The New 5-Series Owes Much of its Success to its Sixth Generation

The seventh generation 5-Series is becoming the star of BMW's show. The newest flagship model is a host to the freshest technology offered by the manufacturer, giving us glimpses at what we can expect in the future. Although it features a boat load of new features specific to the seventh generation, the 5-Series couldn't do it without the help of the outgoing sixth generation F10.

BMW's sixth generation 5-Series was a revolution for luxury and accessibility. It offered new features that we'd never seen in a BMW before like Automatic Emergency Braking and semi-autonomous road going tech, something that we are looking to see much more of in the coming model. It was a logical break from the off-the-wall E60 generation that returned sensibility to the sedan.

Without the sixth generation, we would surely be seeing a much different model come release time. It became the best selling 5-Series of all time while being perhaps the most usable, offering Touring and Gran Turismo variants that kept the same spirit alive with added utility. It ushered in an era of 5-Series that saw success world wide, and that's something that BMW hopes to carry on with the seventh generation.

Crazy Ohio Dealership Now Selling 1,200-HP Ford Mustangs for $45K

In case you needed further proof that this decade is the golden age of muscle car performance, well, here you go: a dealership in Ohio is offering new twin-turbo Ford Mustangs capable of 1,200 horsepower for a starting price of $44,499. God bless America.

Lebanon Ford of Lebanon, Ohio, even whipped up a special name for their twin-turbo 'Stang build: the LFP Hellion. (LFP stands for "Lebanon Ford Performance," in case you were wondering.)

To build a Hellion, LFP takes a new Mustang GT and adds a pair of 62mm turbos, a set of Turbosmart VEE port bypass valves, and a big vertical flow dual inlet intercooler, as well as a cat-back exhaust. Add in the base price of the V-8 Mustang, and you come to a total price of $44,499—a sum that even includes labor costs.

The twin snails can be adjusted to supply anywhere from 5 to 30 pounds of boost, depending on how much juice the driver desires. While the higher figure equates to Bugatti Veyron Super Sport-like power figures, even the minimum amount dials the car up to around 600 horsepower at the crank.

Of course, if you want to really get the most out of this Mustang, you might want to spring for the second Hellion package. For an extra five grand, that adds on a few performance items—a fuel pump voltage booster, new fuel injectors, new halfshafts, and oil pump gears—likely to come in handy when pushing quadruple-digit horsepower figures out of a car that starts at $33,000.

If something about this rings a bell, that's likely because Lebanon Ford's steroidal Mustangs have graced this site before. In May 2016, The Drive spoke with the dealership about its 727-horsepower supercharged 'Stang setup, which it offers starting at a five-spot less than $40K.

Of course, if you'd rather spring for a stupidly-powerful forced-induction Mustang with a full factory warranty, you can always hold off for the 2018 Shelby GT500, likely due to debut sometime in the next six months. But clearly, if you're considering a 1,200-hp muscle car...waiting isn't your strong suit.

5 Best Complete Car Care Kits

The Drive's Car Care Roundup

We've taken the time to review and compile this list of best car cleaning kits. We looked for both quality and completeness. We feel that for a kit to be recommended here the cleaners, waxes and shines have to be of high quality and the kits should contain everything you need to fully clean the car. Ideally, the kit would include some sort of sponge, towel or mitt, bit not all do. All car care kits are readily available at Amazon and other major auto parts and big box stores Below are The Drive's recommended car cleaning kits.

Meguiar's Complete Car Care Kit

Meguiar's is a brand with a reputation for quality. We use Meguiar's products here at The Drive in our showroom and garage as well as at home. This car care kit includes one 16-ounce bottle of car wash shampoo, one 16-ounce bottle of liquid wax, one 16-ounce bottle of high gloss gel, one container of quick detailer, one 16-ounce bottle of interior detailer, two 50-gram clay bars in a clamshell container, one container of PlastX, one container of ScratchX, one microfiber towel, a foam applicator pad, and a microfiber wash mitt. You have to buy your bucket separately, both otherwise this kit is fully complete and high quality.

