Google’s Self-Driving Toyota Prius Gains a Nevada Autonomous Vehicle License

Ben Timmins:

Google’s autonomous car project is marching on after hitting a new milestone: the company’s fully autonomous Toyota Prius was formally registered in the state of Nevada as an autonomous vehicle, allowing it to operate on Nevada’s public roads. Last year, the Nevada Assembly passed legislation that paved the way for the state to be the first in the nation to formally license autonomous vehicles (as opposed to just licensing a vehicle) within the state’s borders. This month, the state debuted a new type of license plate for autonomous cars–a red plate with an infinity symbol on the left side of it and the first two digits spelling AU–and gave the AU-001 plate to Google and its Toyota Prius. Google’s autonomous Toyota Prius, along with a handful of other self-driving cars, has been testing for some time now in California, but Nevada statutes now formally recognize autonomous cars and regulate where and when they can be tested. While the cars drive themselves, Nevada law stipulates that they must have two passengers–one in the driver’s seat and able to take over the controls, and another in any other part of the car.

The Intergenerational Transmission of Automobile Brand Preferences: Empirical Evidence and Implications for Firm Strategy

Soren Anderson, Ryan Kellogg, James Sallee & Ashley Langer:

We document a strong correlation in the brand of automobile chosen by parents and their adult children, using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. In our preferred estimates, children are 46% more likely to choose an automobile brand if their parents also chose that brand. Correlation in intrafamily brand choice could represent a causal trans- mission of brand preference, or it could be due to correlated family characteristics that determine brand choice. We present a variety of empirical specifications that lend support to the causal interpretation. We then discuss implications of intergenerational brand pref- erence transmission for automakers and market outcomes, focusing on a model of Bertrand competition in the presence of brand loyalty that is transmitted across generations. We find that intergenerational transmission of brand preferences should lower equilibrium prices for vehicles targeted at parents and raise equilibrium prices for vehicles targeted at children. We further show that firms have a unilateral incentive to instill a sense of brand loyalty in their consumers, even though equilibrium profits may decrease when all firms do so.

Truckers Tap Into US Gas Boom

Mike Ramsey:

Operators of some of the largest U.S. truck fleets, including Lowe’s LOW +1.00% Cos., Procter & Gamble Co. PG +1.43% and United Parcel Service Inc., UPS +0.55% are accelerating a shift to natural gas fueled trucks, betting on new engine technology that promises to drop the cost of shifting from diesel fuel.

Home-improvement retailer Lowe’s wants its delivery company to shift all of its several hundred trucks to natural gas by 2017. P&G already has 7% of its trucks on gas and could reach as much as 20% within two years. UPS says it plans to buy 1,000 natural gas trucks by the end of next year. FedEx Corp. FDX +0.46% plans to shift 30% of its long-distance trucks to natural gas over the next decade.

The nation’s supply of relatively cheap natural gas is helping spur this shift. So are new natural gas engines that can power heavy-duty trucks that weigh up to 80,000 pounds. The first, a 12-liter Cummins Westport Inc. natural gas engine went on sale in July. Next year, Volvo AB, VOLV-B.SK +0.71% the Swedish heavy truck maker, will introduce a natural gas engine for its trucks.

Long-distance trucking companies, like Con-way Inc., CNW -0.13% Schneider National Inc., Swift Transportation Corp. SWFT +1.62% and Werner Enterprises Inc. WERN +0.26% are testing compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas powered trucks as they awaiting more powerful engines and a nationwide fueling and repair infrastructure. Higher initial cost for vehicles, scant natural-gas vehicle suppliers and fuel availability have been impediments.

Beware The Liability Of Sharing Your Car With Strangers

M.P. McQueen

Car sharing, the newest way to rent a car, is catching on in the U.S., Canada and Europe. But both renters and the car owners they rent from may be taking on risks they don’t fully understand.

At least one fatal accident involving car sharing has already occurred, resulting in litigation over financial responsibility. In February 2012, the 24-year-old driver of a car rented from one of the so-called peer-to-peer rental companies caused an accident in Boston, injuring four other parties. The driver died in the crash.

