World’s Largest Automakers

World’s Largest Automakers

Renault-Nissan Outranks Volkswagen, Could Pass #1 Toyota

World's Largest Automakers

The times, they are a changing: Last year, Volkswagen Group kicked perennial front-runner Toyota from the top spot. A few months later, world domination has fizzled, and Volkswagen finds itself in the number three position. Even more embarrassing for Volkswagen, come-from-behind Renault-Nissan Alliance is the second-largest global automaker, with Toyota firmly back on top.

Four months into the year, Toyota Group is up 7.8% with 3.53 million units produced so far. The Renault-Nissan Alliance is not much behind with 3.47 million units, up 7.4%. 3rd-ranking Volkswagen Group delivered 3.4 million units from January through April, and its sales are down 0.7% compared to the first four months in 2016. All of this according to data released by the respective automakers.

Nearly 200,000 units behind Toyota, for Volkswagen to regain the lead once this year is over would need a miracle — or a catastrophe for the OEMs in front. Surprisingly, Toyota is not so safe at all from being surpassed by the Renault-Nissan Alliance. As the table shows, the two groups are separated only by a slim rounding error, and both are good for some 10.5 million by the end of the year.

World’s Largest Automakers

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At the Geneva Motor Show, the beautiful… and the damned?

At the Geneva Motor Show, the beautiful… and the damned?

Passing by the glittering, luxury cars, with models draped elegantly over the hoods, you might get the impression that you were witnessing the height of power for the automotive industry. Not only has the internal combustion engine reached dizzying heights of refinement, but the plethora of electric, hybrid and fuel cell engines could leave you wondering if anything more need ever be invented.

Just take a look at Sedric, the transporter prototype from Volkswagen, the internals of which look more like an airport lounge than an SUV.

Designed from the ground up to be fully self-driving, it showed where VW thinks the future might head. You can summon your car via an app, and tell it where you want to go. The car is supposed to able to recognize its user and open the doors. You then chat nonchalantly to your passengers while the car whisks you to your location.

Volkswagen must — if you’ll forgive the pun — really motor. It has to spend billions on electric vehicles, self-driving and new mobility services, as it tries to accelerate away from the costly emissions test cheating scandal that hit demand for its diesel vehicles, and its overall brand position.

Meanwhile over on the Porsche stand (also owned by VW), they plan to spend about $1.1 billion to create an all-electric Mission E, the brand’s first battery-only model that is expected to launch by 2020. Porsche also wants to make an all-electric version of its compact SUV Macan. And there will even be a hybrid version of the iconic 911 model.

Herbert Diess, the head of Volkswagen’s (VW) main passenger car division told reporters: “We are really in a transitional phase for the industry. There are new competitors on the horizon like Tesla or Chinese ventures.”

Over at Volvo, they are adding new technology to their XC60 crossover, designed to help the car avoid or minimize damage in crashes. Its new ”Steer Assist” feature helps the SUV avoid hazards like other vehicles, pedestrians or large animals while also hitting the brakes at the same time.

Of course the cost of this investment will change the structure of the car industry. BMW boss Harald Krueger said the cost of investments in new technologies could spur consolidation among smaller carmakers. For example, some analysts say Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, which has less than 7% of the European market could be a target for acquisition, given its high debts and expensive plants in Italy.

Car makers are scrambling to ape Tesla by introducing a range of new electric cars. Japanese brands like Toyota and Nissan have been the leaders in this field. Nissan launched its electric hatchback Leaf in 2010 and sold over 250,000 units worldwide until December 2016, the largest number for a highway electric car in history.

Toyota’s hybrid vehicles sales in Europe were up 40% in 2016 and 32% of all sales in the region. So, today, one in every three cars Toyota sold in Europe is a hybrid.

Even Brexit is going to impact auto-maker strategy. British luxury brand Mini, which is owned by BMW, makes around 70% of its 360,000 cars at its Oxford plant in southern England, but now it looks like it will start making electric Minis outside of the UK, probably in Germany or the Netherlands, or a new location altogether.

And Tata Motors-owned Jaguar is engineering its first electric performance SUV Concept – the I-Pace with a view to giving it a longer range, with fast charging times and better performance, aiming to beat out Tesla’s X model.

But while car markers scramble to add driverless functionality and electric versions, they are entirely missing three crucial strategic pressures.

The first is that just being electric and having driverless features is not going to be enough to save the car industry as it exists today. When every car is electric, no-one cares about the power train any more. When every car has driverless functions, you would not even think to buy a new car without those.