The Meguiar's car care kit has plenty of essential cleaners and polishes and the tools needed to apply them.

Meguiar's Complete Car Care Kit, at Amazon (4.5 stars, 821 reviews), $48.99

Armor All Complete Car Care Kit

Armor All is another trusted brand, known for quality at a decent price. This car cleaning kit is no exception. This is a smaller 4-piece kit focused on fluids, including a 10-ounce bottle of Armor All original protectant, a 16-ounce bottle of car wash, a 20-ounce bottle of foam tire protectant and 25 glass wipes. Lacking are the towels and mitts requires for the application of everything other than the glass wipes. Still, the price is nice if you already have the gear in the garage.

This kit of essentials is great if you already have the tools to do the job and is priced right.

Armor All Complete Car Care Kit, at Amazon (4.5 stars, 138 reviews), $13.47

Turtle Wax 5-Piece Complete Care Kit

Turtle Wax, another major brand, puts forth a kit with the minimum of fluids and a towel for a pretty nice starter kit. The quality is assured, and the bottles are right-sized for the price. Included in this starter car cleaning kit is a 16-ounce bottle of wash & wax, a 12-ounce spray bottle of wax, a 12-ounce spray bottle of tire shine, a 10.4-ounce bottle of interior protectant, and of course one microfiber towel.

This Turtle Wax kit is a nice mix of essentials in the right-sized bottles and brand name quality at a reasonable price.

Turtle Wax 5-Piece Complete Care Kit, at Amazon (4.5 stars, 11 reviews), $21.00

Duragloss 1049 Car Care Kit

A decent kit from Duragloss that provides plenty of fluids for thorough cleanings, probably best for those who wash their car less than monthly and don't sweat the detailing as much. And guess what, it even comes with its own bucket. Included is 16-ounces of car wash concentrate, 8-ounces of polish with applicator, 10-ounces of aerosol detailing spray, 8 ounces of pump spray vinyl and leather dressing and a 22-ounce pump spray bottle of wheel cleaner (which excels at removal of brake dust).

This car cleaning kit from Duragloss is no-nonsense and is best for deep cleaning operations.

Duragloss 1049 Car Care Kit, at Amazon (5 stars, 8 reviews), $32.57

3M Auto Essentials Car Care Kit

It says it all in what they named it. This is a car care kit of essentials from 3M, a company that knows what it's doing when it comes to solvents and cleaners. Quality is high with this spray-focused kit, and it should be since this kit isn't budget priced, especially considering the absence of tools and applicators. Still, it's a get-it-done lineup, all 16-ounce spray bottles, one leather and vinyl interior restorer, one all purpose scrub, one wax and one tire shine.

Nothing but the basics in the car care kit from 3M, but the quality is assured, the bottles are big and the instructions are simple.

3M Auto Essentials Car Care Kit, at Amazon (4.5 stars, 4 reviews), $35

Carrand Car Wash Bucket Kit

To finish off our roundup of car cleaning kits, here's one that compliments all the other liquid-focused kits nicely. This kit is implements only. So, pair it up with any of the other kits on this list and you'll be well stocked with both fluids and tools. This kit comes with a three-gallon bucket with lid, 3 microfiber towels, 2 microfiber applicator pads with reusable handle, a microfiber mitt, a lug nut brush and a 2-sided wheel detailer.

The perfect compliment to the car cleaning kits is this collection of tools.

Carrand 94108VA Car Wash Bucket Kit, at Amazon (No reviews), $30.45

10 Critical Driving Safety Tips From Bad Advice Uncle Charlie

I know it sounds like a cliche off something you'd see on TV Land, but I had an uncle named Charlie. My Uncle Charlie loved to give advice. For instance, he always told me that, at the beach, it was the “third wave that got you.” I’d swim out with confidence and a plan to avoid that third wave...and get clobbered by wave number two or four.

