Has The Self Driving Car Arrived?

Burkhard Bilger:

Human beings make terrible drivers. They talk on the phone and run red lights, signal to the left and turn to the right. They drink too much beer and plow into trees or veer into traffic as they swat at their kids. They have blind spots, leg cramps, seizures, and heart attacks. They rubberneck, hotdog, and take pity on turtles, cause fender benders, pileups, and head-on collisions. They nod off at the wheel, wrestle with maps, fiddle with knobs, have marital spats, take the curve too late, take the curve too hard, spill coffee in their laps, and flip over their cars. Of the ten million accidents that Americans are in every year, nine and a half million are their own damn fault.
 A case in point: The driver in the lane to my right. He’s twisted halfway around in his seat, taking a picture of the Lexus that I’m riding in with an engineer named Anthony Levandowski. Both cars are heading south on Highway 880 in Oakland, going more than seventy miles an hour, yet the man takes his time. He holds his phone up to the window with both hands until the car is framed just so. Then he snaps the picture, checks it onscreen, and taps out a lengthy text message with his thumbs. By the time he puts his hands back on the wheel and glances up at the road, half a minute has passed.
 Levandowski shakes his head. He’s used to this sort of thing. His Lexus is what you might call a custom model. It’s surmounted by a spinning laser turret and knobbed with cameras, radar, antennas, and G.P.S. It looks a little like an ice-cream truck, lightly weaponized for inner-city work. Levandowski used to tell people that the car was designed to chase tornadoes or to track mosquitoes, or that he belonged to an élite team of ghost hunters. But nowadays the vehicle is clearly marked: “Self-Driving Car.”

Via Oliver Bruce.

The Rise of Driving to Work


Over the past 50 years, the way Americans commute has seen one dominant trend: toward commuting alone by car.
 The percent of Americans who drive a private vehicle to work has increased significantly since 1960. The rapid suburbanization of the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, which some attribute to White Flight after the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, may be responsible. America’s love affair with the car certainly didn’t help.
 All these commuters could be carpooling, but as Planet Money points out, the percentage of Americans who carpool decreased from 20% to 10% over the past 30 years. (Despite all the new carpool lanes built.)
 All other forms of commuting became less common from 1980 to 2011 except for working from home. So the only categories that didn’t continually decrease over the past 50 years were “Private Vehicle” and “Work At Home.” We’ll have to wait and see whether the movement for all things green pushes up the numbers of people biking, walking, and using mass transport. But environmental efforts are fighting against longtime commuting trends.

Tesla faces uphill fight against dealers, lawmakers

Julie Bykowicz & Angela Greiling Keane:

Tesla Motors was in trouble in North Carolina. Prohibited from opening showrooms there, it was on the way to being unable to sell cars at all when the state Senate voted unanimously to block online auto sales.
 Then Tesla turned out a lobbying weapon that, in the home state of stock-car racing’s hall of fame, spoke louder than money: It parked a Model S at the Capitol and invited lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory, R, to take it for a spin.
 “When you accelerate it, it was the same sort of feeling I got when I test-drove a Mustang Boss back when I was probably 23 years old,” Republican House Speaker Thomas Tillis, 53, told the Raleigh News & Observer.

The Enfield Thunderbolt: An electric car before its time

David Prest:

Earlier this year Nissan began production in Sunderland of the Leaf, the first electric car to be mass-produced in the UK. But 40 years ago, about 100 electric cars were built on the Isle of Wight to a design which was years ahead of its time.
 The Enfield 8000 was a prototype electric vehicle which emerged out of a competition run by the United Kingdom Electricity Council in 1966.
 Enfield Automotive beat rival bidders like Ford for the contract and made more than 100 cars at its works on the Isle of Wight.
 With a top speed of 48mph (77kph) and a range of up to 56 miles (90km), the car was aimed at low mileage urban users, and was expected to supply a much needed boost to Britain’s export push.

