Anyone who follows auto news or environmental news, even passively is aware of the recent disaster VW and Audi have been in the midst of over the past new months. What they did was install software into their cars that cheated on emission tests to say that their “clean diesel” would only turn on while being tested, and allowed their cars to pass with flying colors. All the while the second they pulled of the lot they would go back to being dirty diesel spewing cars that were as bad as any other on the road. In fact, they are actually illegal in the state of California and its causing them a huge headache and money issue in the billions. The reason being is that in California if your car does not pass smog you don’t just get a slap on the wrist or fine like in other states, you are not allowed to drive that car, period. California has thousands of these vehicles on the road, so Audi needs to devise a plan to recall and repair all these cars in one fail swoop. To date all their attempts and proposals have fallen on their face and it is a real problem for them.
Volkswagan (VW) main profit contribution plans to invest about a third of their R and D budget which is a nice 4.69 billion dollars in 2015 in digital services electric cars and autonomous driving by 2025. This is an aggressive play and you can see that Audi really wants to be ahead of the pack in this regard. In many ways this was the only play they could have considering the state of the industry and where it is headed. Not to mention if they are ever going to restore faith in their users they need to come out as a beacon of environmentalism. This is going to be an interesting play, but what many people are thinking will more likely be the case, is that this is just going to be a slow death of the German automaker. There is very little we know for certain, but there is definitely not going to be a head of the pack. The reason is that they are getting into the game plain and simple. The reality is that Toyota, Tesla, and even GM are way ahead of the curve in this regard. GM and Ford both have big time partnerships with Uber and Lyft respectively to have a whole fleet of autonomous vehicles within 2 years. this is an ambitious goal, and it remains to be seen how green this fleet will be but it at least show they have a play, and have been working on it continuously for 2 years. Right now Audi still needs to get to even still point of picking someone to partner with, and they are essentially the kid at prom who waited til the last minute to find a date and all that remains are some real swamp doggies. Audi might be able to pull it off, but they won’t get lucky tonight that’s for sure.
According to a recent study, the Chinese government spends more money on infrastructure every year than North America and Western Europe combined.
Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that China has consistently invested heavily in roads, rails, and ports, perhaps indicating that the country will be prepared given advantageous changes in the global economy.
“Infrastructure investment has actually gone down in half the G20 economies,” explained Jan Mischke, senior fellow at McKinsey Global Institute. Mische worked on the report and found that the downturn in infrastructure investment is likely rooted in the great recession of 2009. That said, the economic down turn of the last decade has done little to slow China’s infrastructural expansion.
According to McKinsey Global Institute, China spent 8.6% of its GDP on building roads, railways, airports, seaports, and other key development projects spanning from 1992 to 2013. These investments are all part of an effort by the country to make people and goods easily transferable throughout the nation, strengthening China’s economy. In the same amount of time, Western Europe, the US and Canada all spent somewhere closer to 2.5 percent of their GDP on similar projects. The Western countries can barely keep old cars off the road, much less create new roads.
“The report is an important wake-up call about the perils of under-investment in infrastructure,” offered Robert Puentes, a senior fellow specializing in metropolitan policy at the Washington-based think tank, the Brookings Institution. “The super-charged growth in China’s economy is fueled by these investments in infrastructure.”
In Europe and North America, aging infrastructure is quickly becoming a major problem. The US Department of Transportation released a study finding that over 61,000 bridges in America are “structurally deficient” just last year. In 2013, the UK government put forward a 100 billion bound infrastructure plan, adding that the UK had “for centuries been pioneers in infrastructure” but in recent decades “let this proud record slip.”
That said, the infrastructural challenges of America and Western Europe differ greatly from those of countries like China and India, where emerging and quickly expanding markets are calling for entirely new infrastructure to be built as opposed to re-built like in the Western nations.
In addition, many of the Western nations spend their money on programs that are absent from China and India.
“If the US spent zero on Social Security and defense, the percentage of the total that goes [toward] infrastructure would be higher,” pointed out Puentes.
