Why Email and Cars are Heading down the Same Road

Mathilde Collin

Cars are wonderful. They take you from A to B without having to book a ticket, change train, wait for a schedule, or pay atrociously high fees. You can take friends with you, and luggage, or even live in them (see here).
 But cars bring on a lot of issues: parking in the city is a pain; we waste months in traffic jams; and accidents injure or kill people. It’s not safe to drive after a beer, or when you’re tired, or when it’s raining.
 When we look into the future, we don’t see cars. Surely something will come along and replace them. Maybe flying shuttles, 5th element style? Or rail-bound mini-trains, as seen in I, robot? Hyperloops all over the planet?
 My prophecy is different.


Building cars with less capital New research suggests that Western players, especially those in Europe, have something to learn from their counterparts in Asia.

Andreas Behrendt, Malte Marwede, and Raymond Wittmann, via a kind email:

As the world’s economic center of gravity shifts toward emerging markets, it will become increasingly common for Western companies to look east in search of innovative business approaches. A case in point is the global auto industry, where our research suggests that several Asian players are employing an intriguingly successful capital-light model: their average ratio of capital expenditures to revenues was 30 percent lower than that of their counterparts in Europe during the five-year period that ended in 2012 (exhibit). The European players’ higher ratios left them less agile and more at the mercy of cash constraints that coincide with economic shocks—an important concern for all companies in cyclical industries.
 This isn’t just a case of successful European luxury players relying on more capital-intensive business models: value-oriented European OEMs also are less capital efficient than some of their North American counterparts. Reasons for the advantage of Asian players include outsourcing more of their operations and maintaining simpler product portfolios. If value-oriented European OEMs followed suit, our analysis suggests, they could reduce their capital expenditures by roughly €30 billion over the next five years.


A road map to the future for the auto industry As the sector transforms itself, will the automobile keep its soul?

Paul Gao, Russell Hensley, and Andreas Zielke, via a kind email:

Automakers took center stage at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. General Motors exhibited the Firebird IV concept car, which, as the company explained, “anticipates the day when the family will drive to the super-highway, turn over the car’s controls to an automatic, programmed guidance system and travel in comfort and absolute safety at more than twice the speed possible on today’s expressways.”1 Ford, by contrast, introduced a vehicle for the more immediate future: the Mustang. With an eye toward the segment that would later be named the baby boomers, the Ford Division’s general manager (a not-yet-40-year-old engineer named Lee Iacocca) explained that the car brought “total performance” to a “young America out to have a good time.”2 Ford estimated it would sell 100,000 Mustangs during that first year; in fact, it would sell more than 400,000.

The marriage of an exciting car to an exuberant generation was clearly the right idea for Ford. And over the past 50 years, automobiles have continued to be our “freedom machines,” a means of both transportation and personal expression. Even so, as the industry recognized, the automobile is but one element of a mobility system—an element governed by extensive regulations, constrained by a need for fuel, and dependent on a network of roadways and parking spaces. Automobiles are also a force for change. Over the past half century, their very success has generated pollution and congestion while straining the supply of global resources. The rapid surge of emerging markets, particularly China, has heightened these dynamics.

Millennials like bikes and walking more than cars

Dan Tracy:

Christina Cook often rides her bike from her home near downtown Orlando to day care, where she drops off her young son. She prefers the bike to the family car, a 2003 Camry with almost 200,000 miles on the odometer.
 “We enjoy it [biking],” she said. “I’ve never felt I was inconvenienced.”
 Cook, 26, is like a lot of her contemporaries, the generation of millennials who are not as enamored with the automobile as their elders — who flocked to the internal-combustion engine as a symbol of freedom and a passport to far-flung suburban homes.
 A recent study by the nonprofit consumer group U.S. PIRG based in Boston found that millennials — or those born roughly from 1983 to 2000 — are driving less in favor of walking, biking and catching the bus or train, if one is available.

Keyless cars ‘increasingly targeted by thieves using computers’

Dave Lee:

Organised criminal gangs are increasingly targeting high-end cars with keyless security systems, a UK motoring industry group has warned.
 The thieves are able to bypass security using equipment intended only for mechanics, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.
 Manufacturers are trying to stay ahead of the thieves by updating software.
 It has been reported that some London-based owners of Range Rovers have been denied insurance over the issue.
 The warnings echoed those made by the US National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), which earlier this year said it had seen a “spike” in car thefts involving equipment to spoof keyless entry.
 Keyless entry and ignition typically works by the driver keeping a fob on their person which automatically opens the car and activates it so it can be driven.

Automatic’s App Will Teach Teen Drivers Without Spying on Them

Kyle Vanhemert:

If we can be real for a moment, it is maybe a little insane that we let 16-year-olds drive. Teenagers crash cars a lot, and it’s hard to imagine today’s panoply of harmless-seeming smartphone distractions making new drivers any safer. Of course, you can’t mention this to a 16-year-old, because God, Mom, I passed the driving test, didn’t I? The government trusts me so why don’t you? That gets to what’s smart about Automatic’s new driver program. It doesn’t try to catch youngsters being bad drivers. It just gives them a chance to prove they’re being good ones.
 License+ comes as an update to the Automatic app, available today. It lets new drivers enroll in a 100-hour program, using the company’s http://www.wired.com/2013/12/automatic-app/”>car-tracking dongle to give drivers a score based on behavior like observing the speed limit and braking properly. In addition to supplying new drivers with the app’s standard audio feedback, License+ also has badges and medals for various safe driving achievements, like racking up 20 hours of highway driving, or going 10 days without slamming on the brakes.

Tesla & US Auto Dealer Lobby

Catherine Rampell:

Or so allegedly free-market, anti-protectionist Republican legislators and governors pretend to think, given that they have been doing their damnedest to protect auto dealers (for both GM and others, to be fair) from the threat of competition.
 This week Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed a law effectively banning Tesla Motors, the high-end electric car manufacturer, from selling its cars in the state. It is the fifth state to do so, following Texas, Arizona, New Jersey and Maryland, and a slew of other states are erecting other creative restrictions that make it harder for the Silicon Valley upstart to sell cars locally.
 To clarify, none of these states has explicitly singled out Tesla in legislative language; instead, they just require anyone wishing to sell a car to consumers to do so through an independent dealership. The middleman, you see, wants his cut.

Audi claims self-drive car speed record after German test

Leo Kelion:

The German car giant says its RS7 vehicle topped 149mph (240km/h) while driving uncrewed round the Hockenheim racing circuit, south of Frankfurt.
 The car took just over two minutes to complete a lap of the Grand Prix track.
 Sunday’s stunt was organised to highlight the firm’s efforts to bring “piloted driving” to road vehicles. But one expert cautioned that several hurdles still needed to be overcome.
 Audi – a division of Volkswagen – also put a human behind the wheel of the vehicle for a comparison lap. He took five seconds longer to complete the circuit.
 A member of the car company’s research team explained that it believed the innovation could ultimately be used by the public.