All four surviving parties sued the estate of the driver who died and caused the crash as well as the car’s owner, a former Google systems administrator named Liz Fong-Jones, and RelayRides, the peer-to-peer company which arranged the rental, according to William Doyle Jr., the attorney for Kevan Knecht, one of the injured passengers. After some legal wrangling, the four cases were settled out of court for an undisclosed amount, said Doyle, who is based in Boston.

The dispute over the RelayRides accident in Boston illustrates one big caveat about using car sharing services: Most state insurance laws haven’t yet caught up with this relatively new industry. Insurers and legal experts suggest drivers, and those who lend out their cars to peer-sharing services, should check their insurance coverage before using the services.

Toyota’s killer firmware: Bad design and its consequences

Michael Dunn:

On Thursday October 24, 2013, an Oklahoma court ruled against Toyota in a case of unintended acceleration that lead to the death of one the occupants. Central to the trial was the Engine Control Module’s (ECM) firmware.

Embedded software used to be low-level code we’d bang together using C or assembler. These days, even a relatively straightforward, albeit critical, task like throttle control is likely to use a sophisticated RTOS and tens of thousands of lines of code.
With all this sophistication, standards and practices for design, coding, and testing become paramount – especially when the function involved is safety-critical. Failure is not an option. It is something to be contained and benign.

So what happens when an automaker decides to wing it and play by their own rules? To disregard the rigorous standards, best practices, and checks and balances required of such software (and hardware) design? People are killed, reputations ruined, and billions of dollars are paid out. That’s what happens. Here’s the story of some software that arguably never should have been.

A black box in your car? Some see a source of tax revenue

Evan Halper:

As America’s road planners struggle to find the cash to mend a crumbling highway system, many are beginning to see a solution in a little black box that fits neatly by the dashboard of your car.

The devices, which track every mile a motorist drives and transmit that information to bureaucrats, are at the center of a controversial attempt in Washington and state planning offices to overhaul the outdated system for funding America’s major roads.

The usually dull arena of highway planning has suddenly spawned intense debate and colorful alliances. Libertarians have joined environmental groups in lobbying to allow government to use the little boxes to keep track of the miles you drive, and possibly where you drive them — then use the information to draw up a tax bill.

Self-driving cars projected to reduce injuries by 90 percent, save $450 billion annually

Shawn Knight:

Driver error is the number one cause of automobile crashes so what would happen if you removed humans from the equation? According to independent research by the Eno Center for Transportation, vehicle-related injuries would drop by 90 percent and save the US economy roughly $450 billion each year.

The group discovered that 40 percent of fatal crashes in the US involved alcohol, drugs, fatigue or distraction – all metrics that wouldn’t affect an autonomous vehicle. Even in cases where a vehicle is primarily responsible for an accident, human elements like not paying attention and speeding often contributed to the occurrence of crashes and / or the severity of injuries.

The adoption rate of self-driving vehicles among consumers will of course play a big role in how many accidents can be avoided and how much money the economy could save. For example, if one in every 10 car was replaced with an autonomous vehicle, it would reduce crashes and subsequent injuries by roughly half and save around $25 billion each year.

In Almost Every European Country, Bikes Are Outselling New Cars

Krishnadev Calamur:

We know that Europeans love their bicycles — think Amsterdam or Paris. Denmark even has highways specifically for cyclists.

Indeed, earlier this month, NPR’s Lauren Frayer reported that Spain, which has long had a love affair with cars, is embracing the bicycle: For the first time on record, Lauren noted, bicycles outsold cars in the country.

But it’s becoming a Continent-wide phenomenon. More bikes were sold in Italy than cars — for the first time since World War II.

This prompted us to look at the figures across the 27 member states of the European Union for both cars and bicycles. New-car registrations for Cyprus and Malta weren’t available, so we took them out of the comparison.

In the future you may be able to use your cell phone [to control a tractor]

Neil Munshi:

Thousands of US farmers will take to their fields this month for the main annual harvest on tractors equipped with cutting edge technology, as agricultural equipment makers increasingly incorporate elements of data analytics, GPS and remote sensing in a race to make farming more precise.

At a time when carmakers are targeting 2020 for the first self-driving cars, a tractor that maps a field, drives itself and precisely calibrates its movements within inches to minimise wasted fuel, fertiliser or seed, is already almost standard.

“The iron’s almost starting to become a commodity – where the tractor is a tractor to a customer and the technology is the differentiating piece,” says Ben Craker, senior marketing specialist at Agco.

