Cannonball Run Founder Dies, New “Cannonball Run” Spits on His Grave

23 Oct

Cannonball Run

It takes a lot of nerve to spit on a dead man’s grave, especially when his body is still warm. When that man is Cannonball Run founder Brock Yatesthe most important person in American automotive history who never ran a car company — it takes someone lacking in basic decency, with no respect for the man or his monumental contribution to car culture.

As I write this, several dozen sports cars are on their way from Lenox, Massachusetts to Key West, Florida, where they will abandon their cars, have a party, then fly to Havana for another party.

Their achievement? A celebration of exploitation, ignorance and commoditized gravitas. Their transgression? Calling their event the Cannonball Run.

Theirs may not be a legal crime — lawyers are allegedly exchanging letters — but it is without any doubt a cultural one, for which they should be held accountable. If you see a car manufactured after 1979 with “Cannonball Run” stickers, it is on an event that is the enemy of everything Brock Yates stood for, and of American car culture itself.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Autonomous Cars Don’t Have a ‘Trolley Problem’ Problem

19 Oct

Trolley Problem

There is an old thought experiment called the Trolley Problem that’s become central to the development of autonomous cars. In the context of self-driving cars, it sets up a scenario where an autonomously-operated vehicle approaches, say, a nun herding a group of orphans from a burning hospital. There is no time to stop or room to maneuver around the group. The car must therefore choose whether to run over the nuns and orphans, likely killing them, or swerve into the burning building, likely killing the passengers.

What should the car do?

On October 7th, Christoph von Hugo, manager of driver assistance safety systems at Mercedes-Benz, inadvertently became the first significant player at a car manufacturer to take a position on the Trolley Problem. According to von Hugo, the Self-Driving Car should run over the nun and the children.

Here’s his statement from the Paris Auto Show, as quoted in Car and Driver:

“If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the one in the car. If all you know for sure is that one death can be prevented, then that’s your first priority.”

To be clear, this is not Mercedes’s official position on the Trolley Problem.

Read the rest over at The Drive

What Automotive Must Learn From Aviation: What is an Autopilot?

7 Oct

Autopilot

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Guess what? Words can hurt us, when life or death decisions are made on false assumptions. I’m talking, of course, about the language of Self-Driving Cars, that seemingly inevitable panacea into which Silicon Valley and the car industry are pouring billions to save us from ourselves. If technology is only as good as our understanding of it, then the automotive industry has a long way go.

The problem isn’t limited to Tesla’s branding of the word “autopilot”, but it certainly starts there, especially now that the California DMV has threatened to stop Tesla from using Autopilot as a brand name. Add the recurring debate over whether Tesla Autopilot was defective in the Joshua Brown crash, and obvious questions emerged:

What is an autopilot? Is Tesla Autopilot actually an autopilot? What does “autopilot” imply? Where does Tesla’s system fall short of real or perceived autopilots? Is the problem the “auto” prefix? The “pilot” suffix? For those who object to Tesla’s choice of branding, I bring you Audi’s Piloted Driving, the yin of implication to Autopilot’s yang. What does “Piloted Driving” imply? What about Volvo’s Pilot Assist?

In the spirit of unpacking this mess, I signed up for flying lessons and began a deep dive into the history of autopilots and automation. I also decided to reach out to a wide variety of pilots — from private owners of single-engined turboprops to professionals flying Boeing 757’s and Airbus A380’s — and take them out in a variety of cars, starting with Teslas.

This is Part 1 of what I learned. Read the rest over at The Drive…

Tesla, Michigan, and How To Save The American Car Industry

3 Oct

Keith Crain

I shall now explain how to save the American car industry.

We begin with Keith Crain — Editor-In-Chief of Automotive News and Autoweek — who is simply wrong.

So wrong that I’ve written 2000+ words in response to his 419.

I don’t normally read The Onion for political commentary, nor do I read anything published by Crain’s for comedy, but it’s an election year. Traditional roles, expectations, acceptable language and even the definitions of words have been wildly subverted, and all of this is on display in the latest op-ed by Crain, whose latest “column” highlights everything that is contemptible about journalism and politics in this country, and why “wisdom” such as his spells doom for the American car industry.

Crain’s latest piece “Elon Musk is Simply Wrong” is so hilariously transparent and inept in its shilling for friends and neighbors who own car dealerships and sit in state government, it is actually unworthy of The Onion. Crain is writing at a Mad Magazine level here. Lower, in fact, for his ultra-protectionist, fill-in-the-blanks “column” more closely resembles Mad Libs: The Car Dealer Association Party Edition.

Crain’s bias is so obvious, and his arguments so lazy, that the FTC should probably check whether it should be labeled “sponsored content.” That’s just my opinion, of course. Don‘t take my word for it. I’m going to let him speak for himself, with line-by-line commentary.

