Tag Archives: BEVs

Sony x Honda AFEELA CES booth
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CES 2024 recap: New cars, concepts, and other automotive tech at the show

CES 2024 has fallen upon Las Vegas, drawing an international audience to come and see all the latest and greatest in techy goodness and electronic nerdery. Nowadays, much of that includes cars and mobility, especially as the former evolves more into supercomputers with every passing day and as the latter becomes a growing concern in a densely populated world. Poised as the next great car show for its showcase of future tech and mobility solutions, we owe CES our attention as motorists to see just what it has to offer us, and we’re happy to report CES 2024 didn’t disappoint. In fact, we’re actually quite bummed we didn’t take it that seriously if we’re being honest!

But we made it. We covered it. We shot it on our socials and on camera. So here’s our round-up of all the innovative future rides on display at CES, including some of the pens we unfortunately missed–and I’ll say this again: they really got to put up more signs in more places. I couldn’t find squat half the time!

Sony Honda Mobility Afeela – New ADAS and specs announced

Ah, how refreshing it is to see a fancy new EV launch with relatively normal styling inside and out. The Afeela is as relatable and familiar as it is innovative and cutting-edge, and that’s why this is arguably the biggest star of CES 2024. The lovechild of Sony and Honda, the Afeela is poised to be one of the market’s hottest new EVs when it launches next year.

The Afeela isn’t totally a new thing, as it’s been circulating around headlines and internet discussions since its debut at last year’s CES. But now, the car takes the stage once again, sporting some updated tech and a fresh laundry list of specs. Boilerplate items? How about standard dual motor AWD with a 241-horsepower motor on each axle (combined output TBA)? Or what about a comprehensive ADAS system backed by lidar, radar, and cameras for added safety and better visualization of its environment in a variety of conditions?

On top of all that, go back to the styling and just look at it. The Afeela is a beauty, which is ironic, given how smooth and plain it is. But in an age where it seems companies try too hard to stand out with their design languages, it’s the Afeela’s inoffensiveness that makes it one of the more visually attractive choices.

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XPENG AeroHT eVTOL Flying Car – The mobility solution for those whose net worths are measured in billions

Riiight. Because this will solve all of our problems. But man, it sure is cool!

If anyone remembers XPENG from that one earnable car from the Forza Horizon 5 playlists, well, they also built this in 2022, and it’s been making rounds around the world ever since. Go figure. With zero attempts at subtlety, this is exactly what it looks like: a freaking flying car… literally called “Flying Car.” 

Designed and built from XPENG’s AeroHT spin-off, it’s merely another one of their efforts at normalizing flight as an optional mode of transportation. Among other offerings include the X2 and X1 eVTOLS. However, the Flying Car differs by serving a dual purpose as a semi-practical supercar for shuttling oneself from the mansion to the country club before deploying the retractable quad rotors and departing for the office in the city.

Will it be a practical mobility solution should they ever put this into mass production? Ha. Not for us, it’s not.

VinFast Wild Concept – Vietnam’s take on cyberpunk Americarna

“Get in, choom. We’re going mud-bogging. Sound nova to you?”

Okay, so no one is really going mudding in an electric mid-size pickup, but the VinFast Wild Concept certainly looks the part. Bulging body lines and squared-off edges scream macho pickup, and the large wheels with all-terrain tires carry implications that it’s ready for overlanding excursions (within its range, of course). It’s mid-size, too. This means you waste no less space on the road as a Tacoma, Ranger, or Colorado

However, this is merely a concept and a vision of what to expect from a VinFast entry, so certain things definitely did not scream production-ready. There were no visible backup cameras or parking sensors. The seats were bolstered aggressively in a way you’d usually only see at Tokyo Auto Salon. And the pillarless suicide doors, while incredibly fun to adore, seemed a bit far-fetched for a company that prides itself on affordable, accessible EVs.

Should the Wild make it to production, expect it to challenge the lower tungs of Fisker Alaska and Rivian R1T, with anywhere between 230 to 321 miles as those trucks do. Dual motor all-wheel drive ought to be standard, as will street and off-road-oriented packages. If anything, don’t be surprised if production variants just rehash powertrains from the VF8 and VF9.

The next big question is: Will the Wild rectify the VinFast’s past controversies and missteps or perpetuate them?

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Volkswagen ID.7 and Mk8 Golf GTI – ChatGPT voice commands

I’m not quite sure how to feel about this, really. On one hand, the kid in me thinks, “Wow, cool gizmos! Just like the sci-fi movies.” On the other hand, the cynical adult thinks, “Is that it? Is that really it? Alright then.” But who cares what I think because this entry will certainly enthrall legions of consumers all over the world, regardless if it serves them any practical use or not.

Partnered with Cerence, Volkswagen delivers ChatGPT-based voice controls for most of their ID electric cars, as well as the Golf, Tiguan, and Passat. That’s right. Volkswagen storms onto the scene at CES 2024 with… an AI chatbot-based voice command system for most of their future cars. Not the most groundbreaking thing at this year’s show, but whether you love or hate the idea, it’s certainly interesting enough to talk about it. 

As a traditional system does, you can use it to assist with infotainment functions and navigation, but the system can also be used to control in-car functions like the radio, climate controls, or ambient lighting. It can also be used to provide vehicle status updates, weather reports, general knowledge questions, assist with conversations, and more. Being an AI system, it could be capable of learning over time to better meet the needs of owners as their ownership tenure carries on, which one could infer from VW’s claims of its “continuously expanding abilities.”

Cool or gimmick? I’ll let you decide. But one can easily call it a fun, innovative evolution of a familiar, age-old convenience feature. 

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Kia PBV Prototypes – Mix n’ match electric vans

I can see the SEMA maniacs clamoring for one to slam on its battery pack and turn it into an art van or a parts runner for their shop. And you know what? They’d have a hell of a van to do it in. Say hello to Kia’s “Platform Beyond Vehicle” concepts and peek at what they intend to be a production line of modular, customizable urban haulers.

The idea is fairly simple, and it’s an idea hinted at in previous EV concepts from auto shows of years past. Take a skateboard EV platform and make it do many things. In Kia’s case, their idea of “many things” is having niche cargo and people movers with swappable bodies that can be changed to suit a variety of tasks, from handicap-accessible transport to taxis to moving goods for small businesses. The driver’s cab would remain mostly the same, but the space behind the driver can be interchangeable for whatever purpose. 

Kia aims to launch their Transit-sized PV5 in 2025, followed by the larger, extended-wheelbase PV7, and the diminutive PV1. The latter is unique, positioned as an autonomous grunt intended for finishing those last-mile stints to the final destination, complete with four-wheel steering and a crab-walking mode for maximum urban mobility.

Brilliant idea for Kia to possibly steal shares of the market from Rivian or whoever makes those new postal service vans, but one can only imagine the potential and practicality of a privately-owned PV5. Party van or camper, anyone?

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Hyundai’s Ease The Way plan – Revitalizing interest in hydrogen cars 

Kia packed the van. Hyundai has the plan. 

Although Hyundai had little vehicular presence outside of an Ioniq demo car here and there, they still managed to make waves for their bold and optimistic plan to revitalize interest in hydrogen power as the first half of their Ease The Way plan. The latter half focuses on software and connectivity to improve mobility, but for the sake of not making this a whole essay, we’ll focus on their hydrogen game plan. 