Another example: Uncle Charlie once told me to add Coca-Cola to house plants. I did. The roots rotted and my apartment smelled like a sewage treatment facility for six weeks.

Luckily, my Uncle Charlie didn’t know anything about cars. But if he did, he’d have knocked back a few whiskey sours and delivered the following pearls of wisdom. Please read in the voice of Burgess Meredith for extra realism.

Without further ado: Bad Advice from Mike Spinelli's Uncle Charlie.

1.) When driving in the rain, periodically slam on the brakes to test your traction.

2.) At night, leave your high beams on. Other drivers will appreciate that they can see you coming from further away.

3.) Never wear a seat belt. In an accident, it’s safer to be thrown as far from the wreckage as possible. Preferably a quarter-mile.

4.) If you have a blowout, slam on the brakes. It’s very important to make sure the other tires are a-okay.

5.) If you get a flat tire, change it in the middle of the street so people will stop and help you.

6.) Save a few bucks by replacing your windshield wipers with rolled-up newspapers. The ink moisturizes the glass and keeps it from breaking during thunderstorms.

7.) If your car is ever submerged in water, punch the window with your fist while yelling for help. When you get out, call your lawyer first before the police.

8.) Always keep a safety kit in your trunk with the following items in case of emergency:

a) Jumper cables, b.) An orange vest, c.) A shotgun, c.) Two cans of pork and beans, d.) A can opener, e.) An axe, f.) A bottle of good whiskey, g)., Bug spray, h.) Saltine crackers, i.) A roll of duct tape, j.) A roll of toilet paper (don’t get them confused in the dark), k.) A flare gun, l.) Waterproof matches, m.) A change of pants, m.) Your lawyer’s phone number.

9.) If you get into an accident and no one sees you, set the car on fire and walk away.

10.) When you're driving in the country, always scan the roadside for golfers (or did he mean gophers?).

McLaren and BMW Are Teaming Up to Develop New Engine Technology

Details are scarce, but BMW and McLaren will partner up yet again—this time in designing and developing new engine technology. According to McLaren, the technology the two are developing is aimed at increasing power output per liter beyond what's currently possible, while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions.

McLaren automotive is at the helm of this project, but it's partly funded by the U.K. Government's Advanced Propulsion Centre, a research center that focuses on low carbon emission propulsion technology. Aside from BMW Group, other partners include Grainger, Worrall (for lightweight casting technology) Ricardo (McLaren's current manufacturing partner) Lentus Composites, and the University of Bath.

Mike Flewitt, McLaren's new CEO, mentioned: "This is an exciting project that plays to the strengths of all partners. McLaren Automotive has an exceptional reputation for building the world’s finest engines, as showcased by our M838T and its previous category wins in the International Engine of the Year awards."

Of course, this isn't the first time McLaren and BMW have worked together. The last time the two European automakers joined forces resulted in one of the most legendary supercars the world has seen, the McLaren F1—BMW supplied the engine that powered it, the S70/2. The precedent is there, so this rekindled partnership will hopefully produce something special.

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport 3.0 Review: The World’s Best Fourth Car?

The Tesla Roadster is a machine out of time, a gorgeous and maddening sports car with a boot in the future and a high heel in the past. If you were shopping for an exotic in 2006, this car had everything: a new manufacturer no one believed would stay in business, a questionable electric drivetrain stuffed into a stretched Lotus Elise, a $109,000 base price that would have bought you a fully-optioned Porsche 911, and exclusivity that would make Ferrari owners weep.

Elon Musk has said they were crazy to build it. I would have said you were crazy to buy one, but after driving one of the last, best versions ever made—a fully-upgraded, optioned-out 2011 Roadster Sport 3.0—I’m not so sure.

I take that back.

