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Toyota Trademarks Celica Name In the U.S. | News | Car and Driver …

1990_Celica_production_car(1)

Will the upcoming Toyota Supra be joined by a smaller Celica sibling? If a recent trademark filing by Toyota is anything to go by, then the answer may be yes.On August 31, Toyota filed a standard character mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the Celica nameplate, indicating an intention to use the moniker. Where the company plans to affix the long-dormant label remains a mystery.

One possibility is that the next-generation 86 sports coupe may be renamed the Celica. After all, the original Celica was a rear-wheel-drive sports coupe. Still, given Toyota’s large global investment in the 86 moniker, we’re hesitant to believe the brand’s entry-level sports coupe will see a name change.

Despite the Celica’s rear-wheel-drive origins, we’d wager Toyota is more likely to use the name on a sports coupe that follows in the footsteps of later Celicas. In other words, if the brand does make a new Celica, we suspect it will be resurrected as a front-wheel-drive sports coupe (like the 1990 model pictured above). Expect such a car to ride on the Toyota New Global Architecture that currently underpins the Camry, the C-HR, and the Prius, not to mention the next-generation Corolla.

Of course, this is just speculation. For all we know, the brand will follow in the tire tracks of the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and put the Celica badge on a crossover SUV. Or it may simply adorn a concept car not intended for production. Or it may languish in trademark purgatory while it waits to be attached to a Toyota product. But now that a new Supra is on the way, we’re excited by the notion that the Celica name also will return.


Article source: http://blog.caranddriver.com/is-toyota-bringing-the-celica-nameplate-back-from-the-dead/

Day makes ace, donates car to Evans Scholars

Gray, a staff writer, covers events and is the lead host on Golf Channel’s podcast.

Article source: http://www.golfchannel.com/news/golf-central-blog/day-makes-ace-donates-car-evans-scholars/

On Depreciation: Where’s Your Sports-Car Sweet Spot?

2014 Porsche 911 Turbo S and 2015 Nissan GT-R NISMO

An affordable sports car almost sounds like an oxymoron, like fast traffic or entry-level luxury. Behind those zero-to-60-mph time and skidpad ratings, there’s an equally body-shaking reversal that takes place over just a few years: the cost to buy that same sports car. In some cases, the market value of a no-holds-barred daily driver can decline almost 80 percent in just four years. I always tell folks that speed can be hazardous to your health and your wealth. But sometimes that’s not quite true. When the smoke clears, and the depreciation curve flattens out to a slow-dipping straightaway, that’s when you can aim straight for what I call the sports-car sweet spot.

It’s an amazing period, between the time a car sells new and when its second owner takes over, when the operating cost declines to just nickels and dimes. Depreciation is not unique to sports cars. A new-in-the-wrapper Audi A8L cost about $84,000 in 2011. That didn’t include all the options you could get on this 372-hp all-wheel-drive powerhouse. That Audi A8L has since depreciated down to $28,025, according to Black Book’s valuation for a clean example at retail as of September 14. Some primo cars, like the BMW 760Li, can go for a seven-year bender of depreciation hell and post a six-figure loss in value: the 2010 BMW 760Li we tested cost about $137,000 when new, and Black Book estimates its current retail value at $29,925.

So there is a steep cliff of depreciation for nearly any new car, but it’s worth noting that even those with a sports-car soul are not immune to this market phenomenon. Finding them at the right time is key. The less expensive sports cars, such as the 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata and the 2012 BMW Z4 SDrive 28i, typically only experience about three years of depreciation before they settle in to an unusually attractive sports-car sweet spot.

2012 Mazda- MX-5 Miata

So let’s go shopping for a roadster. A new Mazda MX-5 Miata Club at press time had an MSRP of $29,675, including destination. But let’s take just that $29,675 and look at what happens to it over a two-year period. A new car depreciates to the tune of 10 percent the moment it drives off the dealer lot, according to Carfax. And then it averages another 10 to 15 percent in depreciation over the next couple of years. So let’s say it depreciates 12 percent the first two years after you own it. After taking the initial $2880 depreciation hit for being brand new, its value drops by an estimated $3110 per year thereafter. So the first two years you own the car, it loses about $9100 in value.