Secondly, a brand like Tesla’s most powerful weapon is, arguably, not the cars themselves but their customers. Tesla’s customers are literally willing the brand towards the future. That’s what they are buying when they buy a Tesla. In this respect Tesla is far closer to the brand of, say, Apple’s, than the brand of, say, BMW’s, which screams tradition, not innovation. Car makers don;t have an easy answer for that.

Lastly it’s cities that are pivotal to the future of the car industry. This is where Europe could potentially punch above its weight. Regulation of transport infrastructure is going to be crucial for this new world, and test of driverless technology in cities like Swindon in the UK will create a framework on which car markers can genuinely innovate. Until that happens their plans for cars with different engines will come to nought. And let’s not even get into autonomous drone-like passenger vehicles flying above busy urban environments.

Beautiful cars at the Geneva Motor Show may be wonderful to look at. But 2017 may go down in history just as the last horse-drawn buggy “expo” did: a golden age that was soon over-taken by the future.

At the Geneva Motor Show, the beautiful… and the damned?

How connected cars are turning into revenue-generating machines

How connected cars are turning into revenue-generating machines

How connected cars are turning into revenue-generating machines

History repeats herself, but she mumbles. Some have expressed that she enjoys rhymes or puns. One must lean in close and listen carefully to understand exactly what she’s getting at. Most of the time we can only in retrospect discern what she was trying to say.

Sometimes, though, history’s intent is clear. Evidence suggests a chain of events that will yield to an educated guess of the near future. That’s where we stand right now with the state of connected cars: History is repeating itself, with a slight variation. There is a close correspondence in the patterns of disruption when you compare the future of connected cars to the past of the smartphone industry.

At some point within the next two to three years, consumers will come to expect car connectivity to be standard, similar to the adoption curve for GPS navigation. As this new era begins, the telecom metric of ARPU will morph into ARPC (average revenue per car). Note: In this case, the term “connected” brings together related concepts, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and evolving cellular networks, including 3G, 4G/LTE, 5G, etc.

In that time frame, automotive OEMs will see a variety of revenue-generating touch points for connected vehicles at gas stations, electric charging stations and more. We also should expect progressive mobile carriers to gain prominence as essential links in the automotive value chain within those same two to three years.

Early in 2016, that transitional process began with the quiet but dramatic announcement of a statistic that few noted at the time. The industry crossed a critical threshold in the first quarter when net adds of connected cars (32 percent) rose above the net adds of smartphones (31 percent) for the very first time. At the top of the mobile carrier chain, AT&T led the world with around eight million connected cars already plugged into its network.

The next big event to watch for in the development of ARPC will be when connected cars trigger a significant redistribution of revenue among the value chain players. In this article, I will focus mostly on recurring connectivity-driven revenue. I will also explore why automakers must develop deep relationships with mobile carriers and Tier-1s to hold on to their pieces of the pie in the connected-car market by establishing control points.

After phones, cars will be the biggest category for mobile-data consumption.

It’s important to note here that my conclusions on the future of connected cars are not shared by everyone. One top industry executive at a large mobile carrier recently asked me, “Why do we need any other form of connectivity when we already have mobile phones?” Along the same lines, some connected-car analysts have suggested that eSIM technology will encourage consumers to simply add to their existing wireless plans connectivity in their cars.

Although there are differing points of view, it’s clear to me that built-in embedded-SIM for connectivity will prevail over tethering with smartphones. The role of Tier-1swill be decisive for both carriers and automakers as they build out the future of the in-car experience, including infotainment, telematics, safety, security and system integration services.

The sunset of smartphone growth

Consider the U.S. mobile market as a trendsetter for the developed world in terms of data-infused technology. You’ll notice that phone revenues are declining. Year-over-year sales of mobiles have registered a 6.5 percent drop in North America and have had an even more dramatic 10.8 percent drop in Europe. This is because of a combination of total market saturation and economic uncertainty, which encourages consumers to hold onto their phones longer.

While consumer phone upgrades have slowed, non-phone connected devices are becoming a significant portion of net-adds and new subscriptions. TBR analyst Chris Antlitz summed up the future mobile market: “What we are seeing is that the traditional market that both carriers [AT&T and Verizon] go after is saturated, since pretty much everyone who has wanted a cell phone already has one… Both companies are getting big into IoT and machine-to-machine and that’s a big growth engine.”

At the same time, AT&T and Verizon are both showing a significant uptick in IoT revenue, even though we are still in the early days of this industry. AT&T crossed the $1 billion mark and Verizon posted earnings of $690 million in the IoT category for last year, with 29 percent of that total in the fourth quarter alone.

