Tortoise and the Hare: 2017 Chevrolet Volt Premier vs. 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced and 2017 Chevrolet Volt Premier

Electric vehicles are maturing through their adolescence, and just like in middle school, some members of the class are developing faster. Tesla and Chevrolet now have electric cars that will travel more than 200 miles per charge, but the vast majority of battery-powered cars are still limited to a 60-to-90-mile range. In the next decade, the electric car promises to blossom into something that doesn’t require sacrifices in practicality or price when compared with a gas-fueled car, but until the EV’s pimples clear up, we have plug-in hybrids. READ MORE ››

A ’67 Shelby Mustang GT500 and the Joy of Aimlessness

A ’67 Shelby Mustang GT500 and the Joy of Aimlessness

Four and a half years ago, as I prepared to move to Montana, I rented a Jeep Liberty from Thrifty in Missoula. The managing owner, Owen Kelley, greeted me at the desk, saying, “I know who you are.” I immediately struggled to think of any Thrifty vehicles I might have wrecked. But just as I came up with nothing, Owen added, “I have a whole bunch of Mustangs, including a ’67 Shelby GT500.” READ MORE ››

2017 Cadillac ATS Sedan V-6 Tested: Should’ve Been a Contender

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The Phantom Gray 2017 Cadillac ATS Premium Performance model you see here has all the right stuff to be a world-class sports sedan: a solid, lightweight platform; rear-wheel drive; a high-revving 3.6-liter V-6 with 335 naturally aspirated horsepower; a snappy eight-speed automatic transmission; adaptive, adjustable magnetorheological dampers; a limited-slip differential; and staggered-width summer tires. Stir in options such as the V-sport red-painted Brembo calipers with slotted rotors and upgraded pads, performance exhaust, a sport suspension upgrade, and an interior richer than a Parisian house of ill repute, and we’ve got ourselves a four-door Chevy Camaro V-6 in a Hugo Boss suit. READ MORE ››

Hyundai Will Have Something New in Chicago, But Not the Santa Cruz

Hyundai Santa Cruz Crossover concept

Hyundai North America will debut a new car or truck next month, Mike O’Brien, the company’s vice president of corporate and product planning, told Car and Driver at the Detroit auto show. “We will be launching a new vehicle [at the February auto show] in Chicago,” O’Brien said, but he declined to give details on the forthcoming product.

He did, however, quash our hopes that it would be a production version of the Santa Cruz concept, a popular mid-size pickup the Korean automaker unveiled two years ago in Detroit. “It’s not the Santa Cruz,” O’Brien said. “Hopefully we’ll have something to share with you soon on that.”

Some kind of truck or utility vehicle would help Hyundai’s product portfolio, and Chicago has been known as a place where automakers reveal larger vehicles. Press preview days for the Chicago auto show are February 9 and 10.

A Daily Headache

Hyundai’s U.S. new-vehicle sales grew for a seventh straight year in 2016, edging up 2 percent at 775,005 units. Like other automakers, though, Hyundai saw waning interest in its mainstream car models such as the Elantra and the Sonata. Among the automaker’s cars, the only ones to post increases in 2016 were the Accent subcompact (up 30 percent to 79,766 units) and the oddball Veloster (up 24 percent to 30,053). Among the SUVs, the Santa Fe posted an 11 percent increase, to 131,257 units, while sales of the Tucson grew 41 percent, to 89,713 units.

So there’s much potential for growth when it comes to Hyundai’s trucks.

“That’s my daily headache,” O’Brien said. The company simply does not have the production capacity. “We could increase sales of our Tucson dramatically if we had more production. We could increase our Santa Fe Sport volume significantly with some more production. We could increase our long-wheelbase, three-row Santa Fe significantly . . . with more production,” he said. “So, for us, it’s all about the steps it takes to get that extra production and investment in place.”

It’s not such an easy task, when considering generational commitments of the entire product line, he added.

