Tesla Admits Autopilot Was Active In Fatal Model X Crash

Last week, a Tesla Model X driver was killed when their vehicle impacted a concrete highway divider, whose crash attenuator was out of order from a prior incident. The crash occurred with sufficient force to burst the vehicle's lithium-ion batteries, which, once free of their casings, conflagrated. Eager to rip Tesla, many leapt on the Autopilot blame bandwagon, to which Tesla responded by opening an investigation into the accident, with a scan of the smashed Model X's black box.

Tesla released its findings on Friday, and confirmed that the crashed car was indeed operating in Autopilot mode at the time of the accident. The Model X's operator had toggled the mode on, opting for the minimum following distance to the vehicle ahead of them allowed by the system, and then removed their hands, against Tesla's instructions. The data snapshot reveals that the driver's hands were absent from the wheel for at least six seconds before the impact.

Furthermore, the company claims that the driver had a five second unobstructed view of the divider which their vehicle would impact, from up to 150 meters (almost 500 feet) away.

One factor was assuredly not a hazard for which the Model X driver could be held accountable: The impact buffer on the end of the divider into which they crashed was damaged by a prior impact, and no longer provided adequate cushioning for collisions.

Autopilot has been blamed for a multitude of accidents throughout Tesla's history, some even fatal. Following the recent coming-together of an autonomous Uber vehicle and a jaywalker in Arizona, which resulted in the bicyclist's death, the tone of the conversation surrounding autonomous driving is turning back toward skepticism. We are starting to realize that automated driver aids are only as handy as the person behind the wheel, and that no matter how advanced our technology, we need to keep our wits about us on the road.

Here’s a Look at Our Netflix’s Fastest Car March Madness Brackets

Netflix's flagship automotive series is on the way to the streaming platform next Friday, and we're pretty excited for it. Fastest Car will put up three custom-built rides up against a supercar; sweat versus the almighty dollar. We talked to the folks at Netflix to get a look at just what kind of cars would be racing, and now we're placing bets on just who comes out on top. Check out our pseudo-March Madness brackets below and see if you agree.

Episode 1

Our first three contenders bring a variety of classics from different time periods to the table, all from the heartland of Detroit. The trio will run their homemade creations against a stock Lamborghini Huracan in hope of being crowned the supercar killer. We didn't have any data on the Monte Carlo, so we can't really judge it and are rolling the dice by excluding it from the runnings.

We know that the Pinto makes around 400 horsepower at the crank and weighs the least out of any car, but its power is no match to the 1,000 horsepower Plymouth Coupe. The Plymouth weighs less than the Huracan and has almost double the power. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, if there wasn't such a power gap (392 horsepower according to the data Netflix sent us), we'd put it up to question; the Huracan's modern technology and all-wheel-drive will allow it to launch better and grip the pavement throughout its journey. But 40% more power is hard to ignore.

Episode 2

Now, this is an interesting race. Two of the vehicles here jump out right away: the Lunch Money Garage Dodge (which gained popularity after visiting the Hoonigans) and Bisimoto's famous 1,000 horsepower Odyssey. The C10's driver shares the last name with a well-known engine building shop in California, so we're guessing it's putting down a bit of power; unfortunately, we don't have the data of exactly how much and have to exclude it from out guessing.

The cars will go up against a 2016 Ford GT making just over 1,000 horsepower and sitting fairly light at a reported 3,400 pounds. The Odyssey weighs half a ton more, so we're going to bet that it's not coming in first. The Dodge, however, seems interesting. Our supplied data shows that the 2,500-pound LS-swapped hot rod makes around 400 horsepower at the wheels. Our data suggests that it will be run with nitrous, which coupled with the 4.11 rear end (versus the Ford GT's 3.36) will shoot the car down the track. The question is, will 900 pounds of weight savings and a higher final drive be enough to win the race? We think so.

Episode 3

Now, this lineup feels like a good underdog story. You've got a cult-classic Impala SS, a Supra (which was actually sold as a "Celica Supra" in North America), and an old Oldsmobile Cutlass lineup against a Ferrari 488 GTB.

The Ferrari is going to be a tough cookie to beat. It weighs less than 3,400 pounds and has over 660 horsepower. That alone makes the only car with more power the Impala, but the Chevy is a ton heavier (literally). The Supra almost had our bet due to being 400 pounds lighter, but since we only have data of its power being approximately 500 horsepower, we aren't willing to take that chance. Let's give this match to the supercar.

Episode 4

Here's the story of three generations of GM vehicles and a McLaren MP4. The latter’s 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 pumps out 616 horsepower making the 3,200 pound supercar feel like a go-kart on steroids. Regardless, this win seems pretty easy, and not in the McLaren's favor.

