Mercedes’ first electric vehicle for the US has a Tesla heart and plenty of muscle

Brad Molen:

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s based on the standard B-Class model, a compact vehicle currently featured in Europe. The Electric shares the same structural design, and is even built on the same assembly line. It’s a front-wheel drive that comes equipped with a Tesla-made drivetrain and, as a result, offers 177 horsepower and plenty of torque.
 Muscle’s great, but the B-Class Electric sadly doesn’t do much to reduce range anxiety. Boasting a 28kWh battery, the car has an estimated range of 85 miles on a full charge (compared to 100 on the BMW i3 and 103 on the RAV4), but you can at least get 60 miles if you leave it on a 240v charger for two hours; a full charge takes 3.5 hours. This likely isn’t enough to satisfy any road-tripper, but it’s ideal if you’re not planning on leaving the city very often. As a sidenote, you won’t be able to access Tesla’s charging network, despite the company’s influence on the car’s drivetrain. (It can be charged from a standard 110v household charger, though this method will take between 28 and 30 hours.)

What Running Out of Power in a Tesla on the Side of a Highway Taught Me About the Road Trip of Tomorrow

Nate Berg:

It’s 209 miles from the parking lot of a Chili’s in Barstow, California, where we are, to the parking lot of a Carl’s Jr. in Kingman, Arizona, where we need to go. I’m in a rented Tesla Model S, a sleek, battery-powered electric vehicle, with a travel companion. We’re just about fully charged, and the car estimates it can travel 247 miles before we need more juice. That’s a buffer of 38 miles, which should be more than enough to reach Kingman. We’ll soon realize it isn’t.
 The seemingly random parking lots I’m traveling between are sites of a new nationwide network of fast battery charging stations for drivers of Tesla’s Model S. The company calls them “Superchargers” — direct-current battery charging stations of a proprietary design that can bring a nearly dead Model S battery to full charge in a little over an hour. That’s much faster than the roughly 8 hours it would take by plugging into a wall outlet in your garage. Tesla’s official reason for building this private network of battery charging infrastructure (currently up to 80 stations and counting) is to encourage Model S drivers to take road trips — a concept otherwise unthinkable in a car powered only by a battery. I’m testing it out on a weekend road trip from Los Angeles into Arizona and back.
 For drivers of electric vehicles, calculations of distance and range are of near-constant concern. How far you want to go must always be less far than your battery can take you. The Nissan Leaf, for example, can get up to 84 miles of range on a full charge — enough for most people’s daily commutes and errands, but hardly a long-distance option. The estimated 265-mile range of a fully equipped Tesla Model S has allayed some concerns about having enough juice to get where you want to go. Coupled with the Supercharger network, it’s made the idea of taking a battery-powered road trip feasible — even cross-country. Feasible, I quickly find, is not the same thing as simple.

The First Look at How Google’s Self-Driving Car Handles City Streets

Eric Jaffe:

The first rule of riding in Google’s self-driving car, says Dmitri Dolgov, is not to compliment Google’s self-driving car. We’ve been cruising the streets of Mountain View for about ten minutes. Dolgov, the car’s software lead, is sitting shotgun. Brian Torcellini, the project’s lead test driver (read: “driver”), is sitting behind the wheel (yes, there is a wheel). He is doing no more to guide the vehicle than I’m doing from the backseat. I have just announced that so far the trip has been “amazingly smooth.”
 “The car knows,” says Dolgov.
 He means I have violated some code of robotic superstition, calling the contest too early. Or maybe he means my praise serves no function here. If I can tell how well the car is driving itself, so can the car.
 Google’s self-driving car project began in 2009. The vehicle’s early life was confined almost entirely to California highways. Hundreds of thousands of test miles later, the car more or less has mastered the art — rather, the computer science — of staying in its lane and keeping its speed. So about a year and a half ago, Google’s team shifted focus from the predictable sweep of freeways to the unpredictable maze of city streets. I was invited along as the first journalist to witness how the car is handling its new urban lifestyle.

Driverless vehicles will force us to rethink car ownership

Emily Badger:

Brian Fung spotted an interesting pattern in a new national Pew Research survey out this week looking at how Americans perceive the future of technology. As part of the survey, Pew asked 1,001 adults this open-ended question: “If there was one futuristic invention that you could own, what would it be?”
 About 9 percent of the respondents went with some kind of cure for diseases (which was maybe not a direct answer to the actual question). But here are some of the next most popular answers: time machines, flying cars and flying bikes, personal space craft, self-driving cars, and teleporters. In short, people are looking for fantastical solutions to the otherwise mundane problem of getting around. When we try to envision how technology might significantly improve our lives, a lot of us are thinking about transportation.
 Of all of those inventions, autonomous cars are the closest to reality. Google is already piloting prototypes on California highways. And the federal government is already planning regulation for “vehicle to vehicle” communication technology, a feature that will be essential to autonomous cars as they ping signals back and forth to each other and to the infrastructure around them (in the absence of human command). There are a lot of logistics and technical details that will still take years to work out, but the ubiquitous autonomous car is a lot closer than the time machine.

“a crash course (so to speak) in the 2CV’s peculiar functioning”

Paul Richardson:

I sat in the driver’s seat while Marquesini gave me a crash course (so to speak) in the 2CV’s peculiar functioning, its primitive but ingenious design. The window that snaps open and shut, the notorious horizontal gear-stick, and the air-conditioning system – a flap in the dashboard which, when opened, directs a blast of fresh air straight at your face.

And then we were off, feeling every ridge and pothole of the dusty lanes that wound among the vineyards. It was the start of harvest time and the grape-pickers (mostly Bolivians) were already hard at work. Yet on this Monday morning we shared the roads with nothing more than a few battered country pickups.