Seed and tractor companies foresee a big opportunity because higher crop yields are needed to deal with increased food demand as the global population swells to 9bn by 2050, according to UN estimates. Helping farmers cope with the volatile weather brought on by climate change presents another opening.

Mark Rosegrant, of the International Food Policy Research Institute, estimates that the rigorous adoption of “precision agriculture” technology could increase yield on any given farm by about 10 per cent, compared with average global annual crop yield increases of about 1 per cent.

The combination of food demand and rising farmers’ expectations has forced agricultural companies to make big advances beyond auto-steer – introduced about 15 years ago – towards remote sensing and cloud-based data collection on the dozens of variables, from soil moisture to nutrient levels, that govern modern farming.

Google cars versus public transit: the US’s problem with public goods

Ethan Zuckerman

I have an excellent job at a great university. I have a home that I love in a community I’ve lived in for two decades where I have deep ties of family and friendship. Unfortunately, that university and that hometown are about 250 kilometers from one another. And so, I’ve become an extreme commuter, traveling three or four hours each way once or twice a week so I can spend time with my students 3-4 days a week and with my wife and young son the rest of the time.

America is a commuter culture. Averaged out over a week, my commute is near the median American experience. Spend forty minutes driving each way to your job and you’ve got a longer commute than I in the weeks I make one trip to Cambridge. But, of course, I don’t get to go home every night. I stay two to three nights a week at a bed and breakfast in Cambridge, where my “ludicrously frequent guest” status gets me a break on a room. I spend less this way than I did my first year at MIT, when I rented an apartment that I never used on weekends or during school vacations.

This is not how I would choose to live if I could bend space and time, and I spend a decent amount of time trying to optimise my travel through audiobooks, podcasts, and phone calls made while driving. I also gripe about the commute probably far too often to my friends, who are considerate if not entirely sympathetic. (It’s hard to be sympathetic to a guy who has the job he wants, lives in a beautiful place, and simply has a long drive a few times a week.)

Self-Driving Car Demand Seen Boosted by Japan’s Aging Population

MA Jie & Masatsugu Horie:

Self-driving cars being planned by Google Inc. and global automakers may help counter slumping demand from younger customers by tapping the fastest-growing demographic in the world’s largest vehicle markets: the elderly.

As baby boomers age in markets including the U.S. and Japan, rising numbers of older drivers being killed or injured in accidents may spur demand for autonomous vehicles. With as many as 90 percent of traffic accidents caused by human error, a key benefit of the technology is boosting safety, executives from automakers including General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. said at an industry conference in Tokyo last week.

“Seniors are often regarded as the victims of traffic accidents, Moritaka Yoshida, managing officer and chief safety technology officer at Toyota, said this month as the company announced plans for automated-driving systems. ‘‘However, recently an increasing number of accidents are caused by senior drivers.’’
Japan, the world’s fastest-aging major economy and the third-largest car market, is at the forefront of the accident trend: of the 4,411 people who died on the road in the country last year, more than half, or 2,264, were 65 or older, according to data from the National Police Agency.

Oregon launching new program to tax drivers per mile


Oregon is moving ahead with a controversial plan to tax motorists based on the number of miles they drive as opposed to the amount of fuel they consume, raising myriad concerns about cost and privacy.

The program, springing out of a recently signed bill, is expected to launch in 2015 on a volunteer basis. But it’s charting relatively new territory, and other states aching for additional tax revenue are sure to be watching closely to see whether to imitate the model.

The problem for lawmakers is that the existing per-gallon gas tax has hit a point of diminishing returns, as Americans drive less and vehicles become more fuel efficient. The federal Highway Trust Fund, which gives money to states for highway construction and repairs, for example, has needed a congressional bailout four times since 2009, in part the result of no federal gas tax increase in the past 20 years.

However, economists and civil libertarians are concerned about the Oregon pilot project in large part because some mileage meters can track and record residents’ every vehicular move.

Rick Geddes, a Cornell University professor, said the basic device is okay because it is simply attached to a vehicle’s computer, which cannot track locations.

“It’s just like using electricity,” he told

Leasing a car is cheap—so why aren’t more Americans doing it?

