Ford Motor Co. F +0.30% will begin selling an F-150 pickup truck later this year that is modified to run on compressed natural gas, as demand continues to grow among commercial fleet buyers.
Ford sold 11,000 trucks last year that run on natural gas, and that was double what the company sold in the years of 2009, 2010 and 2011 combined. Until now, Ford hadn’t made it an option available on the base F-150, reserving it for heavier-duty models and its Transit Connect delivery van.
With the addition of the F-150, Ford expects to sell about 15,000 CNG vehicles this year, the company said in a statement.
“We did this because customers were asking for it,” said Kevin Koswick, Ford’s director of North American fleet sales operations.
Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Co. GM -0.11% already offer compressed natural gas as an option on its half-ton pickup trucks and Ford offers it on its larger, heavy-duty pickups and vans. Of the Detroit companies, only Chrysler is installing the special tanks and fuel lines in the trucks at its own factory. Ford and GM send the trucks to an upfitter that installs the equipment.
If women can’t read maps and men always lose their keys, there is at least one aspect about driving that unites the sexes: neither has a clue when it comes to identifying dashboard warning lights.
Nearly all motorists who were asked to identify the huge display of warning lights that can now be found in many of the country’s most popular new vehicles struggled to work out what they meant.
Tyre pressure, engine emission and fog light indicators were the most confusing with 98 per cent of drivers failing to correctly identify all of them.
When shown images of the 16 most common dashboard symbols, 71 per cent of motorists do not recognise a tyre pressure warning light with one in twenty thinking it is something to do with the oil or brakes. And more than a third (35 per cent) of drivers did not recognise an airbag warning symbol with 27 per cent mistaking it for a seatbelt warning, according to the survey by Britannia Rescue.
The Connected Car is a creator of big data. What are the benefits of knowing the “where” of cars beyond traffic? What other applications of the data collected by “smart & connected cars” might we use? Our editors suggest the apps they’d like to see.
In the past month, San Francisco International Airport officials have been citing and arresting drivers from mobile-app enabled rideshare companies that pick up and drop off passengers, an airport spokesman said.
Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said there have been seven citizen arrests issued to “various offenders” since July 10.
The airport had issued cease and desist letters to several rideshare companies, including Lyft, Sidecar and Uber, in April.
Since then, Yakel said airport officials, in conjunction with airport police, had been “admonishing” drivers that came to the airport.
Yakel said the companies are not permitted to offer their services at SFO and they are now being arrested for unlawful trespassing.
The state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates and licenses passenger carriers, has been looking into how to regulate these new types of companies.
An evaluation of ridesharing services will come to the commission sometime this week after being mulled since the beginning of the year, CPUC spokesman Chris Chow said.
This study examined recent trends in the numbers of light-duty vehicles (cars, pickup trucks, SUVs, and vans) in the U.S. fleet. The analysis considered both the absolute numbers and the rates per person, per licensed driver, and per household. The period examined was from 1984 through 2011. The absolute number of vehicles reached a maximum in 2008. However, it is likely that this was only a temporary maximum and that the decline after 2008 was primarily driven by the current economic downturn that started in 2008. Consequently, with the improving economy and the expected increase in the U.S. population, it is highly likely that (from a long-term perspective) the absolute number of vehicles has not yet peaked. On the other hand, the rates of vehicles per person, licensed driver, and household reached their maxima prior to the onset of the current economic downturn.
Consequently, it is likely that the declines in these rates prior to the current economic downturn (i.e., prior to 2008) reflect other societal changes that influence the need for vehicles (e.g., increases in telecommuting and in the use of public transportation). Therefore, the recent maxima in these rates have better chances of being long-term peaks as well.
However, because the changes in the rates from 2008 on likely reflect both the relevant societal changes and the current economic downturn, whether the recent maxima in the rates will represent long-term peaks as well will be influenced by the extent to which the relevant societal changes turn out to be permanent.
