There's little that could be more rewarding than building your dream car to your explicit specifications. And even though the Honda S2000 benefits from one of the strongest aftermarket support in the tuner community, owner Jared Floyd was interested in creating his own performance components instead. YouTube channel Singular Entity profiled Jared and his bespoke S2000 in volume 8 of its Car Life series.
Jared Floyd, who bought his 2002 Honda S2000 brand-new, is a mechanical engineer and basically applied his background to make his car faster. One of Jared's first jobs was an ATV project for Cannondale, where he worked very closely with the team at Ohlins suspension, who gave Jared a crash course on what it takes to take apart and re-valve dampers in order to tune an ideal suspension. From the assorted bin of spare springs and dampers from the Cannondale project, he managed to Frankenstein a suspension setup with custom top and bottom mounts. But while Jared had a lot of fun throwing his S2K around turns, keeping up with cars with double the power, his tiny Honda roadster still got left behind on the straights.
In order to close that gap, Jared opted to supercharge his Honda. And while there were plenty of off-the-shelf supercharger kits for the S2000, he wasn't a fan of the way the kits mounted and fabricated his own setup instead. According to Jared, his S2000 delivers a healthy 345 horsepower to the rear wheels.
Whether it's the legendary tuners J's Racing, Spoon Sports, and Amuse, or tinkerers like Jared Floyd, the S2000 has proven time and again that key modifications performed on the suspension, power output and aero will transform the Honda FR sports car into a formidable track weapon that can go toe to toe against sports cars that boast double the price tag. And while most auto-journos preach the driving experience of the MX-5 Miata, the S2000's supremely rigid X-bone chassis and high-revving F20C (and later the long-stroke F22C1 variant) simply yields a greater performance potential than the Mazda.
The Honda S2000's tiny 2.0 liter F20C motor delivers 240 horsepower at 8,600 rpm and a sportbike-like redline of 8,900 rpm. These were figures that stunned the industry when the S2K arrived in 1999. With a power output ratio of 120 horsepower per liter, I cannot think of a mass-produced naturally aspirated engine that packs a denser punch. As modern cars now rely on turbocharging for the balance between power and efficiency, it's unlikely that a free-revving engine like the F20C will be made again. Case in point, even Honda decided to develop its very first turbocharged Type R engine for the new Civic Type R. They literally don't make like they used to and that will only make the S2000 even more sought after.
Still not convinced the S2000 is a worthy investment? Earlier this week, Mike Spinelli sat down with Michael Prichinello and Zac Moseley of Manhattan's Classic Car Club to talk about cars you can drive for free, AKA cars that will hold its value, or even appreciate, in the years ahead. After the trio sounded off a selection of early '70s Mercedes, BMW E28s, Fox Body Mustangs, 2001-2003 Jag XJs, and second-gen Camaros, Spinelli finally ended the discussion with the one car I was waiting to hear all along – if you're going to buy a car to enjoy and become a short-term investment at the same time, go with a Honda S2000. Check out our video below:
The Silver Arrows of the past will once again lap the racetracks of Europe, thanks to the upcoming Mercedes-Benz Classic Trackdays events. Former Mercedes-Benz factory DTM drivers will join customers to relive the vintage racing experience.
Classic touring car fans will recognize the three venues from the golden era of German touring car racing: Hockenheim, Zolder, and Oschersleben. These historic tracks will host the Classic Trackdays, which will take place in March, August, and September, respectively. Mercedes-Benz Classic has even recreated an authentic copy of a 1990s Group A 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II (W201), one of the most successful and highly regarded touring cars of its era. Former DTM drivers will pilot the car around the same racetracks where the 190E famously traded paint with the BMW E30 M3 touring car rivals.
Track action will include open track time and a Club Challenge, where participants navigate through courses of light barriers in their personal vintage vehicles. Drivers and their guests will be given VIP treatment with catering and hospitality while surrounding themselves in the world of classic motorsport, and the limited field of 45 vehicles per event will include some of Mercedes-Benz’s finest motorsport icons.
With racing revival events like the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, Goodwood Festival of Speed, and now the Mercedes-Benz Classic Trackdays, fans of yesterday’s racing series are spoiled for choice when it comes to past eras of motorsport.
China may roll back proposed production quotas for more new electric vehicles sales, Reuters reports, after Beijing got pushback from the automotive industry. The original draft of the proposal—which came out in September—mandates that eight percent of new car sales be from plug-in hybrids or full EVs in 2018, ten percent in 2019, and 12 percent in 2020. Apparently, the rollback would only delay 2018's proposed sales mandate by one year.
The argument the automakers are relying on is not a new one by any means—they claim these sales targets are too high and "could hurt [their] interests," Reutersreports. But considering that EVs and plug-in hybrids only accounted for 1.8 percent of new car sales last year, a jump by 6.2 percent is significant.
An Jin, chairman of Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Group (JAC Motor), said, "Whether the whole market can hit this quota by 2018 depends a lot on the strength of government policy. If it's strong then we should be able to surpass the targets. An added, "If you consider China's infrastructure and the transformation of China's auto sector, then perhaps the pace will have to slow."
According to two executives who are intimate with the proposed draft changes, the government may try and cut the quota by two percent each year or "push back each target by a year." Either way, since the proposal is still in draft form, revisions can still be made.
Lost in the putrid cloud of self-driving car clickbait, the Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation held its first meeting on January 16th, 2017. One look at its members is all it takes to know whose lobbying dollars hold sway in Washington. The largest constituency? A bloc including Apple, Amazon, Lyft, Uber, Waymo and Zoox, all of whom profit from you losing your steering wheel as soon as possible. They may cite safety, but there is only one objective voice on the panel, a man with true life and death experience at the intersection of human skill and automation:
Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.
In a world where political hacks and “experts” are increasingly replacing those with real-world experience, Sully’s inclusion on the panel is a revelation. Best known for The Miracle on the Hudson, Sully’s entire career has been devoted to safety. Look past the mythology, and his is the story of the opportunity, danger and cost inherent to sacrificing skilled humans on the altar of automation. Sully has written and spoken extensively on the criticality of training and compensation for airline pilots, and his insights have clear applications to the future of the trucking industry.
In a recent interview, Sully made clear three simple messages: 1) we need real standards for self-driving cars, 2) the industry needs to reboot its approach to semi-autonomous cars, and 3) drivers education “is a national disgrace.”
Sully also ends his interview with a singularly authoritative message about human driving. TL:DR? If you love driving, read this to the end.
One more critical point. For those unfamiliar with the term, “flight envelope protections” automatically prevent pilots from exceeding a plane’s operational limits, akin to a car limiting how far you can turn the steering wheel, or push the gas pedal. Such systems are standard on all Airbus aircraft, but not Boeing. Debate has raged for decades over whether Airbus’s higher level of automation is actually safer than Boeing’s more human-centric approach. Although Sully’s miracle landing was in an Airbus, he’s experienced in both. Neither are capable of going gate-to-gate without human operators. Their differences highlight the lack of consensus not only in aviation, but on the ground, where Tesla differs with traditional automakers over the safe implementation of semi-autonomous features.
Here’s our interview, edited for clarity:
The Drive: How is that you came to join the DOT’s panel on automation?
Sully: I’ve spent my entire professional life becoming an expert at and thinking deeply about how one uses technology. We need to assign the best possible role to the human component and the technological component, taking into mind the weaknesses and strengths of each. To make the designs we implement and use complementary is one of the most critically important decisions that we must make. It is important that we assign the appropriate roles to the human component and technological component. Even in autonomous vehicles, humans are involved very much in the design, the implementation and the maintenance of these devices, and we must assign the proper roles to each part of the technology.
Two things jump out at me in any attempt to make important recommendations going forward. We have to account for what we cannot know yet. We have to allow for the unknown unknowns. The second critical issue is that we have to decide if there will be the possibility of human intervention in case the technology isn’t doing what we want, or what’s best for that situation.
If we acknowledge that based upon our experience in other modes of transportation—and I’m talking specifically about commercial aviation—that if you require the technology to be used almost all the time, you make it much less likely that humans will be able to effectively and quickly intervene.
In that case the technology has to be so good, so resilient, so adaptable and so reliable that human intervention is never necessary. That’s a very, very high bar. The more you take humans out of engagement with the process, the less likely you make them able to quickly and effectively intervene. If that’s the case, you must make it so good that they never have to.
Do you think we will see 100% automation of flying such that pilots can come out of commercial aircraft?
I don’t know. I think in the distant future that might be a possibility. Not in the near term, in my lifetime. I think it’s likely that even if it were thought to be technologically possible, it wouldn’t be acceptable to those participating. I don’t think it’s the way to go.
We may have gone too far in the use of technology that removes human operators from immediate engagement with the process. This degrades their manual skills and leaves them with less confidence to be able to quickly and effectively intervene.
Some [pilots] have continued to use technology past the point when they should have abandoned it, or used degraded modes of technology, or even taken over completely manually. They wait too long to intervene and often it’s too late. That’s been true in several seminal historic accidents in the last several years.
The greater concern in aviation-based studies I’ve seen is that not only are manual flying skills degraded—which decreases confidence and the timeliness of the intervention—the greater concern is actually the lack of constant mental engagement with the operating process, which means that analytical skills are also degraded.