The landscape in the departamento of Luján de Cuyo, half an hour out of Mendoza city, had a quiet, bucolic charm. We passed olive groves where the trees were laden with fat green fruit, orchards on the fringes of the vineyards, long avenues of plane trees and luxuriant weeping willow – originally planted to shade the grapes on their journey to the wineries.

Is Tesla planning another electric car factory in California?

Charles Fleming:

Is Tesla going to be manufacturing more cars or car parts at a new facility?
 The electric car company won’t comment specifically, but city officials in tiny Lathrop, Calif., say work is underway converting a 431,000-square-foot facility that once housed a Chrysler-Daimler distribution center into a Tesla factory.
 Lathrop City Manager Steve Salvatore, confirming the arrival of Tesla in his small town of 19,000, said the company had indicated it will be hiring 100 to 125 workers, to start, and is likely to hire more.
 “We’re very excited about it,” Salvatore said. “We’ve been working with the Tesla Group for the last several months, and now they’ve pulled the trigger.”
 Salvatore said Tesla had not told him exactly what it would do with the facility — “I believe it’s car-related,” he said — but that work being done at the location, which has been vacant since 2009, suggests that manufacturing, not warehousing or distribution, will take place there.

FTC on Tesla’s sales model

By: Andy Gavil, Debbie Feinstein, and Marty Gaynor:

Consumers once shopped predominantly at their local stores; but first mail order catalogs and today the Internet have created new ways to shop for and purchase a wide range of goods and services. Similarly, consumers once arranged for taxis by hailing one from a street corner or by calling a dispatcher; yet today, smartphones and new software applications are shaking up the transportation industry, creating new business opportunities and new services for consumers.
 In buying cars, however, these new ways to shop may not be available to consumers. For decades, local laws in many states have required consumers to purchase their cars solely from local, independent auto dealers. Removing these regulatory impediments may be essential to allow consumers access to new ways of shopping that have become available in many other industries.
 This very question has been raised across the country, as a still-young car manufacturer, Tesla, pursues a direct-to-consumer sales strategy that does not rely on local, independent dealers.
 In this case and others, many state and local regulators have eliminated the direct purchasing option for consumers, by taking steps to protect existing middlemen from new competition. We believe this is bad policy for a number of reasons.

Via Stephan Howard.

China again largest retail building site globally

Cherry Cao:

CHINA remains the world’s largest retail construction site with over 50 percent of all developments, and has eight of the top-10 cities building the biggest shopping centers, a research released yesterday by global property advisor CBRE showed.
 Globally, 39 million square meters of shopping centers are under construction, up 3 million square meters from 2013, and more than half of all developments are taking place in China, according to CBRE which tracks 180 major cities worldwide. The survey was based on new shopping centers of over 20,000 square meters and excluded retail warehousing and factory outlet centers.

The Women Behind the Wheel

Sujatha Fernandes:

Dozens of taxi drivers are waiting to be issued their cabs at a taxi-leasing garage in Queensbridge, New York, a neighborhood just across the river from Manhattan. It is raining lightly, weather that could make for a busier-than-usual Sunday-night shift. Mohamed, a Pakistani driver, begins to tell Dolores Benítez about the $650 he had paid to a private yellow-cab owner in New Jersey to lease his vehicle for a week. Mohamed did not get a receipt and before the term of his lease was up, the owner took the car back and would not return his calls.
 Benítez, the only female cab driver at the garage and one of the 1 percent of women working in the industry in New York City, has been listening to the drivers’ problems and offering solutions during her half-hour wait. She migrated from Honduras in 1976 and has been driving cabs on and off since the 1980s. With her long, graying hair, black-rimmed glasses, and deep voice, she commands respect.
 “First of all, don’t ever give anyone cash without getting a receipt,” she tells Mohamed. “Second, go to the Taxi Workers Alliance office and explain to them what has happened. Because of this stupid GPS thing, they can track everything. They can track how many hours you actually worked and the deposit you paid, and then they can file a claim to the TLC [the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission].”
 The Taxi Workers Alliance is an organization of about 16,000 cab drivers that represents drivers’ rights against city regulatory bodies and the cab conglomerates that lease taxis. Benitez is a member of the organization, which formed in 1998, at a time when the taxi industry was changing. Taxi medallions, initially designed to regulate the industry by keeping track of the number of yellow cabs on the road, were issued at a cost of $5 each in 1937. But by the 1950s, the medallion was being treated as a commodity that could be traded in an open market. In the 1970s, powerful brokerages emerged that consolidated medallions and leased cars to drivers. In recent years, medallions have sold for more than $900,000 each.

Should autonomous cars behave like automatons or act like human drivers?

Kevin Fitchard:

At Nokia’s Here connected car division in Chicago, researchers are pouring over crowdsourced vehicle data from all of the world, trying to figure out how our future autonomous vehicles should comport themselves on the road.
 By comparing high-definition mapping data against the measured behavior of real vehicles, Here is determining the most optimal, safest and most fuel-efficient way for autonomous vehicles to drive on any given highway or through any feasible intersection. There’s only one problem.
 The optimal way to drive is not the way real humans actually drive. The traffic patterns on our highways and roads today would look very different if they were completely populated by autonomous cars. Those cars would space them themselves far more closely than all but the most aggressive tailgaters would feel comfortable with. They’d brake too soon when coming at curves, and then they’d accelerate through those curves at speeds fast enough to turn some people’s stomachs.

Daimler/BYD Joint Venture Unveil Plans for All-Electric Car for China

William Boston & Joe White:

Daimler AG the German automotive group, Sunday unveiled plans to build an all-electric vehicle with its Chinese partner BYD, 002594.SZ +1.27% a further sign foreign operators are under pressure to meet demands by the Chinese government for a massive increase in electric cars to fight air pollution.