Consumer Reports has rated the Tesla sedan the best car that they’ve ever tested (list). Tesla has a market capitalization of about $14 billion (July 22, 2013). According to Wikipedia, Tesla seems to have required about $1 billion in debt and equity funding.
The GM/Chrysler bailout required roughly $85 billion in taxpayer funds (Wikipedia). Instead of preserving these relics we could have instead have had nearly 85 startup automobile manufacturers on the same scale as Tesla. Wouldn’t that have been a lot more interesting and more likely to push forward the automotive state of the art?
The Gator is a “side-by-side,” a four-wheel-drive, off-highway vehicle with dual bucket seating, retractable belts and automobile-style controls, also known as a recreational off-road vehicle (ROV). The side-by-side market is notable for two things at the moment. The first is increased federal scrutiny. ROVs are inherently less stable than their automotive counterparts, due to their high ground clearance and center of gravity, short wheelbase and narrow track, and limber, long-travel suspension.
In 2009, after a slew of lawsuits against Yamaha, the company that broke the category open with the 2003 introduction of its Rhino, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission demanded a voluntary repair program to effect modifications to that vehicle’s rear suspension. The feds have drafted new regulations intended to lessen the risk of ROV rollover and passenger ejection; the industry is pushing back, in part by promoting rider safety and responsible riding. Dulce et decorum est. Wear a helmet.
The second notable thing relates to the first: These things are selling like crazy. Category sales increased 22% in 2012, to 166,449 units, according to the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association. And as the market proliferates, the machines themselves are mutating, resulting in a strain of super-aggressive sport side-by-sides, with top speeds as high as 75 miles per hour. The Polaris RZR 800, for example, accelerates to 35 mph in 3.8 seconds and boasts a weight-to-power ratio of 18 pounds per horsepower. It’s a mere 50 inches wide, with a 77-inch wheelbase, set up on a dual-rate suspension with 9 inches of travel in front. These sorts of parameters send chassis engineers fleeing into the night.
The dry-sump, 839-cubic-centimeter, 62-hp V-twin engine is made by, of all companies, Piaggio, and is billed as the first motorcycle engine used in the segment (that will be news to Yamaha and Kawasaki). John Deere estimates that the Gator consumes a gallon of gas per hour in average use.
Look, these things are built-to-cost, outdoor toys, and they are not extravagantly engineered, frankly speaking. The bodywork and interior consoles are flimsy-feeling plastic panels that rattle concussively when the machine takes a hit. The brakes are grabby, the throttle is jumpy and the rack-and-pinion steering makes the Gator feel like an overeager golf cart.
For better or worse, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission did not prohibit the development and sale of these early cars:
A British-based computer scientist has been banned from publishing an academic paper revealing the secret codes used to start luxury cars including Porsches, Audis, Bentleys and Lamborghinis as it could lead to the theft of millions of vehicles, a judge has ruled.
The high court imposed an injunction on the University of Birmingham’s Flavio Garcia, a lecturer in computer science, who has cracked the security system by discovering the unique algorithm that allows the car to verify the identity of the ignition key.
The UK injunction is an interim step in a case launched by Volkswagen’s parent, which owns the four luxury marques, against Garcia and two other cryptography experts from a Dutch university.
It complained that the publication could “allow someone, especially a sophisticated criminal gang with the right tools, to break the security and steal a car”. The cars are protected by a system called Megamos Crypto, an algorithm which works out the codes that are sent between the key and the car.
Car crash fatalities are at the lowest level they’ve been since 1949, but still average more than 32,000 every year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“It is vital for us to educate American drivers about safe driving behaviors they can demonstrate on the road that will help make our roadways safer,” said Roche. “Minimizing distractions, obeying traffic laws, and using your car’s safety features like turn signals and headlights, are all ways to be safer, no matter where you drive.”