Jan Mischke believed that the wide divide could also be attributed to the fact that while the US doesn’t spend enough on its infrastructure, China also spends entirely too much:
“China has actually invested much more than needed, and the US, much less than needed,” he explained. “Despite this overinvestment, China’s needs for the future remain vast. The key opportunity for China is to deploy capital to more productive areas like research and innovation, and to raise efficiency and effectiveness of spending.”
China is home to the world’s first maglev train, a public transportation vehicle that uses magnetic levitation instead of wheels for a friction-less speed unattainable by wheeled alternatives. The maglev train’s top speed is 267 miles per hour and, astonishingly, has been running since 2004.
Legislators in Paris have passed a new law that will ban all cars registered before 1997 from being driven on the streets of the famous city. The law is intended to help curb the city’s chronic air quality and traffic problems by banning older cars from the city center during the weekdays in addition to all motorcycles registered before 1999.
The ban itself was announced some time ago, being a small part of a larger anti-pollution measure that was put forward by legislators last year. By 2020, the ban will extend to cover cars that were registered prior to 2010 and violators will face a fine of up to $39 at the start of the ban and around $85 by January 1st of 2017.
This isn’t the first measure to be passed in an attempt to reduce pollution in the French capital. Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo has brought forward and implemented many new laws for this purpose including a recent move to ban cars from the Champs-Elysees on the first Sunday of every month. The mayor, a self-proclaimed Socialist, has also moved to create more pedestrian zones at major traffic circles along the Seine river and a planned city-wide “day without cars” which will be repeated this year and expanded to cover even more neighborhoods.
According to studies, the ban on 19-year-old cars will affect 1 in 10 vehicles owned in Paris. According to a French newspaper, Minister of the Environment Segolene Royal has agreed to classify cars into six different categories based on the amount of pollution that they create. The most environmentally friendly cars will likely be electric. The vehicles will then be identified by color of sticker placed on their windshields, a system created to make it easier for cities to implement traffic restrictions in times of heavy pollution. While the ministry for the environment previously pushed for a more severe system with only four categories, French legislators contested such a quick switch and lobbied for the more gradual transition that six categories would allow.
“If we had stayed at four stickers, one-third of vehicles would have been suddenly forbidden from Paris on the 1st of July,” explained Christophe Najdovski, the adjoint in charge of transportation at Paris’ city hall. “This was unenforceable.”
That said, pollution statistics have shown that a change must occur. Apparently fine-particle air pollution is responsible for about 42,000 deaths per year in France, and air pollution costs the country as a whole somewhere around $112 billion every year.
While there being a pollution problem in the country’s capital is not contested, what exactly should be done remains unclear. Critics of the old car ban have complained that it disproportionally affects low-income drivers without creating significant environmental remedies.
“These restrictions don’t achieve anything from an environmental point of view,” explained Daniel Quero, president of the anti-bam club 40 millions d’automobiliestes. “The only reason that Anne Hidalgo announces these restrictions is to push cars outside of the capital, without concern for the economic and social consequences.”
Only time till well if the initiative actually helps Parisians, but surely some changes must at least be attempted.
Uber’s first ever self-driving car is a Ford Fusion hybrid with what almost looks like an enormous speaker system fastened to the roof. Those aren’t speakers though; as one would expect from a self-driving car, it’s covered in cameras.
The autonomous Ford Fusions are currently navigating the streets of Pittsburgh, collecting mapping data and testing its self-driving capabilities. According to a blog post recently published by Uber, the cars are equipped with “radars, laser scanners, and high resolution cameras to map details of their environment.”
“While Uber is still in the early days of our self-driving efforts, every day of testing leads to improvements,” the company stated. “Right now we’re focused on getting the technology right and ensuring it’s safe for everyone on the road- pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers.”