Data and telematics

While ARPU is on the decline, data is consuming a larger portion of the pie. Just consider some astonishing facts about data usage growth from Cisco’s Visual Networking Index 2016. Global mobile data traffic grew 74 percent over the past year, to more than 3.7 exabytes per month. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen a 4,000X growth in data usage. After phones, cars will be the biggest category for mobile-data consumption.

Most cars have around 150 different microprocessor-controlled sub-systems built by different functional units. The complexity of integrating these systems adds to the time and cost of manufacturing. Disruptive companies like Tesla are challenging that model with a holistic design of telematics. As eSIM becomes a standard part of the telematics control unit (TCU), it could create one of the biggest disruptive domino effects the industry has seen in recent years. That’s why automakers must develop deep relationships with mobile carriers and Tier-1s.

The consumer life cycle for connected cars will initially have to be much longer than it is for smartphones.

Virtualization of our cars is inevitable. It will have to involve separate but interconnected systems because the infrastructure is inherently different for control versus convenience networks. Specifically, instrument clusters, telematics and infotainment environments have very different requirements than those of computing, storage and networking. To create a high-quality experience, automakers will have to work through hardware and software issues holistically.

Already we see Apple’s two-year iPhone release schedule expanding to a three-year span because of gentler innovations and increasing complexity. The consumer life cycle for connected cars will initially have to be much longer than it is for smartphones because of this deep integration required for all the devices, instruments and functionalities that operate the vehicle.

Five factors unique to connected cars

Disruption is everywhere within the auto industry, similar to the disruption that shook out telecom. However, there are several critical differences:

  • Interactive/informative surface. The mobile phone has one small screen with all the technology packed in behind it. Inside a car, nearly every surface could be transformed into an interactive interface. Beyond the instrumentation panel, which has been gradually claiming more real estate on the steering wheel, there will be growth in backseat and rider-side infotainment screens. (Semi-) autonomous cars will present many more possibilities.
  • Processing power. The cloud turned mobile phones into smart clients with all the heavy processing elsewhere, but each car can contain a portable data center all its own. Right now, the NVIDIA Tegra X1 mobile processor for connected cars, used to demonstrate its Drive CX cockpit visualizations, can handle one trillion floating-point operations per second (flops). That’s roughly the same computing power as a 1,600-square-foot supercomputer from the year 2000.
  • Power management. The size and weight of phones were constrained for many years by the size of the battery required. The same is true of cars, but in terms of power and processing instead of the physical size and shape of the body frame. Consider apps like Pokémon Go, which are known as battery killers because of their extensive use of the camera for augmented reality and constant GPS usage. In the backseat of a car, Pokémon Go could run phenomenally with practically no affect on the car battery. Perhaps car windows could even serve as augmented reality screens.
  • Risk factors. This is the No. 1 roadblock to connected cars right now. The jump from consumer-grade to automotive-grade security is just too great for comfort. Normally, when somebody hacks a phone, nobody gets hurt physically. A cybersecurity report this year pointed out that connected cars average 100 million lines of code, compared to only 8 million for a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. In other words, security experts have a great deal of work to do to protect connected cars from hackers and random computer errors.
  • Emotional affinity. Phones are accessories, but a car is really an extension of the driver. You can see this aspect in the pride people display when showing off their cars and their emotional attachment to their cars. This also explains why driverless cars and services like Uber are experiencing a hard limit on their market penetration. For the same reasons, companies that can’t provide flawless connectivity in cars could face long-lasting damage to their brand reputations.

Software over hardware

The value in connected cars will increasingly concentrate in software and applications over the hardware. The connected car will have a vertical hardware stack closely integrated with a horizontal software stack. To dominate the market, a player would need to decide where their niche lies within the solution matrix.

However, no matter how you view the hardware players and service stack, there is a critical role for mobility, software and services. These three will form the framework for experiences, powered by analytics, data and connectivity. Just as content delivered over the car radio grew to be an essential channel for ad revenue in the past, the same will be true in the future as newer forms of content consumption arise from innovative content delivery systems in the connected car.

In the big picture, though, connectivity is only part of the story.

As the second-most expensive lifetime purchase (after a home) for the majority of consumers, a car is an investment unlike any other. Like fuel and maintenance, consumers will fund connectivity as a recurring expense, which we could see through a variety of vehicle touch points. There’s the potential for carriers to partner with every vehicle interaction that’s currently on the market, as well as those that will be developed in the future.