Big-city vs. Small-city Driving
Different levels and types of traffic, noise and activity, as well as varying road conditions and rules, can make big city driving different than driving in smaller cities or more suburban areas. Allstate offers the following tips for driving in both settings. In larger cities:
The first task is to consider mileage. The Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing and Transportation Affordability Index estimates the number of miles that members of an average household travel by car in a year, broken down by city. Among our candidates, the average is 14,433 miles. (Garland, Tex., tops our list at 19,234 miles, while New York City is at the bottom with 9,375). We’ll incorporate this information into the data by creating a multiplier based on how many miles a city’s residents drive relative to the average. The Allstate rankings, for example, are based on the number of years between accidents. San Franciscans average 6.5 years between crashes, but they drive 74 percent as many miles as the average for cities in our survey, so we lower their years-between-accidents to 4.8 to account for how rarely they drive.
We left our field and finished our çokokrem with the bread Sait’s mum had baked for us at around 830 am, stirred only by litter pickers on the beach (a comforting sight relative to Turkey).
The road continued as the day before: it is the main highway from the coast to Tbilisi (the capital) and yet is only a single carriageway. It has a huge amount of traffic throughout the day including huge lorries with no other route to take, which means all of the other drivers are totally reckless in their overtaking and will glady stay on the wrong side of the road around blind corners to get around the next obstacle. This does not make for comfortable cycling on an already questionable surface, with constant horns blaring and three abreast overtaking commonplace on straight bits of road.
It is not all bad, though: any side road is not drivable, thus free of traffic and filled with blackberries (though they tend to lead nowhere and are littered with potholes on any sections with Tarmac) and the Georgians seem to love their fruit, with plenty of in-season (ish) pear, apple and our first fig tree!
It is unlikely much can be easily done in North America. Cars are components of very large systems that tightly bind society and technology erecting huge barriers to entry. I agree with Horace that studying the larger system makes more sense than just focusing on automobile technologies. An interesting place to start is to look at roads.
In 1890 the safety bicycle was taking over Europe and America. It made short trips in towns and cities much more practical, but there were a couple of little problems. Mud and manure. Any amount of rain would turn the mostly primative dirt roads into mud swamps and the means of transit the bike was beginning to displace created a lot of pollution. One account of Manhattan in 1890 suggested horses left about two and a half million pounds of manure and sixty thousand gallons of urine every day. Hot summers must have been somewhat less desirable than what we now experience.
Early automobiles, problematic as they were, represented such an improvement over the horse that people flocked to them. Crazy and not so crazy ideas were tried and something that seemed like a modern car emerged by around 1930. Just as important was the infrastructure. A serious national road system was proposed for bicycles with real work on automobile highways taking place in the teens. Much of what became the Interstate system was on the drawing board by the mid 1930s.
Cook explained, “It is a part of the ecosystem. And so just like the App Store is a key part of the ecosystem, and iTunes and all of our content is key, and the services we provide from messaging to Siri and so forth, having something in the automobile is very very important. It’s something that people want. And I think that Apple can do this in a unique way, and better than anyone else. And so it’s a key focus for us.”
That’s certainly a stronger endorsement than Cook’s recent descriptions of the state of Apple TV, which have morphed from a “hobby” to being “a string we keep pulling to see where it takes us.”
The origins of iOS in the Car
iOS in the Car appears to be Apple’s first significant new hardware product that isn’t a standalone device. It’s an outgrowth of the company’s car integration features, which originated as a way to control music playback from the iPod.
Between the iPod’s release in 2001 up until 2003, Apple experimented with basic serial interfaces, starting with iPod Accessory Protocol. This morphed into the more sophisticated Advanced iPod Remote (AiR) with the capacity to depict artist and title information, navigate songs within a playlist, handle shuffle playback and even show album art.
“Holy s—,” exclaims Kevin Mullen, the safety director at ADS Logistics Co., a 300-truck firm in Chesterton, Ind. “If I didn’t have to deal with drivers, and I could just program a truck and send it?”
Roughly speaking, a full-time driver with benefits will cost $65,000 to $100,000 or more a year. Even if the costs of automating a truck were an additional $400,000, most owners would leap at the chance, they say.
“There would be no workers’ compensation, no payroll tax, no health-care benefits. You keep going down the checklist and it becomes pretty cheap,” adds Mr. Barrett of Scranton, who says he can’t find enough drivers.
