Cars & Technology of the Future

Cars & Technology of the Future

vw-e-Golf, all electric

VW’s glimpse of the future

What’s Coming in Cars; Some Is Already Here

The fifth annual “Future Cars, Future Technology” event put on by the Western Automotive Journalists’ association on Oct. 17, offered several glimpses of the future. You could drive a prototype electric Volkswagen Golf, due to go on sale next year, or hear an executive from the California Air Resources Board predict that future pickup trucks would be powered by fuel cells. Or you could hear that according to Stanford’s Dr. Sven Beiker we don’t really know what distraction is so figuring out how to deal with it is going to be more complicated than simply banning texting.

The symposium, sponsored by Club Auto Sport, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Fiat, Ford, General Motors, Kia, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen, started with a hands-on view of the divergent paths that the auto world is currently taking. In the parking lot available for driving evaluations were five different approaches to the automotive future:

  • Pure electric cars, which were represented by the prototype e-Golf, Chevy Spark EV, Fiat 500e and Ford Focus Electric.
  • Plug-in hybrids represented by the Ford C-Max Energi.
  • Hybrids were represented by the Kia Optima Hybrid and VW Jetta Hybrid.

    Kia,Optima Hybrid,future cars

    The Kia Optima Hybrid attracted a crowd

  • Diesels representing by a Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, VW Passat TDI and a second Passat TDI running on Solazyme’s SolaDiesel renewable diesel. The latter showcases a biofuel path that would replace petroleum diesel or gasoline with a bio-based fuel that would present a greener carbon footprint as well as reduced emissions.
  • Advanced technology gasoline vehicles were represented by the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander, which, in addition to offering more than 30 mpg in a seven-passenger SUV, has adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and forward collision mitigation. The latter technology will alert the driver of an impending crash and apply the brakes if the driver fails to.
  • Missing from the collection of cars and trucks was a fuel cell vehicle. Although that technology path was not present, Toyota and other manufacturers have said they would have vehicles on sales by 2015.

Automotive Electronics/Smartphones & Cars

The technology suite found in the Mitsubishi in the ride-and-drive provided a good segue to the first panel of program, which featured Dr. Beiker and Ford Silicon Valley Lab leader T.J.  Giuli discussing new electronic systems in automobiles and whether they are making vehicles safer or less safe by introducing new sources of distraction.

The two agreed that the path forward with electronics was not clear, which consumers expecting more connectivity and technology in cars and automakers challenged to keep up because of the short product cycle for electronics compared to automobiles. “How do we keep up?” Giuli mused. But he added that new features such as AppLink promise to bring smartphone applications seamlessly in the car. Beiker suggested that maybe it was a matter of car companies needing to “explain to consumers what they need” because the market pull at the present was stronger than the technology push.

The vision of an autonomous, self-driving car, while technically feasible now, is still at least a decade away from practical use, according to the panelists.

Zero/Near-zero Emission Cars

Later, discussion turned to powertrains and fuels of the future with Dr. Alberto Ayala, deputy executive officer of the California Air Resources Board (CARB); Dave Barthmuss, group manager, environment, energy & policy communications for General Motors; and Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The three were challenged to give a view of where the automotive world is headed and what we might be driving as cars move toward the 2025 goal of 54.5 mpg.

Dr. Ayala said “we know the path” we have to take in California to reach state emissions goals; it involves decarbonizing energy and fuels and boosting efficiency in vehicles. “We need to get to zero/near-zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs), which means battery electrics and fuel cells.” The challenge now is to incentivize the market and generate consumer interest in the cars that will help the state reach its goals, he added.


Future Cars Panel

In CARB’s view by 2040 every new car sold has to be a zero emission vehicle and by 2050 the state expects 90 percent of the cars on the road to be ZEVs. The other challenge is to get drivers to reduce the number of miles they drive.

