Automobile

Jaguar Land Rovers Will Sport Safety Software

Jaguar Land Rover has been working on some new tricks for its latest models, taking safety features to a luxury level by finding ways to equip newer models with software that will sense and alert drivers not only of dangerous situations on the road, but of silly blunders that might just ruin the driver’s day.

jag blablaFor example, the British luxury brand is currently working on a new technology called Overhead Clearance Assist, a specialized software for absent-minded drivers that might have forgotten that they have a kayak or bike on their roof rack and are now attempting to enter a parking garage or drive beneath a low-handing branch.

German supplier Bosch collaborated with Jaguar Land Rover to develop OCA, and they already have a running prototype at their UK proving grounds in Gaydon. Those who have sampled the new feature have appreciated its simplicity and practicality. The software repurposes hardware that JLR models are already equipped with, tidily adding functionality without adding cost or weight or taking up space.

This is done by using the stereo camera that’s mounted top, dead center on the windshield. The stereo camera is usually meant for lane-departure-warning purposes as well as emergency auto brake and road-sign-recognition; in order to make sure that a vehicle has substantial overhead clearance, the camera simply scans the road about 100 feet in front of the vehicle for any possible obstructions. The system can then measure how tall the potential obstructions are and compare that to the vehicle’s height, warning the driver if necessary.

As the technology currently stands, Overhead Clearance Assist requires that the driver know the height of his or her vehicle and input that number into the central infotainment touchscreen. That means the owner must also remember to use and set up the system in the first place, implying a level of being on top of it that is generally enough to remember not to drive under short things with something strapped onto the top of your car. Once the system is more automated, it may be able to help the more absent-minded of us, who would not only forget not to drive into a tunnel with a kayak strapped to the top of our car but also would forget to set up the overhead clearance assist feature.

chimchiPerhaps the most useful setting for this feature is actually in an off-roading experience. OCA can recognize low-hanging branches and overhead rocky outcroppings an compare them to the height of your car, alerting you if you may need to change directions. While it remains an independent function, it’s likely to become a common addition to sensor-based features in luxury cars with other high-tech safety features. OCA can easily be tied onto a vehicle’s auto-brake and lane-changing systems. Considering some Land Rovers are equipped with variable-height air suspensions, the system could potentially automatically lower the chassis to clear objects if it’s a close call. That kind of technology would be at the level of smart car originally only inhabited by Inspector Gadget’s car.

Are Cars Keeping the Radio from Technological Extinction?

While most entertainment media tends to fly out of date at the speed of technological advancement (breakneck in our internet era), somehow the average person has maintained a long-standing relationship with radio, a media platform that has remained relevant for an astounding 80 years. What makes it possible for radio to live on in a digital age?

pandMany people attribute radio’s longevity to the automobile. Drivers like to listen to the news and pre-mixed music while they drive, and though satellite and digital radio do threaten to kill land-based FM and AM (and autonomous vehicles threaten the existence of all forms of radio), if the past is any indicator, radio will live on far into the future.

Pew Research Center recently released a report that found that the number of Americans listening to online radio (from Pandora to Google Play Music) has doubled since 2010. Smartphones make tuning in that much easier, and many cars now have infotainment systems that also enable online radio listeners to easily access their favorite stations. In fact, that same study found that 35% of American adult smartphone owners listen to online radio in the car, which is up from 21% in 2013 and up even more substantially from 6% in 2010.

While radio forms have proliferated in the past decade, good old-fashioned FM remains relevant in even the youngest millennials’ lives; Pew reported that its study in 2014 found that 91% of Americans ages 12 and older had listened to AM/FM radio in the week before they were surveyed.

That said, many are feel that it’s time to phase out of FM; UK Culture Minister Ed Vaizy believes that the UK will soon grow tired of FM and hopes to double the amount of local digital transmitters in the country within the next two years. The Minister has also voiced intentions to double the amount of digital radio-equipped vehicles by 2017.