A reporter for Pittsburgh’s Tribute-Review was given the opportunity to ride in one of the cars, which constituted the first time that a member of the media was allowed to get up close and personal with the operation. The reporter, Aaron Aupperlee, had this to say about his time in the self-driving car:
“The car drove itself over the 31st Street Bridge and along River Avenue on the North Side before turning around at the Heinz Lofts. The car will accelerate, brake, steer and perform other basic functions on its own. It switches out of self-driving mode with a loud beep if its sensors detect a car swerving into its lane or it encounters something it does not recognize or know how to negotiate…. The driver can take control of the car at anytime. The car’s sensors detected parked cars sticking out into traffic, jaywalkers, bicyclists and a goose crossing River Avenue.”
This event is the first time that Uber has actually officially confirmed that it’s testing its self-driving technology. Around this time last year, a fair amount of evidence was collected to deduce what they were up to in Pittsburgh, where Uber has set up its Advanced Technologies Center. However, any questions regarding their projects in 2015 went unanswered.
Pittsburgh has a diverse environment as a city, presenting a wide range of challeneges for Uber’s cars to navigate. According to the head of the ATC John Bares, “the city’s narrow and hilly streets, haphazard parking, rainy and snowy weather and aging infrastructure have made [Pittsburgh] a challenging place to test self-driving technology.”
Google has attracted a lot of attention in terms of its conspicuous self-driving car development efforts, but a lot of experts in the field have seen fit to watch Uber closely. Many assume that when self-driving cars are ready, they will initially be put to use as for-hire vehicles and that Uber is leading the for-hire vehicle market and therefore has the most to benefit from that development.
Recent headlines were made regarding laws that self-driving for-hire vehicles will need to have a driver seated in the front seat at all time.
As we are all aware the oil economy will come to an end. Whether we like it or not, there is a finite amount of time there will be oil so the best thing we can do now is acknowledge our status on this sinking ship and plan accordingly. We may not know the details of how or when this is going to take place but it will take place, of this much we are sure.
One variable we are now certain will play a role in this process of petrol obsolesce will the advent of the consumer electric vehicle. When it comes to the electric car we see this is no longer a niche impractical, and with cars like the Nissan Leaf, and the Tesla Model 3 more and more auto makers are getting into the economy electric car and making some really compelling cars.
This is refreshing because it has long been held that the oil industry would dry up when it literally dried up and all the wells were tapped in the world. This no longer seems like an inevitability and it may be a matter of time.
The oil industry is extremely vulnerable to price fluctuations than you may think or be aware of. For instance, even a short term dip in prices like the one currently going on across the US send a shock wave in the market that reverberates through the whole industry. We have seen that in North Dakota alone, as the oil prices cratered, so too did their profit margins and now the the oil boom is largely being seen as an oil bust. States are also speeding up this process with the passage of favorable electric legislation.
What makes this significant is the fact that the oil is still there, but no one wants to go and get it. What most people may not know is that the getting of Crude oil and transforming it into gasoline or diesel that is car ready is an extremely expensive and timely process. In order to create the necessary investiture to do so requires a huge initial investment, I’m talking hundreds of millions. This is because if they were to get it out and to market they would do a little better than break even. Frankly this is not a tempting offer for most investors. Especially when you calculate the cost of liability and insurance associated to this very dangerous and environmentally impact industry.
With the price of electric cars becoming slashed every day we can see that much of the oil with out infrastructure already surrounding it will likely stay in the ground. Tesla Motors is about to put their gigafactory to use, which is going to exceed the lithium ion battery output of the entire world. So we can imagine that this will result in not only the cheapest electric cars on the planet, but the cheapest cars on the planet period. We are not sure what this will mean for the stability of the regions where their economy is based on oil but we are pretty certain it won’t be pretty.
In 2007, Volvo announced its lofty goal of creating vehicles that could avoid all circumstances that would cause serious injuries to its passengers. Since that announcement, it has been working hard to make good on what sounds in our era like an impossible promise.
For example, the Swedish-based auto manufacturer is readying itself for the release of a fleet of 100 driverless cars in China’s city streets. According to Volvo, the challenege constitutes its “most advanced autonomous driving experiment.”