Unfortunately, it's not the legendary Buick Grand National that we think is taking the win in this round. Not that it doesn't put out a respectable amount of power, but because there seems to be a clear winner elsewhere. You see, the GMC Sonoma pictured above isn't just your standard light-duty pickup. It fits the definition of a sleeper by hiding its 1,000 horsepower in the barely-modified exterior of the pickup. Weighing just 80 pounds more than the McLaren, we're putting this one up to no-contest.

Episode 5

Bryan Salamone has been called the world's most "stereotypical Lamborghini owner," (seriously, Google it) so I'm really excited to see this episode because of his over-the-top car, and because of what contender we think will take the title of the winner on this episode. As a heads up, we have no idea what the Camaro makes power-wise, so it'll join the list of "can't compete" in our runnings.

As much as I love the C10 (I used to own a Custom Deluxe), it's going on the backburner this round; the truck's weight is the same as the Lamborghini and is making around 175 horsepower less. Even with the 4.10 rear end, it's not going to compensate enough for the lack of power. The 2,280 pound Colt, however, is attention-grabbing. The owner describes it as making around 740 horsepower on the dyno while burning out. Assuming that it doesn't have traction issues on the day of the race, its low weight and gutsy amount of power translates to a projected win.

Episode 6

The 6th episode in the series brings us the show's highest horsepower car, Stefan Slisz's 1989 Ford Thunderbird. Going head-to-head with an 800 horsepower Chevy S10 and a 705 horsepower Dodge Viper ACR Extreme, it seems like we'll be able to pick a winner right off the bat. The Cadillac hadn't gotten to the dyno before Netflix sent us the car's details, so we're hoping it doesn't make a fool out of us when we exclude it from the possible wins.

The Viper is the heaviest car of the trio and it makes the least amount of power, but likely we'll see the 800 horsepower LS-swapped S10 put up a good fight against it. I'll admit, I did some research on the Thunderbird when I saw its power, just to make sure there wasn't a mistake. I'll have you know that all I could find were videos of the car hauling ass on a drag strip (and one with a steering shaft failure). The 1,332 horsepower T-Bird weighs 3,100 pounds and seems like the clear victor on this episode.

Episode 7

The last episode before the big showdown was actually pretty easy to decipher a winner. Netflix may have inadvertently revealed the winner in the official trailer for Fastest Car when it showed the Datsun 1200 and Mazda RX-2 colliding mid-race. As much as it pains me to see either classic end up with damage, it helps to narrow down the choices.

The dually already has a sizable gap on the Aventador, plus Netflix tells us that the 7,000 pound truck is packing around over 1000 horsepower and 1800 ft-lb of torque. Though the Lamborghini is half the weight, it also has quite a bit less power (and less than a third of the torque because diesel). We're betting money that the Dodge takes this race.

Episode 8: The Champion of Champions

This is it, boys and girls: the winner-take-all of Fastest Car. Probably. Maybe.

I'm fairly confident with the choices that made it to the final round, but once Netflix debuts Fastest Car on April 5th, these could easily be disproven. Selecting who we think might be the winner was difficult; we don't know everything about the cars, only a select bit of data sent to us by the producers, and have to use some rough "ricer math" to decide just which cars might end up in this episode.

Biases aside (I have a history with DSMs so I really want the Colt to win), it's likely to be the Thunderbird that earns the crown. 1,300 horsepower and 3,100 pounds make it the highest power-to-pound car in our final pick, plus the 4.10 rear end is going to propel it down the track.

All in all, we're pretty excited for this new series. The show seemingly promises to be more of a documentary of builds rather than a Street Outlaws type of show, which is exciting by itself. Seeing these homemade builds go up against cold hard cash is exciting, and if one wins the challenge like we predict, it'll be even more sweet.

Russia’s New Little Missile Packing Patrol Ship Is A Pretty Genius Design

Russia is constructing half a dozen Project 22160 patrol boats that leverage an innovative and compact design that provides a lot of capability and potentially a huge amount of combat punch in a relatively small seaframe. The concept is innovative enough that it should be studied by western navies as a source of inspiration for their own future multi-role combat vessels.

Displacing just 1,300 tons, and at 308 feet long, these vessels sport stealthy features and have a range of 6,000 miles. They can stay at sea for 60 days while housing a crew complement of approximately 80 people. They aren't slowpokes either and can hit speeds of up to 30 knots.

The class was designed with a slew of missions in mind, including everything from anti-piracy to counter-terrorism, and even strike and special operations support. But above all else they are sea control vessels capable of blue water operations just as much as brown water operations.

They pack a 57mm ?-220? automatic deck gun, a pair of DP-65 grenade launchers, as well as two 14.5mm guns. A Gibka air defense missile turret that can hold up to 12 Igla surface-to-air point defense missiles is also destined to equip these ships.

Gibka point defense turret.

The system's infrared and telescopic TV sensors can also be used for surveillance. TK25 and PK10 countermeasure systems help protect the vessel from threats above and below the sea, as well.

