By on June 26, 2019

Next year, BMW plans to equip all plug-in hybrid models with a standard function that automatically switches the automobile into electric mode whenever it enters an area designated for emissions-free driving. While the change is universal, the feature won’t get much action in the United States where government-mandated electrification is less pervasive than a Europe or China.

Still, that’s a sizable chunk of the brand’s global market. Hoping to appeal to it, Bavarian Motor Works went on an electric kick for Tuesday, announcing the electrically powered Motorrad Vision DC Roadster motorbike, Vision M Next Concept, testbed “Power BEV” drive units, upgrades to the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, and a bunch of other tech hand picked for the unsettlingly trendy #NEXTGen event.

However, the “eDrive Zone” PHEV geofencing system was one of the few items that has been scheduled for production. Unfortunately, it’s going to incorporate some gamification into the driving experience — making us suspicious of BMW’s ultimate goal.   (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…)

By on June 7, 2019

This time last year, we were under the impression that General Motors’ first attempt at an autonomous vehicle would come without pedals, a steering wheel, or any other controls traditionally associated with driving. Cruise Automation, the GM subsidiary tasked with developing the vehicle, seemed confident it could deliver something that didn’t need to rely on human intervention to be truly safe. This promise was reiterated by GM in January of 2018 via a request to produce the car sans controls though federal exemption.

U.S. laws governing what constitutes a safe automobile were written before autonomous vehicles entered development, creating problems. It wasn’t evident to anyone that GM could legally manufacture a vehicle that lacked traditional controls, as existing laws stipulated that all automobiles had to have them. While the Department of Transportation has proven rather lenient on policing AVs in terms of testing, rewriting the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or providing exemptions was a bridge too far — especially when self-driving tech is new, frequently misunderstood, and backed heavily by corporate interests. The existing guidelines remain unchanged and new legislation pertaining to self-driving vehicles has stalled in Congress.

Apparently sick of waiting, General Motors now appears satisfied to just build AVs with manual controls. (Read More…)

By on April 22, 2019

Elon Musk

Tesla celebrated “Autonomy Day” on Monday, broadcasting a web presentation to investors touting its self-driving strategy — part of CEO Elon Musk’s attempt to prove that the manufacturer’s longstanding commitment to the technology will bear fruit. While the mood was undercut by news of one of its vehicles spontaneously combusting in a Shanghai parking garage, the company stayed the course, focusing on autonomy instead of electrification.

Still, it wasn’t the fire that had investors seeking comfort. Tesla’s promise of fully self-driving vehicles is years old, with Musk initially pegging 2018 as the target date. That didn’t happen, with 2018 turning out to be the year the company faced elevated scrutiny over the effectiveness of its Autopilot system after a series of high-profile crashes.  (Read More…)

By on April 16, 2019

Over the past several years, the Chinese government embarked on an aggressive electric vehicle push, hoping to mitigate the nation’s severe air pollution, reduce its reliance on oil imports, and foster a high-tech manufacturing sector that could put the rest of the world to shame. The result of these efforts? Hundreds of new EV companies, propped up by Chinese subsidies and investors, with no real future.

While it was known that most of these startups would never make it to the finish line, estimates of their survivability rate has grown increasingly bleak. For a time, it was assumed that most would die out — leaving anywhere between 5 and 10 percent to reach the assembly phase. However, NIO Capital’s Ian Zhu posited that the number was likely closer to 1 percent last August.

China is now pulling back its support, with many believing the industrial bubble is about to pop. And they have the math to back it up.  (Read More…)

By on March 18, 2019

Donald Trump apparently belongs to the 71 percent of Americans who remain averse to the thought of riding in self-driving cars. It’s a position that appears to be incongruous with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s deregulation strategy. But there’s always a little room for someone’s personal preference to exist in tandem with public policy. At least, there used to be.

Considering the president’s involvement in American industrial matters routinely make him the central focus of auto-related topics, we’ll keep this one relatively brief. But the accompanying details of this story are too interesting to simply ignore.  (Read More…)

By on January 10, 2019

With so many bewildering and downright fantastical automotive concepts premiering at the Consumer Electronics Show this time of year, it’s easy to feel downtrodden by the industry’s mobility shenanigans. Thankfully, CES still plays host to some genuinely interesting tech that might actually make your life a little easier.

For French automotive supplier Valeo, that meant showcasing a system that utilizes cameras and some very careful framing to effectively see through a towed object. Called the XtraVue Trailer system, the technology works in a similar fashion as the nanotechnology invisibility blanket under development by the U.S. military — just much simpler. (Read More…)

By on January 8, 2019

Expanding on last year’s concept, Honda is reintroducing “Dream Drive” for this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Previously a platform intended to provide passengers with augmented and virtual reality experiences, Double D now focuses primarily on in-car purchases. In fact, the service seems identical to General Motors’ Marketplace.

