We are a happy bunch at Motor1.com. We hope, dear reader, that you are surrounded by happiness in your daily outings. We especially wish you happiness heading into the holiday weekend. With December 23 falling on a Friday this year, some of you may already be enjoying time with family and friends.
Cherish this time, but also remember that December 23 is Festivus – the secular holiday with roots in the 1960s but made famous by the classic sitcom Seinfeld in 1997. So if you have a grievance to air, now is the time to air it.
Perhaps you placed an order for a new vehicle in January and still haven’t received it. Or maybe you did receive it, minus a few tech-focused items that should’ve been standard. Or, it’s possible you slapped down a hefty deposit on a new car only to have your dealer add a gazillion-dollar “market adjustment” at the last minute. Who knew at the beginning of the year that the microchip shortage would so severely limit automotive production through 2022? So it’s okay if you have a few grievances to air.
It’s been a year. But we’re here, and there’s hope for the future. As always, we are humbled to serve you with the latest and greatest from the motoring world, seasoned by decades of combined experience and baked under the watchful eye of a veteran team that's endured the trials with you. Thank you for joining us on the ride.
And now, before the next road trip begins ….
It’s time to push hydrogen as a companion to battery-electric power.
Batteries aren’t the only way to power an electric motor. Moreover, there are many advantages to using fuel cells over batteries: lower vehicle weight, significantly better energy-to-weight ratio, and hydrogen fuel cells won’t degrade over time as batteries do. Refilling a hydrogen tank to 100 percent takes just a few minutes, versus the fastest-charging EVs available now that reclaim most (but not all) range in approximately 10-15 minutes. That is, provided you’re hooked up to a charger capable of supplying such power. And of course, hydrogen is abundant.
Unfortunately, processing hydrogen is expensive. Establishing fuel stations is also expensive, but once up and running, these stations can supply many more vehicles per day compared to electric chargers. Automakers must be more involved in making this happen. Numerous brands are active in exploring hydrogen systems for vehicles, but if people can’t fill them up, they won’t sell. Such automaker activity can also spur governments into action, helping hydrogen along with incentives to build as the infrastructure grows.
In much the same way Tesla pushed forward with its own charging network, manufacturers making investments into hydrogen stations will give buyers the confidence to buy a FCEV. And once the ball is rolling, other companies will step in to meet hydrogen demand. But the time to make this investment is now, as it’s likely the only way to achieve zero-emission goals set by many automakers and mandates set by municipalities for the near future.
-Christopher Smith, News Editor - USA
Headlights and taillights should default to on, rather than off.
It happens all the time. You’re cruising down the freeway at night, maintaining a safe five over, when suddenly, a black Nissan Altima appears right in front of you, taillights off and going 10 under. You get around the offending auto and wonder how on earth they could possibly be driving down this pitch-black road with no lights, and then you realize that they think their daytime running lights are headlights.
While it’s reckless to not understand the difference, it’s also understandable. This person probably got into their car in the garage or the driveway, turned the key and saw the DRLs illuminate the wall in front of them. And most instrument clusters are permanently backlit (or digital) nowadays anyway, so unless the driver can tell the difference between the 80 percent light emitted by a DRL and a full low beam, they may never realize that their head- and taillights are off.
Now while it would be great if every person on this planet had enough situational awareness to know that blinding cluster lights and dim forward illumination aren’t appropriate for nighttime driving, the reality is, some drivers out there are uninformed, absent-minded, or just plain dumb. The long-term solution is better driver’s education (see below), but right now, the answer is to just make all exterior lighting linked to the key position.
If the ignition is on and the car is running, the headlights, taillamps, and side markers should be illuminated. In the limited situations where you’d want your car running and your lights off – sneaking home after curfew or keeping warm at a drive-in movie – then there should be a switch on the dashboard that’s positioned so it must be deliberately activated. Doing so would improve road safety and visibility for everyone.
-Brett T. Evans, Senior Editor
American driver’s education is a joke.
Following along with my above grievance, driver’s education in the US is severely lacking. In countries with more advanced public infrastructure – including multi-modal public transportation and safer pedestrian and bike paths – driving is a privilege reserved for those who have the time and motivation for at least a few hours of professional training and a long and detailed driving test. Germany even requires its drivers to pass a first aid class in the event they need to administer emergency assistance to other motorists.
