October 10th, 2012 at 12:04pm
Could autonomous vehicles be in consumers’ hands as soon as five years? One company thinks so. Honda customers now have a new incentive to buy a CNG Civic — free gas! NHTSA uncovers airbags that either don’t work or deploy shrapnel. Is yours faulty? All that and more, plus John McElroy responds to your questions and comments in this week’s edition of You Said It!
Welcome to Autoline Daily for October 10th. I’m John McElroy and here’s the news.
HEY WHO’S DRIVING?
The race to develop autonomous cars is getting more intense, and there’s no question that Google is the most aggressive company in pushing the technology. While automakers are concentrating on semi-autonomous cars, essentially adaptive cruise control with automated steering or what they call traffic-jam assist, Google is working on fully autonomous cars that need no driver input. Automakers say that traffic jam assist could be showroom ready, but in a something of a bombshell, Anthony Levandowski, who heads up the Google program on autonomous technology tells me that their technology will be ready in five years. Automakers scoff that fully autonomous cars will be ready in that time frame, but others have scoffed at Google before only to regret not taking the software giant seriously.
WHERE DO I SIGN UP?
Autonomous technology really got a boost in the last decade thanks to DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, whose mission is to push quick development of new technology. Now DARPA is offering a million dollar cash prize to whoever can come up with the design for a new amphibious infantry vehicle. Of course, the military loves acronyms so this one is called FANG, fast, adaptable, next-generation ground vehicle. But the real point of this exercise is to develop collaborative design tools and procedures. It’s all about dealing with complexity. If you want to throw your hat into the ring to win a million bucks, check it all out at the website vehicleforge.org.
HOT DAMN! FREE GAS!
Honda is going to give customers who purchase a new natural-gas-powered Civic free fuel. The company, along with Clean Energy Fuels, the largest owner of public CNG stations in the U.S., will give customers a $3,000 debit-card to refuel at any of Clean Energy’s stations. The deal is good through the end of the year or while supplies of the 2012 Civic Natural Gas last. It seems like a great deal but keep in mind the extra cost of a CNG vehicle. The natural gas Civic is over ten grand more than the base model.
BACK OF THE PACK
Mercedes is falling further behind Audi and BMW in the luxury sales race. According to Bloomberg, even though the company’s global sales are up 5% through September, to nearly 965,000 units it didn’t keep pace with its German rivals. BMW has sold 145,000 more vehicles and Audi has sold around 133,000 more during the same time period. Slow sales in China, an older line-up and a lack of entry level models is contributing to Mercedes’ decline.
NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN
General Motors named a new executive to head up Cadillac. Robert Ferguson is the guy and his title is vice president, global Cadillac. He will be responsible for sales, marketing, and advertising. I find this a curious move since Mr. Ferguson has no experience in automotive sales, marketing and advertising. Up till now he’s been a lobbyist for GM and AT&T in Washington DC. But he was CEO of SBC Enterprise Business Services which was a large sales and engineering company.
THAT AIN’T REAL
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is warning consumers of counterfeit airbags. NHTSA is unsure how widespread the problem is. Only vehicles that have had their airbag replaced within the last 3 years and were not replaced at a new car dealership are affected. NHTSA tested counterfeit airbags and found most didn’t work at all or only partially worked, while some threw out shrapnel on deployment. If you wonder if you have a counterfeit airbag you’re going to have take your vehicle to a reputable repair facility or dealership to be inspected.
Coming up next, it’s time for You Said It!
Kit Gerhart says, “Infiniti wants to supply engines to the Red Bull F1 team? Infiniti is Nissan, and Nissan/Renault are the same company, so all it would take is very simple “badge engineering” for Red Bull’s Renault engines to become Infiniti engines.” Bingo!
14L Diesel was amazed at our report that Volkswagen employs more people than GM, Ford and Chrysler put together plus another 86,000 people. He asks, “Is this all VW passenger car or does it include Commercial Vehicle operations as well? Also, the degree of vertical integration can make a huge difference. Look at how much the Big 3 have shed with Delphi and Visteon.” 14L, yes this includes the entire VW Group. And you’re right, it shows a much higher degree of vertical integration at VW. And this proves that outsourcing does not necessarily make you more efficient.
Lex Says, “What about doing a broadcast from an actual vehicle assembly plant? You can chronicle a vehicle from preassembly to assemble all the way to finishing and inspection. This would be fascinating for us hardcore auto enthusiasts.” Wow, what a great suggestion. I really like that idea.
Rafi Jaan Says, “This may sound a bit strange, but I always welcome the higher fuel prices. For one, it’d make it more cost-effective to drive electric/hybrid vehicles and it would, finally, force consumers to choose the right size of vehicle for them and their families.” Rafi, this is the first time in my life I’ve found someone in favor of higher prices.
blueovalblood wonders, “Why aren’t we making ethanol from sugar like Brazil is? … See what Candace has to say about that Thursday.” He’s referring of course, to Candace Wheeler, GM’s formost fuels expert who will be our guest on Autoline After Hours on Thursday night. But I can answer that. The United States has lots of sugar cane. Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Hawaii grow vast amounts of sugar cane. But the United States has one of the highest import tariffs on sugar in the world. Americans pay about twice as much for sugar as the rest of the world does. So making sugar is so profitable for sugar cane growers, they have no interest in the ethanol market.
Speaking of ethanol, jesse says, “E85/Ethanol in General is a big FRAUD being perpretrated on the AMERICAN driving public! It may have made sense back in the 70’s, but brother, we ain’t there anymore! Dump all of it. PERIOD!!” Well I guess Jesse isn’t aware that the EPA mandates the use of ethanol in gasoline because it’s the only approved additive to reduce emissions. Ethanol has 30% more oxygen in it and that makes it burn cleaner.
Thanks for all your comments and letters, please keep them coming. And that wraps up today’s report, thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.