Hwang said the auto industry faces an “innovate or die” situation. High oil prices have radically reshaped the world of the automobile in his view and he sees auto companies changing and adapting to this new world. According to Hwang’s assessment, the industry is making good progress toward the 54.5 mpg goals. He cited a University of Michigan study that found industry fuel economy at an all-time high last year at 29.8 mpg. He also noted that California expects to have 30,000 electric cars registered by the end of 2013, which is about 50 percent higher than had been predicted.

Barthmuss noted that with the introduction of the Cadillac ELR early next year GM will have three electric vehicles on the market – it will join the similar Chevy Volt extended-range EV and the Chevy Spark EV. “We’ve bet the farm on electrification,” he said, noting this is “not a moonshot.”  In addition to its electric moves, GM is pursuing a “no silver bullet” approach, introducing stop-start on its high-volume Malibu model this year, adding a bi-fuel gas-CNG Impala model and bumping up fuel economy on vehicles from its full-size pickups to the Corvette (which now gets 29 mpg on the highway).

But he also offered a cautionary note on fuel cells. During his company’s recent Project Driveway that put 100 fuel cell-powered Equinox SUVs in consumer hands, they were limited to two zip codes for distribution of the vehicles because of a lack of infrastructure. Along with limited infrastructure issues, Barthmuss also said his optimism for the future is tempered by the challenge of driving the market in the direction of efficiency.

In questions about the potential trade-offs between focusing on reducing both criteria pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, Ayala admitted that “we want to have our cake and eat it too,” but he held out that the CARB standards (and the federal ones as well) are performance-based so they don’t favor any specific technology and will allow for potential new technology in the future.

Challenged on how large, work-oriented vehicles like full-size pickup trucks (which represent some of the best-selling vehicles in the country) could become zero emission vehicles, Ayala speculated that adding fuel cell technology could be one path industry could take to reach the ZEV goal. He also noted that the lack of hydrogen fueling infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles was being addressed by the state through recent legislation that guaranteed funding for enough stations to support the initial introduction of the vehicles.

To sum up the day-long program and paraphrase the philosopher Heraclitus, the only thing constant about the future will be change. The 100-plus year-old auto industry is heading into uncharted territory as it grapples with change inside and out of the vehicle. Electronic technology promises to radically alter the interaction of the driver and vehicle, even as the propulsion technology and fuel shifts to new ground and, in some cases, necessitating new lifestyles. One thing is clear, “Future Cars, Future Technology” will be an ever-changing topic for years to come.

For more on these subjects, please check out:

California helps Drivers Plug In

Electric Car Deals May Threaten Segment’s Future

Top 10 Markets for Electric Cars

Test Drive: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Test Drive: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Subaru-XV Crosstrek-big MPG-AWD-SUV

XV Crosstrek – small SUV, big MPG

By Lynne Hall and Larry E. Hall

Subaru has long stood by the horizontally opposed engine to power its cars. While proven to be reliable, it has a reputation for just so-so fuel economy.

That’s changed of late – as evidenced by the all-new 2013 XV Crosstrek’s inclusion in the All-Wheel Drive 30 MPG Club – with 33 mpg highway, 25 mpg city and a combined rating of 28 mpg when equipped with a continuous variable transmission (CVT). Choose the manual shifter and fuel economy drops to 30 highway/23 city/26 combined.

Not familiar with the Crosstrek? It’s the result of a successful formula Subaru has used before: Take a core vehicle, alter the bones, jack up the suspension, add some body cladding and, viola, a new model. In this case, the donor car is the Impreza hatchback, also a member of the 30 MPG Club.

Impreza’s DNA is apparent in the Crosstrek’s profile, but from there the car takes off in a different direction. No other Subaru has the same grille or bumpers and the front A pillars are moved forward by 7.9 inches compared with the Impreza. This not only improves cabin space, it adds athleticism to the look.

While length and track width (distance between the wheels) have been increased, the wheelbase has been shortened.

The most notable, visual difference between the two cars is ground clearance, which has been cranked up three inches to 8.7 inches. Throw in muscular fender flares, along with dramatic 17-inch alloy wheels, and the Crosstek becomes an open invitation to travel farther once the highway ends.