And the challenge is significant not only in terms of Volvo’s modest advancements in driverless technology; the release stands out in autonomous vehicle history in that no other car company has attempted to test this many self-driving cars simultaneously on real city streets. Although many different car manufacturers have been competitive in the race towards vehicle autonomy, Volvo is unique in this way. Volvo even raises the stakes one level further in that it will allow everyday users to ride in the vehicles as they are being tested.
Volvo recently announced that it is seeking out Chinese citizens to participate in the trials conducted on its fully autonomous XC90 model, which will take place on fully public roads.
That said, these tests may not occur as soon as Volvo is suggesting. In fact, according to Erik Coelingh, Volvo’s senior technical leader for safety and driver support technologies, the exact date of the trial has yet to be determined. The only clue as to the approximate time of tests lies in the fact that the trials in China fall under the larger umbrella of Volvo’s DriveMe program, which will also test 100 driverless Volvo models in Gothenburg, Sweden starting in 2017.
“It’s important we work with ordinary customers, real people,” stated Coelingh. “It’s not enough to just have test engineers driving cars around on a track- we want to see how people use a self driving car, do they feel comfortable, do they feel safe.”
Regarding the 2020 initiative, Coelingh stated that “no one should be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo vehicle” four years in the future.
According to Coelingh, the DriveMe challenge is an example of Volvo’s interest in taking a step towards “a truly automated car where the driver can do something else.”
Volvo has been testing semi-autonomous features for its more current vehicles as well. The latest Volvo S90 comes with Pilot Assist, which allows the vehicle to navigate autonomously at speeds up to 80 miles per hour.
Volvo plans to test its cars exclusively on roads they’ve chosen and mapped out in advance. Volunteers will only be eligible to lease a car and take part in the testing if their regular commute lies on those particular roads.
Unlike Google’s latest smart cars, the XC90 will come equipped with the same old-fashioned steering wheel. Test drivers will navigate the car themselves when on unmapped roads and be asked to give up control of the vehicle upon entering a mapped road.
Coelingh stated that one of the most important aspects of testing an autonomous car was forcing it through trial periods in different countries:
“If you want to have self-driving cars available all around the world, we will have to understand the exceptional situations from around the world,” he explained. “If a self-driving car works well in Gothenburg that doesn’t mean you can safely drive the car in Beijing or in London.”
General Motors recently announced its acquisition of an extremely small startup (composed of around 40 people) called Cruise Automation. It has stated that it’s interested in Cruise’s talent, but there may be more to it than GM’s explanation.
San Francisco start-up Cruise Technologies seemed like exactly the type of innovative group that any major automotive manufacturer might find valuable. GM in particular had been making investments and acquiring start-ups for years in an effort to find and incorporate new technical talent and new technologies that might bring the older company into the innovative wave of the 21st century.
GM has actually shown a lot of development in the past few decades; the company that developed the Hummer also created the Chevy Volt and Bolt series, and its 2016 Bolt is on track to hit the market later this year, beating Tesla to create an affordable electric car that costs somewhere around $30,000 and can travel over 200 miles on a single charge.
Reports have shown that GM actually paid something to the tune of $1 billion for the company. Although GM’s statement didn’t directly disclose the price of the acquisition, it hinted that its major motivation for the purchase was an attempt to bring Cruise’s engineering staff into the GM research and development team. That said, even in the Silicon Valley a price of $25 million per employee is a pretty insane rate.
So what is it that Cruise has that GM wants to desperately? According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the deal started out as a strategic investment as opposed to a full acquisition.
This information comes from Nabeel Hyatt, a Spark Capital partner that led Cruise’s Series A funding round in 2015. Apparently after seeing Cruise’s latest technology, GM moved to acquire the company all out.
