Episode 989 – Full Autonomy in 5 Years? Honda Offers Free Gas, Is Your Airbag Fake?

October 10th, 2012 at 12:04pm

Runtime: 8:27

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!

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Welcome to Autoline Daily for October 10th. I’m John McElroy and here’s the news.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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26 Comments to “Episode 989 – Full Autonomy in 5 Years? Honda Offers Free Gas, Is Your Airbag Fake?”

  1. pedro fernandez Says:

    I have to laugh at all these autonomous vehicle reports when power windows have been around longer than Kirk Douglas and they still fail and can cause fires as in the latest Toyota recall, keep using crappy outside suppliers, Toyota, you’re digging your own grave! I must be a neanderthal cause I’ve never owned a car with power windows. That’s why I’m in good shape for a 60 yr old, stretch, crank, stretch, crank 10 times a day 6 days a week, try it sometime.

  2. pedro fernandez Says:

    Beware of airbags made by the Fortune Cookie Air Bag company out of Shanghai, it may only partially deploy in an accident with a sign that says: “You’re sh_t out of luck”

  3. HtG Says:

    If anyone wants to be persuaded that traffic jam ready autonomous cars have a benefit, go take a cruise around the DC beltway. Mostly stop and go traffic sometimes destroyed by fender benders. If you can prevent a few of those collisions by letting our esteemed leaders conduct business on the road, just imagine the efficiency gained. We’ll need DARPA to encourage someone to create a real Cone of Silence, of course.
    Infiniti F1. I thought Infiniti was being tasked with developing the KERS system for the RedBull, and that part of the marketing connection was intended to build awareness and sales in Europe for this near luxury brand. Isn’t deNyschen raising Infiniti to the true luxury status?

  4. pedro fernandez Says:

    If all cars were autonomous then maybe it would work, but when you still have road-hogging A-holes bullying their way through traffic, it’s a mess!

  5. HtG Says:

    Pedro, please think one road-hogging A-hole at a time. If some RHAH needs to talk on the phone or look at a screen while going to his meeting on, err, White Oak Lane, then he’s less likely to rear end someone whose driving out to, errr, Dulles. And that benefits us all.

  6. Brett Says:

    re: autonomous vehicles

    Now, what is it I’ve been saying the past month or two?? Exactly. They’ll be here sooner than you think and will have a powerful transformative effect on society. Just like the internal combustion engine and the integrated circuit did.

    Imagine, if cars drove themselves and almost never crashed, they wouldn’t have to be built like bank vaults to protect the passengers! They could be light, nimble and get absurd fuel mileage. They could be cooperatively owned and maximize utilization, reducing the number needed. So many possibilities.

  7. C-Tech Says:

    I actually look forward to autonomous cars. Even if 5% of new cars were autonomous, it would probably reduce accidents and could create better traffic flow due to car-to-car communication and coordination (imagine auto-cars traveling in a pack, coordinated to traffic lights, etc.).

    Are lower sales than its rivals really a problem for Mercedes? If Mercedes is still an aspirational car, then do then really need to compete against Audi and BMW across all segments?

    If Ackerson came from AT&T then is it really surprising that he would bring his good old boy, like Robert Ferguson who has no automotive experience? And people complain about affirmative action.

  8. C-Tech Says:

    Whoa John, do not expect dealers to remove and check your airbags for free. If you (or your insurance company) went with the cheapest parts, well you get what you pay for. Some insurance companies do require factory replacement airbags and the repair shops need to show receipts.

  9. HtG Says:

    If the autoauto could inform Helmut von BMW that someone would like to overtake him in the left lane my life would be transformed.

    If the autoauto could detect a red light and prevent a car running the light, there’s a life saved.

    If a mom could safely whip around to the back seat and glare at her little whining bundle, think of the benefits. Just think if she didn’t have to drive to the school to pick up the kids; now you’re talking.

  10. Alex Carazan Says:

    Fully autonomous vehicles on the road with manually drvien vehicles will NEVER happen until legal tort reform is passed by governments. In our law suit happy society there will be multiple people who will “suddenly” get hit by one of Google’s cars. Google will lose in court. Then their program will stop.

    Semi-autnomous features in low risk situations are now in the market (e.g. park assist, rear braking, low speed forward braking) and they will expand. Add onto that blind spot warnings, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning that are now expanding rapidly and we get 80% of benefits at 20% of the costs…especially the cost of law suits is minimized!

    Google is wasting their resources…they should get back to their core business. Let them learn the hard way.

  11. Kit Gerhart Says:

    It looks like M-B’s problems may be mainly in China. See:


  12. pedro fernandez Says:

    I can just see it, folks looking for the Google car to jump in front of it and get hit to collect money from them, it’s gonna be a mess!

  13. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Pedro, non-power windows are really getting hard to find on new cars. I checked the Toyota web site, and it looks like Yaris is the only Toyota that offers crank windows. Corolla now has power windows standard, even on the cheapest version. It looks like the cheapest versions of Accent, Rio, Fiesta, Sonic, and Versa are about the only new cars you can get with crank windows.

