Tag Archives: Cars
The Renault Ez-Ultimo brings the high-end glitz to the show this year. Just because cities of the future may prioritize ride sharing over private cars doesn’t mean you should have to slum it on the way to opening night at the Opéra national de Paris.
This rounded bronze box is about as far from a production car as a concept can be (could those wheels even turn? where’s the ground clearance for cobbled streets?) but Renault says it shows a vision of an autonomous future, where passengers demand more from vehicles. In particular, the interior “reflects French elegance” with wood, leather, and marble.
Citroën went the opposite direction, unveiling a very real, very modest EV. The DS3 Crossback E-Tense is a fashionable crossover SUV, and an update on Citroen’s tres popular DS3 supermini car. The electric version comes with a 50-kWh battery—about half that of a high-end Tesla—a range of 186 miles on the generous European test cycle, and a 0-60 time of 8.7 seconds. None of those specs are going to blow buyers away, but at the right (to be revealed) price, the quirky car, with sharp angles and odd window cutouts, could rival the Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe, as a city runabout.
Europe has taken styling cues from the US for the Peugeot E-Legend concept, albeit with a little added flair. There are plenty of muscle car hints in the styling, with a side profile reminiscent of the modern Dodge Challenger, and a Mustang-like front squint. Of course it’s a concept, so it’s electric and autonomous, and supposed to show that those things don’t have to be boring or bland.
The retro theme continues inside with velvet upholstery and fake wood screensavers for the displays when they aren’t in use. It’ll apparently have a 100-kWh battery pack and all-wheel drive, but it’s so concept-y that wise money should be on all that potentially changing, if and when the E-Legend makes it to production.
It wouldn’t be a European auto show without a city car, and Smart is the brand synonymous with cars so small they can be parked end-on to a curb. The Smart Forease moves that theme into an electric age. The rather optimistic concept banks on the future always being sunny, given that it doesn’t have a roof. Not even an optional one. (Have these people been to Europe?)
Smart has already stopped the sales of all internal combustion engined cars in the US, and if this car makes it across the Atlantic (and to reality) it could find a place in some Californian garages. The Golden State has good EV electric rebates, and as close to a guarantee of good weather as you’re going to find.
Infiniti is keeping it real with its Project Black S hybrid, based on a Q60 coupe and its V6 engine. Infiniti engineers turned to electrification, and lessons from partner Renault’s Formula 1 team (there’s the French connection) to give the machine an e-boost.
It’s a hybrid, but one that delivers performance rather than economy. The three motors add 213 horsepower to bring the total to 563, and drop the 0-60 mph time to under four seconds.
Toyota didn’t use the Paris show to unveil radical new concepts, but did introduce a term that will be new to most buyers: self-charging hybrids. This is no magical perpetual motion-type technology: Self-charging hybrids are just cars that can run on battery power, but can’t be plugged in. The type Toyota has been selling for years with the Prius, when they used to be just called “hybrids.” As they’ve gone from being radical, to commonplace, to somewhat lame given the influx of more robust electric options, Toyota is looking to rebrand to remind people that the tech is still quite clever, and does save fuel.
About 8 months ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk warned his troops that building the Model 3 would require “production hell.” For once, the man known to sometimes be a bit too optimistic about timelines nailed it. Last year’s Tesla’s production numbers were dismal; now, according to numbers released this week, they’re looking up.
Meanwhile, WIRED’s Transpo team explored why self-driving car crashes look different from human ones; how the electric car could fare after Environmental Protection Agency rolled back fuel economy standards this week; and why an electronic logging rule has truckers shaking their horn-honking fists at the Trump administration.
It was a messy week. Let’s get you caught up.
Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week
Last Friday night, Tesla announced that its Autopilot feature was activated when a Model X carrying driver Wei Huang crashed into a highway barrier last week, killing him. As senior writer Jack Stewart reports, the crash comes amidst a wider debate about the role of humans in semiautonomous vehicles. Should engineers ever expect (imperfect) to compensate for (imperfect) tech?