Technology and productivity: The human-driven driverless car

The Economist:

TECHNOLOGY companies from Google to Audi have made remarkable strides in autonomous vehicle technology over the past few years. This progress is the more impressive given the fact that a decade ago technologists considered driving to be a near un-automatable task. Despite the extraordinary pace of improvement, however, driverless cars still attract plenty of sceptics.
 Some reckon that regulators and lawyers will keep the cars from reaching their full potential. They might do, though many local governments have been surprisingly open to crafting rules to accommodate the new driverless vehicles. Other critics argue that remaining technological hurdles could prove near-insurmountable. Yet such worries look overstated, both because recent progress suggests that obstacles are easy to overestimate and because remaining shortcomings ever more closely resemble those shared by humans.
 Writing at Slate, for instance, Lee Gomes frets that driverless vehicles struggle in unfamiliar territory when they lack good maps, can make errors when sun blinds their cameras, and are occasionally caught out by the unexpected appearance of new traffic signals. Human drivers, of course, share these weaknesses, and others: like difficulty operating in adverse weather conditions. The big difference between driverless vehicles and humans, in these cases, is that the computer can be programmed to behave cautiously when stumped, while humans often plow ahead heedlessly. When critiquing driverless cars it is often useful to recall that human drivers kill and maim millions of people each year.

Automakers working on protecting vehicle data privacy

Detroit News:

The Association of Global Automakers — the trade association representing Toyota Motor Corp, Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co. and other foreign automakers — and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — the group representing U.S. automakers, Toyota, Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG and others — both say they are working together to ensure driver data privacy.
 The two groups told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration late Tuesday they are working jointly to write consumer privacy protection principles. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, has raised concerns about driver privacy because of consumer data from GPS and in-vehicle systems.
 “For the first time, the industry is working to adopt central concepts to demonstrate a unified commitment to the responsible stewardship of information used to provide vehicle technologies and services,” the Alliance wrote in comments echoed by Global Automakers. Both said the effort includes geolocation, driver behavior and biometric information. The data, the alliance said, needs to be “carefully protected.”

Big Factories Won’t Solve High Cost of Electric Vehicles, Carnegie Mellon Researchers Say

Tara Moore:

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have found that the cost savings associated with manufacturing a high volume of batteries for electric vehicles may be nearly exhausted. Mass production lowers cost, say the researchers — but only up to a point
 Professor of Engineering and Public Policy and Mechanical Engineering Jeremy Michalek, Associate Professor of Engineering and Public Policy and Materials Science Jay Whitacre, and Associate Professor of Engineering and Public Policy Erica Fuchs, together with Apurba Sakti, a postdoctoral research associate at MIT, analyzed the design and production of vehicle batteries in a study appearing in the Journal of Power Sources.
 “Electric vehicle batteries are expensive,” Michalek says. “Federal and state governments have been subsidizing and mandating electric vehicle sales for years with the idea that increasing production volume will reduce costs and make these vehicles viable for mainstream consumers.”
 Tesla’s planned Gigafactory has a similar hope, promising major cost reductions at higher volume.
 “But we found that battery economies of scale are exhausted quickly, at around 200-300 MWh of annual production. That’s comparable to the amount of batteries produced for the Nissan Leaf or the Chevy Volt last year,” Michalek said. “Past this point, higher volume alone won’t do much to cut cost.”

Who’s Afraid Of Direct Sales?

Edward Niedermeyer:

In my most recent post at Bloomberg View, I draw a connection between Michigan’s new law blocking Tesla’s direct-sales model and the interests of the automakers based there. General Motors has taken the lead among Michigan’s automakers in opposing Tesla’s state-by-state battle for direct sales, publicly pushing Governors to protect the franchise system in Ohio and now in Michigan. In both cases, GM positioned itself as defender of “an even playing field” in the car business rather than arguing against direct sales or defending the franchise model. As I point out in the column, this is nothing short of absurd: GM’s extraordinary bailout make it the auto industry’s least-qualified advocate for fair play. But it’s also strangely telling: GM may not want Tesla to sell directly to consumers in states where it has a franchise dealer network, but it is hardly settled on the issue of direct sales themselves.
 After all, GM was leading the push for direct sales back at the turn of the Millenium, way back when Tesla was still just an AC Propulsion project. In 1999 GM introduced its “e-GM” initiative, one of its regular “fix everything” efforts that focused on the then-hot “E-Commerce” trend. At the time, CNN reported:

Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

Lee Gomes:

good technology demonstration so wows you with what the product can do that you might forget to ask about what it can’t. Case in point: Google’s self-driving car. There is a surprisingly long list of the things the car can’t do, like avoid potholes or operate in heavy rain or snow. Yet a consensus has emerged among many technologists, policymakers, and journalists that Google has essentially solved—or is on the verge of solving—all of the major issues involved with robotic driving. The Economist believes that “the technology seems likely to be ready before all the questions of regulation and liability have been sorted out.” The New York Times declared that “autonomous vehicles like the one Google is building will be able to pack roads more efficiently”—up to eight times so. Google co-founder Sergey Brin forecast in 2012 that self-driving cars would be ready in five years, and in May, said he still hoped that his original prediction would come true.
 But what Google is working on may instead result in the automotive equivalent of the Apple Newton, what one Web commenter called a “timid, skittish robot car whose inferior level of intelligence becomes a daily annoyance.” To be able to handle the everyday stresses and strains of the real driving world, the Google car will require a computer with a level of intelligence that machines won’t have for many years, if ever.

Do You Hate Driving? Your Numbers Are Growing

Fawn Johnson

People are driving less, particularly younger people. And, perhaps to the auto industry’s chagrin, researchers say that trend is here to stay. A new report from the Public Interest Research Group shows that for the first time since World War II, the automobile miles traveled by Americans has leveled off to roughly 3 trillion a year. That’s a sharp distinction from a consistently steady upward climb since the 1940s, according to PIRG’s analysis of Transportation Department data.

The drop-off in driving started in 2007, which has caused some analysts to question whether it reflected an honest change in driving habits or the general economic downturn. The recession definitely slowed the use of cars, but as the economy is recovering, it doesn’t appear that car traveling is bumping back up. As a nation, we are driving about the same number of miles per year as we did 10 years ago.

The people who are driving the least also happen to be the youngest. Of the commuting trips taken between 2006 and 2013, car trips dropped 1.5 percent among 16- to 24-year-olds and 1.3 percent among 25- to 44-year-olds, the study says. True, that’s not a huge drop, but it reflects a steady trend of people choosing to use other modes of travel. This population is only going to grow. For people 45 and over, car commutes hardly dropped at all, at 0.5 percent.