Simone Foxman:

Wells Fargo analysts say that the interest rates Americans pay if they lease a car for 48 months are the cheapest they’ve been for 40 years, at around 4.25%. Interest rates on auto loans have continued to fall despite expectations this year that the US Federal Reserve would cut back its monetary stimulus program.

But the number of cars on the road has remained stagnant for the last six years or more. The housing market is on its way back, so why not car leasing?

Jay Bryson, global economist at Wells Fargo, points to two recent trends:

Via Paul Brody

How Mexico is upending the U.S. auto industry

Brad Plumer:

Back in the 1980s, the U.S. auto industry went through a major upheaval. Foreign automakers started opening up more and more plants in the South, taking advantage of the region’s weaker unions and lower labor costs. That, in turn, undercut the historically dominant position of Detroit and the Midwest.

Now, half a century later, the U.S. auto industry is going through yet another major churn. And this time around, Mexico is the driving force.

That’s one upshot of a new report on the auto industry from the Brookings Institution. The report is ostensibly a case study focused on Tennessee’s automotive sector, but it also offers a glimpse of the way the entire North American auto industry has shifted over the last 20 years.

The big story here is Mexico, which has massively expanded its share of North American auto manufacturing since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Automakers from GM to Nissan have been opening plants south of the border, attracted by Mexico’s low wages and dense industrial clusters:

Art of the Automobile

RM Auctions.

Auto Eco-System Regulation & Markets

Ed Wallace:

When the original Ford Mustang was introduced it came with seatbelts, but dealers could delete that feature for a $14 factory credit and many, if not most, did just that. Of course, the dealers’ point was this; their customers didn’t want these safety features, therefore they were simply providing the market with the products that were selling.

The great irony of the marketplace is that, after the government mandated these safety improvements be made to every car, then suddenly the public started demanding even more “safer vehicles.” Here’s the real scorecard on lives saved because federal mandates made this generation of new cars the safest ever.

Why OPEC No Longer Calls the Shots

Daniel Yergin:

Forty years ago, on Oct. 17, 1973, the world experienced its first “oil shock” as Arab exporters declared an embargo on shipments to Western countries. The OPEC embargo was prompted by America’s military support for Israel, which was repelling a coordinated surprise attack by Arab countries that had begun on Oct. 6, the sacred Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

With prices quadrupling in the next few months, the oil crisis set off an upheaval in global politics and the world economy. It also challenged America’s position in the world, polarized its politics at home and shook the country’s confidence.

Yet the crisis meant even more because it was the birth of the modern era of energy. Although the OPEC embargo seemed to provide proof that the world was running short of oil resources, the move by Arab exporters did the opposite: It provided massive incentive to develop new oil fields outside of the Middle East—what became known as “non-OPEC,” led by drilling in the North Sea and Alaska.

The Prudhoe Bay oil field was discovered in Alaska five years before the crisis. Yet opposition by environmentalists had prevented approval for a pipeline to bring the oil down from the North Slope—very much a “prequel” to the current battle over the Keystone XL pipeline. Only in the immediate aftermath of the embargo did a shaken Congress approve a pipeline that eventually added at its peak as much as two million barrels a day to the domestic supply.

Why the World’s Cheapest Car Flopped

Sean McLain:

When the Tata Nano, a stripped-down minicar priced at around $2,000, was introduced in 2009, it was marketed as a car that would transform the way aspiring consumers in India and other developing countries got around.

But the low-cost automotive revolution fizzled. Selling poorly at home and with exports drying up, the Nano has become a cautionary tale of misplaced ambitions and a drag on sales and profit at Tata Motors Ltd. 500570.BY +1.34% , India’s fourth-largest auto maker and the owner of Jaguar and Land Rover luxury vehicles.

It turns out that those climbing into India’s middle class want cheap cars, but they don’t want cars that seem cheap—and are willing to pay more than Tata reckoned for a vehicle that has a more upmarket image.

Now, Nano is trying remake the “people’s car,” into the “cool people’s car.” It has given the car itself a face-lift, adding a stereo, hubcaps and chrome trim, raised the price and started a new marketing campaign to give it more cachet.

If the remake fails to boost sales of the Nano, a Tata mainstay, the company’s outlook could be grim. Tata Motors has been laying off workers and cutting production. Analysts say without a revival in Nano demand, Tata Motors could cut further jobs next year.

