Category Archives: cars

The Auto Industry Prepares For A Big Change In Direction

Which direction will the auto industry take?

If you follow auto sales, you know two things about how they’ve been doing recently. They boomed the past couple of years, but they’ve started to trail off this year.

That’s no surprise. The auto industry is a cyclical business. But, there’s a growing awareness that the automotive landscape is changing, and even people who produce cars for a living may not realize what is heading their way.

That’s a conclusion from a new report by AlixPartners, the strategic planning and consulting firm used by major companies worldwide. Some of AlixPartners’ experts were involved in advising the Obama Administration about the  bailout of the auto industry, back in 2009, so it’s a prestigious name.

There’s an all-new automotive ecosystem developing, and I fear that many players really aren’t prepared for it,” says John Hoffecker, global vice chairman at AlixPartners. “The changes coming are the biggest since the internal-combustion engine pushed aside horses and buggies.”

But, Hoffecker also says the changes are as unpredictable as “trying to guess which app is going to be most popular on next year’s smartphones.”

I spent some time reading the report this past week, and these things jumped out at me.

New ideas and competition

Five years ago, Tesla was a curiosity, a billionaire’s pet project promising to produce ultra-luxury electric cars. Now, Tesla is one of the most valuable brands in the automobile industry and it just built the first Model 3, the moderately priced electric car it wants to sell to the masses.

Tesla’s rise shows just how fast things are moving in the industry and the influence that an outsider can have. To give it some perspective, five years is the length of a car company’s production cycle, the number of years that a model is generally on the market before a major change.

AlixPartners says there are now 50 companies competing to produce autonomous vehicle systems. It’s a “wild west” atmosphere that the industry hasn’t seen in more than a century, when there were dozens of car companies in the U.S. and around the world. Continue reading

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Filed under car sharing, cars, cities, Driving, economy, ride sharing

My Transportation Diet: Getting Around By Bus And Bike In Des Moines

This week, Curbing Cars inaugurates a new feature called My Transportation Diet. We’re asking our audience to tell us how they get around where they live and work.

First up is Michael Leland, who is the News Director of Iowa Public Radio. He lives in Des Moines.

“My transportation habits are a little of several things.  I live about a half-mile from my office in Des Moines, so it takes me about 10 minutes to walk to work.  I’ve mostly walked to work for the last two jobs I’ve had over the last 10 years.

I drive if I need to do something after work, like grocery shop.

I live a couple of blocks from a commercial district, so a coffee shop, my bank, and several restaurants and bars are all within a 15 minute walk from my home.

I live close enough to downtown (20-25 minutes) to walk to things like the library, barber, farmer’s market, church, etc., though sometimes I take a free circulator bus into downtown from the office, and then walk home.

I mostly use my car for errands like grocery shopping and other weekend needs.  Sadly, the downtown area in Des Moines doesn’t have stores like Target, PetsMart, and other major retailers, so I need my car for those.

I do some errands by bike,  but Des Moines is sort of behind the curve in developing a good system of bike routes and lanes.  I would do more if that was the case.”

We’d love to feature you in My Transportation Diet. Send us your story at curbingcars@gmail.com. We’d welcome your photos and video, too.

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Filed under bicycling, cars, cities, Driving, My Transportation Diet, public transportation

What’s Your Transportation Diet?

Summer is underway, and we’d like to hear from you. What is your transportation diet these days?

How would you describe your mix of personal transportation? Do you primarily drive, walk, or use public transportation? How often do you bike, use a skateboard or even get around by boat or plane?

Perhaps things change depending on your schedule. For instance, you drive in one or two days a week, and share a ride the rest of the time. Or, you’ll only drive if you have an early meeting. Let us know.

Knowing how you get around will help us frame our future coverage. We want to know whether our audience is relying on cars, buses, streetcars, their two feet, etc.

We’ll publish your responses and we’d love it if you’d include a photo of a video of your commute or leisure travel.

Please tell us your name (not a screen name, please) where you live, and if there are any roads you regularly take (for instance, Interstate 96, Milwaukee Avenue, Canal Street, and so on) or transportation systems that you regularly use, like the New York subway, the Boston T or rapid bus lines.

Send comments, photos and videos to curbingcars@gmail.com.

Thanks!