Car Sharing Grows Under the Wings of Rent-a-Car Incumbents

Joseph White:

Car sharing hasn’t derailed the traditional auto industry business model yet, but interest in services that allow people to borrow a car instead of buying one is growing, judging from new figures from one of the industry leaders.
 Enterprise Rent-a-Car, a unit of Enterprise Holdings Inc., tells the WSJ that membership in its car-sharing services has nearly doubled during the past year to 120,000 customers, as the company has expanded its car-sharing operations to more large cities and college campuses and launched smartphone apps to make it easier for members to reserve a car.
 Enterprise has acquired several regional car sharing startups, including AutoShare in Toronto and OccasionalCar in Denver, and is promoting them under the Enterprise CarShare umbrella.

BMW & Mercedes Dealers Outsell Cadillac 5-1

Mike Colias:

But others, especially lower-volume Cadillac dealers, are worried. They fear that de Nysschen wants to consolidate Cadillac’s network of 924 dealerships and reshape it in the mold of BMW or Mercedes-Benz, which have two-thirds fewer stores, mostly in urban locales, and outsell the average Cadillac store by nearly 5-to-1.
 One Midwest Cadillac dealer who returned from the Vegas gathering wasn’t in the mood to draw up expansion plans. Instead he called Richard Sox, a Florida lawyer who represented many Cadillac dealers targeted for termination around the time of GM’s bankruptcy in 2009.
 Sox said the dealer, whom he declined to name, is on the outskirts of a large urban area and must compete against several bigger Cadillac stores.

Tough Road for American Cars

Edward Niedermeyer:

Having enjoyed a roaring comeback from the depths of the global financial crisis, the auto industry is shifting back into cruise control. Though European auto sales appear to have staged a mini comeback in September (up 6 percent), growth has slowed more dramatically in China than anyone expected (up just 3 percent). With the bottom falling out of Russian demand, India stuck in neutral and South America dipping again, automakers are facing renewed pressure to make up for that weakness with sales in the U.S. market.
 The burning question: Can the U.S. market sustain the growth automakers need to keep rolling along? According to forecasts by J.D. Power, AutoNation Chief Executive Officer Mike Jackson and others, there’s nothing to worry about: Sales in the U.S. will rise to nearly 17 million units next year. But history is littered with such optimistic forecasts, subsequently abandoned when growth slows. And there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that auto sales have gone as high as they can go.

Autonomous Car Culture

Ben Schiller:

Given how central driving is to our lives, there will be a big adjustment when computers do the work for us. Self-driving will bring more convenience, but it could mean something more: a fundamental shift in how we organize our days, how we get around cities, and where we live.
 A new report from Sparks & Honey, a future-focused New York agency, looks at some implications that go beyond the immediately obvious. Here are six ideas that CEO Terry Young and chief cultural strategy officer Sarah DaVanzo picked out (yes, some companies really have chief cultural strategy officers).

Your Car Won’t Start. Did You Make The Loan Payment?

Robert Szypko:

“The use of the devices has increased, and it worked its way up the credit chain a bit,” says Tom Hudson, a partner at Hudson Cook LLP and founder and editor-in-chief of CARLAW, a monthly review of developments in automobile finance. “Suddenly these things seem to have grabbed the attention of the media, but they have been around for many years.”
 Hudson says he first heard of the devices in 1997, when they were largely used by “buy here, pay here” dealerships. Now, more subprime lending companies have taken to using them too.
 Many borrowers with bad credit are required to have the starter interrupt device installed on their cars before driving off the lot. The device has helped feed into the growing subprime auto loan market, as it allows lenders to extend subprime loans with greater confidence.
 Newly originated subprime auto loans, through June, were at an eight-year high $70.7 billion, according to Equifax. The Times reported that Lender Systems, a California company that makes a variety of starter interrupt devices, has seen its revenue more than double this year.

China to punish carmakers that fail to meet fuel economy targets


China said today it would punish carmakers by restricting their production and publicly naming them if they fail to meet fuel consumption requirements on passenger vehicles set for 2015.
 Punitive measures outlined for offenders of the already-announced fuel economy rules reflect Beijing’s latest effort to fight pollution and promote more efficient use of energy.
 They are also likely to push automakers, both foreign and Chinese, to embrace more cutting-edge technology such as gasoline-electric hybrids and all-electric cars.
 China’s fuel economy rules, as stringent as those to be enforced in the United States, Europe and Japan, involve a fleet-wide corporate average target of 34 mpg (6.9 liters per 100 kilometer) in 2015 and 47 mpg (5.0 liters per 100 kilometer) in 2020. They take effect on Nov. 1.

BMW car hire scheme to rival London’s ‘Boris Bikes’

Phil McNamara:

BMW will launch a four-wheeled rival to the ‘Boris Bike’, CAR can reveal, when its grab-and-go car hire scheme launches in London by early 2015.
 DriveNow, BMW’s joint venture with rental company Sixt, will deploy cars at strategic points on the capital’s streets.
 How BMW’s DriveNow scheme will work in London
 The electric i3 city car will be the star of the London initiative, bulked out by Mini and 1-series cars which underpin similar operations in five German cities which pioneered DriveNow.
 The scheme is part of BMW’s reimagination of itself as a mobility services provider, happy to hire cars as well as sell them. In Germany, DriveNow members pay a €29 registration fee, then they can rent cars off the street paying fees a little cheaper than hiring a London taxi. Cars are located, reserved and unlocked with a smartphone app, free to tank up (with a special refueling card) which qualifies the driver for a free mileage bonus, and with an amnesty from the capital’s highly motivated parking wardens and its congestion charge. Billing is automated.

Worldwide Sales of Toyota Hybrids Top 7 Million Units

Toyota PR:

Toyota Motor Corporation announces that cumulative global sales of its hybrid vehicles has exceeded the 7 million unit mark as of September 30 reaching 7.053 million units*1. This latest million-unit milestone was achieved in the fastest time yet for Toyota, taking just nine months.

Helping mitigate the environmental effects of automobiles is a priority for Toyota. Based on the stance that environment-friendly vehicles can only truly have a significant positive impact if they are widely used, Toyota has endeavored to encourage the mass-market adoption of hybrid vehicles.

Related: the i3 long bet.

Panasonic says initial investment in Tesla battery factory will be ‘tens of billions’ of yen

Hannibal Hanscke:

Panasonic Corp’s (6752.T) initial investment in Tesla Motors Inc’s (TSLA.O) battery factory will amount to “tens of billions” of yen, the Japanese company’s chief executive said on Tuesday.
 Chief Executive Kazuhiro Tsuga also told reporters that he did not think the yen’s current exchange was “bad”, as long as it remained stable. He did not give any more details.
 California-based electric car maker Tesla has been hammering out the final details of the plant that will produce cheaper and more efficient battery packs for its vehicles.
 Panasonic has agreed to produce lithium ion cells for battery packs and will fund part of the cost of the plant.