The Chinese government has a target of putting 500,000 electric or plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015, but the industry would have to sell about 450,000 plug-in cars during the next two years to achieve that target. The shortfall is putting more pressure on auto makers to step up investments in electrified vehicles—such as the Daimler-BYD cars.

Thomas Weber, Daimler’s board member in charge of research and development, told reporters that this new model is “undoubtedly one key pillar of our electric vehicle strategy for China.”

The new electric car, called the Denza, is entitled to subsidies from both the central and local governments in China, Daimler officials said. The car was developed by Shenzen BYD Daimler New Technology Co. Ltd, the Daimler-BYD joint venture that was formed in 2010. The five-seater Denza is expected to go on sale in China in September, and is priced at 369,000 renminbi, or about $60,000. With government subsidies, Daimler said the price for the consumer could be reduced by 120,000 renminbi.

Beijing now has more cars than Houston, as well as some of the dirtiest air on the planet

The Economist :

Two flaws in the Chinese model of urbanisation are causing these strains. The first is economic. Farmers in China have no property rights, so officials are able to grab agricultural land on the peripheries of urban areas and make money for themselves and their cities by selling it to developers. This is not only unjust; it has also led to a relentless pouring of concrete that has given rise to “ghost cities”—half-empty forests of high-rise office and residential buildings that have sprung up around many cities. The vast debts local governments have incurred as a result of this over-hasty development are the focus of foreign worries about the country’s economic stability.
 This urban sprawl is also exacerbating China’s environmental problems. People need cars to get around the country’s American-style cities. Beijing now has more cars than Houston, as well as some of the dirtiest air on the planet. And it is not just affecting the Chinese. The nation passed America in 2006 as the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide from energy, and is now pumping out nearly twice America’s level.
 The second flaw in the urbanisation model is a social one. China’s cities are now largely made up of two classes, each with a population roughly the size of America’s: a property-owning middle class which enjoys new social freedoms (see article), takes holidays in Europe (see article) and spends like its Western counterparts; and a migrant underclass which toils in factories and menial jobs but is denied public services because its hukou (household registration) is still in the countryside. Both groups have fared well in the boom years; but discontent is growing (see article), and they distrust each other, as well as the party.

Anyway, the position of director of Lincoln Design is a thankless job and a hopeless task, because the bosses and the board of Ford Motor Co. have made it so

Dan Neil:

YOU THINK IT’S EASY. You just wave your little magic wand and poof, Lincoln—Ford’s empty storefront of a luxury division where once presided American car-building glory—is fixed. Oh no.
 This week it became known that in December Lincoln, with little comment, relieved its chief designer, Max Wolff, and replaced him with David Woodhouse, a veteran Ford campaigner formerly of Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Land Rover. Mr. Wolff will stay on as Lincoln’s head of exterior design, though I resent any reference to these men as deck chairs.

Driver Data Proliferation Leads to Insurer Rate Adjustments

Alina Tugend:

IT’S no surprise that car accidents, speeding tickets and where you live all affect how much you pay for automobile insurance. But consumer groups say that other, apparently unrelated, factors are unfairly being used to set rates.
 Two organizations, the Consumer Federation of America and the New York Public Interest Research Group, have released separate reports contending that the factors insurance companies are using to determine rates — like educational level and occupation — are detrimental to consumers, especially to low-income customers.
 And J. Robert Hunter, a former Texas insurance commissioner and now director of insurance for the consumer federation, said insurers were increasingly using pricing models to raise the cost of auto insurance for some groups of people who are unlikely to change insurers, even if their premiums go up.

Mercedes Head: Tesla Has No Network, Limited Potential

Hannah Elliott:

“Tesla is great, but you’ve got plenty of well-established brands that mean luxury, like Porsche or Mercedes-Benz, and how long do you think we’re going to wait and let Tesla be out there alone [selling premium electric cars]?” he said. “So, good job, Tesla, but will they be able to maintain that with the others of us out in the market? That remains to be seen.”
 Cannon said Mercedes will attract more buyers than Tesla on this high-end alternative-fuel front because of its extensive dealer network, its multiple peripheral power train options (diesel and gasoline), and its ability to “cater to luxury consumers” with “a complete luxury experience” when they buy and service their car.
 “Consumers want all of that, but they aren’t going to want to pay for it, and the potential of fully electric vehicles for the rest of my life and a good portion of the rest of your life will be limited,” he said.

What America’s internal migration tells us about the death of the mall, and the brand

John McDuling:

According to analysis of US census data by Piper Jaffray, people in rural areas accounted for just 16% of the population in 2010, down from 72% a century earlier, while the largest share of Americans (51%) called the suburbs home.
 But at the moment, the really interesting action is going on in cities, where 33% of Americans were residing in 2010. Though this level has stayed roughly flat since 1940, data released since 2010 suggest the proportion of Americans living in the cities is now rising again. A 2012 analysis of census data by Brookings Institute senior fellow William Frey found that for the first time since the 1920s, the city populations of 51 metropolitan areas outpaced growth in their surrounding suburbs between 2010 and 2011. And this trend continued between 2011 and 2012, he found.
 It’s early yet to tell whether this will translate into a notable rise in urban population by the time of the 2020 census. But there are various explanations for why it might. Cities have become more attractive places to live. Weakness in the economy could be prompting young families to delay a move to the suburbs. Regardless, the city renaissance could be having knock-on effects across the economy. And in retail, it might already be happening.

Complaining about a road tax when they’re on the roads

Paul Sonne:

Far East “auto enthusiast” complains to Putin about paying a road tax when there are no roads. Putin: “Why do you have a car if no roads?”