Jobs & Musk: Hardware and Systems Thinking

Chris Anderson:

So what is their unique brand of genius? Here’s how I think of it: system-level design thinking powered by extraordinary conviction. Each of those italicized phrases is critical. Let’s dig in.
 The first thing to note is that Jobs and Musk are not inventors in the typical sense of the word. The specific products they’re famous for all had numerous other creators. Steve Wozniak engineered the first Apple. The core ideas in the Mac’s graphical user interface came from Xerox PARC. Jony Ive was key to the design of the iPhone and iPad. A company called AC Propulsion helped craft the original tech vision for Tesla. And countless others made key contributions.
 To appreciate Jobs’ and Musk’s contributions, you must pull the camera back. What they did uniquely was to imagine the broader ecosystems in which those products could become transformative. To do that involved an intimate understanding not just of the technology but of what would be necessary in design, logistics, and the business model to launch those products and make them truly compelling to potential customers. You can describe both men as amazing designers. But their design genius should be thought of as not just an obsession with satisfying shapes and appealing user interfaces. Those matter, but the start point is broader, system-level design. Most innovation is like a new melody. For Jobs and Musk it’s the whole symphony.

Crowd funding Cars

Jaclyn Trop:

When Lindsay Frandsen thought about registering for gifts for her wedding, she realized that what she and her husband really needed was a car.
 Ms. Frandsen and her husband, Christian Burris, opened an account with a start-up company that lets potential car buyers reach out to their social networks for gifts.
 One year later, the couple had scraped together a down payment from their savings and the gifts from the registry. Hyundai also gave them a $500 credit for taking part in the program.
 “We got a good chunk toward our down payment,” Ms. Frandsen, a 26-year-old driving instructor from Atlanta, said without being specific. “It’s like 500 free dollars, basically.”

Andreessen on Automotive Disruption

Andy Serwer:

But people love their cars. They have their stuff in their cars, the car seats for their baby, their Frisbees, their golf clubs—it’s their second home. People aren’t going to give that up, are they?
 Ask a kid. Take teenagers 20 years ago and ask them would they rather have a car or a computer? And the answer would have been 100% of the time they’d rather have a car, because a car represents freedom, right?
 Today, ask kids if they’d rather have a smartphone or a car if they had to pick and 100% would say smartphones. Because smartphones represent freedom. There’s a huge social behavior reorientation that’s already happening. And you can see it through that. And I’m not saying nobody can own cars. If people want to own cars, they can own cars. But there is a new generation coming where freedom is defined by “I can do anything I want, whenever I want. If I want a ride, I get a ride, but I don’t have to worry. I don’t have to make car payments. I don’t have to worry about insurance. I have complete flexibility.” That is freedom too.

Software, Geography & Communities

Balaji Srinivasan:

This is why location is becoming so much less important: technology is enabling us to access everything we need from our mobile phone, to find our true communities in the cloud, and to easily travel to assemble these communities in person. Taken together, we are rapidly approaching a future characterized by a totally new phenomenon, the reverse diaspora: one that starts out internationally distributed, finds each other online, and ends up physically concentrated.

What might these reverse diasporas be like? As a people whose primary bond is through the internet, many of their properties would not fit our pre-existing mental models. Unlike rugged individualists, these emigrants would be moving within or between nation states to become part of a community, not to strike out on their own. Unlike would-be revolutionaries, those migrating in this fashion would be doing so out of humility in their ability to change existing political systems. And unlike so-called secessionists, the specific site of physical concentration would be a matter of convenience, not passion; the geography incidental and not worth fighting over.

Report: Impact of Electric Vehicle Charging on Electric Grid Operations Could Be More Benign than Feared

Pecan Street Research Institute:

Electric vehicle (EV) owners are charging their cars much less during hot summer afternoons than most behavioral models predict.
 That is one of the findings from a new PSR Analytics report that measured Summer 2013 vehicle charging in the nation’s highest residential concentration of electric cars. The analysis found that charging behavior is much more diverse than has been predicted, represents a much more manageable energy load and may be highly elastic to time-of-use pricing and similar tools.
 If such findings are confirmed by other research, it could significantly increase utility industry estimates on the number of EVs the electric grid could handle without triggering disruptions or requiring major system upgrades.
 PSR Analytics is produced by Texas-based energy research firm Pecan Street Research Institute. The institute’s electric vehicle research trial in Austin, Texas has what appears to be the highest U.S. concentration of electric vehicles, including over 50 in a single half-square mile neighborhood. The institute’s data-intensive research trials (currently in three states) has produced the world’s largest research database of residential energy use.