Demand skyrockets for collision-avoidance sensors

David Sedgewick:

Fully autonomous cars may be a decade away, but the sensors they’ll need for collision avoidance — radar, cameras, ultrasound and lidar — have become a big business already.
 Global sales of anti-crash sensors will total $9.90 billion in 2020 — up from $3.94 billion this year, predicts IHS Automotive, a research firm based in suburban Detroit.
 Radar and cameras will account for the lion’s share of that revenue, followed by ultrasound and lidar, according to the IHS forecast.
 Lidar, the sensor of choice used on Google’s driverless car, will generate relatively small sales by 2020. It uses pulsed laser light to measure distances.
 Markets in North America and Europe will account for most sensor sales in the short run, with China likely to start catching up as regulators issue tougher safety rules.

Factories, dealers clash over canceled store sales

Amy Wilson:

When Mercedes-Benz scuttled Jona-than Sobel’s $30 million deal to buy a New Jersey dealership last year by exercising its right of first refusal, Sobel sued. And he got a lot more cautious about where he’d buy more dealerships to add to his stores in New York.
 Sobel declined to discuss specifics of his lawsuit. But in general “right of first refusal has a chilling effect on the buy-sell market,” he told Automotive News. “Why would I spend the time and the effort to structure a complex transaction only to find out a manufacturer is going to use their right of first refusal to cherry pick my best deals?”
 Sobel is one of many dealers caught up in the increasing use of right of first refusal by manufacturers in buy-sell transactions. Franchise agreements have long given most automakers the right to refuse the original buyer on a dealership transaction and assign the sale, with no changes to the terms, to a dealer of its choosing.

A Brief History of Tesla

Matt Burns:

 Tesla was founded not by Elon Musk, but rather by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in July 2003. The two bootstrapped the fledgling auto company until Elon Musk led the company’s $7.5 million Series A financing round in February 2004, when Musk became the company’s Chairman of the Board.


 Swiss Post:

Swiss Post is constantly expanding its fleet of electric vehicles, thereby becoming ever less dependent on fossil fuels and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. The solution is particularly climate-friendly because Swiss Post obtains up to 100% renewable and “naturemade basic”-certified electricity from Switzerland.

Via Jonathan.

10 Ways the Car is Becoming More than a Vehicle

Matthew De Paula:

Cars are in the midst of the most profound transformation in the past 100 years. And that change is only accelerating. To celebrate this coming revolution, we’ve assembled the 10 most disruptive ideas, technologies, and people in the industry right now. Through them, we explore the form, function, and future of the evolving car.

Whether cellphones or cereal, consumers are demanding new products faster than ever before. Certainly, that’s the case with cars. In the past two decades, automakers have cut their seven-to-ten year product development lifecycles in half.

One company promises to shrink them further still. McLaren, the vaunted maker of supercars and Formula One racers, has long been known for nimble development. In its Formula One skunk works outside London, developers strive to engineer and test a new piece of technology every 20 minutes, which is light speed by automotive measures. New racecars can differ by as much as 80 percent from those fielded the year prior.

People on the Move, Part 2

Ed Wallace:

To the average person in our major cities, who had traveled mainly by horse-drawn carriage or trolley, the new electric rail cars and interurban lines must have seemed like the most exciting way in which modern technology would change the nation. The other modern technological improvement in personal transportation, however, had been the automobile; and its introduction and advancement happened concurrently with that of electric rail.
 True, by 1910 there were fewer than half a million cars on the roads in this country, while the electric rail car was already established in most major cities and its feeder lines were being built out to the cities nearby. But just 10 years later, even before the last of the interurban lines were finished, America was building and selling 2.3 million out of the 2.4 million vehicles built worldwide each year.

Part 1.

Mustang “EcoBoost”

Dan Neil:

From Ford to Ferrari, Audi to Volvo, auto makers are being obliged to move to smaller, forced-induction engines to make power while still lowering emissions. As they do, the character, the sinew, even the sound of performance is changing. And nowhere is the effect more striking than in the Ford Mustang, with its 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine. It’s kind of the New Fast.
 Is that a lot? Historically, it’s huge. Let’s flip open the Big Book of Mustang History and put our finger on… Here we go: The 1971 Boss 351’s “Cleveland” four-barrel V8 put out 330 All-American horsepower, 370 pound-feet of torque, and all the hydrocarbons you could choke on (visual aid: the “Eleanor” in Hollywood’s original 1974 “Gone in 60 Seconds” was a ‘71 SportsRoof, though not a Boss 351).
 This was one of the era’s last monster motors, a piston-powered rock god, a hand-built high-comp 5.7-liter V8 with a big Holley carb, solid-lifter cam, Magnafluxed heads, the works. A four-speed Hurst shifter and 3.91:1 Traction-Lok rear end helped put the Boss 351’s power to the ground in respectable fashion: 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds and a quarter-mile elapsed-time of 13.9 seconds. All in all, a ground-shaking, tire-baking bit of American mechanical culture, that made an impression on millions.
 The gas-sipping Mustang EcoBoost is exactly as quick as beastly Boss 351, within the same 0-60 mph and the quarter-mile times, but using half the number of cylinders and delivering roughly three times the fuel economy (21/32/25 mpg, city/ highway/ combined). This despite the fact that the new Mustang is obliged to carry hundreds of pounds more air bags, computers, catalytic converters and crash structures than the Boss 351 (total=0).

Tesla Has Old Lessons to Learn

Edward Niedermeyer::

The auto industry has developed certain unwritten rules over the last hundred years or so. Got new technologies or features? Save them for the new model year. Have a new product announcement? Make it at a car show. Want a new product? That will be several years of development.
 Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk treats most of these traditions as if they don’t exist,1 and for his trouble, he is rewarded with the kind of public adulation that no other auto executive could even hope for. The problem Musk faces is that not all of these “traditional” ways of doing things are ripe for disruption. Beaming new features to an already-sold Model S? Cool. Tweeting announcements and wasting as little energy as possible on the well-worn car show/comparison test/auto media circuit? Sure. Create a new car out of thin air? Um, no.
 This is why Musk’s “D” announcement last night was basically pre-ordained for disappointment: As an automaker, Tesla is far more constrained in what it can do than many seem to believe. Rumors of a self-driving system, whipped into hysteria by Musk’s awed references to progress in artificial intelligence, materialized as a suite of safety systems that seem to barely differ from those already offered by several automakers.2

A 360 degree “scanner” for trucks

Sean Kilcarr:

Here’s an interesting concept: a 360 degree scanning system that warns the drivers of commercial vehicles if pedestrians or bicyclists are in any of the blind spots surrounding their trucks.
 Sweden’s Volvo Trucks developed and is now in the midst of testing just such a system in Europe, with Carl Johan Almqvist – traffic and product safety director for the OEM – noting that this technology “works much like the human mind,” allowing trucks to “interpret” its environment and suggest actions to avoid any incidents.
 “Unprotected road users such as pedestrians and cyclists are especially vulnerable in urban areas where a lot of large vehicles move around,” he explained.