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Filed under bicycling, cars, cities, Driving, Travel, walking

Ford’s CEO Is Out, But Its Journey To The Future Continues

Among Detroit auto companies, Ford Motor has been the most vocal about the need to adapt to the new future of transportation.

Its executive chairman, Bill Ford Jr., has talked for years about the need to balance transportation modes with protecting the environment. The company has taken office space in a shopping mall near its Dearborn, Mich., world headquarters for an effort to come up with new ideas.

Unfortunately, its investors have not been convinced Ford was moving fast enough. Ford shares have fallen nearly 40 percent since 2014. And now, that perception has cost CEO Mark Fields his job.

Ford announced Monday that Fields will be replaced by James Hackett, who has been in charge of Ford Smart Mobility, the new division that is tasked with the company’s efforts on self-driving cars, ride sharing and everything to do with mobility.

The swift action, which was barely rumored for a week, puts mobility front and center among Ford’s priorities.

Under the old rules by which car companies played, Fields should have had a solid grip on the company’s operations. Ford, like other Detroit carmakers, has enjoyed recent record profits based on strong sales of pickups and sport utility vehicles. It even posted a $2 billion profit last year in Europe, long a sore spot.

But the old rules are no longer how car companies are judged. The competition is no longer between Detroit, Tokyo, Korea and Germany. The Americans have to prove they can keep up with Silicon Valley companies, such as Google, Apple and especially Tesla, which has become a darling of the technology world for its electric vehicles.  Continue reading

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Filed under cars, Driving, mobility

States Are Rushing To Raise Gas Taxes. Will That Be A Federal Solution, Too?

Atlanta’s crumbling freeways. Photo via ABC News.

America’s infrastructure is crumbling, sending states scrambling for ways to fund the rebuilding of their worn highway systems. Increasing the gas tax is a perennial solution, and now, it is getting attention from the White House.

The federal government levies an excise tax of 18.4 cents per gallon of unleaded fuel and 24 cents on diesel fuel. States gas taxes vary from state to state, but range from a fraction of a cent to more than 50 cents on each gallon.

The federal gas tax is not indexed to reflect inflation. It has not gone up since 1993, although inflation has risen by 64.6 percent.

On May 2, President Donald Trump suggested the possibility of a federal gas tax increase in an interview with Bloomberg.

“(I’ve) had the truckers come to see me, that if we earmarked money toward the highways that they would — that they would not mind a tax — you know, gas tax or some form of tax,” Trump told Bloomberg.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. has $836 billion in needed repairs and improvements to roads and bridges, plus an additional $90 billion needed to fix public transit systems, the AP reported.

A dozen states join the push

On Jan. 1, six states implemented higher gas taxes, including Pennsylvania, which raised its state tax on gas by about 8 cents per callon to 58.3 cents per gallon, and Michigan, which raised its state gas tax 7.3 cents to 26.3 cents per gallon. Nebraska, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, also raised their state gas taxes, according to Forbes.

Michigan also increased registration fees on electric cars, to counter for their lower gas consumption. California will implement a similar measure in November, along with a higher gas tax.

So far this year, five more states have raised gas taxes, and increases are up for debate in more state legislatures.

The gas tax isn’t generally a divided issue; in many states, bipartisan support is garnered for the proposals. Traditionally red states, such as Tennessee and South Carolina, have passed gas tax increases since Jan. 1. Continue reading

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Filed under cars, infrastructure, Uncategorized

Presenting: The Curbing Cars Podcast

From Tucson to Kansas City, Denver to Detroit, it’s been a busy summer for transportation news.

Here, in our inaugural Curbing Cars podcast, Mark Remillard and I look at some of the stories he’s covered. They include:

Tucson’s new light-rail system, the Sun Link.

The Denver-based study showing that more bikes can actually be good for city safety.

The challenge posed to cities by parking craters.

Take a listen, and share it with  your friends.

Would you like to hear more episodes of the Curbing Cars Podcast? Take our survey.

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Filed under bicycling, bike sharing, cars, cities, Curbing Cars, public transportation, Rail, urban planning

Americans Optimistic Yet Skeptical About Self-Driving Cars

A new study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute shows Americans seem optimistic  about, yet are skeptical of autonomous cars.

The study surveyed more than 1,500 people who are 18 years or older in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia and found that Americans had a much more positive view on self-driving cars than those in the U.K. or Australia.