Tennessee Passes Mind-Boggling Ban on Bus Rapid Transit

Keith Barry:

Tennessee lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favor a bill that bans the construction of bus rapid transit (BRT) anywhere in the state.
 The impetus for the vote was a proposal to build a $174 million BRT system in Nashville called The Amp, which would’ve ran on a 7.1 mile route and served rapidly growing neighborhoods across the city. There’s a more detailed summary of the project over at The Tennessean.
 Although BRT has been shown to revitalize economies and reduce congestion, opponents of The Amp voiced concerns about the safety of unloading bus passengers along roadways and whether private land would be used to build dedicated bus lanes.
 After the vote, Amp opponents revealed that the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, founded with the support of brothers Charles and David Koch, had lobbied in favor of the bus ban.
 The legislation is startlingly specific: Senate Bill 2243 forbids “constructing, maintaining or operating any bus rapid transit system.”

Life Begins at 40

Tom Salt:

To celebrate our VW Beetle’s 40th birthday we decided to take it home. Having been built in Germany in 1972 she spent most of her life in Britain. 40 years later it seemed a fitting celebration to go back to the factory.

Monotony Motors: Why today’s cars all look alike.

Patrick Cooke:

Anyone who’s ever misplaced the family car in a parking lot at the mall must surely sense that we are not living in a golden era of automobile design. Gazing in panic out across that vast tar pit, every car seems to look like every other car. Late-model midsize sedans and compacts, especially, appear nearly identical. It’s no help that there are only a handful of basic paint colors to offer clues: white, black, silver, and gray. The quest appears to be at an end when you climb behind the wheel and realize that you are .  .  . in somebody else’s car.
Déjà vu? A new Lexus at the Geneva auto show.

When doors open this week at the New York International Auto Show, the grumbling will continue, as it has for the past few years, that there isn’t much new and different to see. The public once flocked to auto shows to marvel at groundbreaking designs created by giants in the field like Harley Earl at General Motors who “styled” magnificent sculptures in the early to mid 20th century. They bore names like Firebird and Golden Rocket. Today, mileage standards and safety regulations largely determine what most cars rolling off assembly lines look like. Auto styling may not yet be a dead art, but the artists have certainly been thwarted. As standardization by governments has taken hold—there are more than 200 safety and environmental regulations that go into building a car—the challenge for designers is no longer to create something uniquely beautiful, but to turn out a product that’s in compliance—and hope people buy the result.

Federal interference began in the 1970s with a mandate to provide drivers with bumpers capable of surviving a five-mile-per-hour crash without sustaining damage to the body of the car. Bewildered manufacturers responded in many cases by simply bolting on front and rear rubber bricks, obliterating the lines of the car, which they then attempted to compensate for by adding gaudy touches like carriage lamps and vinyl roofs.

Hybrid cars: Where do they perform most efficiently?

Jon Stewart:

Hybrid cars are good for the environment, right? Their ability to switch to battery power means more miles to the gallon, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
 These things are true, however recent research suggests that precisely how green hybrid vehicles are may depend on traffic levels, road design and, perhaps most intriguingly, national driving styles. It also shows these vehicles provide significantly greater environmental benefits in cities in India and China, where there are hardly any hybrids, than they do in places like Tokyo and Los Angeles, where they are most common.
 While sitting in a traffic jam in India, Anand Gopal and his colleagues at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory began thinking about how much driving conditions vary from country to country. They decided to investigate real-world conditions and the performance of different systems that deliver power to vehicles.

Alpine to sell console for Apple’s in-car infotainment system

Nikkei Review:

Alpine Electronics will start selling this fall a stand-alone console supporting Apple’s newly announced CarPlay system, which allows drivers to view maps, listen to music and conveniently access other iPhone functions.
  While a slew of carmakers will soon start offering vehicles that come standard with a CarPlay interface built in, the Japanese company’s device is to be the first aftermarket product compatible with the system. It will first be available in the U.S. and Europe and likely cost around $500 to $700.
  The device will connect to an iPhone 5 or later by wire. Drivers will be able to view maps on its screen, likely 7 inches, and use voice commands to access messages, make calls and play music. The system will be able to read messages and directions aloud.

Tesla vs New Jersey Car Dealers: Shut up and Deal

James Surowiecki:

The electric-car company Tesla seems like everyone’s darling these days. Its stock, even amid a pervasive selloff in the tech sector, is up nearly forty per cent this year. It has announced plans to build a five-billion-dollar battery factory, which various Southwestern states are vying to host. And it’s now starting to sell cars in China. But there is one place where Tesla is getting no love: New Jersey. Last month, the state decreed that the company would have to shut down its showrooms. In doing so, New Jersey joined states like Texas and Arizona, where it’s effectively illegal to buy a Tesla. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to get a Model S in Beijing but not in Paramus.
 Why was Tesla banned? It sold cars. It built showrooms where customers could check out a vehicle, arrange a test drive, and buy a car. The hitch was that Tesla sold cars directly to the public, without going through independent dealers. In most industries, this would hardly be a radical idea. Dell built its business on selling direct to consumers, and the most successful retail phenomenon of the past decade is the manufacturer-owned Apple Store. But the auto industry is different. In its early years, companies tried all kinds of ways of selling cars; you could buy them right at the factory, or at local department stores, or even from the Sears catalogue. But by the nineteen-twenties the industry’s major players had settled on a system of local, independently owned car dealers. Today, almost every new car in the U.S. is sold this way. In forty-eight states, direct sales by car manufacturers are restricted or legally prohibited, and manufacturers are often prevented from opening a dealership that would compete with existing ones. If Ford wanted to open a flagship store on Santa Monica Boulevard, it couldn’t.

