Can Tesla Make Good on New Promises?

Tesla’s November 16 introduction of both the new Tesla Semi and the Tesla Roadster managed to impress even observers used to the electric carmaker’s lofty ambitions. When they come to market, the Roadster will be the fastest-accelerating production car in the world, and the Semi will deliver more range, for a lower price, than almost anybody expected.

Those and other promises would be difficult or impossible to fulfill with batteries on the market today. At current battery prices, Bloomberg estimates the battery for a freight truck with 500 miles of range would cost more than $100,000, but Tesla estimates that the entire truck will only cost $180,000.

Similarly, the power and range Tesla is promising for the Roadster will take a battery more than twice as big as anything in a current Model X or Model S.

Tesla says the Semi will be able to suck up 400 miles worth of juice in 30 minutes, but that would mean charging more than 10 times faster than Tesla’s current best chargers.

The Semi isn’t set to hit the road until late 2019, and the new Roadster isn’t due until 2020. Battery prices and sizes have dropped dramatically in the last five years, and many projections have them dropping by another half by then. The same goes for power density, meaning that by the time the Roadster and Semi go into full-scale production, batteries may well be good enough to do what Elon Musk is promising. A Carnegie Mellon battery expert speaking to Jalopnik agreed that the Roadster’s performance benchmarks were at least theoretically plausible, though they might also require advances in tire technology.

Announcing products years before perfecting the technology needed to make them work is certainly an unorthodox approach. It’s unlikely to appease critics of Tesla’s rapid spending, who tend to see displays like the Roadster reveal as media stunts aimed at raising badly-needed cash.

Walmart Puts in Truck Order with Tesla

According to an article in Motor Trend, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., who operate thousands of trucks, said Friday they had reserved Tesla’s truck, which Chief Executive Elon Musk revealed at an event in Hawthorne, Calif., on Thursday. The first highway-ready vehicles aren’t due out until 2019, but the company is taking $5,000 deposits.

The Semi is designed to run up to 500 miles on a single charge, and incorporates Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving system, which the company said could allow big rigs to travel in autonomous convoys with other of its trucks. The company did not provide a sticker price, but said the truck would be cheaper to operate than diesel rivals and could potentially cost less than transport by rail.

Walmart has preordered five units for the U.S. and 10 for its Canadian division, and sees potential for the trucks to help meet company targets for lower emissions, a spokesman said Friday. The company has one of the largest private fleets in the U.S., with some 6,000 trucks. Walmart has tested other new vehicle technology, including diesel-electric hybrid trucks and some that run on liquefied natural gas or other alternative fuels.

The Semi’s 500-mile range on a single charge exceeds what some analysts had expected but could still limit its use on long-haul routes, at least until a nationwide network of charging stations is built. The battery’s weight could also be an issue, as heavier trucks can carry less freight. Tesla says it is planning to build a global network of “megachargers” where truckers could recharge vehicles in about 30 minutes, gaining another 400 miles of range.

Google’s Waymo Unleashed—Driverless—in Phoenix

The first truly autonomous cars — vehicles that cruise the public streets with no one sitting behind the wheel to take over in case of emergency — have finally arrived. Wired.com reports that Waymo, which began life as Google’s self-driving car project, disclosed that it had let its driverless cars loose in parts of Phoenix, Arizona, with nobody in the front seats.

Members of the public taking part in a Waymo trial in the desert city in the US south-west will be able to summon the vehicles through a ride-hailing app “in the next few months”, the company said. Potentially one of the most disruptive new technologies, as well as one of the most hyped, driverless cars have been at the center of a race between big automakers and technology companies in the US, China and Europe. But while a number of groups are testing the technology on the streets with back-up drivers behind the wheel, most believe the advent of full autonomy is at least two years away.

Company employees have been climbing into the backs of its cars, choosing between three different routes, and letting the vehicle do the rest. The test, while limited to an unspecified area, is not a one-time ride or a demo but the start of a new phase for Waymo and the history of this technology. The company planned to expand it to the entire 600 sq m Phoenix region, he added, without giving a specific timeframe.