Over the Air Tesla Software a Update Removes a “a Smart Air Suspension” Feature

Steve Blank:

One of Tesla features is a $2,250 “smart air suspension” option that automatically lowers the car at highway speeds for better mileage and stability. Over a period of 5 weeks, three Tesla Model S cars had caught fire after severe accidents – two of them apparently from running over road debris that may have punctured the battery pack that made up the floor pan of the car. After the car fires Tesla pushed a software release out to its users. While the release notice highlighted new features in the release, nowhere did it describe that Tesla had unilaterally disabled a key part of the smart air suspension feature customers had purchased.
 Only after most of Telsa customers installed the downgrade did Tesla’s CEO admit in a blog post, “…we have rolled out an over-the-air update to the air suspension that will result in greater ground clearance at highway speed.”
 Translation – we disabled one of the features you thought you bought. (The CEO went on to say that another software update in January will give drivers back control of the feature.) The explanation of the nearly overnight removal of this feature was vague “…reducing the chances of underbody impact damage, not improving safety.” If it wasn’t about safety, why wasn’t it offered as a user-selected option? One could only guess the no notice and immediacy of the release had to do with the National Highway Safety Administration investigation of the Tesla Model S car fires.

via Steven Sinofsky.

Say Goodbye to the Car Salesman

Christina Rogers:

“The whole process of buying a car has been flipped flop from what it used to be,” said Alison Spitzer, vice president of Spitzer Auto Group in Elyria, Ohio. “Today, customers find the car first, then the dealership.”

Take Mia Morris, the new face of auto sales. The 30-year-old doesn’t work on commission, isn’t interested in haggling over price and spends more time online conversing with customers than on the showroom floor.

Her business card identifies her as “product specialist,” and the low-key title matches her duties at Nissan of Manhattan. Instead of the hard sell, she says her job is more tutorial. “Everything is visible. It is transparent for the customers,” she said. “It is more like trying to help them find the right car and make a smart choice.”

Before price-information websites like TrueCar.com and Edmunds.com, dealers typically had the upper hand in negotiating a car’s price, and often could score a healthy profit on a sale.

Today, buyers call or walk into a showroom already armed with a car’s invoice price, competing dealer bids and discounts from the manufacturers, and can get updates on their cellphones while standing in the store. They can access online reviews of the salesperson and dealership.

Megan McArdle comments.

Asymcar 4: Death of A Salesman

Yamaha to Likely Build the Motiv, Based on Gordon Murray’s City Car, Using Murray’s iStream Assembly Process

Ronnie Schreiber:

With most of the new cars and concepts leaked weeks ago there hasn’t been much real breaking news from the Tokyo Motor Show, so it was a bit of a surprise that Yamaha announced that it will be the first automotive manufacturer to embrace master automotive designer Gordon Murray’s revolutionary iStream assembly process and that it will use the iStream process to build a lightweight two-seat city car called the Yamaha Motiv. The Motiv, based on Murray’s T25 and T27 concepts, will be available in both gasoline and electric versions and targeted at the European market.

The project still needs to be approved for production by the Yamaha conglomerate’s main board of directors, but it has been fully engineered for mass assembly. Gordon Murray Design and Yamaha first began discussing a possible project five years ago but the worldwide recession put it on the shelf until 2011, when they started to jointly develop the Motiv.

“Forming a partnership with Yamaha is a dream for us,” said Gordon Murray, who started developing the iStream concept of building cars more than a decade ago. “Yamaha has completely embraced the principles of iStream, and could not be a more ideal partner. They have huge technical resources, but their team on this project has been tightly-knit, very skilled and very quick-acting.”

More from Antony Ingram.

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.

Yamaha reveals Gordon Murray city car via Oliver Bruce.

Gordon Murray and Yamaha reveal new Motiv city car (2016).

Crash: The Decline of U.S. Driving in 6 Charts

Jordan Weissman:

Has the United States passed peak car? It’s one of the more tantalizing questions that energy and urban-planning nerds are pondering these days. Ever since the recession, Americans have been driving less, getting fewer licenses, and using less gas. But is that just the work of the recession, or something more permanent?
 Over the past several months, Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute has released a series of short papers chipping away at the peak-car issue. They don’t give us a definitive answer. But his findings, collected in a third study released this week, do a marvelous job illustrating the post-bubble decline of car buying, driving, and fuel consumption in the U.S. Here are what I think are his most interesting take-aways.

