Month: July 2017

BMW Marks 40 years of the 7-series with a Special Edition: America Gets 10 Copies ""

BMW 7-Series 40 Jahre Edition

While Audi has unveiled an entirely new, breakthrough A8 and Mercedes-Benz is launching an extensively updated S-class facelift, BMW looks back at the history of its 7-series and celebrates the model’s 40th birthday with a special edition, of which only 10 copies will come to the United States.

To be unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show this September, the Edition 40 Jahre (40th Anniversary Edition or, literally translated, Edition 40 Years) will be built in a series of 200 units, according to customer specifications and wishes. In Europe, all engines and drivetrains will be available; there is no word on how U.S.-bound cars will be configured.

BMW 7-Series 40 Jahre Edition

Common to all 200 units is the special paint: All cars will be finished in either Frozen Silver Metallic or in Petrol Mica Metallic, the latter being a color that celebrates the rich heritage of blue hues in BMW’s history. All will have high-gloss black Shadow Line trim (it used to be matte black in the 1980s), and all will come with 20-inch V-spoke wheels from BMW’s Individual program.

Inside, there are two leather combinations on offer, either Smoke White/Cohiba or Smoke White/Black. The headliner is always finished in Smoke White alcantara. Wood decor will be Smoke Brown or Piano Black, designed to match the leather upholstery. Badges abound inside and out, with the specially designed 40-year anniversary logo appearing on the B-pillars, rocker panels, wood trim, headrests, and pillows. Beyond that, the cars can be ordered individually.

There is no word yet on pricing, but we expect a significant markup, if you can get your hands on one at all. We figure all 10 units for the U.S. will be spoken for prior to the Frankfurt show reveal.

BMW 7-Series 40 Jahre Edition

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2018 Chevrolet Equinox 2.0T First Drive: Torque and Treat ""

2018-Chevrolet-Equinox-2.0T-PLACEMENT

When manufacturers aren’t introducing brand-new vehicles to fill the nooks and crannies that remain between segments, they’re altering the sizes and shapes of existing models to better fit the boundaries that have solidified since those cars were first introduced. With the all-new 2018 Equinox, Chevrolet is doing the latter: The new Equinox has been downsized to more closely align with other compact SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, the Mazda CX-5, the Ford Escape, and the Toyota RAV4, and in the process the Chevy has become a much better vehicle. READ MORE ››

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2018 Chevrolet Equinox 2.0T – First Drive Review ""

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Lyft Embarks on Grandiose Plan to Build Its Own Self-Driving Technology ""

LYFT-3
-Within the next eight years, executives from the ride-hailing service Lyft say, they’ll be delivering a billion rides per year. But those will all be in autonomous vehicles. Considering that such vehicles aren’t even deployed on the road right now, aside from pilot projects, that’s an ambitious vision for such a tight timeframe. Lyft has taken steps toward making it happen, though, announcing plans to build its own autonomous technology at a new lab located in Palo Alto, California.

The new self-driving division will consist of hundreds of employees dedicated to creating a complete self-driving software and hardware kit that can be integrated into vehicles provided by partners. Lyft already has inked partnership deals with the likes of Waymo, nuTonomy, General Motors, and Jaguar Land Rover.

Should its efforts to develop the technology prove successful, Lyft might have an edge in the marketplace because it could provide both software and a massive network of riders, while partnering on vehicle production. This development was announced while the company’s chief rival in the ride-hailing business, Uber, struggles to advance its own self-driving tech and contends with a lawsuit over trade secrets that were allegedly stolen from Waymo.

“They’d have to be starting from scratch at this point. I think Lyft is big enough to do that, but I’m not sure what the business case is for them to do this part of it.”
– Sam Abuelsamid, Navigant Research

Lyft is embarking on this in-house solution years behind Uber, Waymo, and many others. With so many companies both large and small chasing advances on the software side of autonomous vehicles, this development is a bit of a head scratcher, said Sam Abuelsamid, senior research analyst with Navigant Research’s Transportation Efficiencies program.

“When you look at how many players there are in this space, between OEMs and big suppliers and Waymo and Apple, and a dozen of these three-, four-, five-person startups in Silicon Valley popping up doing this stuff, I really don’t know what Lyft thinks it can add,” he said. “Unless they’re either acquiring someone or have acquired someone, they’d have to be starting from scratch at this point. I think Lyft is big enough to do that, but I’m not sure what the business case is for them to do this part of it.”

