Up Where We Belong: The 2018 Chevy Tahoe Custom Conquers the High Desert of Nevada

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe Custom.

The Mojave. Spanning 48,000 square miles of the parched American Southwest, it's the driest desert on the continent, an utterly inhospitable expanse of sand and rock that's strewn with the broken dreams of pioneers and adventurers who, to this day, still come seeking glory.

A perfect place, then, to test the all-new 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe Custom. The Custom is the Golden Bowtie's first earnest attempt in a long while at a budget-spec, body-on-frame SUV that's not marketed at people with more kids than car seats. The no-frills sport utility category has become a virtual wasteland as customers flock to crossovers en masse, and Chevy is betting there's room at the bottom of the model's existing trim levels for a version that offers cloth seats, no third row, and the ability to tow a few metric tons of stuff.

It's no sure thing—in an analogous example, the Jeep Grand Cherokee's sales struggles have been partly attributed to the lack of a third row, and research shows that many customers want the option of having those extra seats even if they will never, ever use them. Owners of regular Tahoes can also remove the seats themselves, though it's not easy and then you're left having to store them somewhere. Is four extra cubic feet of space, a little more convenience, and a $3750 price drop from the previous cheapest trim enough to get hesitant cross-shoppers in the door?

To show off just how much fun a DINK family can have in one of these things, Chevrolet invited The Drive out to Las Vegas last month for a truly wild desert adventure. It began with a Tahoe Custom in a parking lot just off the Strip, and it ended with a dust-caked Polaris RZR XP Turbo Dynamix Edition (review coming soon) on a power line trail out in the middle of the Mojave. Along the way we had a few hours to put the Tahoe through its paces and get a good sense of what Chevy was thinking with their back-to-basics approach.

'Murica.

The Pros

  • Not much differentiates the Chevrolet Tahoe Custom from its more expensive siblings on the outside, save for 18-inch wheels and a chrome-accented grille. It's once you step inside that the truck's throwback nature becomes apparent. GM's trucks are helping to keep column shifters alive, and as automakers try to reinvent the gearshift in a senseless quest to alienate customers everywhere, its mechanical feel is like opening the door to a home you thought you'd lost. Same goes for the black cloth seats, as well as the large, chunky knobs and buttons that fill the center stack. There are no screens for kids, or massagers for your butt. It's about as uncomplicated a full-size SUV as you can find these days—and that's a good thing.
  • That's not to say you'll be bored on your adventures, as Chevrolet is throwing in both Apple Car Play and Android Auto as standard features. The connectivity party doesn't end there, with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities. There are five USB charging ports and five power outlets sprinkled throughout the cabin, and an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, connected to a backup camera, rounds out the tech offerings. I thought it was wise for the company to include so many technology-focused features in a base model Tahoe. Even if some of these things are becoming ubiquitous on smaller and lower-priced cars, it's still a recognition that there are people out there who don't want to have to choose between cloth seats and cellular data.
  • The one area where there's absolutely no trade-off is all-around capability. Like every other Tahoe that's come before it, the Tahoe Custom is an ace at towing. Its 5.3-liter V-8 engine puts out 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque, which was more than adequate to haul four adult men in the cabin and 5,000 pounds of Polaris RZRs on a trailer from Las Vegas to Jean, Nevada. An optional max trailering package bumps the peak towing figure up to 8,600 pounds. Forget about crossovers—you're simply not going to get that ability in any other SUV except its GM platform-mates, and the Ford Expedition. Add in the real-deal 4WD transfer case, and the Tahoe Custom has bona fides that most mall-dwelling utility vehicles can only dream about.
  • The Tahoe Custom carries itself with a comfortable weightiness, blanketing itself over bumps and wrapping its occupants in a well-insulated cabin that also feels well-constructed. Fit and finish have long been a GM weak spot, especially in their trucks, so it's impressive that they've managed such a solid-feeling interior in a lower-priced SUV. The doors close with a satisfying thunk, the trim materials look straightforward without verging on cheap, and the power-adjustable cloth seats still feel comfortable and supportive. The whole package is more about function over form, and it's well executed here—a refreshing rarity from an automaker in 2017.
  • Speaking of which: You cannot find another new SUV out there that offers a body-on-frame toughness, V-8 power, and the ability to tow four and a half tons at a starting price of $44,995. If that seems like a niche market to you, consider how many more trucks could be described by those attributes twenty or thirty years ago. The SUV has unceasingly gone upmarket since Americans first fell in love with them in the Nineties, but it's been at the expense of the kinds of simplistic, capable vehicles that got everyone excited in the first place. The Tahoe Custom is something of a revival of that bootstrapping, can-do spirit.
Chevy's designers seem to have gotten a little bored by the end.