The small ship also features a sizable flight-deck and a somewhat unique semi-recessed hangar bay that can accommodate a medium multi-purpose helicopter like the KA-27/28/29. This gives the ship a over-the-horizon surveillance, strike, and search and rescue capability.

In addition to navigational sensors, the patrol ship's primary sensor system is the Pozitiv-ME1 3D active surface and air search radar, which has a range against fighter sized targets of about 75 to 100 miles. The latest compact active and passive sonar systems are also carried along with a pair of rigid hull inflatable boats that flank each side of the ship's forecastle. These can be used for delivering boarding parties, as tenders, and for other duties.

But the most interesting part of the concept is an expansive garage-like area below the helicopter deck where two containers can be fitted under overhead swinging doors. This space is flexible and could be used for everything from extra living space for crew or special operations personnel, to launching and recovering small boats and underwater or surface unmanned craft, and/or even for fitting a containerized drone control center. But the space's primary purpose is to house containerized long-range weapons.

A similar concept is being built into Russia's icebreaking patrol ships intended for arctic operations, but in the case of the Project 22160 ships, containerized Klub-N anti-ship and land attack cruise missiles will be the class's primary armament. Other containerized missiles can be switched in and out over time as well.

Basically, this gives these relatively small combat vessels the option to take along a credible long-range anti-ship and land attack capability, with the ability to field eight missiles at once in two canisters. Alternatively one canister can be housed with the extra space used for other operations.

A pretty capable little ship right? But Russia is buying the base model.

The enhanced version of the Project 22160 class also features a Shtil-1 vertical launch missile system between the bridge and the deck gun packing between a dozen and two dozen 9M317ME missiles.

Based on advanced derivatives of the SA-11 Buk system, this gives these little ships an area air defense capability, allowing them to protect convoys of vessels and localized areas from air-breathing threats. The missiles have a range of roughly 30 miles and are very loosely analogous to block I version of NATO's RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile.

This additional capability would be packed into a vessel displacing roughly 1,700 tons. In comparison, the Freedom class of Littoral Combat Ships, although faster, don't pack anywhere near this must punch and they have over double the displacement. They likely cost far more per hull too—basically half a billion dollars each.

Freedom class Littoral Combat Ship.

There is no denying that Russia has a knack for stuffing a lot of combat capability into small vessels, especially as of late. The country's Buyan class corvettes are especially vicious little ships, having showed off their ability to launch long-range cruise missiles at Syria from the Caspian Sea for the first time in 2015. But the modularity and air defense capabilities of the Project 22160 boats is particularly attractive, as is their ability to operate in open ocean for long periods of time.

What you end up with is almost a pocket frigate of sorts, one that can be fiscally obtainable to cash strapped navies both in terms of acquisition and sustainment costs. Russia is well aware of this as they look at any chance they can to sell their combat vessels to weapons customers abroad. Vietnam and Algeria especially come to mind.

It will be interesting to see where this fairly exciting combat ship program goes in the coming years. The first ship in the class, the Vasily Bykov, is undergoing sea trials now and is expected to be delivered to the Russian Navy later this year. All six ships are currently under construction at the Zelenodolsk and Zalid shipyards and are intended to join Russia's ever more potent Black Sea Fleet by the early 2020s.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

Japan to End Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight Regulations by End of 2018

The beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) regulation is perhaps the most hampering of all, in terms of commercial drone companies accomplishing their aerial delivery goals. The law, staunchly regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, requires drones to stay within an operator’s line of sight. Naturally, that makes it difficult for companies like Amazon (or your local pizza franchise) to establish an autonomous aerial delivery system. If every delivery requires a pilot to stay within sight of the unmanned aerial vehicle, drone deliveries don’t make a lot of financial sense, never mind the practical aspects. Fortunately for Japanese corporations, this regulation seems to be coming to a swift end in the country.

According to The Japan Times, Japan’s transport and industry ministries announced new rules on Thursday, with plans of implementation scheduled for the end of 2018. BVLOS drone missions will be permitted, without the need of an operator maintaining visual line of sight, as long as the flight’s safety can be guaranteed remotely via cameras and sensors. How exactly they intend on ensuring such missions is yet to be clarified, but there are certainly enough proponents of this regulation to be altered or removed for this to be a victory for many.

The motivation here is clear. It simply makes too much business sense for the government to alleviate restrictions like these for commercial clients in the country. In addition, this would allow for far easier transportation of goods and materials to remote, rural, and mountainous areas. The one reported caveat, as of now, is that any drone traveling beyond the visual line of sight must have a history of safe flight missions, and fly below 492 feet (150 meters).

All in all, this is a huge victory for those eager to finally move forward with package deliveries, and something the U.K. recently considered doing, as well.