Via Steven Sinofsky.

Renault Introduces DRM For Cars


The problems with DRM for videos, music, ebooks and games are well known. Despite those issues for the purchasers of digital goods, companies love DRM because it gives them control over how their products are used — something that has been much harder to achieve in the analog world. The risk is that as digital technologies begin to permeate traditional physical products, they will bring with them new forms of DRM, as this post by Karsten Gerloff about Zoe, one of Renault’s electric cars, makes clear:

Regulation: An Untold Irony in NHTSA’s Recent Rearview Camera Debacle

Lee Vinsel:

But here’s the thing.
 Notice how NHTSA’s recent decision to add rearview cameras to the New Car Assessment Program totally inverts the original logic of that program. Again, the program was meant to push design beyond what was currently required by federal standards or was in federal law. In the case of rearview cameras, exactly the opposite is true. Congress has handed NHTSA a mandate to build rearview cameras and the like into the federal code. Meanwhile, the agency has shunted those technologies into a consumer information program. Instead of being a tool for progressive change, the New Car Assessment Program has become a tool for regressive retrenchment. This inverted use of the New Car Assessment Program is nauseatingly ironic. (My bet is that long-time NHTSA-watchers, like Nader and Claybrook, would tell me that this perversion of NCAP happened long ago.)
 NHTSA is nearly three years behind on issuing a Congressionally-mandated rule that would save the lives of hundreds of lives per year. As KidsandCars.org notes, “Since [Cameron’s] law was passed . . . there have been over 1,100 deaths and 85,000 injuries in backover crashes.” As I have made perfectly clear, I believe that NHTSA’s use of the New Car Assessment Program in this case adds insult to injuries. Many of those injuries will be grievous, many of them will be fatal. Let me enumerate them one more time. This year, there will be “approximately 228 fatalities and 17,000 injuries” from “backover incidents.”
 For no good reason.

Driverless Cars Are Further Away Than You Think

Will Knight:

A silver BMW 5 Series is weaving through traffic at roughly 120 kilometers per hour (75 mph) on a freeway that cuts northeast through Bavaria between Munich and Ingolstadt. I’m in the driver’s seat, watching cars and trucks pass by, but I haven’t touched the steering wheel, the brake, or the gas pedal for at least 10 minutes. The BMW approaches a truck that is moving slowly. To maintain our speed, the car activates its turn signal and begins steering to the left, toward the passing lane. Just as it does, another car swerves into the passing lane from several cars behind. The BMW quickly switches off its signal and pulls back to the center of the lane, waiting for the speeding car to pass before trying again.

Putting your life in the hands of a robot chauffeur offers an unnerving glimpse into how driving is about to be upended. The automobile, which has followed a path of steady but slow technological evolution for the past 130 years, is on course to change dramatically in the next few years, in ways that could have radical economic, environmental, and social impacts.

The first autonomous systems, which are able to control steering, braking, and accelerating, are already starting to appear in cars; these systems require drivers to keep an eye on the road and hands on the wheel. But the next generation, such as BMW’s self-driving prototype, could be available in less than a decade and free drivers to work, text, or just relax. Ford, GM, Toyota, Nissan, Volvo, and Audi have all shown off cars that can drive themselves, and they have all declared that within a decade they plan to sell some form of advanced automation—cars able to take over driving on highways or to park themselves in a garage. Google, meanwhile, is investing millions in autonomous driving software, and its driverless cars have become a familiar sight on the highways around Silicon Valley over the last several years.

The allure of automation for car companies is huge. In a fiercely competitive market, in which the makers of luxury cars race to indulge customers with the latest technology, it would be commercial suicide not to invest heavily in an automated future. “It’s the most impressive experience we can offer,” Werner Huber, the man in charge of BMW’s autonomous driving project, told me at the company’s headquarters in Munich. He said the company aims to be “one of the first in the world” to introduce highway autonomy.

The newest in city mobility: a bus that goes where you want it to

AK Streeter:

Kutsuplus is a new service getting going in the streets of Helsinki, Finland’s capitol and largest city.