Key boilerplate items for the hydrogen half? Deploy the means of generating hydrogen, not only from the traditional method of electrolysis but also through recycling waste. Any waste. From sewage slop to plastics and garbage. From there, they aim to build an abundance of regional hydrogen production and distribution plants around the world, including several across the United States and with Georgia plants already under construction. Such a move would give us the much-needed infrastructure boost to adopt more clean energy for not only our cities and homes but also our vehicles, as Hyundai was also eager to tease its upcoming NEXO fuel cell car, due in 2025, and mention its XCIENT fuel cell semi-trucks.

No, this CES announcement was not related to any specific car. But it is related to a clean, green future, where commuters can potentially fuel themselves on clean energy, and gearheads can feel a little less guilty about installing high-flow cats on their two-decade-old muscle car. So, hats off to Hyundai for reinvigorating interest in something other than your traditional battery electric vehicle. 

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This gargantuan John Deere tractor thing – I got a little sidetracked

I don’t know why this was here. There was no panel or spec sheet anywhere detailing what it was or what new-fangled tech it was sporting. Apparently, John Deere was present to showcase autonomous farming equipment and remote-controlled tractors. But I didn’t know that at the time. My small ape brain sees big giant machine. My big monkey brain says climb inside of big giant machine.

To our agricultural trade workers who get to whip these suckers on a regular basis, I envy you. 

Honorable mentions we missed out on…

Honda 0 Series

Separate from the Sony Afeela collab, Honda launches their own headline-grabbing EV pucked straight from video game and sci-fi fantasies. Enter the 0 Series of EVs, wildly outlandish and alien-looking electric cars that Honda insists will enter production within the next few years. Seriously, these concepts look like they belong in Blade Runner

The Saloon flagship and the Space Hub minivan thingamajig are mere concepts, and it’s too early to hit anyone with any sort of range estimates, power figures, or powertrain details. Honda does promise superb aerodynamics, a new generation of ADAS, and great battery efficiency. We’re willing to bet a company like that could make it happen. Honda states that a production Saloon based on the concept should debut in 2026, so by then, perhaps we can expect 800V architecture and 400 miles of range as standard. Maybe. Expect the Space Hub to follow not long after.

In addition to these hot new concepts, Honda has also announced a simplified “H” logo for all EVs going forward, reminiscent of old Honda logos without the squared surround. Certainly, these cars can earn that callback to CVCCs of old if they turn out just as innovative today as that car was back then. 

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Mercedes-Benz CLA Concept

Nothing too earth-shattering here, although it is exciting to see a legacy automaker like Mercedes dive into the realm of 800V architectures. This vision of a next-generation CLA-Class rides on a rear-drive, single-motor, 800V platform with faux-Maybach styling and a proposed 466-mile range. More specifically, it’s Mercedes Modular Architecture or MMA. Should such a vehicle make it into production with the same specs, it’d handily keep up with the very best in the market and blow most rival EVs way out of the water, all with the efficiency of an 800V system. 

The CLA Concept is not all that new, having debuted in the Fall of last year, but it’s nice to see it making rounds at auto and tech shows like CES. Following the lukewarm reception to the EQ family, something like a production CLA Concept could be just what Mercedes needs to launch the brand right towards the front of the pack for dependable, high-performing, far-driving luxury EVs. Perhaps this concept serves as a test bed for future EQs, which will reportedly upgrade to 800V architectures starting in 2025.

Indy Autonomous Challenge

AV-24 CES show car
Image credit: Indy Autonomous Challenge

For Sheilah, if she was a robot.

The Indy Autonomous Challenge is exactly what it sounds like. Take Indy cars, or scaled-down clones of them in this case, and tell them to drive themselves around a track and compete to see who’s the fastest Level-4-autonomous supercomputer. It’s a program for colleges to assemble teams of young brainiacs to see who can develop the fastest robo-racer AI.
CES 2024 marks the debut of a faster race car, the AV-24, complete with radar by Continental and lidar by Luminar, the same company that demoed their lidar systems on the Polestar 3 and AMG GT Black Series from our social media. And while it currently sits as a test bed for college students’ brains, it’d be a whimsical spectacle to see OEMs get in on the fun. After all, they say competition improves the breed.

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Sony x Honda AFEELA at CES 2024
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CES 2024: Sony and Honda show off updated Afeela electric car

At CES 2024, Sony and Honda unveiled the prototype Afeela electric car. Sony Honda Mobility (SHM) revealed details at the 2023 Japan Mobility Show, but finally, we have a real car on our hands! Well, not in our hands, but in the media’s hands in general. And wow, it’s quite the stunner in person.

This variant of the Afeela is the first time we see more than an announcement, so even though SHM was founded in September 2022, it’s now more than lip slap. These two industry behemoths are more than capable of delivering an excellent electric car; judging by the gorgeous exterior, tastefully premium interior, and a big dollop of fresh specs, the Afeela hits that spot. 

Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Specs overview

After much waiting, specs for the Afeela have now trickled out, from dimensions to motor power output and tire sizing! Check out what’s now known below.

Length4,915mm (16.14 ft.)
Width1,900mm (6.23 ft.)
Height1,460mm (4.78 ft.)
Wheelbase3,000mm (9.84 ft.)
DrivetrainAWD
Front Motor TypeInterior Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor
Front Motor Power180kW
Rear Motor TypeInterior Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor
Rear Motor Power180kW
BatteryLithium-Ion
Battery Capacity91kWh
DC charging150kW
AC charging11kW
Front SuspensionDouble Wishbone
Rear SuspensionMulti-Link
Suspension type Air Suspension
Front Tires245/40R21
Rear Tires275/35R21

Afeela AI and ADAS

SHM calls this “mobility intelligence.” Revealed at CES 2024, the company plans to combine sensors and ADAS technology to deliver a car that redefines the relationship between people and mobility.

ADAS architecture of the Sony x Honda AFEELA
Image Credit: Sony Honda Mobility

Sensors and Cameras — 360º Vigilance

No blind spots. 360º Vigilance is not new in a car. Still, to implement some of the mentioned features and an authentic next-level driving experience for Afeela drivers, a crazy camera setup is needed. The Afeela will park upon arriving at a parking space. It will also open the door when you approach and display your destination if this is a regular trip.

Advanced Driving Assistance 

With great software comes excellent hardware (Uncle Ben). Lidar, radar, and cameras band together to feed information to a litany of driving aids, with each adding a level of redundancy to one another for maximum safety netting and adaptability to a wide variety of conditions and obstacles. To support these features, the Afeela will partner with Qualcomm to achieve Level 2 /2+ and, under certain conditions, Level 3 driving autonomy. They will also use Vision Transformer (ViT) to capture and detect objects. Essentially, it’s the God of image detection for AI. 

SHM and Epic Games

EPIC Games and Sony x Honda AFEELA ADAS
Image Credit: Sony Honda Mobility

Stemming from a newly-minted partnership with Epic Games (sigh, yes, that Epic Games) SHM will use Unreal Engine 5.3, real-time sensing, and vehicle data to simulate external environmental conditions. This system will give drivers information about other vehicles, pedestrians, terrain, and weather, providing an immersive experience with a real purpose — safety. 

Sony x Honda AFEELA CES booth
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Conversational personal agent

A conversational, personal agent is also in development, using the Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service. So you will have your own personal Delamain in the future!