A lease would fare worse. Mazda recently featured a $479 lease special for 36 months for its MX-5 Miata RF. This artificially low monthly payment doesn’t take into account the tough prequalifying criteria, such as a high credit score, not to mention the stiff down payment of $1999, acquisition fee of $595, and other dealer fees. Nor does it include those pesky four-figure taxes and registration costs you will usually be charged once it’s registered. Those inconspicuous costs along with the monthly payments can easily inflate that two-year cost to over $15,000. Then you have another 12 months to go on the lease. That new-car premium will also make you a chronic debtor for three years.

Meanwhile, the forecast depreciation cost for a 2012 Mazda MX-5 over the next two years, according to Black Book, which bases the figures on wholesale value, is $2850. So it’s less than the front-end fees, taxes, and down payment you would likely make on a new MX-5.

Depreciation of new sports cars kills your bank account, and that level of wealth destruction is worth avoiding. That’s especially true when you start looking at cars that are $100,000 or beyond. Let’s say you want to go deep and get the best of the best. Exotic sports cars are the auto industry’s cream of the crop. Not too surprisingly, this is exactly where your sports-car sweet spot can get really enticing.

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S cabriolet

A 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S coupe is still quite a pricey proposition today at $79,575 retail for a clean example, according to Black Book. But, if you hold that car for two more years as a daily driver, you would only lose about $17,000 in value by 2019, according to how Black Book estimates depreciation. A $107,000-when-new Porsche gets progressively less expensive to own once you wait for that four-year bottom to fall out of its new-car price.

That Porsche isn’t even close to the sweetest of sweet spots when it comes to the more exotic sports cars. There are certain high-end cars that are truly rare, valuable, and difficult to imitate. The 2014 Nissan GT-R Premium is the rolling embodiment of that supercar ideal, with fewer than 1500 sold. In 2015, the GT-R was about to supplement its 545-hp flagship with the even more exclusive 595-hp GT-R NISMO. However, some at Car and Driver were still madly in love with the brutal bluntness of the old school non-NISMO street-legal track car that had already successfully taken on all comers from Silicon Valley to Stuttgart.

We weren’t the only ones. Those brave sports-car aficionados who bought the 2014 models instead of the more exclusive 2015 turned out to be right on the money. According to Black Book, the 2014 Nissan GT-R Premium is estimated to have experienced a mere $5700 worth of depreciation between September 2017 and September 2019. That’s a sports car that is now holding its value well.

2014 Nissan GT-R

However, nothing comes too easily for a sports-car lover unless you’re willing to go what can aptly be called the extra mile. If you do plan on becoming a two-year trader, guess what? You still have to invest well in that sports car. There are no shortcuts. Beyond making sure that all the recent maintenance has been done and that the tires have plenty of tread (a hidden expense that not all owners accurately measure), you also need to take your own temperature and visit an enthusiast forum for that specific sports model so you can clearly see the road ahead. This will help you forecast maintenance costs and learn whether certain repairs become common as the years and miles pile up.

Just as in the stock market, you need to do your due diligence when buying any sports car. Even when you buy it at the sweet spot, the buy-and-hold strategy isn’t 100 percent foolproof. But unlike the millions of folks out there who always ignore the tsunami-size leasing costs that are behind that seductive monthly payment, the math—when you decide to buy and keep in the short run—is overwhelmingly on your side. That edge, along with the outstanding long-term reliability of today’s sports cars, roadsters, and grand tourers, makes sports cars a perfect fit for the enthusiast who wants to enjoy the best out there at a small fraction of the new-car cost.

Steve Lang has been an auto auctioneer, car dealer, and part owner of an auto auction for nearly two decades. He is co-founder of the Long-Term Quality Index.

Article source: http://blog.caranddriver.com/on-depreciation-wheres-your-sports-car-sweet-spot/

Trump Administration’s New Self-Driving-Car Guidance Is Deliberately Toothless

First rides in the Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Vehicle

They’re just guidelines and they’re toothless, but the contents of the Trump administration’s updated policy paper on autonomous vehicles are important for getting everyone on the same page so innovation can blossom. The rise of self-driving cars means more mobility options for those with disabilities, less commuter congestion, and fewer freeway fatalities, so the sooner it gets here the better. Such was the message from U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and other federal officials as they released Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety 2.0 at the University of Michigan’s Mcity test site in Ann Arbor this week. “We are going to emphasize safety, but we also want to preserve the creativity and the innovation that’s a hallmark of America,” Chao told reporters.