Read the rest over at The Drive

 

Teslas Can Use Chargepoint, But Non-Teslas Can’t Use Superchargers, Ergo…

20 Sep

Chargepoint

Last week Forbes published one of the shoddiest articles I’ve ever read in that once-vaunted publication. Noted Tesla foe Bertell Schmitt — former VW insider whose whose coverage of Dieselgate got my attention — showed an outrageous lack of intellectual honesty in his story “Who Has The World’s Biggest Charging Network? Trigger Warning: It’s Ain’t Tesla.”

His claim? That Tesla’s 4,359 Superchargers are outnumbered by Chargepoint’s 30,200 charging locations.

That’s still like calling water fountains and waterfalls equivalent as water sources. Tesla Superchargers charge at up to 120kW, or up to 170 miles of range within 30 minutes. Chargepoint “Fast Chargers” charge at up to 50kW, or less than half that of Tesla’s. Once Tesla’s “Destination Chargers” were factored in, the Tesla network comes to 9,659, of which slightly less than half are Superchargers, but the story doesn’t end there.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Why The Tesla/Mobileye Fight Defines An Industry-Wide Schism

16 Sep

Tesla

Mobileye and Tesla have begun trading barbs illuminating the real reason behind their split. These attacks mask an as-yet undiscussed schism in the sector that transcends their public statements.

“[Tesla’s Autopilot] is not designed to cover all possible crash situations in a safe manner,” said Amnon Shashua, Chairman and CTO of Mobileye, the Israel-based maker of collision detection and driver assistance systems. “[Tesla] was pushing the envelope in terms of safety.”

Tesla’s response? “When Tesla refused to cancel its own vision development activities and plans for deployment, Mobileye discontinued hardware support for future platforms and released public statements implying that this discontinuance was motivated by safety concerns.”

These statements highlight a distinct but unspoken truth in the burgeoning self-driving car sector. Mobileye—the company whose technology underlies the majority of ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) and semi-autonomous driving suites on the market, may not be at the cutting edge of the technology on which they’ve built their reputation.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Why The Forbes Article About Tesla & Chargepoint is Nonsense

15 Sep

Chargepoint

This is a free country, which means everyone’s entitled to an opinion. I have mine. You have yours. I hold journalists — or at least certain publications — to a higher standard than I do the swill overflowing Facebook. There are even journalists with whom I disagree that I still hold in high regard, for it is their interpretation of data that differs from mine, not the skillful gathering of information, which is the lifeblood of honest intellectual pursuit.

And then you have the utter nonsense published in Forbes, an outlet I’ve long associated with intellectual honesty.

Those days are over.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Is Tesla Autopilot Actually an Autopilot?

31 Aug

Tesla Autopilot

Tesla presumably named its semi-autonomous driving suite “Autopilot” for a reason. After all, it’s not a made-up bit of marketing jargon—it’s the commonly-used term for the self-piloting technology found in aircraft.

In fact, let’s take a look at one definition of an autopilot system, from Wikipedia:

“…[A] system used to control the trajectory of a vehicle without constant ‘hands-on’ control by a human operator being required. Autopilots do not replace a human operator, but assist them in controlling the vehicle, allowing them to focus on broader aspects of operation…”

Now, let’s look at Tesla’s own description of Autopilot:

“[The system] allows [the] Model S to steer within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed…[and] while truly driverless cars are still a few years away, Tesla Autopilot functions like the systems that airplane pilots use when conditions are clear. The driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car. What’s more, you always have intuitive access to the information your car is using to inform its actions.”

So, is Tesla Autopilot actually an Autopilot?

Read the rest over at The Drive

The War For Autonomous Driving, Part Deux: The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

18 Aug

Mercedes Drivepilot

What follows is a full review, as promised, of the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), including the new Drive Pilot feature and what Mercedes calls “semi-automated” driving features. This is a follow-up to my original and disputed comparison of this technology suite to Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous driving capabilities.

I note that this test included, over the course of one week, about 250 miles of real-world testing in a top-of-the-line E-Class with Premium 3 Package; 400 pages read (and re-read) of the E-Class owner’s manual; heavy perusal of the company’s website and public statements regarding Drive Pilot; and two undercover visits to dealerships to ask questions of the sales people.

Read the rest over at The Drive

It’s Not Just Tesla Autopilot—Everything Is in Beta

3 Aug

Everything Is In Beta

I remember my first real girlfriend. We were eleven; promises were made. My first car? I was going to keep it forever. My parents were together, until they weren’t. I remember the girl I wanted to marry—the first girl and the third. I remember my father’s voice from the next room. Then on an answering machine, which stopped working, then on a voicemail, which I lost when I switched to T-Mobile. Then, only in my memory.

Nothing is static. The world, with all of us in it, is in a constant state of change. Everything is in beta, and anyone who says otherwise is selling you something.

Love or hate Elon Musk, his greatest societal contribution isn’t “Premium Electric Vehicles” or reusable rockets. It might just be his use of language—specifically that phrase, “in beta.” Did you think that term means “not ready,” “incomplete,” or “needs testing”? It can, and it does, but now, it also means something else: In the world of automotive technology, especially autonomy, “in beta” now means: We have to move faster.

Read the rest over at The Drive