The Cons

  • It's almost sacrilege to complain about a traditional V-8 engine in a big truck, considering the hand-wringing that's accompanied the industry's ongoing shift to turbocharged V-6s in the name of fuel economy. And to be sure, no one will buy the Tahoe Custom because it claims to get 23 mpg on the highway. (Which is good, because it definitely doesn't.) Granted, we were towing a large trailer for much of that time, but even resetting the computer and detaching the load for a late afternoon loop around the desert didn't push the truck's average mileage above 20. Perhaps some extra mpgs can be found in reprogramming its cylinder deactivation technology, which turns it into a four-cylinder engine when cruising on the highway but was eager to awaken the other quartet at the meagerest tap of the go-pedal. If you're cross-shopping the Tahoe Custom with almost everything else, the fuel economy is going to be a sticking point.
  • The 5.3-liter V-8 is adequate, but between hauling the trailer of side-by-sides and an unburdened yet glacial eight-second crawl from 0-60 mph, I found myself wondering what the Tahoe Custom would be like with GM's 6.2-liter V-8 on tap instead. With 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, towing would be that much easier, and probably bump the miles-per-gallon figure up a few ticks. At the very least, it wouldn't be any worse on fuel, and it would be a lot more fun. That powertrain will be available in the performance-oriented Chevy Tahoe RST this fall, but like with many things, Custom buyers will have to make do without.
  • I know I praised the workaday interior above, and while I stand by that, I'll admit that some people will likely get an instant rental car vibe from it. It's not fair to paint all of GM with a broad brush just because they're a domestic manufacturer with a bustling business selling fleets to the country's rental companies, but it remains true that a lot of folks have only encountered a base-model GM vehicle at the tail end of a TSA strip search and a bumpy flight. The smell of the hot cloth seats, the lack of options, even the font on the knobs and buttons brought me right back to my childhood vacations in Florida, where my parents would make it their mission to select the cheapest rental on the lot. This connection might have been avoided if Chevrolet allowed you to get a Tahoe Custom with one or two select perks—leather seats or a sunroof, for example—that could mute the budget experience for customers who might be turned off by it.
  • As much as I'm a fan of the Tahoe's overall capabilities, its softer styling leaves something to be desired. As I attempted to photograph a Tahoe Custom for this review, I was surprised at how difficult it was to find an angle that didn't make at least one part of the exterior design look awkward. From the front, that plastic valance under the bumper hangs uselessly low. Its low clearance is also noticeable in the side view, and it's compounded by a beltline that rises toward towards the back and gives the rear end a pinched appearance. And from the back, the only things that keep it from looking like any other crossover (or minivan, really) are the higher ride height and integrated tow hitch. One thing I don't understand—why not borrow or adapt the front clip from the Silverado, like they did when the Tahoe first debuted? I doubt there are a lot of people who want or need something like a Tahoe, but won't put up with a slightly tougher look.
Long live the column shifter.

The 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe Custom, Ranked

Performance: 4/5

Comfort: 4/5

Luxury: 2/5

Hauling people: 4/5

Hauling stuff: 5/5

Curb appeal: 3/5

“Wow” factor: 3/5

Overall: 3.5/5

Doing the work.

The Bottom Line

There are few feelings more paradoxical—and distinctly Americanthan setting the cruise control at 80 mph and slicing through endless miles of desert in a big old truck. Outside, I watched carrion pick at desiccated roadkill in the dusty heat. Inside, perched high above the road in air-conditioned comfort, I looked at the expanse of empty scrubland surrounding me and smiled to myself as the Tahoe Custom ably doubled as a rolling survival pod. There's something very gratifying about a major manufacturer purposefully removing and limiting options, as if to say, Here, consumer, this is really all you need. The lux-ification of trucks and SUVs will continue unabated, but the Tahoe Custom wants no part of it. I respect that immensely.

So yes, I emerged from my sojourn to the desert with sand in my shoes and a strong appreciation for the package Chevrolet has created here. At the same time, the stripper-model approach does create a few contradictions that potential buyers will have to reckon with on their own terms. If you want a part-time adventure mobile that can occasionally tow 5,000 pounds, you have to consider the fact that vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, the Nissan Pathfinder Platinum, and the Ford Explorer Limited all offer those capabilities, plus a whole lot more features, at a lower price point.