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt went ahead and rolled back rules that would have forced the auto industry to nearly double 2012’s fuel economy standards by 2025. But transportation editor Alex Davies explains why there’s still hope for electric vehicles: China’s aggressive electric vehicle quotas and environment-loving millennials.
When a video showing the fatal collision between a self-driving Uber and a woman on an Arizona road came out, it almost made sense at first—of course the car didn’t see the pedestrian on a darkened road. But as I discovered, self-driving car crashes and fender-benders don’t look like human crashes. Car software can miss things that seem obvious to humans, and yet also prevent collisions that look downright unpreventable.
Tesla’s last week of the first quarter looked pretty good, Model-3-production-wise. But as Jack reports, the electric carmaker still needs to bring consistency to its production line.
Contributor Nick Stockton reports on the hottest topic at this year’s Mid-American Trucking Show: electronic logging devices. The tech, now required by law, replaces the pen and paper logging systems that truckers have used to keep track of their hours for decades. But truckers aren’t happy with the new system—and had hoped the Trump administration would fix it.
Educational Work Distraction of the Week
If your goal is to waste time like a WIRED transportation staff writer, have I got a tip for you. Streetmix lets the armchair urban planner fuss about with the elements of the city street, adding bike lanes, bus lanes, sidewalks, parklets, and streetcars as they see fit. The game—created by Code for America whizzes back in 2014—is a good reminder of the tradeoffs that cities face every day. Because there’s only so much street space!
News from elsewhere on the internet
In the Rearview
Essential stories from WIRED’s canon
Last year, when the Trump administration swept into Washington, Alex anticipated the conversation we’d be having today: Can the federal government really roll back pollution regulations? As he explained then, it will have a hard time—and it’s all because of California.
Efforts to put cleaner cars on American roads are being threatened. In a few days, The New York Times reports, the Environmental Protection Agency will move to weaken the regulations that demand automakers producer cleaner and more efficient vehicles.
The existing standards, which Barack Obama pushed for in 2012, demand each automaker nearly double the average fuel efficiency of its cars, to deliver 36 miles per gallon. But before President Donald Trump, EPA head Scott Pruitt, or anyone else can knock that number down, they must tangle with California. The state had rules to battle govern tailpipe emissions before a 1970 amendment to the Clean Air Act gave the EPA the authority to govern vehicle efficiency. Because of its early bird status, and especially grave pollution problem at the time, Congress gave California the unusual right to keep making its own regulations, even though federal rules should supersede state ones. No other state can do this, but they may opt to follow California’s rules, which tend to be more stringent than whatever Washington drums up. Today, 13 states and Washington DC do so.
Together, those states (which, unsurprisingly, cover most of the East and West Coasts) account for a third of the American car market. So automakers have long built vehicles that meet California’s tougher rules. It may sound like a pain, but it’s cheaper than building two versions of every car—the cleanish one for most of the country, and the cleaner one for the folks who like their air salty but clean. And so lowering the national standards is only effective if you can get California to lower its too.
Pruitt, a climate change skeptic, has signaled he’s ready—and right—to wrestle the grizzly bear. “California is not the arbiter of these issues,” he told Bloomberg this month. But four decades of legal precedent don’t vanish without a fight, certainly not quickly. “We’re prepared to do everything we need to defend the process,” the state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, told the Times.
Okay, but say Pruitt gets his way, California loses its special status, and automakers no longer have to meet such tough efficiency and emissions standards. First off, don’t expect coal rolling poor Prius drivers to become the new national sport. “We’re not gonna go sliding back to the gas guzzling 80s,” says Rebecca Lindland, an industry analyst with Kelley Blue Book. That’s because automakers plan years ahead. They have already spent the money developing the turbochargers, lightweight materials, low resistance tires, and other tech they need to meet the current rules. They’re not going to change their carefully laid plans now.
That’ll keep the fumes away for a few more years, at least. But there’s better news for anybody worried about driving the Earth into climatic disaster: The electric cars—the ones that make the entire notion of miles per gallon outdated, the emission zero heroes—are still coming, thanks to two parties: China, and the millennials.
