miata. One particularly stupid individual compared the nation’s overwhelming preference for crossovers to its preference for superhero movies over art films. Sigh.

It takes roughly three functioning brain cells to understand that crossovers are a better fit for the majority of flyover country than small cars are. Of course, once you understand that the majority of the major digital automotive press in this country is based in New York, then it’s not hard to understand that they can’t see outside of their bubbles. You certainly don’t need something like a Chevy Traverse if you are a childless man with a domestic partner who lives in a third-floor Brooklyn walkup with no available parking. But when you live in suburban Indiana with your three kids, all of whom have multiple after school activities, well, crossovers make a little more sense. And since childless couples in NY don’t buy cars and soccer moms in Indiana do, well, it only makes sense that the General is gonna listen to Jennifer from Carmel.

I, however, tend to think that there is an even more sinister goal behind the switch from cars to crossovers. I think it’s to prepare people for the (possibly never) upcoming switch to self-driving cars. Allow me to elaborate.

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ZF's New Camera System Focuses on an Oft-ignored Danger: the Driver

The rollout of semi-autonomous driver assist systems designed to turn long highway slogs into stress-free, breezy jaunts isn’t in any way perfected, but OEMs and suppliers are working on it. Depending on who builds what, lane-holding can be dodgy, automatic braking can be capricious, forward-facing cameras and radar can misidentify or ignore objects, and drivers can easily be put on too long a leash, encouraging misuse.

It’s the latter issue that automotive supplier ZF wants to solve with its new interior camera system.

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Musk Claims Tesla's New Autopilot Chip Is Only Six Months Away

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says a new chip aimed at improving its vehicles’ Autopilot features will be available in about six months.

However, if you’re hoping the automaker is preparing to light some candles and knock its vehicles up with legitimate self-driving technology, you’ll need to keep on wishing. During a string of tweets on Tuesday, Musk explained that the new chip would be a $5,000 extra for customers who did not purchase their cars with the “Full Self-Driving” package — an automotive claim that’s about as valid as Donald Trump’s hair or Elizabeth Warren’s status as a Native American.

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Sink or Swim: What Kind of Automotive Startup Will Byton Be?

After showcasing its first concept vehicle at CES 2018, electric car startup Byton has come back with another for CES Asia. On Monday, the company also announced it had recently raised more than half a billion dollars in capital.

Byton looks to be on the right path, but the trail it’s marching down has already been taken by other EV startups and resulted in failure. For example, Faraday Future drove itself into a brick wall after failing to deliver on its promises for two years straight. It suffered development delays on its prototype, engaged in some sketchy deals, and practically collapsed when its main Chinese backer ran out of money. That isn’t to presume Byton is the same kind of company, but it’s offering the same type of car under vaguely similar circumstances.

Loaded with tech, Byton’s autonomous, all-electric K-Byte sedan and its SUV sibling (the M-Byte) are right in line with every manufacturers’ future vehicle concepts. They’re perpetually connected to the web, capable of self-driving, and chock full of touchscreens. But they aren’t real cars yet, even though the startup suggests they’ll be available for just $45,000 — and relatively soon. The SUV will apparently go into production in 2019, with the sedan following by 2021.

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Are Government Officials Souring On Automotive Autonomy?

Thanks to the incredibly lax and voluntary guidelines outlined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, automakers have had free rein to develop and test autonomous technology as they see fit. Meanwhile, the majority of states have seemed eager to welcome companies to their neck of the woods with a minimum of hassle. But things are beginning to change after a handful of high-profile accidents are forcing public officials to question whether the current approach to self-driving cars is the correct one.

The House of Representatives has already passed the SELF DRIVE Act. But it’s bipartisan companion piece, the AV START Act, has been hung up in the Senate for months now. The intent of the legislation is to remove potential barriers for autonomous development and fast track the implementation of self-driving technology. But a handful of legislators and consumer advocacy groups have claimed AV START doesn’t place a strong enough emphasis on safety and cyber security. Interesting, considering SELF DRIVE appeared to be less hard on manufacturers and passed with overwhelming support.

Of course, it also passed before the one-two punch of vehicular fatalities in California and Arizona from earlier this year. Now some policymakers are admitting they probably don’t understand the technology as they should and are becoming dubious that automakers can deliver on the multitude of promises being made. But the fact remains that some manner of legal framework needs to be established for autonomous vehicles, because it’s currently a bit of a confused free-for-all.

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Old Man Lutz Gives Dealerships 20 Years to Live, Doubles Down on Driving Dystopia

Longtime auto executive Bob Lutz has always been an incredibly outspoken individual. His years of hard work have given him an insight into the industry that few possess, and he’s only become more willing to share that information as he ages. Like the industrious caterpillar, his ceaseless labor has allowed him to metamorphose into what is arguably his perfect form near the end of his lifecycle — a candid automotive butterfly.