A rendering of the Palo Alto laboratory that Lyft's new self-driving division will soon call home.

A rendering of the Palo Alto laboratory that Lyft’s new self-driving division will soon call home.

Perhaps more than most others, Lyft seemingly has laid the groundwork for deploying autonomous vehicles among a varied fleet. With General Motors using Chevrolet Bolts for its autonomous efforts and nuTonomy using Renault Zoes, Lyft users could hail vehicles designed for one to two passengers. With Waymo, Lyft could dispatch minivans, and with Jaguar Land Rover, it could appeal to users seeking a premium in-cabin experience.

Sensors can be mounted on these cars to collect location information that helps Lyft build high-definition maps for autonomous driving, and the sheer size of the company’s network could help it develop the know-how to navigate roads around the world at a rapid pace.

But Lyft says it is not just building ride-hailing apps, high-def maps, or even self-driving systems for autonomous cars. It’s building an urban transportation ecosystem that’s predicated on shared, autonomous vehicles. Lyft makes no secret about its eagerness to hasten the demise of personal car ownership and to reshape urban landscapes. Speaking at the Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco recently, Joseph Okpaku, Lyft’s vice president of government relations, said the company expects the majority of its rides to be given in autonomous vehicles within the next five years and added that car ownership will decline as mobility options continue to grow.

“We’re very excited to see the autonomous-vehicle technology’s ability to reduce vehicle-miles traveled and the comfort people will have in getting rid of their cars,” he said. “It will let us take a whole new look at our cities and urban planning. We’re hoping—and, frankly, pushing—things like adjusted pricing and smart lanes, and that’s a strong part of our vision for the next 10 to 20 years for our intended deployment and rollout of autonomous-vehicle platforms.”

As much as Lyft’s vision tilts toward driverless cars, the company acknowledged that human drivers will always play some role in moving riders around cities. Lyft said that it will “always” operate a mixed network that provides rides from both human-driven and self-driving cars. When a rider requests a Lyft along a route that a self-driving vehicle can complete—likely in a geofenced area—the company’s algorithm would dispatch an autonomous vehicle. If a rider intended to go somewhere that an autonomous vehicle wasn’t yet ready to navigate, a human driver could respond.

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2017 BMW 5-series Tested in Depth: We Poke and Prod the Latest 5er ""

2017-BMW-5-series-01-Placement

Once the gold standard for sports sedans, in recent years the BMW 5-series has morphed into more of a luxury cruiser. Technologically advanced and supremely comfortable, the newest 5-series performs well in many categories but lacks the lively handling of BMWs we fondly remember from the past. A strong turbocharged inline-four engine is standard in the 530i, and an even more potent turbocharged inline-six propels the 540i (V-8, hybrid, and diesel options soon will be available, too). READ MORE ››

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2017 BMW 5-series – In-Depth Review ""

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New Company Crowdsources Mapmaking to Pave the Way for Self-Driving Cars ""

Lvl5-2

Do you earn a living by hustling for ride-hailing companies or driving delivery gigs? There may be a new way to add a few extra dollars to your bottom line while helping to lay the groundwork for autonomous vehicles.

Mapping ever-changing road environments is one of the trickiest aspects of preparing self-driving vehicles for the road, and there’s a new company that aims to do just that by crowdsourcing location information from the cameras on drivers’ smartphones. In return, drivers can earn 2 to 5 cents per mile.

Founded by a team that includes two former engineers who worked on Tesla Motors’ Autopilot semi-autonomous feature, Silicon Valley startup Lvl5 is recruiting drivers to download an app called Payver. With the app running and smartphones mounted on a dashboard, the company’s engineers can use computer-vision software to distill a high-definition portrait of the vehicle’s surroundings.

“Every self-driving car needs a map,” said Andrew Kouri, Lvl5’s co-founder and CEO. “It’s more than just a Google map—it needs to be a high-definition map of everything on the road, where sidewalks are, crossing lights, and everything else you can imagine that would help a car know how and where to drive. What it comes down to is that nobody has these maps at scale right now.”

