$180,000 Tesla Model X lacks autonomous emergency braking

Correction, 9/09/2017: Some readers have pointed out that the Tesla Model X does, in fact, come standard with autonomous emergency braking (AEB). After calling the Tesla Store in St Leonards, Sydney, I can confirm that all new Tesla Model X and S vehicles come standard with autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning. The system works as follows:

  1. From 0-40 km/h the Forward Collision Warning (FCW) system will warn the driver of an impending collision.
  2. Above 40 km/h, the Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) system will apply the brakes if it detects an impending collision. There is no upper speed limit after which the system will not work, however, the likelihood of the car coming to a complete stop before the potential accident will decrease at higher speeds.

I'm not sure why the particular Model X tested by CarAdvice did not have AEB. Even if the Model X tested was an older model, I would assume that Tesla's fleet of loan/review cars is kept up-to-date with the latest software. I will update this article if I receive further information on the particular Model X used by CarAdvice.

It's important to note that the key point of the article, that essential safety features such as AEB should not be compromised in favour of software development, remains valid. From October 2016 towards the end of April 2017, new Tesla vehicles sold did not have any form of AEB.  

The original article continues below: 

Paul Maric, reviewing the Tesla Model X 75D for CarAdvice:

"But here is the problem. While we had the car on loan, all the data collected by 'Hardware 1' Tesla vehicles is obsolete. Hardware 1 was Tesla's first iteration of cameras and sensors used for AutoPilot, autonomous emergency braking and radar cruise control.

Now that the camera and sensor count has increased, all of that 'self learning' data is wiped and new data needs to be collected. With other car brands, they test this technology first, implement their learnings and release the vehicle to market. Tesla, instead, uses its customers effectively as test pilots until it has enough data to enable those features.

That means our test car didn't have features like autonomous emergency braking, automatic high beam lights, automatic windscreen wipers, side collision warning, lane departure warning, high-speed automatic steering, automatic lane change, semi-autonomous parking and Tesla's Summon self-parking feature.

You read that right – this car, with an on-road price tag of over $180,000 doesn't have automatic windscreen wipers. That's technology standard on a $20,000 Mazda 2 – even the entry-level $14,990 Mazda 2 has autonomous emergency braking as standard.

We don't really care what excuses Tesla has for this technology being non-existent at the moment, it's not good enough. It's not good enough for a $50,000 car, let alone one worth almost $200,000. Even the top-specification Model X P100D worth over $300,000 doesn't have this technology. You're kidding, right?"

It's understandable that Tesla, as a new player in the automotive industry, needs to be seen as technologically ahead of other automakers to differentiate itself. It's also understandable that in order to maintain this lead, the company will frequently trial and test beta software.

However, basic safety features should never be compromised in favour of software development. When a $14,990 Mazda 2 right at the budget end of the market comes standard with AEB, it's fair to say that the industry across the board can and should deem AEB a safety feature as essential as an airbag. For a $180,000 car to not have this feature is shameful.

It doesn't matter whether the Model X will have this feature soon, or has had it in the past, or that this is a temporary problem. AEB is now a feature so essential that there should never be a point in any vehicle's life-cycle where it is not standard. The fact is, if you walk out of a Tesla showroom right now with a Model X, you cannot have AEB. Tesla has compromised on a crucial safety feature today in favour of better autonomous driving at some point in the future. That is inexcusable. 

At this point, I have to reinforce what Paul says in the second paragraph of the quoted excerpt. Tesla may be one of the few (if not the only) manufacturer that delivers seamless, over-the-air software updates to improve their car, much like how Apple updates the iPhone or Google with the Pixel. It should rightly be applauded for this. But other manufacturers also don't remove safety features from their cars and then use the customer as a pawn when developing their replacements. Instead, they take time to develop and throughly test these features to a point where they reliably work well before selling the car to the customer. A comparably priced car from another manufacturer may not have software that will be improved in the future, but it will also come out of the box (so to speak) with essential safety features like AEB that will reliably work well, and won't be removed in the future. 

To compare with the approach of a conventional manufacturer, look at the new Audi A8 that has recently been launched. This vehicle today arguably has a superior autonomous driving ability than Tesla's Autopilot. I'm sure Audi could have launched this car 18-24 months ago without AEB or any self-driving features, and then have progressively implemented those features via software updates as it developed its self-driving technology. Instead, Audi took the development time and resources to ensure that these self-driving features work reliably well from the first instance that customers use them. The company is even confident enough with this technology to accept liability if the vehicle crashes whilst driving itself.

