2025 Fuel Economy Standards Set by EPA

It's no secret that the EPA is tough on automakers. Honestly, they have to be. In order to continue on the increase of vehicles on the road while still maintaining the environment, change has to be made. The agency recently announced the standards for average fuel economy in 2025, jumping the gun and doing so before their April deadline.

More than likely, this will cause quite the stir for manufacturers. Despite the decided figures being slightly lower than expected, many feel that it will be exceedingly difficult to meet requirements without costing a lot more in production. Originally, the intended average fuel economy for 2025 was 54.5 MPG; however, due to the leap in large vehicle sales, it's been relaxed to 50 MPG and 52.6 MPG.

When looking at current numbers, it's clear that these figures won't be easy to achieve. Trucks and SUVs are still stuck in the low to mid 20's, meaning that they are expected to double their efficiency in the next 8 years. This is the major concern for many automakers as they have to do so while keeping production and sales costs comparably low to today.

While this is good news for cleaner air and environments, the standards are going to take a considerable toll on the development of other technologies. We're sure the money and time will still be spent on autonomous developments -- there's no doubt. But aside from that, it will distract manufacturers from working on diverse projects ranging from convenience features to performance. If anything, this only reinforces the promotion behind electrification, a catch all that satisfies most needs for the EPA and manufacturers alike.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in the release "“My decision today rests on the technical record created by over eight years of research, hundreds of published reports including an independent review by the National Academy of Sciences, hundreds of stakeholder meetings, and multiple opportunities for the public and the industry to provide input".

So what do you think? Is this a reasonable (and attainable) goal for the next eight years? Will it spell trouble for automakers who must now dump even more finances into efficiency? It's hard to tell right now. We see how much technology advances every year, let alone how much it can change in the next eight. Regardless, this is an interesting development that could switch up the automotive landscape.

rPlate Is The License Plate Of The Future, Unfortunately

Have you heard of the Internet-of-Things? People selling things you don’t need call it the IoT. The IoT is the idea that anything that can be “connected” should be. My dad didn’t live long enough to see the IoT, but he had a saying that sums up the IoT perfectly.

Anything is possible, but not everything is necessary.

Welcome to the rPlate, “the world’s first digital license plate & cloud app store”, a claim that is both fearsome and half true. Half-true because a cursory web search unearthed a company called Compliance Innovations, who have been trying to sell a connected license plate since 2013. Fearsome because where Compliance Innovations appears to have stalled, rPlate is forging ahead by adding features everyone will love, except drivers.

Drivers, of course, aren’t the customer.

Based on rPlate manufacturer Reviver’s site, their primary targets are DMVs and fleets. The actual product isn’t the plate itself, but a “connected car innovation platform” that automates vehicle registrations and turns your plates into billboards. Add telematics, location tracking and app development, and what little privacy we have left is annihilated.

Like it or not, the business model has promise. The registration component makes sense. Why didn’t this seem to work for Compliance Innovations? Possibly because of their focus on compliance for individual drivers. Would you really want your plate to change from this:

To this?

One of those is good. The other? A nice big invitation to get pulled over by police.

By focusing on fleets, Reviver is sidestepping the ire of drivers like myself — who would go absolutely ballistic if forced into using one — but it’s a slippery and short slope from fleets to individuals.

Let’s suppose they did.

Reviver isn’t clear about whether the rPlate will visually display your registration status, or just automate renewal and spare you the traffic stop and fines. One approach is very different (and exploitative) than the other. Their site doesn’t explicitly mention insurance, but it’s hard to believe once they’re in bed with state agencies, they wouldn’t cite the problem of uninsured motorists as a catalyst to tie insurance into the system.

What happens next? You have to display insurance status on the plate, because the type of motorist who fails to renew won’t be swayed by anything short of a traffic stop.

Am I defending uninsured motorists? Absolutely not. But when your car is broadcasting information which law enforcement will undoubtedly interpret as probable cause, you’re driving Pandora’s car.

Dig around the LinkedIn profiles of its principals and you can see all the way down the rabbit hole. Co-founder Mike Jordan refers to “telematics and electronic fee collection.” President Scot Gensler describes the rPlate’s “GPS, accelerometer [and] all kinds of cool sensors.” Director of Quality & Manufacturing Edwin Monclova refers to “limitless messaging.”

Telematics integration means the rPlate isn’t just powered by your car. It has direct access to vehicle data. This makes sense for fleet management. For my personal car? No thanks. This is coming from manufacturers whether we like it or not. I’m not going to adopt this unless I have to.

Electronic fee collection? I’ve got an EZ-Pass. I hate seeing it on the windshield. I hate seeing the velcro on the glass when I remove it. Use a suction mount? I hate the residue. Would I pay a surcharge for an rPlate? If it was low enough.

A GPS, accelerometer and “all kinds of cool sensors?” In hell. This is a recipe for speed enforcement. Most moving violations are merely another form of taxation. Automated ticketing through public/private partnerships has already proven toxic with the Redflex shenanigans. Between my phone and my car, I’m already being tracked more than I like. Stalking? How hard do you think it will be to hack this thing? Law enforcement bricking your car? I saw Knight Rider. Count me out. That picture above doesn't make me happy.

Advertising? Co-founder Neville Boston has talked about broadcasting location based-ads, sort of like Google AdSense for cars. I’m sure fleets will love the additional revenue source, and it makes more sense than Wrapify — the company that pays you to wrap your car in ads — but no amount of money would get me to allow 3rd party ads on my car. I’m lying. I’ve got a number. But Reviver isn’t going to pay it.