Autonomous Vehicles Might Make Jaywalking Legal

Automated vehicles will certainly not be going anywhere anytime soon, as they are steadily growing in popularity. According to CNN.com, The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), a non-profit, recently released a report that maps out what the future could be like for pedestrians living in a world with more self-driving vehicles. It’s a solid blueprint that illustrates what safe and reliable urban mobility in our streets and highways could look like.

One point the blueprint makes is that pedestrians should have the freedom to be able to to cross streets anywhere, as opposed to only crossing at intersections. This would mean limiting self-driving vehicles to about 20 miles per hour. This will of course change how our streets function and operate. But once automated cars become more commonplace, you could be jaywalking without having to worry about getting into trouble. It’s even possible that jaywalking could become legal.

The technology inside these self-driving vehicles will be able to use pedestrian-detection technology, slowing down or stopping in order to avoid hitting walking pedestrians. The idea of simply walking across the street suddenly starts to sound safer.

Back when automobiles were first being created, jaywalking was a pretty common practice among pedestrians. It wasn’t until 1925 that it officially became illegal, starting in Los Angeles. City streets, much like city parks, were considered to be public spaces before then. The idea of streets being solely for automobiles picked up steam and spread to other jurisdictions.

It does look like there are some drawbacks to this look into the possible future. For one, since cars will be driving slower and making stops to allow for pedestrians, it will be taking people a lot longer to get to their desired destinations. There is also the possibility that a self-driving car could have a malfunction with its pedestrian-detection technology and cause accidents.

NHTSA Investigates Reports of Ford Focus Steering Wheels Detaching

AutoNews reports the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched an investigation into 814,000 2014-2016 Ford Fusion models over reports that the steering wheel can become detached from the steering column while the car is in motion, according to a document posted to the NHTSA website this week.

There are countless critical systems in your car that you absolutely do not want to fail while you’re driving, but the steering wheel has to be near the top of the list. The official investigation comes after three separate Ford Fusion owners reported their steering wheels coming loose during normal driving. In one instance, reported last month, the wheel completely detached from the steering column and fell into the driver’s lap.

Fortunately, that latest incident happened as the driver was turning into a gas station, and no accidents or injuries tied to the defect have been reported. The agency will now examine the scope of the problem to determine whether a formal recall needs to be initiated.
Ford is in the midst of a spate of recalls involving other models, including 1.3 million 2015-2017 F-150 and Super Duty trucks whose door latches could fail thanks a faulty seal. Ford had previously announced plans to spend almost $1 billion on recalls announced since August of 2016.

Nearly 1/3 of 2017 Model Year Vehicles Don’t Come Equipped with a Spare

It used to be that if tire problems happened to you on the road, you pulled over, got out the jack and spare and changed it yourself. Then you’d be back on the road once more. Easy. But this isn’t the case anymore for an alarming number of people in new cars, a new AAA study finds, according to an article from USA Today.

Automakers want to reduce the weight of their cars in order to improve fuel economy. And nearly a third of 2017 model year cars don’t have a spare tire as standard equipment because of this, according to AAA. It reports that it responded to calls from over 450,000 members who had a flat and no spare last year.

Which means that a third of the people driving around in new cars can’t just change the tire themselves. They have to take even more time out of their day, bring the car to the shop and spend an ungodly amount of money getting something done they could just do themselves if they had a spare.

AAA offers some tips to hopefully avoid these woes:
Don’t assume there’s a spare.
Inspect all tires for safety and pressure.
Read the manual if your car has a tire-inflator kit.
Check tire expiration dates.
Consider getting some kind of road side assistant coverage.

The Victor Crew

Ford Offers Free Exhaust Inspections on Explorer SUVs

According to Wall Street Journal, Ford says it wants to offer peace of mind to owners of more than 1.35 million Explorer SUVs concerned about exhaust fumes, so the Dearborn automaker will inspect and repair the vehicles, if necessary, for free.

Ford maintains the vehicles are safe, but said it’s making the repairs available in response to customer concerns. Ford noted that NHTSA did not request the action. Ford’s investigation did not find carbon monoxide levels in excess of what people experience in their everyday lives.