There's little doubt that Tesla's focus on technology and making great electric vehicles has caught the attention of the wider public, and has pushed the rest of the industry to compete. However, putting the customer's safety at risk today, by removing AEB, in order to develop self-driving software that will be available at some vague point in the future, is an act by Tesla that is reckless and almost criminal. 

Above: Tesla's Model X and Audi's A8

Jaguar to only produce electrified vehicles from 2020

From the Jaguar press release:

"From 2020 all new Jaguar Land Rover vehicles will be electrified. The company made the announcement at its inaugural Tech Fest, a series of debates and a free public exhibition about the future of mobility.

Dr Ralf Speth, Jaguar Land Rover Chief Executive Officer, said: “Every new Jaguar Land Rover model line will be electrified from 2020, giving our customers even more choice. We will introduce a portfolio of electrified products across our model range, embracing fully electric, plug-in hybrid and mild hybrid vehicles. Our first fully electric performance SUV, the Jaguar I-PACE, goes on sale next year.”

It's great to see another manufacturer following in Volvo's footsteps and also committing to an entirely electrified vehicle lineup in the near future. Nevertheless, it is important to note the very broad remit that Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has given itself to satisfy this commitment to an electrified lineup; namely 'fully electric, plug-in hybrid and mild hybrid' vehicles. The term 'mild-hybrid' is quite vague, and could mean simply producing a normal combustion engined car with a capacitor or larger battery to enable automatic engine start-stop and/or regenerative braking, similar to Mazda's i-ELOOP or Peugeot's e-HDI Micro Hybrid technology.

This decision is a step in the right direction. Let's hope, however, that the company decides to focus on fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles rather than slightly modified combustion engine vehicles that are branded as mild hybrids.       

Jaguar unveils curious futuristic steering wheel

From the Jaguar press release:

"Imagine a future of autonomous, connected and electric cars where you don’t own a single car, but instead call upon the vehicle of your choice where and when you need it. That’s a future vision Jaguar Land Rover is exploring with Sayer, the connected steering wheel that could be the only part of the car you own."

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Why would you need a steering wheel at all if cars of the future are completely autonomous? I would think something less conspicuous and nostalgic would be more appropriate than talking to an obsolete relic of the past. Perhaps a wearable device or something akin to the smartphones that we already use to request a taxi or an Uber. 

Continental's New Wheel Concept

Jonathan M. Gitlin, writing for Ars Technica:

"EVs can't ditch the conventional brake. There needs to be a redundant system for situations when regenerative braking isn't possible, like when the battery is full and can't accept more energy. A consequence of using regenerative braking is that the friction brakes get much less use than in a conventional car, so they tend to last a lot longer. But there is a downside to this: a buildup of rust that can impair their performance when you need to use them, according to Continental.

So there's a wheel rim, to which the tire is mounted, and then an inner component called a carrier star—the bit with spokes that mounts to the axle. Instead of mounting a brake disk to the axle, here it's married to the carrier star, with the caliper attached to the inside. That means that the disc can be much larger than a conventional brake disc, which needs to be small enough so that there's room to fit the caliper without impeding the wheel itself."

This is a very interesting innovation that takes advantage of a key driving characteristic of electric vehicles- regenerative braking- to solve a potential rust problem caused by reduced usage of conventional brakes. I'd love to see how this would work in daily use on a production vehicle.

 

 

Thoughts on Audi's new naming system

From the Audi press release:

"The reference value for the new model designations is the power output of the individual model in kilowatts (kW). Audi is thus subclassifying its model range into different performance levels – each identified by a two-numeral combination. For example, the numeral combination “30” will appear on the rear of all models with power output between 81 and 96 kW. And “45” stands for power output between 169 and 185 kW. The top of the Audi model range is the performance class above 400 kW, which is identifiable by the number combination “70”. In each case the numerals appear along with the engine technology – TFSI, TDI, g-tron or e-tron.

The changes will kick off with the new Audi A8 generation in the fall of 2017. First among the two six-cylinder engines to be redesignated will be the 3.0 TDI with 210 kW – as the Audi A8 50 TDI, and the 3.0 TFSI with 250 kW – as the Audi A8 55 TFSI."

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Above: Audi's new naming system on the A8

On the face of it, this new numbering system aligns Audi with Mercedes and BMW, who also use a series of numbers to denote the relative power outputs of their model variants.

Historically, the model designations for Mercedes and BMW would be based on engine displacement. The underlying logic behind this was the assumption that the larger the engine, the more power it produced. Thus, 'E300' would would mean an E-Class with a 3.0L engine and '320i' would be equivalent to a 3-Series with a 2.0L engine. Although this is no longer the case (for example, the new E300 uses a higher-powered 2.0L engine) the long-running use of this type of nomenclature by both brands means that customers are still familiar with the underlying logic behind the system. A customer who walks into a Mercedes dealership may not know the size of the engine in the E300, but they will understand that it's a more powerful car than the E200. A decades long history of using the same basic system develops a contextual familiarity for the customer.