Limitless messaging? As long as it’s restricted to Amber alerts, I’m fine with this. Enable messaging while in motion? Even the most anti-government elements would have to agree this needs to be regulated. Nothing would be worse than Twitter on a license plate.

I can think of a dozen great apps Reviver hasn’t talked about, but I’ll throw out two, perfect for a mixed environment of human and self-driving cars:

1) Fourth brake light — if the plate is connected to a vehicle for more than just power, it should function as the biggest, brightest brake light on the car. Think F1 brake lights, just bigger.

2) Self-driving car communications — companies like Drive.ai are allegedly working on methods of audio/visual communication between self-driving cars, human-driven cars and pedestrians. Self-driving cars will need plates, at least for a while. Voila! Problem solved. Reviver, have your biz-dev people call John Krafcik at Waymo. Don’t bother with Tesla. You know how Musk is.

rPlate’s merits depend entirely on whether Reviver focuses on commercial fleets, or goes for the full kitty and lobbies to have connected plates mandated for everyone. You know which side of the fence I’m on. Prototype plates are already operational in California, and they have approvals from legislators in Florida and California. Arizona is pending. Move to Texas, and you’ll be protected.

What is the lifespan of license plates, anyway? As every ounce of aero and weight is extracted from car design, plates make no sense. Certainly not front plates. Rear plates will be one of the last vestiges of an analog world. Where driverless plates become ubiquitous, there won’t be plates at all, but that’s another story.

I wish Reviver good luck, just not too much of it.

Alex Roy is Editor-at-Large for The Drive, author of The Driver, and set the 2007 Transcontinental “Cannonball Run” Record in 31 hours & 4 minutes. You may follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

FCA Allegedly Caught Cheating Emissions by EPA

As soon as one emissions scandal comes to a head, another begins. We've followed VW's Dieselgate since the bomb dropped more than a year ago, seeing fines stack up and indictments being made. As it turns out, though, they may not be the only ones who used a bit of tomfoolery with the EPA. The federal agency has now accused FCA of using emission cheating devices in their light duty EcoDiesel V6 engines, affecting the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee models with the powerplant.

The EPA has stated that the auto giant violated the Clean Air Act by fitting these engines with equipment that allows excessive NOx emissions -- without telling them. That's the big no-no in this case. Regulations do allow for manufacturers to install such systems, but they must them disclose them with the agency. FCA denies such allegations, stating that their products "meet the applicable requirements".

A further announcement was made by the manufacturer, saying "FCA US looks forward to the opportunity to meet with the EPA’s enforcement division and representatives of the new administration to demonstrate that FCA US’s emissions control strategies are properly justified and thus are not ‘defeat devices’ under applicable regulations and to resolve this matter expeditiously,”

This investigation will affect ~104,000 Ram 1500s and Jeep Grand Cherokees sold with the EcoDiesel engine. FCA has market their 3.0L V6 diesels as a selling point for fuel economy, promising better MPG while still maintaining a load of work capabilities. The engine has been on the market since 2014.

Initially, this is a similar situation that Volkswagen faced in their ongoing headache. "Cheat devices" were implicated in their case, leading to an astronomical amount of legal and buyback/repair fees. The dust is beginning to settle for the German manufacturer, but programs have just begun in order to make things right with their customers. A recent development resulted in the prosecution of 6 former VW executives.

The EPA is still looking into the case to determine legality. If their investigation comes back clear, than FCA can breathe a sigh of relief. But if not, they may be in a for a whirlwind that can last a long time -- just ask VW.

Carl Edwards Retires From NASCAR and the Feds Indict More VW Execs: The Evening Rush

The Evening Rush is your daily roundup of auto, gear, and lifestyle news, all in one place. Less time searching, more time driving. Motor on.

Automotive

The swift hand of justice is descending upon Volkswagen this week, as the Department of Justice indicted six high level VW executives. All employees will be charged with attempting to defraud the US government. This is on top of the $4.3 billion plea deal VW is negotiating with the US government.

Carl Edwards has officially retired from NASCAR. Although he did not explicitly indicate retiring entirely, the 37-year-old racer says his stock car driving days are behind him. With 445 career starts and 28 wins over 20 years, it isn’t surprising to hear that Edwards wants to step away. As he made clear in his press conference, he is sick of thinking about racing 24/7, and wants to dedicate his time to the people he cares about. Right on, man.

In typical Tesla fashion, the company has announced they'll be powering their Nevada Gigafactory with a 70-megawatt solar farm on the roof of their facility. Supplying enough power to run the facility (and then some), Tesla will story any extra energy in Powerpacks for later use. This makes the Gigafactory the largest rooftop solar farm in the world as well.

Gear

If you listen to podcasts, read subway ads or have right-hand ads on your computer, you've probably seen Casper mattresses. Well, the hype is true, they are extremely comfortable and somewhat affordable. Do your canine friend a favor and share the same luxuries with him by purchasing a Casper dog bed. Think of it this way, if he is in a deep sleep, he won’t be chewing your driving shoes.

Yeti has continued to step up their Rambler game with a soon-to-be-released gallon jug. You can store everything from coffee to beer to water in these puppies, keeping your beverage of choice the exact temperature you want thanks to 18/8 kitchen-grade steel covering the double-walled vacuum body.

Lifestyle

Spontaneous outings rock, and should be embraced by everyone. The idea of a spontaneous picnic along a favorite trail or back road cruise brings a smile to my face. If you're like me, you'd rather not be sitting in the dirt on your next adventure, so invest in a set of four Best Made Co camping stools on steep discount.

There are still tickets available for the Lime Rock Park winter autocross. Bring your own car to Lime Rock’s snow-covered autocross course and learn how to control your vehicle during heavy snow conditions. Once you hone your skills, have a blast sliding around the course.