By not being constantly involved and engaged in the process, we’re less able to quickly analyze what’s going wrong and determine what needs to be done. That also delays the response. It delays the ability to quickly and effectively intervene in case it’s necessary, either when the technology fails, or where it’s not doing what we want, or what’s necessary in that phase of the flight.
I think we really need to rethink our cockpits and areas like nuclear power control rooms. Any critical function where safety is so important, we need to make sure we’re assigning the proper roles to the human and the technological components. If we don’t do that there are unintended consequences that can actually degrade safety of the system as a whole.
The obvious example in aviation is Air France 447, where the crew’s situational awareness was so poor.
When we assign technology as the doer and the human component as the monitor, we’re doing it backwards. Humans are inherently poor monitors. It’s very difficult for a TSA screener to do it, or for the pilot who’s on a 16-hour flight to be monitoring their technology for the whole time, avoiding that one chance in hundreds or perhaps thousands — where it’s not doing what it should — and having the skill and competence to quickly intervene.
The concept we’re talking about is knowing what roles one has in the cockpit.
It would be much better — at least at a conceptual level — for humans to have more direct engagement with the operation, and technology to provide guardrails to prevent us from making egregious errors, and to monitor our performance. That would be, in terms of our inherent abilities and limitations, a much better way to go.
Regarding your Hudson water landing, it would appear that because you were in an Airbus, with flight envelope protections, you were able to focus on decision-making rather than managing of the aircraft itself. It seems as if a less experienced pilot in that seat would not have been able to make the decisions you made. Or—if it had been a Boeing—the pilots might have had to spend more time managing the aircraft rather than deciding where to put down. Does that make sense?
Sully: It does, but I wouldn’t go quite that far. I think had we been in a Boeing, as long as the airplane was similarly configured with wing mounted engines, etc., we would have had a similar outcome.
I don’t think whether it was an Airbus or Boeing really made much difference at all, because we never approached the limits of the flight envelope protections. A little known part of the experience is that not only did we not exceed the limitations beyond which the Airbus flight control protections would have protected us from ourselves, but at the very end of the flight, right as we were landing and trading some of our forward velocity for a reduced-rate of descent at touchdown—in other words, raising the nose to achieve the maximum aerodynamic performance of the wing right before landing—a little known part of the software of the Airbus flight control system inhibited me from achieving the last bit of lift out of the wing, even though I was not yet at maximum performance of the wing.
As I was calling for more performance from the wing by continually pulling back on the sidestick to raise the nose even more to make it a softer touchdown, the Phugoid mode of the Airbus flight control software prohibited me from achieving that last little bit of nose-up control, and we hit a little bit harder than I think we should have. There was a little bit more damage to the airplane, and water was being taken on after we landed a little bit faster than it would have if we had not struck so hard.
We did the best we could, considering we were using gravity to provide the forward motion of the airplane. We didn’t have engine thrust to make it a gentler touchdown. One flight attendant was injured when a piece of metal came up through the floor from the cargo compartment and gouged her leg. All those things happened in the last seconds of the flight where the flight control computers prevented me from achieving the maximum performance of the wing.
The protections that were there, we never really needed. One protection that nobody in the airlines—not even airline pilots, and only a few Airbus engineers knew about—is that the Phugoid mode would actually prevent me from getting that last little bit of lift and making a slightly softer touchdown. So it was a mixed blessing to have that protection in place, but I think if we were in a Boeing it would have been a similar outcome.
Have you driven a Tesla using their autopilot technology?
I have never driven a Tesla, but I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot about what the technology is, and how good it is. The other point I would make about this entire endeavor—especially in terms of terrestrial autonomous transportation—is that while we can look to a certain domain such as aviation for guidance, we have to realize the environment in which commercial aviation takes place is very different than your average everyday driving experience.
In aviation, we have professional pilots (for the most part) and well-designed equipment in a really sterile environment in terms of our processes, protocols, and our procedures. Think about the compliance we achieve with professional pilots and commercial aviation. Even though there is certainly ambiguity in commercial aviation in dealing with real world endeavors and situations and environmental conditions, it’s not nearly as messy as driving on the street, where drivers are much closer to each other.
We’re talking about separation of feet, not miles. We’re talking about narrow roads where there may be construction going on, or the striping is worn off, or where there are obstacles or animals or pedestrians nearby. It’s also not yet possible for technology to have vehicles automatically communicate to each other the way aircraft do, where they have Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems that actually talk to each other electronically. Autonomous vehicles must be very, very good about seeing in rain, fog, snow and darkness, and then be able to account for what other vehicles—autonomous or non-autonomous—may or may not do. It’s a much more difficult problem than what we’re seeing in aviation.
Do you think the manufacturers who are constraining autonomy until they can go all the way are correct? Or do you think Tesla’s incremental approach is the right one?
It’s difficult to know, because the tests have been done have been so differently, and the designs that they used have been so different among the variety of manufacturers. It’s difficult to draw broad conclusions at this point. What I will say is that based upon decades of experience in commercial aviation, as long as the human operator is immediately engaged in the process, I think it’s very helpful to have systems like lane departure warning and automatic emergency braking, technologies that can assist the operator to help avoid situations where a collision is caused because of distraction, or help assist the driver to react more quickly.
These are very useful because human performance among non-professional drivers in automobiles is, quite frankly, abysmal. With the increasing distractions of personal devices, paired with the increasing chances of legalization of certain substances in certain states, the former NTSB Chairman—who is now CEO of the National Safety Council—was on CBS yesterday talking about these issues, and how for the first time in decades, we’re seeing an increase in traffic deaths and collisions because of the factors I just mentioned.
I think those kinds of assistance technologies—again, the guardrail approach I’ve talked about; setting limits beyond which your vehicle cannot go even if the operator is impaired or distracted—are very helpful. That’s quite a different situation than going totally to a semi-autonomous vehicle where the operator is so disengaged, they’re unlikely to be able to quickly and effectively intervene. I think the danger is going to be...
There seems to be confusion between automation and augmentation in the automotive sector. People lower their attention, and their situational awareness is poor. Is the missing thing in automotive something like Airbus's flight envelope protections? I’m amazed we don’t see driving envelope protections, a holistic system unifying current and semi-autonomous safety technologies. Do you think that’s something we’re going to see more of in the coming years?
I think that would make sense based upon the experience we have had in commercial aviation. I think that would help, up to the point where people think that no matter what they do—no matter how distracted they become, no matter how impaired they are—that technology will save them. I think it’s unlikely that even Airbus-style protections can save people from themselves if they really feel like they’re invulnerable and they aren’t actively engaged as skilled, alert drivers.
So in this country we obviously have the lowest driver education standards in the western world.
Which is something I’ve written about before; I think it’s a national disgrace.
I hope you don’t mind if I quote you on that.
I hope that you do. What we’re doing currently in driving training is a joke and a national disgrace, and it’s costing lives. Real lives on a daily basis.
An investment in a national driver training program with higher standards would be a lot cheaper than a twenty-year, multi-trillion-dollar investment in automation, right?
I think the investment in automation will occur whether we choose as a nation to have it occur or not. That’s the direction that industry is going, but I agree with you that driver education could be more cost effective than the investment in technology. I would go one step further than that. The case that I would make—and this is something I’ve believed for a long time—is that the most effective thing that we can all do right now is to stop using our phones when we’re in a vehicle. That’s a personal choice that each of us could make now, today. That would save thousands of lives. More lives than would be saved than by any of these technologies, or by any of these training initiatives.
It’s really inexcusable. It’s a matter of people — because of their own unwillingness to put their immediate gratification aside — to have a sense of civic responsibility to those around them. They are choosing to do things that could easily wait, putting others at risk to great harm unnecessarily.
If we are really serious about safety, that is the first thing that we would do. We would make it completely socially unacceptable to do. We would have traffic stops for that alone, on every street, every day until people got the message that it’s going to be too expensive for them to continue to be so selfish, and that they’re putting others at risk for their immediate gratification. Everything they could do on a phone can wait, just like we waited to find out what was going on 10 or 15 years ago, before these devices existed.
There's something cultural or even psychological about the American notion of freedom that compels people to drive the way they do, often irresponsibly. Do you think that once Level 4 automation is commercially available that it will have to be mandated to get people to use it?
Sully: I don’t know, but what I do know is this: we as citizens should feel and act on a sense of civic duty. While we have the freedom to be stupid, it’s only up to the point it hurts someone else. We have a civic duty to be educated, well-informed and scientifically literate, so that we can understand important concepts and can vote intelligently. There really are things that we owe each other in this winner-take-all world. If we didn’t do these things, and occasionally put our own needs aside, and delay our gratification, everyday activities that we take for granted in our culture and society wouldn’t be possible.
Giving these little gifts of civic behavior to each other is what makes civilization possible. If we didn’t do these things, you couldn’t drive down the average street or highway. It would be suicidal to do so if everybody was running red lights constantly, if everyone was impaired, if everyone was doing something on their phone constantly, the body count would be much worse, even more than what it is today. I think we have to rethink our role in society and our relationship to others. We really aren’t completely islands to ourselves. I think that’s my underlying message, no matter what technology we’re using, no matter what mode of transportation we’re using, no matter what part of our society we’re talking about. We have to be intelligent citizens, capable of independent critical thought, scientifically literate, and make informed choices, thinking about how our choices have implications for those around us.
Thanks so much, Captain.