AI plays an essential role in achieving our goal to redefining the relationship between people and mobility, enhancing emotional user experience. Microsoft is a key partner to provide conversational personal agent. We are pleased to be working with Microsoft to realize our vision.

Izumi Kawanishi, Representative Director, President and COO, Sony Honda Mobility

SHM and Polyphony Digital

SHM and Polyphony Digital (the developers of the Gran Turismo series) will work together to share information. This collaboration will improve player experiences in future GT games. Still, arguably more importantly, it will bring sim data, experience, intuitive operating systems, and more to the Afeela and future vehicles. SHM wants to fuse the virtual and the real, mainly in the area of human senses and emotions.

The announcement at CES 2024 also brought great news for Gran Turismo 7 fans, as the Afeela will be included in a patch update for GT7 later this year (release date TBA.)

Afeela Co-Creation Program

AFEELA CO-Creation Program
Image Credit: Sony Honda Mobility

SHM’s Afeela Co-Creation Program will allow developers and creators to work on applications and services running on the Afeela. Android Automotive OS will be the operating environment for apps.

  • Contents of Media Bar
  • Themes on panoramic screens
  • e Motor sound
  • Additional information on maps
  • Any application

Spatial audio 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sony car without spatial audio. Honda’s mobility audio environment expertise with Sony’s renowned spatial audio craftsmanship maximizes multiple speakers throughout the vehicle for an unimaginably immersive experience.

Afeela production model

And a production model is coming! SHM plans to start taking pre-orders in the first half of 2025, begin sales at the end of 2025, and deliver from spring in 2026 in North America and by the end of 2026 in Japan.

Sony x Honda AFEELA CES booth
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

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Tesla Cybertrucks at Petersen
EventsFeatures

Up close and personal with the Tesla Cybertruck at The Petersen

Over the past few weeks in Los Angeles, Elon Musk’s long-anticipated Tesla Cybertruck fever dream finally became an objectively verifiable reality. And not just on popular car-spotting Instagram posts, either. In early December, I actually witnessed a Cybertruck driving down the Pacific Coast Highway one morning. Then, a few days later, I cruised by one stuck in traffic on the 405. And unless someone got a quick wrap job done, I can also confirm that these first two sightings were, in fact, different Cybertrucks: one finished in that famous brushed stainless and the other in matte black.

Then, a few days later, the Petersen Automotive Museum invited select media for the debut of a new Cybertruck exhibit in the entry hall, complete with an exoskeleton sitting out in the open, as well as the truck that got shot by a Tommy Gun, and even a quick look at the original prototype downstairs in the museum’s Vault. Tesla designer Franz von Holzhausen actually owns the production Cybertruck on display bearing VIN #002—almost certainly the matte black one I saw on the 405—and even volunteered as tribute to answer questions from an almost certainly skeptical crowd.

But Musk and von Holzhausen are very busy people trying to change the world (maybe worlds if the Mars plan works out), so I felt absolutely zero surprise when I received a last-minute text bumping up the schedule. Then, when I arrived at the Petersen early, the poor PR pros on hand let me know that von Holzhausen never showed up. Interviews with lowly automotive journalists might not cut the mustard at Tesla, as it turns out, setting off a little warning bell dinging in my mind before I turned for a closer look at the angular hulking masses of metal making up the exhibit.

I wanted to pester von Holzhausen about why the production version shrank by a few percentage points, how the design iteration process began originally, and whether he also believed Tesla dug its own grave with the Cybertruck, as Musk admitted earlier this year. Instead, without a need to keep my game face (or audio recording) switched on, I spent the next hour-plus getting up close and personal with one of the strangest, most perplexing vehicles ever built.

First impressions of the angular Cybertruck

First off, outside on the Petersen parking garage’s first floor, I took a quick pic of a guy taking a pic of a Tesla Semi—full Christopher Nolan Inception soundtrack playing in my head, of course. In contrast to the Cybertruck, the Semi builds on von Holzhausen’s formerly smooth and aerodynamically efficient designs for the Models S, 3, X, and Y (and, supposedly, the forthcoming Roadster, but more on that later). 

Tesla Semi at The Petersen
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Not so much for the Cybertruck, an undeniable exercise in angular excess that attracted even more attention inside the Petersen’s entry hall. The black wrap and black exoskeleton only accentuated the presence of a bulky, boxy shape. The overall size surprised me, too, possibly attributable to the differences between seeing Cybertrucks out and about surrounded by other large cars as I rolled by on motorcycles.

Riding motorcycles in LA traffic is sketchy enough without stopping to rubberneck a controversial new electric pickup truck, so those early impressions only piqued my interest in taking a closer look at the Petersen. And the first thoughts to flit through my bedraggled pre-holiday mind ran the gamut from “gross!” to “gargantuan” because the angular peak sat higher than expected, even with the adjustable air suspension at its normal ride height. The cab looked bigger than in my mind’s eye, and the bed looked smaller. I began to wish I’d brought a tape measure.

Trying to get a better bearing on the actual adjustability of that air suspension system, I ducked into the wheel arch—if we can call it that since it’s squared off. The design somewhat resembled the finger knuckle A-arm of my old Type 955 Porsche Cayenne, except that where Porsche overengineered the Cayenne’s suspension, Tesla appears to have stamped the Cybertruck’s upper A-arm out of sheet metal. Not ideal for an electric truck that weighs north of 6,600 pounds, I thought. And in fact, von Holzhausen’s truck qualifies as the top-spec “Cyberbeast” (because, of course), so it should weigh closer to 3,800 pounds thanks to three electric motors.

Tesla Cybertrucks at Petersen
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Would the rest of the so-called “exoskeleton” continue that beefy theme? Well, in reality, Tesla calls the cage on display a “Body-in-white,” and the exoskeleton itself is made up of the body side panels that connect the front and rear structures, while the roof and rear wall connect the left and right sides. Obviously, we’ve come a long way from the by-now “traditional” skateboard battery layout. But the purpose here, other than general aspirations of badassery, actually involves reducing the number of parts required in what Tesla now calls a “Gigacasting” (because, again, of course).

In all honesty, the body-in-white impressed me more than the actual stainless steel exterior (albeit wrapped) of the finished product. But here, engineers probably received more control over the process rather than being forced to bring Musk’s vision of a slab-everything body to life. Tesla obviously needs to hit all the rigidity targets, accurate mounting points for subassemblies, and crash structure capabilities required by rules and regulations in order to bring the truck to market. Right?

Easy fodder for the critics (a.k.a. me)

Meanwhile, the visible flat panels of the finished truck do absolutely nothing to hide flaws. Even subtle curves or flowing lines on a normal—read: boring—car can help move eyeballs along without drawing awareness to peculiar or mismatched details. Flat planes make mistakes stand out, so Musk’s vision only made the production of Cybertrucks all that much more of a challenge (even beyond the sheer engineering requirements of cranking out an electric pickup with the aerodynamics of a brick).

To that end, the slightly rounded front panel might look the best, while the flat sides, angled inward up top with a flat windscreen that transitions to a roof, all seem somewhat cockeyed from almost every perspective. Is my mind playing tricks on me? Again, should have brought the tape measure. And maybe an eight-foot level to check those straight lines.