When consumers are filling up at the gas pump, they could pay via their connected car wallet. In the instance of charging electric cars while inside a store, consumers could also make payments on the go using their vehicles. The possibilities for revenue generation through connected cars are endless. Some automakers may try the Kindle-like model to bundle the hardware cost into the price of the car, but most mobile carriers will prefer it to be spread out into a more familiar pricing model with a steady stream of income.

Monetization of the connected car

Once this happens and carriers start measuring ARPC, it will force other industry players to rethink their approach more strategically. For example, bundling of mobile, car and home connectivity will be inevitable for app, data and entertainment services as an integrated experience. In the big picture, though, connectivity is only part of the story. Innovative carriers will succeed by going further and perfecting an in-car user experience that will excite consumers in ways no one can predict right now. As electric vehicles (EVs), hydrogen-powered fuel cells and advances in solargain market practicality, cars may run without gas, but they will not run without connectivity.

The first true killer app for connected cars is likely to be some form of new media, and the monetization potential will be vast. With Gartner forecasting a market of 250 million connected cars on the road by 2020, creative methods for generating revenue streams in connected cars won’t stop there. Over the next few years, we will see partnerships proliferate among industry players, particularly mobile carriers. The ones who act fast enough to assume a leadership role in the market now will drive away with an influential status and a long-term win — if history has anything to say about it.

How connected cars are turning into revenue-generating machines

The 13 New Dream Convertibles for Summer 2016

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The 13 New Dream Convertibles for Summer 2016

Top-down driving with full-on luxury.

Convertibles are weird things. They’re not huge moneymakers for car companies (in fact, sales have declined 51 percent from their peak in 2004), and they’re almost always sold in smaller, more limited versions than their hardtop siblings. Sometimes it seems as if automakers use them just to test new design ideas, as some sort of sick challenge to the engineering department, or as bones thrown to niche groups of enthusiasts who clamor for them with no regard to whether the world really needs another rag-top.

All of which is why we love them. They’re flippant and outré and impractical, and, in most localities, only seasonal pleasures. But oh, the personality!

For every McLaren 675LT Spider supercar with bare inches of ground clearance and enough horsepower to propel a jet, there is a MINI John Cooperworks with tiny, rally car-style handling and a front face as endearing as a puppy dog.

Now’s the time to start your research (and place a pre-order), as new model deliveries for summer won’t start for a month or two. But you can’t go wrong with any of the models below.

2017 Rolls-Royce Dawn

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2017 Audi R8 Spyder

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2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR

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2017 MINI John Cooper Works Convertible

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2017 McLaren 675LT Spider

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2017 Bentley GT V8 S Convertible

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2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG C43 Cabriolet

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2017 Porsche 718 Boxster S

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2016 Ferrari 488 Spider

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2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible

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2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata Retractable Fastback 

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2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible

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2017 BMW 6 Series Convertible

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The 13 New Dream Convertibles for Summer 2016

10 of the coolest concept cars revealed this year

Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo

10 of the coolest concept cars revealed this year

Car makers are getting more tech savvy lately. Or at least their concept cars are making them appear that way.

Just last week at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt, manufacturers from Volkswagen to Mercedes-Benz showed off their futuristic concept cars.

The selection was impressive, with a mix of electric and hybrid cars. The vehicles were equipped with state-of-the-art features, which ranged from a holographic dashboard to solar powered roofs. Some of the concept cars could even be said to rival Tesla.

In no particular order, here are ten of the most impressive concept cars (not all are from the Frankfurt show) that have been revealed so far this year.

Porsche’s Concept Mission E can drive 310 miles with a full charge. Porsche aims to begin production in the next five years.

Porsche's Concept Mission E

The basics: The car is powered by an advanced lithium-ion battery technology. A charging plate that can be stored in your garage allows the battery to automatically regain power, but it can also be charged at a conventional charging station or at home via a cable. In 15 minutes, the car can charge up to 80 percent, giving it a range of 250 miles.

How fast it goes: The car can go from zero to 62 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds, with a top speed of 150 miles per hour.

What else it offers: The car has four seats and four doors that open in a new way (as pictured above). It has cameras instead of exterior mirrors that captures your surroundings and displays what they see on the lower corner of the windshield.

The car has eye-tracking technology that will detect where the driver is looking on the dashboard and open the corresponding instrument. The driver can then confirm the selection by pressing a button on the steering wheel.

The Torq is windowless but cameras provide a 360-degree view projected on screens.

Torq

The basics: The car, designed by Italian engineering and design company ED, does not require a driver, but the company’s press release does not delve into how it would drive autonomously. ED hopes to create a self-driving racing car in the next 19 months.