Letter From the Future: Dear Apple iMobility Customer Service…

TO: Tim Cook, CEO
Apple Computer
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
1/2/2023

Re: Apple iMobility Customer Service

Dear Mr. Cook:

I’m writing to you about a problem with my monthly Apple iMobility “MultiPass” subscription service.

The problem is: It sucks.

Let’s start with what Apple promised in its Press Release:

“SAN FRANCISCO — September 8, 2022 — Apple today unveiled Apple iMobility, a single, intuitive app that combines the best ways to get from A to B, all in one place. Apple iMobility is a revolutionary platform aggregating all modes of transportation wherever you live—whether you ride, hail, pool, share or drive—via a convenient flat-rate subscription service, redefining Mobility-as-a-Service...”

One price to get me anywhere in NYC? Everything plus self-driving cabs? Loved the idea. I had lots of choices—DidiMo, Uber, Tesla, Toyota’s CommUt, WayMo, GoNow—but I’d been holding out for Apple. You were late to the game, which meant you were doing it right ... right? I was willing to pay a little more for upgraded cars and solo rides, so I happily lined up, in the rain, outside the Soho Apple store for Milla Jovovich to sign my Apple iMobility MultiPass.

Alas, iMobility ended up costing me a lot more than plain old mobility used to, and screwing me when I needed it the most. Why? Because mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) somehow turned into a clone of health insurance, and now there’s no escaping it.

Sadly, this story ends at a hospital, but not for the reasons you think.

How I Was Funneled Into MaaS
New Yorkers have always been highly mobile. I took the subway, and occasionally a bus. I owned a bike. Sometimes I took cabs. I even used to enjoy keeping a car in the city, when it was still possible to park on the street in lower Manhattan. (I had to, because I was priced out of my building’s garage when the resident 20 percent parking tax exemption was lifted and my spot hit $1,100/month.) Shopping around was no longer an option in 2019. Most of the garages downtown had been scrapped to build condos, many on top of automated self-driving car depots. Now, spots costs $1,600.

Alternate-side-of-the-street parking worked, until it didn’t. Thanks, Mayor McMillan. Rent wasn’t the only thing he thought was too damn expensive; thanks for expanding bike lanes to eat up the last free spots in lower Manhattan, then banning gas cars on alternate days, then human driving from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays.

Apple was right there behind McMillan, although no one knew it at the time.

I had no choice but to garage my car in New Jersey and take the PATH train on a trip outside the city ... just to take a trip outside the city. That really sucked on evenings and weekends. So much for picking up my mom at the airport.

The only thing more annoying than the Vision Zero program was Driving Zero, which you backed along with everyone else pushing MaaS. Vision Zero made sense: use harsh penalties in the noble attempt to reduce automotive fatalities to zero. But since you couldn’t monetize moving violations or human drivers who own their cars, you lobbied for human-driving exclusion zones.

That was the final solution for people like me, who live in one such zone, which was obviously your plan all along. If we didn’t get priced out of city-based ownership, we were mandated out. Combined with your success in gutting public transportation, I joined the masses funneled into MaaS.

Cost In The Good Old Days
Before iMobility, my 2022 transportation costs looked like this:

NYC MTA Unlimited Ride Metrocard, including New Jersey PATH
$200/mo

10 taxi rides (yellow cabs/Uber)
$250/mo

2 Round-trip rides to JFK or EWR
$350/mo

Citibike, because you never know.
$20/mo

Total: $820/month

We’ll exclude my car, because based on what happened I’ll never give it up.

Cost With Apple iMobility
Apple offered what seemed like the perfect plan—the iMobility Pro Multi-Pass—which included:

Unlimited subway/bus rides/shared car rides (within NYC + NJ PATH)
12 solo taxi rides a month (in-network, within NYC borders)
2 solo round-trip rides to any airport
Access to bikeshare networks

Total: $600/month

I suppose I should have read the fine print.

How It All Went Wrong: The Defective Card
It didn’t happen all at once. At first, getting on the subway was really fun. I’d pull out my Multi-Pass, and it would automatically say “Multi-Pass” in the Leeloo Dallas voice when it was swiped. By the third day that was as cool as owning the U2 edition iPod pre-loaded with that album that sucked.

But my Multi-Pass wasn’t just embarrassing, it had a critical flaw. You have to use a physical card to get on the subway, because the iMobility app is not yet compatible with the turnstiles. When a NYC Metrocard is defective, you go to a station agent and get another one. No agent? Insert your card into a machine, chat with the AI bot, and you get another card.

An Apple iMobility Multi-Pass? Subway vending machines can’t replace them. They do like to eat them, though. I had no cash, but at least my phone was charged. I bought two SingleRides from the vending machine, went to work, then to the 24-hour 5th Avenue Apple store (sans appointment) and waited for two hours to see a Genius. They couldn’t replace it until the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority sent the card back to Apple—just like when an ATM ate your card before 2009.

A replacement was promised by mail within 7-14 days. Could I pick one up at an Apple Store? No. Would it be a Leeloo Dallas Limited Edition Multi-Pass? No. That was a Limited Edition, and would be destroyed upon receipt by Apple. So much for my Leeloo Dallas LImited Edition Multi-Pass. I could have bought a 7-day Metrocard for $70, but I wouldn’t get any of the other services I enjoyed with iMobility. If I bought what I used a la carte, I was screwed, so I bought a seven day generic Apple-branded Multi-Pass for $250, and hoped for the best.

Would the $250 be credited toward my monthly mobility bill?