GM also recently made a $500 million investment in the ride-sharing firm Lyft, a major competitor of Uber. Now the two companies are cooperating in an effort to create a framework for future automated ride-sharing services that will use autonomous vehicles. This sort of relationship with cars is said to be the future of consumers and transportation.
Some analysts believe that GM’s acquisition may imply that Cruise had a crucial piece of the puzzle in terms of solving the many problems that occur when people attempt to create self-driving cars. Cruise’s product is called the “RP-1” system and can apparently be retrofitted to certain Audi models in order to make them capable of limited autonomous driving capabilities. The technology is seen as roughly comparable to Tesla’s “Autopilot” system, allowing for hands-free driving on highways despite the total lack of legislation concerning the topic.
GM has been researching self-driving technology for years and is expected to release a limited version of a similar system, called Super Cruise, later this year as a feature on the Cadillac CT6 luxury sedan.
Unfortunately, GM recently stated this January that the system’s introduction might actually debut in 2017. It claimed it wanted to add additional functionality and work out some potential imperfections and bugs in the system it had currently.
In 2012, California became the first state to pass global warming pollution standards legislation for cars and trucks. Their unprecedented decision began a nationwide movement to curb vehicle emissions, which have proven to contribute substantially to the green house gases building up in our atmosphere and leading to global climate change. The recent VW schedule is just one of many indicators that regulations have to be made and upheld, as manufacturers are loathe to change their money-making practices.
Washington and Oregon were among the first to follow suit, creating similar legislation in 2005 and 2006.
Eventually, in 2012, congress passed nationwide fuel economy and pollution standards that decree that 2025 vehicles will posit only half the global warming emissions and and be about twice as fuel efficient as vehicles made in 2010.
This will make a huge difference in California, where citizens drive around 320 billion miles every year.
The legislation is bolstered by a well-designed cap-and-trade program.
Before we go into the details of the cap-and-trade program, let’s go over a few important aspects of global warming that are at play here:
Scientists know that people need to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of global warming emissions at or below 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq); that way we have about a 50% chance of preventing the Earth’s average temperature from rising 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels.
According to the results of a huge amount of Scientific testing, this would help people to avoid some of the worst and irreversible consequences of global warming (which are terrifying).
As a country, the U.S. has a lot of regulation to do before this goal can be reached globally. It would have to cut its emissions by at least 80 percent from 2000 levels by 2050. According to a statement endorsed by more than 1,700 scientists and economists with expertise relevant to climate change, the first step towards achieving this should be reductions 15-20 percent below 2000 levels by 2020.
So how does this happen? There has to be a global initiative to create and deploy clean energy technologies and to develop new low-carbon technologies. This will likely necessitate new policies and subsidies to spur this action along and make it more cost-effective to jump in that direction.
That’s where a good cap-and-trade program comes in. It prices carbon emissions in a way that reflects the very real economic costs of global warming. This coupled with more rigorous efficiency standards, incentives, and public investment in clean technologies and infrastructure should allow the impossible goal to finally enter the realm of the realistic.
But how do they work? Congress has to enact legislation to establish an economy-wide cap on global warming emissions that is tightened over time based on the latest scientific discoveries related to the climate. Then he EPA would auction “emissions allowances” that correspond to the level of the emission cap.
This program would move on to assign electric utilities, refineries and other polluters certain allowances for each ton of their emissions. Polluters can buy their allowances or trade them with other emitters, making it possible for polluters that reduce their emissions to be rewarded with sellable assets. Critics have stated the importance of auctioning allowances rathe than giving them away free to emitters, as giving too many allowances would distort the market.
If you own a car and commute to work, chances are you’re going to spend about 1/10 of your waking hours sitting in your cabin. That means it’s worth it (by a letter grade!) to make that experience as meaningful as possible. Here’s a list of hacks that will help you turn your car time into you-time.
It may seem silly or petty, but adding just a few accessories to your car can make all the difference. Ergonomic seat cushions, for example, can be the difference between improving your posture between appointments and realizing you now need to somehow find the time and energy to fix your years-in-the-making back issues.