Drivers call this nonsense. “People come up with these grandiose ideas,” says Bob Esler of Taylor, Mich., who has been driving a truck since 1968. “How are you going to get the truck into a dock or fuel it?”
Of course, the real costs are hard to peg. Most experts on autonomous vehicles say that at least initially, the robot trucks will have to run on roads separate from regular vehicles, or via embedded roadside beacons. That won’t be cheap.
And then there is the primary issue of safety—of the cargo and people on the roads. Most in the industry believe that machines should eventually become better drivers than humans. It is going to take a long time to prove the case to governments and the public. But a payoff awaits. The U.S. government estimates the costs of truck collisions at $87 billion a year, with 116,000 people either killed or injured in truck and bus crashes.
The City of Tsukuba (Tsukuba) in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan and Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) are to begin public sidewalk demonstration trials tomorrow of the “Winglet”, a TMC-developed personal transport assistance robot ridden in a standing position. The trials, to be conducted in the Tsukuba Mobility Robot Experimental Zone, are the first for the Winglet on a public thoroughfare.
The Winglet, created with the aim of contributing to the development of a society where mobility is safe, freely accessible, and fun, is a next-generation mobility robot that offers users outstanding operability and performance that expands the user’s world, with a compact size and ease of use suited to modern living environments.
Driving is stressful. To MIT researcher Kael Greco, piloting an automobile falls somewhere on the anxiety scale above giving a class presentation and below sky diving but just barely.
Those are the initial findings of a trial for what will become the Road Frustration Index, a plan from the MIT SENSEable Cities Lab and Audi to measure the stress of driving in 30 cities.
“Intuitively we all understand that driving is stressful, but it was surprising to see how high,” he said referring to the results of nine preliminary tests where he and others were wired up with a variety of stress sensors as they cruised around the Boston area.
Greco is a graduate student at MIT and the first guinea pig for the stress sensors. He took an early morning drive around the Boston area—suspensfully documented in a slick video below—and monitored his anxiety with cameras, sweat meters, and a Microsoft Kinect.
He readily admits he’s not crazy about driving. “I’m OK with it. I realize I get quite stressed out looking at the results,” he said. So someone else might respond to traffic in a different way. “We want to identify what factors trigger stress,” he said.
A question that troubles me a little – and might trouble others, such as London mayor Boris Johnson, even more – is this: how responsible is it to urge people to take to their bikes on the streets of London, Paris or New York? No one is more persuaded than me of the unique powers of the bike – transportational, ecological, and epidemiological. But the virtues of the bicycle need to be accommodated within an integrated transport system and accompanied by public acceptance of the right of two-wheeled traffic to occupy the carriageway.
That is the case in Amsterdam and Copenhagen and Vienna but not in London, where it seems most drivers regard bicycles as a nuisance and treat cyclists with a shocking and sometimes murderous lack of consideration.
I suspect things are not much better in Paris and New York. There is even the ludicrous idea of making cyclists pay a “road tax”, a fiscal measure that was abandoned in the UK in the 1930s. The inevitable consequence of this hostility is a regrettable attitude of retaliatory anarchy among certain cyclists, which risks turning pedestrians into the victims. Cyclists, of course, should not take to the pavement (except where a pavement incorporates bike lanes) but, if you were a cyclist and had a choice between being crushed by a bus or lorry and riding on the pavement, I expect you would take measures to save your life.
The statistics for deaths and serious injuries among cyclists in Britain, including in London, make dispiriting reading for anyone contemplating putting on their cycle helmet. Annual deaths in the past 10 years in London have fluctuated between 20 and eight; last year’s figure was 14, down two on the previous year’s 16.
Serious injuries, at 657 in 2012 compared with 394 in 2002, have risen in number but fallen slightly in proportion to the number of bike trips made.