“Go online,” said the Genius with the tats, “and fill out the form.”

My new card arrived 6 days later. Apple never received my old card from the MTA, so I never got the credit. Could Apple have tracked my card usage to prove that I was no longer using the original? No; the Apple and MTA back-ends aren’t connected, apparently. What if I’d just said I lost my card? I’d still have to wait until the end of the month, which really sucks if you lose your Multi-Pass at the beginning of the month.

Turns out I was lucky.

$600 + $8 + $250 = $858

I was now $38 over what I spent before iMobility.

A few weeks later Apple changed their policy. Apparently, the back-ends were always connected, but the customer service policy wasn’t yet in place. Still no refund, though. That was my first month.

How It All Went Wrong: The Out-Of-Network Surcharge
After I got my new Multi-Pass, everything was fine. Until the subway outage. Over a thousand people poured out of the station at Lafayette & Prince street, every one of us asking Siri, Cortana, or Alexa to summon the fastest mobility option our subscriptions entitled us to.

When 1,000 people simultaneously summon self-driving cars in the same place, and those people are split between six competing flat-rate mobility subscription platforms with varying caps and policies, and all the self-driving cars are owned by third parties looking to maximize their revenue, five things are going to happen: 1) a historic traffic jam, since self-driving cars aren’t good with thick crowds of people who can’t tell their self-driving ride-hail cars apart; 2) stacking cancellation charges, since people who can’t identify their ride ten feet away will just order another one, maybe twenty feet away, and not be able to find that one either; 3) only solo rides will be available; 4) cars will be rerouted toward users with premium plans; and 5) going outside of your plan gets very, very expensive.

Expensive as in: $126 for a ride that is normally $34. I would happily have tackled any number of people I saw to get into a yellow cab, but they no longer exist. Nor do municipal buses—at least, not as they used to.

So I waited 40 minutes for a pooled share car to become available. It cost me $86. Two hours later, I still hadn’t completed a trip to Brooklyn that would have taken 30 minutes by train.

I got out and decided to bike.

No CitiBikes or Mobikes were available. I spotted a Mobillette stand with one bike left. Mobillete? There’s always a French startup when you need one.

Guess what? Mobillette isn’t in the Apple iMobility network, which meant a $50 out-of-network fee (like a bad health insurance plan) plus a $25 one-way drop fee, like car rentals in the old days. CitiBike used to cost me $20 per month. How could a Mobillette cost $75 for 20 minutes? Pure criminality. I’ll never do that again.

$600 + $86 + $50 + $25 = $761

I was still $59 under what I used to spend before iMobility, so theoretically ahead of the game, but something didn’t feel right. If I still had a car in the city, I could have driven. I’ve got an EV, but it’s not self-driving. It would have been nearly free—if it were legal to drive it during daytime on a weekday.

That was my second month.

How It All Went Wrong: “It Only Smells”
New Year’s Eve always sucks, but who would have thought mobility could make it suck in so many new and exciting ways? My girlfriend and I summoned a car to go to a party. All we had to do was get to midtown. We got in and instantly noticed someone had vomited in the car. A superficial cleanup had been attempted by a cleaning bot at some nearby depot, but if we stayed in that car more than sixty seconds we were both going to replicate what must have happened no more than thirty minutes prior.

Unfortunately, we were already in motion.

“Driver,” I said to the bot, “stop the car. We have to get out.”

“I cannot stop here,” it replied in a soothing female voice. “This is a no-stopping zone.”

I could see my girlfriend starting to heave.

“Turn off immediately,” I said. “Take the next side street.”

“I’m afraid it is illegal to make turns northbound between here and 23rd street. Would you like to change your destination?”

Now I was starting to heave as well. “Stop the car!”

“I’m afraid we cannot stop here safely. Do you have an emergency? We can notify the police and reroute to the nearest—”

“No!” I gagged. “Someone vomited in the car, I feel sick!”

“I assure you,” said the bot, “the car was thoroughly cleaned. It only smells—”

“Stop now!” I yelled, then threw up. Then my girlfriend threw up on my pants.

“It would appear,” said the bot, “that you may have a medical emergency. I shall reroute immediately to Mount Sinai hospital. ETA is seven minutes.”

“Take us back,” I groaned, “to the pickup point.”

“For your own safety, I shall proceed to the ER at Mount Sinai...”

Neither of us were in any condition to object. Our car was given traffic priority, and for the first time I felt an autonomous car drive itself like a human would drive. We both vomited again, she on herself and I on her. Her dress was ruined. So was the jacket I inherited from my dead father, and my favorite pants.

Tickets to the party we missed? $250 each.

Dry cleaning one dress, one vintage corduroy jacket, and some cool plaid pants? $150

Taking another self-driving cab home covered in vomit? Priceless.

$600 + $500 + $150 = $1250

That was yesterday, the end of my third month with Apple iMobility, which cost me $430 more than what would have happened in the good old days, when a human driver would have stopped and let us out. I suppose that’s not Apple’s fault, except that it is. Apple led the industry in pushing to ban human drivers where I live, so you’re at least partially responsible for my holiday disaster.

A Little Advice, and a Request
Hey, Tim, here’s a lesson for you: technology ? solution. Technology is the means to a solution. Technology is only as good as the decisions that go into deploying it. You’re Apple. If you don’t control it, don’t put your brand on it.

Please cancel my Multi-Pass. I’m moving to Dallas. They’ll never outlaw human driving there, and I’ll have my own driveway that no one can take from me.

If you want, you can also send me $550 dollars for the New Year’s incident. It would go a long way toward me not publishing this letter on TheDrive.com.