Instead of buses plying a set schedule, Kutsuplus is a more personalized service implemented by the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority (HSL): users register and set up a trip ‘wallet’, then choose pick up and destination spots based on city addresses or pre-existing stops.

Like other private taxi or pick up services, Kutsuplus is made to allow users a bit more flexibility in city traveling but with a lower price point. Through a smart phone app, a user can set a departure time just minutes in the future. The app issues a ticket after withdrawing money from the wallet, and draws a walking map to the departure stop. \\

Why US New Car Sales To The Youngest Generation Of Drivers Slowed In 2013

Lacy Plache

After years of lackluster performance, car buyers aged 18 to 34 bought relatively more cars than older buyers in 2012, gaining share even as the overall market grew 13 percent. But the pace of sales by these Millennials slowed again in 2013, reversing nearly all 2012 share gains. A slowdown in new jobs for young adults, while the job market for older workers expanded, contributed to the turn around. Plus, the weaker labor market, combined with higher prices and tight supply in the housing market, meant many fewer Millennials formed new households this year, minimizing another key factor from 2012’s car sales growth. Meanwhile, wealth effects from a strong stock market and rising home values — a key growth driver for the market overall — likely contributed less to motivating new car purchases by Millennials than by older buyers.

From 2007 to 2011, the share of sales to car buyers aged 18 to 34 fell nearly 30 percent. Then, when many industry observers verged on writing off this generation as uninterested in cars and driving, the economic tide turned in 2012 and Millennials flocked to buy new cars, recovering over a quarter of their share losses and doing so in a rapidly expanding auto sales market. This surge was short-lived, however. In the first eight months of 2013, the share of new car sales to Millennials dipped almost to 2011 levels. Although the breakdown of sales by income among Millennials remained fairly stable, Millennial buyers retreated at all income levels, with higher-earning households posting the largest share losses.

Is Tesla Stock Running Out of Juice? “It’s Going to Be a Really Giant Facility”

Bill Alpert

The growth reported last week by Tesla Motors was impressive for a car company, let alone an American car maker still in its first year of volume production.

Tesla (ticker: TSLA) delivered 5,500 units of its sleek, all-electric Model S in the September quarter, producing revenues of $431 million—more than eight laps ahead of the $50 million achieved a year ago. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company reported profits of $16 million, or 12 cents a share (if you set aside 40 cents worth of non-cash charges and lease accounting required by generally-accepted accounting principles).

Still, some investors had more extravagant expectations for the electric car maker run by celebrated entrepreneur Elon Musk. Most analysts had predicted deliveries for the quarter ending in September of near 6,000 cars; some, over 7,000. Then a Model S caught fire Wednesday after its battery got punctured by road debris. The driver escaped unharmed, but it was the second such incident in six weeks. From Tuesday to Friday, the car maker’s shares skidded 23% to $137.95.


Musk also expressed confidence that Tesla could improve the cost efficiency of its power cells in the couple of years’ time required for the third-generation car to go into production. Meanwhile, Tesla is talking to potential partners about building a battery factory in North America.

“It is going to be a really giant facility,” Musk said. “We are talking about something that’s comparable to all the lithium-ion production in the world, in one factory. That’s big.”

Harley Davidson Introduces New City Bikes: “Built for the Urban Environment”

Harley Davidson:

On the heels of Project RUSHMORE, the company reveals two totally new motorcycles: the new Street 750 and Street 500 from Harley-Davidson. Both motorcycles were designed for an entire new generation of global riders and feature the all-new Revolution X, V-Twin engine. This is pure Harley-Davidson built for the urban environment.

Big rigs try new fuel

Thomas Content:

The August introduction of a new Cummins engine for natural-gas-fueled trucks is a “game changer” that is expanding interest in developing compressed natural gas stations in Wisconsin and around the country, says the leader of one company racing to build stations.

U.S. Oil of Appleton, which transports and sells gasoline and diesel, has opened a new division focused on the booming natural gas market.

Of about 1,200 natural gas fueling stations around the country, less than 10% cater to heavy-duty trucks, the target market for U.S. Oil, which is partnering with trucking firms to open stations around the country.