Audi wants $2.5 billion in annual cost cuts to offset tech spending, reports say


Audi wants to rein in costs by about $2.5 billion a year to offset surging spending on new technology, according to people familiar with the matter.
 The world’s second-largest maker of luxury cars will seek to limit expenditure growth in areas such as development, purchasing and manufacturing to safeguard profit margins, said the people, who asked not to be identified as details of the initiative are confidential.
 Audi CEO Rupert Stadler outlined “a fitness program” in a July letter to employees, saying the company must brace for the increasing cost of developing electric vehicles, self-driving and communications features and new plants. Julio Schuback, an Audi spokesman, referred to Stadler’s recent statements and declined to comment further.
 The biggest earnings contributor at parent company Volkswagen AG, Audi is introducing 17 new or revamped models in 2014, and has revived development of an electric version of the R8 sports car to advance its goal of surpassing premium-market leader BMW.

Dealers Reject Fed Plan Single Interest Rate for Car Buyers

Michael Strong:

 A proposal to mandate a single interest rate auto lenders can charge car buyers to ensure minorities weren’t discriminated against would only cause all buyers to pay more for a car, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.
 In a speech at an Automotive Press Association luncheon in Detroit, Forrest McConnell, president of McConnell Honda Acura in Montgomery, Alabama, and chairman of NADA, said the recommendation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to require auto dealers to use a standard interest rate for all financed purchases denies buyers “their right” to a discounted interest rate.

Bills Would Restrict Access to Cars’ ‘Black Box’ Data

Michael Booth:

New Jersey lawmakers may soon enact legislation that would limit access to information from event data recorders installed in automobiles that track speed, location, time of use and the number of people inside an automobile.
 Citing privacy concerns, three legislators are sponsoring bills that would make the information on an automobile’s event data recorder—also known as a car’s “black box”—the property of the vehicle’s owner and would restrict how that information may be obtained from third parties, such as law enforcement, insurance carriers and adversaries in civil matters.
 The Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee on Oct. 2 unanimously recommended passage of A3579, sponsored by Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester. An identical bill, S2433, sponsored by state Sens. Fred Madden Jr., D-Gloucester, and James Beach, D-Camden, is pending before the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.

Brands: Twenty Years On, Kia Finds Perception Changes Slowly

Christie Schweinsberg::

Since Kia debuted in the U.S. in 1994, the brand has come a long way from the quality-deficient ’95 Sportage small SUV and Sephia compact car.
 In 2012, Kia surpassed the half-million-sales mark and now has entrants available in almost every segment in the U.S., barring pickups.
 Kia also has won numerous awards in recent years, including Ward’s 10 Best Interiors trophies for the ’14 Soul compact car and ’13 Cadenza large sedan, and Kia was sixth among brands on this year’s J.D. Power & Associates’ closely watched Initial Quality Study.
 But executives are finding the public’s perception doesn’t change as quickly as the speed at which Kia collects accolades.

The Carless Commute Ranking to End All Carless Commute Rankings

Eric Jaffe:

The Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota has released the most useful transit commute rankings you’re likely to see for some time. “Access Across America: Transit 2014” ranks 46 of the biggest U.S. metros based on how many jobs a resident can access by transit during the morning rush of 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Let’s jump right into the top 10 then step back and see how the rankings were done:
 New York
 San Francisco
 Los Angeles
 Washington, D.C.
 San Jose
 Not a terribly surprising list, but digging deeper it proves to be an incredibly insightful one. The rankings use both city geography and transit schedules to capture the full door-to-door commute experience: from the first mile it takes to reach a bus or train station, to the wait once you’re there, to the travel time itself, to the last mile reaching the office. They are also weighted by time, with shorter trips favored over longer ones. So a 10-minute commute gives a city more accessibility points than a 60-minute commute.

AAA Claims Toyota’s Hands-Free System is Best

Michael Strong:

Automakers are coming out with a multitude of hands-free systems, which are supposed make it safer for drivers to stay in touch with the world outside of the car and in command of the inside.

However, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety claims researchs shows hands-free systems like Apple’s Siri, General Motors’ MyLink and Ford’s Sync that are designed to limit distracted driving may have the opposite effect.

Data Driven!

“We already know that drivers can miss stop signs, pedestrians and other cars while using voice technologies because their minds are not fully focused on the road ahead,” said Bob Darbelnet, chief executive officer of AAA.

“We now understand that current shortcomings in these products, intended as safety features, may unintentionally cause greater levels of cognitive distraction.”

The foundation, which is the research arm of the organization, put several popular hands-free technologies to the test.

Zest sedan adds punch to Tata Motors’ car sales

Rachit Vats:

Tata Motors has been pinning a lot of hope on new launches like the entry-level sedan Zest to turn around its dwindling fortunes in the domestic passenger vehicles market. And if the Zest’s August sales numbers are anything to go by, it seems to be on the right track.

Zest sold 2,671 units in August, according to data sourced exclusively from Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). SIAM had not given out the first month sales numbers for the Zest publicly. To be sure, the Zest was launched on August 12 and therefore the sales numbers for that month are for only around 20 days.

The traction that Tata Motors’ passenger vehicles sales has gained from the Zest is evident from the fact that Zest sales constituted nearly a quarter of the 10,975 vehicles that the carmaker sold in August. The new launch helped the company improve its sales numbers over July, in which month it sold 9,167 vehicles.

Tata Motors’ dealers and analysts who track the company are witnessing significant demand for Zest and expect its sales to strengthen during the ongoing festive season. “The interest in Zest is picking up and we expect sales to pick up and reach 4,000-5,000 a month after Diwali,” said a dealer who owns Tata Motors showrooms in major Indian cities.

Self-driving cars stepping on the gas Clip to Evernote

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The government regards technological innovation as a pillar of Japan’s economic growth strategy, believing that technological development will give an advantage to the nation and Japanese companies.

This is the second installment in a three-part series examining Japan’s aim to regain its status as a manufacturing power.

Self-driving cars are quickly gaining on the day they will get their driver’s license.

Naoki Suganuma, 38, a Kanazawa University lecturer, recently test-drove a self-driving car at a driving school in Kanazawa. The car negotiated a training course there that resembles real city streets.

The experimental vehicle was a modified ordinary car attached with three sensors on the roof and its front.

Automobiles and Telecommunications: The Road Ahead

Carl Weinschenk

High on the list of things that are being transformed by telecommunications is the automobile industry. In some cases, the change is as basic as it can get: Telecommunications and associated tools are taking over the actual driving. Telecom technology also is being used to send and receive more complete and comprehensive data to and from cars in support of both driving and vehicle maintenance. It is making the trips go by faster for passengers by providing unprecedented levels of connectivity and entertainment.

Last week, the MIT Technology Review reported on a project at the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center. The idea is that self-driving cars work fine on highways, but require a great deal more complexity and nuance when driving on city streets. For this reason, the school is building a mockup of some of the streets of Ann Arbor. The course features 13 intersections on four miles of road. The Michigan Department of Transportation and 13 companies involved in automated driving are sponsoring the project.