On the other hand, America is a country where driving is a necessity for most folks. Long commutes through wide open spaces, limited public transportation, and a lack of dedicated pedestrian and bicycle routes mean that having a driver’s license is practically mandatory. Yet paradoxically, it’s much easier to get that little piece of plastic that says it’s okay for you to hurtle through space at 75 miles per hour in a vehicle weighing 9,000 pounds or less – show up to the DMV, pass a five-minute written test and 10-minute driving test, and walk away with a license to potentially kill.
As a result, driving in any major US city is a baffling ordeal. People assume that if they’re going the speed limit, they’re okay to drive in the passing lane. Flick your passing lights to encourage them to move over – a perfectly polite way to signal your intentions in the rest of the world – and you’re likely to experience either total ignorance or terrifying road rage that you’d deign to drive faster than the car in front of you. And speaking of forward lighting, there’s a special place in hell for those who drive around with their high beams on because one of their low beams is burnt out.
And that’s ignoring the far worse toll on human life. According to the World Health Organization’s most recent data available, the United States experiences 7.3 traffic-related fatalities per billion kilometers – equal to Belgium and better than Czechia, but worse than Japan (6.4), Germany (4.2), the United Kingdom (3.8), and Norway (3.0). Traffic fatalities take more variables into account than driver education, but the results still speak for themselves.
Brett T. Evans, Senior Editor
Automakers, idiot-proof your EVs, please.
The EV wave sweeping over the automotive industry has certainly been a sight to see. However, and as with any emergent technology, there’s seemingly no set approach to certain things. And boy howdy, does that need to change.
For a start, automakers need to acknowledge that EVs are fundamentally more complicated to operate than gas-powered cars. Yes, there’s an accelerator, brake pedal, and steering wheel, but drivers also need to think about motor regen and charging strategies. And as it stands, both of those things live in the wild freaking west.
Charging strategies should be an easy thing – the car can charge between X hour and Y hour, regardless of when it’s plugged in – but too often I encounter EVs that make complex demands about charging times. Some cars need the charging location identified and saved, while some offer no clear way to charge at off-peak rates. It shouldn’t be this hard. Just give us a simple “Off-Peak Charging” option, which will only draw a charge at the appropriate time. Not that challenging.
Motor regen is similarly overcomplicated. Some brands – Mercedes and Hyundai, to name a pair – do the logical thing and manage regen via steering wheel paddles. This is great because it allows quick, on-the-fly changes to regen strength. Others – Ford and GMC – hide regen settings in the infotainment, and then limit them to a simple one-pedal mode. Managing regen is crucial to maximizing range, and it does no driver any good to have to dig through settings to figure out how to make those adjustments.
Finally, and most importantly, automakers need to start attaching a sticker with the peak charge rate near the charging port. I’ve now done three all-electric road trips, and every charging stop was complicated by drivers that didn’t realize their four-year-old Jaguar I-Pace couldn’t use a 350-kilowatt DC charger. When I pointed out that they should be over at the 50-kW charger, their response was – and I quote – “But I need to charge faster.”
This is a failing on the part of automakers, dealerships (boy the grievances we could air), and the automotive media. And it’s one I’ve raised before.
The simplest solution is to put a little sticker, as we do with gasoline octanes, in the charging port door. There will always be morons that ignore it, but maybe this simple step will make DC charging less of a headache as the industry ramps up to 350-kW charging.
-Brandon Turkus, Managing Editor
Badges are (almost) meaningless nowadays.
Remember when a BMW 540i had a 4.0-liter engine? What about the good ol’ days of the Mercedes C63 AMG? Yes, it technically had a 6.2-liter displacement, but you get the idea. Nowadays, a model’s badge is merely to show where it’s positioned in a model’s lineup. However, that only adds to the confusion in some cases since Audi’s “55 TFSI” or Cadillac’s “350T” don't say much.
This problem might gradually solve itself in the next couple of decades considering automakers are simplifying their ICE lineups while embracing electrification. EVs typically have a more streamlined lineup, albeit over-the-air updates to bump power complicate things. Real car names combined with suggestive suffixes to establish a clear hierarchy is the only way to go.