How fast it goes: It’s advertised as having 429 horsepower and 1328-feet torque.

What else it offers: It is a fully electric car with four engines over each wheel.

Audi’s e-tron quattro has a 95 kWh battery, allowing it to go 310 miles on a single charge. It’ll enter production in 2018.

Audi's e-tron quattro

The basics: It can be charged with a DC or AC electrical current, and can fully charge in 50 minutes when hooked up to a DC current outputting 150 kW. The car can also charge wirelessly over a charging plate.

How fast it goes: Audi claims it can go from zero to 62.1 miles per hour in just 4.6 seconds, with a top speed of 130.5 miles per hour.

What else it offers: It has five doors and can sit up to four people. Rearview mirrors are replaced by cameras — the driver can see by looking at displays built into the front section of the doors. The car has a solar roof that can help power the car on sunny days, providing up to 320 watts of additional electric power.

The BMW M4 MotoGP injects water into the engine’s intake plenum or cylinders to cool the intake charge. It’s unclear how long we’ll have to wait to see this in a production vehicle.

BMW M4 MotoGP

The basics: The water injection system reduces the consumption of combustion engines and increases performance. The water is stored in a 1.3-gallon tank in the trunk that is sent to the intake plenum via an electric pump.

How fast it goes: BMW has not released specs for the car’s powertrain, but Gizmag reports that the water cooling system frees up 10 percent more torque and power than a standard car.

The Mercedes IAA has an aerodynamic mode and a design mode. When its aero aids are deployed, it is more aerodynamic than a Tesla Model S.

Mercedes IAA

The basics: The Mercedes IAA is a plug-in hybrid that puts out 279 horsepowers (205 kW engine). When the car reaches 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour), it switches from design mode to aerodynamic mode by extending flaps at the front and rear, employing active rims and moving the louvre in the front bumper.

How fast it goes: It has an electronically limited top speed of 250 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour). In aerodynamic mode it has an all-electric range of 66 kilometers (41 miles) and a range of 62 kilometers (39 miles) in design mode.

What else it offers: The steering wheel has touch-based operating functions.

The Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo hit 278 miles per hour in a simulation of Le Mans. It sure looks good, but you won’t be seeing this car on the road.

Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo

The basics: It uses the Bugatti Veyron’s 16-cylinder, 8.0-litre quad turbo engine. The engine itself was producing 1250 bhp when production ended earlier this year, GQ reports.

How fast it goes: Aside from its simulation speed, we have no way of knowing how fast the Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo goes. The car itself has a hypothetical interior with a steering wheel, some upholstery and digital displays.

What else it offers: It has a drag reduction system (DRS) rear wing to reduce drag that can be increased for some downforce when turning corners.

The EDAG has a 3D-printed structure and is about 25 percent lighter than traditional vehicles.

EDAG

The basics: The leaf of a plant served as the blue print for the car’s body shell. A lightweight outer skin is stretched over the structure that is made from waterproof jersey fabric.

How fast it goes: There is no powertrain for the vehicle and it is not likely to go into production. Instead, the company wanted to showcase how 3D printing could be used to make a much lighter vehicle.

What else it offers: LED lights underneath the skin lets you see the skeletal frame.

Volkswagen’s Tiguan GTE is a plug-in hybrid with 31 miles of electric range and 215 system horsepower. It arrives on the market April 2016.

Volkswagen Tiguan GTE

The basics: The Tiguan GTE can be plugged in to charge, but it also offers a solar roof module that generate electrical energy fed directly into the battery, which allows for up to 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of zero emissions driving.

How fast it goes: It has a system output of 215 horsepower. The car can run for up to 31 miles on electric power alone, which is powered by a 13 kWh lithium-ion battery.

What else it offers: The new Tiguan is 60 millimeters longer and 33 millimeters lower than the outgoing model giving it extra interior and trunk space. Its weight is also reduced by more than 110 pounds.

The Nissan Gripz is meant to show sports cars can be tall. It has a gasoline engine that powers an electric motor.

Nissan Gripz

The basics: Drivers can select an EV mode for day-to-day driving, four-wheel drive for snow or going off road or a drift mode that uses the electric motors for the feel of driving a sports car. The car was inspired by a racing bicycle.

How fast it goes: Nissan hasn’t provided details about the power behind the car. It is a hybrid system with a gas engine and electric motor.

What else it offers: It has four doors and swing out and up. It also has forward facing cameras to record your journey.

Hyundai N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo will debut at the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship at Rallye Monte Carlo.

