EPA decision shields 2025 auto fuel efficiency goals from Trump administration

(credit: Amy Marbach)

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it had finalized the rules governing fuel efficiency for vehicles made until 2025. The rules ratchet up the fuel efficiency numbers that automakers must meet over the span of the next eight years. By 2025, automakers will have to hit an overall 51.4 mpg average efficiency rating for their fleet, which translates to about 36 mpg in real-world driving conditions—a bump of 10 mpg from what US fleets get today.

The decision comes just a week before the Trump administration takes office. President-elect Donald Trump has not commented on the EPA’s fuel efficiency guidelines, but automakers had been hoping that the EPA would delay signing off on this rule so that his administration might relax fuel efficiency standards out to 2025. Trump has denied the existence of climate change—a factor in the EPA’s fuel efficiency decisions—despite the preponderance of evidence showing that climate change is real and human-caused.

Although a Trump Administration could reverse the EPA’s new rules, doing so will be significantly harder than if the EPA had left the process for finalizing its December recommendations up to the new administration.

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Source: Ars Technica

Volvo’s autonomous Drive Me research project gets underway

Video shot and edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

DETROIT—Volvo is among the leaders of the pack of automakers when it comes to autonomous driving. The various advanced driver assists in its current XC90 and S90 are some of the best we’ve tested, and the carmaker recently linked up with Uber to develop redundant systems in self-driving cars. But before there was the Uber collaboration, there was Drive Me, a multiyear research program that the company will use to look at how it, as a car maker, can contribute to a “sustainable society.” In the video above, we speak to Trent Victor, senior technical leader of crash avoidance at Volvo, about the program.

Volvo chose this year’s North American International Auto Show to hand over the first set of keys in the Drive Me program. It’s in the process of recruiting 100 families in Gothenburg, Sweden, but the first lucky family is the Hains. Over the next few years, the Hains and the other participating families will be testing out a number of different research vehicles like the XC90 SUV seen in the video. In addition to testing out new iterations of self-driving systems, the vehicles will also be fitted with sensors and data loggers in the cabin to monitor the occupants.

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Source: Ars Technica

EPA: Fiat Chrysler diesels have illegal software to thwart emissions controls

Enlarge / STERLING HEIGHTS, MI – AUGUST 26: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne speaks at an event celebrating the start of production of three all-new stamping presses at the FCA Sterling Stamping Plant August 26, 2016 in Sterling Heights, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images) (credit: Bill Pugliano)

On Thursday the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Fiat Chrysler (FCA) diesel vehicles were found to have “at least eight” instances of undisclosed software that modified the emissions control systems of the cars. The vehicles implicated in the EPA’s Notice of Violation (NOV) include 2014, 2015, and 2016 diesel Jeep Grand Cherokees, as well as Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0-liter diesel engines. The allegations involve 104,000 vehicles, the EPA said.

The EPA says it’s still in talks with FCA and hasn’t ordered the company to stop selling affected cars yet, nor is it officially calling the illegal software a “defeat device” just yet until FCA provides a more detailed explanation.

In a press conference, agency officials said that the undisclosed software was discovered after September 2015, when the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) began doing additional testing on vehicles in the wake of the Volkswagen Group scandal.

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Source: Ars Technica

Want an affordable rear-wheel drive GT? Say hello to the Kia Stinger

Jonathan Gitlin

If you believe voices in certain corners of the Internet, there’s a dearth of affordable rear-wheel drive sedans on the market. Well, it’s time for those corners to put up or shut up, because Kia has been listening, and the result is called the Stinger. The vehicle began life as a concept car at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, and with much made of its Nürburgring-honed handling, it’s clear that Kia wants to attract drivers who would normally look at offerings from BMW and Jaguar.

Underneath that grill-covered (we counted 12!) fastback body is a longitudinally mounted engine—either a 2.0L turbocharged inline four (255hp/190kW) or a 3.3L twin-turbo V6 (365hp/272kW) in the Stinger GT—with options for rear- or all-wheel drive. Opt for the former and you get a mechanical limited slip differential; choose the latter and benefit from Kia’s new dynamic torque vectoring system.

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Source: Ars Technica

Tesla hires MacBook Air designer for senior engineering role

Enlarge (credit: Tesla)

Tesla has been on quite the talent search of late. Last year it hired Peter Hochholdinger from Audi to oversee Model 3 production. It also hired Anders Bell—previously of Volvo—to take charge of designing interiors. On Tuesday, we learned that Apple programmer Chris Lattner had left the company Elon Musk once described as the “Tesla Graveyard” to become VP for Autopilot. Well, it turns out he’s not the only longtime Apple man to ride whatever it is you’d call the Silicon Valley equivalent of Charon’s boat.

Seth Weintraub at 9to5mac has revealed that the electric vehicle maker has also obtained the services of Matt Casebolt, who will assume the role of Senior Director Engineering, Closures and Mechanisms. These are areas where Tesla has previously encountered difficulties; early Model Xs had to have a faulty seat hinge replaced, and the production of the SUV’s Falcon Wing doors proved to be quite a headache.

Casebolt’s portfolio at Apple includes the original MacBook Air as well as the most recent Mac Pro and MacBook Pro.