While that kind of progress would likely spell the end of FM, it’s much less likely that internet radio will die out anytime soon. The expansion and development of the cloud allows it to connect the internet with many major appliances in our lives, and people will likely find internet radio as accessible as FM when they’re driving.

car stereoAccording to Sirius XM, one of the global leaders in satellite radio services, has revealed that currently 75% of the new cars in America come factory-installed with Sirius XM. Sirius hopes to double the amount of cars equipped with its satellite radio propensity by 2025, which would bring the company to about 185 million vehicles.

“I joined the company in 2004 when it had 600,000 subscribers,” stated Patrick Reilly, now Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at Sirius XM. “Now we have more than 30 million, despite the growth of streaming competitors and the advent of the connected car.”

“I was recently talking to a few automotive senior managers that are now seriously looking into [for example] providing a Spotify flat rate with purchase of a new car,” said Chris Fangmann, Director and CTO of Global Manufacturing Industry at IT firm CSC. Fandmann says Spotify is another popular iteration of digitized radio services.

 

Musk Expects Apple Car by 2020

According to Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, Apple Inc. is likely to become a major competitor in the electric vehicle industry as soon as 2020.

Musk claimed that Apple will “probably make a good car and be successful,” at the Code Conference on Wednesday. He went on to state that “They should have embarked on [the car] project sooner.”

elon muskJust last fall, various media outlets reported that Apple would be developing an electric car with the intentions of shipping it in 2019. A “ship date” is a bit of an ambiguous deadline that could mean anything from the time when engineers sign off on a project to when that project is finished. Apple has yet to confirm directly that it is currently working on a car.

“It’s great [Apple is] doing this, and I hope it works out,” continued Musk, which incited many audience members to laugh. Musk explained that his market will be large enough for many competitors to find success simultaneously. He also predicted that many more traditional auto makers would become more competitive in electric vehicle markets, while Google would likely not make cars itself but instead license its technology to others.

“I don’t think any of the car companies have made a great electric vehicle, yet,” Musk stated. Mr. Musk has shared that he has plans to discuss Tesla’s plans in autonomous vehicles but is not yet ready to enter into that conversation. He repeated that Tesla has received somewhere around 400,000 preorders for the upcoming Model 3, which will cost somewhere around $35,000 (other media outlets have guessed prices as high as $40,000). Mr. Musk hopes to make half a million cars by 2018 and one million cars a year by 2020.

Musk made a whole host of predictions during his speech, but perhaps the most exciting of all was his prediction that fully autonomous vehicles will be technically possible within the next two years. He added that regulators will take an additional year to approve of such broad use of unprecedented technology in public spaces.

spacex rocketMusk is not just the CEO of Tesla. He also is the founder and chief executive of rocket maker Space Exploration Technologies Corporation. Musk has reiterated plans to send a rocket to Mars as soon as 2018 and a manned rocket to the red planet as soon as 2024. The rocket will hopefully arrive by 2025. Musk promised to announce more in a space conference in September.

Finally, Musk announced his plans to relaunch one of the rockets that he successfully landed after takeoff. He said that the launch should be expected to occur within the next couple of months. Musk is attempting to develop a rocket that can be reused because, as he has often explained, most of the costs of space travel are made up of the costs of creating the rockets themselves. His rockets cost around $35 million each.

One of the most notable things about Elon Musk is his ambition to retire and ultimately die on Mars. “If you’re going to choose where to die, then Mars is not a bad choice,” he has famously stated.

Smart Cars and Insurance

Autonomous car technology continues to proliferate in current models and make headlines in terms of what we can expect in the future, but how will this affect car insurance? Last year was the first year that premiums went up after what was a several-year streak of declines, but drivers may not have to deal with the disappointment long term.

Insurer Swiss Re and technology group Here have claimed that car insurance premiums will likely undergo major decreases due to automatic crash-avoidance systems being built into cars and reducing the likelihood of impacts. According to the two companies, premiums in the 14 largest car markets in the world can be expected to drop by margins around $20 billion by 2020.

aeb2And the effects of autonomous driving technology on insurance are already becoming apparent. For example there are two different versions of a currently available model of the Ford Focus. One has an automatic braking system that can sense if there is risk of an impact, and the other does not. The difference in insurance quotes between the two cars can span as much as a third according to a survey conducted by The Observer. 