Hyundai N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo

The basics: The car is powered by hydrogen fuel cells for 670 horsepower.

How fast it goes: The two fuel stacks (which provide 670 horsepower) are augmented by a supercapacitor that stores electrical energy conserved during breaking for another 201 horsepower, for a total of 871 horsepower. The car has four engines over each wheel hub.

What else it offers: A carbon fiber composite structure to keep weight down. The car has a hexagonal grille that connects to a duct to direct air out the back in order to minimize air drag underneath the body.

 

 

 

 

10 of the coolest concept cars revealed this year

The Dream Life of Driverless Cars

The Dream Life of Driverless Cars

The Dream Life of Driverless Cars

Autonomous vehicles might remain an expensive novelty, or they might utterly transform society. Either way, they have much to teach us about how to look at the cities we live in.

On a brisk afternoon in October, an oddly-­equipped Honda CR-V inched through London traffic. At the wheel was Matthew Shaw, a 32-year-old architectural designer; with him was a fellow designer, William Trossell, 30, and a small team of laser-­scanner operators. All were skilled in their technical fields, but their goal was art. What they hoped to scan was not just the shape of the city streets but the inner life of the autonomous cars that may soon come to dominate them.

Shaw and Trossell have been fascinated by 3-D scanning since they met in architecture school. There, they investigated how laser scanners perceive the built environment, including the biases, blind spots and peculiar insights any such technology must encompass. In 2010, they started ScanLAB Projects, a London design studio, to widen that investigation. As they already knew, laser-­scanning equipment could easily be fooled by applying it in inappropriate conditions or simply misusing the gear. Solid objects, whether architectural ruins, geological forms or commercial buildings in the heart of London, are particularly amenable to scanning. Fog banks, mist and afternoon drizzle, not so much. Yet Trossell and Shaw’s early work was devoted precisely to this: pushing the technology into unexpected realms where things, by definition, could not go as planned. Setting up their laser scanner deep in the woods, they captured low rolling clouds of mist as digital blurs haunting the landscape; moving ice floes scanned from a ship north of the Arctic Circle took shape in their hard drives as overlapping labyrinths on the verge of illegibility, as if the horizon of the world itself had begun to buckle. These first projects, commissioned by organizations like the BBC and Greenpeace, have since blossomed into a new approach: mapping London through the robot eyes of a self-­driving car.

One of the most significant uses of 3-D scanning in the years to come will not be by humans at all but by autonomous vehicles. Cars are already learning to drive themselves, by way of scanner-­assisted braking, pedestrian-­detection sensors, parallel-­parking support, lane-­departure warnings and other complex driver-­assistance systems, and full autonomy is on the horizon. Google’s self-­driving cars have logged more than a million miles on public roads; Elon Musk of Tesla says he’ll probably have a driverless passenger car by 2018; and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers says autonomous vehicles ‘‘will account for up to 75 percent of cars on the road by the year 2040.’’ Driver-­controlled cars remade the world in the last century, and there is good reason to expect that driverless cars will remake it again in the century to come: Gridlock could become extinct as cars steer themselves along a cooperatively evolving lacework of alternative routes, like information traversing the Internet. With competing robot cars just a smartphone ­tap away, the need for street parking could evaporate, freeing up as much as a third of the entire surface area of some major American cities. And as distracted drivers are replaced by unblinking machines, roads could become safer for everyone.

But all of that depends on cars being able to navigate the built environment. The cars now being tested by Google, BMW, Ford and others all see by way of a particular kind of scanning system called lidar (a portmanteau of ‘‘light’’ and ‘‘radar’’). A lidar scanner sends out tiny bursts of illumination invisible to the human eye, almost a million every second, that bounce off every building, object and person in the area. This undetectable machine-­flicker is ‘‘capturing’’ extremely detailed, millimeter-­scale measurements of the surrounding environment, far more accurate than anything achievable by the human eye. Capturing resembles photography, but it operates volumetrically, producing a complete three-­dimensional model of a scene. The extreme accuracy of lidar lends it an air of infallible objectivity; a clean scan of a stationary structure can be so precise that nonprofit organizations like CyArk have been using lidar as a tool for archaeological preservation in conflict zones, hoping to capture at-­risk sites of historical significance before they are destroyed.