At the same time, none of those are quite as durable (or large) as the Tahoe, and the max trailering package does give it more pulling power than everyone else. Is that peace of mind, along with on-demand four-wheel-drive and body-on-frame construction, worth the price bump? I can see some buyers getting pulled into a Chevrolet dealership by the Tahoe Custom, but I can just as easily see them getting upsold to a nicer trim once they realize they're about to drop at least $45,000 on a truck with cloth seats. Still, maybe between that kind of foot traffic and just enough people for whom the Custom really does fill an unmet need, we'll see enough of them sold that other manufacturers try and move in and stake their own claim on the space.

Or maybe Chevrolet has sent its newest offering out into a Mojave of a market, where the promise of a successful full-size budget SUV seems to be forever on the horizon. The Tahoe Custom is certainly a worthy, well-built contender. Of course, the same could be said for a lot of prospectors who've struck out into the desert, never to return.

A path to riches, or a long and lonesome road?

2018 Chevrolet Tahoe Custom, By the Numbers

Starting Price: $44,495

Powertrain: 5.3-liter, naturally-aspirated V-8 engine with Active Fuel Management, 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque; six speed automatic transmission; rear-wheel-drive with optional part-time 4WD

Fuel Economy: 16 city, 23 highway (only if you have the lightest of feet)

Top Speed: 111 mph

Amount of times I wished the Tahoe Custom had the off-road front bumper from the Z71: 14

The 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe Custom under some truly spacious skies.

Deputy’s Dash Cam Video From the California Wildfires Is Like Riding Through Hell

The raging wildfires that have consumed more than 150,000 acres of northern California this week continue to blaze through the region's famous wine country almost unabated. As evacuations continue and authorities struggle to assess the damage, a dramatic dash cam video posted to Facebook by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office shows the hellish conditions rescue workers are facing as they continue to raise the alarm and get survivors out of the burn zone.

At least 21 people have died in the fires, but that total would be much higher were it not for the tireless efforts of first responders to get people out of the path of the flames. This means traveling through some truly life-threatening conditions to try and help anyone who can't help themselves. According to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, this insane video was taken by a deputy as he drove down the area's Franz Valley Road "at the onset of the fire's entrance to Sonoma County."

The terrifying video is eerily similar to others shot by authorities and evacuees in other recent wildfires. The narrow, winding road cuts through an inferno of flaming trees and buildings, burning embers swirl angrily like a demonic blizzard, and the cruiser's emergency lights turn the shrouds of smoke red and blue in a truly surreal sight.

So far, thousands of businesses and homes—including entire neighborhoods in the city of Santa Rosa—have gone up in flames, and many more will likely suffer the same fate before firefighters can contain the blazes. This video is a stark reminder of the danger emergency workers face day in and day out as they continue the fight.

Watch This Natural Gas-Powered Bus Turn Into a Sixty-Foot Flamethrower

For the most part, every single vehicle on the road is powered by some form of chemical reaction that, if left unchecked, will possibly kill you. Traditional gas tanks ignite in crashes, battery fires are scary stuff, and as this video from the Netherlands shows, the explosive potential of a bus powered by compressed natural gas should not be underestimated.

The incident in question actually occurred back in 2012, but footage recently released by the Dutch Safety Board illustrates just how dangerous the situation was. The CNG-powered public bus was carrying passengers through the town of Wassenaar when the driver noticed smoke coming from the rear. He pulled over and realized the engine compartment was en fuego; when his handheld fire extinguisher failed to do the job, he evacuated the bus and called his supervisors.

Now, a fire on a bus is never a good thing. But it's especially concerning when the flames are licking the bottom of a set of roof-mounted, high-pressure natural gas storage tanks. As the conflagration spread through the interior and superstructure, the tanks heated up to the point of critical failure. Instead of exploding, though, the pressurized gas vented through several side-mounted blow-off valves, briefly turning the bus into a mobile flamethrower worthy of the War Boys themselves.

Fortunately, the bus had stopped in a relatively open area, so the sixty-foot flames only scorched the road surface and some roadside shrubbery. But as the exhaustive accident report compiled by local authorities points out, the story could have been very, very different had the bus ended up on a busy street corner lined with populated buildings. Presumably no one would be strolling past a bust that's completely engulfed in flames, but such an situation could easily spark a massive, multi-structure fire.