The bottom line? Sully supports a zero BS approach, whether it's automation or human driving. Until Level 4 self-driving cars arrive—and no one knows when they will—a skilled human operator with the best technology isn’t just the safest option, it’s also the fun one.
If you love driving, educate yourself as to your car's limits, whether hardware or software. Go to Skip Barber and safely enjoy your car while you can. The future is unknown. Hopefully, we'll have a choice.
Sully’s position sounds like what I think we’re going to end up with for a long, long time: augmented driving, which is not the same as semi-autonomy. What’s the difference? Stay tuned, because I’ve got a lot more to say about that in future columns…
We humans tend to dream big when it comes to the ultimate experience. From hot fudge sundaes and rock star lifestyles, to a retirement villa on a beautiful remote Hawaiian beach that offers the perfect surf. Homo sapiens always love to have it all.
Lucky for us, dogs aren’t nearly as picky as us humans. Our yummy leftovers and a car ride around town will do just fine for nearly any canine.
Let’s face it. It’s a dog thang! But not quite for all dogs.
Some dogs see that mysterious car ride as a pathway to a pleasurable paradise. While others look at it as a mobile prison that can push them into a thousand uncontrollable directions.
Our two dogs, Molly (in white) and Neo (in scrunchy brown), have no trouble expressing these extremes of love and hate.
Our goldendoodle, Molly, who was recently rescued from a kill shelter, absolutely revels in a car ride. Her shaggy white head will bask just outside our cracked car window, and she will embrace the changing winds and smells like a surfer absorbing the drifts and mists of a brand new killer wave.
Molly’s joy is a bit of a mystery because, well, we can’t quite understand her “woof”-enese language. So we decided to find the next best thing. Tina McCain is an animal behaviorist who has run a successful dog training school -- MerryMac Dog Training & Nutrition -- for nearly 30 years.
Why do some dogs love cars? It comes down to three instinctive reasons!
The Outside: “Dogs are naturally outdoor animals. But unfortunately they end up spending a lot of their time inside where the smells are familiar and the scenery never changes. A car ride gives a dog a new experience filled with new sights and smells. You can’t help but sense their enjoyment of the new adventure of a car ride”
The Hunt: “Dogs in the wild travel in packs. When everyone they know and love is in the car, the drive may be a wonderful instinctual flashback to what their ancestors experienced in the past. In a car everyone stays together and explores together. Except if someone gets too close to the car, which can be a cardinal sin in the eyes of many a canine.”
The Anticipation: “Some dogs associate the ride with a pleasant experience they already had in the recent past. Their treasured play friends. A brilliant time for running around and having fun with their master along with other new and old faces. When doggies have a chance to go on a car ride, it gives them a golden opportunity to anticipate meeting a wonderful loved one in much the same way we humans usually love to travel and see the good people in our lives.”
We know one creature who wouldn’t agree with Mrs. McCain though -- meet Neo the Dog.
Our chuggle (half chihuahua / half pug) Neo the Dog, will get a severe case of “stinky butt” and shake uncontrollably on the mere possibility of jumping in the car.
Why the stink? For him we believe it comes from the fact that he was cooped up in a cage that was inside a car during his younger dog days. Neo may have been stuck with other not so friendly dogs, or shucked around like a bag of goods with no control over what happens next.
Tina McCain has experienced that very issue in her work with dogs of all sizes and temperaments,
“What I recommend if a dog is scared of a car ride, is to start off by turning it into a positive association. I’ll do a desensitization program where you put them in a car, give them a treat, and get them out of the car. I would do that for a week."
The next week I’ll get them in the car and drive to the end of the driveway, give them a treat, and get them back out. Then we start slowly week by week. Drive around the block. Drive to a place nearby. If there’s a negative along the way, like going to a vet, I make sure to give them a treat at the vet, again, to help overcome any negative association.
There may come a time when our canines will be able to talk to us just like Astro from the Jetsons. I look forward to that day as does Tina, but will it happen anytime soon? Probably not. So for right now, I think I’ll tell our Molly “Car! Car!”, and I’ll give Neo a new bone, or a dog biscuit, which will hopefully wean him towards family loving car rides.
We all deserve our own unique version of happiness.
Roger White was staring out the dealership window and looking at the type of car that had made Southern Honda rich. A 1999 Honda Accord EX, white on tan, with 363,000 miles.
It had been bought new by its one and only owner, Joe Prescott. A food broker who made a small fortune of his own by selling imported foods from all over the world. His trunk came loaded up with samples and brochures for a massive food import company called Roland. One of the quiet 800 impound gorillas of the gourmet food industry which sold everything from Korean agar-agar to Costa Rican zucchini.
"You really want that damn thing Roger? That old Honda is about as wore out as an old mop!"
Joe lived in Savannah. But his job took him all over the southeastern seaboard which meant the Honda needed to pile on the miles no matter what. So Joe paid the premium. He would take his Honda in for service, and instead of staying in the deathly boring waiting room, he would have a nice chat with Roger. A guy Joe had known since high school, but didn't become friends with until he was in his late-50s.
Roger had helped Joe buy Hondas for his three daughters, two in-laws, and one deadbeat brother who was thankfully kept in a senior community. Joe had been widowed, but he also had absolutely no taste for the dating life since his wife, Karen, had been his one and only love. She was amazing. Loved kids, had no care in the world for stuff, and was as easy going and fun loving as anyone Joe had ever known. Ovarian cancer had killed his only true love and he wasn't about to desecrate his children's lives by marrying again.
So Karen's parents raised the daughters and Joe was there for a few evenings during the week and every weekend. It had been a busy lonely life. Joe began to realize that he needed something to break up the monotony of familiar business faces and canned speeches.
So he had an idea. Joe was going to operate his own food brokerage firm and began searching for his first salesperson.
It was tough to find anyone that was worth hiring. Nearly everyone lied or glorified their own backgrounds to the point where Joe jokingly wondered whether he should be the ones working for all these supposedly gifted souls.
"It's a damned clusterscrew of stupid people!" - Joe muttered as he was driving up to Southern Honda for his 360,000 mile service On Monday Joe had spent the entire day interviewing four people. He would come to remember that day as one when he interviewed "Two birdbrains with breasts... and two baboon bullshitters!". There had been so much phony cliche answers that Joe thanked the good Lord he never took that HR job straight out of college.
Then he saw Roger... and that was his Eureka moment. Joe remembered how Roger envied his free life away from all the loud mouths and do-nothings at the dealership who took credit for the achievements of others. After 22 years, Roger had found that he loved the normal people in his life. It was just the nuts and human circle jerks who were driving him crazy.
The Accord had gone through 48 oil changes, 3 timing belts, and 2 transmissions. The last was done at 345,000 miles, and Roger had been helpful in bringing the price down to a manageable $2400. If anyone deserved that Accord, it was Roger, and if anyone could handle the food brokerage business, it was a guy like Roger who could figure out how to make the squeaky wheels of his business get the grease. Most everyone in the food business was older, male, and an old hat in the field. Roger's laid back conversational nature would be the perfect fit.
"I'll trade-in the Accord for five hundred bucks if, and only if, you sell it to Roger right now for the same price." The sales manager knew that Joe had eyed a rare bird that had been sitting for months at the dealership. A 5-speed Accord, four-door Sport model in Hematite Metallic that had been shucked off to the Siberian outposts of the back lot.
Without even a thought, the sales manager stood up and shook Joe's hand.
"It's a deal Mr. Prescott. Glad to keep you in the family."
Joe went to the bathroom, When he came out, he heard that same sales manager blurt out the words that would set off the rattlesnake in him.
"You're one cheap ass motherfucker Roger!"
Joe was as angry as a hawk watching its young ones being taken. That Accord was his damn it! Who the hell did this guy think he was dealing with?
So he wandered back to to the service department and planned out what would become the second best question he would ever ask in his life.
"Roger, how would you like to travel, meet a lot of good folks, and never have to deal with that manager ever again?"
Most people would ask for a day or two to weigh in the offer. Others would have declined for fear of the unknown. But Roger White had the one thing no one else at that dealership had.
'Fuck you' money. He had earned a pension as a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy. $20,000 wasn't much to live on by itself. But Roger figured that if Joe wasn't blowing smoke, he would find the food business to be a perfect fit and the money would come eventually.
"Consider it so!", and with that Roger took Joe's so-called cheap Accord for another two years and 90,000 miles around the southeast. He enjoyed coffee and chocolates in Savannahs and beignets in New Orleans. The gourmet foods were an easy sell, just like the Hondas. But the fringe benefits were way better.
Last weekend Joe traded in his 'cheap White Honda' on a brand new Accord. A 2017 model EX-L with all the options. At 465,481 miles it still works fine. Just like Roger.
For the price of a boring new car, why not buy a vintage Ferrari?
Did you know the average transaction price of a brand new car in the US is $33,652? Call it $35,000 with applicable taxes. That’ll get you a nicely-equipped Hyundai Genesis, Chevy Malibu or Nissan Maxima four-door sedan or even a stripper 3-Series BMW. But everybody’s got one of those, and they won’t turn heads or cause a stir when you roll up to the valet.
So think out of the box. Why not buy a used Ferrari for that same $35 grand?
Now we’re talking.
OK, you can’t get a classic Ferrari V-12 berlinetta for even close to $35K, but there are vintage Ferrari two-seaters and 2+2’s, with V-8’s and V-12’s, that you can snatch up for about as much as you’d pay for a new car that starts depreciating the minute you shake the salesman’s hand.