The Hertz Corporation (NYSE: HTZ) is announcing the global launch of Hertz 24/7, (www.hertz247.com or www.hertz.com) a revolutionary new rental service available any time, day or night. The expansion is a game changer for the industry because for the first time customers will be able to rent a wide variety of vehicles near their home or work when needed and for any length of time — hourly, daily, weekly or monthly. The company estimates that by 2016, it will have “self-serve” vehicles within minutes of the majority of the United States population.
The company is also announcing that it will host a 24/7 product and service demonstration event in the metropolitan New York City area during the second week of September, 2013. This technology event will focus on the future of in-car telematics and mobile applications to enhance the rental experience. Additional details will be provided later this summer.
“Driven by the company’s award-winning technology, Hertz is reinventing the car rental industry by putting the rental process in the hands of consumers. Technology-enhanced vehicles will be available close to where customers live or work, making it easier than ever to reserve and quickly pick-up a rental vehicle at the customer’s convenience. Urban and suburban customers will be able to rent a much wider variety of vehicles at any hour – not just weekdays 9 to 5 when a neighborhood rental location is open. 24/7 service is a key part of our commitment to create the fastest, easiest and most valued rental experiences in the business,” commented Hertz Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Mark P. Frissora.
Once a member, the Hertz 24/7 customer experience is powered by the fast and easy “Click. Swipe. Go!” process. Click on hertz247.com or hertz.com from your mobile device or laptop and complete the simple 24/7 reservation process in a few minutes. The car will only be minutes away and Swipe the 24/7 key fob against the reader on the windshield to unlock the doors. Then Go!, after retrieving the keys tethered to the dashboard.
Hertz 24/7 service is available today at 1,800 neighborhood and airport locations in the U.S., France, Germany, U.K., Spain and Australia with plans to be in more than 2,000 locations by year end. The company now has 35,000 vehicles (cars, mini-vans, vans and SUVs) equipped for 24/7 rentals. The company will be prepared to have approximately 500,000 Hertz 24/7-enabled vehicles in service globally by 2016. At that point, Hertz 24/7’s fleet would be more than ten times the size of the current car sharing industry combined.
More than a decade on, a new game-changer looms: BMW’s i electric car range. The i3, in particular, will be a mould-breaker. Not just for its engineering, but also its retailing strategy. Here’s how it will work. Electric i cars can be sold directly by BMW. You will be able to click-and-buy online and your car will be delivered to your door (already possible with bananas and books but still revolutionary in the antediluvian world of car retailing).
BMW i stores – the first was in Park Lane, London – will offer a ‘retail experience’; they will not look like parking lots. Customers will lease, rarely buy, so a ‘recommended retail price’ is irrelevant. Leases will be flexible. If you don’t get on with your car, you can stop the lease. You will buy mobility packages, not a car. Prices will be fixed with no haggling. You will be able to purchase different packages, not least a flexible mobility deal that allows you to use petrol or diesel cars when a long drive beckons. It’s all thanks to a BMW car-sharing-fleet. Another mobility package enables users to access various forms of BMW transport, all from your smartphone app. So I can collect electric or petrol cars from reserved parking places, but also use scooters, fold-up bicycles (and even trains).
BMW will also have its own Zipcar-like car-sharing scheme. In many ways, electric cars work best when they are shared. Naturally, their usual parking places will be alongside recharging points. BMW has already announced its ‘Genius’ programme, modelled closely on Apple’s. These are tech-savvy experts who work at dealers, although you can also ring them if the idea of going to a retailer is too unpalatable. Little wonder that the new i cars – note the Apple nomenclature again! – were the catalysts for these Geniuses. (If they are Geniuses, what, I wonder, are normal BMW car salesmen?) Car retailing may finally be revolutionised. Intriguingly, part of the solution to the perennial problem of selling cars may well be that cars will not be ‘sold’ at all.
Sales of electric cars in Europe have been stuck in the slow lane, but could that change as governments and private companies become more involved in providing public charging there? On Monday, ABB, the Swiss electric engineering and power grid company, announced that it would install a national network of 201 fast-charging stations in the Netherlands.