Let’s start with China. The country is already the world’s largest car market, buying about 23 million vehicles a year, and its appetite is growing by about five percent year over year, according to a McKinsey report. For automakers who have already flooded American streets with their wares, fresh territory is a vital resource. “The US [luxury] market in my view is going to remain relatively stagnant. It won’t decline, but it won’t grow,” Cadillac head Johan de Nysschen said this week at the New York International Auto Show. “The Chinese market, in the next 10 years, is going to triple.”
And China—where pollution is a serious problem—insists that any automaker doing business within its borders sell lots and lots of electric cars. That’s a big part of the reason why General Motors plans to roll out 20 new fully electric cars by 2023 and Ford is putting $ 11 billion into building 16 new models by 2022. Volvo is making its entire fleet “electrified” (a term that includes hybrids), and even Jaguar Land Rover, which debuted its first all-electric car just last year, says that by 2020, it will offer electric or hybrid versions of every car it makes. In an increasingly globalized industry, you can expect to see those models hit US and European shores as well—the more of each they sell, the faster automakers can amortize heavy R&D costs.
And the youths will help the process along. Right now, Lindland says, “the push to develop and deploy electric vehicles has been driven by regulations…consumers are not demanding these products.” Forcing people to change their habits—where, when, and how they fuel their vehicles—is hard. But that could change with the generation just now learning to drive. “I think people born after 2003 are those who will demand electrification,” Lindland says. “Those who haven’t bought a car yet. It’s not even a conversion.” Indeed, she says, that may help along China’s push for battery-powered cars. “They have more first time buyers at their disposal.”
Automakers play a very long game, and they know this new generation is coming. “As we see more millennials coming into the marketplace, companies are looking to strike a more efficient picture,” says Carla Bailo, CEO of the Center for Automotive Research. That means more electric cars, fewer emissions, and cleaner air.
So millennials—the kids who kill everything—along with whatever generation comes next, just might save the planet.
Is there anything more satisfying than finder a quicker way to your destination? You might be in a car, or on foot, or you’re building a software product or a company culture and suddenly—Jeez, that was easier.
Sometimes, it works. As transportation editor Alex Davies reported this week, companies building self-driving cars have found that it’s important—necessary, even—to use remote drivers, sitting behind screens miles away, if they want to get their less-than-perfect tech on the road. Sweet. Alex also took a look at Nuro, a brand new self-driving mini-truck startup that wants to deliver your snacks to you, so you never have to leave your block again. Also sweet.
Sometimes, however, shortcuts are a bad idea. Uber bought an ex-Waymo engineer’s autonomous truck startup because it thought the engineer’s company could give it a tech boost. But Waymo sued, and the two tech giants are set to face off in court next week. State governments thought they could go green quickly by buying “recycled” pavement—but they might not be saving money, or the environment, in the long run. Pick your timesavers carefully, kiddos.
Plus, news about an Alphabet company’s new effort to organize cities’ travel data, a Pax Britannica among tech companies for the purpose of building safer streets (and protecting their business models), and a place to find everything you have ever wanted to know about autonomous vehicles. Let’s get you caught up.
Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week
A blockbuster trade secrets lawsuit between Waymo and Uber is set to kick off Monday. Here’s what you need to know about the self-driving tech dispute—and why you really, really must pay attention.
Alex uncovers a secret fact about the growing autonomous vehicle sector: Almost every tech developer is leaning on remote drivers, who can guide cars through problem spots from miles away. Self-driving…to a point. For safety’s sake, of course.
Ford looks out into the horizon and sees the sunset of the personal automobile—in cities, at least. So it’s building a cloud platform, an operating system for the city of the future.
Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet’s urban solutions company, is doing something similar, trying to put all public and private city transportation data in one, accessible, shareable space. Say hello to its new spin-off company, Coord.
Fifteen tech companies came together to sign onto ten new, very nice-sounding “commandments” for livable cities. They include open data, equity, and a zero-emission future. But don’t give anyone too much credit. Those companies still have to make actual changes to the way cities operate, writer Jack Stewart warns.