You had to be crazy to buy one. But not any crazier than someone who bought a Lotus, Morgan or TVR. These are cars you buy with absolutely no expectation they will be good, or even work. At least not all the time. That’s why Porsches makes sense, and even modern Ferraris, but those have become so reliable as to remove what was once required for anything foreign with two seats and a high horsepower-to-weight ratio:


How do you know you can trust a person, let alone a machine? If you don’t, that’s trust. That’s what it takes to buy a British exotic. You aren’t investing in a car guaranteed to get you from A to B. You might not even get A to A. You’re investing in a unique driving experience. You’re investing in the company. Porsche and Ferrari? They don’t need you. Lotus and Morgan? Their survival may hinge on you maxing out the option list.

A Tesla Roadster? Every buyer was investing not only in a car, but in a company promising a better way. In 2006 no one outside of Tesla knew what was coming six years later. The Model S was merely an idea. Tesla’s Supercharger Network didn’t exist. Autopilot was only for planes. At least it had regenerative braking. Anyone placing a $5000 deposit was betting that Elon Musk — then only known as co-founder of PayPal and Space X — was going to make electric cars great for the first time.

Every one of those buyers should be thanked, for without the Roadster we wouldn’t have the brilliant Model S, the Model X, the upcoming Model 3, or any of the (hopefully) exciting models coming soon from Detroit, Germany and Japan. Anyone who mourned the Chevy EV1 is out of their minds. Ugly and slow, the EV1 inspired nothing, least of all support from GM. The Tesla Roadster was the first sexy electric car, and is therefore the true Godfather of the entire EV sector.

But is it any good?

Let’s talk Fourth Car Theory. If you need just one car, it needs to be sensible. You probably need a sedan, or a crossover. A family with two kids? A sedan and a crossover/SUV. Three cars? Having ascended two rungs on Roy’s Pyramid of Automotive Actualization, the third can be pure fun. If you’re of sound mind and body, it’s a new-ish coupe or convertible good for road trips with your spouse, and under warranty. You want it to be reliable, just in case you go somewhere on a date, or with someone who isn’t your spouse.

If you must have more, if you have time and money to burn, if you’ve wrapped your alimony payments, if you want to be noticed, if you don’t need to get there, if you want a passionate relationship oscillating between boundless love and searing anger, you are ready for a fourth car.

You’re ready for a Tesla Roadster.

Elon Musk may say they only used 6-7% of the union between AC Propulsion’s drivetrain and a Lotus Elise chassis and body, but let’s be serious. The Tesla Roadster still has all the downsides of a Lotus and an EV, in one magical package. It also has all the upsides of a Lotus and an EV, in one exasperating package.

Elon Musk has all but confessed that it wasn’t good, but that doesn't mean it isn't great.


Madre de Dios, it was $158,045 in 2011, which was Porsche 911 Turbo territory. A wretched value by third car standards, but an absolute bargain by fourth car standards. What else are you going to buy? Everyone has a Lamborghini. And a Bentley. And an Aston. Sure, one could buy a Morgan Aero Supersport for even greater exclusivity, but that’s just masochism. I own a Morgan. Trust me.

That 3.0 battery upgrade that expands the battery from 56kWh to 80? That was $29,000 when it hit the market in 2014, a mandatory upgrade we’ll get to later.

Call it $187,045 to own a singular piece of the future, from the past. With depreciation, the one I drove is probably worth $90-110k today, depending on the mental health of those interested. Would I buy one? We’ll also get to that later.


If you like the Lotus Elise, you’re going to love this. Longer and cleaner looking, the red/tan example I borrowed was constantly mistaken for Ferrari. I loved it.


Stunning. The upgraded seats and custom leather/carbon fiber interior are exactly what one would expect at this price. Only $11,700, anyone who didn’t order this package was a fool. Why can’t we have this option on the Model S or X? If you can afford Tesla’s latest, you’d happily spend they money for this level of taste. Lovely, just lovely.

Fit & Finish

Excellent. The one I drove had nearly 7,500 miles. As a press car, they had to have been hard. Contrary to expectations, it didn't have a single squeak or rattle.

