From the December 2017 issue Dear friends, we have arrived at a very dangerous moment in history. Please listen closely to what we have to say. The Pontiac Aztek, that automotive punchline made by General Motors for five long and regrettable years in the early aughts, is on the verge of being considered cool. We blame its recurring role on AMC’s insanely good series Breaking Bad for getting this ugly ball rolling. Right now, 10 bloggers are spitting out stories about the ways in which the Aztek is now cool. Okay, not actually cool, but “cool” through the process of ironic reassessment. It’s the process by which sales of that low-budget swill Pabst Blue Ribbon increased by about 150 percent between 2005 and 2014. As we pointed out in our “Guide to Automotive Bullsh!t” in July 2017, “If it’s mostly cool because it’s not cool, then it’s not really cool, is it?” And make no mistake: The Aztek is not … [Read more...] about Best Forgotten: The Story of the Pontiac Aztek
From the December 2017 issue Many are the blessings of the automobile: independence, mobility, freedom. But the greatest of these is freedom! While going too fast. Speeding is art. At 120 mph, you’re in Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night. At 60 mph, you’re in Ohio. Speeding is poetry. “Triumphing over Death, and Chance, and thee, O Time,” as John Milton, lead-foot-avant-la-lettre, put it in his poem “On Time.” Speeding is literature. “ . . . a fast car, a coast to reach, and a woman at the end of the road,” per Jack Kerouac. Speeding is the source of America’s greatest contribution to global culture—the car chase. Without the car chase, the world would lack for touchstones of beauty, form, grace, and perception. The Keystone Kops. Bullitt. The Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger driven by the only real James Bond, Sean Connery. The happy ending of Thelma and Louise. Mad Max. The French … [Read more...] about Speeding: An Ode To Our Favorite Form of Civil Disobedience
From the December 2017 issue Remember the facehugger from the movie Alien? That was awesome, right? Well, we in the auto biz have our own facehugger. Its name is Jeep. Now, Jeep isn’t gross and doesn’t have a proboscis or acidic blood. But Jeep does have the tendency to send the company that owns it—let’s call it a host company—to its death while it thrives. When was the last time you bought a Kaiser? Willys-Overland (1941–1963) What we now know as Jeep is born in 1941 at the behest of the federal government. Willys-Overland and Ford Motor Company essentially crib the design from American Bantam. This makes American Bantam both Jeep’s parent and its first victim. The origin of Jeep’s name is up for debate: Some say it’s named after the Popeye comic-strip character Eugene the Jeep; others claim it’s simply the phonetic combination of the letters G and P, the military abbreviation for general purpose. The name … [Read more...] about It’s a Black-Widow Thing: Why Does Every Company that Owns Jeep Die?
A Level 5 vehicle—a steering-wheel-less car in which the passenger is never a driver—needn’t look like a koala-faced kid’s toy with a chicken bucket fixed atop its roof. Supplier Continental, a key player in the technology involved in automated driving, imagines its compact and flush-mounted sensors can be adapted to fit the familiar shapes and styles of current cars. Can full automation be achieved with fewer sensors, such as Tesla’s proposal to rely on a handful of cameras? “That’s a tricky question,” says Ibro Muharemovic, Continental’s head of advanced engineering. Yes, one system could accomplish the task. For safety purposes, however, he says redundancy is key. Every system must have a fail-safe backup. Here’s a look at the equipment Continental envisions enabling the highest level of automated driving: High-resolution lidar (light detection and ranging) sensors will map surrounding objects up to three … [Read more...] about This Is the Tech Fully Autonomous (Level 5) Cars Will Need To Have
Let’s make one thing clear up front: Until now, no automaker has endorsed drivers removing their hands from the steering wheel. The steering assists that have proliferated in recent years are all padded with liability disclaimers and hand-sensing algorithms that admonish drivers if they stop maintaining contact with the wheel. Yes, this is true even of Tesla’s Autopilot, regardless of what you may have seen on YouTube. A can of Red Bull taped to the steering wheel as a substitute for a human hand is not a hack. It’s a flaw in human intelligence. In October, Cadillac claimed a notable first in the automation arms race when its truly hands-free Super Cruise technology reached showrooms. Available on the CT6, Super Cruise enables the car to sail down divided, limited-access highways at speeds up to 85 mph for as long as the driver’s chosen lane lasts, no hands or energy-drink cans required. While Super Cruise represents the leading edge of … [Read more...] about Where Are Autonomous Cars Right Now? Four Systems Tested
The first automobiles, in the early 1900s, were a headache. The tool kit of the 1907 Pierce Arrow included, ominously, an extra set of intake and exhaust valves. Cars needed weekly oil changes. One manual of the period suggested that drivers have on hand, among other things, a small pipe wrench, a pair of gas pipe pliers, large and small screwdrivers, a pair of flat-nosed pliers, a small hammer, a pair of wire cutters, a large jackknife, half-round and three-cornered files, a roll of sticky tape, a chisel, a coil of soft iron, a monkey wrench, a few links of extra chain, a piece of asbestos for making gaskets, cans of oil and grease, and extra plugs. In response, owners adapted the model they had been using for years with their horses and carriages. The coachman—the man responsible for managing the army of stablehands and grooms who kept horses fed and shod and carriages clean and functional—was transformed into the chauffeur. Responsibility for the new technology was … [Read more...] about What Happens When We Give up Control of Our Cars?