And it’s a Ferrari, so one of these bargains could even appreciate over time.
We combed the exotic car sites, and with the help of price guides from Hagerty’s and Cavallino magazines, we can help you find a much more exciting ride for your money.
The Ferraris we recommend, for the most part, are 2+2’s, so there’s actually room for a couple of passengers and/or enough luggage for a sexy weekend getaway.
Ferrari’s 1960-to-1963 250GTE 2+2 was the marque’s first real volume passenger model, but you can’t get one of those today for buppkes, because they share nearly the same driveline as a multi-million dollar 250GTO. But in 1973, Ferrari replaced the racy, mid-engine 246GT “Dino” with a sharp little 2+2 that previewed the GTB-to-come’s lusty 3-liter, 4-cam V-8. Then the magicians in Maranello, knowing that some clients wanted a front-engine GT car for everyday driving, introduced the 365GT 2+2.
And it gets even better. There really are affordable Ferrari’s right up to the 1990’s. So follow along while we take a quick trip through the byzantine world of used Ferrari’s, complete with some of the challenges of owning a bargain Italian stallion.
Dino 308 GT4: 1974-1980
The Dino 308 GT4 bowed at the 1973 Paris Salon. Replacing the curvaceous Dino 246GT, this angular little coupe was designed by Carrozzeria Bertone, not Pininfarina. The original 246 Dino’s 2.4-liter V-6 had been replaced with a 3-liter, 4-cam V-8 packing four Weber carburetors. It developed 205-bhp at a screaming 7700-rpm. It was really a 2+2 (with tiny rear seats), but that was never part of its official name, nor was there a Ferrari badge anywhere, at first. But by 1976, Ferrari owned up and all 308 GT4’s sported prancing horse badges. The 308 GT4 is fun to drive; its 5-speed shifts crisply and when you nail it, you get all those wonderful Ferrari sounds. Those tiny back seats are best used for luggage, as there’s no rear legroom. 308 GT4’s are still under the radar pricewise. If you can find a USA-legal Euro-spec version, (and quite a few were imported) you’ll get 240-to-255-bhp.
208 GT4: 1975-1980
Here’s a tip to get an even cheaper GT4. Ferrari made 840 208 GT4’s with a smaller bore 2-liter, 153-bhp version of the 308’s 3-liter V-8. This tamer, but visually nearly identical 2.0 version came about because Italian tax laws heavily taxed 3-liter cars. Since you couldn’t use the 308’s 155-mph top speed anyway, even on the autostrada let alone on Highway 101, Ferrari S.p.A. offered a milder 208 for the home market, and they are stone bargains – especially because you can bore out the 4-cam V-8 to 3-liter specs and have all the goodies. 208 GT4’s aren’t common, so check the Ferrari Market Letter classifieds for one of these. And don’t tell the Italian IRS!
365GT4 2+2: 1972-1976
Think you can’t get a V-12 Ferrari for $35 grand? Think again. The 365 GT4 2+2 shares the sporty 1971-1972 365 GTC/4’s six-carb 4.4-liter V-12 with six side-draft Webers, but a classic C/4 starts at $250K, and you can double that for a great one. So consider the 365 GT4 2+2 instead. Introduced in Paris in 1972, it’s 7.5-inches shorter than the 365 GT 2+2 “Queen Mother,” it replaced, but with a 2-inch longer wheelbase and more contemporary Pininfarina styling. This lovely coupe was the first of a series that includes the later 400GT and 400i, through 1984. With 320-bhp, knock-off alloys and fully independent suspension, they’re fast, elegant Grand Tourers. Borrani wire wheels were still an option. One caveat: they’re much quieter than their sportier brethren, but you can fix that fast with a Borla or Tubi stainless exhaust update.
400GT/400 Automatic/412: 1976-1989
When Ferrari updated the 365 GT4 to the 400 GT at the Paris Salon in 1976, buyers could opt for a 5-speed or (gasp!) a GM-supplied THM400 4-speed Hydra-Matic. It was a sign of the times. Well-heeled clienti wanted a Ferrari, but they didn’t want to shift for themselves. Not surprisingly, automatics soon outsold the 5-speed sticks, so be prepared to pay a $5 grand premium if you want a rare manual. Displacement rose to 4.8-liters and output was an impressive 340-bhp. Bolt-on 5-star alloy wheels replaced the original model’s knock-offs. Borrani wires were no longer offered. Sadly, to meet US emission regs, the Bosch K-Jetronic, fuel injected 400i dropped to 306-311-bhp, then 315-bhp by the end of 1982. The 412’s became lusty 5-liter cars with 340-bhp once again. They are even nicer-looking, thanks to body-colored bumpers, and a higher rear deck with a discrete spoiler. Forget the Ferrari dealer’s expensive service department: your local AAMCO can probably fix that GM-sourced tranny.
208 GTB/GTS: 1980-1982
It’s nearly impossible to find an affordable 308 GTB, let alone a 308 GTS on our $35K budget, unless you encounter a rusty rat or a wreck. But the Italian market, Euro-spec 208 GTB, if you can find one that was legally imported, is worth considering. Like the 208 GT4’s, 208’s are rare in GTB/GTS guise. Ferrari built only 160 GTB’s and 140 GTS’s from 1980-to-1982, but a few came over, so hunt around. Like the 208GT4 2+2’s their 121-cid V-8’s developed just 153-bhp, so they look fast, but alas, they’re not!
208 Turbo (GTB and GTS): 1982-1985
But here’s the solution: When the tax-relief special normally-aspirated 208’s for Italy were deemed too slow, Ferrari offered a turbocharged version of the coupe and the spider, from 1982 (GTB) and 1983 (GTS) until 1985. The turbo’s output is 217-bhp @ 7000 rpm; that’s a healthy 64-bhp more than the 2-liter, normally-aspirated model.
Again, these are thin on the ground over here, but you may be able to find one.
Mondial 8, QV, 3.2, t: 1980-1993
Ferrari built 3,571 Mondial 8’s in several variations, because there were clients who wanted a more spacious, marginally less sporty 2+2 coupe or convertible with a Ferrari prancing horse badge. The wheelbase was 4-inches longer than the 308 GT4’s, so there’s really room for two passengers. Among enthusiasts, the Mondial is kind of the Rodney Dangerfield of Ferrari’s, but most civilians haven’t a clue. They simply see a handsome red coupe or convertible with a Ferrari badge and they’re impressed. Just remember, it costs just as much to repair the transversely-mounted, 4-cam V-8 in a Mondial 8 as it does in a 328 Berlinetta. Mondial 8’s, built from ’81-to-’82, and the QV (Quatrovalvole) coupes and true convertibles, offered from ’83-to-’85 , are well within our budget. Mondial 3.2’s (with 260-bhp) and later Mondial t’s in average shape make the $35K cut, but the better examples can go for as much as $10-to-$15K more. You have to do your due diligence, and be sure to inspect all existing service records. A belt replacement on one of these puppies will seriously blow the budget.
Tips on buying and servicing a used Ferrari:
OK, so you’re ready to find the affordable Ferrari of your dreams. Ferrari’s aren’t generally listed in local newspaper classifieds or “pennysavers,” but you will find lots of Ferrari ads in Hemmings Motor News, the Ferrari Market Letter, and the top British car mags like Octane, Classic & Sportscar and Classic Cars, and at the broad appeal auctions like Auctions America, Mecum, and Russo & Steele.
No matter how tempting the price, (unless you’re a skilled mechanic, with a stash of metric tools), if the owner/dealer doesn’t have the car’s service history, (or at least the last few years worth), simply move on. Assuming the service records check out, be sure to see what next major service is needed and make that price part of your negotiations. Ferrari’s were subject to rust, so a careful inspection of all the body panels, the chassis, etc., is mandatory. Inspect for any evidence of accident repairs. Ensure everything works, right down to the windshield wipers and back-up lights. Check the exhaust system for leaks. Nothing on a Ferrari, no matter how trivial, is cheap to do.
Here’s the dirty little secret: Ferrari was very cavalier about service. They figured if owners could afford the car, they could afford to have it maintained. On many models, you have to remove the engine for belt and timing chain service. Spare parts aren’t cheap. Neither are tires. Michelin TRX’s on later cars may not be made much longer. Many Ferrari’s were carefully garaged and maintained, but some of the less expensive examples may have been abused or suffered flood or accident damage. If there’s a CarFax report available, by all means get it. All the customary used car buying rules apply here. Drive the car for at least 20 minutes. Watch the water temperature, Check for unusual noises or vibrations. Try not to fall in love until you’re sure it’s a worthy example. If you’re importing a car, be sure you know the requisite DOT/EPA rules (there are too many to detail here).
So why are we encouraging you?
Ferrari’s are fun, exciting, exhilarating. Chicks dig ‘em, at least until they’re trying to decide if you’re a responsible person. Owning a Ferrari taps into 70 years of wonderful prancing horse history, on the track and on the road. Unless your Ferrari’s in the shop, you’ll smile every time you see it. So go for it—but be careful and purchase wisely. Life is not a dress rehearsal. We don’t get to do this twice.
Bargain Ferrari’s by the numbers….