“This was the flagship product for the passenger-car market. The disappointing sales are a pretty big negative for the group,” said Anil Sharma, an analyst at IHS Automotive, an industry consulting company.

Zero-Car Families on the Rise, Study Says

Rene Wisely:

The number of American households that do not own an automobile has increased in the United States for the first time in 50 years, according to a new study.

An aging population, challenging economic times, improved communication technology and increased availability of other travel options are contributing to this trend.

The share of American homes without a car rose to 9.3 percent in 2011.

Via Steven Sinofsky.

As car buyers search online, dealerships adjust their strategies

Leon Stafford:

When Jennifer Williams walked into the Nalley Lexus dealership in Cobb County, Ga., on a recent Tuesday, all she needed was a salesperson to provide her a good deal on her trade-in, the keys to her RX 350 SUV and a happy wave goodbye.

Thanks to the Internet, Williams had done research ahead of time and already knew what cars were available on the lot, their features, price and even ownership and mileage records. She also pre-investigated available interest rates, her credit score and, most important, what Nalley’s competitors were offering.

“I just needed to know what you’re going to give me for my trade, talk interest rates and see if they could take a little bit off the car,” she said.

Williams is the epitome of the new car shopper, industry experts say. Unlike a decade ago, today’s car buyers walk in the door with almost as much knowledge about what’s on a lot as the sales staff. And they don’t want to spend hours negotiating or being wooed into costly upgrades.

That has made it more difficult for dealerships to make the same profits of yesteryear and pushed some to change how they compensate employees. Lexus South Atlanta, for instance, switched from paying staff a traditional commission to an hourly salary plus incentives.

“The opportunity to negotiate has almost been eliminated,” Sid Barron, general manager at Lexus South, said, emphasizing this is especially true among young car buyers who don’t even understand the concept of negotiating. “You have to build value.”

People Would Rather Buy a Self-Driving Car From Google Than GM

Damon Lavrinc:

Nearly every automaker is working on some form of autonomous vehicle technology, but according to a new study, consumers are more interested in a self-driving car from Google than General Motors.

The study, conducted by U.S. audit and advisory firm KPMG, polled a diverse group of drivers from both coasts and in between, pulling samples from Los Angeles, California; Chicago, Illinois; and Iselin, New Jersey.

The focus groups were asked about their willingness to use an autonomous vehicle every day, and rank their trust in the company producing the car on a scale of one to 10. While high-end automakers like Mercedes-Benz received a median score of 7.75, tech companies like Google and Apple scored an eight, and mass-market brands (Chevrolet and Nissan) came in at five.

“We believe that self-driving cars will be profoundly disruptive to the traditional automotive ecosystem,” said Gary Silberg, KPMG auto expert and author of the report. The company’s polling bears that out, although KPMG is quick to add the caveat that while “focus group discussions are valuable for the qualitative, directional insights they provide; they are not statistically valid.”

Still, the study bore some interesting — if not entirely surprising — results.

Related: Google to Sell Users Endorsements.

Toyota iRoad Concept

Andrew English:

“So that’s why everyone comes back with a smile on their face,” said the Toyota translator as she pulled up in the i-Road tilting-trike concept after begging a short drive.

If you thought the appearance of this space-age tandem two seater was pretty wacky when it first appeared at the Geneva Motor Show last March, let me tell you, the driving experience is equally out of this world.

It’s also more fun than it has a right to be, our translator completely nailed it. No one climbs out of i-Road without a silly grin on their visog, although rear passengers tend to have a slightly horrified look. As for chief engineer Akihiro Yanaka’s idea of selling the idea of swooping around town in one of these to pensioners, well it would have to be a super granny who put her shopping basket into an i-Road.
Designed in house by Koji Fujita with its tilting battery-electric driveline engineered by a team under Yanaka, the i-Road is an urban runabout concept.

The motor industry has a long history of both three wheels going back to the earliest Morgan trikes and tilting bodies going back to the Thirties and more recently with a series of Mercedes-Benz concepts the 1997 Lifejet and 2002 Carving and BMW’s tilting tricycle eco concepts. As with the 1970s Advanced Passenger Train or more recent Pendolino trains, tilting a car’s body allows it to cope with more horizontal force so you can corner faster and more safely.