No straight line on the whole Cybertruck looks more egregious than the enormous combined hood and front windshield and its single wiper arm. Approximately 48 inches long, based on measurements compared to my wingspan, the arm pivots only from the driver’s side and will almost certainly struggle to keep the passenger’s side of the windshield clear. And will owners need to source wiper blades for semi trucks or road graders to fit? The blade almost reminds me of an early-2000s Mercedes-Benz CLK, but that wiper arm swung from the center with a strange hump in the pivot point to help cover more of the rectangular windshield (still not nearly as rectangular as the Cybertruck’s, though).

Then I glanced down through the windshield and noticed tiny openings at the base of the expansive, flat dash. Maybe for speakers, defroster vents, or both, these little openings looked entirely insufficient for either purpose. And I thought my mom’s second-gen Toyota Prius had a long dash—then again, maybe the low, raked windshield angle requires less air to prevent steaming up. On the other hand, that long dash reveals a major surprise about the Cybertruck that runs almost entirely counter to most other EV designs: Namely, the interior of such a large vehicle doesn’t even feel very spacious. The sharp edges and isolated lines of such a stark profile simply don’t allow for the kind of efficient packaging that made the Model S, 3, X, and Y so revolutionary when they each debuted.

Dino guts burnt to produce the plasticine era

Meanwhile, out in the front, that full-width plastic light bar sits below expansive panel gaps leading down from the windshield along the frunk hood. And below those gaps, through which I could probably sneak an HB #2 pencil, the plasticine fender flares around plastic and rubber wheel covers, simply put, look nearer to a child’s toy than a production pickup. Carved tires, a la most bold concept cars? Maybe on the original Cybertruck, but also a major surprise on von Holzhausen’s personal daily driver. Non-branded other than “Goodyear” and “Load Range D,” the tires themselves measure 285 millimeters in width at all four corners, though, as a recent scandalous video showed, perhaps lack the true kind of all-terrain or mud-terrain compound that such aggressive blocks and sipes might more regularly indicate.

Tesla Cybertrucks at Petersen
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

The irony of using dinosaur guts to produce the plastic on an electric car entirely notwithstanding, the theme continues in the truck bed, too. There, a Petersen rep helpfully pushed the rubber buttons on the left side to roll up the shuttered bed cover and drop the tailgate—the latter worked but required a bit of a helping hand from me, too. (That rolling shutter, by the way, almost entirely kills any semblance of rear visibility.) But more importantly, because the buttons live out in the elements, they are made out of another plasticky-rubberized material reminiscent of jet ski controls or, somewhat hilariously, the Polaris Slingshot’s infotainment buttons.

Tesla Cybertrucks at Petersen
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

In the rear bed, a light strip of similar material to the front brightens up all the black plastic on von Holzhausen’s truck. A real outlet in the bed reportedly powers 120-volt appliances, though I left my espresso machine at home, so I cannot confirm whether it functions—I see no reason why not, but here we are looking at a Cybertruck, after all. The thick bed walls funnel back towards the squared rear bumper, huge panel gaps continuing throughout. Of course, seals below the surface and a watertight battery pack for the skateboard might help, but the thought of this vehicle being able to drive as a boat across rivers and calm seas, as Musk claimed, seems unlikely.

And that’s not to mention the sharp edges at the end of each gap, especially noticeable up front with the frunk hood lifted. Not only will such sharp edges—made of stainless steel thick enough to inspire machine gun testing, remember—undoubtedly wreak havoc on any other cars in the case of accidents, but imagine a child jumping out of the frunk bench seat and hitting their head on the corner. Ouch!

Spartan to the point Of austerity

The questionable angularity continues on the Cybertruck’s interior, where if you thought the S3XY were Spartan, guess again. The steering wheel even gets a squared-off treatment, not quite a yoke but nearer to a racecar design (or a C8 Corvette but wider). As on the Model 3 and Model Y, the Cybertruck’s massive single touchscreen sits horizontally, as is the trend with Tesla, including the recently-revised Model S that now sports the same style of touchscreen. However, the dash also seems to lack climate control vents, too, unless there are tiny openings on the dash to do the trick, like in Model 3s. Controls on the steering wheel seem a step beyond the strict rollerballs and stalks of previous Teslas, but just about everything still requires diving into text-heavy menus on the main touchscreen, including apps, music, and suspension settings.

Selecting different ride heights elicits a noticeable increase or decrease in the wheel arch clearances, though the process of rising and lowering takes about as long as my 2006 Cayenne while the air compressor noticeably charges up pressures. Other options on the touchscreen include playing with the LED mood lighting, which von Holzhausen’s Cybertruck perhaps had set to a karaoke bar theme. I never counted the cupholders since I’m apparently the world’s worst automotive journalist (I blame the distraction factor of that huge dash, large enough to house a Winston Churchill war game).

Flat plastic door panels, flat plastic window switches, flat plastic on the center console, flat metal pedals, and then “Cybertruck” script welded into the foot sill—everything seems utilitarian to the point of no return. Will the remaining customer base who placed early pre-orders and now faces a price tag about half again as high as Musk promised to appreciate the cheaping out? Or do the diehards stick with their deposits and not care? Maybe they even love the austerity? Even the new car smell, still present despite von Holzhausen’s daily driving, smelled plasticky to the point of nearly Airstream-level formaldehyde. And smells are probably even more important in non-internal-combustion cars, believe it or not!

Machine gun testing, because of course

At least we know the Cybertruck truly can take a beating, if not a bowling ball, to the window. The next truck I wandered over to proved as much, riddled with dents and a few small metal tears after being shot with a series of 9mm and .45 caliber bullets. I brushed my hand up against some of the markings and can confirm that none appeared to pierce the metal entirely. Not bad, though, as a friend later suggested, some malcontents may relish the invitation to open fire on a famously bulletproof truck.

This early Cybertruck also gave me a chance to compare some of the differences that always emerge as concept cars progress through development on the way to production. Different fender flares and bumper designs stood out, and I started to wonder whether the design looked better in a matte wrap or exposed stainless. At the very least, wrapping flat stainless probably requires less effort than curved body panels. Or does it? Does it prevent any wrinkles and air bubbles? Maybe a wrap shop with experience working on DeLoreans can get the job done.

To wrap up the visit—pun fully intended—I headed down into the Petersen’s Vault, where the original Cybertruck concept sat charging. Again, the design differences stood out quickly. I spotted an earlier charge port, a cleaner rear bumper, and then a real steering yoke on the interior. Three semi-bucket bench seats made up the front row here, rather than the production version’s center console—the slight shrinkage in overall size might have made a third seat too narrow. If only von Holzhausen had shown up to confirm such speculation.

The concept truck also featured an even more radically squared-off dash design, so my skull naturally winced again at the thought of passenger impacts in the case of an accident. And better lenses on the light bar up front also stood out, even if a ton of fingerprints on the stainless steel distracted me once more. Keeping the raw metal clean looks like a nightmare task, so maybe the wrap is the way to go after all.

Tesla Cybertrucks at Petersen
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

A sharply angled misdirection

Once I left the Cybertrucks and the Petersen behind, my mind kept wandering. At the very least, nobody can say Tesla built a radical concept car into a production vehicle without provoking serious thought about the state of the automotive industry. Bold and aggressive, the design sparks off a new stylistic generation for Tesla—but that’s exactly what the formerly S3XY Models need more than anything, and what buyers need more than an electric pickup truck that borders on gimmick status.