Glow-in-the-dark roads make debut in Netherlands

Liat Clark:

Light-absorbing glow-in-the-dark road markings have replaced streetlights on a 500m (0.3 mile) stretch of highway in the Netherlands.
 Studio Roosegaarde promised the design back in 2012, and after cutting through rather a lot of government red tape we can finally see the finished product.
 One Netherlands news report said, “It looks like you are driving through a fairytale,” which pretty much sums up this extraordinary project. The studio aims to bring technology and design to the real world, with practical and beautiful results.
 Back in October 2012, Daan Roosegaarde, the studio’s founder and lead designer, told us: “One day I was sitting in my car in the Netherlands, and I was amazed by these roads we spend millions on but no one seems to care what they look like and how they behave. I started imagining this Route 66 of the future where technology jumps out of the computer screen and becomes part of us.”

Tesla Model S – Cost of Ownership vs. Honda Odyssey

Before I go any further, some caveats about my analysis.
 First, I built an accounting model, not a cash flow model. I wasn’t sure at that time whether I was going to purchase outright or finance, so I left that out. Later on, a friend, Travis, built out a cash flow model. The results are slightly different, which I’ll discuss below.
 Second, I made a lot of assumptions. The model is very sensitive to the rate of depreciation. For the Model S, this is difficult. The car is fairly new, and resale values are insanely high. So we looked at Roadster values, thought about wear, tear, and battery replacement scenarios eight years down the line, and tried to get to a common sense number for how much a car would go for. How much would I pay for a 2006 model year car, today in 2014?
 Third, I also left out some stuff. For instance, I left out insurance, because it’s too particular to driving history, and because I was lazy. I was also too lazy to try to translate safety ratings, HOV lane access, cargo space, and other features into a dollar figure.

American Subprime Auto Lending: Five years ago, subprime loans represented barely a 10th of the total; today they account for a third

Gillian Tett:

But car finance – along with student loans – jumped in that same month. Even more notable is that this has occurred amid a sharp deterioration in loan quality. Five years ago, subprime loans represented barely a 10th of the total; today they account for a third. A particularly high proportion of GM cars sales are financed by subprime loans. Meanwhile, a 10th of new loans are now going to so-called “deep subprime”, or consumers who would previously have had little chance of getting funding – particularly given that incomes for poorer households have stayed flat or declined, even as car prices jumped.

There are several reasons for this boom. One is the fact that asset managers are currently so desperate to find something – anything – that produces a return in an ultra-low interest rate world that they are gobbling up all manner of bonds. And investors are particularly keen to buy bonds backed by car loans because these performed better than mortgages during the last credit crisis. This has spawned a widespread (and potentially dangerous) assumption that American consumers are so attached to their cars they will do anything to retain them.

Uber’s Algorithmic Monopoly: “We are not setting the price. The market is setting the price. We have algorithms to determine what that market is.”

Matthew Stoller:

Uber of course is a cab service that lets you order a cab from your smartphone via an App. It’s really neat, you get to watch the cab approach on a map, the payment is automatically applied so you don’t have to even deal with the transaction itself. The company is now taking its approach to logistics, and moving to ‘disrupt’ the delivery industry as well, competing with courier services, UPS, Fedex, and the Post Office. It’ll be interesting to see what happens there.
 But it’s important to recognize just what Uber actually represents. Uber started out named UberCab, and ‘uber’ is a German word which means ‘over’ or ‘better than’ or ‘the ultimate’. So UberCab meant, the ultimate cab. At the core of Uber’s strategy has been lobbying and advocacy to make sure that it can get into regulated cab markets. And this is so Uber can ‘disrupt’ and destroy them.
 A healthy cab ecosystem relies on expectations of a market (with price-fixing by political authorities, mostly taxi commissions). There have to be people trying to hail cabs, and cabs driving around to find customers. As more people use Uber, there will be fewer people trying to hail cabs, and fewer cabs picking up people, which will lead to reduced expectations cabs will be available, and so on and so forth. Gradually the ‘open cab market’ will be displaced by a closed Uber service. I’ve already noticed it’s harder to hail cabs where I live, capacity is often taken up by Uber riders.

Small towns may have no grocery or clothing store but a car dealership; Ford’s $1.5M Bricks & Mortar “Assistance”

Barry Adams:

With $1.5 million in financial assistance from Ford Motor Co., Campbell is assuring the dealership, founded in 1918 and selling Fords since 1931, remains in this village of 823 people for years to come.
 Next month, Campbell will move the dealership from its longtime home in the village’s downtown to a more than $3 million facility that is nearly three times the size of the existing dealership building. The new location, just east of the downtown, will provide amenities associated with big-city car dealerships but keep the longtime employees who have been a staple of the dealership’s success.
 They include Marge Kreitzman, office manager for 32 years, and Bill Mootz, parts manager since 1992. Campbell’s older brother by two years, Nathan, has been a diesel mechanic at the dealership for 19 years.
 And Bill Bell, the most recent owner who has been working at the dealership for more than 60 years and has been the village’s fire chief for 40 years, will also get an office.
 “Ford’s made the commitment to small dealerships but without our reputation, I don’t think we would have gotten (the financial assistance),” said Bell, 74. The new facility is “definitely needed. We’re cramped so bad here.”

“one in which massive venture-capital injections allow money-losing start-ups to flourish”

Kevin Roose:

Yesterday, I ordered lunch from a gourmet meal-delivery start-up called SpoonRocket – a takeout container of sirloin au poivre and roasted cauliflower that was shuttled to my door in exactly 11 minutes, costing me $8. I then took an UberX car to a meeting across town, paying roughly $10 for a 15-minute ride. On my way, I pulled out my phone to see about getting my broken dryer fixed through Handybook, which provides on-demand repairs in the Bay Area for less than a local handyman would charge.
 There are dozens more services like these operating in and around San Francisco – Homejoy for cleaning, BloomThat for flowers, Postmates for courier service, and on and on. Most of them provide cheap, convenient amenities at the tap of a smartphone app. Few of them are profitable on a corporate level. And together, they’ve formed the backbone of a strange urban economy: one in which massive venture-capital injections allow money-losing start-ups to flourish, while providing services that no traditional, unsubsidized business can match. It’s an economy built on patience, and the hope that someday, after the land grab is over and the dust has settled, a better business model will emerge.
 It’s hard to know which of today’s new start-ups are unprofitable. But in some cases, losing money is kind of the point. I have no inside information on SpoonRocket’s financials, for example, but I imagine that the company books a loss of a few cents every time I click the order button. (There’s just no way, short of a supply-chain miracle, that my $8 covers the cost of preparing a gourmet lunch, driving it to my house, and paying all the drivers and cooks and engineers and assorted other costs associated with running their business.) But SpoonRocket doesn’t have to make money, because it’s just raised $10 million in venture capital expressly so it can keep its prices low. The metric its investors care about right now is user growth, not profits. And if, indeed, the company is selling meals for less than they cost to make, those investors are willing to fill the gap.

