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NHTSA to set safety standards for autonomous car tech; more driver-assist systems and safety regulations will debut in the next 2 to 3 years.

By Douglas Newcomb Oct 23, 2012 1:41PM

Volvo Car 2 Car technology. Image by Volvo.

With connected-car field trials in the U.S. and Germany assessing how technology can reduce accidents and traffic congestion, it’s only a matter of time before the cars we drive communicate. Volvo says that this connectivity is only five years away, and the safety-minded automaker is working on two fronts to make it happen.

Volvo has been instrumental in the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project, which allows groups of connected cars to travel autonomously, in close formation, to reduce traffic congestion and fuel consumption.

To that end, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said today it would develop a performance rating system for autonomous technology. The agency said it would mandate safety rules for the systems after it completes a research project within the next two to three years, according to the Detroit News.


Study finds connecting devices to cars via Bluetooth is second biggest complaint among consumers.

By Douglas Newcomb 4 hours ago

As automakers add more connected features to their cars, using Bluetooth for making hands-free phone calls is by now a basic technology, and the connection for more advanced functions.

But according to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates, the second biggest complaint consumers have about the technology in their cars is simply getting their phones to connect with a car via Bluetooth.

Similar to J.D. Power’s much-watched Initial Quality Study, the 2014 Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study queried more than 85,000 new-vehicle buyers after their first 90 days of ownership on the quality, design and features of their audio, communication and navigation systems. Issues with Bluetooth followed only voice recognition as the most reported problem.

While owners reported fewer problems overall with Bluetooth compared with last year — 5.7 problems per 100 vehicles in 2014, down from 6.3 in 2013 — Mike VanNieuwkuyk, J.D. Power’s executive director, global automotive, told Automotive News that this still a “very high level problem.” Especially given the prevalence of Bluetooth in cars and that even the most basic feature, phone pairing, is giving consumers fits.


Elaborate eco meter lets you know which car features are affecting fuel economy.

By Douglas Newcomb 4 hours ago

While some sort of “eco meter” is now found on many vehicles, which allows drivers to instantaneously check how their driving style affects their fuel economy (and pocketbook), some of the displays are getting even more granular.

For example, a 2015 Audi A3 I recently tested had an “efficiency program” display as part of the driver information system in the instrument panel that, of course, shows current fuel economy. But it also displays how certain car features — such as air conditioning — influence mpg.

It uses distance traveled and consumption data from the trip computer to estimate fuel consumption from these auxiliary features and can be reset at any time. The display shows up to three items that could be affecting fuel economy. The feature using the most fuel is listed first.

Since I tested the A3 this summer, the air conditioning was listed first. And there was no reason to use the other two listed: rear window heater and right seat heating.


State would determine a household income threshold for current $2,500 rebate.

By Douglas Newcomb Thu 1:39 PM

Tesla Model S. Photo by Tesla.The California legislature wants to phase out state tax incentives that go to wealthy electric vehicle owners -- particularly those who purchase the expensive and popular Tesla Model S.

A recent bill directs the state’s Air Resources Board to determine a household income threshold at which the current clean-vehicle rebate of $2,500 for an electric car would be eliminated.

The bill, SB 1275, sponsored by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), is headed back to the California Senate to approve changes made by the Assembly before going to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until the end of September to sign it into law. According to environmental groups backing the bill, it would make EVs more affordable to working families and help improve California’s air quality.


For the first time, the Mustang will be exported globally.

By AutoWeek Thu 7:25 AM

Those of you waiting for a 2015 Ford Mustang are one step closer today as production begins at the Flat Rock, Mich., assembly plant. The new ponycar goes on sale this fall.

For the first time, the Mustang will be exported globally to more than 120 countries. A right-hand drive version will be sold in the U.K., Australia and South Africa. Ford has sold 9.2 million Mustangs in the model’s 50-year history.

The Flat Rock Plant underwent a $555-million investment in the last year, part of which went toward tooling up for the new car. It added a flexible body shop that allows multiple models to be produced on the same line, as well as new paint, dirt detection and laser brazing technologies.


Survey finds buyers are less satisfied with cars than with soft drinks, TVs.

By Douglas Newcomb Thu 6:08 AM

Photo by Flikr user Stephen ClarksonWhile automakers have been selling more vehicles in the past few years, they’re not making more buyers happy, according to the results of a recent survey. The American Customer Satisfaction Index score for cars and light trucks has dropped for the second straight year.

The overall ACSI score for the industry is now 82 out of 100, a dip of one point from 2013. ACSI scores decreased for the majority (16 out of the 21) of auto brands included in the survey. Only two U.S. nameplates improved their scores: Chevrolet went up 4 percent with the largest gain and Buick increased by a modest 1 percent. The ACSI attempts to "quantify" opinions with a proprietary formula developed by the University of Michigan. As with any nonscientific poll, the ACSI is simply a relative measure of satisfaction (and since ACSI doesn't divulge how it arrives at such numbers, that's all it can be). 