Ford has sold more than 1.35 million Explorers since 2011, when the vehicle was redesigned and the exhaust problems began. The complaints said fumes and carbon monoxide had leaked into the passenger cabins of police and consumer versions of the SUVs.

Ford previously focused repair efforts on police versions of the Explorer, but civilians continue to complain to the agency about exhaust fumes and symptoms such as nausea, headaches and drowsiness. Ford has attributed the police Explorer issues to improperly installed aftermarket parts, such as emergency lights.

Agencies such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission note the dangers of carbon monoxide exposure.

The Lowdown on Vehicle Recalls

MSN Auto News reported that on out of every six cars on the road in the US has an untreated safety recall. This amounts to an astonishing 63 million autos. And some drivers may not even know about pending or past recalls.

While not all recalls are safety related, many certainly are.

By the amount of media attention recalls are getting, it might make the problem seem bigger than it is. But by issuing recalls, this is a sign that auto makers are doing the right thing—especially since cars are much more complex now than they were decades ago.

It may shock some to learn that it is 100% legal in the United States to sell a vehicle with a current recall notice out. Of course, changing such legislation while simple in principle, may not be so easy in practice. Recalling a car and getting the car fixed are two very different things. You can’t force car owners to get their cars fixed. At least, not yet.

And depending on the age of the vehicle, number of ownership transfers, and particular state privacy laws having to do with car ownership manufacturers may not know how to reach current owners. And some car owners simply suffer from recall fatigue.

There is some good news, however.

In February, the Center for Auto Safety and other consumer groups sued the Federal Trade Commission to stop allowing car dealers to advertise certified pre-owned vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls.

One person trying to help fix the situation is Chris Miller, CEO of Silicon Valley startup Recall Masters. Using digital forensics of more than 50 data sources—including electronic receipts from independent repair shops, tire-store chains, satellite radio subscription rolls, and even dispatch rolls from towing services—Miller’s software then invokes machine learning and data modeling to track down current vehicle owners.

Ford and Lyft Team Up For Autonomous Car Venture

Ford recently announced it will partner with Lyft to provide self-driving cars, in large numbers, to the ride-services fleet by 2021. Ford and Lyft teams will begin working together to design software to allow Ford vehicles to communicate with Lyft’s smartphone apps.

The company has said it will invest $700 million in a factory in Flat Rock, Michigan, to make it capable of building electric and self-driving vehicles.

Ford self-driving test vehicles will be connected to Lyft’s network, but at first, customers will not be able to use them. Ford will put human-driven vehicles on Lyft’s network.

Ford also is testing delivery services using self-driving vehicles and a van shuttle service. The self-driving vehicles Ford will deploy through Lyft will use software developed by Argo AI, a company in which Ford is investing $1 billion over the next five years.

Ford Motor Company Pushing Car Design Tools Into 21st Century with Holograms

In the past, almost all car design has been done with the help of large clay models. These models helped visualize new vehicles as they are being developed. Computer assisted renderings, while useful, still only allow a flat representation of a new design, and don’t allow one to conceptualize an object in space. But augmented reality is going to change that.

It’s amazing we can combine the old and the new, clay models and holograms, in a way that both saves time and allows designers to experiment and iterate quickly to dream up even more stylish, clever vehicles,” says Jim Holland, Ford’s head of component and systems engineering, in a release. “Microsoft HoloLens is a powerful tool for designers as we continue to reimagine vehicles and mobility experiences in fast-changing times.”

Ford announced today that its designers have spent the last year using Microsoft’s HoloLens to help them quickly change the size, shape, and texture of different design elements without the need to spend weeks or even months working up a new clay model. Using wireless headsets, the team sees a hologram laid over either a clay model or an actual car. Designers can then scroll through various design changes to see how they look from different.

While some may believe that this may all be “public relations fluff” that benefits both Ford and Microsoft, the technology does allow for easy and rapid changes to the renderings of new car models. While some design in the past has employed VR and its bulky gear (goggles, gloves and their wires), with holograms images can be overlaid onto physical objects brings new possibilities to the design floor—and all without the need for obtuse hardware.