Via Steve Crandall.

‘Transparent’ Land Rover hood shows the rubber meeting the road (video)

Steve Dent:

So far, invisibility systems for cars have been pretty lame or not terrible useful. Land Rover seems to have finally nailed it with the “transparent bonnet” (hood) on its Discover Vision concept car. It works via a heads up display, which projects a see-through view of the road from cameras located in the grill (see the video after the break). That permits a driver navigating in tight quarters to view sharp rocks or other obstacles, and even see the wheels turning below the car.

Where did you park your car?

Liam Spradlin:

Exactly how Google will choose to implement this isn’t clear, but it is likely to involve activity features already built into Android. There are actually already apps (like Auto Finder or Valet) that use the activity recognition API and Android’s fused location provider to automatically remember where you parked while running in the background.

Reading Tesla’s “When Life Gives you Lemons….”

Jacob Williams:

I read Tesla’s “When Life Gives You Lemons” blog for asymcar listeners without time to read it.

Declining Fuel Tax Revenues: “Americans are driving fewer miles and more fuel-efficient vehicles”

Chris Hubbuch:

But the department faces a $600 million funding gap in the next two-year budget cycle. And with Americans driving fewer miles in more efficient vehicles, it’s facing a 20 percent decline over the next decade in fuel tax revenues, the DOT’s single largest source of funding.
 “We are falling behind,” Gottlieb said.
 The Legislature hasn’t approved an increase for the fuel tax since 1997, and the 30.9 cent tax hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since 2006.
 Gottlieb highlighted recommendations of the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission, which called for an additional $680 million a year to maintain current system. About 96 percent of that money would go toward improving roads and closing the current funding deficit; the rest would be split among other modes, such as rail, water, air, bike and pedestrian.
 The goal of the town hall meetings, Gottlieb said, is to get feedback on transportation needs and how the state should finance those needs into the future.
 Public opinions were strong, if not necessarily in agreement.
 Some called for better support for passenger rail; others complained that crumbling rural roads and bridges are preventing farmers from getting their crops to market.
 Matthew Christen, who said he’s put 17,000 miles on his bicycle in the past six years, called on the DOT to recognize bicycles as a bona fide mode of transportation.

Related: Asymcar 7: The Transportationist.

The State of In-Car UX

Geoff Teahan:

We are surrounded by bad design. You witness it when you’re taking cash out of an ATM. You experience it when getting your boarding pass from the airport kiosk. You feel it when setting the clock on your stove. Simply put, bad design is everywhere—especially inside your vehicle.
 With so many industries placing more value on design, specifically interface design, why does the automotive industry seem to have it all so wrong?
 I’ve always had a fascination with cars. As I became more involved in design, my interest in them grew to include the interfaces and information that adorn their consoles and dashboards. In the ’80s and early ’90s, these interfaces were primarily made up of small screens and analogue buttons. Back then, you could swap out your factory stereo for something better. Teenagers primarily did this so they could include better/more amplifiers and better/more speakers—usually to make it loud and full of bass. This would result in the ability to impress friends, annoy parents, and disturb those around you in traffic.

Via Steve Crandall.

Broken Place: the spectacular failure of a start up that was going to change the world with electric cars

Max Chafkin:

With almost $1 billion in funding and ambitions to replace petroleum-based cars with a network of cheap electrics, Shai Agassi’s Better Place was remarkable even by the standards of world-changing startups. So was its epic failure. A 21st-century cautionary tale.

“So this is the car.” I’m standing outside a shopping mall somewhere in Tel Aviv, Israel, as Guy Pross shows me his ride.

The silver Renault sedan has four doors, five seats, and a body design that makes it look a bit like a fat Honda Civic. Under the hood, though, the normal 1.6-liter internal-­combustion engine has been replaced with a compact 70-kilowatt electric motor, a conversion overseen by Renault and a ­local company named Better Place. Instead of a gas tank, an enormous lithium-ion battery pack lives between the trunk and the back seat. Inside the vehicle, Pross directs my attention to the coup de grace: the center console, where, in addition to all the familiar interior features of a mid-range car–the ugly radio, the climate-control dials–there’s a little joystick with some strange-­looking buttons. “This is where the cup holder used to be,” he says, referring to the standard version of the Renault. In its place, Pross twirls a dial that Better Place installed to control a futuristic navigation system ­called Oscar (OS plus car–get it?), which was designed to help drivers find charge spots and predict whether or not they had enough energy to complete their journey. “It’s really slick,” he says.

He hands me the keys, I stick them in the ignition, and twist. There’s a beep, the air-conditioning fans start to hum, and then… nothing.

Better Place

Kombi Last Wishes

Wikipedia: Volkswagen Type 2 (Kombi).