Years made Model name Number Produced Price Range
1972-1976 365 GT4 2+2 521 $30K-$90K
1974-1980 308 GT4 2+2 2826 $30K-$35K
1975-1980 208 GT4 2+2 840 $30K-$33K
1976-1979 400 GT Automatic 502 $30K-$60K
1979-1984 400i Automatic 1308 $35K-$60K
1980-1982 Mondial 8 703 $25K-$30K
1980-1982 208 GTB 160 $25K-$30K
1980-1982 208 GTS 140 $30K-$35K
1982-1985 208 (GTB) Turbo 437 $23K-$35K
1983-1985 208 (GTS) Turbo 250 $25K-$35K
1982-1985 Mondial Coupe QV 1145 $25K-$40K
1983-1985 Mondial Cabriolet QV 629 $27K-$45K
1985-1989 Mondial 3.2 Coupe 987 $30K-$40K
1985-1989 Mondial 3.2 Cabriolet 810 $35K-$42K
1985-1989 412 576 $45K-$90K
1989-1993 Modial t Coupe 858 $35K-$55K
1989-1993 Modial t Cabriolet 1017 $38K-$55K
(Source: Cavallino Magazine, October 2016 [Keith Bluemel/Cavallino])
Mazda's CX-5 crossover is new for this model year, and to all of our pleasure, you get more standard features for not much more money. The manufacturer announced that the front-wheel drive Sport model can be had for a shade under $25,000 with upper-level models like the Grand Touring clocking in at $33,465, making it an affordable choice in several trims.
First introduced at last year's Los Angeles Auto Show, the 2017 CX-5 gains new styling and engine choices. A more angular appearance helps to sharpen up the crossover's handsome chin while still maintaining a cheap price point throughout the range. A 2.5L I4 SkyActiv engine will be standard in each model with a 2.2L turbo diesel option coming later, each being paired to a six-speed automatic as Mazda has ditched the manual transmission for 2017.
With the Sport model, you get value. You may not get the frills of fancier CX-5's, but there are plenty of features that come as standard. All wheel drive is available, bumping up costs to $31,000. The upper end of the Sport quickly transitions into the model's mid-range Touring trim.
Mazda promises a lot with the Touring in ways of creature comforts. It provides luxuries like leatherette covered seats with heated fronts, dual zone climate control, blind spot monitoring, reclining rear seats, and LED headlights, all for $26,855. If you opt for Mazda's total safety package, you also gain radar cruise control to finish things out. The automaker also offers a preferred equipment package, a bundle that includes a power liftgate, power moonroof, navigation, and a 10-speaker Bose audio system.
Then, if you really your Mazda, the you'll want the Grand Touring. The top-of-the-line CX-5 once again comes equipped with front wheel drive and all wheel drive availability, an option that'll cost you $3,130. You'll get every option that comes standard in the Touring model along with adaptive headlamps, LED foglights, leather upholstery, and 19-inch wheels. The Premium Package throws in a heads up display, windshield wiper de-icer, and heated steering wheel.
Mazda is yet to announce the release date of the 2017 CX-5. We anticipate its arrival within the next few months, so keep an eye on your local showrooms.
But this is, at best, only partially true. While a number of automakers have engineered vehicles that can pilot themselves with an ability unfathomable even a decade ago, after months of interviews with the people shaping the self-driving car industry it's clear that our autonomous future—the one where you take a nap as your vehicle whisks you to your destination in comfort and safety—is not in any real sense here now, nor around the corner, but likely decades away. All claims to the contrary are either based on misunderstanding or are intentionally misleading.
That's not to say that future isn't coming, eventually. Aside from nearly every notable automotive manufacturer, major tech players like Apple, Google parent company Alphabet, and Uber are currently staking out their respective turf in the ascendant autonomous ecosystem. But to understand where we're going, it's helpful to take a clear-eyed look at where we are right now, ignoring the hype.
Don't Believe the Clickbait
To illustrate the issues of hyperbole, let's backtrack to another headline: "10 Million Self-Driving Cars Will be on the Road by 2020", from Business Insider (June, 2016). A quick scan reveals their definition of "self-driving car" to be incredibly broad: "We define the self-driving car as any car with features that allow it to accelerate, brake, and steer a car's course with limited or no driver interaction." Adaptive cruise control, which covers the acceleration and braking aspects of that definition, has been around since 1998; add lane-keep assist, which debuted back in 2003 and can control the vehicle's steering to keep it from leaving its lane of travel, and you have Business Insider's characterization of an "autonomous vehicle"—i.e., cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Tesla Model S and a half-dozen other models already on the road. This is hardly the customer fantasy of "Netflix and chill" in the backseat, and given the average creation cycle for a new vehicle is anywhere from three to five years, it seems unlikely we're about to experience a wave of fully-autonomous vehicles by the time the next Presidential election roles around.
An eager marketplace tends to trample or dismiss such discrepancies in favor of the shiny, best-case-scenario version. We've seen it before: we're promised a Jetsons-like ideal of a robot butler—the reality is a Roomba. So, what is the current reality of the self-driving car?
The Limitations of Current Technology
A vehicle's ability to "see" and translate its surroundings comes from onboard sensors. The three major sensor systems in use, alone or in combination, by vehicles currently on the road are: 1.) cameras; 2.) radar; and 3.) Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), currently a very expensive system that measures range via pulsed laser, and can be found atop Google’s latest self-driving minivan and Uber’smodified self-driving Volvo XC90s, among others. Google's 64-channel LIDAR system is good to 120 meters, creates a 360-degree image, has a 26.9-degree field-of-view, and can take more than two million readings per second.
"The camera is very good at providing a huge amount of information," says John Dolan, a principal systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. "But interpreting that information accurately is difficult because of the lighting issue," he says, referring to the loss of image quality that occurs in situations like direct sunlight, poor or extreme contrast, or fog.
Lasers like LIDAR aren't disrupted by lighting issues, and are "very good at giving you shape information without too much difficulty in terms of the processing," Dolan says. "But it gets confused easily by bad weather." Radar is not confused by weather, "but it doesn't give as much shape as a LIDAR [system]—it gives, basically, just range or distance, and the rate at which the distance is changing, or the velocity of the vehicle."
There is currently no standard for the type of equipment used in semi-autonomous systems. Tesla's Autopilot notably foregoes LIDAR, with CEO Elon Musk stating he's "not a big fan" of the technology due in part to its complexity and expense (though another of Musk's companies, SpaceX, uses LIDAR on its Dragon reusable rocket). In May of 2016, a Tesla owner and avid fan of the brand named Joshua Brown was killed when a semitrailer truck pulled out in front of his Model S sedan on a Florida highway. The Autopilot system, engaged at the time, did not recognize the white trailer and failed to apply the brakes, as did Brown. A six-month investigation into the incident by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which took into account changes that Tesla made to Autopilot after the crash, including more aggressive alerts when drivers remove their hands from the wheel and system disengagement when those warnings are ignored, cleared the company of a "safety-related defect trend,” though The New York Times noted that "some experts speculate that a LIDAR-driven car might have avoided this fatal crash."
(It should be noted that the same NHTSA report declared that "data show that the Tesla vehicles crash rate dropped by almost 40 percent after Autosteer installation" and that Autopilot does not engender "unreasonable risks due to owner abuse that is reasonably foreseeable (i.e., ordinary abuse)," while Musk, during a press conference last year, said that "Autopilot accidents are far more likely for expert users" than novices. More on all that in a bit.)
Unforeseen incidents aside, even predictable weather conditions remain a massive hurdle. Heavy rain alone can shut down an autonomous system, and forget hands-free driving on a lonely snow-covered road. According to Liam Paull, a research scientist at MIT’s Toyota-funded Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), snow "pretty much hoses both camera and laser, because now everything's just white, you can't see the road lines." And, according to Paull, laser doesn't bounce well off the snow, creating "all sorts of garbage" in the feedback.
As a result of such issues, most major manufacturers regulate when and where autonomous features are available. Eric Coelingh, technical director of active safety functions at Volvo, said the company will start by sending engineers to personally verify the roads on which full autonomy will be enabled on its upcoming production cars.
"We have to test that it works on a particular road in particular weather conditions, and when we know that it's working [during] nice weather in Gothenburg, it doesn't mean that it works with nice weather in New York, or with bad weather in Los Angeles," Coelingh says. "We don't have the data on that."
But even when Volvo does have the relevant data, that doesn't mean the autonomous capabilities function without restriction.
"When the circumstances are out of this [verified] scope because the road conditions are completely different, or the weather conditions are completely different, then we cannot make this autonomy feature available to our customers," Coelingh says.
So, despite the widespread use of the term "self-driving car," what's actually being described is a vehicle with limited semi-autonomous capabilities only available under certain conditions. This is the reality now, and will be for the foreseeable future—and for the foreseeable future, these early-stage autonomous experiments will share the road with traditional vehicles piloted solely by humans. This could be a dangerous combination.
The Space Between
The NHTSA first issued a “Preliminary Statement of Policy Concerning Automated Vehicles” in 2013. It laid out five tiers of autonomous operation, from no autonomy at Level 0 to an occupied or unoccupied car that could handle every operation on its own at Level 4. Last year, the agency adopted a new classification system outlined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, explained in the 30-page document "Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to Driving Automation Systems for On-Road Motor Vehicles" that defines six levels of autonomy. Level 0 is intermittent warning systems like blind-spot detection; Level 1 encompasses features that can monitor the environment and alter steering or acceleration and braking, like parking assist, which only controls steering, or adaptive cruise control (ACC) that only adjusts speed; Level 2 includes systems that simultaneously steer and change speed, like ACC with lane-centering, and traffic jam assist that maintains space in traffic and navigates shallow bends. Under all of these level definitions, the driver is still charged with monitoring the environment.