In a surprising moment of self-reflection, Musk all but admitted that perhaps the Cybertruck went a step too far. Not that such a startling truth prevented him from pushing forward into production. We’re far too far into billionaire celebrity-dom to admit certain levels of error or hand the naysayers any kind of victory. And everyone who’s an automotive nerd remembers a certain John DeLorean’s similar drug-fueled stainless-steel fiasco. 

The fact that Tesla still plans to build the Cybertruck at all represents keeping a promise of sorts, which I suppose is a good thing. And something I always have to keep in mind while critiquing any running, driving car is that actually building a running, driving a car requires a miraculous combination of hard work and a fair amount of luck. But as the Cybertruck finally emerges from delay after delay, the end result still seems like something of a misdirection for the company’s efforts and resources. How about dedicating that work and luck to the cars more people will actually drive? What happened to the Roadster and promises of 600-plus miles of range

Tesla Cybertrucks at Petersen
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Meanwhile, Tesla also desperately needs to direct more time and effort into parts and service for cars already on the road while continuing to press forward on the infrastructure change that Musk’s electric revolution requires here on Earth. Yes, Tesla is an automobile manufacturer. But the grandiose vision almost centers more around energy solutions than the cars themselves. And in the Cybertruck, all that energy focuses in the wrong direction.

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Tesla models charging
News

Tesla may be lying about its poorer-than-advertised EV driving range

Liar Liar, Tesla is on fire! Earlier in the week, the EPA forced Tesla to reduce the range estimates the automaker wanted to advertise for six of its vehicles by an average of 3%. The Model Y Long Range is down to 310 miles from 330, and the Model Y Performance is down to 285 miles from 303. Somehow, Tesla managed to beat the guy who crashed his cybertruck.

And the EPA has caught Tesla before! In 2022, the EPA claimed that Tesla CEO Elon Musk exaggerated the 400-mile range for the Tesla Model S Long Range. He just brushed this off. In October 2023, the Department of Justice began probing these overestimated numbers. Let’s not forget the massive Tesla autopilot safety recall earlier this year.

The range issue

According to Reuters reporter Steve Seckler, Tesla has been rigging their range-estimating software. At full battery, it will give the advertised driving range projection; when the battery falls below 50% of its maximum charge, the algorithm will show drivers more realistic predictions for their remaining driving range. 

All five Tesla models tested by Edmunds failed to achieve their advertised range, the website reported in February 2021. All but one of ten other models from other manufacturers exceeded their advertised range. However, take this with a grain of salt and note that Edmund’s testing methods may differ from other publications, such as Motor Trend, which recently conducted its own range comparison test and yielded different results. While no vehicle under Motor Trend’s watch beat their estimates, the one Model 3 they lined up was a back-of-the-pack finisher with a considerable 100-mile gap between its real-world result and EPA estimate.

This range scandal comes off the back of Tesla blaming parts failures on drivers, being fined $2.2 million in South Korea for cold weather range overestimation, and recalling 1.62 million vehicles in China.

Tesla Model 3
Image credit: Tesla

The cover-up

Tesla’s sales numbers have obliterated all other EV manufacturers for as long as we can remember. Tesla delivered 1.3 million cars in 2022 and about 1.81 million by the end of 2023

More vehicles mean more servicing, so Tesla outsourced remote diagnostics to “virtual team members” in Las Vegas.

One current Tesla “Virtual Service Advisor” described part of his job in his LinkedIn profile: “Divert customers who do not require in-person service.” After a Tesla app update, customers complaining about the range could no longer book service appointments. Instead, they got little tips on the issue — everything to divert customers from the problem.

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2024 EV tax credits
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Here are the 14 vehicles that qualify for instant EV tax credits

It’s a new year, and the seemingly endless drumbeat of news around EV tax credit changes continues. New rules went into effect on January 1, changing the tax credit eligibility criteria yet again and drastically reducing the number of qualifying vehicles. At the same time, the updated rules now allow for a point-of-sale discount instead of waiting for a year-end credit. Here’s what you need to know.

First, the good news: The $3,750 and $7,500 EV tax credits can now be applied at the time of the sale rather than as a year-end tax credit. That will knock a significant chunk off the sticker price of a new EV purchase, including many 2024 Tesla models, and it alleviates the issue some people experience of not having enough of a tax burden to get the whole credit. 

The bad news is that the number of new EVs qualifying for tax credits in early 2024 is much smaller than it was last year. Changes in the rules prioritize battery materials and components from North America, and cars with battery materials from a “foreign entity of concern” won’t qualify. While there are likely many foreign entities the U.S. government is concerned with, in this case, we’re talking mainly about China.

The list of qualifying vehicles includes:

Dealers have to register with the IRS to issue instant discounts, so it’s a good idea to reach out to your local store if you’re interested in stacking that tantalizing lease deal with a respectable government kickback. Additionally, while the list of qualifying vehicles is short now, automakers have to file documentation that proves their vehicles’ eligibility, so the number of models will grow as more companies submit their paperwork.

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2023 BMW i4 M50 EV
EVs ExplainedFeatures

Five EV myths debunked (and five downsides to buying one)

Buying an EV might be the most talked-about subject in car ownership of the past several years. We have a whole features section dedicated to explaining the darn things. And it makes sense: Between automakers introducing new models seemingly every day, legislation pushing hard for a zero-emission future, and all corners of society weighing in across the greater internet, it’ll definitely be a high-up heading in history books that describe the early 2020s.

When it comes to how we transport ourselves around our vast planet, there’s a lot to be excited for in EV ownership, as well as growing EV ownership across the greater populace. Then, there may be some preconceived notions about EVs that should be addressed. 

But there are still some actual downsides that we certainly can’t overlook. So let’s discuss it all: here are five myths about EVs, debunked, as well as five actual downsides. Depending on how these affect your own lifestyle could either sway you towards EV ownership or keep you away. What’s most important, however, is to have the knowledge to make the right choice. Let’s get into it.

BMW i40 M50 charging
Image credit: Peter Nelson

Myth: EVs take too long to charge

Let’s start the list off with an easy one. Or, tricky one, depending on how you look at it. There are basically three charging levels that affect charging speed: Level 1 (120V), Level 2 (240V), and Level 3, also known as DC-fast charging. The higher the level, the faster the charge, and the exact charging speed varies quite a bit depending on each EV’s factory specifications—some charge at Level 2 faster than others, some make full use of a DC-fast charger’s rates while others don’t—so comparing and contrasting these on your list of potential EV purchases is important.

But let’s focus on DC-fast charging, as that’s what guarantees the quickest charging time. So far, technology’s achieved the ability to charge at as many as 350 kW, which, if fully taken advantage of, could add 200 miles of range to a modern EV in as little as 15 minutes

Key part of that claim: If fully taken advantage of—DC-fast charging is limited by the vehicle’s own charging system. If its maximum charging rate is 100 kW, that’s the ceiling—energy is flowing at less than a third of the charging station’s capability, so it’ll take longer than a quarter of an hour. We’ll discuss more about this in a future, separate post, but 100 kW is generally considered low for modern EVs as most charge at 200 kW or more. As technology progresses, the floor will rise, and we may soon reach a point where 15 minutes is considered awfully long.

Then, if 15 to 30 minutes for charging seems like a long time, it doesn’t necessarily have to have a major impact on one’s lifestyle. With new charging stations cropping up all over, it could be a matter of regaining a couple days’ worth of range while paying a visit to the grocery store or running any other normal, everyday errand.