We're left wondering why exactly the engineers placed the blow-off valves facing sideways, but presumably they're more for over-pressurization incidents not involving such an intense fire directly impacting the tanks. Either way, makes you think twice about those eco-friendly, enthusiastic "CNG Powered" labels affixed to municipal trucks and buses worldwide.

US Navy Plans to Cut Cruisers by Half Amid Reports One Became Like a “Floating Prison”

The U.S. Navy is reportedly planning to decommission half of its remaining Ticonderoga-class cruisers within a decade, just as reports have emerged that life aboard one of them, the USS Shiloh, had become like a "floating prison." The decision could only put additional strain on the service, which has already begun to suffer dangerously low readiness and morale, leading to a series of deadly accidents, in the face of high operational demands, difficulties in obtaining new ships, and crumbling shipyard infrastructure.

On Oct. 9, 2017, Navy Times reported that the Navy would retire two Ticonderoga’s each year starting in 2020, with a total of 11 out of service by 2026. At present, the service has a total of 22 of the cruisers, the oldest of which, the USS Bunker Hill, joined the fleet in 1985. On the same day, the news outlet began to disclose horrifying details about life aboard another ship in the class, the USS Shiloh, in a series of articles based on official, internal command climate surveys it had obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

“I just pray we never have to shoot down a missile from North Korea,” on the Shiloh’s crew wrote. “Then our ineffectiveness will really show.”

Part of the forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan’s accompanying Carrier Strike Group, itself part of the U.S. Seventh Fleet headquartered in Japan, the cruiser is tasked in part with the ballistic missile defense role, though the latest version of its primary interceptor, the SM-3 Block IIA, remains in testing. In addition, to the increasing threat of North Korea’s arsenal, which the sailor noted, China is fielding a increasing number of long-range ballistic missiles of various types, including one, the DF-21D, that it has designed specifically to take out aircraft carriers and other large ships at sea. Ballistics missiles are quickly proliferating around the world in general, too, with 2017 having already seen other tests in Iran, Israel, and South Korea among other locales.

The <em data-recalc-dims=Ticonderoga-class USS Cowpens fires a SM-2 missile during an exercise in 2012." />

Displacing close to 10,000 tons with a full load, the Shiloh also performs a vital air defense role for the carrier group, with more than 120 vertical launch system (VLS) cells able to hold a variety of surface-to-air missiles, a long-range radar and associated Aegis combat system, and other weapon systems, sensors, and electronic warfare equipment. These include the Standard Missile-2 (SM-2), the increasingly capable RIM-174A, better known as the SM-6, and the RIM-162A Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, four of which can be quad-packed into each cell. The VLS can also launch Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles for stand-off attacks against targets on land, making the ship even more versatile. Its helicopters also provide anti-submarine screening for the inner sanctum of the Carrier Strike Group.

With unprecedented tensions on the Korean Peninsula and simmering disputes elsewhere in the Western Pacific, especially over freedom of navigation through the South China Sea, it’s terrifying to learn sailors called the Shiloh a “floating prison.” “It feels like a race to see which will break down first, the ship or it’s [sic] crew,” another member of the crew noted.

The man at the center of many of the complaints was the ship’s commanding officer, U.S. Navy Captain Adam Aycock. The service told Navy Times that it was aware of the issues, but did not explain then why Aycock was allowed to finish out his more than two year stint as Shiloh’s commander.

According to the survey’s the outlet obtained, around half of sailors had reported “a lot” of work-related stress in 2015, when U.S. Navy Captain Kurush Morris was in charge. More than 80 percent said this was the case under Aycock’s leadership.

The USS <em data-recalc-dims=Shiloh." />

Underscoring the toxic leadership was the captain’s reported use of a punishment of three days in the ship’s brig with only bread and water for meals, reminiscent of a long gone era of Navy operations. Aycock would subject sailors to this regimen for infractions as minor as showing up late to their duty posts or violating curfew while in port.

“I do not wear my [USS Shiloh] ballcap at the [Navy Exchange store],” a sailor said in one of the surveys. “Even the taxi drivers on base know us for being the ‘USS Bread and Water.’”

The reports could help explain, at least in part, a bizarre episode earlier in 2017 in which one of the cruiser sailors hid for days in the ship's engine room. Petty Officer 3rd Class Peter Mims faces a court martial after admitting he deliberately avoided search parties, leading the rest of the crew to believe he had fallen overboard, prompting a massive search and rescue operation.