Actually, I will anyway. The people deserve to know.

Alex Roy is an Editor-at-Large for The Drive, author of The Driver, and set the 2007 Transcontinental “Cannonball Run” Record in 31 hours & 4 minutes. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Diesel-Powered Unmanned Aircraft Sets New Endurance World Record

Vanilla Aircraft is taking a victory lap. The Falls Church, Virginia-based firm has announced that it successfully set an unmanned aerial vehicle record late last year, when its diesel-fed VA001 completed a 56-hour flight. The feat has now been certified by the National Aeronautic Association, officially on the books as the longest unrefueled flight for a combustion-powered, unmanned craft in the 100 to 1,102-pound weight class. The craziest part? VA001 landed carrying a half-tank of fuel.

Blame the weather. VA001 took off November 30th from New Mexico State University’s Unmanned Air Systems Flight Test Center, with an intended flight time of 120 hours. Employing a fixed, 36-foot wingspan, the craft carried a 20-pound payload, cruising at an average of 65.6 mph, at altitudes between 6,500 to 7,500 feet. Then an impending ice storm forced early landing. But Vanilla claims that, when the propeller-driven craft touched down, on December 2nd, it still had enough JP8 diesel in the tank for another 90 hours of flight time.

Friends, this is why we pay taxes. VA001, which made its maiden flight in 2015, was backed by the Department of Defense's Rapid Reaction Technology Office via U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Naval Air System Command. NASA also provided multispectral imaging to test agricultural sensing capabilities. Consider it money well-spent: VA001 should be a boon in military application, and Vanilla is hoping to offer a commercial version for agriculture and survey operations. The company’s CEO, retired Navy Rear Adm. Timothy Heely, calls the project “an unprecedented coordination among civil, defence, academic, and private industry to bring a heretofore only imagined capability to reality.”

One record in the books, expect another attempt at the full 120-hour flight sometime soon. In the meantime, Vanilla is continuing to develop VA001 toward its ultimate goal: 10 days, unrefueled, carrying a 30-pound payload at 15,000 feet.

How to Talk to Your Mechanic

Last week, we discussed the year-long frustration involving my project Fox Body Mustang and a faulty steering hub. First, I am happy to report that after a hundred miles of driving, the steering has behaved, and is finally consistent in quick transitions. It’s not something you want to have to diagnose, believe me—inconsistent steering is a sketchy symptom to have.

You probably want some Gregory House-level diagnosis for that one, since the consequences of a failure of that kind are higher than for, say, a faulty air conditioning compressor. Well, in the Malibu Canyons, anyway; if you live in Phoenix, air conditioning is absolutely more important than steering. But even if you have the actual (fictional) Dr. Gregory House on the job, that dude goes through at least four or five different potential diagnoses every 42 minutes. As someone who has (somewhat embarrassingly) seen every episode of House, M.D., the barrier to an accurate diagnosis is predictably repeatable throughout the series: the patient gives the doctors poor information.

After my column about the bad hub last week, several commenters correctly pointed out that the real problem wasn’t the hub, it was the bad diagnosis. While I did reiterate in the column my weekly reminder that I am, in fact, quite a moron, I didn’t dwell on it in writing. In reality, after re-reading the story I could do nothing but dwell on my own House, M.D. situation right here, in my garage. The bad diagnosis, the repeated bad diagnoses, is what kept the car off the road for most of the year. While I stewed at home, Betim Berisha, owner of BBi Autosport in Huntington Beach and the car’s primary caretaker, also mulled on the situation at his shop. We spoke this morning on the phone, and came to the same conclusion: it was the customer/tech communication breakdown which caused this issue more than a faulty part, and we should probably teach people [me] to talk to their [my] technician, so it doesn’t happen to them [again].

Step 1: Find the Right Shop (and know that this will almost always involve a compromise)

Ideally, you’re in a market in which it's possible to find a specialist known primarily for working on your type of car. The internet age has made it possible to get parts from any point A to any point B, but if you have a specialty car, you’re going to want to find a specialty shop. A good technician is like a good significant other; your relationship with your car is like a relationship with a person, and the tech is the voice, hands, and doctor for that car. Most major markets will have at least one well-known and trusted specialist to work on your car, but, like dating, don’t just swipe right and marry the first one.

For my project car, Maximum Motorsports selected and installed the whole chassis upgrade, including the steering system, so they would have been the perfect team to diagnose the issue. Maximum Motorsports, as I have mentioned, is 254 miles from my home. That is simply not realistic. In my compromise, I chose a shop like BBi, who are nationally renowned for building, maintaining, and racing Porsches. They are smart people with good judgement, and both Betim and Tony Thompson, my tech, do have experience working on Foxes, albeit from 15 years ago, when they were in high school. It’s not ideal, and in hindsight, slogging it eight hours to Maximum Motorsports may have been a time saver after all, but at the very least, I trust BBi’s judgement, their level of care on customer cars, and their background in motorsports; I trust them to do the best they can and keep it straight with me. Dr. House can cure any human of any disease, but he hasn’t diagnosed a Fox since medical school.

Step: 2: Tell Your Tech the Symptoms (without guessing the causes)

My girlfriend loves to describe my personality traits back to me, which has the unintended consequence of making me incredibly self conscious about everything I do. According to her, if she starts to tell me the first half of a story, I’ll just guess at the second half of the story, before she finishes. To learn you do this is horrible, because doing this is horrible. As it turns out, I do the same thing with my cars.

When my Corvette refused to start at SEMA 2012, I openly blamed the Optima Red Top Battery for, like, 10 minutes. Optima, who was the sponsor of my being there, was not pleased. They were even less pleased when we discovered it was a failing clutch bypass switch, and not the battery, which had immobilized the car, and I went and hid in the corner.