Audi Might Bring the RS 4 and RS 6 Avant Stateside If We Plead Hard Enough

If you've been browsing The Drive even for a little while, you've likely come across a few articles announcing some new hot hatchback or wagon with a complaint from us saying that said car isn't coming to the United States. The Audi RS4 and RS6 Avant wagons are the worst offenders thanks to a combination of stunning looks, top-tier performance, and endless practicality. We want them, but we can't have them.

In an interview with MotorTrend however, vice president of Product Management for Audi of America Filip Brabec said that wagon fans shouldn't give up hope just yet. "“We always look at potential new opportunities in the market. It’s a niche to explore,” Brabec said. “We keep holding discussions. Keep writing us letters.”

This isn't a confirmation that we'll get the Avant twins mind you, it just means that Audi hears our cries and is at the very least interested in bringing the cars over. In an email to The Drive, senior manager of product and motorsports communications Mark Dahncke stressed that there are no official plans right now, but that Audi will continue to evaluate the market to see if it's worth it to bring these RS models to the States.

According to MotorTrend, the luxury car market isn't learning towards wagons right now, even in Europe. Younger buyers would rather have a Sportback-style car than a wagon, which Audi does offer in North America thanks to the just-debuted RS 5 Sportback.

"The Sportback offers more image than the Avant," explained Michael-Julius Renz, CEO of Audi Sport. "The Sport back is for young families looking for a sporty, fashion-oriented car with functionality that they can put the kids in. The Avant customer is a little bit older, more entrepreneurial."

All is not lost though. Like Filip Brabec said, as long as fans keep demonstrating interest towards these hot wagons, Audi will keep discussing the possibility of bringing them across the pond. If you absolutely need a German luxury performance wagon right now though, the new Nurburgring-taming Mercedes-AMG E63 S Estate has this corner of the market on lockdown.

The 2018 New York Auto Show Actually Made Us Give a Damn About Auto Shows

Sometimes a change of scenery makes all the difference: After a dreary Detroit in January, which featured one of the barest new-car cupboards we’ve seen in years, the New York International Auto Show restored some of the luster and sizzle that we expect – nay, demand – from a major auto extravaganza. A good 15 brands unveiled cars that were worth talking about, sitting in and dreaming about driving, or owning. Design, performance, technology and consumer value all got their due. “Expert” bloviating about the self-driving future was held to a blessed minimum, in favor of actual news and progress: Google’s Waymo division showed its autonomous version of Jaguar’s sexy, electric I-Pace SUV, and announced it will buy up to 20,000 units for its expanding ride-hailing test in Phoenix and likely other cities to come. In another positive development, not a single sentient Uber pilot managed to run over a jaywalking journalist outside of the Jacob K. Javits center, where the public show runs through April 8.

Sharp-elbowed SUVs still dominated the show floor, as you’d expect when nearly two-thirds of Americans are choosing a new SUV or pickup at shopping time. But even here, automakers (with one glaring exception) seemed to bring their A-game, including surprisingly convincing redesigns of such stereotypical yawners as the Toyota RAV4, Acura RDX and Lincoln Aviator. Even the much-maligned American family sedan, its sales under attack from SUVs, received a solid defense from the 2019 Nissan Altima, with a groundbreaking engine, slick driver-assistance technology and the optional AWD that’s rare among mainstream sedans. And while Ferrari, McLaren and other penny-pinching exotic brands again refrained from mounting official exhibits – among the discouraging trends that’s sapping energy and buzz from auto shows around the world – area dealers stepped up by displaying such hypercars as the Koenigsegg Regera and Rimac C Two, along with the Lamborghini Urus SUV that we’ll be testing in Italy in two weeks. With worthy rides and cool surprises around every corner – including a stylish VW pickup truck -- New York proved to be an auto show worthy of the name. Check out these dozen show highlights, along with an unlucky thirteen, the show’s biggest dud.

2019 Acura RDX

The RDX has always been “this-close” to being a great little luxury SUV, but something always screws it up. On paper and on stage, this striking 2019 RDX finally showed some personality and presence to justify a price jump from a Honda CR-V. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four with 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet mates with a 10-speed automatic transmission, adaptive dampers and Acura’s Super-Handling AWD. Up to 70 percent of power can drive rear wheels or vector 100 percent of that power side-to-side. The interior brings more space and pizazz, including notably improved materials, a concave-shaped touchpad controller and a rocking, 710-watt 3D audio system

2019 Cadillac CT6 V-Sport

Cadillac is being forced to replace the ATS and CTS sedans – beloved by critics, but not by nearly enough luxury buyers – with a single CT5 model. But the flagship CT6 will steam ahead with General Motors’ first-ever, twin-turbocharged V-8, a 4.2-liter with 550 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. (Are you getting this, Mercedes-AMG?). This CT6 had us licking our chops with its understated menace and performance potential, including its mesh-black grille, 20-inch wheels with summer tires, 10-speed automatic transmission and unique, 19-inch Brembo brakes. The CT6 will also offer a 500-hp, 550 pound-feet version of the engine, for people who don’t need to annoy friends by constantly repeating “627 pound-feet.”