Mercedes Is Making a Self-Driving Semi to Change the Future of Shipping

Alex Davies

The latest truck concept from Mercedes-Benz doesn’t look like anything crazy. Its design is a bit unusual, and it’s loaded up with LEDs instead of headlights and cameras instead of side mirrors. But those modest tweaks to conventional design hide the fact that this is a serious bid to revolutionize the trucking industry. That’s because the “Future Truck 2025″ drives itself. And while it’s a prototype, Mercedes is serious about spending the next decade getting it—and us—ready for commercial use.

Autonomous driving is nothing new for trucks in agricultural and military applications, and should be available for passenger cars by 2020. But trucks that share our highways are tempting candidates for shedding their human component: Highway driving is easy for computers but dangerous for us, especially when big machines are involved. In 2012, according to NHTSA, 333,000 large trucks were in crashes in the US. Those accidents killed nearly 4,000 people, the vast majority of whom were riding in passenger vehicles. Regulators have trouble ensuring that drivers get adequate rest, and the trucking industry has fought back against regulation.

Drones & Flying Cars

David Robson:

If Cummings is right, this technology might just be the precursor for something even more radical. She thinks that drones will help bridge the gap to flying cars – by pushing the development of safe, autonomous navigation through air. “Convertible cars that turn into planes exist right now – you just need to get the right computers into them.” In fact, she thinks that autonomous flying cars could face fewer difficulties than those driving on the roads, since there are, potentially, fewer obstacles in the air. “From my perspective as a futurist, it’s a no brainer.”

U.S. planning first auto retooling loans since 2011

 David Shephardson:

The head of the U.S. Energy Department’s $25 billion program to make loans for fuel-saving technologies says it expects to make its first loans in more than three years.
 “We are very happy with the whole relaunch,” Peter W. Davidson, executive director of the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office, said Tuesday. “We’ve been very encouraged since then about what’s going on, so we expect to make a couple announcements … certainly this year.”
 He declined to name what companies might be getting loans. But he said the program has been focusing on suppliers, and there’s been interest in making vehicles lighter in weight. “That’s one of the easiest ways to comply with CAFE standards,” he said.
 Ford Motor Co. announced in January it would build its 2015 F-150 with a lightweight aluminum body, setting off a shockwave. Last week, Chrysler Group LLC CEO Sergio Marchionne said the company is considering an aluminum-bodied Jeep Wrangler.

All Monopolies Aren’t Created Equal Ride-sharing firms are upending traditional taxi business. That’s a good thing.

Adam Ozimek:

The so-called sharing economy is upsetting a lot of apple carts. Services such as Uber for transportation and AirBnB for housing have many fans, of course, but entrenched incumbents in these industries like things the way they are, or were. And their complaints often fall on receptive ears.
 Case in point: Last week, Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell voiced concern that car-sharing services Uber and Lyft, which have emerged to compete with conventional taxi fleets, will prove less beneficial for consumers than many claim. Specifically, Rampell worried that the current intense competition will prove temporary, and that in the end cities will simply be “trading in one monopoly—loathed Big Taxi—for another, less regulated one.”
 I believe this confuses the two types of monopolies: natural and legal.

aimler, Renault Chiefs Knock Hydrogen Cars

William Boston:

PARIS—Hydrogen or batteries? When it comes to powering cars of the future, those are fighting words.
 Dieter Zetsche, chief executive of Daimler AG, and Carlos Ghosn, his counterpart at Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co., on Friday attacked Toyota Motor Corp.’s plans to launch a fuel cell powered vehicle, exposing a sharp divide over how they hope to comply with government policies to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
 Auto makers are growing concerned that weak consumer demand for electric vehicles threatens the billions of dollars they have invested in plug-in technology to meet ever stricter emissions regulations. Mr. Zetsche and Mr. Ghosn appear concerned that Toyota’s launch of a new “clean car” technology threatens to complicate the contest for consumer purchases and government subsidies.

What Your Car Says About Your Politics

Edward Niedermeyer:

Of all the choices we make as consumers, our car purchases are among the most consequential. While cars are typically one of the most expensive purchases we’ll ever make outside of housing, the size of the auto industry gives those purchases an often-unseen political dimension as well.
 To the extent that politics enters the conversation around the cars we buy, it usually centers around a dated concern for the interests of U.S.-based manufacturers (i.e. “Is it good for Detroit?”). What gets lost in the argument — along with billions of taxpayer dollars on bailouts — is the agenda Americans are actually endorsing with their purchases. And the trade issues with Japan that are apparently holding up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, along with the economic contributions of Japanese auto firms in particular to the U.S. economy, demonstrate that the old “Detroit versus Japan” debate no longer benefits U.S. consumers.
 For example, the U.S. still imposes a 25 percent tax on pickup imports, the lone holdout of President Lyndon Johnson’s 1963 “chicken tax” and 10 times the tariff on passenger vehicle imports. Meanwhile, Americans purchase trucks in huge numbers despite concerns about energy security and global warming. Rather than simply enjoying the bounties1 of this hidden tax, U.S. automakers bang the drum against the supposed threat of Japanese trade policy. Automakers General Motors, Chrysler and Ford complain noisily that Japan’s “currency manipulation” and “non-tariff barriers” are obstacles to the TPP. In return for its lack of tariffs on imported cars (zero, compared with our 2.5 to 25 percent tariffs, for those keeping score), Japan is essentially being accused of cheating by not adopting U.S. automotive regulations and monetary policy.2

Spain is trying to push Uber out of the country: drivers will face fines up to €18,000

Jaime Novoa:

The taxi industry in Spain is lobbying hard to get Uber out of the country, and our public institutions are helping them achieve that. Madrid’s local government has announced that Uber and its UberPOP drivers will face penalties starting at €4,000 and that can be has high as €18,000 per driver and vehicle.
 Local police forces claim that they will start inspecting vehicles that belong to the company. How they will do this in a city with thousands of cars is a different question, and authorities haven’t given any details on how they will try to find Uber cars in the streets of Madrid.
 Fines will start at €4,000 and could reach €18,000 for recurring infringers and lead to the immobilization of their cars.

Car sharing: A cheaper alternative to owning a car in the city

Kazuaki Nagata:

Owning a car in Japan can be a hassle if you live in a city because it often comes with the extra cost of renting a parking space.
 That partly explains the rising popularity of car sharing. Many people have come to see it as not only cheaper but also more practical than owning an automobile. Here are some questions and answers about car sharing in this country:
 Is car sharing on the rise?
 The number of people registering for car sharing services is increasing. The total was 465,280 in January, compared with 6,396 in the same month in 2009.
 Also, the number of vehicles used for car sharing has jumped to 12,373 from 563 in the same period, according to the Foundation for Promoting Personal Mobility and Ecological Transportation, known more commonly as Eco-Mo Foundation, a Tokyo-based group that promotes car sharing.
 The figures have gone up in recent years with the entry of several private companies into the market.