When the Mustang wouldn’t steer properly, I went into BBi Autosport and said, “This rebuilt steering rack is fucked.”

Those words sent Tony down a rabbit hole of unnecessary work for months. What I should have said was, “The car isn’t steering consistently. Sometimes when I turn the wheel hard, like in switchbacks, it seems to move without the wheels moving. This is exaggerated the more force I use to saw the wheel from side to side. If I hold a constant-radius corner, it's fine. The car also tracks straight when I let go of the wheel on flat road. But the steering wheel alignment seems to be getting worse over time.”

If I had described the symptoms of the issue in as much detail as possible, both Betim and I agreed they would have discovered the hub issue in one day. But because I chose to insert my own diagnosis, I put ideas into the doctors heads that closed the real doors and opened false ones. This is why you should go to House, M.D. and tell him what feels wrong, rather than going to Web M.D. and guessing what is wrong.

A technician is trained in finding causes from symptoms, but technicians are human, and the more a customer (theoretically) knows about cars, the more the technician is likely to be influenced by a customer’s uninformed diagnosis. When said customer is yours truly, why would a technician not listen if I walk in there saying the steering rack is fucked? Of course they’d look straight at it and wouldn’t even think about the hub until the very last thing ... which is, of course, exactly what happened.

Step 3: If Problems Resume After a Repair, Bring Them Up Immediately

Raise your hand if this has happened to you: you pick up your car from a shop, and either it’s not fixed correctly or a new problem has popped up. For one reason or another you don’t call or return to the shop right away. When you do get around to calling, the shop says they have no idea what you did in between then and now and can’t be responsible for the second issue. I have been on the customer end of this problem, and Betim has been on the shop end of this problem, and our consensus for avoiding this problem is exactly the same: call the shop right away, even if you cannot bring the car in right away. Betim says that there have been many cases where fixing one problem with car has brought another problem to light, and if those problems are related, he is much more likely to be able to work with the customer on diagnosis and on cost if he knows about the problem as soon as possible, with as few miles in between as possible. The theme here is still open, honest communication.

Step 4: If Modifying Rather Than Repairing, be Honest With Your Goals and You’ll be Happier With Your Car.

We’ve been through this one before in various iterations, but it remains true from the shop’s perspective: they want you to be happy with your car, so you recommend all your friends, and so you tell everyone how great they are, and so you bring your next dozen cars to their shop for the same stuff. This is a logical position to take. If you have a business, you want to make customers happy, to get more customers.

Betim says that a lot of customers come in to the shop asking to have specific parts installed, rather than stating their goals for the car. He uses the example of aftermarket headers on a Porsche 991 Turbo, “Lots of customers ask for headers on 991 Turbo’s. When I ask them why, their answer is, ‘for more power.’ which unfortunately, if I installed them, would be kind of a waste of money because they don’t really add power on those cars unless you’re already way over-the-top modified.” If they had simply walked in the door and said 'I’d like 100 horsepower more,’ there would be several easier, cheaper, and more efficient ways of getting that.”

Ultimately, your tech is your car’s diagnostician, doctor, and nurse—and also your car’s way of speaking back to you, telling you what it needs. Your job is to be the middle man, an echo chamber, a repeater for what the car is trying to tell you without words. You are not an editor, you are not a diagnostician, you are not Gregory House. Let the car finish its story, and tell that story to the tech, without adding your own hypothesis. Save time, drive the car.

Lastly, learn your lessons from mistakes, something of which clearly I am not capable. After my conversation with Betim about how to talk to your tech, I found myself in a wet parking lot, in the driver's seat of a Mustang that would not start without prodding.

I should have said, “The Mustang won’t start. The battery powers on, the electronics, accessories, and lights come on, and the fuel pump comes on. The starter motor just clicks but won’t fire. If I kick the clutch pedal really hard 4 or 5 times, it starts like nothing is wrong.”

But you already know that’s not what I said.

“This thing got a clutch bypass switch somewhere? I think it’s taken a shit.”

Just shoot me now.

The Contrarian’s Best of CES 2017

Autonomy! Connectivity! Mobility! You needed a leafblower to pierce the stench of buzzwords at CES 2017. While the rest of the media parachuted into Vegas and slunk out 48 hours later, I huffed it around Vegas for five days, from the loading docks of the Convention Center to the bowels of the Sands. Beyond the cumulous clouds of press releases out of which drones swarmed overhead, the most brilliant products and ideas hid in plain sight.

Here are my 14 favorites, from infrastructure to policy, people and startups. Let’s start with the less obvious:

14) Mass Transit Is Good: The Las Vegas Monorail
What is mobility? It’s whatever gets me from A to B quickly, cheaply and with minimal hassle. Mobility, thy name is monorail. Vegas traffic, always terrible, is absolute murder during CES. Walking is inconvenient. Everything is twice as far as it looks. It’s cold in the desert. The Monorail is the best proof I’ve ever seen for the absolute necessity of public rail transportation. A single ride is $5. The same cab ride is $20-$50, depending on traffic. A 5-day pass is $43. You don’t need apps or connectivity for the best way to get from half the hotels in town to the other half, or the convention center. I’m sure the monorail will be autonomous someday, but who cares? No self-driving car will ever beat a train through traffic. Vegas should expand a system that justifies itself with one ride. They should also heat the platforms.