A new report suggests American public transit needs to adapt to meet the future—and can’t blame all its problems, or pin all its hopes, on mobility companies like Uber and Lyft.
In a vague-ish announcement, Waymo says it’s purchasing “thousands” of new Chrysler Pacificas that will operate without a driver at the wheel.
Hello to Nuro, a new self-driving delivery truck startup from fancy Google alums. The company is betting it can deliver stuff sans humans in three to five years.
I take a deep dive into the science of “green” pavement. If done wrong, pavement could hurt the local ecosystem; if done right, that black and grey stuff beneath your feet could do its part to save the world.
Need to get up to speed on what self-driving cars even mean? Check out WIRED’s new guide, a constantly updated deep dive.
Car-Table Hybrid of the Week
The world is a wide and wondrous place, so of course you can plunk down some undetermined sum of money to buy a car frozen into a table, à la Han Solo Chez Jabba. The specially commissioned, 10-car/table collection is from the chrome nerds at Discommon.
News from elsewhere on the internet.
- Because Uber and Waymo shouldn’t have all the fun, this week the beseiged electric car company Faraday Future filed suit against its former CFO’s new startup—for trade secret theft.
- Joby Aviation, which has raised $ 130 million in funding, unveils its new flying car cough electric plane-drone hybrid cough. The company wants to operate its own airborne ride-hailing service.
- Self-driving vehicle startup Phantom AI gets into a scary crash while operating semiautonomous features—and while TechCrunch reporters were inside.
- Uber teams up with electric bicycle-sharing company Jump for a San Francisco pilot project. Users will be able to track down a bike and and pay for a ride within Uber’s app.
- California startup Udelv staged an autonomous vehicle grocery delivery in the Bay Area this week. It wants dozens more of its orange robots on the roads soon.
- If you’re the type of car nerd who watches the Super Bowl for the commercials, here’s everything you need to know before the game.
- Is this German man a hero or a villain?
In the Rearview
Essential Stories from WIRED’s canon
India’s Silicon Valley nearly doubled in population in less than two decades. But it turns out you can’t take shortcuts to economic development without caring for the natural resources. Last May, Samanth Subramanian explored why Bangalore, once land of hundreds of lakes, is now dying of thirst.
You will soon be able to ride home from your local car dealership in a car that finds its way there unassisted while you nap or read. That reality came a whole lot closer this week, with bipartisan agreement in the Senate on legislation allowing self-driving cars to take the the roads. The law is expected to come up for vote in the near future, and pass.
The House passed similar legislation, also with bipartisan support, several weeks ago. That legislation allows car manufacturers to sell up to 25,000 autonomous vehicles the first year they offer them. That will go up to 100,000 cars a year if the self-driving cars prove as safe as human-driven ones. And that’s not all. The Trump administration also helped out recently by issuing voluntary safety guidelines for autonomous cars and at the same time requesting that states avoid writing laws or regulations governing self-driving cars and possibly hampering their introduction.
The senators who arrived at the self-driving deal note that autonomous cars appear to be safer than human-driven ones. “Ultimately, we expect adoption of self-driving vehicle technologies will save lives, improve mobility for people with disabilities, and create new jobs,” said Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) in a joint statement. They may be right: When a Tesla owner died while his car was in Autopilot mode last summer, company founder Elon Musk pointed out that it was the first known Autopilot fatality in 130 million miles of driving, whereas there’s a human fatality for every 89 million miles of traditional driving.
But if cars with no one at the wheel will soon become a common sight, the same won’t be true of semi trucks. The Teamsters successfully lobbied for the House version of the bill to limit self-driving vehicles to 10,000 pounds or less. That could be a problem for the U.S. trucking industry, which was short an estimated 48,000 drivers at the end of 2015, a shortage that’s expected to grow to 175,000 over the next seven years. That will create enormous pressure to replace hard-to-find long-haul truck drivers with no-muss, no-fuss AI.
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