Tesla could soon start selling its own used cars

Edgar Alvarez:

The second-hand business for most consumer products, including automobiles, is constantly booming. It doesn’t matter if you go through the actual manufacturer or websites like Craigslist and Ebay, the marketplace certainly exists. Knowing this, it looks as if Tesla is prepared to offer more than just a brand new, hot-off-the-press option on its Model S vehicles — something that’s typical among car manufacturers. According to Automobile News, Elon Musk & Co. are already working on a plan to sell the Model S used in the near future, as a way to compete against OEMs with similar alternatives in place.

Technology Takes the Wheel

Aaron Kessler:

Google’s driverless car may still be a work in progress, but the potential for semiautonomous vehicles on American roads is no longer the stuff of science fiction.
 By the end of the decade, a growing number of automakers aim to offer some form of hands-off-the-wheel, feet-off-the-pedals highway driving where a driver can sit back and let the car take control.
 The very nature of driving, experts say, will be radically reshaped — and the biggest players in the auto industry are now vying to capture a slice of the revolutionary market they see coming within a matter of years.

Q&A with Ian Wright: The CEO of Wrightspeed on Tesla, gas turbines and electric trucks

Charles Morris:

Ian Wright is originally from New Zealand. He came to California in 1993, where he happened to be a neighbor of Tesla founder Martin Eberhard. He worked with optical switching systems at a company called Altamar Networks until it went out of business, then decided he wanted to start his own company.

Eberhard and his partner Marc Tarpenning had a practice of using fellow entrepreneurs as an audience to rehearse the pitches they developed for venture capitalists. The two listened to and critiqued Wright’s presentation for his optical subsystem startup, then gave him their pitch for Tesla.

Wright’s own startup never did get off the ground, but he found Eberhard and Tarpenning’s idea so interesting that he joined forces with them. Charged recently spoke with Wright about that historic hookup.

Via Steve Crandall.

Video: A Capstone Microturbine onboard a Wrightspeed truck maximizes efficiency without compromising performance..

What are brands for?

The Economist:

A second view holds that brands are “a shorthand for choice”, in the words of Martin Glenn, chief executive of United Biscuits, producer of McVitie’s. They make it easier for shoppers to cut through the information bombardment that rains down upon them. On this analysis, awareness matters more than loyalty or passion.

Apple’s computers, for example, may have a strong brand; but they command only a little more loyalty from buyers than do customers of less-ballyhooed makes of computer, argues Byron Sharp, a marketing expert at the University of South Australia. Their slightly higher tendency to stick with Apple probably comes from the hassle of having to convert to a different operating system, rather than love of the brand, he reckons. Harley-Davidson, a motorcycle company, is well known to have a devoted fan base. But in fact such fanatics account for only a tenth of its customers and just 3.5% of its revenue.

More: Untouchable intangibles.

Warren Buffett, Risky Car Salesman

Edward Niedermeyer:

Wherever Warren Buffett goes, investors follow. Such is the power of the Oracle of Omaha’s reputation. True to form, Berkshire Hathaway’s recent purchase of the Van Tuyl car dealership group has pushed up the share value of large dealership companies. Some of these new investors may simply be front-running Buffett, buying up equity in dealerships they think Berkshire may acquire. But for anyone who thinks now is the best time to buy into car dealerships, a quick reality check may be in order.
 Perhaps the biggest reason to think twice before following the Oracle is that the U.S. auto market is returning to its traditionally sustainable sales peak of between 16 million and 17 million units per year. While auto sales have been one of the few bright spots in the retail sector during a slow economic recovery, there’s no reason to think that will last. Much of that growth is due to the expansion of auto credit, particularly through subprime lending and longer loan terms, so there may not be much juice left in the tank for further growth.

Is Your Car an Underwater Time Bomb?

Edward Niedermeyer:

America has had a rocky recovery from the 2007-08 financial crisis, but one group of Americans has done quite well: car dealers. Even as job and wage growth have stagnated, auto sales have uncoupled themselves from those traditional economic drivers to become one of the few sources of strength in the macroeconomic picture.

As the economists Amir Sufi and Atif Mian point out in their new book “House of Debt,” one of the big factors supporting overall retail spending in the U.S. since 2008 has been the expansion of auto credit. Sufi and Mian don’t celebrate this fact — they rightly see it as a symptom of broader secular stagnation in the U.S. economy. Indeed, a few recent statistics demonstrate the very precarious underpinnings of the auto industry’s prosperity:

The average auto-loan term has increased every year since 2010, reaching 66 months in the first quarter of this year, according to Experian Automotive. In the same period, loans with terms of 73 to 84 months grew 28 percent, while loans with terms from 25 to 72 months actually fell.

Tom McParland has more.

What to Expect From Buffett Acquiring Van Tuyl Dealer Group

Phil Villegas:

So what does this mean for the industry? What can we expect?
 From a dealer’s perspective, this is great news. It not only provides an endorsement of the viability and stability of auto retailing, but it also gives our industry an immediately recognizable and trusted spokesperson in Buffett.
 This should take some of the pressure off and air time away from Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, the country’s largest dealership chain.
 The other great news for dealers is the additional attention from all those professionals, investors, bankers, tech people and others who reverently follow billionaire Buffett’s moves. He’s considered a visionary investor. If the industry is good enough for him, how can it not be good enough for them?

Peugeot seeks partner for hybrid air technology

Tony Lewis:

A project that started in top secret four years ago is now being shared with other car makers as Peugeot seeks a partner for its hybrid air technology which is helping it achieve CO2 emissions as low as 46g/km from a two-litre petrol engine.
 To make hybrid air viable, annual production needs to be around 400,000 units a year, Eric Lalliard, powertrain senior chief engineer at Peugeot, told just-auto.
 PSA Peugeot-Citroen will be able to account for 200,000-250,000 of those but the balance will need to come from another manufacturer.

Self-driving car? No thanks, my minivan is humiliating enough

Andrew Clark:

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) recently issued its first self-driving car permits. Three companies applied: Google, Audi and Daimler AG Mercedes-Benz. Google bagged 25 test permits, the others getting two each. Safety advocates applauded the move. Google’s self-driving prototypes have done 1.1 million kilometres with only one accident. The age of the self-driving car has officially begun.
 What does it all mean? No one is entirely sure but one thing is certain – those self-driving cars didn’t go to the DMV to wait in line for hours to get their permits. Nor did they navigate page after page of impenetrable bureaucratic websites. A human did that. Perhaps that’s our first clue. In the age of the “self-driving” car, all that may be left for us meat puppets is the paperwork.
 To some, the self-driving automobile is a leap forward. Current vehicles already have a lot of self-driving elements. Operating a self-driving car will be more like flying an airplane. The advanced technology will take care of much of the tasks, leaving us to worry about big-picture issues and handling the high-skill tasks.