Convertible Top

Entertaining. Light years ahead of my 1987 Porsche 911 Targa top, which means the Tesla’s is soft and rolls rather than hard and folds. The Roadster’s takes the same amount of time to remove or replace — less than a minute — and offers far better insulation. Like any roadster, you don’t want to drive with it on, however, because claustrophobia rules.


Lotus, or horrible. Ingress and egress is a curse. Wear loose pants. Don’t eat Mexican or Indian before getting in, let alone driving. Does it have a suspension? Hit a pothole and it sounds like bad things will happen, if not to the car, than to you. Do not drive it in San Francisco, New York, or any city, ever. The steering wheel is not adjustable, but the seats are. Forward and back. Bring a pillow.


Lotus. A wide trunk bin will fit your mandatory charging cables, the soft top and your disappointment, if you care. It’s a good thing this car doesn’t have more range after a hard day of driving, because sometimes you can’t take it with you. I had to leave my luggage behind and put my clothes in a trash bag. Also, the carbon fiber trunk lid needs to be gently closed. VERY gently. Or else broken carbon fiber.


Lotus, or excellent. The 1000 lb+ battery is mounted where the engine should be, making it a little less than 1000 lbs heavier than an Elise, which weighs in at just under a ton. Utterly planted, body roll is near zero.


Lotus, or go-kart. Unassisted, direct, and life-threatening if you sneeze. Perfect.


Forward? Lotus, so fine. Rearward? Also Lotus, and terrible. Flying buttresses are unsafe.


Does anyone remember having a head unit hot swappable in the Best Buy parking lot? The Roadster is here to remind us of the glory of Alpine, swiveling displays and in-dash single-disc CD players. It has Bluetooth, so there’s that. I couldn’t figure out how to pair my phone. Also, the 2011 GPS appears to be the same that came in 2006, which looks like 2002. Luckily, the $4500 7-speaker stereo upgrade sounds incredible, partially because EVs have such a low noise floor, partially because the Roadster’s interior is Lilliputian, and maybe because the speakers are good.


Incredible, and also irrelevant. Performance mode will do 0-60 in 3.7 seconds. Standard mode is good for 3.9. This was supercar territory back in the day, but a new Model S will beat it. What it won’t beat is the Roadster’s handling. Top speed is electronically limited to 125mph, which is wise, because earlier generation battery tech was prone to cooling problems, which brings us to...


The original battery pack was good for 245 miles, according to the EPA. Not bad, but driven hard I’d be amazed if anyone got 150. That $29,000 80kWh upgrade is allegedly good for 340. I’ve gotten almost 300 miles out of a 2017 S with a 90kWh battery in perfect conditions, but that’s a far more modern pack and system. I still don’t trust EPA ratings, and the very nature of the roadster precludes optimizing for range in the real world. You want to take off the top (increasing drag) and punch it (depleting the battery). No one’s getting more than 250. Driven hard, I bet it’s 220, which is totally livable for weekend mornings.

You’re going to want every bit of battery you can afford, because the Roadster’s Achilles heel isn’t range, it's…

Charging Time

A Tesla Supercharger can get you to 80% in 35-40 minutes, which is about as long as it takes me to get gas, sit down, eat, check social media and prank call my best friend. The Supercharger Network is the semi-secret key to Tesla’s popularity. Without it, they’d be dead, because it’s not only range that matters, but charging time.

A Roadster can’t be Supercharged. It uses a proprietary power inlet, and ships with a cable terminated with a J1772 adaptor, which is from the stone age of EVs. Best case scenario is four hours zero to max, but public chargers are going to take closer to 8. A 120V wall plug? 48 hours.

If you’re staying away from home overnight, you’re going to need some guarantees at your destination.

Survey Says

I loved it. Used prices are falling, with 2010’s running $65,000-$75,000. What isn’t falling is that $29,000 battery upgrade, without which I wouldn’t touch one. Value priced as exotics go, the 3.0 is an absolute bargain among fourth cars. Now that Tesla is out of the woods, Roadster values can only go up. If you can live with the charging speeds, it’s a timeless classic that doesn’t need to remain a garage queen.