According to the surveys, things had gotten so bad for Mims and his shipmates that “even taxi drivers Know [sic] us by the ship who has the worst captain and people trying to commit suicide,” a sailor wrote in their comments. “I feel like I would be better off being a hobo in San diego [sic] than show up to work onboard [sic] USS Shiloh,” another said.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Peter Mims.

That the Navy allowed the situation on board the ship to continue after three surveys full of negative comments has only raised new and serious questions about the state of the ships assigned to the Seventh Fleet and whether the problems might be more widespread. It of course begs the questions about whether the service felt, right or wrong, that it had limited options in order to meet its operational demands.

Unfortunately, the reports do appear to be well in line with a host of other emerging details about poor state of the Navy surface ships with its forward deployed command in Japan. This information has begun to emerge following a series of investigations into two deadly collisions earlier in 2017.

In June 2017, a container ship rammed into the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Fitzgerald off the coast of Japan, an accident that killed seven sailors. Then, in August 2017, the USS John McCain, another Arleigh Burke, collided with an oil tanker east of Singapore near the Strait of Malacca. Ten more sailors died.

Damage to the hull of the USS John McCain after it collided with an oil tanker in August 2017.

This followed a pair of accidents earlier in the year. The Ticonderoga-class USS Antietam – one of the ships Navy Times says will end up retired in 2021 – ran aground in Japan. Another one of the cruisers, the USS Lake Champlain, which the Navy expects to decommission in 2022, got into an accident with a South Korean fishing boat.

The events surrounding Fitzgerald’s collision seemed so odd that it spawned a number of conspiracy theories. The John McCain’s accident, however, made it clear that there were larger institutional problems.

What has become clear is that due to a confluence of factors, including budget cuts and caps and problems with large shipbuilding programs such as the Littoral Combat Ship, the Seventh Fleet, along with other Navy commands, has been overworking crews and under-manning ships, often sending them out on patrols despite expired certifications. At the same time, commanding officers appear to have been reluctant to voice concerns or criticisms for fear of punishment by their own superiors.

At a hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2017, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer and U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson admitted that the service was only able to meet 40 percent of the total demand for surface warships. They acknowledged a broad problem and promised to fix it, including through independent studies.

U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2017.

However, some members of Congress have questioned whether new research is either necessary or useful in turning the service around. Arizona’s Senator John McCain, a Navy veteran and whose father is the namesake of the destroyer at the center of the second deadly accident, had no problem dressing down Spencer and Richardson over the situation.

“It doesn’t take a study or RAND or [the] Mayo [Clinic] when you are working people 100 hours a week, OK?” he said. “I don’t have to ask RAND. I think I know what 100 hours a week does to people over time. And that’s been standard procedure for a long time.”

The initial reports of what happened aboard Fitzgerald in June 2017, which you can read about in detail here, are damning though, as are the first assessments of the McCain’s accident, which the Navy has described as “preventable.” The courage of sailors aboard each vessel seems to have been the only thing stopping both incidents from turning out even worse.

But it’s not entirely clear what the Navy really has the ability to do in the near term that won’t further upset the ability of its surface fleet to perform its core functions. There have been steady punishments for senior leaders at the Seventh Fleet, including the dismissal of the command’s top officer, Admiral Scott Swift in August 2017. The service relieved McCain’s commanding, U.S. Navy Commander Alfredo Sanchez, and its second in command, Commander Jessie Sanchez, on Oct. 11, 2017.

The USS Fitzgerald sits in dry dock in Japan in July 2017.

Beyond that, there are major limits for how fast the Navy could reasonably expect to increase the total size of its fleet or the sailors to man those ships, even if there were no politics and budgets involved. Shipbuilding in general has a long lead time and requires significant upfront investments in infrastructure and skilled workers. Once the shipyards get going, it’s easier to sustain production and steadily reduce costs, but only as long as there is demand and adequate funding.

The aforementioned Littoral Combat Ship program was supposed to be a solution to many of these problems, offering an affordable ship that a small crew could operate in various limited scenarios to free up larger surface ships, such as the Arleigh Burkes and Ticonderogas, and their crews, for higher intensity missions. That has since turned into a nightmare project that delivered perpetually under-performing ships that have been still too much for the intentionally skeletonized crews to handle effectively.

Earlier in 2017, the Navy finally admitted it needed an entirely new and more capable frigate-type ship to meet its requirements. This was after it attempted to respond to criticism from legislators about its shipbuilding plans by hastily slipped another Littoral Combat Ship into the service’s budget request for the 2018 fiscal year after the proposal had already gone to Congress without any clear indication of how it planned to pay for the addition.