Lidar, however, has its own flaws and vulnerabilities. It can be thrown off by reflective surfaces or inclement weather, by mirrored glass or the raindrops of a morning thunderstorm. As the first wave of autonomous vehicles emerges, engineers are struggling with the complex, even absurd, circumstances that constitute everyday street life. Consider the cyclist in Austin, Tex., who found himself caught in a bizarre standoff with one of Google’s self-­driving cars. Having arrived at a four-­way stop just seconds after the car, the cyclist ceded his right of way. Rather than coming to a complete halt, however, he performed a track stand, inching back and forth without putting his feet on the ground. Paralyzed with indecision, the car mirrored the cyclist’s own movements — jerking forward and stopping, jerking forward and stopping — unsure if the cyclist was about to enter the intersection. As the cyclist later wrote in an online forum, ‘‘two guys inside were laughing and punching stuff into a laptop, I guess trying to modify some code to ‘teach’ the car something about how to deal with the situation.’’

Illah Nourbakhsh, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University and author of the book ‘‘Robot Futures,’’ uses the metaphor of the perfect storm to describe an event so strange that no amount of programming or image-­recognition technology can be expected to understand it. Imagine someone wearing a T-­shirt with a stop sign printed on it, he told me. ‘‘If they’re outside walking, and the sun is at just the right glare level, and there’s a mirrored truck stopped next to you, and the sun bounces off that truck and hits the guy so that you can’t see his face anymore — well, now your car just sees a stop sign. The chances of all that happening are diminishingly small — it’s very, very unlikely — but the problem is we will have millions of these cars. The very unlikely will happen all the time.’’

The sensory limitations of these vehicles must be accounted for, Nourbakhsh explained, especially in an urban world filled with complex architectural forms, reflective surfaces, unpredictable weather and temporary construction sites. This means that cities may have to be redesigned, or may simply mutate over time, to accommodate a car’s peculiar way of experiencing the built environment. The flip side of this example is that, in these brief moments of misinterpretation, a different version of the urban world exists: a parallel landscape seen only by machine-­sensing technology in which objects and signs invisible to human beings nevertheless have real effects in the operation of the city. If we can learn from human misperception, perhaps we can also learn something from the delusions and hallucinations of sensing machines. But what?

All of the glares, reflections and misunderstood signs that Nourbakhsh warned about are exactly what ScanLAB now seeks to capture. Their goal, Shaw said, is to explore ‘‘the peripheral vision of driverless vehicles,’’ or what he calls ‘‘the sideline stuff,’’ the overlooked edges of the city that autonomous cars and their unblinking scanners will ‘‘perpetually, accidentally see.’’ By deliberately disabling certain aspects of their scanner’s sensors, ScanLAB discovered that they could tweak the equipment into revealing its overlooked artistic potential. While a self-­driving car would normally use corrective algorithms to account for things like long periods stuck in traffic, Trossell and Shaw instead let those flaws accumulate. Moments of inadvertent information density become part of the resulting aesthetic.

The London that their work reveals is a landscape of aging monuments and ornate buildings, but also one haunted by duplications and digital ghosts. The city’s double-­decker buses, scanned over and over again, become time-­stretched into featureless mega-­structures blocking whole streets at a time. Other buildings seem to repeat and stutter, a riot of Houses of Parliament jostling shoulder to shoulder with themselves in the distance. Workers setting out for a lunchtime stroll become spectral silhouettes popping up as aberrations on the edge of the image. Glass towers unravel into the sky like smoke. Trossell calls these ‘‘mad machine hallucinations,’’ as if he and Shaw had woken up some sort of Frankenstein’s monster asleep inside the automotive industry’s most advanced imaging technology.

ScanLAB’s project suggests that humans are not the only things now sensing and experiencing the modern landscape — that something else is here, with an altogether different, and fundamentally inhuman, perspective on the built environment. If the conceptual premise of the Romantic Movement can somewhat hastily be described as the experience and documentation of extreme landscapes — as an art of remote mountain peaks, abyssal river valleys and vast tracts of uninhabited land — then ScanLAB is suggesting that a new kind of Romanticism is emerging through the sensing packages of autonomous machines. While artists once traveled great distances to see sights of sublimity and grandeur, equally wondrous and unsettling scenes can now be found within the means of travel itself. As we peer into the algorithmic dreams of these vehicles, we are perhaps also being given the first glimpse of what’s to come when they awake.

The Dream Life of Driverless Cars

The Dream Life of Driverless Cars

The Cars to Watch for at the Los Angeles Auto Show

rolls-royce-ghost-wraith-coupe

The Cars to Watch for at the Los Angeles Auto Show

Look for new Porsches, the Jaguar SUV, and the new, re-vamped Camaro.

Next week, thousands of executives from the world’s biggest car companies will descend on a downtown convention center for the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show.