This difference is only becoming more apparent. Just in 2015 alone, 1.5 million new cars came with self-activating safety systems like collision warning and technology that ensures that drivers stay in the right lane. This is a significant number of vehicles; here were only 2.63 million new cars registered in 2015 all together. The new technologies are meant to make driving both easier and safer, reducing the risk of accidents that comes with driving and hopefully eventually reducing insurance premiums along with the risk.

One of the most crucial safety features to be commonly found in new cars is autonomous emergency braking or AEB. AEB uses laser, radar and camera to stop a car automatically if there is risk of a collision. The basic systems work at speeds up to 20 miles per hour. According to Thatcham Research, motor insurers’ automotive research center, three out of every four accidents happens at speeds under 25 miles per hour.

While many different auto makers have created such systems for their newer models, they tend to go by different names. Volvo calls its AEB “City Safety,” Honda calls it the “City Brake Active System,” Ford calls it “Active City Stop” and Volkswagen calls it “City Emergency Braking.” Regardless of the name, the technology tends to be basically the same.

aeb3According to a study conducted in 2015 by Euro NCAP and Australasian NCAP, both of which are international bodies that assess car safety, AEB has brought down collision rates by somewhere around 38 percent. Insurance claims have consequently been reduced on vehicles outfitted with AEB, and insurers are starting to offer discounts to drivers with said vehicles.

Thatcham Research has released an estimate that a car’s insurance might be lowered up to 10 percent due to being equipped with AEB and other autonomous safety technology. It remains to be seen whether this makes up for the cost of implementing the technology, but it’s impossible to put a price on increased safety.

EV Sales Indicate Current Trends

While last March may have broken records in terms of plug-in sales, April reports show steady results as well.

The two top market contenders? As usual, the electric vehicles that the data indicate are beings old in the highest volumes are the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and the Nissan Leaf batter-electric hatchback.

chevy voltThe Volt was drastically redesigned for its 2016 iteration, but sold only in particular regions. Now its becoming available as a 2017 model all across the country, and its deliveries last month were 1,983. That’s 118 up from March, when it sold 1,865. The four-month total sales for the Chevy Volt number 5,940, making this period the highest selling period for the Volt ever. If the Volt can keep up this pace, the total number of Volts delivered will cross the 100,000 mark over this upcoming summer; for an electric vehicle, this is a major achievement.

The Nissan Leaf didn’t quite sell at Volt numbers, but it sold enough to make a name for itself among the successful electric vehicles of our times. The 2017 model got a range boost from its predecessor, graduating from 84-miles combined to 107 miles, the increase owing largely to the more spacious 30-kilowatt-hour battery pack available in the SL and SV models.

April sales weren’t quite as robust as those of March for the 2017 Nissan Leaf; last month’s total numbered at only 787, whereas the month before it hit 1,246. Unfortunately for the Leaf, its four-month total of 3,718 is relatively modest when compared with its best period turnout; in 2013, the Nissan Leaf hit 7,272.

The elephant in the room (Tesla) ought to be addressed, as the ambitious EV manufacturer is never far from the mind when plug-ins are discussed. Tesla Motors refuses to break out its sales of Model S and Model  luxury electric cars by either month or region, so it’s impossible to compare its sales with those of its EV competitors.

bmw i3Also in the running is the BMW i3; its recent sales have diminished in light of the company’s preparation to release a longer-range 2017 version, but that doesn’t diminish the allure of an electric BMW. Ford is also sporting a pair of Energi plug-in hybrid models that will likely attract some attention and buyers.

Not to be forgotten is the Volkswagen e-Golf, which managed to grow in sales substantially during the latter half of 2015. While things looked promising in December, the model’s sales have since dropped down to significantly lower numbers, to the point that the e-Golf isn’t quite in the running anymore in terms of sheer volume. Whether this is due in part to the Volkswagen scandal is up for debate.

That said, the Audi A3 e-tron hasn’t lost much of its competitive edge amidst all the controversy. Its April sales brought its year-to-date total to 1,228, putting the model in good standing as a 2016 high roller.

Many EV automakers that don’t quite have the numbers in terms of volume have seen significant growth of plug-in sales in terms of percentages. The trend towards EVs may still be fighting an uphill battle, but it seems to be gaining momentum.