Lynne says …

In our northwest corner of the country, motorists embraced Subarus back when quirky wasn’t hip. We, along with buyers in New England and Rocky Mountain states, knew for years that Subaru’s all-wheel-drive cars and wagons offered superior traction – not just on snowy roads, but on any slippery or uneven surface.

And that decision in 1994 to morph the Legacy wagon into the “world’s first sport utility wagon” and call it Outback? Brilliant, as consumers in all three markets flocked to dealers.

Since then, Subaru has perfected the recipe for creating a new model from an existing one, and I think the XV Crosstrek is their best yet.

As much as I liked the Outback, I thought the lower body cladding was a little over the top, almost garish. Conversely, Crosstrek stylists used restraint and added just the right amount of muscularity with the fender flares. Also, the wider track, added length and shorter wheelbase result in balanced proportions.

Compared with the small crossover SUV sales leaders – Ford Escape, Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4 – the Crosstrek has the look of a sport utility that wants to get out of town. It says, “Hey, throw a couple mountain bikes or camping gear in the back and lets get a little dirty, maybe even muddy.”

And it backs up that invitation with ground clearance that’s more generous than the Jeep Grand Cherokee. While we couldn’t find time to do some semi-serious off roading, previous Subaru test drives have shown their ability to go just about anywhere short of rock crawling.

Crossteck’s well-laid-out interior follows Impeza. The cabin is minimal, but not Spartan, with durable soft-touch materials covering upper surfaces for comfort, and plastic on lower panels for easy cleaning. Switchgear arranged on the center stack and surrounding the steering column has a sturdy feel.

Seats, front and rear, fall into the comfortable category, and we found the space suitable for four adults, even if rear passengers were squeezed a bit for foot room. In case your passengers tend to be toddlers rather than adults, it’s easy to comfortably fit two front-facing car seats in the rear.

The 22 cubic feet behind the rear seat is more than adequate for a week’s worth of grocery shopping, and a standard waterproof cargo tray is a thoughtful feature. Rear seats are 60/40 split and fold almost flat, providing enough room for two mountain bikes.

In town behavior was standard Subaru – easy-to-drive, easy-to-park and easy to get in and out of. And the Crosstrek doesn’t miss a beat on the pavement, either. Agile and racy are not in its dictionary, but predictable, smooth and comfortable describe its on-road behavior.

Granted, 148 horsepower doesn’t sound like much these days – and it’s not – but it is adequate to the task of motivating the 3,087-pound Crosstek for 0 to 60 mph in a little more than nine seconds. Whenever editor/husband Larry expressed a want for a turbocharger, I gently reminded him that this little Subie was about fuel economy, not speed.

Our base Premium model’s engine was hooked up to a five-speed manual transmission, which offered clean gates and a comfortable, easily engaged clutch action. Looking at my notes, I had checked hill hold as my favorite feature – take your foot off the brake when stopped on a hill and the Crosstrek won’t roll backwards. I’m perplexed as to why more carmakers don’t have this feature.

Larry Says …

In 2005, Subaru made a move to present their automotive assets with style and content that would attract a broader audience. The company’s goal was to elevate their image to a “premium niche brand” – not a luxury brand,

Subaru-XV Crosstrek-mpg-SUV-functional

Crosstrek can take you trekking

but one consumers were willing to pay a higher price (for perceived quality and features like standard all-wheel drive).

The XV Crosstrek is sort of a step back. Not that quality has taken a back seat, but this little crossover SUV takes a simpler approach and isn’t quite as animated as the rest of the lineup. The upside to this is the Crosstrek offers a very good value proposition.

Consider: The entry 2014 Premium model starts at $23,820 including destination charges. It has an arm’s length of standard features including 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, full power accessories, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated front seats and mirrors, cruise control and air-conditioning. The six speaker audio system features a CD player, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a USB port and auxiliary jack.

Starting at $25,230, the step-up Limited version adds leather upholstery, automatic headlights, automatic climate control, a 4.3-inch LCD display and rearview camera.

A sunroof and a touchscreen navigation system are optional for both models.