Audi's new two digit numbering system is a stark departure from the previous system where the engine displacement was directly labelled. Without the historical precedent that Mercedes and BMW share, the Audi customer cannot be expected to understand what numbers such as '30', '55' and '70' mean. Moreover, with the industry focusing on electric vehicle development, other characteristics such as range (i.e. the distance the car can travel between charges) also become important, which is a metric that is not described by the new numbering system. 

Overall, I feel that this new 2 digit numbering system is too little, too late. The system is too simplistic to cover characteristics that will be important in the future, such as vehicle range. Without historical precedent, it is likewise confusing for future prospective Audi customers.

With cars having a number of important performance characteristics such as power, torque, acceleration and range, it is difficult to concisely and clearly express all of these into a single alpha-numeric combination.

Perhaps a better option would be to scrap this model designation system entirely and instead follow the Ferrari route. Focus on marketing (and badging) the model only, e.g. Audi A4/A6/A8 and tabulate all performance characteristics on a hidden plaque or badge inside the car, together with any customer ordered options and other specification such as paint colour and wheel design. This way, all performance characteristics can be clearly displayed and understood. Additionally, this system would be beneficial come resale time, as all customer ordered options and preferences would be evident (with personalisation being key at the premium end of the market).

Autocar interviews Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is the chief designer of the Range Rover Velar, which in the opinion of yours truly is the most beautiful SUV in production today. His interview with Autocar offers some fascinating insights into the design process:

“Some people still think our job is to apply styling to an existing set of hard points. It was like that back in 2004, when I came back to Land Rover after my time with Lincoln in the US. Go away and make it look good, they’d say. But if you’re forced to do it that way, the horse has already bolted. Hard points define volumes and proportions, and together they’re the number one requisite for a great-looking vehicle. Get them wrong and it’ll never look any good, however good your details and surfaces. That’s why designers need to be involved in these decisions.” Everything changed, says McGovern, with Tata’s acquisition of Jaguar and Land Rover for £1.3 billion in 2008. “There was lots of mumbling, both in Europe and India, about Tata buying us. Everyone asked the same question: what do they know? But then Mr [Ratan] Tata arrived and asked the killer question: why does design report to engineering? He’d trained as an architect, he loved cars and knew exactly what our job entailed. I won’t interfere, he told us, and no on else will. It’s your destiny and you control it.”

There's still a common misconception that design simply relates to how a car 'looks' on the inside and out. Design is a lot more thorough than that. It focuses on how a user interacts with their car. Everything from their reaction to the styling when they see the car at a first glance, to how they operate the air-conditioning controls, or to the feel of interior materials, are all interactive experiences that need to be designed. Design is a very holistic concept, and for a vehicle to have great design, close collaboration with engineers that will put the designer's vision on the road is key.  

Mazda and Toyota to collaborate on electric vehicle development

Hans Greimel, writing for Automotive News:

"Toyota will take a 5 percent stake in Mazda, while Mazda reciprocates with a token 0.25 percent stake in Toyota, the car manufacturers said in a joint statement Friday.

Toyota and Mazda said they will also collaborate in developing electrified vehicles and connected car technologies. They will also step up supplying vehicles to each other.

In electric vehicles, Toyota is being positioned as working on the battery-side of electric vehicles, while Mazda works on the overall architecture. The two companies will jointly develop the hardware and software sides of electric vehicles but produce them separately, Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi said at a joint press conference in Tokyo.

In connected cars, Toyota and Mazda will cooperate on vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, seen as a key toward self-driving and advanced safety systems."

This appears to be a beneficial move for both parties.

For Mazda, it represents a cost-efficient and potentially time saving strategy to jump on the electric and autonomous vehicle bandwagon, by leveraging Toyota's greater resources and battery expertise, whilst retaining control of overall design and vehicle development.

Toyota, in turn, can make use of Mazda's product development and engineering expertise that has been responsible for the famed handling qualities of its SkyActiv architecture. This partnership is sure to also complement Toyota's existing collaboration with BMW on battery development and lightweight materials.  

The New York Times editorial on electric vehicles

The New York Times wrote the following in response to the UK committing to ending sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040:

"Much depends, too, on where the electricity comes from. If it comes from coal-fired plants, there could be a net increase in the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet; if from natural gas plants, a modest net decrease; if from carbon-free sources like wind and solar power, a huge net benefit. President Trump’s antagonism to the Paris climate accord and his affinity for fossil fuels demonstrate the difficulty of making this shift; and despite Volvo’s exciting announcement that it will make only electric or hybrid cars as of 2019, many manufacturers may well resist abandoning the engines they have spent the past century perfecting."