Genesis Essentia Concept

I’m not sure if Genesis realized that the name was already taken by a fancy bottled-water brand. But Hyundai’s luxury division quenched our thirst for cool concepts with the Essentia, a kickass carbon-fiber GT with a transparent hood, motor-operated butterfly doors and electric motors powering all four wheels. Luc Donckerwolke, the former Bentley design chief who now heads up Hyundai and Genesis design, told us that while the Essentia was inspired by classic GTs of the past, its elegant design hints at the future direction of Genesis. Donckerwolke said the Essentia itself is likely to spawn a two-plus-two GT in Genesis showrooms; though surely this mega-dollar concept will need to be toned down significantly to fit the brand’s value-oriented lineup. And Genesis wasn’t done yet, also unveiling the handsome production version of the G70, its eagerly awaited BMW 3-series fighter.

Don't you dare call it a Hyundai: Genesis Essentia is among the show's biggest hits

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

I had an introductory drive in the Clarity’s new plug-in hybrid version (as opposed to fuel cell and EV models) during the show. I enjoyed a thrifty 50 mpg over an hour of city and highway driving, not even counting the Clarity’s 47-mile, all-electric range on a full battery charge. Among plug-in hybrids, the Chevy Volt can cover a few more miles on electricity alone; but it can’t match the midsize Clarity’s roomy, five-passenger interior or its Accord-level accommodations. If you’re cool with the Honda’s aerodynamic-yet-frumpy shape, and you’re into big-time fuel savings, the Clarity is already on sale at $34,290 to start.

Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid promises 47 miles of all-electric range, and 340 total miles,

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR

The F-Pace is already one of the prettiest SUV’s in the luxury game. That game gets a whole lot faster with the F-Pace SVR, with 550 horsepower from the same supercharged V-8 that shrieks, gargles and spits in Jaguar Land Rover models including the F-Type sports car and Range Rover SVR. Jaguar figures a 4.1-second rip from 0-60 mph and a 176-mph top speed, which will surely get the attention of SUV rivals including the Porsche Macan Turbo and Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. An active exhaust system trims 14.5 pounds, and the suspension, brakes, transmission, wheels and tires all get the high-performance treatment.

2019 Lincoln Aviator

With the hugely hyped Lincoln Continental sedan falling kersplat with buyers, Lincoln’s future must apparently be built on models like this great-looking Aviator SUV. Looking like a successful genetic cross between the larger Navigator and a Range Rover Sport, the three-row Aviator showed an impressively rich interior; a plug-in, twin-turbo V-6 powertrain; and a smartphone app that can lock, unlock or start the truck. Lincoln says the Aviator will offer both a conventional twin-turbo V-6 – likely the 3.5-liter Ecoboost, but possibly the smaller 2.7-liter – along with a plug-in hybrid option.

Mazda Kai Concept

Mazda consistently delivers the most compelling exterior designs of any Japanese brand, and the Kai Concept takes things to an even higher level. If Mazda can get even 80 percent of this car’s design aesthetic into showrooms, including on a next-gen Mazda3 due in 2019, we have the makings of the world’s most beautiful hatchback. I mean, just look at that smooth, minimal, hot-buttered shape. If anticipation wasn’t already running high, the Mazda3 will adopt the brand’s pioneering, 2.0-liter Skyactiv-X engine, whose spark controlled compression ignition makes this gas engine operate like a diesel.

Mazda's Kai is almost too pretty to be a hatchback

2019 Nissan Altima

The all-new Nissan Altima brought a lot to this Manhattan party: The optional AWD that you can’t get on most family sedans; a generous suite of safety gear and semi-autonomous ProPilot tech; and the world’s first variable compression engine in production, shared with Infiniti. That fuel-saving 2.0-liter VC turbo engine spools up 248 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. A base 2.5-liter, direct-injection engine manages 188 horses. To enthusiasts’ dismay, both engines can only be had with a continuously variable transmission. The bright side includes a spiffier design and appealing cabin that, especially on high-end editions, does its best to mimic BMW’s interiors.

2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS Weissach Package

The show version was painted “Lizard Green,” and you’ll need more green to drive this 520-hp, naturally aspirated, flat-six masterwork: A standard GT3 RS costs $188,550. This Weissach Package trims flab via an unpainted carbon-fiber hood, roof, wing and side mirrors, along with carbon-fiber anti-roll bars and couplers. That 13 pounds of weight savings costs a gut-check $18,000, but with that telltale carbon fiber, your track buddies will at least know who they’re dealing with. Drop another $13,000 on magnesium wheels that save 25 pounds of critical unsprung weight, and voila, you get a $220,000, 3,153-pound 911 that can dispatch 60 mph in three seconds flat, and doubles the downforce of a standard 911 GT3.