Optional on the Premium and standard on the Limited is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that Subaru calls Lineartronic, and it’s a dandy. Instead of engine revs that race ahead of engine speed, the Lineartronic keeps engine and road speed in harmony. For Premium buyers, it’s well worth the $1,000 price considering the fuel economy gains versus the manual shifter.

While all-wheel drive is standard, the system differs depending on the choice of transmission. Without going into technical details, CVT models split torque 60/40 front to rear as the default, while the manual transmission system distributes torque 50/50. Both can direct torque to the wheels that slip to ensure traction.

Regardless of which model, the Crosstrek is available with one engine, a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed (“boxer”) four-cylinder engine. The boxer nickname comes from the way the pistons look when the engine is running – like a boxer throwing punches. And the punches this boxer throws are 148 horsepower and 145 pounds-feet of torque.

As for my wanting a turbocharger under the hood, that little more than nine seconds from 0 to 60 edges on Prius territory, not what I prefer when merging into fast traffic.

And yes, Lynne, the Crosstrek is about fuel economy and we did pretty good. Well, actually you did pretty good, since you were behind the wheel for most of the 192 miles during our week test drive. With about half of the miles driven on city streets we still managed to average the EPA estimated 26 mpg combined.

People buy Subarus for qualities other than glitz. The XV Crosstrek’s modest base price fetches the utility of a small wagon with a roomy cabin and cargo area that offers practicality and easy drivability. And it will meet the needs of those who prioritize fuel economy over performance, contributing a small roll in saving the planet while exploring it.

For more on this subject, check out:

2013 Ford Escape Road Test

Top 10 2014/2013 AWD/SUVs With the Best MPG

First Drive Toyota RAV4 EV

2013 Honda CR-V Road Test


40 Years of Fuel Economy: Govt & Industry

40 Years of Fuel Economy: Govt & Industry




MPG: 40 Years of Politics 
The past 40 years of our automobile’s fuel efficiency has been largely helped – and hurt by our government. Here we break down the past 4 decades of MPG ratings and how they were determined.

1970′s – Average MPG: 14

  • The oil price shock of the 1970′s pressured Congress to introduce CAFE standards in 1975.
  • This new law called for the doubling of passenger cars’ fuel economy to 27.5 MPG within the next 10 years.

1980′s – Average MPG: 27.5

  • Due to CAFE, vehicle efficiency increased steadily throughout the decade, hitting the required 27.5 MPG mark set by Congress.
  • Ford and GM lobbied Congress to lower the standard, to 26 MPG in 1986.
  • “We are about to put up a tombstone: “Here lies America’s energy policy.” – Chrysler Chairman Lee LaCocca

1990′s – Average MPG: 26

  • Senators Richard Bryan (D-Nev) and Slade Gorton (R-Wash) sponsored legislation that would raise fuel economy standards over 40% in the next decade.
  • The bill was filibustered on the Senate floor by Michigan senators. If it were to pass, the US would be saving over 1 million barrels of oil per day.
  • Congress then passed an anti-fuel economy rider that remained in effect from 1995 – 2000, barring the president from changing fuel economy standards.

2000′s – Average MPG: 25

  • Congress lifts the freeze on fuel economy in 2000, standards are raised on light trucks only by 2%.
  • In 2005, after 4 years of debate, Congress failed to increase the MPG standards.

2010′s – Average MPG: 27

  • New CAFE standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks are introduced, improving standards by 10-20% by 2018.
  • The EPA has raised standards for passenger cars to 54.5 MPG by 2025.

“This will be win, win, win; it will reduce reliance on oil, strengthen energy security and mitigate climate change.” -Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood


By Chris Piper

GM & Toyota Go Opposite Directions Pricing Their Plug-ins

GM & Toyota Go Opposite Directions Pricing Their Plug-ins

cadillac-elr-plug-in hybrid

Cadillac’s Pricey ELR

Cadillac ELR Starts High; Toyota Prius Plug-in Gets Lower

This week saw two of the largest auto companies in the world going two different ways when it comes to pricing their showcase plug-in electric cars. General Motors announced that it would price its extended-range electric Cadillac ELR at $75,995 when it goes on sale in January 2014. In contrast, the same week Toyota announced that it was dropping the price on its 2014 Prius Plug-in, which it considers the epitome of its current offerings. Price drops ranged from $2,000 on the base model to $4,620 on the Advanced version. With the price reduction, the Prius Plug-in now has a starting price before government incentives just north of $30,000.