Officials were quick to point out that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will still have enforcement authority over safety-related defects in motor vehicles, and that includes those with emerging automated-driving technology. “NHTSA remains responsible for regulating the safety design and performance aspects of motor vehicles and motor-vehicle equipment. States continue to be responsible for regulating the human driver and vehicle operations,” the document reads. In other words, the federal government will handle safety issues; states will take care of licensing, registration, and insurance.

The 2.0 Vision is an update of and replacement for previous guidance issued a year ago by the Department of Transportation (DOT) during the Obama administration. Following a public comment period, this latest set of guidelines is meant to further clarify industry expectations and states’ roles. The guidance focuses on the SAE International Levels of Driving Automation 3 through 5, which denote conditional, high, and full automation. It’s worth noting that Tesla considers its Autopilot system to be at Level 2, which is partial automation, though this reportedly has been disputed by some industry experts.

The previous guidance called for developers of autonomous driving systems (ADS) to submit a safety assessment letter based on 15 key points, and NHTSA would then submit it to the public. The new guideline puts “much more onus on the industry to self-assess its own guidance, and put that out on its own,” said Nat Beuse, NHTSA’s associate administrator for vehicle safety research.

The new guidance document instead lays out 12 new “priority safety design elements for consideration,” which cover areas such as data recording, consumer education, crashworthiness, post-crash behavior, cybersecurity, and human-machine interface. Developers of ADS testing and deployment can refer to these safety elements in the voluntary guidance and then, if they want, submit a voluntary safety self-assessment. DOT officials said the new guidance avoids stifling innovation because companies do not have to wait for federal approval in testing or deployment of automated driving systems.

Mcity-1

Similarly, states are not supposed to add any of this voluntary guidance to state statutes, the new policy says. The DOT says it wants to avoid a regulatory conflict between states and federal regulators. The new guidance itself may steer clear of regulatory conflict between states and federal regulators, but it remains to be seen what kind of effect autonomous-vehicle legislation making its way through Congress will have.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that could put driverless cars on the roads sooner, while prohibiting states from cracking down on autonomous-vehicle developers. Reuters reports the House bill would allow companies to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting current safety standards in the first year, and that cap would rise to 100,000 vehicles per year. It would also reportedly reduce states’ ability to regulate self-driving cars’ performance, leaving them instead to handle items such as registration, liability, and safety inspections.

A similar bill is making its way through the Senate. Chao said the updated, Vision 2.0 guidance “is in alignment with legislation that’s currently pending in Congress.” In any case, she also said it is “not a static document,” and said Version 3.0 is already in the works for 2018.

Vision 2.0 was generally met with applause from industry and mobility advocates, as well as derision from at least one consumer group. The nonprofit American Center for Mobility (ACM) said it was encouraged by the new policy. “We fully support the new guidance which is extremely well thought out, clarifying, and in alignment with the collaborative approach at the American Center for Mobility,” president and CEO John Maddox said in a statement. “I believe that issuing guidance rather than specific regulation is most certainly the best approach, especially as the development of these technologies is rapidly evolving.”

Consumer Watchdog was less enthusiastic. “This isn’t a vision for safety,” John Simpson, the nonprofit’s privacy project director, said in a release. “It’s a roadmap that allows manufacturers to do whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want, turning our roads into private laboratories for robot cars with no regard for our safety.”