Hyundai Santa Cruz Crossover concept

Still “Excited” for the Santa Cruz

Meanwhile, the company is still “excited” about the potential for the Santa Cruz, O’Brien said. “We’re working very hard on the project,” he said. “We’re working as hard as we can to make it happen.”

O’Brien made it clear that the Santa Cruz is not a 100 percent certainty. “But it makes all the sense in the world for us, for a lot of reasons,” he said, including the lack of a pickup truck on the market that can achieve 30-plus miles per gallon.

O’Brien said a trend of millennials gravitating toward urban centers also argues in favor of the Santa Cruz. He envisions young professionals spending their weeks at office jobs in the city and then throwing kayaks or bikes in the back of a compact truck for a weekend rendezvous with Mother Nature. “They don’t need 7000 pounds’ worth of towing. They don’t need a big vehicle that’s difficult to maneuver and park,” he said.

Even in the truck-happy United States, gas-sipping mid-size pickups are still an anomaly, and Hyundai wants to get the Santa Cruz right. “With a truck, it’s all about proportion,” O’Brien said, noting that deriving one from a car platform can result in odd styling. Hyundai clearly considers the Santa Cruz to be more like a car than a full-size pickup and seems to shy away from the idea of the concept even being considered a pickup in the traditional sense.

The design seen two years ago is still intact, said O’Brien, who is part of Hyundai’s global design committee. “And, still, that design is what resonates with our company and [Chung Eui-sun], our vice chairman,” O’Brien said. “He wants that car.”
2017 Detroit Auto Show

2017 Volkswagen Golf 1.8T TSI Tested: A Great Value Gets Better

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While we rarely skip an opportunity to praise the Volkswagen Golf, our infatuation has never fixated on the hatchback’s price. That’s because while its cost is reasonable, its core competencies—a solid structure, an impeccably finished interior, and comfortable and capable suspension—would be welcome at any price. And value is just one of the main criteria we use to name cars to our 10Best Cars list, the others being satisfying driving dynamics and unparalleled execution of purpose. Because the Golf excels at all three, it has been named a 10Best winner for a decade running. READ MORE ››

Artificial-Intelligence Developers: We’re Thinking beyond Autonomous Cars

audi nvidia artificial intelligence

Advances in artificial intelligence are changing the way automakers and their suppliers think about autonomous technology. Boosts in brainpower are not only accelerating the timeframe to bring self-driving technology to the marketplace, they’re also broadening the scope of companies’ ambition.

“We’re not just talking about autonomous cars,” said Stefan Sommer, CEO of ZF Group. “We are talking about autonomous everything.”

At the CES technology show in Las Vegas, Sommer unveiled his company’s newest product, an electronic control unit that contains artificial-intelligence software tailored for self-driving vehicles, including not only cars but also trains, buses, forklifts, trucks, tractors, and mining equipment.

It’s the first time the global automotive supplier has taken an approach to building software that might be deployed across multiple industries, and ZF says it will be ready for production in 2018.

“We’re just at the beginning of people using our technology
-in ways we never imagined.”
-– Danny Shapiro, Nvidia

The brains behind the ECU come courtesy of Nvidia, a Silicon Valley chipmaker that has aggressively pursued advances in deep learning, a type of artificial intelligence that will allow vehicles to infer how they’re supposed to behave on the road based on past experiences. Combined with the company’s powerful processors that permit trillions of computations per second, Nvidia has become a key supplier of this technology for the automotive industry.

That became evident at CES, where Nvidia announced partnerships: one with ZF Group, another with global supplier Bosch that will explore similar territory, and a partnership with Audi seeking to put a self-driving car with advanced AI on the road in 2020.

“We need to partner with companies who can take this, and apply it and integrate it with their sensors and actuators and bring it to the market,” said Rob Csongor, vice president and general manager of Nvidia’s automotive business.

With Bosch, the two companies will collaborate on building deep-learning software that sits upon Nvidia’s Drive PX 2 platform and makes decisions based on information received from Bosch’s radar and other sensors.