Musk has teased they might bring it back. I hope they do. Add a modern Tesla drivetrain and a 100kWh battery, and we’re probably looking at a 2.1 to 2.2 second 0-60.

Now that’s supercar territory.

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

Mesh Networks Might Be the Future of Car-to-Car Communications

CB radios were revolutionary. Before cell phones ruled the world, the technology enabled an average user to communicate with their peers over a relatively long distance. No fuss. No license. None of the technical know-how required by the more sophisticated HAM radio systems that were similarly popular. And with their ascent in popularity, their usefulness increased exponentially. For caravans of travelers, for solitary road warriors trying to keep ahead of the fuzz. For truckers shooting the breeze. It’s no surprise that the CB transceivers became a factory option for many manufacturers. While the ubiquity of the citizens band radio may have waned, the utility of car-to-car communication has only grown.

Consider that void an opening for a new generation of wireless radio technologies which aim to significantly improve on both the promise of both cellular and two-way radio communication. Packaged into a pocketable accessory that wirelessly tethers to your mobile phone, devices like the goTenna and Beartooth utilize the license-free 900 MHz band to create ad hoc networks among themselves. Those networks facilitate communications—text messaging, geo-locating and two-way voice chatting—anywhere your gang is in range.

This all means you can communicate and keep track of your party in places where telecommunications typically can't go. Mountains and valleys where your mobile service is unavailable is, of course, a foreseeable utility for these little gadgets. But further uses include big crowds where the cellular networks are overwhelmed, and emergencies, where they might go down entirely.

But perhaps the most compelling use for these little networking devices is road tripping, where vehicles can stretch like rubber bands in twisty canyons, and simple things like a fuel stop might take a series of phone calls and text messages to arrange. There are other advantages. The privacy of the network should appeal to anyone who's dealt with crowded FRS or CB channels, while the extra serving of technology and connectivity outclass your average two-way communications system.

There are a few hitches to these mesh networking devices. Everyone involved in the network will have to use one of the little boxes. And like any other device using UHF radio frequencies, your range isn't unlimited. Line-of-sight seems to be the consensus on range. But with cars becoming increasingly connected, it's not hard to imagine how the technologies being pioneered by Beartooth and goTenna might eventually find their way into your car itself. Indeed, the idea's been kicking around for quite a while, though with a less consumer-facing kind of utility. All and all, it's a compelling argument for mesh networks, whether or not you'll be incorporating them into your next drive.

New Lamborghini Is Possibly In The Cards

Lamborghini CEO Stefano Domenicali wants the Italian automaker to base its future cars on a single platform, according to an interview with Motoring. This leaves the distinct possibility of a new, smaller performance car coming into the mix.

Before that happens, though, Domenicali wants to make sure the upcoming Urus "Super SUV" is a success. He said, " far we need to make sure the third model [the Urus] will be stable enough to think about a fourth model."

The two models in Lambo's lineup—the Aventador and Huracan— share very little in common, but that's just how the automaker has been building cars. The one at a time philosophy is costly—the development costs alone are astronomical, not to mention no interchangeability of parts—and as any CEO knows, being frugal is important when it comes to getting a new car on the map.

It's a move torn McLaren's playbook—using interchangeable parts, adaptable and tunable powertrains based off one unit—and in their comparatively small time making road-going cars, it's been working well. The company reported enormous growth in 2016.

The move to a modular platform likely won't happen until at least 2020 or 2022, Domenicali mentioned. Before Lamborghini die-hards scream heresy, though, the CEO wants to make it clear each new car, despite being based on the same platform, will be "distinctive."

Tesla’s Autopilot Could Be Fully Autonomous in 3 Months, Elon Musk Says

It's only a matter of time until Teslas become fully autonomous—three to six months, according to CEO Elon Musk.