That’s right, Honda is entering the dark realm of in-car consumerism and twisted corporate partnerships. (Read More…)

By on November 15, 2018

Image: GM

General Motors’ vice president of global strategy, Mike Abelson, recently confessed to the Detroit Free Press that the automaker has spoken with “air taxi” companies about using the carmaker’s autonomous and electric vehicle technology to produce flying cars.

“There will be some sort of air transport that will get integrated with this AV/EV technology,” Abelson said during Financial Times’ Future of the Car Summit in Detroit.

Not being ones for the fantastical, we were immediately dismissive of any air taxi service occurring any time soon. However, the real takeaway from the interview wasn’t that GM wanted to build flying cars — it was that the brand doesn’t seem to have much faith in widespread EV adoption. From the sound of things, General Motors thinks flying cars have more market potential than an electric pickup truck.  (Read More…)

By on November 9, 2018

Mazda is bringing its new Skyactiv-X engine, hyped as a major leap forward in internal combustion engine technology, to the Los Angeles Auto Show and the end of the month. Wedged inside the new Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback, the powerplant uses “Spark Controlled Compression Ignition,” which is said to combine the efficiency of a diesel unit with the performance of a gasoline mill. The manufacturer claims fuel economy improvements of more than 30 percent over a standard gasoline engine of the same displacement.

Assuming Mazda meets that mark, it’s a petty impressive feat. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder will debut along with the 3’s new platform in L.A. at the end of the month.  (Read More…)

By on October 26, 2018

Advanced safety tech may save your skin, but it certainly won’t spare your wallet in the event of a minor accident. According to research from the American Automobile Association, replacing and/or recalibrating the sensors needed to allow modern driving aids to function properly are severely inflating the cost of even minor repairs.

Unfortunate, considering features like blind spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking are cropping up as standard equipment on even the most affordable rides. Car ownership continues to get more expensive and there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it — with one exception.  (Read More…)

By on October 2, 2018

Over the weekend, I found myself conversing with a young woman who admitted to being slightly creeped out by modern automotive technology. She had a bone to pick with everything from push-button ignitions to adaptive cruise control. It was surprising admission from an individual who is planted squarely in the middle of the Millennial age bracket and has no serious interest in cars, but one I’ve been hearing more often lately.

The American Automobile Association seems to be rather touchy on the issue, as well. Much of its interest in the subject revolves around present-day tech lending itself to distracted driving, something it is firmly against. But the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety appears absolutely convinced that the introduction of advanced driver assistance systems will save lives. However, it also believes that its full potential won’t be unlocked until consumers accept these technologies, understand how to use them, use them as intended, and avoid misusing or becoming over-reliant on them.

Frankly, that sounds like wishful thinking. So long as advanced driving aids exist, they’ll probably be misunderstood and misused. People don’t even use their turn signals correctly, for Christ’s sake.  (Read More…)

By on September 25, 2018

GM marketplace

General Motors has begun surveying how its drivers experience in-car multimedia, specifically the radio, as part of its new strategy to track customer habits and maximize the profitability of information. With 4G LTE WiFi connectivity now featured inside millions of GM vehicles, the automaker believes technology can be used to fine tune its future marketing strategies.

While an invaluable insight tool for advertisers, it’s also the perfect example of the kind of thing we’ve been complaining about for the last couple of years. General Motors is leaning into Big Data as hard as possible, meaning your personal information could soon be on the line — if it isn’t already.  (Read More…)

By on September 20, 2018

Despite being one of the largest manufacturing giants currently in existence, Toyota is trailing in the autonomous technology war currently raging among carmakers. But it would unfair to say that the Japanese brand is losing. While General Motors appears to lead the rest of the established automotive firms, it’s not perfectly clear how big a gap it made for itself. Meanwhile, Toyota spent the last few years taking a more cautious approach, without ever ignoring the possibility of an autonomous future.

In 2015, the automaker decided to get serious, saying it would invest billions of dollars into the Toyota Research Institute. The goal? To advance robotics and artificial intelligence to a level where it could test an autonomous vehicle by 2020. But Toyota remains skeptical of the rest of the industry’s progress on self-driving cars.

“I need to make it perfectly clear, it’s a wonderful, wonderful goal,” Gill Pratt, the CEO of the Toyota Research Institute said at CES 2017. “But none of us in the automobile or IT industries are close to achieving true Level 5 autonomy, we are not even close.”  (Read More…)

By on September 19, 2018

We’ve long bemoaned the death of the manual transmission. But with few practical advantages other than being more enjoyable to a limited subset of the population, it’s quickly (and understandably) slipping into obscurity. It’s not alone. Based on research conducted by online automotive marketplace CarGurus, the good ol’ handbrake is also rapidly losing relevance as automakers shift their focus to electronic parking brakes.

Isolating its research to the United Kingdom, CarGurus claims just 37 percent of new cars leave the factory with a traditional, mechanical brake lever. And those that still have them are typically bargain-focused nameplates like Suzuki and Dacia. Considering neither of those brands sell any models here, the number is likely even lower in the United States.  (Read More…)

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