2019 Subaru Forester

Ah, Subaru, the cars that sell themselves. Subaru’s American sales have tripled – yes, tripled – over the past 12 years, as the market for AWD cars dropped into Subie’s lap. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that this all-new Forester looks a lot like the last one, aside from a gussied-up interior and cool orange trim on the Sport version. Oh, the 2.5-liter boxer four does add direct injection for 12 extra ponies, now at 182 horses, with a continuously variable transmission. This Forester actually drops its turbocharged engine option, with Subaru saying that only five percent of buyers were choosing it. Yet AWD and the EyeSight safety suite are standard on all models. And the big tech news is “DriverFocus”: This facial recognition system will monitor and alert a sleepy or distracted driver, with the ability to identify up to five drivers and memorize individual presets for seat position, climate and infotainment settings.

2019 Toyota RAV4

You know an auto show is a resounding success when you’re actually driven to care about a Toyota RAV4. The RAV4’s toughened-up exterior continues a welcome industry trend toward more rectilinear, traditional SUV shapes. The interior looks and feels more serious and robust, including a thick-sectioned steering wheel that looks like something out of a German luxury car. The RAV4 itself is more robust, including a 57-percent more-rigid chassis, a half-inch more ground clearance and shorter front and rear overhangs. A nifty new torque-vectoring AWD system on uplevel models gets an industry-first, fuel-saving “rear driveline disconnect” that uses dog clutches to decouple rear wheels when AWD isn’t needed. There’s a hybrid version of course, which uses electric motors to power rear wheels on the AWD version. Toyota sold nearly 408,000 RAV4’s in 2017, more than the Camry or Corolla, and its sales are already up 16 percent in 2018 – and that’s for a model at the end of its lifecycle. Care to venture a guess as to how many all-new RAV4’s Toyota can move?

Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport Concept

Count the uber-stylish Cross Sport among the many pleasant surprises at the show, including the Nissan Altima, Toyota RAV4 and Lincoln Aviator. Infinitely better looking than the three-row shipping container known as the Atlas, the smaller Cross Sport was shown in plug-in hybrid form, with a 3.6-liter V-6, lithium battery, a claimed 355 horsepower and 26 miles of all-electric range. VW is spending $340 million at its Chattanooga, Tenn. plant to ready this five-passenger SUV for production, though with conventional four- and six-cylinder engines to start; though a hybrid version could join them down the road.

And Finally, The Dud: 2019 Cadillac XT4

For this we waited? After dithering for years to get a compact SUV into showrooms, and watching rivals carve up this exploding market, Cadillac’s XT4 was easily the biggest face-plant among new cars in New York. The Cadillac looked like it had been aging in a design-studio basement for five years, but not like fine wine. The exterior is simultaneously dull and played-out, a family album of Cadillac design cliches. The equally perfunctory interior failed to make any luxury statement, aside from one of old-school GM mediocrity and the status quo. Someone had better direct Cadillac to the nearest drawing board. And judging by showgoers’ reactions – which ranged from “meh” to outright scoffing – the XT4 will be scheduled for emergency surgery with all due speed.

The Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid’s Technology Is In Need Of a Little Clarity Itself

I spent some time during the 2018 New York Auto Show behind the wheel of the new Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid. It’s a fascinating and complex car that we’ll process in full a little later, but something specific about the vehicle—and others with similarly high-tech combinations of motors, engines, and batteries all wielded in a variety of modes—has stuck in my craw: Even after a technical briefing from high-level management and an energetic drive up the Hudson River...I still don’t know how to make this hybrid Honda do what I want it to do.

The first inkling of trouble came when Honda showed footage from focus groups in which they tried to get a bead on consumer perceptions and understandings of plug-in hybrids. The participants seemed, frankly, baffled by the technology, unable to really grasp how it works, when they’re supposed to charge it, whether they have to do something themselves to make it switch from EV mode to hybrid mode, and whether they’re going to become stranded somewhere with it. Honda’s team then zeroed on the need for consumer education, so prospective buyers can understand how the car works and how to use it, and see the benefits of the system Honda developed so meticulously to provide up to 47 miles of all-electric range. (We’ll come back to that in a moment.)

The second hint that I was going to have an issue with the Clarity came on the drive, when I studied the three buttons drivers can use to alter the car’s performance: Eco, Sport, and HV. To a customer—or, worse, a friend, in-law, son/daughter, aunt/uncle being loaned the car—those are fairly cryptic buttons. My immediate reaction from that perspective would be to presume that Eco mode delivers some combination of engine and battery/motor drive, Sport mode errs on the side of engine-based operation for more energetic acceleration, and HV mode produces...well, uh, what exactly? Hell, what does it even stand for? Does it mean "Hybrid Vehicle?" How’s that different from Eco?