One morning this past spring, Baruch Fischhoff, a professor in the department of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, was walking to campus on a quiet tree-lined Pittsburgh street when a prototype computer-driven Uber, a gray Volvo XC90, motored slowly past. Pittsburghers have grown accustomed to seeing the vehicles prowling the streets of the company’s de facto outdoor test bed. But as Fischhoff approached the corner, he noticed a road crew and a cement mixer in the middle of the intersection. “I thought, ‘Gee, I wonder if the computer can figure out if this is something in the road that’s not moving.’” He waited for the car, which was idling to his left, to make a right turn—the only plausible move. But it did nothing. “It was there first, it had the right-of-way, and I was waiting for it to turn,” he said. Still, the car did nothing. “The longer I waited, the less … [Read more...] about Autonomous Cars: How Safe Is Safe Enough?
Charlie Miller made headlines in 2015 when he and another cybersecurity researcher, Chris Valasek, remotely hacked into a Jeep Cherokee as it was being driven down the highway for a story in Wired magazine. (The Cherokee’s driver, a Wired writer, knew what was happening.) Having made no prior physical contact with the vehicle, Miller and Valasek used the Jeep’s Uconnect cellular connection to access its computers and take control of its acceleration, braking, and, during a later test, even its steering—all from Miller’s couch. The most chilling aspect of the attack? It would have worked on any vehicle in the United States running that version of the Uconnect software. Their findings led to a recall of 1.4 million Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram vehicles to have the vulnerability rectified. Miller has led driverless-vehicle cybersecurity at Uber, and both he and Valasek recently accepted positions with Cruise Automation, the GM subsidiary focused on the … [Read more...] about Can a Connected Car Ever Be Safe from Hacking?
Tires have benefited from the digital age as much as Twitter has expanded the social game of POTUS, for better or worse. In the last decade, the spiciest street-legal tires have nearly surpassed the performance of a decade-old racing tire, and computer modeling is a big part of the reason. But as good as computers are at calculations, they can’t replicate human feel—yet. So prototype tires are still fitted to cars and run around tracks and handling roads by human drivers to fine-tune the product for human sensations. Probably much like you, we’d never thought too much about what cars were used as testing mules. Which brings us to this particular car. During this author’s first trip to Michelin’s Laurens, South Carolina, proving ground nearly 10 years ago, I spotted a personal automotive hero: the 1995 BMW M3 Lightweight. For me, that car was the most special among the exceptional. As an avid car-magazine reader in my youth, the E36-generation M3 … [Read more...] about We Drive the Busted-Out BMW M3 Lightweight That Helped Develop Michelin Performance Tires
20 Tough Questions About the Auto Industry in 2018 Ya say the run is done? That the car market can’t take another record year? That’s crazy! Come on in to the home of the crazy-good information, where our middle name is crazy (and also “and”). We’ve got everything you need, friend! You want a spunky little number for Billy? A classy car for Mom? We got ’em all right here . . . The List Details of each brand’s 2018-model-year lineup begin here and run through all the drives and tests in this section. Significant changes merit their own entries; minor trim updates, unchanged models, and discontinued vehicles are noted at the end of each brand’s rundown. And don’t be surprised if you find some upcoming 2019 models in here, too—we uncovered a lot of long-range information in our reporting. Begin nerding out now: A … [Read more...] about New Cars for 2018: Model-Update Info, Full Tests, Reviews, and More!