The Cummins engine, which is being built onto large trucks, is boosting interest in saving fuel costs, said Bill Renz, general manager of the U.S. Oil Gain Clean Fuel business.

“We definitely see significant growth,” said Renz, adding the “big game changer” is the new engine. “Now there’s a CNG truck that’s able to pull 80,000 pounds. Many of the fleets were really waiting on that,” he said.

Sales of heavy-duty trucks fueled by natural gas are expected to grow by 19% a year through 2020, a period that will see the number of fueling stations in the United States double, according to forecasters at the clean-tech market research firm Navigant Research.

U.S. Oil opened its first station near the Twin Cities last year and in March bought We Energies’ six natural gas fueling stations. The purchase price wasn’t disclosed, and We Energies was not interested in competing in that business, a utility spokesman said.

Connected Cars & Advertising

Eric Rhoads:

We saw dashboards that had multiple presets allowing listeners to go from Pandora to NPR to and iTunes account in the same way they use radio presets now. We heard one young woman say, “Poor FM. I don’t listen to it anymore because I don’t have to,” as she described how she used to listen in her old car and how her new car has her spending time with other alternatives. Others on the video explained how they use radio, and it was clear that the hands-free environment changes how they access radio. And the radio people in the audience saw clear evidence for how they need to talk to their audience to make sure their station ends up as one of the alternatives sought out in the connected car.
 Rosin pointed out that these connected car drivers will listen to radio only when radio offers unique, compelling, live and local content they can’t get anywhere else. One major advertiser, Fred Sattler, EVP/Managing Director for Initiative + in Los Angeles — he controls advertising for Hyundai and Kia — reinforced that radio won’t hang on to advertisers unless it is offering live, local content. He said syndicated air personalities are not unique enough to the local town, the local dialogue, and the needs of the local community to interest him as an advertiser in a connected car environment. That means some radio companies today are moving away from radio’s best remaining strength: unique local content.
 It’s impossible to summarize a two-day event here, but a good starter is checking the Twitter hashtag #DASHAudio. Frankly, those not in the room who sent representatives to report back will get bullet points, but may well miss the essence of what those who were there received. I suspect every radio person who attended is already changing things about their strategy as a result of lessons learned at DASH.
 And some of those lessons were hard to swallow. For instance, a panel of local car dealers who were previously giant radio spenders revealed why, in a couple of cases, radio has fallen off their radar and budgets have been shifted elsewhere. Jaws in the room dropped when we learned that part of the migration away from radio could have been prevented. More jaws dropped when dealers discussed radio’s lack of data and proof of performance compared to Pandora.

Americans Increasingly Go Solo or Work From Home; Carpooling Now Below 10%

Neil Shah:

Last year, about 76% of workers 16 years and older drove to work alone—just shy of the all-time peak of 77% in 2005, according to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Driving alone dipped slightly during the recession, but it has been ticking back up as the economy revives.

Meanwhile, just about every other way of getting to work has either languished or declined. Carpooling has tanked—falling from about 20% in 1980, when gasoline prices were soaring from the oil shock of the late 1970s, to under 10% in 2012. Public transportation accounted for just over 6% of daily commutes in 1980 and is now 5%. A category the Census calls “other means”—which includes biking—stands at 2%, largely unchanged over the past decade.

These commuting trends come despite efforts to get people to use public transportation or other alternatives. And a variety of forces are coming together to ensure that Americans continue to seek out lonely commutes—and the numbers could grow.

Peak Driving: What happened to traffic?

David Levinson:

Remember traffic. It was only 30 years ago that people were complaining about getting stuck in traffic. But traffic peaked in the early part of the Century, and has fallen ever since. A few observers picked this up early, but many transportation agencies were in denial.
 At the time, most analysts saw only two possible futures:
 Future 1: Per capita vehicle travel resumes an upward path. This forecast was the proverbial ostrich with its sand-encased head.
 Future 2: Per capita vehicle travel remains flat but traffic grows with population. Future 2 was already causing concerns as it created pressures on revenues (which were then dependent on falling gas tax revenue), yet DOTs still claimed needs for new construction and expansion of existing roadways despite overall falling demand. Some argued that though demand was falling on average, it wasn’t mean it is falling everywhere. And there were still unsolved problems that don’t go away just because travel isn’t increasing.
 No one in power foresaw what actually happened.
 Future 3: Per capita vehicle travel falls significantly.
 At first people attributed this to the Great Recession of the late Bush Presidency, but the evidence was that travel began dropping before the economy tanked. Technology restructured personal travel the way it completely devastated many other industries (remember newspapers, the post office, buying records and paper books, your land-line phone, canals, long distance passenger trains, broadcast television, electric utilities, going to College). Just look at this picture of demand for mail:

Why Millennials aren’t buying cars or houses, and what that means for the economy

Derek Thompson & Jordan Weissman:

In 2009, Ford brought its new supermini, the Fiesta, over from Europe in a brave attempt to attract the attention of young Americans. It passed out 100 of the cars to influential bloggers for a free six-month test-drive, with just one condition: document your experience online, whether you love the Fiesta or hate it.

Young bloggers loved the car. Young drivers? Not so much. After a brief burst of excitement, in which Ford sold more than 90,000 units over 18 months, Fiesta sales plummeted. As of April 2012, they were down 30 percent from 2011.

Don’t blame Ford. The company is trying to solve a puzzle that’s bewildering every automaker in America: How do you sell cars to Millennials (a k a Generation Y)? The fact is, today’s young people simply don’t drive like their predecessors did. In 2010, adults between the ages of 21 and 34 bought just 27 percent of all new vehicles sold in America, down from the peak of 38 percent in 1985. Miles driven are down, too. Even the proportion of teenagers with a license fell, by 28 percent, between 1998 and 2008.

Startup Idea: Used Car Leasing

Ivan Kirigin:

Applications that open up spare capacity are a big deal. First eBay did it with the spare capacity of stuff in your attic. When counting pro sellers, eBay is the largest employer in the world. Next Airbnb took the spare capacity of your spare bedroom and turned it into the largest hotel in the world.

Cars could be next. There are ride sharing services, but they are modeled after Zipcars. That pattern works well for cities where driving is rare. For me, driving is extremely regular: get the kids to school, go to work, get groceries, etc. Getting a Zipcar daily doesn’t make sense, so the car sharing equivalents don’t either.

The model that does make sense is leasing, but leasing today stinks. First you have dealerships. Whether buying a new car, buying a used car, selling a used car, or leasing a new car, negotiating stinks, and it takes an actuary to figure out an optimal outcome. Selling a car on Craigslist is really cumbersome too, and Craigslist does nothing to smooth the transaction.

What If We Never Run Out of Oil?

Charles Mann:

As the great research ship Chikyu left Shimizu in January to mine the explosive ice beneath the Philippine Sea, chances are good that not one of the scientists aboard realized they might be closing the door on Winston Churchill’s world. Their lack of knowledge is unsurprising; beyond the ranks of petroleum-industry historians, Churchill’s outsize role in the history of energy is insufficiently appreciated.

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911. With characteristic vigor and verve, he set about modernizing the Royal Navy, jewel of the empire. The revamped fleet, he proclaimed, should be fueled with oil, rather than coal—a decision that continues to reverberate in the present. Burning a pound of fuel oil produces about twice as much energy as burning a pound of coal. Because of this greater energy density, oil could push ships faster and farther than coal could.

Churchill’s proposal led to emphatic dispute. The United Kingdom had lots of coal but next to no oil. At the time, the United States produced almost two-thirds of the world’s petroleum; Russia produced another fifth. Both were allies of Great Britain. Nonetheless, Whitehall was uneasy about the prospect of the Navy’s falling under the thumb of foreign entities, even if friendly. The solution, Churchill told Parliament in 1913, was for Britons to become “the owners, or at any rate, the controllers at the source of at least a proportion of the supply of natural oil which we require.” Spurred by the Admiralty, the U.K. soon bought 51 percent of what is now British Petroleum, which had rights to oil “at the source”: Iran (then known as Persia). The concessions’ terms were so unpopular in Iran that they helped spark a revolution. London worked to suppress it. Then, to prevent further disruptions, Britain enmeshed itself ever more deeply in the Middle East, working to install new shahs in Iran and carve Iraq out of the collapsing Ottoman Empire.