At Level 3, an "Automated Driving System" can take over all driving functions and total monitoring of the environment—the caveat being that the driver is expected to be ready to take over if the vehicle strays off-course, or finds itself in a situation it can’t handle. According to the SAE paper, at Level 3 "an ADS is capable of continuing to perform the dynamic driving task for at least several seconds after providing the [driver] with a request to intervene." So, while the vehicle should be able to fully monitor its environment, the driver must also be ready to take over in an emergency.
That point at which a self-driving system requires a human to retake the controls to avoid an incident is termed a "disengagement." The California Department of Motor Vehicles requires any company testing autonomous vehicles in the state to log every disengagement that occurs; the most recent report from the California Department of Motor Vehicles shows commendable year-over-year improvement between 2015 and 2016. Waymo, the self-driving car project from Alphabet, led the rankings with just 0.2 disengagements per thousand miles driven autonomously in 2016—a four-fold improvement over the previous year even as total miles logged increased by 50 percent.
But although the cars are improving, none of the experts with whom we spoke believe Level 3 autonomy is safe—and that the issue has largely to do with people. A self-driving car operating in autonomous mode can create in drivers a false sense of security and a susceptibility to distraction, making an emergency disengagement more dangerous because the point at which the driver needs to retake control of the vehicle is also a point at which he is poorly equipped to do so. The specification says, in effect, "Your car will drive for you, but you need to watch it while it does, just in case.” Studies have shown humans aren’t good at continuous monitoring without personal involvement, and even Ford engineers tasked with monitoring the brand's self-driving cars from behind the wheel doze off at such a high rate that the company recently announced it would skip Level 3 autonomy altogether. It's an unavoidable fact that when told that their car will perform a task they aren’t interested in, such as driving, humans will do other things—like watch a Harry Potter DVD.
Level 4 is the first phase at which a vehicle will never need driver input, no matter the situation. If a Level 4 car gets in trouble and the driver doesn’t take control, the car is programmed to get itself out of danger—by pulling itself off the road, for instance. (This is one of example of why Volvo sends human engineers to verify roads approved for a future, Level 4-autonomous Volvo: a road without a safe extraction point may not be fit for hands-free driving.) Currently, there are no Level 4 autonomous vehicles for sale, though automakers and headlines continue to insinuate or outright declare they'll be here in three years' time, by 2020:
But what if customers want Level 4 and an automaker only has Level 2? That's when the advertising creatives step in to try to make the latter sound as much like the former as possible. Twice last year, regulators and consumer watchdogs went after automakers over potentially confusing marketing of autonomous functionality.
In March of 2016, Mercedes-Benz released a 30-second commercial called “The Future”, touting its 2017 E-Class sedan. Over scenes of the futuristic Mercedes F-105, a purportedly fully-autonomous but nonetheless concept-only vehicle, the narrator ("Mad Men" star Jon Hamm) asks, “Is the world truly ready for a vehicle that can drive itself? An autonomous, thinking automobile that protects those inside and outside?” At the moment the narrator answers his own question with, "Ready or not, the future is here," the decidedly non-fully-autonomous Mercedes-Benz E-Class rolls into frame. The commercial didn’t explicitly state equivalent capability between the F-105 "that can drive itself" and the "self-braking, self-correcting, self-parking" E-Class, but watchdog groups insisted that equivalence was too strongly suggested.
On July 27, consumer advocates sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking the FTC to "scrutinize" the commercial. On July 28, Mercedes dispatched troops to defend the 30-second spot, with a spokeswoman saying the ad contained a disclaimer about the E-Class's true abilities. That disclaimer, in fine print and appearing for six seconds, reads: "Vehicle cannot drive itself, but has autonomous driving features. System will remind the driver frequently to keep hands on the steering wheel." Much easier to catch was the company's print advertisement timed to run in magazines around the same time as "The Future" ad appeared on television and the internet—a glossy, full-page shot of the E-Class with the text "Introducing a self-driving car from a very self-driven company.”
"Given the claim that consumers could confuse the autonomous driving capability of the F015 concept car with the driver assistance systems of our new E-Class in our ad 'The Future,' Mercedes-Benz USA has decided to take this ad out of the E-Class campaign rotation,” the company said. A version of “The Future” uploaded to the Mercedes-Benz USA YouTube channel in October features a less-suggestive voiceover.
And then there was Tesla, whose situation was, as usual with the Silicon Valley company, more complicated. Tesla controversially named their driving assistance system "Autopilot," after the systems that appear in airplanes, and Tesla's web site notes the technology "classifies [Autopilot] as a Level 2 automated system by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA)", while in the same paragraph calling it "an advanced driver assistance system" that is "designed as a hands-on experience." As Tesla CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly explained, a plane's autopilot flies under the constant supervision of at least one pilot ready to intervene immediately, and at no time to do cockpit personnel watch movies or go to sleep on the flight deck. Knowing all of that, the name "Autopilot” makes sense (although it should also be noted that studies by NASA and others show that pilots also have a hard time paying attention to their autopilots).
The problem is that the name piggybacks on a very specific definition of "autopilot," one that makes sense at 38,000 feet but is less obvious to non-pilots (i.e. nearly all of the global car-buying public). If someone at sea level said about a machine, "I left it on autopilot," and then went on to explain that she spent two hours monitoring said machine to make sure it was operating correctly, a reasonable response would be, "that's a bad autopilot." That sort of confusion is, in part, why in October 2016 German regulators sent a letter to every German Tesla owner stating that Autopilot “requires the driver's unrestricted attention at all times.” That same month, the California Department of Motor Vehicles proposed a regulation to forbid Tesla from using the terms “autopilot,” “self-driving,” and “automated” in advertising materials. (The proposal never left the draft stage.)
There is likewise an issue with the term "in beta," which Tesla has repeatedly used to describe Autopilot. While the term is defined by Merriam-Webster (and common usage) as "a stage of development in which a product is nearly complete but not yet ready for release," Tesla has always insisted that Autopilot is a fully-vetted system ready for primetime, and that the term, as Musk explained at a press conference last year, is used "to reduce people's complacency in using [Autopilot]" and "not because it's 'beta' in any normal sense of the word." Which begs the question: when it comes to such a high-stakes feature as Autopilot, wouldn't using any definition other than the "normal sense of the word" lead to confusion as to the system's actual operating state? And building on that, a larger question taking into account both Musk's assertion that Autopilot accidents are much more likely for expert users than novice ones and the preponderance of anecdotal evidence showing Autopilot users operating the system incorrectlyor irresponsibly and counter to Tesla's own definition of "intended use" as compared to systems from other manufacturers: is it possible that the term "beta" confuses some Tesla owners into thinking that Autopilot is still in a test phase, and an enthusiastic and risk-taking subset of those owners (which would include people like Josh Brown) are deliberately pushing the boundaries of the system in the name of analysis?
We posed that question to the company. A Tesla spokesperson issued the following response:
Autopilot's 'beta' label is intended to reduce complacency, and Tesla has taken many steps to prevent a driver from misusing Autopilot, including blocking a driver from using the system after repeated warnings are ignored.
While that answer clearly skirts the question, the truth is that regulating advertising language or policing automaker jargon can't fully control the message. There is another, arguably larger problem.
The Media Hype Machine Is Putting Lives in Danger
Consider the potential for mixed messages in this Bloomberg interview with Betty Liu:
In the video, Musk explains that the driver is ultimately responsible for what happens behind the wheel, even when Autopilot’s engaged. In the same interview—but in a video clip posted separately—Musk rides with Liu in a Model X, activates Autopilot, puts his hands in the air, and says, "It’s on full autopilot right now, I’m not touching anything, no hands, no feet, nothing.” Musk then continues the interview while the Model X autonomously drives, navigates bends on the Tesla campus, and stops behind another vehicle.
Musk was simply demonstrating his new technology at the request of a media outlet. But consider how that media is presented, and consumed: at the time of this writing, the video about driver obligations has 166,798 views; the video of a self-driving car autonomously ferrying several passengers, posted on the same day, has 1,027,268.
Tesla owners as well as members of the media posting hands-free Autopilot experiences have become a YouTube staple. Like this one. And this one from CNET that begins with the line, “You don’t need to put your hands on the wheel to drive a Tesla.” And this one from Inside Edition about a grandmother “Behind the Wheel of Self-Driving Tesla.” And this one, with the line, “It was clear we were in good hands with the P90D, but with all the new free time the Autopilot afforded us, what were we going to do with it?” And this one from Josh Brown a month before he died, showing his Tesla avoiding a collision while merging onto a highway. In the video's description, Brown wrote: “I actually wasn't watching that direction and Tessy (the name of my car) was on duty with autopilot engaged.” What was in "that direction" Brown wasn’t watching? The highway onto which he was merging.
Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor in the University of South Carolina School of Law and an affiliate scholar at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, says "the levels of automation were described as a promise by the automaker to the user: 'We are promising that our system will do this under these conditions.’ So, part of this will be clearly communicating those capabilities and those limitations to the user, not just once, not just in an owner’s manual, but in real time, as the systems are operating.”