Loan Fraud Inquiry Said to Focus on Used-Car Dealers

Jessica Silver-Greenberg & Michael Corkery:

Lenders in the housing boom created so-called liar loans, which enabled borrowers, even those with no income or assets, to inflate their income. Government authorities are now taking aim at a new generation of liar loans. Only this time it is subprime auto loans.

Federal and state authorities, a group that includes prosecutors in New York, Alabama and Texas, are zeroing in on the most powerful, and arguably the least regulated, rung of the subprime auto loan chain, used-car dealerships, according to people briefed on the investigations. Already, they have found hundreds of fraudulent loans that together total millions of dollars.

Related: Berkshire Enters Car Dealership Market: “We’re buying this business for 100 years”.

BMW, Mercedes standardize models to aid buyers, boost margins

Edward Taylor & Eileen Preisinger:

Mercedes-Benz and BMW are aiming to sell more standardized cars and services to boost profit margins and simplify the complex list of options for buyers — while also giving them the choice of a bespoke car if they want.

The move is partly aimed at attracting customers who might struggle with the ever growing list of model variants, multimedia features and safety technology available in new cars, the companies say.

Ian Robertson, BMW’s board member responsible for sales and marketing, said the new 4-series coupe was being offered with four different trims, and the i8 hybrid sports car was being offered in only three packages of options.

“We have packaged a number of trim levels to help the customer and ourselves, because the complexity was very high. A clearly understandable package was the M sport package,” Robertson said, referring to cars equipped with the performance luxury trim which comes with more ornate bumpers and spoilers and top of the line engines.

We have discussed model proliferation in recent Asymcar episodes.

GM seeks to do the same.

And, less is more.

Elon Musk says next year’s Tesla cars will be able to self-drive 90 percent of the time

Chris Ziegler:

In an excerpt from a CNNMoney interview, Tesla boss Elon Musk says that the self-driving car — or “autopilot,” the term he prefers — is basically just months away from retail. Here’s the language:
 Autonomous cars will definitely be a reality. A Tesla car next year will probably be 90 percent capable of autopilot. Like, so 90 percent of your miles can be on auto. For sure highway travel.
 How’s that going to happen?
 With a combination of various sensors. You combine cameras with image recognition with radar and long-range ultrasonics, that’ll do it. Other car companies will follow.
 But you guys are going to be the leader?
 Of course. I mean, Tesla’s a Silicon Valley company. If we’re not the leader, shame on us.

Jeep ponders switch to aluminum for next Wrangler body, Marchionne says Switch would require move from longtime Toledo plant

Larry Vellequette:

The next-generation Jeep Wrangler may be built off a unibody platform, feature smaller and turbocharged engines, and switch to an aluminum body, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne said.
 Such significant changes to the hot-selling SUV would likely mean leaving its longtime, historic production site in Toledo, Ohio, Marchionne said today.
 In his strongest comments to date about Fiat Chrysler’s future plans for the Wrangler, Marchionnne hinted strongly the next-generation version is likely to be fundamentally different from the venerable off-roader available today.
 The next Wrangler, due in 2017, has to lose weight and be powered by smaller engines than its current 3.6-liter V-6 engine in order to help Fiat Chrysler meet stricter U.S. fuel economy rules.

Berkshire Enters Car Dealership Market: “We’re buying this business for 100 years”

Chelsey Dulaney & Erik Holm:

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett said Thursday that he expects to buy more dealerships over time. Associated Press

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has set his sights on the auto market.

His firm Berkshire Hathaway Inc. BRKA +0.63% unveiled plans Thursday to buy Van Tuyl Group, the fifth-largest auto dealership firm in the U.S.

Mr. Buffett, who declined to disclose the deal’s value during an interview with CNBC, said he sees long-term value in auto dealerships—a highly fragmented market that he could help to consolidate.

“I fully expect we’ll buy a lot more dealerships over time” he said. “We will hear, I predict, from hundreds of dealerships in the next year.”

He noted the fundamental demand for cars hasn’t decreased, even as consolidation among dealers has accelerated in recent years. He added the average dealership does more business now than 30 to 40 years ago.

“We’re buying this business for 100 years,” he said.

Shares of auto dealers climbed Thursday in response to Mr. Buffett’s comments. AutoNation Inc., AN +5.23% Sonic Automotive Inc. SAH +2.73% and Lithia Motors Inc. LAD +7.94% were among the top gainers.

Mr. Buffett’s bet on the industry comes at a time when the number of auto dealers is shrinking.

There were 17,665 franchised new-car dealerships in 2013, down from 20,010 in 2009, according to data from the National Automobile Dealers Association. In the same period, dealership sales on average jumped by 55% to $41.3 million, bolstered by a strengthening economy and low interest rates.

Dealership owners like AutoNation, the nation’s largest chain, have posted steady sales gains in recent years. AutoNation said Thursday that its new vehicle sales in September increased 16% from the prior year on strength across all its segments.


Car Commuting Still Rules, But New US Census Data Reveals Important Shifts

Adie Tomer and Joseph Kane:

Driving to work has been a staple in the American commute for decades, but it appears the country’s love affair with cars is stalling in many places. After years of sustained growth, driving levels are flat-lining, while more young people are opting for alternative transportation modes.
 Newly released Census data from the 2013 American Community Survey offers additional insight into the shifting nature of our daily commutes.
 To be sure, the car is still king for the United States as a whole. Based on the new Census estimates, over 85 percent of all workers still get to their jobs by private automobile. That amounts to over 122 million commuters, the vast majority of whom travel alone rather than in a carpool. It’s also relatively consistent with our commuting patterns from 1980, when nearly the same percentage of workers commuted by car.
 But those long-term trends mask real changes over the past few years. The share of national commuters traveling by private vehicle is edging down for the first time in decades — from 86.5 percent in 2007 to 85.8 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, other transportation modes have grown in relative importance. Public transportation, which just recorded the most passenger trips since 1956, saw its share jump to over 5 percent, reaching levels not seen since 1990. The share of those bicycling and walking to work also continued to rise, now representing nearly 4 percent of all commuters. The biggest gain, however, came from those workers who didn’t technically commute at all. With the help of burgeoning broadband

Special Report: In foreign hands, British automakers overtake France

Costas Pitas and Gilles Guillaume:

When Britain lost its last native car company 20 years ago, it was lamented across the political spectrum as a national catastrophe.
 “The sheer stupidity and immorality of this betrayal is too scandalous to be ignored,” wrote a columnist in the conservative Times of London.
 The left-leaning Guardian bemoaned: “No one can conceive of Renault, Fiat or indeed BMW fattening themselves up after years of emaciation, ready for sell-off to a foreign rival.”
 Britain’s Rover was falling into the hands of BMW – 50 years after Germany had begun pulling itself out of the economic abyss left by the Second World War.
 The blow to British pride was made all the more acute by the success of France, where Peugeot and Renault were speeding ahead. In 1994 French producers made more than three million cars, double Britain’s output.