Global Efforts to Combat Car Smog

Unfortunately for major metropolitan areas, smog from automotive carbon emissions can and is a major public health issue around the world. From Beijing to Delhi to Mexico City to Milan, metropolitan officials have to take into consideration the best way to curb pollution issues without hampering city-wide transportation.

sarejevo smogThere was a day in Milan last December when bicyclists had city streets to themselves as a result of a six-hour ban on private cars implemented by city officials in response to a persistent smog that had pervaded the metropolitan area. Milan is Italy’s business capital, and had at the time exceeded pollution levels considered healthy for over 30 days straight. Private car and motorcycle drivers respected the ban, finding common ground across cultural boundaries in the need for clean air.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzogovina dealt with auto-related smog in December by simply asking that private drivers use their vehicles as little as possible and instead adopt alternate means of transportation like biking and public transportation. Residents were also discouraged from spending extra time outdoors, with a particular emphasis on avoiding morning and evening hours. Red Cross workers and other volunteers also handed out face masks to residents who wanted or needed to move around outdoors despite the smog warning.

At the time, the air pollution in Sarajevo was so severe that authorities were forced to shut down schools and prompt an early winter break. The mountain city is prone to heavy fog, which can turn into smog in times of high carbon emission and little wind.

In Beijing that same December, city officials were moved to issue two smog-related red alerts. In China, red alerts are prompted by air quality index being forecasted to exceed 200, which is a level considered globally to be heavily polluted, for at least three consecutive days. 200 is seen as a very high level of air pollution across the world, but unfortunately Beijing has recorded air quality levels well over 900.

new delhi smogBeijing has attempted to enforce a variety of traffic restrictions in response to its highly problematic air quality. It has attempted to use including a number licence-plate system to force private car owners to alternate their daily access to public roadways, but unfortunately these regulations are often circumvented by people who cover their real license plates with fake ones or use license plates bought or borrowed in other cities.

In the Iranian capital of Tehran, smog has been considered a major issue among city officials. Tehran’s 14 million residents were warned to stay indoors whenever possible during December of 2015, schools were closed, and soccer matches were postponed in response to dangerously low air quality that in turn is a consequence of the widespread use of outdated vehicles, inadequate infrastructure and inconsistent enforcement of carbon emissions regulations. Tehran copes with similar issues as Sarejevo in that it is surrounded by mountains and blocked from cleansing winds.

New Delhi was named the most polluted city in 2014 and temporarily banned the sale of large diesel vehicles while creating stiff levies on trucks entering New Delhi. Trucks over 10 years old have been banned entirely from the quickly growing metropolis.

Europe’s Auto Industry is On the Rise

According to recent studies, new car sales within the European Union leaped ahead around 14% just in February. This is thought to be helped in party by the extra sales day made possible by the leap year, though some auto executives have been quick to caution that full-year growth may be a bit more modest, despite the fact that volumes seem to be headed back to precrisis levels.

car dealershipLast moth’s 14 percent boost build on a general growth of almost 10 percent in 2015 throughout the European Union. That said, the EU remains well below the annual highs reached before and around 2007, before the economic crisis hit. Also, it’s worth nothing that China and the U.S., which boast the world’s two largest car markets, have continued to grow this year as well, though not at rates that quite match that of Europe.

Some countries are also fairing better than others. Italy’s sales are up 27 percent and led double-digit gains in Europe’s biggest auto markets including that of France, Germany, and Spain. Market growth in the United Kingdom was remarkable if not as dramatic as some of its neighbors; it clocked in at somewhere around an 8.4 percent growth. All European countries underwent some kind of auto market growth with the exception of the Netherlands and Greece.

The continued auto market growth of Germany despite the enormous recalls that have occurred as a result of the VW scandal is somewhat surprising.

Although these surges are promising, it’s important to note that Italy closed out last year still about 40 percent below its 2007 levels. The way that the financial crisis curtailed consumer spending across southern Europe has been slowly ameliorating, but complete recovery remains a far-off goal for most European countries. Spain has 60 percent of its market to make up, while France is doing significantly better and is only about 7 percent behind its 2007 market levels. Combined, Italy Spain and France closed 2015 with 2 million in vehicle sales less than their precrisis highs, and Italy accounted for about half of that.

peugoetThis is why most auto executives are expecting a more modest advance of about 2 or 3 percent throughout the year despite the European market’s exciting showing in February and 10 percent growth in the first two months of the year. Despite the gains that have been made over the past two years, volumes of new cars registered in Europe closed 2015 about 12 percent below the peak that was reached in 2007, a sign seen as more indicative of the car buying trends within Europe than the potential fluke of these first two months.