Tesla is a good example of how an automaker should label its vehicles without confusing its customers. The Long Range and Performance versions are pretty much self-explanatory, but we’ll admit it gets trickier if you’re someone like Mercedes that offers numerous derivatives of a single car. German luxury brands used to make it work somehow despite having multiple gasoline and diesel engines, so there must be a solution for the EV era.
-Adrian Padeanu, News Editor - Europe
Give me buttons or give me death.
Modern cars are trying to be too clever, EVs especially. I echo Brandon's sentiments when it comes to things like charge rates and regenerative braking, but more than anything, automakers getting rid of buttons and other basic functions for the sake of “simplicity” only makes things more complicated. Even I, as a young person (pause for laughter), hate how convoluted cars have become.
The Lucid Air was a car that was especially irritating to me this year – it was just trying to do too much. The door handles were supposed to automatically pop out when I got near it, but only sometimes when the car felt like it. I ended up yanking at the flush handles and trying to press the sleek but terribly unergonomic key to unlock the damn car. Why. Why do I need to look this foolish?
Automatic stop-start is annoying, too. Hop into any Lucid, Tesla, or even a Volkswagen ID.4, and the car just… starts. You don't have to press any buttons or twist any keys, it's ready to go before you even place your rump fully into the driver's seat. It sounds cool, in theory – but is that something people asked for? Is the distance between the driver's seat and the stop/start button simply too far for the average consumer to reach? You’ve seen movies: we are supposed to control the robots, not the other way around.
And then there are the in-screen functions for literally everything. Oh, want to adjust the steering wheel? Here, click these three on-screen commands to get to the steering wheel controls. Need to change the temperature? Look down at the bottom of this screen while you're doing 80 on the highway and press the screen five times.
And what the hell happened to good old-fashioned key fobs? Back in my day, you could press a button that would lock and unlock a car. Simple. I don't want to scan my face to get into a Genesis or spend $15 a month on an app on my phone to access my Kia. Why is everyone making things so complicated? Life is tough enough as it is.
-Jeff Perez, Senior Editor
We need standardized names for common driver-assist/safety systems.
EyeSight. Sensing. SmartSense. Safety Shield 360. CoPilot 360. Drive Pilot. These are just some of the automaker-specific names for various driver-assist suites that, essentially, include the same functions. Except sometimes they don’t. One might have forward collision alert but not blind-spot alerts. The system with blind-spot alert may not have a 360-degree camera, or perhaps it’s called a surround-view camera. That vehicle might have a collision mitigation system but not automatic emergency braking. Or maybe collision mitigation is automatic braking. So. Many. Names.
I understand that automakers want to make their advanced driver assist and safety systems sound good, and by good, I mean important. Of course they’re important – some of these systems have been proven to reduce the risk of accidents. Keeping up with the multitude of brand-specific terms can be tricky for those of us who cover the auto industry daily, never mind consumers cross-shopping to find the best vehicle for their needs.
If we’re talking about a software suite for various in-car services, coming up with a catchy name is fine. For safety systems, let’s just cut the marketing speak and consistently label – in clear language – what these functions do.
-Christopher Smith, News Editor - USA
Steering wheels instead of yokes, please.
Yokes on cars are stupid. It’s one thing for Elon Musk to use the idea as a gimmick, but now other companies are following Tesla in a race to the bottom, or in this case, into the wall.
You can’t properly control a car with a yoke. It doesn’t provide the range of motion to quickly turn the front wheels during an emergency maneuver. If the car gets loose or enters a skid, the best you can do is hold on. Maybe Tesla’s FSD will save you, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
A joystick would be better than a yoke, or even a game controller. Cars are starting to get over-the-air games to play on their touchscreens. Why not get rid of the wheel altogether so you can make the touchscreen larger? You could just press a button on the controller to pause your game, or pause your driving. Or if that’s too confusing, you could always bury that functionality inside the menu on a touchscreen.
Okay, I’m being sarcastic about the game controller suggestion. It’s a horrible idea, kind of like the idea of replacing a steering wheel with a yoke. But unlike the yokel who suggested the yoke, I wasn’t serious.
-Mark Webb, Contributing Writer
Stop with the screens already.