The contrast couldn’t be more stark. GM, which recently announced a price drop on the technically similar (to the ELR) Chevy Volt of $5,000 to drop its base price below $35,000. The price drop was announced for the 2014 Volt and applied retroactively through incentives to 2013 models still on the lot. GM was quoted as saying “great strides in reducing costs” had contributed to the price cut. Whether those “strides” were applied to the ELR remains to be seen. At more than twice the cost of a Volt, it leads to speculation that the ELR may represent a more true representation of the costs of producing the Volt/ELR platform, underscoring what GM has said all along–that it had no expectations of making a profit on the first generation of its plug-in model.

However, the next generation of Volt and ELR are supposed to include further cost reductions and make the platform profitable. According to Automotive News. GM’s CEO Dan Akerson has said he expects a $10,000 per unit reduction in Volt costs in the next generation, which is due in late 2015 or early 2016. In the interim, GM appears to be looking to the ELR to help recoup the sunk costs of the first generation models. Although recent sales numbers have picked up for the Volt, its overall sales numbers have failed to reach the high level predicted at its launch.

The other problem for the ELR is that its $75,000 price puts it clearly in Tesla Model S territory, a larger pure electric that has quickly established a reputation as the poster child for EVs. GM, gun shy after the shortfall with Volt sales predictions, has been reluctant to predict sales numbers for the ELR, preferring to position it as a halo car for the division. Although it has the same range-extending four-cylinder 1.4-liter gasoline engine as the Volt, the ELR prefers to focus on its upscale features such as LED head and taillights and handcrafted leather and wood interiors.

The ELR also will feature the Regen on Demand feature that allows the driver to temporarily recapture energy when coasting by using the vehicle’s steering wheel shift paddles. It’s safe to say that at the published MSRP the ELR will not be moving too many units other than to the Cadillac faithful and some tech lovers.

toyota-prius-plug-in-price drop

Toyota drops the plug-in price

Over at Toyota they have sold less than 8,000 Prius Plug-ins during the first nine months of the year after strong August and September sales as due to cut-rate financing and lease deals. The price cut brings 2014 prices more in line with current transaction prices. Even though the Prius Plug-in was third best-selling plug-in for the month of September, the price cut follows similar discounts from GM on the Volt and Nissan on the Leaf as well as lease deals on Chevy’s Spark EV, Fiat’s 500e, Ford’s Focus Electric, Smart’s ED, Honda’s Fit EV, Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV and Toyota on its pure electric RAV4 EV.

The range of technology available with the Prius Plug-in is impressive, including premium HDD navigation and JBL speakers, SofTex-trimmed heated front seats, 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support, head-up display and Safety Connect. That adds to the 2013 Prius’ DRCC (Dynamic Radar Cruise Control), PCS (Pre-Collision System), LED headlights and fog lights.

The Prius Plug-in is currently available in 15 states (California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Hawaii). It’s EPA rating is 95 MPGe in electric mode or 50 mpg in hybrid mode. It has an 11-mile electric-only mode.

The electric car and plug-in car market (two distinct but related parts of the new developing car market) is still in its infancy. Advocates see demand exceeding supply whenever prices are dropped down to be competitive internal combustion engine vehicles (as happened with the Honda Fit EV). Detractors see the fire sale prices as auto companies blowing out unwanted inventory the same way they always have. Some automakers grumble about mandates coming from California for zero emission vehicles while others show enthusiasm for electric cars as the way of the future. This story continues to be written and it’s not clear anyone knows what the ending will be.

For more on the electric car market, see:

Electric Car Deals May Threaten Segments Future

Top Selling High MPG Cars During Jan-Aug 2013

Top 10 Electric Cars You Can Buy