A remarkably small idea that could reduce distracted driving

Emily Badger:

There are at least two ways to think about the problem of distracted driving. We could try to get people to cut down on all of the stuff that’s distracting them — texting, fielding phone calls, fiddling with in-car navigation screens at 50 miles an hour. Or we could acknowledge that drivers will probably keep doing all of those things anyway and try to mitigate the harm.
 Cars, after all, have only grown more technologically sophisticated, more filled with screens and media and material to read. At this point, realistically, there’s no going back to the days of basic dashboards and radio dials.
 “There’s always been some type of labeling in cars,” says Carl Crossgrove, a senior designer with the typeface design firm Monotype. “But we’re on the cusp of a huge jump in terms of the potential for distraction in driving because so many car-makers are about ready to launch models with touch screens, navigation, infotainment screens.”
 Consider this 17-inch touch screen on the Tesla S, practically a MacBook Pro mounted in the cabin.

Aeromobil: Flying Car


Aeromobil is a “flying car” that perfectly makes use of existing infrastructure created for automobiles and planes, and opens doors to real door-to-door travel. In terms of automobile configuration, it fits to a standard parking space, its engine enables it to tank at any gas station, it is fully accustomed to road traffic and as a plane it could both take off and land at any airport in the world.

You’re less likely to die in a car crash nowadays — here’s why

Susannah Locke:

Yes, it is possible for Americans to drive less. And we have been. Although the general trend since 1971 has been more and more miles on the road, we’ve been traveling about 7 percent fewer miles per person since 2005. And fewer miles means fewer crashes.
 Why? For a variety of reasons. Higher oil prices have pushed people to drive less. Fewer people were driving during the recession. The country is aging, and older people tend to drive less on average. And young people seem to have a cultural aversion to driving, for reasons laid out here.

Microsoft unveils Windows in the car, battles Apple CarPlay

Tom Warren:

Microsoft has been powering a lot of different car entertainment systems over the years. Ford, Kia, BMW, Nissan, and Fiat have all used special versions of Windows to create their own interfaces and systems, but Microsoft is also focusing on its own “Metro” user interface for its Windows in the car future. At the company’s Build developer conference this week, Microsoft’s Steve Teixeira revealed what that future will look like. It’s actually a lot like Apple’s idea of CarPlay, a method to project what’s on your phone screen directly onto a car’s infotainment system display.
 Microsoft has created a concept that it’s currently testing in real cars, and the idea allows Windows devices to mirror what’s shown on screen into a touch- and car-friendly interface. The current prototype uses the connectivity standard Mirrorlink, an alternative to Apple’s CarPlay system. Mirrorlink is currently used by Nokia’s Symbian phones and Sony’s Xperia Z handset, but it’s expected to gain broader support if infotainment systems start to use the standard more. Volkswagen, Honda, Toyota, and Citroen are all working on cars with Mirrorlink support, and aftermarket car radio manufacturers Alpine and Pioneer are backing it.

Will driverless cars push us into congestion pricing?

Robin Chase:

Let’s start with the hell scenario, in which we all own driverless cars that do all our errands for us. To see the impact of our worst nature, consider a typical day owning an autonomous car. I have a breakfast meeting in Harvard Square, so my fully autonomous vehicle — my FAV — drops me off then sends itself back home to park for free. I schedule the FAV to return at 9:30 a.m., but I don’t rush out because the car will just circle the neighborhood until I tell it “I’m here!” Later on, my son decides to go to a friend’s house two miles away, but instead of riding his bike the family FAV takes him there and comes back. As I get a friend a gift at a hand-made jewelry shop, my FAV circles the block for 15 minutes. Rather than trip-chaining to get the dry cleaning, we send the FAV out anytime to pick it up (an employee places the cleaned and pressed clothes in my car for me). Ditto for our take-out dinner.
 How getting from here to there is changing forever.
 See full coverage
 Here’s why that’s a hellish vision: people consider the cost of individual car trips to be just the cost of gas and we won’t think twice about asking a driverless robot car to do our bidding. In a FAV world, where we won’t actually need to be doing the driving ourselves, each and every errand whim we might dream of is now a reality. If single-occupancy vehicles are the bane of our congested highways and cities right now, imagine the congestion when we pour in unfettered zero-occupancy vehicles.
 Now for the transportation heaven scenario, in which shared FAVs are used for on-demand origin-to-destination public transport. Depending on the weather and our moods, both my son and I can choose to ride our bikes to our destinations, which is also door-to-door and basically free. Or we use an app to call the public (or private?) shared FAV and tell it “I’m here and I want to go here.” We wait less than two minutes and a six-seat vehicle arrives. There may or may not be people in it already, and we may or may not stop and pick someone else up along the way. If I didn’t want any side stops and were rich enough to pay a surcharge, I could say, “I’m here. Book entire vehicle.” I might also say “I’m here. Book entire vehicle. Fancy one, please.” With the shared FAV world, I have a full range of luxury and price points, and society has fewer individual car owners.

A Deeper Look at Uber’s Dynamic Pricing Model

Bill Gurley:

Over the course of the past year, many writers have offered their perspectives on Uber’s dynamic pricing strategy. Perhaps the only consistency is that people have deeply passionate views on this topic. However, there are still many misperceptions about how the model works, and the purpose of this post is to clarify some of those misperceptions.

I am an Uber investor and board member, and therefore expect that many will dismiss these thoughts as naked bias. But consider that as a result of my role I have access to more information that might enable a deeper perspective. I also have quite a bit on the line, and as a result have spent a great deal of time contemplating the policy as well as the potential alternatives.

How to start your own car-sharing service for suburban life

Steven Lang:

The supermarket, post office, elementary school and several nice restaurants are all within a two-mile walk from my family’s cozy little suburban home. Our problem? Well, actually we have two:
 The first is the 50-mph traffic on the main road towards all of those places. No sidewalks. No shoulders. Nothing but grass on one side, and traffic on the other. It’s a dangerous place to bike or walk.
 Our second issue is where we live: the greater Atlanta metropolis. For those of you who haven’t been introduced to the wonders of southern weather, let me just say that after a few minutes of walking, you feel water condensing on your body within seconds due to the intense humidity.
 The booming car-sharing industry has held itself out to people just like us as a transportation alternative, but there’s a few challenges. Our family of four spends about two hours a day driving to the places we need to go, and the occasional trips to family and friends during the weekends often involves even longer drives. So for right now, paid car-sharing services such as Zipcar and Getaround are not a practical alternative.