We love hearing anything has to say, as his insight borders on the surreal, but with more than enough truth to come to pass. Last year, he divined a future where the car as we know it is destroyed by governmental regulation and advanced technologies. The dystopian plot seemed impossible upon a cursory glance, but the deeper you drive, the more plausible it begins to seem.

Lutz refocused this week at the SAE International WCX World Congress Experience in Detroit, saying the traditional dealer model will be among the first things to go in the brave new world of mobility. He called car dealerships an “endangered species,” suggesting to the crowd that it had “another 20 to 25 years before it’s all over.”

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Arizona, Suppliers Unite Against Uber Self-driving Program

Ever since last week’s fatal accident, in which an autonomous test vehicle from Uber struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, it seems like the whole world has united against the company. While the condemnation is not undeserved, there appears to be an emphasis on casting the blame in a singular direction to ensure nobody else gets caught up in the net of outrage. But it’s important to remember that, while Uber has routinely displayed a lack of interest in pursuing safety as a priority, all autonomous tech firms are being held to the same low standards imposed by both local and federal governments.

Last week, lidar supplier Velodyne said Uber’s failure was most likely on the software end as it defended the effectiveness of its hardware. Since then, Aptiv — the supplier for the Volvo XC90’s radar and camera — claimed Uber disabled the SUV’s standard crash avoidance systems to implement its own. This was followed up by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issuing a suspension on all autonomous testing from Uber on Monday — one week after the incident and Uber’s self-imposed suspension.

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Unpacking the Autonomous Uber Fatality as Details Emerge [Updated]

Details are trickling in about the fatal incident in Tempe, Arizona, where an autonomous Uber collided with a pedestrian earlier this week. While a true assessment of the situation is ongoing, the city’s police department seems ready to absolve the company of any wrongdoing.

“The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them,” explained Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir. “His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision.”

This claim leaves us with more questions than answers. Research suggests autonomous driving aids lull people into complacency, dulling the senses and slowing reaction times. But most self-driving hardware, including Uber’s, uses lidar that can functionally see in pitch black conditions. Even if the driver could not see the woman crossing the street (there were streetlights), the vehicle should have picked her out clear as day.

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Self-Driving Uber Vehicle Fatally Strikes Pedestrian, Company Halts Autonomous Testing

In the evening hours of March 18th, a pedestrian was fatally struck by a self-driving vehicle in Tempe, Arizona. While we all knew this was an inevitability, many expected the first casualty of progress to be later in the autonomous development timeline. The vehicle in question was owned by Uber Technologies and the company has admitted it was operating autonomously at the time of the incident.

The company has since halted all testing in the Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Toronto, and greater Phoenix areas.

If you’re wondering what happened, so is Uber. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has opened an investigation into the accident and is sending a team to Tempe. Uber says it is cooperating with authorities.

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Safety Group to Senate: Clue in to the 'Baseless and Exaggerated Predictions' Swirling Around Autonomous Vehicles

Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration embraced autonomous technology by redefining how it categorized cars. Spurred by automakers and tech companies, the government has opened its eyes to this new technology and seen it as a way to potentially save lives by reducing the number of roadway accidents caused by human error.

Congress has been confronted with numerous pieces of legislation on the matter, too — prospective laws that would allow automakers to put hundreds of thousands of autonomous vehicles on the street, without the need to adhere to existing safety regulations. Many have called the move necessary if the United States hopes to be the first country to produce a truly self-driving car and start saving some lives.

It sounds almost too good to be true, and some claim it actually is. A group of public interest organizations is attempting to sound the bullshit alarm, claiming automakers are misleading government officials in the hopes of developing and profiting from unproven technology.

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Marchionne & Co.: Style Will Be Essential in the Vanilla Future We've All Been Promised

The future is going to be absolutely terrible. Everything is going to be so sterile and automated that humans won’t have anything to do between mealtimes but eagerly anticipate their own death.

At least, that’s the picture being painted by experts. We’re probably further out from autonomous cars, world peace, and robotic butlers than society’s “thinkfluencers” want to admit, but be that as it may, the times are changing and some of this is coming down the pipe.

Automakers are all about the “nextification” of the industry; always promising technological marvels at an accelerated rate. However, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne now claims most visions of the future lack an essential element — any semblance of style.

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  • Islander800 That is the best 20-year-on update of the Honda Element that I've ever seen. Strip out the extraneous modern electronic crap that adds tens of thousands to the price and the completely unnecessary 400 pd/ft torque and horse power, and you have a 2022 Honda Element - right down to the neoprene interior "elements" of the Element - minus the very useful rear-hinged rear doors. The proportions and dimensions are identical.Call me biased, but I still drive my west coast 2004 Element, at 65K miles. Properly maintained, it will last another 20 years....Great job, Range Rover!
  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Corey. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.