Article source: http://blog.caranddriver.com/trump-administrations-new-self-driving-car-guidance-is-deliberately-toothless/

Dozens of Volkswagen TDIs Missing from Michigan Storage Lot, Resold out of State

Volkswagens Pile Up by Thousands Awaiting Fix Or Scrap Yard In Buyback

Somewhere, among hundreds of thousands of Volkswagen and Audi vehicles that were bought back by the automaker under terms of the diesel emissions scandal settlement, at least 69 have gone astray. The cars were supposed to have been stored in the parking lot of the abandoned Pontiac Silverdome football stadium in Michigan with thousands of others awaiting an emissions fix. Instead of sitting near the former home of the NFL Detroit Lions, these TDI-badged cars wound up with fake Michigan titles, parked near a used-car dealer in Kentucky and at a wholesale auction in Indiana. At least one even made its way to a consumer. The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office in Michigan is trying to figure out how this happened.

“It’s still kind of a work in progress to determine whether they were taken from the lot [at the Silverdome],” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard told Car and Driver. “Did they even make it to the lot in the first place? Was there inside involvement?”

In other words, the idea that the cars were lifted at some point in the buyback process, rather than having been stolen directly from the Pontiac lot, is an angle police are at least considering. The sheriff’s office also is trying to determine how the fraudulent titles were created. “It’s just a complex situation,” Bouchard said.

Volkswagen had first approached a sheriff’s substation in the county seat of Pontiac and said that it suspected nine cars were missing, Bouchard related. As the auto-theft unit got involved, it discovered more vehicles unaccounted for among the approximately 8700 TDIs that were supposed to be at the blighted stadium site.

Indiana State Police Sgt. Jerry Goodin said at least 32 of the missing vehicles came through southern Indiana, where 12 were recovered at a Manheim auction lot in Clarksville, Indiana, just north of Louisville, Kentucky. Goodin said a “vast majority” of those 32 cars have been located. Bouchard said about a dozen cars had already been auctioned; at least one made it to a dealer and then to an unfortunate consumer, whose stolen TDI legally belongs to Volkswagen. Bouchard noted that in that situation, there is still the question of “who ends up getting stuck with the bill.” A Volkswagen spokesperson said in an email that the company cannot comment on the ongoing investigation.

About 45 miles from Clarksville, in Radcliff, Kentucky, nine of the diesel vehicles were reportedly towed from a lot situated between an abandoned carwash and a used-car shop called Last Stop Auto. Lawyers for the dealer told WDRB in Louisville that the business bought the cars for $11,000 from a Michigan-based supplier and sold them at auction for about $18,000. The lawyers said the dealer did not know they were stolen.

WDRB also reports that 15 TDIs already sold through Manheim went to dealers in California, Georgia, and Illinois. Bouchard said his office is aware of cars making it to Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, and Wisconsin.

Volkswagen has been storing TDI vehicles in different parts of the country as it works through its diesel emissions settlement. The German automaker admitted in September 2015 to using software to trick U.S. emissions tests in the 2009–2015 Audi A3s and VW Beetle, Golf, Jetta, and Passat TDI cars with 2.0-liter diesel engines. Some 475,000 of those cars, plus more than 83,000 3.0-liter Audi, Porsche, and VW vehicles from the 2009–2016 model years, are involved in the scandal; see our master post for the full list.

As of June, Volkswagen has bought back about 275,000 of the 2.0-liter TDI vehicles as part of a $14.7 billion settlement with U.S. federal agencies. The company has agreed to buy back almost 20,000 older 3.0-liter TDI vehicles and to modify emissions systems for about 60,000 newer 3.0-liter vehicles as part of a similar, $1.2 billion settlement. Some 2015-model TDIs have been modified and put back on sale at dealers, and we hear they’ve been doing quite well. 

Older cars, the ones with the so-called Gen 1 engine, are still awaiting final approval of a repair plan before they can be resold. They make up a majority of the bought-back cars, and they’ve been sitting in holding areas—such as the Silverdome—where Volkswagen has been keeping them regularly maintained. Some higher-mileage cars will be scrapped, but the ones that are resold could command decent prices at wholesale and retail.

“Enough people out there still like the diesel, and the other thing is, it’s all a game of supply and demand,” Anil Goyal, an analyst for Black Book, said of the already fixed 2015 TDIs that have been selling so far. “The other manufacturers have shied away from diesel, especially in sedans, and so Volkswagen Group is still the name in town, at least in the U.S., for diesels.”