Myth: EVs don’t have enough range to cover my daily travel

According to the Department of Transportation, most American households travel under 100 miles per day. Most EVs can go at least 200 miles in between charging, with more and more exceeding 300 miles hitting dealership lots what seems like every month—it’s easier than ever to accommodate EV ownership into one’s daily life.

If your household doesn’t have charging at home, such as in an apartment or house without the appropriate electrical service, making some changes to your daily schedule may not be that bad. Sure, anyone who doesn’t have at-home charging will be faced with an “Oh shoot, I’ve only got 20 miles of range left and need way more than that for tomorrow” type of scenario, but a little preparation could go a long way.

Image credit: Ford

Myth: EVs aren’t fun to drive

As an avowed performance driving and motorsports enthusiast, it’s indeed quite hard to beat an internal combustion engine with an entertaining torque curve and awesome soundtrack. 

But here’s the thing: Almost all EVs have their weight down low in the chassis and in between the front and rear axles, which bodes quite well for overall handling dynamics. Electric motors produce instant torque, too, so they’re inherently quite fast off the line and fun to wring out in many different scenarios. These make ripping around in EVs quite fun indeed.

Then, manufacturers are coming up with clever ways to simulate conventional drivetrains and the driving characteristics that they can achieve, such as the 2024 Audi SQ8 e-tron being driftable. Or, utilizing regen to simulate downshifts. Then, Hyundai utilizing a fake soundtrack in its Ioniq 5 N may sound cheesy, but you can’t fault the brand’s willingness to try—I bet it’s more fun than you think.

LA Auto Show Ioniq 5 N
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Myth: EV manufacturing negates the positive environmental impacts of driving an EV

This one is a little complicated, and everyone loves to quote Jeremy Clarkson’s bit about the Toyota Prius from, like, 15 years ago. And yes, modern mining and shipping practices made battery production bad. Like, really bad. From excess emissions and fumes to the copious use of water in places that, uh, didn’t quite have a lot to begin with. But technology’s made good headway since then. Only way to go is up, right?

While the manufacturing of EV components—particularly the battery—does have its own greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to factor in, the EPA details that between the lifecycle of an ICE car and an EV with at least 300 miles of battery range, the former has far higher GHG emissions.

We’ll save the geopolitical aspects of mining rare earth metals for electric motor production for another post. Generally, meaningful progress has been made in reducing these, such as manufacturers pivoting away from certain rare metals, as well as sourcing the other main ingredient, lithium, from domestic sources. Heck, one of our planet’s possibly largest lithium reserves is just a bit east of San Diego.

Image credit: Tesla

Myth: Charging EVs will put too much stress on America’s power grid

This is definitely a valid concern. But it’s important to keep in mind—once again, according to the EPA—that charging can happen at off-peak hours at home. Meaning, you’ve just gotten home for the night and plugged in your Fiat 500e to your home’s 240V service to charge overnight.

Not only that, but the EPA even sources Scientific American to say that California’s more than one million EVs account for less than one percent of the grid’s load during peak energy hours. Our nation’s energy grid is constantly being upgraded, too, so hopefully, energy blackouts will become a thing of the past if the government is smart about it (so far, it seems like it’s generally on the right track).

In short, while the details of this point can be a bit complicated, the answer is yes, EVs will be just fine on the American power grid, and industry employees are optimistic about their capabilities to ensure that.

Downside: EVs aren’t the funnest to drive

This is certainly subjective, but I know I’m not alone: EVs are fun to hoon around, but they still don’t hold a candle to an ICE vehicle. Especially if its engine is sporting some enthusiastic tuning, forced induction or not.

I won’t wax poetic too hard, but there truly is something special about the theatrical soundtrack of internal combustion in fun scenarios, such as a fun, curvy road or ripping laps on the track. Or, launching it off the line when the conditions are right. I mean, it’s one of the main reasons why I got into this industry, as well as why my list of next cars is chock-full of vivacious, big-smile-inducing sports cars.

It’s really cool that automakers are starting to synthesize some of this and integrate it into EVs, but they sure have a long way to go.

Image credit: Chevrolet

Downside: Charging infrastructure can really suck

If charging infrastructure just isn’t all that great where you live, and you aren’t able to charge at home, it may indeed be a good idea to pass on EV ownership until it improves. It’s more important to safely and reliably transport you and/or your family, get to and from work, go about your daily life, etc. than stretch your schedule and work a little too hard to make EV ownership work. It’s all about balance, and sacrificing what you deem to be too much will only make life more inconvenient in the end.

It’s tough for many folks just dealing with a lengthy commute to and from work every day. Why tack on an additional 15 minutes to an hour—assuming there’s an open, functioning charger waiting for you—when all you want to do is not be in a car anymore?

Charging infrastructure can suck in other ways, too, like broken/out-of-order chargers, inconsiderate jerks hogging charging spots when they aren’t charging, dealing with, like, twenty different charging companies’ apps, and more.

Downside: EVs are heavy

This is a byproduct of our current lithium battery technology, and it doesn’t bode well for handling, tire wear, brake wear, and our poor crumbling infrastructure. As well as our parking garages. It doesn’t help that SUVs and trucks are very much en vogue, either.

Hopefully, as battery technology progresses, this quickly becomes a thing of the past. Go, solid-state, go!

Image credit: Mercedes-Benz

Downside: EVs are still expensive

According to Kelley Blue Book by way of Cox Automotive, the average new car price is right around $48,000, which is awfully expensive. Combine that with US News and World Reports’ reporting that EVs are on average $12,000 higher in price than their ICE counterparts, and things aren’t looking great for greater EV affordability.

But thanks to various federal, state, and local tax incentives for both new and used models, the price starts to tumble a tad.

In addition to some upfront relief, technology is always evolving, and technology-heavy EVs are no exception; As new tech becomes more and more common, prices will go down. Especially when it comes to the cost of manufacturing batteries. Then, we have to keep in mind that EVs’ running costs are overall cheaper, which helps ease financial pain after any initial sticker shock.

Downside: What about OBD II?

OBD II (not ODB II, which you could say is actually YDB) stands for Onboard Diagnostics II, the standardized system used by all automakers to help troubleshoot a vehicle’s issues. Meaning, the check engine light comes on, you use an OBD II scanner to see why, and the ECU tells you a diagnostic trouble code (DTC)—or a massive list of ‘em—to help you pinpoint what’s wrong.

Currently, not all EVs possess a system like OBD II; after all, according to this story over at Ars Technica, a lot of the reason why it was originally developed was to monitor and reduce tailpipe emissions, which EVs don’t have. Still, onboard diagnostics cover a lot more than that, and a new system dubbed Advanced Clean Cars II by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will require a new standardized system for EVs, PHEVs, and hydrogen-fueled cars by 2026, which could end up being adopted at the federal level.

Pun very much intended, there are positives and negatives to battery-powered car ownership. While some may require a little (or a lot) of adaptation, one thing’s for certain: As EV technology moves forth, the myths will be more extinguished from our greater society’s psyche, and some (or all) of the downsides will no longer be downsides.

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EVs ExplainedFeatures

EVs Explained: Breaking down the five levels of autonomous driving technology

Hello again! No need for the triple-shot espresso and the phonebook-sized notepad, as today’s chapter of EVs Explained will be far more straightforward – I hope. Today’s field trip is through the ascending levels of autonomous driving and what goes into these purported self-driving cars. Let’s talk about what really defines each level of vehicle autonomy, what tech goes into them, and what examples of modern cars use such new-age technology.