“In 2016, we foresee a 3% increase in the car market but we must not forget that the crisis caused a loss of 3 million [in car sales],” stated Alfredo Altavilla, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Chief Operating Officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa in an email.

Other analysts are even more caution. IHS Automotive, for example, predicts that sales will only grow around 1.4% this year in Western Europe. That accounts for nearly 90 percent of the EU’s total volume. Even at a much more optimistic 3 percent growth (which is forecast by most execs), Europe remains about five years away from reaching its precrisis levels.

US Authorities Request VW Make Electric Cars

vwIt was hard to miss the VW scandal in the late half of 2015; Volkswagen was forced to admit to creating car software that allowed their diesel cars to cheat on emissions tests. The cars would realize when they were being tested, operate based on a different set of standards that allowed for them to pass the test, and then reset to their original settings.

To give an idea of the scope of this scandal, Volkswagen has announced that over one million vehicles have been equipped with this cheating software… in the UK alone. Around the world, millions of cars are fit for recall.

A study conducted by scientists funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered the software issue, and now US authorities are asking VW to produce electric vehicles in the United States as a way to partially make up for the illegal emissions being released into the air and potentially save some face as a brand within the country.

According to German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, the EPA is currently holding meetings with Volkswagen regarding the company’s ability to produce electric vehicles at the VW plant centered in Chattanooga, Tennessee as well as its ability to set up a network of charging stations for electric vehicles in the United States.

Because a lot of VW models are already equipped with electric or hybrid motors, it’s not an enormous stretch to ask the company to take this turn in its business model. However, the amount of details that would need to be ironed out to make this work are of course, enormous.

“Talks with the EPA are ongoing and we are not commenting on the contents and state of the negotiations,” stated a VW spokesman. The EPA also declined to comment.

This coming April, VW is set to present its final report on the crisis to the law firm Jones Day.

Just to put a real number to the assault VW has conducted upon the world with its misleading products: according to Volkswagen, 11 million cars worldwide have the “defeat device” or cheating software.

vw gold“We’ve totally screwed up,” stated VW America boss Michael Horn when the scandal hit the media. The group’s chief executive at the time of the scandal, Martin Winterkorn, acknowledged that his company had “broken the trust of our customers and the public.” Winterkorn resigned after the scandal and was replaced by Matthias Mueller, former CEO of Porsche.

“My most urgent task is to win back trust for the Volkswagen Group- by leaving no stone unturned,” Mueller stated upon taking up his new post.

Perhaps this productive punishment could be better for everyone; after all, the United States needs more electric car infrastructure and VW needs some way to regain the trust and appreciation of its American (and global) markets. It could be that this opportunity is actually a way for the somewhat antiquated company to get a leg up on the burgeoning electronic car market that other major manufacturers like Ford and General Motors are racing to get a piece of.

What is a Rotary Engine?

When you hear the term “rotary engine,” think of an internal combustion engine like the engine in most cars, but with a unique twist.

Your car (which we’re assuming is not completely electric) most likely uses a piston engine. Integral to the piston engine is the cylinder, where the intake, compression, combustion and exhaust processes happen. Intake involves taking in the fuel, compression involves mixing the fuel with the appropriate amount of air, combustion involves burning the air and exhaust involves getting rid of the unnecessary byproducts of the chemical reaction responsible for making your car move.

rotary engine2In a rotary engine, all these four processes still occur, but not within one cylindrical housing. Instead, each process occurs in its own part of the housing. It’s kind of like having four cylinders, each of which is dedicated to one of the four jobs. The piston then moves continuously from one cylinder to the next.

The rotary engine design was thought up by engineer Dr. Felix Wankel, prompting it to be called a Wankel engine or Wankel rotary engine.