This all calls into question the Navy’s ability to sustain the ships it has now, as well as the small number it already has in production. The goal of a 355-ship fleet seems especially dubious in this context. It’s prompted the service to look serious at reactivating a number of older ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, and a number of Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates. The latter plan would see the ships return to service with very limited capabilities. When it comes to keeping even the fleet it already has in an operational state, The War Zone’s own Tyler Rogoway recently took a look at the sorry state of the Navy's critical shipyards that keep many of its most advanced vessels running. The picture isn't pretty to say the least.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its accompany strike group return to Japan from a patrol in November 2016.

The Navy’s plans to at least mothball half of the Ticonderogas by 2026 is only likely to prompt more criticisms and questions from Congress about the service’s priorities. It is possible that it could put the older cruisers through a service life extension program to stabilize that part of the surface fleet, but again, the money for that work would have to come from somewhere. Whether or not American shipyards have the capacity to turn over the ships and get them back into action in a reasonable amount of time and in a cost-effective manner are separate, but equally important questions.

There's already the possibility the Navy may simply decide to try and squeeze more life out of the Ticonderogas as is, without any significant overhauls or modernization programs. In June 2017, U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Tom Moore, head of Naval Sea Systems Command, suggested that it might be possible to extend the service life of steel-hulled ships another five or 10 years with just routine maintenance. Though many of the same budgetary concerns would apply to such a plan, the Navy has at least requested additional funds for these kinds of basic repairs as part of Pentagon-wide push to improve overall readiness across the U.S. military in the budget request for the 2018 fiscal year.

What is clear is that the Navy is rapidly reaching its breaking point and people have already died. Sailors’ comments about their time aboard Shiloh appear extreme in nature, but hardly detached from larger, service-wide issues. It’s a dangerous cycle to be in as well, since pressure to make do with less puts strain on personnel who are then more inclined to leave as soon as they’re able, further reducing to total available manpower, and so on and so forth.

“It’s only a matter of time before something horrible happens,” one sailor aboard the cruiser wrote. “It’s a place we despise going to and cannot wait to leave,” another declared.

Now that horrible things have happened, it’s clearly well past time for the Navy to do some serious soul searching about how to move forward and change the service’s operational climate once and for all.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

Volkswagen Will Build Electric Trucks, Buses by 2022

It previously looked like Volkswagen would leave the development of electric commercial trucks to other companies, but the German behemoth apparently has other plans.

VW will launch electric trucks and buses by 2022, Andreas Renschler, head of the company's commercial vehicle division, said in an interview with Reuters. Volkswagen plans to spend 1.4 billion euros ($1.7 billion) to fund their development, as well as on other new technologies. Yet Renschler also said a spin-off of the company's commercial-vehicle operations remained an option.

In an interview last month, Renschler indicated that Volkswagen would take a wait-and-see approach to electric trucks, letting companies like Daimler and Tesla release trucks first, before launching its own.

But VW will now move ahead with development of electric trucks and buses. At a company event in Hamburg, Germany, it announced plans for a an all-electric delivery vehicle, as well as a basic architecture for electric buses that will be used by its MAN and Scania commercial-vehicle brands.

Volkswagen already faces significant competition from other potential electric-truck makers. After multiple delays, Tesla will unveil its electric semi truck November 16, and Cummins has already shown a prototype electric truck. Daimler recently delivered the first Fuso e-Canter box trucks in the United States, and may add more electric trucks to its lineup.

While the electric-truck segment is just now beginning to trend, the electric bus market is already maturing. Companies like Volvo, California-based Proterra, and Chia's BYD already sell electric buses, and their numbers will likely grow as city officials look for ways to reduce air pollution.

Electric commercial vehicles will complement Volkswagen's ambitious electrification plans for passenger cars. VW wants to offer a hybrid or all-electric version of every model across all of its brands by 2030. That includes 50 new electric cars, due by 2025.

Startup StreetDrone Launches Autonomous Test Vehicle Aimed at Developers

U.K.-based startup StreetDrone wants to make the development of self-driving cars easier and more affordable. The company founders decided that the biggest obstacle to starting an autonomous-car research project is getting a car in the first place.

Enter the StreetDrone ONE, a small electric car prepped for autonomous driving. When it first appeared in April, the car was essentially a Renault Twizy with some sensors attached. But StreetDrone has modified the bodywork a bit, and announced the start of sales at the GPU Technology Conference in Munich, Germany.