Respondents in the U.S. came back with a 22 percent “very positive” outlook on the possibly of self-driving cars, while in the U.K. that number was much lower, only 13.9 percent, and Australia came in at 16.2. The rest of the responses fell relatively evenly between the three countries as the outlook continued downward all the way to “very negative.”

So while the United States might have a population of people who are very excited about self-driving cars, it also seems to be the most skeptical about their benefits.

When asked whether respondents thought self-driving cars would reduce crashes, 10 percent of U.S. respondents said it was very unlikely, while only 7.2 percent felt that way in the U.K. and 6.3 in Australia. Furthermore, U.S. respondents also had more skeptics on whether self-driving cars would reduce the severity of crashes. 10.4 percent of Americans found it very unlikely the cars would reduce severity, versus 6.5 and 6.3 percent in the U.K. and Australian respectively.

Americans were also more skeptical about how much cost benefit self-driving cars would provide, finding that 18.6 percent felt autonomous cars would drive up insurance rates. Only 14 percent in the U.K. felt self-driving cars wouldn’t lower rates and 16.4 percent agreed in Australia.

While the technology for self-driving cars continues to develop and may soon be seen on roadway, Americans might have difficulty relinquishing full control to computers  as 60.1 percent of respondents they were very concerned about riding in a vehicle with no driver controls.

Further, more than 50 percent said they were very concerned about self-driving vehicles getting confused by unexpected situations and about safety consequences of equipment or system failures.

 

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Filed under cars, Uncategorized

Citizens Of Chicago Seeking More Speeding Tickets

It’s quite rare when citizens are begging police officers to hand out more speeding tickets. But that’s exactly what happened this week at a citizen comment meeting in Chicago about how to fix up a seven-mile stretch of Lake Shore Drive, according to the Sun-Times.

Ctizens urged police to start dealing with an out of control speeding situation, the Sun-Times reports. Staggering numbers of drivers along the drive are speeding as they enter and exit the city. According to the Sun-Times, “During the week, 95 percent of drivers headed out of the city and 78 percent of the those traveling into the city are speeding — some by as much as 30 mph over the 40 mph speed limit.”

That has encouraged even residents of the area to ask for more enforcement of speed along Lake Shore Drive.

“Get those cops out there and give tons of tickets,’’ said resident Steve Kungis to the Sun-Times. “It’s a revenue pool right there, just waiting to happen.’’ Continue reading

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Filed under cars, cities, Driving

Good Holiday News: NASA Images Show Big Drop In Air Pollution

sequence

Courtesy of Popular Science

People will be out this weekend enjoying the holiday, and they literally can breathe easier. New satellite images from NASA show a drastic decrease in air pollution across the United States over the last decade.

Popular Science published the images last week. They focus on a pollutant called nitrogen dioxide that can cause respiratory problems and help form more ozone, “which is an irritant and pollutant at ground level.”

According to the images from NASA, it’s believed the improvement in air quality is from the improvement of fuel efficiency in cars and the scaling back of pollutants from coal power plants. Popular Science writes the reduction in pollutions goes all the way back to the 1990s after the Clean Air Act Amendment, but since 2000 there has been a roughly 50 percent decrease in levels of nitrogen dioxide.

newyork

Courtesy of Popular Science

The harshest levels of nitrogen dioxide are still centered over the major metropolitan areas of the country, where roughly 142 million people in U.S. live, according to Popular Science.

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Filed under cars, cities, Uncategorized

Mayors Of Atlanta And New Orleans Say Uber Will Win

On the heels of large Uber protests across Europe, The Atlantic reports the mayors of Atlanta and New Orleans believe Uber will eventually beat out the taxi companies. There’s one more thing the two mayors agree on:  it will be a long and bitter battle between the two.

Calling it a 15-round fight, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said he thinks Uber will eventually force taxi companies to alter their business model. Reed told The Atlantic, “In the interim, they’re going to flat out fight it out … because the taxicab industry is so old and staid and never had real competition, and now it’s being forced to innovate.”

The only reservation Reed seemed to express about Uber is its rapid growth and the question of where the company, and its quality, will be a few years down the road. 

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu echoed similar concerns about the company’s political skills, but called Uber’s business model superior to taxi companies. Continue reading

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Filed under car sharing, cars, cities, Driving, laws, ride sharing, Uncategorized