Article source: http://blog.caranddriver.com/dozens-of-volkswagen-tdis-missing-from-michigan-storage-lot-resold-out-of-state/

Apple iPhones Finally Will Be Able to Charge Wirelessly in Cars

Apple iPhone 8 Qi Wireless Charging in a BMW

During today’s über-hyped iPhone announcement, Apple confirmed that the two newest models of its smartphone, the iPhone 8/8 Plus and the iPhone X (pronounced “ten”), will offer wireless charging. It’s the first time the tech giant’s phones have offered the capability, coming long after Android and even Windows Phone platforms have had the technology. So what does that have to do with cars? Well, many auto manufacturers have been integrating Qi wireless charging pads into their vehicle interiors, which mean iPhone users will finally be able to ditch the cord and charge through induction in their rides.

Despite the fact that Apple seemingly is no longer planning on building its own car (for now), instead focusing on developing technologies to supply automakers, the company is well aware of the data-filled future of the automobile, and it has gradually incorporated more vehicle-friendly features into its products. Apple CarPlay is a hit, and just a few months ago, Apple introduced a Do Not Disturb function to help prevent distracted driving. Of course, neither of those mean a thing if a phone is dead (one could also make the point that the least distracting kind of phone is a dead phone). That means easy charging is vital, and up until now, it required a cord and an open USB port. The new iPhone 8/8 Plus and iPhone X change that.

Qi wireless charging support from Apple keynote address

As of right now, Qi (pronounced “chee”) wireless charging technology has been integrated into a variety of cars from a variety of manufacturers; many of their names were displayed on a slide during the keynote address (above). Vehicles like the Chevrolet Camaro, the Hyundai Ioniq, and the Toyota Avalon offer Qi charging as part of optional trim packages, while premium vehicles like the Genesis G90, the BMW 7-series, and the Cadillac CT6 come with the induction mats as standard. (The incomplete list of car brands listed by Apple as Qi compatible: Audi, Bentley, BMW, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Toyota, and Volkswagen.)

The charging spots are often found in the cubby below the infotainment system or at the bottom of a storage bin in a center console. As with Android phones already taking advantage of Qi, putting the iPhones face up on the pads will initiate charging.

It’s worth noting that the wireless technology requires the phone to have a glass back, which means the new phones could be more susceptible to cracking or breaking if dropped, thrown, or knocked off a dash mount. That said, the iPhone user base is huge, and this is a big step forward in the convenience department for those consumers.  The path toward zero wires is looking clearer, but a different and equally important issue remains: wider availability of wireless CarPlay.
single-wireless-charging

Article source: http://blog.caranddriver.com/apple-iphones-finally-will-be-able-to-charge-wirelessly-in-cars/

LaVar Ball surprises struggling handyman with new truck

Sep 13, 2017

LaVar Ball does have a soft side, it seems.

On Monday, Ball lured his longtime handyman to a local car dealer in California, where he surprised him and his family with a 2017 Toyota Tundra.

Ball said he’s known the man for nearly 15 years. The man had trouble going back and forth to his job due to transmission problems with his vehicle. But that is his former job now.

Ball said he also gave the man a new job as a property manager for Big Baller Brand.

“It’s just something I did for him,” Ball told ESPN.com. “He’s been working a long time trying to make ends meet. That car ain’t gonna get him from place to place. Now he has a car that can get him from Point A to Point B.”

How the Tesla Model 3 Works without a Key or a Fob

2018 Tesla Model 32018 Tesla Model 3

While much of the hype around the Tesla Model 3 centers around its all-electric powertrain, long driving range, and (relative) affordability, it’s possible that the biggest innovation in the Model 3 is the way you get in and go.

Tesla has wrapped a new-tech feature into the Model 3 that should make things a bit more convenient for owners. Instead of having a regular key fob like current Tesla vehicles (and basically every other luxury car), Tesla owners will be able to unlock and start their cars simply by having their smartphones with them.

2018 Tesla Model 32018 Tesla Model 3

It’s unlikely that most Model 3 owners will go anywhere without their phones, so it makes sense to build the vehicle’s key into that device. The Model 3 uses a technology called Bluetooth Low Energy (or LE) that is built into most smartphones made in the past few years (and every iPhone since the iPhone 4S). It allows for a low-power, always-on connection between the phone and the car. When you walk toward the Model 3 with your phone, the car and the phone talk to each other and authenticate, and the car unlocks the doors.