Cal Lankton, director of electric vehicle infrastructure for ABB in the United States, said in a telephone interview that the solar-aided stations, which can fully charge a car in 30 minutes or less, will be installed by 2015 at service stations on ring roads and other intracity locations throughout the Netherlands. ABB said that when the network is complete, all of the country’s more than 16 million people would live within 31 miles of a fast-charging station.
But now licensed cabdrivers in this city where the car remains king are facing their greatest competition in half a century, from new ride-sharing programs that use smartphone apps to connect drivers and passengers.
At the end of a night of drinking recently, rather than hailing a cab, Trisha DiFazio tapped an app called Lyft on her phone to summon a ride. Minutes later, a graduate student moonlighting as a driver pulled up in a Toyota S.U.V. with Lyft’s signature pink mustache affixed to its grille.
“This is so much cheaper than a cab, and so much easier,” said Ms. DiFazio, 31. “I absolutely think my friends drink and drive less because of this.”
Transit experts say these new services, which appeal to younger riders, could play a crucial role in ending the reign of single-occupant cars (and unending traffic) in Los Angeles, and many young residents have embraced them as a cheaper, more reliable and, well, more fun way to get around the city. But some of the city’s licensed cabdrivers have another name for ride-sharing services: illegal bandit taxis.
Gaining access to listeners in cars is a key part of Pandora’s strategy to win more of the $15 billion market in local radio advertising in the U.S. More than half of radio listening occurs in automobiles.
While Apple’s built-in voice controls, called Eyes Free Siri, will navigate to any application, it defaults to its own programs when a user makes a music request, Greenfield wrote.
“Apple is clearly favoring their native music app with radio based commands,” Greenfield said. “If you were in Pandora and used Siri with the command ‘play Jazz Radio’ it would literally stop Pandora, open up iTunes Radio and starts playing the iTunes Radio Jazz station.”
Greenfield says he expects Google Inc. (GOOG) to take a similar approach to Apple in marrying hardware and software design when it debuts an YouTube music service in the year ahead.
The new i3 is also the first road-going BMW model to be based around an all-carbon-fiber body. For development, BMW forged a working relationship with SGL Carbon and established a state-of-the-art carbon-fiber weaving and curing facility at its Landshut factory in Germany, where the new car’s structure is made.
BMW says using carbon fiber has helped achieve a low (for an electric car) 2,635-pound curb weight. This helps the car’s performance potential because BMW could use a smaller-capacity battery than would have been possible with a more conventional steel monocoque construction.
Stylistically, the production i3 differs little from the most-recent concept. It is a modern-looking car boasting proportions like those of the Mercedes-Benz B-class but with a more contemporary look. With no B-pillars, the car uses front-hinged suicide doors, allowing excellent access to the rear seat.
Power comes from an electric motor mounted low in the rear axle — a position allowing BMW to devote the space under the hood to improved crashworthiness. The synchronous motor is produced in-house at BMW’s Munich engine plant; the company says it weighs just 287 pounds and produces 168 hp. As with all electric cars, the torque is what counts, and the motor’s 184 lb-ft is 5 lb-ft more than what the Mini Cooper S’ 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbo produces. The i3 is rear-wheel drive with a single-ratio gearbox offering three driving modes: comfort, ECO-PRO and ECO-PRO+.
CARS that need no driver are just around the corner according to Google, which has been testing vehicles bristling with aerials and cameras on public roads in America. But Google does not make cars (yet), so it will be up to firms that do to bring the technology to market. And carmakers are a conservative bunch. Still, slowly and steadily the autonomous car will arrive, with the help of an increasing number of automated driving aids. Volvo recently demonstrated one such feature: a car that really does park itself.
Some cars already have systems that assist with parking, but these are not completely autonomous. They can identify an empty parallel-parking space and steer into it while the driver uses the brake. The Volvo system, however, lets the driver get out and use a smartphone application to instruct the vehicle to park. The car then trundles off, manoeuvres into a parking place and sends a message to the driver to inform him where it is. The driver can collect the car in person or use his phone to call it back to where he dropped it off. Autonomous parking could thus be provided at places like shopping centres and airports, which are controlled areas in which automated vehicles can be managed more easily than on open highways.