The Ethics of Autonomous Cars

Patrick Lin:

If a small tree branch pokes out onto a highway and there’s no incoming traffic, we’d simply drift a little into the opposite lane and drive around it. But an automated car might come to a full stop, as it dutifully observes traffic laws that prohibit crossing a double-yellow line. This unexpected move would avoid bumping the object in front, but then cause a crash with the human drivers behind it.

Should we trust robotic cars to share our road, just because they are programmed to obey the law and avoid crashes?

Our laws are ill-equipped to deal with the rise of these vehicles (sometimes called “automated”, “self-driving”, “driverless”, and “robot” cars—I will use these interchangeably). For example, is it enough for a robot car to pass a human driving test? In licensing automated cars as street-legal, some commentators believe that it’d be unfair to hold manufacturers to a higher standard than humans, that is, to make an automated car undergo a much more rigorous test than a new teenage driver.

But there are important differences between humans and machines that could warrant a stricter test. For one thing, we’re reasonably confident that human drivers can exercise judgment in a wide range of dynamic situations that don’t appear in a standard 40-minute driving test; we presume they can act ethically and wisely. Autonomous cars are new technologies and won’t have that track record for quite some time.

Moreover, as we all know, ethics and law often diverge, and good judgment could compel us to act illegally. For example, sometimes drivers might legitimately want to, say, go faster than the speed limit in an emergency. Should robot cars never break the law in autonomous mode? If robot cars faithfully follow laws and regulations, then they might refuse to drive in auto-mode if a tire is under-inflated or a headlight is broken, even in the daytime when it’s not needed.

Casanovas on Foot Baffle Toyota CEO as Japan Sales Shrink: Cars

Yuki Hagiwara, Ma Jie & Anna Mukai:

While Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) President Akio Toyoda is on the cusp of a record year for profit, kids nowadays make him nervous. They’re so clueless that boys without cars have the nerve to ask girls out.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp., center, who’s said he loves the smell of gasoline, talked about his passion for cars and how they shouldn’t be commoditized like fridges, but rather loved like babies or pets.

“In the past, if you wanted to date someone, you couldn’t ask her out if you didn’t have a car,” Toyoda, 57, told a packed auditorium of about 900 Meiji University students in Tokyo on Sept. 26. “It’s all changed now. Money goes on monthly phone bills. Also, parking’s expensive and it’s easy to get around Tokyo on public transport.”

Though he’s kidding about the dating, the underlying theme is no joke. Among the biggest conundrums facing automakers: how to make cars cool again. Japan’s aging population makes the mission more critical, with passenger-vehicle sales more than 20 percent down from their 1990 highs and the proportion of drivers in their 20s at half the level when Toyoda’s generation reached an age when they could sit behind the wheel.

“Younger Japanese are quite different from the older Japanese and cars mean much less to many than 20 or 25 years ago,” said Edwin Merner, president of Atlantis Investment Research Corp. in Tokyo, who’s been in Japan since the 1970s. “They’re more interested in tech gadgets, like the iPhone. Young people nowadays don’t have the money to buy cars too.”

As chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Toyoda is leading a one-month campaign to preach the virtues of being a motorhead to students. The presidents of Honda Motor Co., Subaru-maker Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (7270) and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. (7211) plan to follow.

GM Prods Dealers to Sell Cars Online: Software Lets Shoppers Bypass the Showroom

Christina Rogers:

General Motors plans to expand a new online shopping tool that allows customers to bypass showrooms when buying new cars.

The software, which keeps GM’s 4,300 dealers central to the sale of its vehicles, will provide a high-profile test of whether the auto maker can better cater to online-savvy consumers without running afoul of state franchise laws that give dealers exclusive rights to sell most new cars.

You can buy everything online now, from food to jeans. What about a new car? General Motors is trying to ahead of the trend to sell what might be the last product to be sold online. Christina Rogers reports. Photo: AP.

By the end of this year, GM plans to extend a Web-based application, called Shop-Click-Drive, to its entire dealer network. The app would let new-car buyers use their computer screen to lock in the price of a new car, get an estimate of the trade-in value of their old car, apply for financing and even arrange a test drive or delivery of their new vehicle.

GM’s app acts as an electronic door to its independent brick-and-mortar dealers, and so represents a cautious step toward adapting to consumers whose experience with online shopping for appliances and other goods has made them less willing to visit showrooms.

Related: Asymar 4: Death of a Salesman.