This is where Tesla's "disruption" cuts both ways. It’s inconceivable that the CEO of a major manufacturer would tweet that one of its marquee convenience systems, installed on a production car on sale to the public, is still in beta, as Musk has done, or that an OEM exec would repeatedly say the law is just going to have to catch up to the company’s innovations. To be sure, the risk-averse legacy car manufacturers certainly still get ahead of regulations and operate beyond them at times. But, for numerous reasons, they don’t crow about it, because it tends to be bad for business.
For now, Tesla’s upgraded its current Autopilot with new safety restrictions. For the next version of Autopilot, Tesla has added cameras, updated the sensors, and improved the radar processing (while still holding back on LIDAR). But the rise of autonomous systems from a growing number of manufacturers creates an uneasy situation on the road, according to MIT's Liam Paull.
“There’s plenty of people out there who are happy to take the risk for the thrill of having an autonomous vehicle,” Paull says. “In general, I'm OK with people accepting risks and taking risks, but there's plenty of other people on the road who have not agreed to these kinds of things.
"It's difficult, because on the one hand you need a good regulatory environment to push the science forward, but we all have a responsibility to do things properly.”
When Silicon Valley Met the Auto Industry
Manufacturers, tech companies, and consumer groups broadly agree that the federal government needs to set the tone for coordination. In an attempt to answer that need, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last September released its 116-page Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. The guidelines for “highly automated vehicles” (HAVs)—the kind with driving controls that humans can still operate when necessary—assigned responsibility for regulating the hardware and software to the federal government; created a 15-point safety assessment for design, development, and testing of self-driving vehicles; and drafted a Model State Policy that “outlines State roles in regulating HAVs, and lays out model procedures and requirements for State Laws governing HAVs.”
Stakeholders were pleased with this long-awaited first step. Nevertheless, among the more than 1,100 public comments submitted on the policy, those same stakeholders listed numerous complaints about issues the NHTSA both did and did not address.
Establishing a national framework pleased the states, mostly; the National Conference of State Legislatures regretted that the NHTSA hadn’t asked the NSCL for input before drafting the Model State Policy, and noted possible inconsistencies and ambiguities in the division of federal and state responsibilities. Apple wanted exemptions for “limited and controlled testing on public roads,” plus clearer rules on the gathering and use of driver data. Lyft didn’t believe the NHTSA went far enough to prevent mismatched laws from state to state that would hinder streamlined development nationwide. The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America wanted a more clear understanding of liability and state oversight in the event of autonomous crashes.
Outside the scope of the policy paper, others have suggested how the NHTSA might handle regulating an industry suddenly filled with new and niche players working beyond traditional vetting and recall procedures originally designed for major automotive manufacturers. Among his numerous publications, Walker Smith wrote a 100-page paper titled "Lawyers and Engineers Should Speak the Same Robot Language" that addressed this very issue. When asked about potential pitfalls in this early development phase, Smith said that "one of the questions we’ll really struggle with is how to deal with a less top-down industry, because "major automakers, suppliers, Silicon Valley companies that do this research will have strong reputational [and] financial interests to act deliberately."
"There will be some smaller startups that may or may not have those same interests," Smith says. "And that could be concerning for the federal government and for state governments with respect to road safety.”
Carnegie Mellon scientist Dolan concurred. "I think that the current and maybe uneasy marriage between a Silicon Valley mentality and a Detroit (i.e.) more cautious traditional automaker mentality has had some fruitful results," he notes, adding that "the historical traditionalism of the automakers has been broken through to some extent by the freewheeling attitude of Silicon Valley, and I think as a result we've made more progress more quickly than we otherwise would have."
"However, I think that the reliability and testing practices of the automakers need to be harnessed or somehow introduced into the process to a greater extent, so that we don't have any unfortunate problems."
A series of high-profile crashes, either fatal or injurious, that mar the public's faith in the technology would no doubt constitute an "unfortunate problem." And because autonomy is new, exciting, and puts lives at stake, we judge the technology on a higher standard—one that turns every mundane fender bender into a high-profile event.
"What we really need are federal standards," she says. "They're trying to jump the gun and come out with these cars without federal standards in place, just basic standards that say, for instance, that [autonomous cars] can't be hacked."
Proper regulations would give the government a bright-line rule for issuing recalls to protect public safety. "All they've done so far is draft guidelines," Shahan said, "and that's not adequate to protect consumers. You have to actually have a standard that [automakers] need to meet. And occasionally they fail to meet those standards and then [the authorities] issue a safety recall. Without a standard, it’s unclear what [it would] take to get a safety recall issued, and what will be considered an unreasonable risk to safety.”
The NHTSA doesn’t have the money, staffing, engineering capacity, or tech know-how to codify a set of all-encompassing laws in advance. So, as Walker Smith told Wired last May, our autonomous future could be "driven by what actually gets to market." The rest of us will simply be along for the ride.
When Will Robots Win the World Cup?
What, exactly, will that ride look like? In other words: what do those currently guiding the industry envision as a likely roll-out for autonomous vehicles? The people we spoke to mostly agree that, in terms of the vehicle, the hardware is ready, it’s the software that needs finishing. Self-driving cars don't need to learn how to navigate roads as much as they have to learn how to navigate humans. Despite massive processing ability, an autonomous car still doesn’t know how to handle what MIT’s Paull called “corner cases,” or “the part of the space that you don't get a lot of data about because [contact] happens so infrequently, so it's very hard for a robot to learn what to do in those situations.”
Corner cases can include the wide variety of situations that require a sort of best-case judgment call, such as navigating a residential street with legal two-way traffic but a single usable lane. Human drivers use waving and finger pointing to communicate with one another and establish order; computers don’t speak that language yet. Nissan, BMW, Ford, Volvo, and Toyota have pledged to sell a Level 4 autonomous car by 2021, and the standard five-year automobile development cycle means they’re working on those cars right now. Considering the challenge of teaching the hardware our human ways, computers are unlikely to have their own wave-and-point capability by 2021, either.
Ford has already suggested that its coming Level 4 car (scheduled for 2021, naturally) will operate “in a geo-fenced area that is very heavily 3D mapped.”
According to Volvo engineer Coelingh, “the best self-driving cars very soon will be better than the worst drivers we have around—the inattentive drivers or the drunk drivers. But before [these cars] can beat the really attentive drivers, that will take time.”
That means, at the very least, a lengthy and phased roll-out of autonomous capabilities—or, as Paull puts it, "having a car that can [drive itself] in progressively more and more scenarios." This, "rather than a switch where there's a car that can do it all," is the likely scenario. "And the way that starts is with highway driving,” he says.
Of the type of Level 4 autonomy that relieves a driver of the need to monitor the environment, Walker Smith says the vehicle needs "two of the three [things]: slow speeds, simple environments, or supervised operations."
"I could see a company like Tesla having a system that technically does not expect that the user will pay attention on freeways," Smith says. "I could see in the next year or two a company deploying a low-speed shuttle under relatively simple conditions where the people are just passengers.”
Dolan, of Carnegie Mellon, says current systems are "largely able" right now to deal with routine highway driving and simple city roads. About Level 4 autonomy, even on the highway, he was more circumspect when taking corner-case scenarios into account.
"If you stick to a given route at low-traffic times of the day, it may well be that an autonomous car can run 95 percent of the time without human intervention," he says. "But if you enumerate all the different things that can go wrong, or [are] difficult in urban driving, autonomous cars today will not be able to handle 95 percent of them.
"How long is it going to take for robots [to be able] to do that? It's similar to asking how long is it going to be until we have a robot team that can win the World Cup."
Volvo demonstrates one of the approaches we can expect in the interim. This year, the Swedish carmaker will lease 100 development cars to select customers in Gothenburg for its "Drive Me" pilot program. One goal of Drive Me is to "research how ordinary people want to use this technology" in preparation for the autonomous car Volvo expects to sell at dealerships in 2020.
That 2020 production car will supposedly take the carmaker from its current Level 2 assistance features straight to Level 4 autonomy. Volvo's Coelingh told us, "That car will have three different modes: you can drive it manually, and you will have all the latest and greatest safety systems that will help you to avoid collisions; you can drive in assisted modes like ACC and Pilot Assist, and these two modes will be available, in practice, anywhere at any point in time; the fully autonomous mode, the Level 4 mode, will also be in that car, but you will only have it available on certain roads—roads that fulfill a number of preconditions.
"We have designed the technology for your daily commute, so we will select roads that a lot of people use to get into a big city or out of the big city—the bigger freeways, or roads where there's a lot of congestion. And then the car will tell you whether full or autonomy is available. But I do not expect that by 2020 it will be available at any point in time, on any road. That will take much more time.”
Volvo has already said that when it makes Level 4 autonomy available, it will accept liability for accidents that occur during the proper use of the autonomous system.
The Drive Me initiative will work with the city of Gothenburg to explore open and covered parking solutions for large numbers of autonomous vehicles. "What's even more interesting [than the technology itself] is that [it] is an enabler for making the traffic system much safer than it is today," Coelingh says. "There's lot of focus on technology, but there's actually very good reasons to look at the bigger picture and try to understand how this will impact society. I think it’s more interesting that it can really change the transportation system as we know it.”