In the past, designs for doing this have relied on car parks being fitted with buried guide wires that a vehicle can follow to an empty bay. That, though, creates a chicken-and-egg problem: car-park operators will not invest in such infrastructure until there is a sufficient number of suitably equipped cars on the road. Drivers, conversely, will not want to buy self-parking cars if there is nowhere to use them.
The U.S. auto industry, in tatters just four years ago, is emerging as an export powerhouse, driven by favorable exchange rates and labor costs in a trend experts say could drive business for many years.
In a sign of the turnaround, Honda Motor Co ., once a big importer of Japanese-made cars, says it expects to export more vehicles from North America—with nearly all of them coming from its U.S. factories—than it brings in from Japan by the end of 2014.
Last year, more than one million cars and light trucks were exported from U.S. auto plants, the highest recorded and a more than threefold rise from 2003, according to the U.S. International Trade Administration.
But America’s love affair with its vehicles seems to be cooling. When adjusted for population growth, the number of miles driven in the United States peaked in 2005 and dropped steadily thereafter, according to an analysis by Doug Short of Advisor Perspectives, an investment research company. As of April 2013, the number of miles driven per person was nearly 9 percent below the peak and equal to where the country was in January 1995. Part of the explanation certainly lies in the recession, because cash-strapped Americans could not afford new cars, and the unemployed weren’t going to work anyway. But by many measures the decrease in driving preceded the downturn and appears to be persisting now that recovery is under way. The next few years will be telling.
“What most intrigues me is that rates of car ownership per household and per person started to come down two to three years before the downturn,” said Michael Sivak, who studies the trend and who is a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. “I think that means something more fundamental is going on.”
If the pattern persists — and many sociologists believe it will — it will have beneficial implications for carbon emissions and the environment, since transportation is the second largest source of America’s emissions, just behind power plants. But it could have negative implications for the car industry. Indeed, companies like Ford and Mercedes are already rebranding themselves “mobility” companies with a broader product range beyond the personal vehicle.
“Different things are converging which suggest that we are witnessing a long-term cultural shift,” said Mimi Sheller, a sociology professor at Drexel University and director of its Mobilities Research and Policy Center. She cites various factors: the Internet makes telecommuting possible and allows people to feel more connected without driving to meet friends. The renewal of center cities has made the suburbs less appealing and has drawn empty nesters back in. Likewise the rise in cellphones and car-pooling apps has facilitated more flexible commuting arrangements, including the evolution of shared van services for getting to work.
With all these changes, people who stopped car commuting as a result of the recession may find less reason to resume the habit.
Related: Federation of State PIRGS:
From World War II until just a few years ago, the number of miles driven annually on America’s roads steadily increased. Then, at the turn of the century, something changed: Americans began driving less. By 2011, the average American was driving 6 percent fewer miles per year than in 2004.
The trend away from driving has been led by young people. From 2001 and 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita – a drop of 23 percent. The trend away from steady growth in driving is likely to be long-lasting – even once the economy recovers. Young people are driving less for a host of reasons – higher gas prices, new licensing laws, improvements in technology that support alternative transportation, and changes in Generation Y’s values and preferences – all factors that are likely to have an impact for years to come.
It appears toy giant Mattel has pinpointed the reason sales of its Hot Wheels brand haven’t grown over the past few years, and it’s not what one might expect.
The culprit, executives claim: clueless mothers.
We may be great at jazzing up dollhouses, whipping up goods in the Easy-Bake Oven and dressing up Barbie. And hey, we can probably even figure out how to turn a pile of building blocks into a fortress.
But the thing is, we just don’t “get” how to play cars with our boys. At least according to Mattel vice president Matt Petersen, who runs the company’s North American boys’ toys and games division.
“She doesn’t get why cars, engines, and all the shapes and crashing and smashing are so cool,” Petersen told Bloomberg Businessweek, noting this is likely because mom has never played with them.