Taxpayer Subsidies Helped Tesla Motors, So Why Does Elon Musk Slam Them?

Josh Harkinson:

It’s rush hour in Silicon Valley, and the techies on Highway 101 are shooting me laser-beam stares of envy. Beneath the floorboard of my Tesla Model S, a liquid-cooled pack of 7,000 laptop batteries propels me down the carpool lane at a hushed 65 miles per hour. Then traffic grinds to a halt, and I’m stuck trying to merge onto an exit ramp as Benzes and BMWs whip past. It’s the excuse I’m waiting for: I punch the throttle, and the Model S rockets back up to speed so fast that I worry about flying off the road—a silly fear, it turns out, because the car corners like a barn swallow. “And there you go,” says Tina, my beaming Tesla sales rep. “Takeoff!”

Every bit as practical as a Volvo (rear-facing trundle seat!) and sexier than an Aston Martin, the Model S isn’t just the world’s greatest electric car—it’s arguably the world’s greatest car, period. The curmudgeons at Consumer Reports call the seven-seater the best vehicle they’ve ever tested, and that’s after docking it considerable points for only—only!—being able to travel 265 miles on a charge. The first mass-market electric car designed from scratch, it sports huge trunks in the rear and under the hood, an incredibly low center of gravity, and the ability to hit 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. Plus you can recharge it for the price of a burrito. Named car of the year by Motor Trend, the Model S has recharged Tesla as well. In May, the company announced that it had repaid, nine years early, a $465 million loan it had received from the Department of Energy.

Tesla posted its first quarterly profit the same month, and by mid-July the share price of the decade-old Palo Alto-based carmaker had more than doubled. The buzz in the Valley is that Tesla has in the Model S something with the disruptive potential of the iPhone—and in its CEO, Elon Musk, the next Steve Jobs. “Individuals come along very rarely that are both as creative and driven as that,” says Jim Motavalli, who writes for the New York Times’ Wheels blog. “Musk is not going to settle for a product that is good enough for the marketplace. He wants something that is insanely great.”

It was a Saab, a Red Saab

Dusk. The windows must be down. Saturday night. 72F / 22C. A warm breeze. Fresh air. A quick left, then the middle lane. Accelerate. Stop light. Sprint. Left lane. Wait for traffic, turn left. A quick right, more traffic.

Then, a red car. An unusual shape. Windows open as well.

Left hand knifing in and out of the driver’s window. Something in the driver’s hand.


Fast motions. We share the same lane. Accelerate. Paddles.

The breeze delights.

Crossing State street – slowly, lots of people walking and biking.

Nancy: “I think we are sharing his joint”.

The red Saab drifts in and out of the center lane. The left hand continues to dangle, the joint slicing the breeze.

Then, we part company, the joint a quick left, destination unknown, while we continue on our tried and true path to dinner.

Windows down. A terrific October breeze.

A red Saab, an unusual Saabaru, the 9-2x.

Another edition of my “auto anthropology” observations.

Super highway: A14 to become Britain’s first internet-connected road Technology on busy road connecting Birmingham and Felixstowe could pave way for self-driving cars

Julie Garside:

One of the UK’s most congested highways, connecting the busy container port at Felixstowe to Birmingham, is to become Britain’s first internet-connected road in a pilot project that could pave the way for everything from tolls to self-driving cars.

A network of sensors will be placed along a 50-mile stretch of the A14 in a collaboration between BT, the Department for Transport and the Cambridge start-up Neul, creating a smart road which can monitor traffic by sending signals to and from mobile phones in moving vehicles.

The technology, which sends signals over the white spaces between television channels instead of mobile phone networks, could even pave the way for government systems to automatically control car speeds.

The telecoms watchdog Ofcom, which on Wednesday approved the project as part of its new blueprint for how Britain will use spectrum, is already forecasting what high technology traffic systems will look like.

“Sensors in cars and on the roads monitor the build-up of congestions and wirelessly send this information to a central traffic control system, which automatically imposes variable speed limits that smooth the flow of traffic,” Ofcom said. “This system could also communicate directly with cars, directing them along diverted routes to avoid the congestion and even managing their speed.”