U.K. town to deploy driverless pods to replace busses

Bob Yirka:

Milton Keynes, a town north of London, has announced that it will be deploying 100 driverless pods (officially known as ULTra PRT transport pods) as a public transportation system. A similar system has been running for two years at Heathrow airport. The plan is to have the system up and running by 2015, with a full rollout by 2017. The move marks the first time that self-driving vehicles will be allowed to run on public roads in that country.

High-tech cars spark fears of auto patent wars

Henry Foy:

An arms race between manufacturers to dominate the future market for green cars has sent patent activity to record highs and sparked worries of an intellectual property war similar to that which has engulfed the smartphone industry.

Traditional automotive giants desperate to stay on top of the pile, technology-heavy upstarts and industry outsiders are battling for supremacy over future engines, fuels, safety systems and in-car entertainment in the most research-intensive period the car business has seen since the birth of the combustion engine.

Over the last five years, annual global patent grants for green engine technologies have doubled worldwide as carmakers battle to meet strict emissions and efficiency regulations, leading industry executives and legal experts to warn of an impending IP war.

“You’re seeing a resurgence of innovation in the industry… It’s a very competitive time,” the head of patents and innovation at a top ten carmaker told the Financial Times. “We’re sitting in the movie theatre eating popcorn watching what’s going on in the smartphone industry and thinking ‘How do we avoid that?’”

Ur Turn: Getting My First Driver’s License At 25

Tova Schreiber:

I’m sitting at my desk, waiting for students to arrive and thinking about cars. Waking up at 6:00 on a Sunday morning is rarely fun, but I truly love what I do for a living. My fingers are stained from last night’s dye job, and they clutch a tall Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. Together with a calorie-laden croissant, it’s a breakfast of champions that fuels my discussions as a teacher.
 I filled the tank in my brother’s old Focus wagon a few weeks ago, spending what was small fortune to me to repay a favor of his. That car isn’t in great shape, but I borrow it whenever circumstances allow. It takes me to meetings, on errands, and through excursions with my darling nephew. It’s a rare moment that doesn’t see me begging to get behind the wheel, even if I’m only going to be driving for ten minutes.
 Last year, I was a scared kitten. It was a few hours before Rosh HaShana and I had to merge onto the interstate for the first time. The driving instructor, a comedic sort, told me I should pray for a sweet new year. I just wanted to survive the freeway.

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.)

Boris Sofman’s answer to Anki: How are Anki cars different from other toy cars? What are the robotic features?

Boris Sofman:

Thank you for your question — this is a very important one.
 The cars in Anki Drive are characters in a video game brought to life in the physical world.
 Anki Drive cars are extremely different from other types of cars (plastic, RC, etc.). They are very complex and capable robotic systems that can bring the characters they represent to life in a way that has never been possible outside of a video game: with intelligence, personality, and true interaction. For the first time, you can play a game where whatever cars you don’t control come to life and are controlled by the AI, reacting autonomously to what you’re doing and what the other cars are doing. The have a lot of sensors, motors, and computation internally (50 MHz microcontroller in each car) to make this possible.
 In terms of their capabilities, there are 3 key challenges of robotics that we had to solve to make Anki Drive, and the capabilities of the cars within, possible:
 Positioning — every car needs to understand precisely where it is, and where the other cars are relative to it. To do this, each car scans its environment 500 times per second to know with exact precision where it is located on the track, and wirelessly communicates that back to the mobile devices running the game.
 Reasoning — Once the cars know where they are, we use that information to make intelligent decisions and plans for the cars that are controlled by the game. We use mobile devices as the ‘brains’ behind the real-world game, thinking about thousands of potential actions every second for each car.

Prius + 10: Performance Is All That Matters

Dan Neil:

TOYOTA, RESTORED AS the world’s largest auto maker by sales in 2013, produces lots of amazing vehicles. It makes the world’s most durable small pickup, the Hilux. On the other side of the vehicular universe, there is the Lexus LFA, a carbon-bodied apparition with a naturally aspirated V10 engine and a spine-tingling 9,000 rpm redline. Me want.
 Toyota 7203.TO -0.47% builds the best-selling sedan in America, the Camry; it builds full-size, steak-eating trucks in Texas (more than 1 million at last count). This company has bandwidth.