Automakers are eager to cram more and more screens into their latest models in a race to wow consumers with their tech prowess, but all that screen space comes at a cost. Almost every new car launches with a digital instrument cluster and an infotainment display. They range from modest to monstrous, sometimes occupying enough real estate to give the local cinema a run for its money. They’re also gobbling up tactile buttons, putting once accessible functions deep inside multi-layer user interfaces that require drivers to take their eyes off the road to operate, but that’s a problem to discuss another day.
Screens also steal a bit of a car’s identity, eliminating one way it could stand out from its competitors when all the interactions are frustrating taps on glass. The move makes software, the user interface, and the user experience more important than ever. Automakers will differentiate their software with unique graphics, layouts, and proprietary features, much like they did with infotainment displays. However, that wasn’t enough to ward off the likes of Google and Apple.
Both tech giants are active in the automotive space. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are popular with consumers, which have gone from being novelties to optional features, and then to expected standard equipment in just a few years. The two are seeking deeper integrations with automakers and the cars they make. In June, Apple previewed its next-generation CarPlay software that’s designed to take over every screen in the vehicle, expanding functionality, customizability, and Apple’s presence in front of consumers, wedging itself between the user and the car.
Automakers could temper the integration, but much like the first-generation technology, it’s only a matter of time before consumers expect it to be standard on every make and model.
- Anthony Alaniz, Contributing Writer
Want full self-driving vehicles? Take the bus.
There are two types of people in the world: those that enjoy driving, and those where driving is just a means to get somewhere.
Full self-driving, or FSD, is attractive to people in the latter category. Billions of dollars have been invested in FSD capabilities so people won’t have to participate in the act of driving their vehicles. Instead, they could watch movies, play games, take a nap, or work on personal projects while the car does the dirty work. The problem is, FSD doesn't exist. Yes, there are cars that can drive themselves in limited situations, but even then, they require some form of driver involvement.
I’m no expert on FSD. I couldn’t tell you how it works or the difference between systems. But for people who don’t like driving, there is one option that lets you read or do other things while traveling somewhere. It’s called mass transit.
If you don’t like to drive, or can’t drive, catch a train, hop a bus, or use the subway. Or if those options don’t appeal to you, there’s always Uber. All of these options are cheaper than owning a car, especially one that might one day be capable of driving itself without mowing down pedestrians. Then you can catch up on social media and leave the driving to those of us who enjoy it.
- Mark Webb, Contributing Writer
Counterpoint: Advanced driver assistance systems are a useful safety net.
Sorry, Mark, but I respectfully disagree. By Full Self Driving, I’m assuming you’re referring to the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems that allow a vehicle to pilot itself, like the eponymous Tesla system, General Motors Super Cruise, and Ford Blue Cruise. Just because a person wants a vehicle to handle some aspects of motoring doesn’t mean that individual doesn’t enjoy driving.
The tech functions as an extra level of safety for the driver when something happens that the person isn’t anticipating. To me, that’s not significantly different than what anti-lock brakes do. Yes, a motorist can learn the exact threshold where the wheels are going to lock up, but in an emergency, someone can panic and slam on the pedal. That’s where ABS could save them. The situation is similar to traction control or stability control, in my opinion.
Separately, trains, buses, and even Uber rides are not viable transportation choices in large sections of the country. If people need to drive, let’s give them the tech to be as safe as possible because it might not only save the person behind the wheel but also other motorists or pedestrians. That is, as long as it's used responsibly.
Make vehicle chargers mandatory for new residential construction.
This is less of a complaint and more of a plea for progress. After writing about automotive news for over a decade, I’m pretty confident that EVs are the future of motoring. I’m not saying combustion vehicles are going away, but the trend is increasingly towards electrification, whether that means hybrids, PHEVs, or full EVs.
To me, a significant attraction to EVs is being able to charge them at home. In essence, your garage becomes a refueling station. Plug in, go inside, and enjoy your place. Meanwhile, your vehicle is recharging. By the time you need to drive somewhere, the battery is full of juice.
Recharging at home makes stopping at a charging station less necessary, depending on how far you’re driving. This at least somewhat relieves the pressure on the still-expanding charging infrastructure.
By making chargers mandatory when building new homes, you expand these advantages to even more people. Even if a buyer doesn’t own a plug-in vehicle now, they might in the future. It could even make a person more likely to purchase an EV because the ability to charge at home would already be available to that customer.
-Chris Bruce, Contributing Writer