Love or hate it, we’re entering a bold new world of strong independent vehicles that “don’t need no damn human,” and we’re peeking at what makes them tick. Or rather drive. 

Not so autonomous, not always electric.

Disclaimers before we kick off this first segment!

Take the use of “self-driving” and “autonomous cars” with a grain of salt, and treat them as umbrella terms. Oftentimes, such words just describe safety assists that aid in hustling you from Point A to Point B safely and conveniently. Many instances of what are considered levels of vehicle autonomy aren’t all that autonomous but more like watchful eyes, with the ratio of human-to-machine intervention shifting as we climb the ladder and add copious amounts of gadgets

Also, note that autonomous driving doesn’t solely encompass EVs. In fact, much of the tech used in self-driving cars debuted in ICE cars. But it’s becoming the more prominent medium through which automakers unveil these crown achievements because nothing says future more than everything-by-wire, spaceship noises, and range anxiety. 

Image credit: SAE International

Level 1: Driver assistance

The first stage in achieving autonomy is clearing that Level 1 hurdle, defined as semi-autonomous driver assistance that merely shares control with the driver and only to a mild extent. The electronic doo-dads exist as extra hands on deck, but you are still the ship’s captain. They’re helpers, guides, and advisors but ultimately cannot take full command. Examples include adaptive cruise control, parallel park, lane keep assist, and other useful gizmos along those lines, typically things that function off relatively basic camera and sensor-based systems.

Such gadgets have become commonplace in ordinary econoboxes over the past several years. For example, my dad’s mid-trim 2017 Toyota Tacoma had lane keep and adaptive cruise. And to be honest, they worked pretty damn well! Today, brands like Toyota and Subaru pride themselves on standard or easily available Level 1 systems like Safety Sense and Eyesight, respectively. More than a sales pitch, these systems are rapidly entering normality, now touted in just about anything, from top-shelf Mercedes and BMWs to Ford Mustangs and Subaru BRZs

Image credit: Toyota

Level 2: Partial automation

The next step sees improved competence with acceleration, steering, and braking based on integrated safety systems. Level 2 cars can follow lanes, come to complete stops, and accelerate to fairly lofty highway speeds. As such, Level 2 is informally dubbed a “hands-free” system. However, it’s important to know you shouldn’t take that literally, and company disclaimers will advise that drivers keep their hands on the wheel or at least be ready to resume control like a responsible adult. For instance, although the Acura Integra Type-S and MDX Type-S I previously sampled were not Level 2 cars, they did have self-lane-centering tech that almost felt as though the car could drive itself, but it’d always flash a warning at the driver every several seconds or so to return your hands to the wheel.

Oftentimes, these systems won’t take highway exits or traverse parking garages on your behalf, although some cars may be programmed to try some of those actions under your supervision. Many will at least initiate lane changes to pass slower traffic, which is kind of them. Helping guide Level 2 cars is a task that can call upon an assortment of visual cameras, radars, and other sensors to help navigate.

Original image credit: Storyset, Freepik

By SAE and NHTSA standards, Tesla’s Autopilot is a prime example of Level 2, as is GM Super Cruise and Ford BlueCruise. Cars such as the F-150 Lightning made BlueCruise famous following that truck’s expansive media coverage, as did the Cadillac CT6, Escalade, and Chevrolet Silverado for Super Cruise. Both Detroit-born systems have exponentially enhanced steering, braking, and adaptive cruise abilities beyond plain adaptive cruise control, arguably trumping Tesla Autopilot thanks to the added use of lidar, a.k.a. laser-based ranging, and GPS data. However, Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot (a feature of Enhanced Autopilot but not Full Self-Driving) isn’t as restricted and can be activated in many off-highway locations, far outside the reach of Ford and GM, even taking highway exits should the system find it feasible at the moment.

However, engineers place parameters to encourage driver intervention in the name of occupant safety and avoiding lawsuits. That first point is totally more important to the corporate suits, by the way. Such parameters often include geofencing and cameras that trace your head and eye positions to determine driver attentiveness. 

Or, when all else fails, they can just blame it on you. Sounds like my parents.

Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Level 3: Conditional automation

Behold the goalpost where many automakers strive to land, but only a few have hit the mark. NHTSA defines Level 3 as real self-driving, the point where the driving aid systems can take complete control of the vehicle. This fabled new height in technology expands upon the car’s newfound ability to steer, brake, and accelerate but does so across more environments and with more liberty, theoretically allowing these cars to embark on complete journeys independently. Of course, “independently” for Level 3 still means laying watchful eyes and being ready to shut down any robot-uprising nonsense.

Although many debate the true abilities of Tesla’s Full-Self Driving, I argue it could be touted as Level 3 autonomy, expanding heavily upon Autopilot. It certainly scoots from place to place, even if it has a taste for mortal blood, and tends to sail into its fellow machines from time to time. But alas, as of late December of 2023, it’s not SAE-certified as such. Being the first certified Level 3 autonomous cars in any U.S. state is an honor bestowed to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQS and their Drive Pilot system, even if it’s only in limited locations.

Impressive! But once again, I iterate that automakers necessitate driver overwatch, and the mighty Three-Pointed Star is no exception, even after earning its Good Noodle Star over its peers.

Image credit: Mercedes-Benz

Level 4: High automation

Careful, Icarus. Now we’re really flying high.

NHTSA defines Level 4 as a system where the car can command all aspects of driving to a point where human intervention is not always necessitated. The overarching Achilles’ heel connecting Level 4 to Level 2 and Level 3 is that they’re all limited to operating within certain boundaries, unable to drive on all roads or in all weather conditions without human backup. A Level 4 system can be geofenced or kept from activating in certain situations akin to lower-tier systems such as Super Cruise or BlueCruise, but it stands taller with greater control and refinement.

In essence, it can do more within a larger playpen and even correct mistakes without our help instead of self-canceling. That latter point is a major differentiator and why some companies opt to dive straight into Level 4 development rather than work on Level 3.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

So those pesky Germans may have beaten Elon’s fleet to Level 3 certification. But certainly, Level 4 is in the bag. Or so they’d think. Or so anyone would think, as Level 4 stands as the next big power play, with no current production cars certified for such technology. However, there being no certified vehicles doesn’t mean they’re not testing. And with all the work automakers put in to barely attain Level 2 and Level 3 certs, they’re being quite frank in saying it’d be a while until they set anything in stone. Mercedes claims the technology is “doable” by 2030, and Hyundai is currently testing Level 4 with Ioniq 5 mules.

Technically, if we’re counting any company and not just legacy automakers, Google’s Waymo project, now partnered with Uber, operates off what’s technically Level 4 autonomy. Their vehicles have been testing and operating as robo taxis in select cities for some time, seeing their fair share of successes and disasters in the process.

Level 5: Full automation

‘Tis the king of the hill that all auto manufacturers strive for, the stuff of video game fever dreams and sci-fi movie fantasies. Queue our inner Doug DeMuro voice.