Ok so back to basics: Much like a piston engine, Wankel or rotary engines need to create pressure by combining air and fuel and the burning that combination. Piston engines contain that pressure in the cylinder and then forces pistons to move back and forth. The pistons are connected to rods and crankshafts which then turn the piston motion into rotational motion that forces the wheels to roll.

In a rotary motion, the pressure of combustion is contained in a chamber that is sealed by one face of a triangular rotor, which takes the place of the pistons. The rotor is in motion in such a way that each of its three peaks are always in contact with the housing, creating three separate volumes of gas. As the rotor moves around the chamber, each of the three volumes of gas alternately expands and contracts. This expansion and contraction creates the vacuum that allows for air and fuel to enter the engine, the compression that allows for the appropriate amount of pressure to build up to the point of powering the car, and the expulsion that leads to the exhaust.

mazda rotary engineThe Maza RX-8 has a rotary engine and Mazda in general has been a pioneer in the production of rotary engines for consumer markets. The RX-7 hit the market back in 1978 and became likely the most widely sold rotary-engine car to date. Even before the RX-7, there had been the production of successful rotary-engine cars, trucks and busses since 1967.

Now the newer Mazda RX-8 (released circa 20011) has an award winning rotary engine called the RENESIS that won International Engine of the Year. It had a naturally aspirated, two-rotor engine that produced 250 horsepower, making it truly a one-of-a-kind vehicle.

So who knows, maybe rotary engines will be the way of the future. It’s worth considering that the Mazda RX-8 gets about 16 mpg in the city and 23 in the highway, so if the rotary engine doesn’t offer fuel efficiency there may not be a place for it in our future.

 

Overview of Internal Combustion Engines

Internal combustion engines burn fuel inside of them. In a car engine, this fuel is generally gasoline. The gasoline is ignited, the fuel releases energy and the energy moves the car.

This is by far the most common method by which an internal combustion engine works, but there are other methods. For example, diesel engines and gas turbine engines function slightly differently. We’ll get more into that later.

Just know that the reason internal combustion engines have been all the rage for so long is that they’re so efficient; a relatively small engine and use a relatively small amount of fuel to create rapid motion in large, heavy machines.

spark ignitionInternal combustion engines can be sorted into many different categories: spark ignition engines run off of petrol or gasoline, while compression ignition engines run off of diesel. These engines can each be further characterized into 2-stroke or 4-stroke engines. Then there are rotary and reciprocating engines. Rotary engines involve a rotor that rotates inside the engine to produce power. Reciprocating engines have a piston that reciprocate within a cylinder. The reciprocating motion of the piston is then converted into the rotary motion of the vehicles wheels, allowing them to spin and the car to move. Automobiles generally use reciprocating engines, which are the most common type of engines.

So to double back, reciprocating engines are those that can be classified into two types, the afore mentioned spark ignition and compression ignition engines. “Reciprocating engine” has actually become synonymous with internal combustion engines.

Spark ignition engines burn fuel by generating a spark with the spark plug located in the cylinder head of the engine.

Compression ignition engines burn fuel by exerting high amounts of pressure on the fuel. Once the pressure exceeds a certain point, the fuel begins to burn. This is easiest to perform on diesel engines.

Now for the difference between two stroke and four stroke engines: if an engine is “two-stroke” it implies that for every two strokes of the piston inside the cylinder, the fuel is burnt. In other words, for every single rotation of the wheel, the fuel burns. Four-stroke engines burn fuel of revery four strokes of the piston inside the cylinder, meaning that each time the fuel is burnt there are two rotations of the wheels of the vehicle. Think of the stroke as the distance traveled by the piston inside the cylinder i.e. the length of the cylinder.

compression ignitionAs you would assume, a 4-stroke engine is more fuel efficient than a 2-stroke engine because it rotates the vehicle’s wheels twice for every time the 2-stroke engine rotates the wheels once. However, 4-stroke engines are never actually twice as fuel efficient as 2-stroke engines; generally there are other hiccups along the way when it comes to combusting the fuel and converting that energy into movement that don’t enable perfect efficiency in 4-strokes, but it’s still better than 2-stroke.

That’s all for now, hope you enjoyed learning about internal combustion engines and feel free to comment!