Of course “smart” keys aren’t new. Mercedes began using electronic keyless systems 20 years ago, but it still required the driver to haul around a key fob or a credit-card-size card.

2018 Tesla Model 32018 Tesla Model 3

Tesla has you covered if the phone dies. The Model 3 comes with a credit-card-size backup key—handy for valet parking—that uses a relatively new technology called near-field communication or NFC; it’s the same tech that allows tap-to-pay iPhone and Android transactions at retailers. If the phone doesn’t work for any reason, the card can be tapped against a spot on the car’s B-pillar to unlock the car. Then, there’s a spot on the center console where the key can be stored, just behind the cupholders, allowing the car to be driven as normal.

Tesla isn’t the only company experimenting with a digital key—Volvo plans to offer it in some markets beginning next year—but it is the first company to roll it out as standard on what’s intended to be a mass-produced, mass-market car.

2018-Tesla-Model-3-REEL2018-Tesla-Model-3-REEL


Article source: http://blog.caranddriver.com/how-the-tesla-model-3-works-without-a-key-or-a-fob/

Tesla intentionally makes some of their cars worse, and it’s good for everybody

If it was possible, companies would charge every person the maximum they would pay for their product. In this world of maximum pricing, Apple could charge the super-rich the tens of thousands of dollars they would probably be willing to pay for iPhones, while poorer consumers would pay much less than the going rate.

Fortunately for rich consumers—and unfortunately poorer ones—this isn’t possible. Usually, companies are only able to offer their product at one price (less wealthy people would simply sell the product to richer people if they didn’t). Given this constraint, companies choose the price that will lead to the most profit, which is usually somewhere in the middle of how much the wealthiest and poorest are willing to pay.

Sometimes, companies do figure out a way to charge different prices to wealthier and poorer consumers for virtually the same product—economists call this “price discrimination.” They often do it by selling an intentionally limited version of the product. A perfect case of this intentional limiting came to light during Hurricane Irma.

In 2016, Tesla sold two different versions of their Model S and X electric cars. One version had a 60 kilowatt per hour battery, and another a 75. The 75-kilowatt version cost $9,000 more.

Prior to Irma’s landfall, Tesla announced that it would flip the proverbial switch, and allow the 60-kilowatt cars to become 75-kilowatt cars. This enabled the 60-kilowatt vehicles to go 230 miles per charge, rather 200. “We hope that this allows you to travel to your next destination with confidence and ease,” Tesla wrote their Florida customers.

Tesla was able to upgrade the kilowattage in the cheaper version of the car because both models actually have the same 75-kilowatt battery. The company just chooses to limit the capacity in some cars so they can have two different price points.

The response to Tesla’s decision has been mixed. While some observers congratulated the company for proactively reacting to the impending storm, others were disturbed by the revelation that the company could so easily increase the capacity on their cars. If the battery could be more powerful without any extra cost to Tesla, ask critics, why deny this capability to certain drivers?

The answer: Limiting battery capacity actually makes Teslas more affordable.

The extra $9,000 that Tesla gets from its less price-sensitive customers is what allows it to charge a price for the lesser version of the car, the one that more cost-conscious consumers might purchase (though of course anyone purchasing a $60,000 Tesla is not poor). Perverse as it may seem, having a version of the car that gets less mileage actually makes it more accessible, which ultimately might make it better for the environment—assuming that Teslas are more environmentally friendly than the alternative car the Tesla buyer would have purchased.

The economist Alex Tabarrok of the blog Marginal Revolution points out that this is common for firms in research heavy industries.. “A familiar example is software companies that offer a discounted or ‘student’ version of the product with fewer features,” write Tabarrok. “Since the software firm’s costs are mostly sunk RD costs, the firm can make money selling a low-price version so long as doing so doesn’t cannibalize its high-willingness-to-pay customers…”

Tesla, whose CEO Elon Musk has described the company’s car as a “sophisticated computer on wheels,” is much more like a software firm than other auto makers. It makes sense that they follow a similar pricing strategy.