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Source: Ars Technica

DOJ indicts 6 Volkswagen executives, automaker will pay $4.3 billion in plea deal

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The US Justice Department announced on Wednesday that Volkswagen would pay $4.3 billion in civil and criminal fines and plead guilty to three criminal charges pertaining to the automaker’s diesel emissions scandal. The DOJ also announced an indictment of six high-level VW Group executives, who are charged with lying to regulators and destroying documents.

Working with US Customs and Border Patrol, the DOJ brought against VW Group charges of defrauding the US government, committing wire fraud, and violating the Clean Air Act. As part of the settlement, VW Group has agreed to submit to three years of criminal probation, which will require the German automaker to “retain an independent monitor to oversee its ethics and compliance program.” It has also agreed to cooperate with the DOJ’s ongoing investigations into individual executives that may have been involved with the scandal.

For the past 17 months, the automaker has maintained that none of its executives were involved with the diesel scandal, in which illegal software was discovered on Volkswagens, Audis, and Porsches to alter the cars’ emissions controls depending on whether the cars sensed they were under real-world driving conditions or lab conditions. Instead, VW Group claimed, “rogue engineers” were responsible for the placement of the emissions cheating software on the cars.

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Source: Ars Technica

Audi wows Detroit with the Q8, a hybrid flagship SUV coming in 2018

Video shot and edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

DETROIT, MICH.—Once upon a time, the flagship model in a car maker’s line up—the car it packed with all the latest and greatest technology—was a large sedan. But change is afoot within the industry, and premium SUVs are selling like hot cakes. So it makes sense that Audi has decided to add a new model to its range, a super SUV arriving in 2018 called the Q8. To get the world ready for this new standard-bearer, it brought a thinly veiled concept to this year’s North American International Auto Show.

The current Q7 SUV has been a huge sales success for Audi, so it’s easy to see why the company made this decision. That doesn’t mean it’s going to do away with the A8 sedan; a new version of that car is due later this year. But the Q8 uses the same underlying platform and, we think, will find many more buyers thanks to the added practicality. It’s a looker, too. The Q8 draws heavily on a pair of recent Audi concepts, the e-tron and h-tron, with plenty of styling cues pulled from the company’s past. The flared wheel arches and the C-pillars intentionally call to mind the iconic Audi Quattro of the 1980s, for example.

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Source: Ars Technica

Longtime Apple programmer and Swift creator leaves Apple for Tesla

Software developer Chris Lattner, creator of the Swift programming language and Apple’s current director of the Developer Tools department, will be leaving the company later this month to become Tesla’s new vice president of autopilot software. Lattner announced his departure to the Swift mailing list earlier today, just a few hours before Tesla made his hiring public.

Ted Kremenek, another longtime Apple developer who has been with the company since 2007, will be taking over Lattner’s duties as Swift project lead.

Lattner has worked at Apple since 2005, and he’s been involved in a lot of major tools and software initiatives over the years. His extensive resume lists many versions of Xcode going back to at least version 3.1, LLVM and the Clang frontend, OpenCL, LLDB, and Swift. He also did some work on macOS, helped tune software performance for the Apple A6 used in the iPhone 5, and helped with the transition to 64-bit ARM CPUs that began with the iPhone 5S. His resume shows a willingness to create, adopt, and evangelize new software and programming languages, which will no doubt be a major component of his work at Tesla. He has also been a major proponent of Apple’s open source work, driving the push to make Swift open source and communicating with the Swift community and steering its efforts.

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Source: Ars Technica

VW exec arrested during Miami vacation over emissions scandal

On Saturday night, the FBI arrested Oliver Schmidt, a former emissions compliance executive for Volkswagen Group, as he waited to catch a plane back to Germany at Miami International Airport in Florida. The arrest is a major setback for VW Group, which has thus far been able to shelter most of its high-level executives from individual prosecution by US authorities.

In a Monday appearance in US District Court in Miami, a Justice Department lawyer said that an attorney for Schmidt “had alerted government lawyers that the executive would be in Florida for vacation,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Schmidt, 48, was charged with defrauding the United States, wire fraud, and violating the Clean Air Act. He allegedly played a central role in hiding from US regulators the fact that some 500,000 Volkswagen and Audi vehicles with 2.0L diesel engines sold in the US were equipped with various types of illegal software designed to help the cars pass their emissions tests in a lab and to kill the emissions control system on the cars when they were driving on the road under “real world” conditions.

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Source: Ars Technica

Google’s Waymo invests in LIDAR technology, cuts costs by 90 percent

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GettyImages

Right now self-driving cars are a technical challenge. No amount of sensors and mapping can currently produce a 100 percent reliable self-driving car, but plenty of companies are working on it. When this technology does hit the market, the inevitable question is going to be “how much extra does it cost?”

Waymo, the Alphabet self-driving car division that was recently spun off from Google, is working on getting that cost as low as possible. According to a recent article from Bloomberg, the company has spent the last 12 months working on “scalability.” The company’s efforts have lead to a “90 percent” decrease in the cost of the LIDAR sensor, which is typically the most costly item in a self-driving car solution.

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Source: Ars Technica

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