That's the timeline that Musk gave on Twitter when asked, "At what point will 'Full Self-Driving Capability' features noticeably depart from 'Enhanced Autopilot' features?"

Over the last few weeks, Tesla vehicles equipped with its second-generation hardware package have been receiving updates that bring it in line with the Autopilot features enjoyed by owners of vehicles that have the original system.

The first hardware package for Tesla vehicles included just one camera, a radar, and four sensors. However, all new Tesla vehicles sold after October 2016 are equipped with a radar, eight cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and upgraded computing capabilities that it uses to support "Enhanced Autopilot," a $5,000 option.

Tesla is still closing the gap between Autopilot and Enhanced Autopilot functionality, but over time the latter will become more sophisticated, and eventually surpass the original Autopilot by enabling Teslas to drive themselves.

That timeline appears to be sooner rather than later. Within six months Enhanced Autopilot may evolve into full autonomy, according to Musk. That puts it years ahead of other manufacturers who have announced their intentions to introduce self-driving vehicles to the public.

On its Web site, Tesla discloses that Enhanced Autopilot features would be subject to regulatory approval, and it's not clear if all owners will be allowed to use the full potential of this feature.

California and Nevada have strict rules governing fully autonomous vehicles that may limit how much driving owners can cede to the vehicle, according to Bryant Walker Smith, who is an assistant professor at University of South Carolina law school and a member of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation. However, other states may be more lenient about letting Teslas drive in full autonomy mode.

"Much of state law is ambiguous, which means that governments inclined toward these technologies could interpret those laws in a favorable way while governments disinclined toward these technologies could interpret those laws in the opposite direction," explained Smith in an email to The Drive. "Interestingly, high automation most clearly runs afoul of the law in states like California and Nevada that enacted more explicitly restrict laws specific to automated driving."

However, even if states disallow owners to fully engage autonomous functionality in their vehicles, these improvements will still make vehicles safer, Musk noted on Twitter.

The NHTSA Report Exonerating Tesla Should Terrify the Auto Sector

Last week’s National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) report on Joshua Brown’s fatal Autopilot accident does a lot more than exonerate Tesla. It’s a stamp of approval for Tesla’s entire ecosystem and rollout strategy, from Autopilot to data gathering to wireless updates.

Legacy auto makers should be terrified.

As futurist Brad Templeton points out, NHTSA’s report is so favorable to Tesla, it’s hard to believe it was written by the same government agency whose letter to George Hotz compelled him to cancel the Comma One, the only other semi-autonomous driving technology to approach Tesla’s as of 2016.

NHTSA investigator Kareem Habib dismantles every argument critics and competitors have been firing at Tesla since Autopilot was released in October of 2015. The report is explicit: the Tesla crash rate declined 40% after Autopilot’s release. Tesla’s safety technologies are not defective. Tesla is clear about driver responsibility. Tesla provides clear engagement and disengagement alerts.

Tesla should hire Habib. So should Faraday. This guy knows his way around defending autonomy.

Any hopes the legacy automakers might have had that regulators would throttle or halt Tesla’s progress are now shattered. What appeared to be Tesla’s headlong rush toward autonomy is now a three year head start. Why? Because the old guard were so skeptical of self-driving cars—and so terrified of being the first one to have a fatality with a car even temporarily in control—that they ceded the first round of the autonomy wars to Tesla without a fight.

Get into the best BMW, Audi or Mercedes as of January 2017 and what do you find? ADAS—or an Advanced Driver Assistance System—which is right below what NHTSA calls Level 2 automation. Comprised of Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Active Cruise Control and basic Lane Keeping Assistance (LKAS), ADAS is the coward’s Level 2, the functional limit of companies with some of the technology but none of the ambition or legal courage of Musk.

While the CEOs in Germany, Detroit and Japan heeded their engineers and lawyers, Musk decided to push to real Level 2 by enabling Autosteer sixteen months ago. Autosteer—the LKAS component of the Tesla’s Autopilot—was the first such system to allow for hands-off operation for more than thirty seconds.