13) Ride-Hailing Solves A Problem No One Talks About: Pickups
For all the scorn poured onto ride-hailing services, they’ve solved a problem traditional taxi services haven’t. It’s not an app. It’s dedicated pickup zones. Exit any hotel and what do you find? Hundreds of people huddled in the cold for a taxi. The wait at 5PM at the convention center was over an hour. Too cold or lazy to walk to the monorail? Order an Uber/Lyft and walk to the dedicated pickup area. The Venetian and Bellagio zones were heated. The convention center lot? Not so much. I never waited more than five minutes after opening the app, which is how long it took me to walk to my pickup stall. Are those people waiting in the taxi line masochists? Just dumb? Taxis in Vegas are expensive. At least you can easily split the cost of an Uber/Lyft.

12) Autonomy? Privacy is a Bigger Problem: Ralph Nader

Nader, infamous consumer safety advocate and author of Unsafe At Any Speed, is probably responsible for saving more lives than Volvo and Mercedes put together. One would think he’d embrace self-driving cars wholeheartedly. On the contrary, he’s opposed to semi-autonomous systems like Tesla Autopilot even as a stepping stone to full self-driving, both of which he thinks should be deferred until regulations are put in place.

But that’s not why he’s on this list.

At a CES panel called “Navigating Risk through the Mobility Ecosystem”, Nader was the loudest voice warning of the privacy problems with self-driving cars, a topic widely steamrollered by automakers and Silicon Valley. Although I disagree with Nader on autonomy, we need voices like Nader’s more than ever if we aren’t to lose whatever privacy we have left.

11) The First & Last Mile: Swagtron/Lab Elle
The biggest problem with end-to-end mobility is the first and last mile. You can walk, or you have shared services like Citibike. What’s in between? Nothing cool, yet, but Swagtron and Lab Elle’s new products would fill that gap perfectly. Both offer electric scooters with enough range to get you from stall to stall, if only they were part of a network like Citibike’s. Swagtron’s, offering 15 miles of range for $399, is the one that makes sense. Lab Elle was vague on details, but their high-end product costing $1500 is the one you’ll lust after. Just look at that sexy bag.

10) The Semi-Stealth Self-Driving People: AIMotive
Previously known as ADASWorks, AIMotive is a Hungarian self-driving startup whose tech looms much larger than their public relations. I brought George Hotz of Comma.ai with me for a ride behind the convention center in their prototype, and he said they were six months ahead of everyone else in the sector except Tesla. Most importantly. AIMotive is rare in that they stand with Tesla and Hotz in thinking LIDAR is unnecessary for the commercial deployment of Level 4 autonomy. If that’s true — and I think it is — AIMotive is one of the most important startups we’ve yet to hear a lot about.

9) The Yin To George Hotz's Yang: X-Matik
Some say you’d be crazy to enter the self-driving sector now, on a shoestring, to face off against the world’s largest automakers and a slew of startups swimming in that sweet, hot VC cash. X-Matik founder Nima Ashtari disagrees. He calls his prototype the world’s first aftermarket Autopilot, although I think George Hotz of Comma.ai and Kyle Vogt of Cruise would disagree. Unlike Hotz’s software-based control over steering, brakes and throttle — so far limited to new Honda Accords and Acura ILX’s with lane keeping — X-Matik is a mechanical retrofit that will work with any car. Allegedly. I saw video of his semi-autonomous system installed on a Subaru Forester. The prototype wasn’t attractive, nor can I say how good it was, but Ashtari gets an A for effort. He hopes to sell it for $2500. We’ll see. I’ve seen other mechanical retrofit systems, somewhat different and already funded. The sector needs innovation and competition. If it works at all, X-Matik might offer both.

8) What Comma.ai Won't Sell: Neodriven
Ever since George Hotz cancelled his aftermarket Autopilot (the now infamous Comma One) and made both its design and code open source, I’ve been waiting for someone to build a business around what he refers to as the Android of self-driving cars. It looks like that person is former Tesla employee Matt Schulwitz, founder of NeoDriven, who is manufacturing the Hotz-designed Comma Neo hardware for $1495, or 1 Bitcoin. As of today, the Bitcoin is probably the better deal. Download and install a free copy of Comma’s OpenPilot, and you’re on your way toward developing your own semi-autonomous driving system. A short ride in Vegas replicated what I suspected to be true: Hotz’s OpenPilot is at least as good as Tesla’s original Autopilot. Is there a business to be built around the NEO? I’m convinced there is, and will be writing more about that soon.

7) #NotAllSmokeAndMirrors: Faraday "Driverless Valet"
Forget the grief everyone has been giving Faraday about alleged financial problems and design choices. Faraday still has a boatload of good people, many of them from Tesla, so it’s inconceivable that they didn’t bring the lessons learned in Fremont to the FF-91. Something has to work, and one of those somethings is the “Driverless Valet” self-parking system, which I found more impressive than most of the self-driving demos I’ve seen. I sat in an FF-91 as it circled a parking lot looking for a spot, mapped it by LIDAR, then backed in. Many such demonstrations are faked by merely following a pre-mapped GPS course, so I asked to have some cannon fodder placed in the original empty spot. A Faraday staffer stepped right up, the FF-91 circled again, found another spot, parked, and then returned me to the front door.

It may not sound like rocket science, but the only other such parking demo I’ve seen was in a Tesla video, and that was edited. Nvidia/Audi? Delphi/MobilEye? Sorry, but cars circling a closed course and calmly navigating traffic are getting a little passé, at least if you’re one of the big boys.

I know Faraday has more good stuff coming. I just wish we could see it.

Which brings us to the obvious ones that don’t need much explanation:

6) A Solution of EV Trips That's Not Tesla: Chargepoint
Finally, someone is building out a US network of high-speed electric charging stations to match or surpass Tesla’s Supercharger Network. This is the roadblock to long-distance travel in anything but a Tesla. How long before Chargepoint’s is deployed? Probably around the time Tesla leapfrogs everyone again.