The StreetDrone ONE is equipped with six HD cameras, a 4G connection for data collection and updates, and a Nvidia Drive PX-series computer, which was designed specifically for autonomous driving. It comes with a price tag of 49,500 pounds ($65,265). Deliveries are expected to begin before the end of the year.

StreetDrone envisions its creation as a tool for engineering students. With all of the hardware for autonomous driving already in place, students can write their own software and test it on the ONE. That eliminates the cost and complexity involved with building a test vehicle from scratch.

The StreetDrone ONE's plug-and-play setup could also benefit smaller startups and software developers, which may not have the money to build their own autonomous test mules. No one said big corporations should be the only players in autonomous driving.

First Used Tesla Model 3 Listed for Sale at $150,000

If your pockets are lined with cash and you really need to be the envy of all Tesla fanboys, then we've got the car to show you. A used Tesla Model 3 has popped up for sale in California early this morning, and its owner has listed it for the ripe price of $150,000.

Tesla's Model 3 is an icon. Now, hear me out before judging electric cars as a whole or me for constantly advocating their place in this world. It's not that the car is electrified that makes it important, it's that the Model 3 is the begging of the normalization and affordability of electrified cars. CEO Elon Musk wrote a "master plan" comprised of three main goals: Build an expensive sports car (the Tesla Roadster), use those funds to build a slightly less expensive luxury car (Tesla Model S), and finally use the money made from that car to build a mass-production "every man's" car, which is the Model 3 is that car that Tesla worked so hard to make.

The original posting has been removed, however we were able to grab a screenshot of the ad prior to its deletion.

People recognized Tesla's achievements and began to buy in. In fact, more than 400,000 people ponied up $1,000 to place a reservation on a Model 3, but as of last week, only 260 units have actually been built. The laws of supply and demand have seemingly been aligned, as the owner of VIN #209 listed his or her vehicle on Craigslist after putting just over 2,000 miles on the car, but with a catch: The used car is priced at nearly three times its original cost.

"This is a unique opportunity to own one of the most anticipated cars ever," the owner states in the original ad, "Skip the line of over 400,000 people and buy the car of the future now!"

The Model 3 in the ad is functionally identical to the other cars being sold at this time, as all come in a single configuration, with small options tailored to the owner's preference. To simplify the "s-curve" of production, Musk's teams will prioritize the assembly of the rear-wheel-drive Model 3, equipped with the extended range battery. The larger battery will extend the Model 3's range from 220 miles to 310 miles, offering the equivalent of 126 MPG.

Currently, Tesla is limiting who gets priority on reservations. Employees and insiders are the first to actually get the vehicles, but under the condition that they don't resell the vehicle for profit. But fear not, Regular Joes are to begin taking delivery later this month, reports Electrek. We reached out to Tesla regarding how they plan to handle situations like this that go against their vehicle resale policy, however a spokesperson declined to comment at this time. The Craiglist ad has been taken down from the site.

These 5 Cars Are Like These 5 Drugs

We're answering the question that nobody asked: What do cars have in common with drugs? While some turn you into a junkie that binges on one-hour fun runs, others can put you to sleep and wish you were dead? Okay, that's a bit extreme. But nonetheless, these are comparisons that need to be drawn, and weekday afternoons are the best time to read hard-nosed news stories exactly like this. So let's begin.

Chevrolet Corvette (C4 Generation) / Viagra

Not only does the male enhancement drug have close ties to the stereotypical C4 Corvette owner, the point of it is roughy the same. You buy in looking for a good time, and although it may have a few negative side effects, you'll want to give it another go tomorrow night. It has a lot to do with surprising performance, which the C4 does well, especially in the high-powered ZR1 trim. Plus, your wife Nance will love it (probably).

Dodge Viper ACR / Crack Cocaine

The track-conquering Dodge Viper ACR is nothing short of the real deal. However, much like crack, it costs a lot less than the purest examples, giving most of the euphoria at a significantly lower price. Starting at $118,795, the Viper ACR has broken records across the country previously set by cars that cost nearly 10 times as much. Plus, the comedown of being beat and battered at the end of a lap is kind of what we expect from this brute.

Also considered: Speed

Ford Fusion / Marijuana

These two have obvious relations as the Fusion seems to be every Mexican drug smugglers' vehicle of choice. Criminals have been caught twice in the last year attempting to bring in a ton of weed across the boarder with these things, so it's only right to pair them together. Plus, the Fusion in its top Platinum trim is exceptionally relaxing with its heated and cooled seats as well as a SYNC 3 infotainment. So there's that.