“What it comes down to is that nobody has these
-maps at scale right now.”
-– Andrew Kouri, Lvl5

That’s not for lack of trying. At least a half-dozen companies, including Mobileye, Civil Maps, Here, and TomTom, are vying to provide these maps for autonomous vehicles. In a move that caught the attention of the industry and demonstrated the value of these maps, Intel acquired Mobileye in a deal worth $15 billion earlier this year.

Kouri helped integrate Mobileye’s cameras into the Autopilot system during his days at Tesla, and in building his own company, he is following a similar approach that favors camera-based maps and eschews those made with lidar sensors. While a number of autonomous-vehicle developers rely heavily on lidar units, he said they cost too much and remain unproven in real-world environments.

Kouri claimed the company’s camera-based software, which snaps a frame every three feet, can provide the same accuracy as lidar.

This image is an intersection in San Francisco generated from information taken by the Pavyver app after two passes through the intersection.

This image is an intersection in San Francisco generated from information taken by the Payver app after two passes through the intersection.

“We would totally buy lidar if it made sense, because it works so well for autonomous cars, and it’s a great sensor,” Kouri said. “The problem is, it hasn’t been tested in Michigan winters or gone through carwash cycles. These are questions if you are mass-producing an autonomous car—you’d better know that a $5000 component is going to work. So there’s that, and nobody is producing them in volume. Rather than wait, we said, ‘Hey, we know cameras work.’ ”

The company was founded in December 2016 and went through the Y Combinator business incubator for two months. Over a three-month span earlier this year, Lvl5 recruited 2500 drivers and collected 500,000 miles of driving data from them. Kouri said this accounts for coverage of 90 percent of U.S. interstates, but he added that the company also would be interested in partnering with a big automaker to help get comprehensive coverage of roads worldwide.  Lvl5 is already conducting pilot projects with several unnamed OEMs.

“We want to collect a diverse data set to see what roads look like in the snow or, for example, desert video from Abu Dhabi,” he said. “We couldn’t detect the lane lines there, and it turns out the roads were covered in sand. That messed up our algorithm, but we learned from it.”

Drivers can earn more for providing data from roads the company hasn’t yet mapped versus well-traveled roads. For ordinary commuters, earning a few cents per mile probably isn’t appealing. But it could be more enticing for drivers already working behind the wheel. For example, a trucker who drives 500 miles per day could earn, at four cents per mile, an extra $20. Do that multiple times per week, a few weeks per month. Right now, the Payver app is only available for iPhone users. Lvl5 says it is working on an Android version that should be available within a few months.

It could provide more than pocket change, and there’s little effort required. For Lvl5, the big question remains: Will enough motorists be interested?

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The Waiting Is the Hardest Part: Ford Delays Delivery of Some GTs ""

2017 Ford GT

The 2017 Ford GT is real, and it’s spectacular. Unfortunately, some of those deemed worthy of becoming owners are having to wait to find out just how spectacular, as deliveries of the supercar have been delayed.

While the Blue Oval has delivered a handful of its mid-engined supercars to owners, Ford is delaying shipment of some GTs as a result of supplier constraints and global homologation issues. Although a Ford spokesperson was unable specify what suppliers or markets are contributing to the delay, the company did share in a written statement that the holdup is part of “an extended ramp up” that was built into the 647-hp supercar’s production plans.

Ford plans to produce a total of 250 GTs this year, with an additional 750 GTs earmarked for production through 2020. With a base price of $453,750, the hand-built 2017 GT is a pricey piece. Still, if driving the twin-turbocharged V-6 supercar around Utah Motorsports Campus taught us anything, it’s that the 2017 GT is worth every penny of its asking price. Trust us, the GT is one car that’s worth the wait.

2017-Ford-GT-Delay-REEL

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2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport First Drive: Hyundai’s GTI Fighter Driven ""

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT

Known as the i30 across the pond, the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport has the Volkswagen Golf GTI in its sights. Drawn under the watchful eye of Hyundai’s chief design officer Peter Schreyer, the compact hatchback’s sporty bodywork, clean lines, and attractive proportions make it far more fashionable than both its funky-looking predecessor and its dowdier sedan counterpart. READ MORE ››

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2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport – First Drive Review ""

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