THIS… is a true, fully self-driving car. “

Level 5 is defined as full automation or, as NHTSA paraphrases, “–system drives, you ride.” Here lies uninhibited vehicle autonomy with the most liberal use of self-driving functions, intended to be the ultimate riding experience for occupants. Manual controls are redundant, and driver attention monitors are banished to irrelevancy. The lack of restrictions, such as geofencing, separates Level 5 from the overprotective mom, called Level 4. This highest tier of autonomous vehicles leaves the nest to achieve true self-driving in nearly any condition and on any road. Human intervention is no longer necessary.

As you can imagine, nothing outside of Cyberpunk or Watch Dogs is certified as Level 5 autonomous, and reaching this realm will take a great deal of testing, refinement, and failsafe after failsafe. Those sci-fi visions of cars navigating gridlock without steering wheels or pedals are utopian examples of what a Level 5 car can be, and programming such cars to properly respond to every little variable in real-world driving will be a hell of a feat. But an engineer can dream. And should technology press on at the rate it’s going, it’s not a far-fetched delusion to believe Level 5 will be within our grasp. But I’ll give it until 2077. 

Image credit: Daniel Ramirez, Wikimedia Commons

Gather our eggs into one robo taxi.

Let’s take it from the top. Or rather, the bottom.

Level 1 is just boujee driver assistance. It’s a fairly basic and common system nowadays, imbuing many new cars with helpful nannies, including parking assist, adaptive cruise, lane keeping, and more. To learn more, please pester your local Toyota salesman. No, seriously. 

Level 2 refers to additional driver assistance by way of enhanced control over acceleration, braking, and steering. Not unrestricted, but it can take a huge load off your commute when under your watch. Many major car companies have introduced or have started introducing such systems, with Tesla’s Autopilot perhaps being the most famous (or infamous) of them all.

Level 3 equates to conditional automation, meaning the car can control itself to an even greater extent. Highway traversing or some urban jaunts are a non-issue for Level 3, so long as the driver is always at the ready to take back the helm when needed. Few cars taut Level 3, and even fewer are SAE-certified for it. 

Level 4 cars can almost care for themselves within reason and operate under a fairly strict set of parameters and in select environments. As such, drivers are optional but unnecessary, but manual control is always there as a safety net. Manufacturer testers and robo-taxi companies are currently fielding such tech.

Level 5 stands as the magnum opus autonomous vehicle engineers seek to create, a fully self-driving car with no limitations as to where it can go, completely writing the driver out of the equation. 

Image: Wikimedia Commons

It makes your head spin to think how far we’ve come, huh? From parking sensors to self-driving taxis parading the streets of major cities. Yes, as I’m sure you can infer by my subtle jabs, there’s no denying this is highly controversial and dangerous tech and certainly an injury lawyer’s dream come true. And sure, some manufacturers are far better at testing than others. But it’s admirable how all strive to tame this riveting new frontier, the stuff of childhood curiosity. The skepticism it sparked is well-deserved, but witnessing how this technology evolves as we lean deeper into the automotive industry’s most polarizing era incites just as much excitement.

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2024 Chevy Blazer EV interior
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The Blazer EV is having so many software problems, Chevy won’t sell you one

General Motors made the controversial decision to stop offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in new EVs, but it might be second-guessing that call now. Just as the first 2024 Chevrolet Blazer EVs started hitting the streets, well-documented troubles with the SUV’s software have led the automaker to issue a stop-sale while it develops a fix.

Chevy announced the stop-sale last Friday, with the automaker’s VP of global quality, Scott Bell, telling Automotive News, “We’re aware that a limited number of our customers have experienced software-related quality issues with their Blazer EV. Customer satisfaction is our priority, and as such, we will take a brief pause on new deliveries.”

Blazer EV owners will be contacted and can get a software update from a dealer to fix the problem. The problems first came to light through two publications’ experiences with the SUV, in which a journalist was stranded at a rural charging station. Edmunds published its account of long-term testing of the EV, noting that it had 23 problems with the vehicle. It said the Blazer EV had “the single longest list of major faults we at Edmunds have ever seen on a new car.”

GM’s decision to cut the massively popular phone interfaces was surprising but not entirely unexpected. Automakers have been salivating over the opportunity to charge subscription fees and generate revenue from in-vehicle technology interfaces, and its move to an in-house system would give it more control over that process. It will be interesting to see if GM sticks to its plan, however, as a vast number – 80% by Apple’s account – of new car buyers demand the features. Turning off buyers to generate a few dollars from a heated seat subscription seems like the wrong call, but here we are. 

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Chevrolet Blazer EV
News

Look out, EV tax credit rules will change… again

Surprise! The rules around federal EV tax credits are changing again, but this time, they make a little more sense despite there being even more churn in the eligibility of some models. Buyers will be able to apply the up to $7,500 federal tax credit at the point of sale in 2024, rather than waiting until year’s end to see the benefit. More than 7,000 dealers have signed up to dole out the benefits, but that’s only a fraction of the number of franchised dealerships in the country.

There are almost 17,000 dealers in the U.S., so there’s a lot of ground left to cover. It likely won’t be easy going, either, as thousands of dealers penned a letter to President Biden last month, asking him to pump the brakes on issuing new EV regulations. Some state dealer associations are actively working against local regulation changes, with some creating elaborate anti-EV campaigns.

Dealers have to register with the IRS to issue the credits, but registration has only been open since November 1, so there’s still time for more to sign on. The changes could make buying a new EV significantly less expensive. New EVs are eligible for up to $7,500, and used models can net a $4,000 credit, but the rules have become stricter on which vehicles qualify.

General Motors is one automaker that will be affected by the new rules in January, as two of its latest models are expected to temporarily lose credits due to component sourcing locations. The automaker plans to correct the issue and requalify the Cadillac Lyriq and Chevrolet Blazer EV, saying that it expects to have them back into compliance early in 2024. 

Chevrolet Blazer EV
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

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News

Following DMV false advertising accusations, Tesla is recalling almost every vehicle it’s sold in the U.S.

To say Tesla’s driver assistance features are polarizing would be a massive understatement. The company has been under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) since 2016 because so many people died that there’s a whole website dedicated to tracking fatalities. Cool! Now, literally one day after the LA Times reported that the DMV is taking Tesla to court over the alleged false advertising of its limited autonomous capabilities as “Full-Self Driving,” nearly every vehicle it’s sold in the U.S. is being recalled.

All Tesla models equipped with Autosteer are affected by the recall, including the 2012-2023 Model S, 2017-2023 Model 3, 2016-2023 Model X, and 2020-2023 Model Y.  The feature is supposed to assist with steering by detecting lane markers and other vehicles, but the recall states that it doesn’t have the proper safeguards in place to prevent misuse.

“In certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse of the SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance feature.” For reference, Level 2 systems provide steering and brake/acceleration support but require driver attentiveness and a readiness to take control at any time. Adaptive cruise control with lane centering is considered a Level 2 system, which is where most automakers have landed with the tech for now.

Tesla will issue an over-the-air software update to remedy the issue and said that owners will start seeing the update after December 12, while some models won’t get the fix until later on. The automaker said it had received nine warranty claims related to the issue. Still, the NHTSA’s investigation opened in late 2021 to examine eleven crashes involving stationary first responder vehicles and Teslas with Autopilot engaged.

While this recall should improve the safety of Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving systems, the fact remains that calling something “Autopilot” or “Full Self-Driving” is almost sure to cause confusion. Neither system can functionally drive the vehicle without a human’s supervision and input, and we’re still years away from anything even slightly resembling a self-driving car. 

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