“Deep learning is core to this, and a central feature will be the capability to continually and safely update new algorithms and models on the cars, even in the field,” said Michael Fausten, vice president of vehicle systems engineering and automated driving at Bosch. “A great advantage of AI is that the system gets continually smarter with each additional experience.”

For now, the partnership is focused squarely on automotive applications. But Bosch is pursuing smarter technology for connected devices in all its business units, from personal assistants in kitchens to safety in “smart homes” to connected power tools. The specifics of the AI will be different, but it’s not a leap to see how it could be utilized in a wide range of pursuits that stretch beyond the transportation industry.

“We’re developing all this artificial intelligence that we can leverage, from health care to transportation,” said Danny Shapiro, senior director of Nvidia’s automotive business. “We’re just at the beginning of people using our technology in ways we never imagined.”

2017 CES

Faraway Future? We Ride in Faraday Future’s FF91 Prototypes

Front, prototype

Faraday Future threw its cards on the table in Las Vegas at the 2017 CES (the new official title for the former Consumer Electronics Show). The China-funded would-be Tesla rival has been challenged by the recent departure of key executives and questions about its financing; after missed payments stalled construction of its factory in mid-November,  Nevada’s state treasurer called Faraday Future “a Ponzi scheme” in an interview with Fortune. Nevertheless, at CES, Faraday Future took the wraps off its FF91 electric vehicle, a more practical-looking if less exciting machine than the single-seat FFZERO1 concept car it displayed at the same show a year ago. It also carted out a pair of crudely constructed FF91 prototypes.

With unfinished interiors and lacking exterior elements such as headlights and taillights, the two black-and-white beta-prototype vehicles individually showed off two FF91 technologies: the crossover’s automated self-parking system and its dynamics. Faraday Future opened the rear-hinged rear doors to its self-parking FF91 prototype, giving us the chance to stretch out in the electric crossover’s unpolished rear quarters while a company representative sat behind the three-spoke steering wheel. Equipped with a retractable lidar system, 10 cameras, 13 radar sensors, and a dozen other sensors, the FF91 prototype proceeded to drive itself around a relatively full parking lot in search of an open parking space—the front-seat representative never once having to touch the wheel, brake, or accelerator.

lidar, map, 3d

A tablet mounted in the center console tunnel relayed what the Velodyne-supplied lidar system was “seeing” in both a bird’s-eye-view format and a color-coded 3D point-of-view perspective. After slowly driving around the parking lot, the FF91 prototype eventually found an open parking spot and proceeded to back itself into the space without any drama. This feature, called Driverless Valet, will be limited to use in private parking lots and roads that have been “verified” by the company when—if—the vehicle first hits the market. Nevertheless, Faraday Future claims the FF91 also will offer Tesla Autopilot-like levels of automation that drivers can use on public roadways.

Company representatives then shuffled us into another beta prototype—this one used for dynamic purposes. With Faraday Future engineer Matt Lubbers at the wheel, we fell into the folds of the prototype’s front passenger seat as Lubbers tossed the air-sprung prototype with four-wheel steering around a small indoor closed course. If the vehicle was struggling to hold its own, we weren’t made privy to this; the Ford Expedition-sized crossover’s all-season tires made nary a peep as Lubbers pushed the FF91 through a slalom and engaged in a handful of evasive maneuvers.

91, faraday, future, ces, consumer, electronics, show

With Lubber’s spiel on the FF91’s chassis dynamics out of the way, we were finally able to witness the crossover’s coup de grâce—its acceleration. Stopped at one end of the course, Lubbers quickly stomped the go pedal and unleashed the full force of the all-wheel-drive, three-motor electric prototype’s claimed 1050 horsepower, tossing us back in our seat with the force of an MMA fighter’s right hook. In short, it’s a lot like a Tesla launching in Ludicrous mode.

Faraday Future could well fold its hand before it gets to Las Vegas next year for a third CES show, but we can confirm that the FF91 is real, really able to park itself, and really quick off the line. There’s plenty of reason to doubt we’ll ever be able to experience those things from the driver’s seat of a FF91 production model, but at least we can say the money spent so far has included development of an actual car.

2017 CES