Tesla Model S Ethernet Network Explored, Possible Jailbreak in the Future?

Drag Times:

The car’s internal 100 Mbps, full duplex ethernet network consists of 3 devices with assiged IP addresses in the subnet, the center console, dashboard/nav screen and one more unknown device. Some ports and services that were open on the devices were:
 22 (SSH)
 23 (telnet)
 53 (open domain)
 80 (HTTP)
 111 (rpcbind)
 2049 (NFS)
 6000 (X11)
 Port 80 one one device was serving up a web page with the image or media of the current song being played. The operating system is modified version of Ubuntu using an ext3 filesystem.
 Using X11 it also appears that an owner was able to somewhat run Firefox on both screens as per the pictures.

Via Farshad Nayeri.

Two wheels bad. Please take train

Robert Shrimsley:

The girl has just spent a week learning cycling proficiency at school. She now knows, for example, how to guide her bike through a line of cones. I don’t know why – there’s no call for slalom on the main arterial roads these days, although the close control can come in handy if you want to buzz a pedestrian.

Cycle-safety training is obviously a good idea although, frankly, nothing can prepare an 11-year-old for the wanton carelessness of motorists. But the lessons do strike me as somewhat outdated, teaching only such basic skills as how not to get yourself killed. That’s all well and good but so much more is demanded of the modern cyclist.

Two emotions power city cyclists: fear and anger. Cowardice cannot be taught, though many of us are blessed with it in large quantities. But a new cyclist needs the right kind of rage, and the girl seems to have emerged from her course entirely untrained in how to thump on a car’s bodywork at traffic lights and scream obscenities at a driver. You might think that this needs little training but there is a right and wrong way to do this – the latter being any way that the driver can catch up with you. It is no good yelling abuse if you will soon be cowering in fear, muttering “Sorry mate, no offence” when he draws level with you at the next lights.

Similarly, there is no point in provoking a motorist to violence if you don’t have your GoPro camera charged and filming. There are enough motorists out there ready to beat up a cyclist just for being in their way; if you are going to get a smack in the face, you need something you can put on YouTube. Many cyclists make this classic schoolboy error.

Today’s cyclist also needs advice when choosing lights for night-riding. All the major chains sell a range of lights that flash on and off with atomic intensity but care is needed: not all lights are guaranteed to blind other road users. Don’t get palmed off with the merely dazzling. Oh, and there are limits to how many lights you require. The Blackpool Illuminations do not go on tour.

Cadillac vs Ford: the ad battle over American values

Jonah Sachs:

A few years back, as I watched the world of marketing grow increasingly chaotic, I was struck by the notion that I was witnessing “the story wars”. Instead of fighting over who’s got the best product or service, the most successful brands fight over who gets to create the cultural stories we all live by. I was so taken with this idea, I wrote a book about it.
 Since writing Winning the Story Wars, I’m constantly asked to point out where the latest skirmishes are breaking out. The question often comes in the form of a challenge: “Brands fighting for control of our stories? Come on, show me where it’s happening.”
 Well, an overt and bizarre story war has just erupted between GM and Ford – and it’s generating a tremendous amount of buzz on both sides. From its layer upon layer of spoof humor to its genesis in a wholly unrelated viral video, this fight is a unique product of today’s media marketplace. But the underlying story of America these brands are wrestling over is a pure throwback to the era of Don Draper. Untangling the tale tells us much about where marketing – and our society – is heading.

Electric cars must make noise under new EU rules


Electric and hybrid cars will have to generate noise to make them safer for pedestrians, especially the visually impaired, the European Parliament says.
 MEPs agreed that in future the vehicles must be fitted with devices to make them “sound similar” to cars with combustion engines.
 The move has been welcomed by campaigners.
 MEPs also voted to tighten noise emission standards for cars, vans, lorries and buses over the next decade.
 The new law is expected to be rubber-stamped by the European Council.
 Under the revised rules, new models of electric and hybrid vehicles will have to make a noise by 2019 and all new electric and hybrid cars must be audible by 2021.
 The BBC’s Ben Wright in Brussels says the move has been welcomed by UK charity Guide Dogs for the Blind – which campaigned for the change.

BBC Documentary about Gordon Murray in F1 and his latest project to build an economical car for the masses.

BBC, via Oliver Bruce:

The documentary called How to Go Fast and Influence People: The Gordon Murray Story. Screened on BBC4 in 2012. Covers his days as an F1 designer through the development of the T25. Has a lot of material that hasn’t been covered really since, including some of the tooling used in the iStream process and the design flexibility. It also covers the changes in factory design that the process enables.

General Motors Falling Market Share: 62% (1980) to 19.8% (2009)

Heidi Moore:

Failure like this doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s buried in a company’s corporate culture. This year, two professors examined what it is, about GM, that set it up for failure.
 The General Motors market share in the US fell from 62.6% to 19.8% between 1980 and 2009, noticed Susan Helper and Rebecca Henderson. Helper is now the chief economist at the US commerce department, and Henderson is a management professor at Harvard.
 They concluded that “the conventional explanations for GM’s decline are seriously incomplete”. Their alternatives: GM’s market share suffered from the same issues as its old rivals, “including a failure to understand the nature of the competition they faced and an inability to respond effectively once they did.”
 But the professors found another, crucial reason for GM’s decline: hubris.
 We wanted to believe in that, too.