    That’s unfortunate, but not surprising. The car companies can probably make cars as cheaply putting power windows in all of them, if the alternative is using non-power in only 5 or 10% of a model line.

  14. HtG Says:

    It won’t be too hard for that innocent looking Google car to video the offending other car. Anybody following the news?

    I cannot believe I’m arguing in favor of autonomous cars.

  15. john 878 Says:

    Google may be saying they’ll have an autonomous car in five years, but I don’t think people will jump to a full autonomous car right off the bat. GM will step into it step by step which makes more sense.


  16. HtG Says:

    I’d like to reduce the fear factor I’m now feeling every time I come to a stop. I’m never sure the person behind me paying attention rather than texting. A few weeks ago I saw a young guy look up just in time, and checking the mirror every time I stop is tough.

  17. pedro fernandez Says:

    #13 True and really not needed, with today’s sunpass and other electronic toll paying systems you don’t even need to open the window to pay tolls anymore.

  18. W L Simpson Says:

    Last year I bought & rebuilt a Terrain that had
    T-boned a semi. A very large part of costs were
    safety equipment , parts AND labor .Most fortunate that there was no passenger to trip & destroy the dash pad.

  19. Chuck Grenci Says:

    I don’t know the electronics of autonomous cars (specifically transmission frequencies) but wouldn’t it require millions of unique frequencies created (and somehow ‘fail-safed’) from reacting to each other or even sunspot interference (or even ‘jamming’ by like-type morons who hack our computers for fun and destruction). -Just don’t think they are as close as some may believe.

  20. pedro fernandez Says:

    Will these robo-cars coast towards a red light or will they gas and then brake as they near it? I use the former to save fuel.

  21. G.A.Branigan Says:

    @ # 19: Kind of an answer,digital spread spectrum I would guess.As to what band? Again a guess on my part but I would say somewhere above 5 ghz.I say that because below that is pretty much allocated already.

  22. XA351GT Says:

    Wait Ithought we already had autonomous vehicles. Aren’t they called Buses and Taxis? If you don’t want to drive use one. Leave the roads to those of us that would enjoy it more with you gone.

  23. pedro fernandez Says:

    XA, you should run for Prez.

  24. Brett Says:

    “Tort Reform” = “Protect those poor, helpless corporations from the people they injure in pursuit of profits.”

    Google’s big enough to self-insure if they feel like it. Having a phalanx of the best, highest-paid lawyers in the universe would probably be cheaper than the insurance premiums anyway.

    re: People jumping in front of autonomous cars so they can sue Google.

    Even if the Google car doesn’t record video, you can be sure it has the processing power and storage to “black box” the last 90 seconds or so of data, including radar, laser range finders, relative humidity, siderial time, etc., etc. Once Google retrieved the data and presented the plaintiff with a real-time, 3D holographic display of what they did, from the car’s perspective, the case would be dropped, pronto. I’m sure that those sort of “lets screw Google” cases would stop shortly after word got out.

    Also, why aren’t people already jumping out in front of limousines so the can sue rich people?

  25. Philip Says:

    Autonomous cars will not happen for decades. Cars that can keep a safe distance, or self brake in an emergency (as in) Volvo are here now. But cars that self drive, forget it. There are too many things that can fail, and one good lawsuit can distroy a companies bottom line. My computer only works right 95% of the time. Will I trust the electronics in a self drive car?Hell no!

  26. Alex Carazan Says:

    #24. Brett
    TORT REFORM: Clearly you have no clue where MOST of $$ goes with many lawsuits. Money is simply transfered from companies to lawyers. The lawyers use the poor as pawns. The “victims” tend to get little. Many times settled out of court just to save $$…regardless of true facts or fault. Reasonable reform is to CAP $$ to level most citizens would agree is fair, limit percent to lawyers, and loser pays all or portion of other sides expenses.

    GOOGLE VIDEO: The “accident” would NOT be arranged to appear purposeful. People in Vegas J-walk across streets all the time and often are not paying attention. An automated car should be smart enough to NOT hit a pedestrian. But Google cannot change the full braking capability and decel rate of a 3500 lb vehicle. They also will not likely make a fast evasive manuever into another lane like a real human could. Regardless if on purpose or not…there are infinite number of scenarios that Googles software cannot predict, model, or react to…that is where the REAL world will reveal itself. So I pray for the first harmed person.

    LIMOUSINES COMMENT: Use your brain. A Limo is driven by a person…typically a low wage person. The rich person sits in back. The driver would be the one sued, NOT the rich person sitting in the back. Normal insurance policies would prevail. The rich person does not have puppet strings to control the driver. But Google would have the strings over every minor motion of the vehicle.

    Anyway…reality of course will happen in the future…we can simiply monitor the results. In mean time…semi-autonmous features have and will gain market share and greatly help reduce crashes, reduce property damage, reduce injuries, and save lives. All at same time still have a real human at the wheel and responsible. And GOOGLE will have NO part in that. They can’t even get ANDROID Op System not to reset on a smart phone! Their CEO clearly has too much time on his hands!