Toyota will take a different approach, practically backing its way into Level 4 autonomy with the help of an army of scientists working at two well-funded research centers at MIT and Stanford. "The core idea here is that, instead of building an autonomous car, you build a very advanced safety system that's basically an autonomous car that sits in the background and makes sure a human doesn't do anything wrong," Paull says. "That’s got a couple of advantages. One, you never have to go through Level 3. The other is that, if your system decides it's not sure what's going on, it can always do nothing. The hope is that you should do no harm; you should have a system that, worst case, is as good as a human driver, and the best case is a car that's incapable of crashing.”
Toyota’s CSAIL institutes are one year into Toyota’s five-year funding commitment. The Japanese automaker says it expected to have an offering with autonomous capability on-sale by—you guessed it—2020.
Miles and Decades to Go
This article touches on some of the hurdles facing full autonomy, but certainly nowhere near everything that governments, manufacturers, and the public will need to sort out in the meantime. For instance, upgrading the national infrastructure so self-driving cars will have the lane markers they need. Establishing liability protocol—if a "driver" isn't driving her car, is the manufacturer at fault if that vehicle crashes, or maybe the software supplier?—is itself a massive undertaking, and will likely tie up a lot of time in various courts across the country. There’s the seemingly trivial but potentially crippling matter of human bullying; in other words, how to make an autonomous car safe enough to "do no harm” yet aggressive enough that it doesn’t continually give way to humans who figure out that a self-driving car, unlike a person, is always programmed to stop for pedestrians? (Plus, some of those pedestrians could be among the thousands of human drivers predicted to be out of work thanks to self-driving vehicles.)
What about the possibility of hacking self-driving car? Despite a lot of hand-wringing, the full scope of possibilities still seems unclear.
It will take years, money, miles, legislation, and judges to figure it all out—and that's just for the problems we can foresee. Even the bullish Elon Musk has said Autopilot needs to log a billion test miles before it gets out of beta; according to some reports, Tesla would be only just north of 200 million active Autopilot miles by now.
So, what about those autonomous Jetsons dreams? We’ll get there, eventually, but it will be slow and it will come piecemeal. And that’s assuming the technology doesn’t suffer any major missteps. As to the question of a realistic timeline for you to be able to get in your car and ride to your favorite restaurant without touching the wheel or putting down your book, Paull says we might get "a car that can do 95 percent of the driving tasks without any oversight from a human within ten years. But that last five percent is going to be very, very tough." Volvo’s Coelingh says, "If you're talking about anywhere, in any weather conditions, I think it’s longer than 20 years.” Gil Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute that oversees the two CSAIL outposts, said at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show we’ll need "decades to have a significant portion of US cars operate at Level 4 autonomy or higher."
So not even the boffins know how it’s all going to play out, or when. Walker Smith says that "the things that we expect are going to take far longer, and it’s the things we don't expect that are going to be right around the corner." Regarding that first wave of autonomous cars being promised by the manufacturers in three to four years, Smith notes that "you might not be able to take this car from your house 1,000 miles to a mountain range, but you might be able to take it on your freeway, and you might be able to take a shuttle around downtown LA. Or you could just have flying cars and drones that we all find imminently more interesting than self-driving cars. Who knows?”
Who knows, indeed? Anyone who claims otherwise has a robot butler to sell you.
Will humans still drive in the future? I was recently asked to join the debate over at 2025AD, a blog focused on the year many have claimed will be the watershed for the arrival of self-driving cars. I'm pessimistic, but convinced there is a silver lining. My opponent? Journalist John McElroy, with whom I disagree bigly. Watch his video, then read this:
Will Humans Still Drive?
I’m of two minds on whether people will still drive.
The answer, of course, depends on one’s timeline. According to Fight Club, on a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. Apply this to driving: Once technological barriers to self-driving cars fall, the end of human driving seems inevitable. On a moral level, people shouldn’t be driving at all, if only for 1.) on a personal level, the unacceptably high chance of a fatal or injurious accident; 2.) on a societal level, the shared cost of emergency services dedicated to such events; and 3.) on an economic level, the inefficiencies of entire industries and government organs required to service even the minor accidents that plague our roadways.
As a result, I am absolutely convinced that human driving as we know it will be outlawed, beginning in major urban centers in the first world before spidering out across major arteries to form regional and national autonomous transportation networks linked with multi-modal nodes.
The tipping points won’t be for global, national, or even regional ubiquity, but for local, with interlocking threads slowly strengthening between nodes, intermixed with human-driven and semi-autonomous vehicles.
Whether I like this future is another story.
The Dichotomy of Driving
The moral argument for mandating autonomy is in direct conflict with a fundamental truth underlying human nature. For many, acquiring a driver’s license is a rite of passage that leads to an ownership dream more accessible than home-ownership, and makes real a concept of freedom inextricably linked to a machine that doubles as a figurative expression of self.
There are only two messages in car ads: Have More Sex (one could argue Be More Successful is in there, but that one is pretty much just a subliminal springboard to Have More Sex) and Do You Love Your Family?
This dichotomy tells the entire story of whether people will still drive, because we all know exactly which message will be used to compel people to stop.
On a cultural level, cars are not merely transportation, but transformation. How we drive and what we drive are two axes on the chart of self-expression. However more efficient or safe an autonomous vehicle, it may prove impossible to convince people to relinquish this channel of self-expression without a massive generational shift, if ever, unless forced.
If cars were merely transportation, sports cars wouldn’t exist. Nor would the majority of highly profitable cosmetic and performance options, or the entire aftermarket sector.
Driverless Cars: An Urban-Rural Gap?
Fortunes have been lost betting against human nature, and anyone who believes driving should be mandated out of existence before culture demands it is in for a bitter fight. It’s easy to believe human driving could be banned in Manhattan, Paris, or London on a ten- or fifteen-year timeline. Inspect a map of the United States, however, and overlay voting patterns in the most recent Presidential election, and a picture emerges of the timeline for cultural acceptance of full autonomy.
Texas? Good luck with that.
There are over 274,000,000 cars in the United States, with approximately a 17M car/year turnover. Even if 100 percent of cars sold today were self-driving, it would take 16 years to get to ubiquity. Chris Gerdes, Chief Innovation Officer for the DOT, has said he thinks 35 percent of the cars on the road in the United States will be self-driving in ten years. To get there, 100 percent of the cars sold would have to be self-driving by 2021.
Aggressive, and unlikely.
The fifty-year scenario—the only one that matters to anyone making investments today—is vastly different than the clickbait-hungry media would have us believe. The automotive industry’s focus on reaching full autonomy, and apparent fear and resentment of semi-autonomous technologies like Tesla’s, has poisoned any honest discussion over what’s likely to happen before full autonomy becomes ubiquitous.
The biggest opportunity in the near- and mid-term isn’t full autonomy, it’s the universe of products and services that will orbit semi-autonomy, occasionally overlapping with the onset of full autonomy, based on geography.
Acceptance Will Not Pop Up Overnight
Over time, a patchwork quilt of autonomy-mandated, autonomy-optional, and autonomy-banned zones will emerge. An equilibrium between technologies will be reached, followed by a long plateau upon which people will slowly come to accept increasing levels of automation. Parallel forms of transportation will evolve and interlock with semi and fully autonomous driving, finally giving meaning to the word “mobility”, which has so far been no more than a catchphrase concealing a lack of clear vision for transportation’s future.
Pure autonomy brands will prosper, if they accept the limited scope of near and mid-term acceptance, and fill demand rather than try to create it. Pure driving brands will also prosper, as generations raised on human driving cling more closely to concepts of agency and identity rooted in control and ownership.
Brands that hedge and dilute a century of association with one of the two overarching messages behind automotive marketing will suffer. Porsche has wisely distanced themselves from full autonomy, and will reap the rewards on the long plateau, even once they offer it. BMW? The Ultimate Driving Machine must offer it once available, but it should never be front and center to their marketing. Toyota? Protected, for obvious reasons.
Imagine a Porsche 911 that replicated every 911 ever made. A BMW M5 with a heads-up display that indicated the correct line through Stelvio Pass. A Mercedes-Benz AMG-GT with real-time traffic and condition data for scheduling a Sunday drive, linked to stability control and hi-res maps which would prevent loss of control before entering a turn.
These are all as-yet undeveloped technologies which will enhance rather than detract from driving in a mixed autonomy environment. I wish I could use them now.
At the end of the plateau, some 50-75 years from now, human driving will likely go the way of horseback riding, but only once other forms of visceral self-expression have supplanted the transformative appeal (and, yes, danger) of driving itself. Virtual reality, augmented reality, video games, and cybernetics will all evolve on parallel and increasingly overlapping tracks, converging with concepts of mobility, yielding inconceivable forms of entertainment and leisure.
Eventually, the professional wasteland of racing/driving schools will meet Disneyland in the middle. Racetracks will become mechanical petting zoos and amusement parks, with attendees signing waivers before they risk their lives in quaint machines under semi-controlled circumstances. Imagine Ferrari World was the only place you could drive a Ferrari.
I hope I live long enough to see that. I doubt it. They’re still using pack mules in Mongolia, the Land Cruisers I’ve seen in Africa are pretty much indestructible, and there will always be someone with enough money to buy a human-driving exemption. Actually, that would never work; once autonomy is ubiquitous, no human driver would be fast enough to keep up with the flow of self-driving traffic.
Right now is a good time to be a car guy. The future? Not so much.