The label is hardly the only source of confusion. The HV button does something else when you hold it for five seconds. There’s a “click” somewhere in the pedal travel that signals yet some other form of power modulation. Finally, there are paddles behind the steering wheel that allow you to control the regenerative braking influence in your deceleration—in some fashion or another.

I’ll leave it to The Drive's proper unpacking of the car to parse out how all this business actually works, but my ultimate point is simple: This is far too complicated. It’s fine that the Clarity has some crazy technological magic going on all up in its business, but to expect drivers to be able to master all this, use it in practice, and somehow pass a operational nuances to anyone who wants to drive it is absolutely counterproductive to the core mission, that of delivering an optimized driving experience across all uses and users. If the car has 47 miles of purely-electric range, how do I make it stay there until that battery drains fully? There’s no EV ONLY! button that I can point to when handing it off to someone who’s excited to go run errands in an electric car.

Speaking more broadly—and to the industry as a whole—the term "plug-in hybrid" is confusing and misleading. The folks in those focus groups were clearly confused by it, as I always have been myself. They don’t seem to grasp that you actually never have to plug it in; you merely need to when you want to start the day one a full or at least reasonable charge level in the battery. It’s industry jargon that has somehow become a consumer-facing term. The industry has a responsibility to not confuse its customers, and that term violates that pact.

As for the Clarity's confusion, I place responsibility for that squarely at the feet of Honda. No, consumers do not need to be “educated”—you need to make your cars intuitively and immediately comprehensible to any driver. It could mean deleting some buttons entirely and leaving the power modulation part completely out of the driver's hands, or as simple as making all the buttons that are there more logically-labeled. HV mode is clearly some bit of Honda micro-branding (it actually designed for highway use, for what it's worth), but that does a disservice to all future users of the car. It places the company’s interests ahead of the customers’.

In short, with this car, Honda is placing the onus of comprehension on the buyer, rather than the onus of radical clarity on itself. The three buttons are so impenetrable that I suspect they’ll never be toggled by any user in the 10 to 20 years we can reasonably expect each car to be on the road. I say this as an early adopter who grooves on tech like this and tends to “get it” immediately. But I don’t “get” this car.

Just to be clear, this is a problem across the industry. But I’m calling out Honda on this issue because I hold them to a higher standard than other vehicle manufacturers—much higher than even Mercedes or BMW, whose owners tend to be a little more tolerant of complex driving modes and alphabet-soup button labels. Honda, though, is supposed to be a company of the people—one that produces terrific products that anyone can enjoy and use to their fullest potential.

To its credit, the company seems entirely willing to boost its awareness of this issue. “We’re all about continuous improvement, including through post-launch research,” said Steven Center, Honda’s vice president for connected and environmental business development when I broached my concerns with him. “This is a complicated car and there’s a lot of choice in there, but the fact that you’re bringing this up indicates that clearly we’re not there yet.”

Fair enough. Here’s hoping the next-gen Clarity will fully earn the right to bear that name.

Five Historic Cars to Be Displayed on the National Mall

The Historic Vehicle Association is currently running its fourth annual Cars at the Capital event. That means that throughout April, cars of historic significance will be displayed in a glass case located between Washington, D.C.'s National Gallery of Art and National Air and Space Museum.

The first of these cars is the 1985 Modena Spyder, one of three vehicles that was built to pass as a Ferrari 250 California in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The example exhibited is most likely the restored car, which is currently running with a 500-horsepower 427 cubic-inch Ford under the hood. The Fauxrrari will be displayed from March 30 to April 2.

Next up, April 3-9, is one of the last Model Ts to roll off of the Ford line in 1927. It's also significant for being the 15 millionth one built, and it clearly has markings painted on the side to commemorate that fact. This Model T was also given the VIN of 15000000, and it was personally driven out of the Highland Park assembly plant by Henry and Edsel Ford. No other car would sell in such high numbers, until the Volkswagen Beetle in 1972.

April 10-16 there's perhaps a less exciting example, a 1984 Plymouth Voyager. Nowadays, minivans are mostly the butt of jokes, but in the '80's, Lee Iaccoca used K Car based vans to pull Chrysler out of dire financial straits. By the '90's, just about every manufacturer under the sun was selling its own minivan. This particular Voyager is all-original, with 12,000 miles on the clock.

Here's the big one, no introduction needed. April 17 to 23, the long-lost Bullitt Mustang will be available for all of the public to see.

Lastly, April 24-30, is this 1918 Cadillac Type 57. It's the only known surviving car to serve the US military in World War I, and carried YMCA volunteers across France to assist in the war efforts. Despite being more than a century old, this Cadillac is in amazing unrestored condition.