Having useful and inexpensive accessories like a phone mount can also make your life a little less stressful; use GPS without taking your eyes off the road, or speak clearly into a well-positioned speaker phone. It’s worth the short set-up time.
Finally, accessorize based on who you are and what you legitimately like. If you want some silly pink shag seat cushions, just go for it. Want a sun-blocking windshield cover that makes the inside of your car look like the inside of the millennium falcon? Just do it! These are the kind of splurges that make you and your friends smile for years on end.
From a bike rack to chrome rims, it’s worth your while to finally get around to adding what you want and need to your car so that it easily functions within whatever parameters will make you have the highest quality of life. Love camping? Put a trailer hitch on your car so that you can tow whatever you need, whenever you need it. Want to sleep and party in your van? Put up those curtain rods and curtains with pride. You should always feel like your car is an extension of yourself, so adjust its appearance and functionality with that in mind.
3. Make it safe.
Your car will be with you 1/10 of your waking hours, which means when something serious and life-threatening happens, there’s a 1 in 10 chance you’ll be in your car at the time. Considering how prevalent car-related injuries are in the United States, Americans probably have a higher chance of being in their cars during serious moments.
All the more reason to keep a first aid kit and some emergency supplies in your car. Make sure you have flares (preferably LED flares), flash lights, water bottles, granola bars, and maybe even a satellite phone in the back of your car in case something really serious happens to you or in front of you.
4. Keep it organized.
There are so many ways to do this, and they all feel good once incorporated into a larger system of car organization and control. There are seatback hanging pockets that can keep everything from snacks to road maps to cell phones in their hanging hulls, plus trunk organizers equipped with built in coolers and lockable compartments. They’re all good, so take your pick!
It may not be headlining news anymore, the VW scandal continues to unfold into a series of law suits with unprecedented damages, if you’re still curious at all what has befallen Germany’s once-lauded auto maker.
Just this morning, the US Department of Justice announced that it is filing suit against the automaker on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Air Act.This civil case is likely just the beginning of VW’s legal troubles in terms of U.S. criminal prosecutions, and very real prison sentences may take place in the future.
If you’re just tuning into this mess, keep in mind that the EPA accused VWs with diesel engines off cheating on their emissions tests back in September. Basically it found that 582,000 diesel-powered vehicles sold in the United States from 2009 to 2015 were likely in violation due to their possession of emissions-test cheating software that switched on certain controls only during a vehicle testing environment.
VW eventually admitted to illegally installing the software on 11 million vehicles worldwide. The U.S. is the first to discover and punish the German-based company for its deception, and other countries are likely to follow suit.
VW is already facing dozens of lawsuits from dealers and customers. Fines for violating the Clean Air Act cap off at about $37,500 per car, so plenty of customers have a lot to lose due to their trust in the company. VW will likely not be able to sell any diesel-engined cars in the US in 2016 and is still in the process of recalling cars throughout Europe and India.
German prosecutors are even investigating the company for tax evasion.
“With today’s filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution,” stated Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
Most onlookers see the case as all but in the DOJ’s pocket. All they have to do is provide evidence that the cars cheated on their emissions tests to win the case. Timothy Heaphy, a former US attorney and the chair of white collar defense at Hunton & Williams, claims that the circumstances yield a “very low standard given [VW’s] admissions.”
Indeed, proving will not be difficult considering VW already stated that the cheating occurred. Heaphy believes that VW will just have to negotiate a settlement in response to the charges, making it a relatively “easy victory for the government.”
Indeed, this initial lawsuit is the least of VW employee’s concerns. After all, the Department of Justice is likely to return with more consequences and more financial ruin. However, likely the pins at the top are going to fear more than other people’s money (and jobs) being lost at the expense of their deception: the clear choice to lie and its astronomical economic and environmental consequences are likely to preempt a criminal trial and perhaps some white-collar prison sentences. That said, tricky business men are often hard to jail, even when they’re caught in the act. We’ll just have to wait and see.