Corbin Goodwin's Turbocharged 1978 "Trolls Royce" Silver Shadow II / Angel Dust (PCP)

We chose this because it's exactly the thing a twentysomething would bring to a party to seem abstract. Corbin does a great job of that by setting off an a mission to please him self and piss off the purists, only to attract the attention of the police in the process. Additionally, the "Trolls Royce" and PCP should have both stayed in the '70s, though they do surface every once in a blue moon on the streets.

Chevrolet S10 / Meth

It seems like a ton of Gen-Y'er in rural communities had it. It was cheap, got the job done, and gave you something to talk about with the rest of the cool kids. Much like meth, Chevrolet S10s are a gateway that people often get trapped in and never move onto what they wanted to do in the first place. Unless it's a radically fast drag truck like this one.

There you have it. We probably missed something, which is okay, because someone will be sure to point it out in the comments somewhere. We don't condone the use of any drugs listed in this article (the S10 included) and each example is strictly from hearsay, so if you've got a more detailed experience, you should probably keep it to yourself.

Uber Faces at Least 5 Criminal Probes in the U.S., Report Says

Things just keep getting worse for Uber. The company already faces criminal probes related to alleged use of illicit software, and the bribing of foreign officials. But that's just the beginning, it seems.

Bloomberg reports that the ride-sharing giant is currently facing five Justice Department criminal probes, which is two more than previously reported. Officials are now investigating where Uber violated price-transparency laws; another investigation is looking into whether Uber stole self-driving car tech from rival Waymo.

Uber is already being sued by Waymo, which believes the ride-sharing company acquired trade secrets from Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who worked for Waymo before joining Uber. The judge overseeing the case previously asked federal prosecutors to investigate Waymo's claims, but the existence of a criminal probe had not been confirmed until now.

The price-transparency investigation centers on Uber's use of software tools called Cascade and Firehouse. Uber allegedly used them to offer discounts to some customers over others, which could constitute a violation of federal laws prohibiting price discrimination.

Uber still faces investigations related to two separate pieces of software. One is "Greyball," which the company allegedly used to circumvent government regulators. The other is "Hell," which was allegedly used to track drivers working for rival Lyft. The Justice Department is also investigating whether Uber violated laws against bribing foreign officials. That investigation was made public the day new CEO Dara Khasrowshahi joined the company.

The various investigations could cause even more damage to a company that has been pummeled by scandals all year. As Uber is forced to deal with one crisis after another, it faces increased competition from rivals like Lyft and Asian firm Grab, as well as increased pressure from regulators. Many experts believe the future of ride sharing is bright, but that may not be the case for the company that popularized it.

Hurtigruten Cruise Ships Stream Underwater Drone Footage for Passengers

Underwater drones are being eyed by the Navy for research and defense, marine biologists for analyzing the Great Barrier reef, and hobbyists who simply get a kick out of exploring what lies beneath the surface. These remote operated vehicles are a tool just like their aerial counterparts, and now it seems that even the tourism industry sees their appeal. Norwegian cruise line company Hurtigruten is introducing an underwater drone footage as part of their on-board amenities. It will stream real-time video of the marine life lurking beneath its ships to passengers on board.

The drone in question is a Blueye Pioneer, which was designed for operating in low light and is fitted with powerful thrusters to maintain course and stability. According to The Los Angeles Times, Hurtigruten will equip its remote polar water-based cruise ships with the Pioneer, and provide its customers with live footage of wildlife such as orcas, penguins, sharks, and other local species.

The 15-pound ROV will traverse the oceans and stream back footage to screens across the ship. Passengers can then either wear first-person goggles or simply glance at the screens on board. The former option may actually convert people unfamiliar with drones or first-person experiences to learn more about the technology, as it’s a really exciting, visceral experience to behold.

Initially, Hurtigruten plans to equip only two of their ships, both of which are hybrid-powered vehicles. Passengers of Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen ships will be the first lucky customers to encounter this underwater drone experience.

“[W]ith underwater drones on our ships we can take our guests to areas less explored than the surface of Mars,” said Daniel Skjeldam, Chief Executive of Hurtigruten, to the LA Times. Hurtigruten’s cruise ships traverse areas such as Antarctica, Arctic Canada, Greenland, the Northwest Passage, Svalbard and, of course, the Norwegian coast.