This paragraph makes an important point that often doesn't receive enough attention in the current fanfare around electric vehicles. If the electricity used to power cars is from a non-renewable source, then greenhouse gas emissions are simply being shifted up the electricity supply chain rather than being reduced. A holistic overhaul of the world's electricity supply chain, that ensures power is sourced from renewable energy, is needed. Electric vehicles are ultimately only one component of this modernisation.

Faraday Future stops building Nevada factory

Stefan Krause, Faraday Future's CFO, quoted in an article by the Nevada Independent:

“We have decided to put a hold on our factory at the Apex site in North Las Vegas. We remain committed to the Apex site in Las Vegas for long-term vehicle manufacturing.

We at Faraday Future are significantly shifting our business strategy to position the company as the leader in user-ship personal mobility — a vehicle usage model that reimagines the way users access mobility. As a result of this shift in direction, we are in the final stages of confirming a new manufacturing facility that presents a faster path to start-of-production and aligns with future strategic options.”

Krause's statement is full of vague buzzwords such as 'user-ship personal mobility' with no substance behind them, and the firm's commitment to 'long-term vehicle manufacturing' is a nice euphemism for the minuscule chance that it will ever put a vehicle into mass production. The death knell is sounding for this vapourware peddling company. 

Volvo to include electric motor on every vehicle from 2019

From the Volvo press release:

"Volvo Cars will introduce a portfolio of electrified cars across its model range, embracing fully electric cars, plug in hybrid cars and mild hybrid cars.

It will launch five fully electric cars between 2019 and 2021, three of which will be Volvo models and two of which will be high performance electrified cars from Polestar, Volvo Cars’ performance car arm. Full details of these models will be announced at a later date.

These five cars will be supplemented by a range of petrol and diesel plug in hybrid and mild hybrid 48 volt options on all models, representing one of the broadest electrified car offerings of any car maker."

This is another significant development for Volvo, which has lately been having a renaissance under the ownership of Geely in forging its own, differentiated identity. To go from zero fully electric vehicles in 2018, to five by 2021, a space of only three years, will be a big achievement. More importantly, it is a substantive acknowledgment by a 'traditional', mainstream automotive manufacturer that the writing is on the wall for the internal combustion engine. 

It's understandable that a mainstream manufacturer such as Volvo may not desire to leave existing customers (that live in areas with poor electric vehicle charging support) to hang out to dry by immediately ceasing support and development of combustion engined vehicles. But what is more important to understand is that hybrid vehicles that marry an electric motor to a combustion engine are a mere transition point, and not the final solution to achieving sustainable transport.

The only pragmatic option for sustainable transport is a fully electric vehicle powered by electricity from a renewable energy source. The sooner the automotive industry realises this, and follows Tesla's lead in independently building the requisite infrastructure, or forms a partnership with government to do so, the better. At this early stage, however, it's applaudable that Volvo has looked to the future and boldly taken a bet on a powertrain that currently only makes up a minuscule, albeit growing, share of the global automotive market.

Above: From left to right, the Volvo S90, V90, XC60 and XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid range. These vehicles represent Volvo's current range of only partial electric vehicles. 

Polestar to become a separate high-performance brand

From the Volvo press release:

"In the future, Polestar will offer Polestar branded cars that will no longer carry a Volvo logo, as well as optimisation packages for Volvo’s range of cars under the Polestar Engineered brand.

Polestar will enjoy specific technological and engineering synergies with Volvo Cars and benefit from significant economies of scale as a result of its connection to Volvo. These synergies will allow it to design, develop and build world beating electrified high performance cars."

Above: The new Polestar logo.

Whilst it's unclear as to whether the models sold under the Polestar brand will be derivatives of existing Volvos or new, independently developed models, this is a positive step for the marque. Newly launched Volvos such as the XC90, S90, V90 and XC60 are evidence of a renaissance for the brand, which has developed a 'differentiated premium' image through a focus on honest design, advanced safety features, autonomous driving and electrification. Through its T8 powertrain, Volvo remains the only brand where the most powerful, top of the range Volvo currently available is a plug-in hybrid. Separating Polestar to focus on performance electric vehicles creates further differentiation from the mainstream 'big three' German trio of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, and is a relatively unique proposition that is perhaps matched only by Tesla.

These are exciting times for the automotive industry, and with manufacturers being bold enough to explore new avenues such as autonomous driving and electric vehicles, the potential for innovation and change in the industry is greater than ever before.