In 2011, 3291 American teenagers were killed in automobile accidents. Car crashes account for more than a third of teenage deaths, by far the largest cause-surpassing the number of teens killed separately by guns, drugs, cancer, homicide, and suicide. Drivers between 16 and 19 years old have a fatal-accident rate more than three times that of those between 30 and 69.
If this were a disease, we’d declare it an epidemic. If kids were being killed by a foreign government, we’d go to war. But since these deaths happen one at a time, nine or so Donovan Tessmers every day, no one seems to care enough to do anything. Not the government, not the insurance companies, not even the parents.
Upper-middle-class American parents spend almost $9000 annually on enrichment activities for their children. But $100-per-hour cello lessons won’t make most kids Yo-Yo Ma. The soccer career of the average boy or girl in a $1500-a-season travel league ends with high school. Most teenagers will drive for the rest of their lives.
Yet parents tend to cheap out when it comes to teaching driving to kids. The price of a typical driving course is $300. When Mercedes-Benz started its driving academy in 2009-at $1390, more than four times as expensive as the average American driving class-the company conducted focus groups with its upper-income customers, asking them how they would go about selecting a piano teacher for their kids. The answers were thoughtful, including soliciting referrals from other parents, conducting personal interviews, and observing actual lessons. By contrast, those same parents found driving schools through the Yellow Pages.
As scientists and car companies forge ahead — many expect self-driving cars to become commonplace in the next decade — researchers, city planners and engineers are contemplating how city spaces could change if our cars start doing the driving for us. There are risks, of course: People might be more open to a longer daily commute, leading to even more urban sprawl.
That city of the future could have narrower streets because parking spots would no longer be necessary. And the air would be cleaner because people would drive less. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 30 percent of driving in business districts is spent in a hunt for a parking spot, and the agency estimates that almost one billion miles of driving is wasted that way every year.
“What automation is going to allow is repurposing, both of spaces in cities, and of the car itself,” said Ryan Calo, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law, who specializes in robotics and drones.
Harvard University researchers note that as much as one-third of the land in some cities is devoted to parking spots. Some city planners expect that the cost of homes will fall as more space will become available in cities. If parking on city streets is reduced and other vehicles on roadways become smaller, homes and offices will take up that space. Today’s big-box stores and shopping malls require immense areas for parking, but without those needs, they could move further into cities.
The Autonomous Intersection Management project, created by the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, imagines cities where traffic lights no longer exist but sensors direct the flow of traffic. Although a video showing off the automated traffic intersection looks like total chaos, the researchers insist that such intersections will reduce congestion and fuel costs and can allow cars to drive through cities without stopping.
Brother Richard and daughter Jacqueline, age 16, came all the way from their home in San Francisco. Jacqueline hasn’t had much contact with her farm roots so I put her behind the wheel — she doesn’t drive — and helped her take the contraption out on the streets, which delighted the townsfolk congregating for the fireworks and frustrated her father.
Once he gets to his destination, Mr. Clemens parks the car on the street and forgets about it.
He relies exclusively on two car-sharing services, DriveNow and Car2Go. “I use this three to four times a day,” he said, as he dropped off a colleague in front of a wine bar in the German capital’s Mitte district on a recent Sunday evening. “To get to work, for business meetings, going out to a bar. I like it because it’s one-way.”
Car sharing has been around for decades in Europe and has caught on in the United States with Zipcar. These station-based car-sharing services require members to pick up vehicles from a particular place, which may or may not be convenient. Users usually need to reserve cars in advance for prearranged, prepaid blocks of time and, when they are done with the car, they have to return it to the same place — all factors that have limited car sharing’s attractiveness.
Berlin, though, has become the largest one-way, car-sharing city in the world. One-way or free-floating services, which recently started in the United States, use GPS and smartphone apps for far more flexible car sharing. Cars are parked on city streets, and users pick up cars parked nearest to them. Instead of bringing the car back to a lot, users leave it wherever they find parking near their destination. They are charged for the amount of time they spend driving.