Article source: https://qz.com/1074721/tesla-intentionally-makes-some-of-their-cars-worse-and-its-good-for-everybody/

US updates self-driving car guidelines as more hit the road

The Trump administration on Tuesday unveiled updated safety guidelines for self-driving cars aimed at clearing barriers for automakers and tech companies wanting to get test vehicles on the road.

The new voluntary guidelines announced by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao update policies issued last fall by the Obama administration, which were also largely voluntary.

Chao emphasized that the guidelines aren’t meant to force automakers to use certain technology or meet stringent requirements. Instead, they’re designed to clarify what vehicle developers and states should consider as more test cars reach public roads.

“We want to make sure those who are involved understand how important safety is,” Chao said during a visit to an autonomous vehicle testing facility at the University of Michigan. “We also want to ensure that the innovation and the creativity of our country remain.”

Under Obama administration, automakers were asked to follow a 15-point safety assessment before putting test vehicles on the road. The new guidelines reduce that to a 12-point voluntary assessment, asking automakers to consider things like cybersecurity, crash protection, how the vehicle interacts with occupants and the backup plans if the vehicle encounters a problem. They no longer ask automakers to think about ethics or privacy issues or share information beyond crash data, as the previous guidelines did.

The guidelines also make clear that the federal government — not states — determines whether autonomous vehicles are safe. That is the same guidance the Obama administration gave.

States can still regulate autonomous vehicles, but they’re encouraged not to pass laws that would throw barriers in front of testing and use. There is nothing to prohibit California, for instance, from requiring human backup drivers on highly automated vehicles, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would discourage that.

Automakers — who were growing increasingly frustrated with the patchwork of state regulations — praised the guidelines.

“You are providing a streamlined, flexible system to accommodate the development and deployment of new technologies,” Mitch Bainwol, the head of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told Chao at Tuesday’s event. The alliance represents 12 major automakers, including General Motors Co., Mercedes-Benz and Toyota Motor Corp.

But critics said the guidelines don’t ensure self-driving technology is safe before going out on the road.

“NHTSA needs to be empowered to protect consumers against new hazards that may emerge, and to ensure automated systems work as they’re supposed to without placing consumers at risk,” said David Friedman, a former acting NHTSA administrator who now directs cars and product policy analysts for Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports magazine.

Regulators and lawmakers have been struggling to keep up with the pace of self-driving technology. There are no fully self-driving vehicles for sale, but autonomous cars with backup drivers are being tested in numerous states, including California, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

California, which is the only state that requires automakers to publicly report crashes of autonomous test vehicles, said Tuesday it was reviewing the new guidelines. California’s Department of Motor Vehicles said it plans to continue to update its own guidelines, a process that should be completed by the end of this year.

Chao said the federal guidelines will be updated again next year.

“The technology in this field is accelerating at a much faster pace than I think many people expected,” she said.

Chao said self-driving cars could help the blind and disabled and dramatically reduce crashes. Early estimates indicate there were more than 40,000 traffic fatalities in the U.S. last year, and an estimated 94 percent of crashes involve human error.

Since the new guidelines are policy, not law, they don’t legally change what the state and federal government and vehicle developers can do, said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who tracks government policy on self-driving cars. Some countries, like South Korea, require pre-market government approval before autonomous vehicles can go out on the road, so the U.S. is on the more lenient side, Smith said.

Chao’s appearance came at a time of increased government focus on highly automated cars.

Earlier Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that Tesla Inc.’s partially self-driving Autopilot system wasn’t to blame for the 2016 death of a driver in Florida. But it said automakers should incorporate safeguards that keep drivers’ attention engaged and limit the use of automated systems to the areas they were designed for, like highways.

Last week, the U.S. House voted to give the federal government the authority to exempt automakers from safety standards that don’t apply to autonomous technology. If a company can prove it can make a safe vehicle with no steering wheel, for example, the federal government could approve that. The bill permits the deployment of up to 25,000 vehicles exempted from standards in its first year and 100,000 annually after that.

The Senate is now considering a similar bill.

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Article source: http://neworleanscitybusiness.com/blog/2017/09/13/us-updates-self-driving-car-guidelines-as-more-hit-the-road/