The Facelifted 2019 Kia Optima Shows off Its Handsome New Looks at the New York Auto Show

For the past couple of years, Kia Motors has been working on overhauling its brand image to appeal to luxury and sporty markets. Laugh all you want, but Kia's performance offering has proven many times that it's not to be messed with, and the company's new design language is starting to look pretty sleek, even on its non-performance models.

The 2019 Kia Optima midsize sedan is the latest car to receive a makeover, as well as a bunch of fresh technology of course. New interior lighting, fresh wheel choices, and the addition of a new Passion Red exterior paint are just some of the many changes the Optima has going for it.

Design and feature enhancements to the new Optima are different for each of the car's four trim levels. The base model Optima LX for instance gets a new matte gray grill, new 16-inch alloy wheels, and LED daytime running lights reminiscent of those on the Kia Stinger. It also comes standard with Kia's UVO infotainment system with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay integration.

The Optima S is much sportier, receiving dual exhaust exits, more pronounced side skirts, restyled 18-inch wheels, LED tail lights, new gloss black grill, and projection beam fog lights.

Kia's EX trim is where the fun begins, sporting a turbocharged 178-horsepower four-cylinder engine mated to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. This trim receives Smart Cruise Control with stop-and-go capabilities and leather seats as standard.

The top-trim Optima SX gets all of the EX's new features of course, and can be optioned with "European-style" dual-tone leather sport seats, Harman Kardon premium audio, a panoramic roof, and a bevy of aesthetic enhancements.

Kia's Advanced Driver Assistance System now comes standard on every trim, making the new Optima safer and more clever. This assist suite comes equipped with Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, and Driver Attention Warning.

"The 2019 refresh sharpens the overall design inside and out and we are making a number of ADAS technologies standard across the entire Optima line, which underlies the tremendous value Optima offers," explained Orth Hedrick, vice president of Product Planning at Kia Motors America.

Pricing will be announced at a later date, and the 2019 Optima will hit dealerships sometime later in the year.

Hangar Technology Will Use Vapor IO’s Data Centers to Automate Drones in Kinetic Edge Cities

We live in a world where more and more devices are becoming autonomous, including the drones used across industries. Hangar Technology, a drone software company wants to manage and automate unmanned aerial vehicles for enterprise customers and has decided to use Austin-based data center start-up Vapor IO to do so. Vapor IO is partnering with Hangar, because they have the data processing capabilities to handle the massive expected influx of data, as the autonomous industry expands over time.

According to Vapor IO’s press release, the idea of commercially implementing Hangar Technology’s Robotics-as-a-System (RaaS) platform using Vapor IO’s Kinetic Edge data processing and edge computing isn’t just logical, but necessary. “The tens of thousands of autonomous robots being deployed by public and private organizations will require a national edge infrastructure,” said founder and CEO of Hangar, Jeff DeCoux. He’s certainly not wrong, if the general increase in autonomous vehicle technology and automated systems of all kinds continues to grow.

As with unmanned aircraft traffic management systems being developed by dozens of aviation and tech companies, in preparation to safely manage all UAV flights simultaneously, a partnership such as this one makes rational sense. The need for fast, sophisticated data processing will become very clear, very soon, and DeCoux seems to realize that.

“As these robotics go to work, they will depend on low-latency services at the edge, including precision navigation, micro-climate decision support, and high speed ingest of data to assure safe and secure deployment,” said DeCoux. “We have been working with Vapor IO for over a year and are confident that the Kinetic Edge will meet these needs now and into the future.”

What the fusion of these two companies will provide, specifically, is essentially the raw power to process the vast amount of data to run a whole landscape of unmanned devices, and the sophisticated software to manage the autonomous missions.

CEO and founder of Vapor IO, Cole Crawford, considers this development to be the beginning of something all-encompassing, when it comes to autonomous data management. “Combining Hangar’s technology with Vapor IO’s Kinetic Edge will create a nationwide footprint for completely autonomous drone missions, paving the way to deliver critical infrastructure for all types (of) autonomous vehicles, not just drones, but also cars and trucks," said Crawford.

The press release describes the shared benefits of this nascent partnership as an economy-boosting, autonomous industry-expanding, open-source venture. According to DataCenterKnowledge, the first Vapor IO edge data center will be housed in Chicago, with plans for eight additional cities to house them by the end of this year. Rhonda Ascierto, the research director of data centers and critical infrastructure of 451 Research, is profusely excited at the news of this team-up.

“The potential of this partnership is tremendous,” Ascierto said. “If Hangar’s drones are able to wirelessly transmit data to Vapor IO’s micro data centers, then that would prove hugely beneficial, particularly for applications that involve human safety. These are the types of ecosystems that will drive the success of Internet of Things.”

Frankly, this does sound like the beginning of a new era where smart-machines process unthinkable amounts of data in cities across the country, powering fleets of autonomous drones that complete tasks around the clock. Whether that is the case or not, we’ll certainly see in the foreseeable future. Stay tuned.