Engine Displacement & Taxes

Vojta Dobeš:

It started decades ago with taxation. The government needed to find some way to tax the different car differently, so the rich guys with bigger, better and badder cars pay more than the average Joe (or average Hans or Luigi) with his Morris, Topolino or Käfer. They decided that the best way to assess the cars is based on their engine displacement – not horsepower, not weight or dimensions. I don’t want to go to great lengths about why the metric was chosen – but that’s how things panned out.

And since taxation (and eventually, insurance), made it very expensive to own a car with a big engine in most countries, the car makers designed most cars with small engines – not for the sake of efficiency, but just to evade high taxes. Of course, there were still people who could buy expensive cars with huge engines. But having, say, a three-liter, six cylinder car in Europe was always a sign of wealth and extravegance.

The simple fact that it was, and often still is, expensive to own a large-displacement car in Europe, is quite well known and illustrated by atrocities like Ferrari 208 with two-liter, eight cylinder engine offering a scant 155 horsepower (or about as much AMC Pacer of the time). But the secondary result was that by making the high displacement cars expensive to own, no one really cared that much for their economy. Large displacement engines were expected to be power monsters, bought by those who were willing to pay extra for performance. So, if you were to offer anything over two liters of displacement, you tuned it to be extra powerful, letting the owner know where his money went. Which, of course, meant that these engines became really thirsty – while average European 3.0 from 1980s or 1990s offered similar power to American 5.0 V8, it also required about as much gas… or even more, in some cases. There were exceptions, like BMWs ETA low-rpm, low-compression 2.5 litre six cylinder, but they never really caught on.

“I prefer to put the money I don’t spend on a car in a retirement plan.”

Vabessa Fuhrmans:

Sergio Felice embodies a woeful present for European auto makers. He may also reflect a dim future.

Growing up in Italy, the 41-year-old bank consultant says, “it was always important to have a nice car.” Now living in Barcelona, he had been saving up to buy an Audi TT. Then Europe’s economic distress pushed him to reorganize his financial priorities, and owning a car is no longer one of them.

Even when better times return, he says, he probably won’t buy a car until he is in his 60s. He uses public transportation, a motorbike and car-sharing services, he says, and “I prefer to put the money I don’t spend on a car in a retirement plan.”

Behind Mr. Felice’s shift in driving habits lie trends that present Europe’s car makers with a hard prospect: Whenever the Continent crawls back from its debt-crisis ravages, its auto market likely won’t.

Europe’s largely unprofitable auto sector already is among the biggest industrial casualties of the crisis. New-car registrations in Europe have fallen to nearly a two-decade low. Most mass-market car makers are losing money on the Continent. Moody’s Investors Service Inc. estimates that PSA Peugeot Citroën, UG.FR -1.40% General Motors Co.’s GM -1.11% Opel, Fiat SpA and Ford Motor Co. F -1.07% will lose a combined €4.9 billion ($6.6 billion) in the region this year.

Wi-Fi Fight Pits Car Makers Against Cable Companies

Ryan Knutson & Shalini Ramachandran:

The auto and cable industries are in a jam over a lane of wireless spectrum.

Car companies want the airwaves—currently reserved for them—to allow vehicles to communicate with each other as well as infrastructure such as stoplights, making road traffic flow more smoothly. But in meetings with the Federal Communications Commission as recently as last week, the cable and technology industries have argued that more spectrum is needed for Wi-Fi service, as existing channels become increasingly congested.

Ultimately, the decision will be up to the FCC, which oversees spectrum allocation. The government shutdown derailed plans for a Tuesday hearing in front of the House subcommittee on Communications and Technology that had hopes of finding a solution.

A fascinating headline.

Toyoda’s legacy goes well beyond the lean

Andrew Hill:

The innovator who led Toyota insisted that people were as important as the production system.

Eiji Toyoda was the man who taught the world’s production workers Japanese. If you know kaizen means continuous improvement, and use kanban inventory tags to eliminate muda, or waste, then Toyoda, who died recently, was your sensei.

The Toyota Production System he championed as head of the carmaker in the 1970s and 1980s, traces its roots to a fail-safe device devised by Toyoda’s uncle to cope with thread breaks on mechanical looms. Multinationals have since turned its efficiency methods – “lean” production, just-in-time supply chains and outsourcing – into a habit that is woven through the fabric of global production. However, in future, Toyoda’s insights into the power of human initiative will be more relevant.