5) Finally, A Real Car Subscription Service: Cadillac Book
A $1500/month unlimited mileage, insurance-included, zero-maintenance subscription service for any Cadillac, including the CTS-V? This is the future. Cadillac is the first company to put a price on the table for such a service. Add autonomy in a couple of years and one starts to see the slots of the mobility continuum fill up. I can imagine Chevrolet coming in at $500, and Mercedes at $2000 or more. This is so big I don’t think people grasp it yet. But they will.

4) Too Bad It's Not In Production: Chrysler Portal
A cool-looking, sub $50k electric and autonomous people mover no one will want to drive anyway, the Portal is what Faraday should have built instead of the FF-91.

3) Making Looking Cool Easy: Honda
A self-balancing motorcycle? Yes, please. Perfect for everyone who wants the semblance of freedom in an autonomous world, but doesn’t want to know how to ride properly.

2) The First-Mover With A Vengeance Medal: Nvidia
Nvidia was everywhere at CES. As the foundation of Tesla's next-generation Autopilot, Nvidia is far ahead in demonstrating their lead in AI for self-driving car applications. Audi and Mercedes have now signed on, setting up a pretty fearsome axis in opposition to companies like BMW, who are allied with nascent rival Intel.

1) The Future Ubiquity Trophy: Amazon
Amazon was also everywhere at CES, and I mean everywhere. Everyone knows Amazon is knee deep in the logistics business, and delivery drones are coming. Sources tell me Amazon has a stealth self-driving car project. Talk about a game changer, if it's true. More #comingsoon, once I have corroboration.

Alex Roy is Editor-at-Large for The Drive, author of The Driver, and set the 2007 Transcontinental “Cannonball Run” Record in 31 hours & 4 minutes. You may follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Honda’s NeuV CES Concept Wants to Help Its Owners Earn Money

Privately-owned vehicles sit idle 96 percent of the time, according to Honda. So to help people maximize their investment, the automaker is introducing the NeuV—an autonomous vehicle concept specifically designed for car-sharing.

One benefit of connected and autonomous cars is that cars will be eventually able act as driverless taxis that could create a revenue stream for the vehicle's owner, said Yoshiyuki Matsumoto, president & CEO of Honda research and development. This puts power back into the hands of the car owner, enabling them to become not just an Uber driver, but a ride-sharing company like Uber itself. In addition, when the car isn't being used to shuttle strangers around, it can even be used to make money off the electric company, selling power back to utility providers when demand is high.

"We designed NeuV to become more valuable to the owner by optimizing and monetizing the vehicle's down time," Mike Tsay, principal designer of Honda R&D Americas, said.

Beyond car sharing, NeuV is also capable of learning from its drivers—and to some degree, even understanding them. Matsumoto said that the concept car will be able to detect the occupant's emotions and make recommendations and decisions based on previous choices.

Making autonomous car sharing a reality is going to take cooperation, Matsumoto continued; Honda's partnership with Waymo is one of the strategic partnerships that the company is securing, and the automaker is actively looking for others.

Cooperation is a common theme for the company at CES, and even its NeuV needs to work with other vehicles on the road. Honda demonstrated its "Safe Swarm" concept that leverages V2V communication to facilitate smooth, collision-free traffic flow.

The Honda Civic Type R May Get a CVT and the Ford F-150 Gets a New Grill: The Evening Rush

The Evening Rush is your daily roundup of auto, gear, and lifestyle news, all in one place. Less time searching, more time driving. Motor on.

Automotive

It is no secret that the Ford F-150 is a huge success. That being said, Ford (and other manufacturers) have been in a weird race for the biggest grill. Well, it seems like the race has finally peaked. As made clear in recent spyshots of the 2018 F-150, it looks like Ford is toning it down with a tasteful two-piece grill. Expect to see the new look on the production truck later this year.

In a bizarre decision, it appears the heavily-anticipated Honda Civic Type R is set to debut in the United States this year with an optional CVT transmission. Although I can’t figure out why someone would want to couple a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making around 300-horsepower with a CVT, I guess it is nice to have the option…maybe. For those of you who are concerned, the Honda Civic Type R will come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission.

Tesla’s Nevada-based Gigafactory is finally cranking out products, focusing on the Powerwall 2 and Powerpack 2 at the moment. Tesla plans to begin production of batteries for the Model 3 at the site later this year.

Gear

Decorate your home with the stylings of our nation’s great national parks. Fifty-Nine Parks are printing awesome paintings of the national parks across the U.S. Ranging from $40-$80, you will certainly find one that meets your price point and liking.

Goal Zero Generators has always done a fantastic job of making electric generators, and now they are expanding their product lineup to a gas-powered generator. According to reports, the new machine will shut off when the battery pack is full and only run when completely necessary, cutting down on fuel consumption. The new gas-powered generator will be called Yeti Fuel.

Lifestyle

Take the hint your friends and family have ben giving you and invest in some TRX suspension bands. Designed to cut down on exercise costs while providing users with a ton of full-body to isolated exercises, TRX bands are the perfect workout partner. Costing way less than a gym membership, these straps can be installed in your own home and quickly help you to shed that holiday weight.

If you are looking for a nice vacation to break up the winter months, why not consider a weekend getaway in the Catskills? The Arnold House, in Livingston Manor, New York is the perfect escape from reality. Nestled among nature trails, ice fishing locations, hunting spots, breweries and much more, this luxury inn will keep everyone happy.