More than 4,000 journalists from around the world will meet them there, primed with questions about growth markets, sales estimates, and how the Volkswagen diesel scandal will affect them.

There will also be hundreds of new cars, including 30 world debuts for 2016.

Expect to see such things as Mercedes-Benz’s 2017 SL Roadster, the snarling update to Merc’s most aggressive production car on the road; Jaguar’s novel F-PACE SUV, which after years of development has finally come to market; and BMW’s manic M4 GTS, the high-performance version of its already race-ready M4.

The Jaguar F-Pace SUV at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

The Jaguar F-Pace SUV at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

Los Angeles debuts in recent years haven’t typically been as crazy as the concepts we see in Tokyo, and they lack the glamour that automakers reserve for many of their Geneva and Paris unveilings. In fact, such super-elite brands as Ferrari and McLaren have said they won’t bring any new cars to LA.

Bentley will show its Bentayga, and Rolls-Royce will show its Dawn and Wraith models, but those two are keeping their involvement to a minimum. Maserati will not debut any brand new product, and Bugatti and Alfa Romeo are staying mum.

These niche brands find it far more effective to reach core buyers by hosting secret parties in multimillion-dollar estates up in the hills than by hosting booths at a glorified trade show.

The Rolls-Royce Dawn at Frankfurt.

The Rolls-Royce Dawn at Frankfurt.

Lamborghini won’t be at the show, per se, but a spokesman said it will unveil “something very exciting” at a private party Tuesday night. Rumor has it that the automaker will bring a rear-wheel-drive version of its 2016 Huracán—if so, this will be a limited-production, lightweight version that will cost slightly more than the standard Huracán and go on sale as early as next year.

Still, this show falls before the one in Detroit, so it offers many Americans a first chance to examine models they’ve heard about and seen photographs of since the summer. The LA show allows many automakers to unveil the models that will drive the bulk of their U.S. sales.

Look for some to emphasize their progressive efficiency: BMW will show an eDrive 330e plug-in hybrid, along with the much-anticipated 7-Series, while Lambo’s standard 2016 Huracan has improved efficiency. Others will bring their best little SUVs to date, including the Cadillac XT5, Range Rover Evoque Convertible, Mercedes GLS, BMW X1, and Infiniti QX30.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible

The 2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible has a 240-horsepower, four-cylinder engine.

Audi will emphasize performance with its R8, RS 7, and S8 Plus, which are all aggressively tuned performance models. Porsche will do the same with its 911 Targa 4 and 4S and with its track-ready 911 GT4 ClubSport.

Oh, and Chevrolet will show us the brand-new Camaro. Yum.

The show will open to the public on Nov. 20 and run until Nov. 29. You can buy tickets to the Nov. 19 preview party here.

Bloomberg Businessweek

The Cars to Watch for at the Los Angeles Auto Show

The best electric cars on the road

Gasoline! It’s expensive, flammable, inefficient, and terrible for the planet. Make your next car the kind that drinks electrons instead of petrol.

Nissan Leaf | Best Compact
As the EV market has matured in recent years, we’ve gotten more cars that blend in with the pack. But if you want everyone to know you’re riding on Zeus power, the ever-funky Nissan Leaf is the way to go. The popular electric can ride 84 miles on a charge, typical for a non-Elon electric. And government incentives mean you can get a new one for $2,400 down and $199 a month, for 36 months. If you want the electric power without the stares, wait for next year’s revamped Leaf, reportedly coming with a more mundane look. $29,010

BMW i3 | Best Family
Munich’s urban electric doesn’t look like a BMW—the exterior resembles a haphazardly designed jigsaw puzzle—but it sure drives like one. The engine puts out 170 horsepower, and the car’s 2,700 pounds (thanks, carbon fiber–reinforced plastic body!) are perfectly distributed between the front and rear axles for optimal handling. Sans the gas-burning range extender, the 22-kWh battery’s good for 81 miles, and suicide doors make it easy to pack your stuff, or two kids, into the backseat. Too bad it’s only for sale in select (mostly coastal) cities. $42,400

Tesla Model S P90D | Best Performance
If you’re looking to burn cash, not gas, there’s nothing better than the P90D, the fastest, most capable version of Tesla’s Model S sedan to date. Two motors and a 90-kWh battery pack give it 300 miles of range and a supercar-quick 0-to-60-mph time of 2.8 seconds. Throw in sexy styling, a 17-inch infotainment screen, room for seven people, plus an autopilot setup that does some highway driving, and you can’t beat this EV. $108,000

The best electric cars on the road