In good conditions, it would function a LOT longer. It wasn’t fully autonomous. That’s Level 4. You still had to be ready to take over any time. But it sure felt like a self-driving car, even if only for a couple of minutes.

Most importantly, Autopilot didn’t meander across lanes. It worked, or it didn’t. That confidence ushered in the popularity of autonomous driving, even if the technology is only semi-autonomous for now. Owners want to use it. Many people buy Teslas specifically because of it.

You want to know fear? Try Mercedes’ Drivepilot. There’s a reason competitors bury talk of their semi-autonomous technology.

What was the industry thinking? They assumed anything between ADAS and Level 4 was too difficult to develop and too dangerous to deploy. They assumed Tesla would prove them right, and take the entire electric/autonomous/direct-sales model down with it. And they were wrong.

While the old guard were testing small fleets of self-driving cars in fake towns hoping to jump to Level 4 someday, Tesla was gathering billions of miles of data in the real world and marching up the autonomy ladder the hard way.

Take a look at the top of the NHTSA report under “population”. It refers to 43,781 Teslas manufactured between 2014 and 2016, which is only a subset of the 135,000+ Teslas on the road today with Autopilot hardware. That first generation hardware consisted of merely one radar unit, one camera, and an array of ultrasonic sensors.

That hardware is already commoditized, and a new E-class has more of it, but in a Tesla it’s weaponized. Combine it with wireless updates and you have what Tesla calls Fleet Learning. Every Tesla is gathering data, sharing it back to Tesla’s cloud, and being wirelessly updated as quickly as Tesla can process and validate it.

Why aren’t traditional automakers doing this? They’re talking about it. They claim they will. But the same excuses always come back. Security. Hacking. Dealer franchise agreements. Privacy. And yet somehow Musk has made wireless updates work. Does it really take a rocket scientist to figure this out? Even the NHTSA report acknowledges the power and superiority of wireless updates, highlighting Tesla’s 8.0 update that shortened the hands-off interval and improved disengagement alerts.

While competitors dither, Tesla has successfully shattered not only the electric car and direct sales models, but the traditional recall and safety models. Even if Tesla Autopilot had been defective, what would be the point of recalling cars whose software is several generations past the alleged flaw?

The traditional recall model is unconscionable. Even if Mercedes had data identical to Tesla’s, if one has to go to a dealer for an update, some minority of people won’t get the letter, or understand the importance of the letter, or bother to go. If less than 100% of recalled cars are updated, the system is broken.

When hardware is commoditized, software is everything. But a successful software implementation isn’t solely based on the code. Software exists in a system. Without updates, maintenance and a consistent supply of good input, it’s dead weight and dead code. Garbage in, garbage out. Cars need to be connected, if only for the safety of autonomy.

How long can Tesla maintain their lead? As long as it takes for the industry to realize that self-driving cars aren’t everything. It may take decades for Level 4 cars to become ubiquitous, even in major urban areas. In the meantime, semi-autonomous tech like Tesla Autopilot will make human driving safer while Level 4 percolates.

All of this requires data. Mountains of data. Tesla and Waymo are far in the lead. Following Tesla requires doing what Tesla did, the hard way, in a bigger way, starting now. Install sensors. Gather data. Bypass sclerotic models. Process. Catch up. You don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to know that if Tesla’s got 135,000+ Autopilot-equipped cars on the road as of January 24th, 2017, it will take X number of years to sell Y cars and catch up. Every day lost is a day’s advantage given to Tesla, who claim they will have Level 4 by 2018. The industry is saying 2021 or later. Even if Musk is late, he’ll be first.

Or maybe the old guard can cut a deal with Waymo, the only company besides Tesla to take data gathering seriously. They're even building self-driving hardware, a nice one-stop shop for anyone falling behind. Of course, CEO John Krafcik may seem nice, but he wants to own that data. No legacy manufacturer is going to like that.

But that’s another story.

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