Cadillac plunged 6 percent, while Acura landed at the bottom of the list and had the most drastic decline at 7 percent. But Cadillac and Acura weren’t the lone laggards in the luxury category. The ACSI scores for BMW and Lexus also fell. And although Mercedes-Benz topped the ACSI list with the highest score of any automaker (86), the brand experienced a 2 percent drop from last year.

"That didn't used to be the case, and it suggests that consumers now expect more for their money when they pay a premium price," Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder, said in a statement.


Future vehicle-to-vehicle network that might prevent crashes is expected to cost $60 million per year.

By Douglas Newcomb Wed 9:26 AM

Image by NHTSAAs reported last week, the federal government is taking the first steps toward mandating vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication in all new passenger vehicles. The technology uses radio signals to automatically transmit a car's location, direction of travel and other information 10 times per second, while the same information is received from other vehicles in the vicinity so that drivers can receive audible and visual warnings on potential hazards.

While the government estimates the technology would add $100 to $200 to the cost of each new vehicle for the onboard equipment, the larger question is who pays for setting up and maintaining the V2V network that allows cars to talk to one another. The Department of Transportation wants to move ahead with implementing V2V technology to help reduce accidents, but it hasn’t yet committed resources to building or running the massive system.

"Due to the current fiscal environment, it does not seem plausible," the National Highway Safety Administration wrote in a report on V2V technology released last week along with a proposal to move ahead on mandating the technology. While the federal project has relied on the technical backing of automakers and others, it’s unclear where the financial backing to manage the system will come from, which is estimated to cost about $60 million per year.


Texas is fastest with an average of 78.3 mph, Alaska and District of Columbia are the slowest.

By Douglas Newcomb Aug 25, 2014 12:26PM

Image courtesy of YouTube.Whether you’re stuck behind a dawdling driver (or two) on the interstate or inching along in an urban traffic jam, it can sometimes seem as if everyone around you is moving syrupy slow. But that could also depend on where you live or drive.

In New York -- the state and not just the city -- you may find yourself going slower since it has some of the lowest overall speed limits in the nation, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Whereas in Texas you may find yourself driving quite a bit faster since the Lone Star State ranks as having the highest overall speed limits in the U.S.

The nonprofit GHSA, a group that represents the highway safety offices for each U.S. state, placed Texas at the top of the list for having not only the highest speed limit in the U.S., 85 mph, but also the highest overall average top speed limits for both urban and rural interstates as well as limited access roads: 78.3 mph. This beats Idaho, the next fastest state with a top limit of 80 mph and an average top speed of 76.7 mph, by nearly 2 mph.


Oscar-winning actor will do whatever he feels like in several unscripted commercials for the new MKC.

By Clifford Atiyeh Aug 22, 2014 11:53AM
Just months after Matthew McConaughey scored his first-ever Oscar for "Dallas Buyers Club," the actor has now signed a multiyear contract to be Ford's "authentic" pitchman for Lincoln.

Like many of McConaughey's film characters, Lincoln has been dazed and confused with its own image as a luxury brand. At this point even Cadillac, a brand that once seemed doomed to obsolescence, doesn't consider Lincoln to be a real competitor. Its miniscule sales and average products have taken a turn since Ford began marketing it as "The Lincoln Motor Company" in 2012 and put John Slattery from "Mad Men" as its leading man. But Slattery, as with Magic Johnson before him, didn't stay too long.

What Lincoln hopes to do now is channel McConaughey's inner Texan and easygoing, pensive personality into a series of commercials and web videos, some of which will be unscripted.  


  • Cliff Atiyeh

    Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own. Raised in Volvos, he has grown to love fast, irresponsible vehicles of all kinds. He is the senior news editor at MSN Autos and also reports for Car and Driver, Road & Track, The Boston Globe and other publications.
    In the garage: 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (not his)

  • Doug Newcomb

    Doug Newcomb has covered car technology for over 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Edmunds.com. In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and technology.
    In the garage: 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS, two 1984 Chevrolet Blazers, 2008 Honda CR-V

  • James Tate

    James Tate learned to drive stick at age 13 in a 1988 Land Cruiser - in La Paz, Bolivia. He's since been a mechanic, on a pit crew and has wrenched on every car he's owned since his first 1989 Honda CRX Si (and won't stop until the car is a 1973 Porsche 911 RS). His work has appeared in Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics, Automobile and others.
    In the garage: 1995 Porsche 911 Carrera, 1988 BMW M5

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