The First Recorded Crash Involving Tesla’s Autopilot Feature and Why It Is So Important

While I know that this crash has been highly publicized in the past few days, I find it only fitting that I should publish a blog post on this.

On May 7, in Williston, Florida, a fatal accident occurred. While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to many, it should It doesn’t matter that the deceased driver of a Tesla Model S became one of the 3,287 daily deaths from automotive crashes every day. It certainly doesn’t make it any easier to digest.

This incident was the first self-driving car death on record. Between Tesla’s extensive testing of the semi-autonomous Autopilot feature, and owners’ use of the feature, there are 130 million miles of Autopilot being used.

The fatal accident occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn at an intersection without a traffic light in front of the Tesla. The driver, Joshua Brown, died of injuries sustained in the wreck.

Tesla published a blog post saying that the Model S was travelling on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when the tractor-trailer crossed its path.

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S. Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.”

Tesla went onto say that they were saddened by the loss of Brown, who was a “friend to Tesla and the broader EV community,” as well as stating that the risk of injury will decrease as Autopilot gets better over time, as it is currently in a public beta stage. Whenever Autopilot is engaged, a warning is displayed to remind the driver that the technology is in public beta and that the driver should have both hands on the wheel at all times, in the event of an emergency such as this.

Per company policy, Tesla notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when they heard of the incident. NHTSA has since launched an investigation into the crash and Autopilot.

The AP (Associated Press) reports that the driver of the truck, Frank Baressi, says that he heard a “Harry Potter” movie playing in the Tesla following the crash, however he was not able to see where it was coming from. NHTSA investigators do not believe it was playing on the massive infotainment screen in the Tesla (which would require hacking into the operating system of the car). However, the report does state that a portable DVD player was found in the car following the crash, but it is unclear whether it was playing at the time of the crash.

Baressi could face charges for making an unsafe maneuver, but he claims that he was unable to see the Model S, as it was travelling at a high rate of speed. It appears that Baressi failed to yield to the right-of-way when making a left turn, especially in something large and heavy enough that he could not accelerate quickly enough to get out of the way.

It is understandable to me why Tesla, ever the perfectionist, would not want to release Autopilot as a final product just yet. To me, Tesla should not have named Autopilot as such. It implies that the car can fully drive itself without ANY control from the driver (it can do about 75% of that).

The co-developer of the Autopilot technology used in the Model S, Mobileye, said that the technology was not designed for such circumstances. The automatic emergency braking feature built into Autopilot is specifically designed to avoid rear-end collisions, and the incident was one that it could not have prevented. Mobileye went onto say that by 2018, there will be a Lateral Turn Across Path detection capability in it’s systems, and said feature will be included as part of the Euro NCAP safety ratings in 2020.

While we will have to wait for the official NHTSA report to come out, we can only speculate. Here’s my two cents:

This was a clear case of user error. Whether Brown was watching Harry Potter at the time of the crash or not, he obviously did not see Baressi’s tractor-trailer pulling out in front of him. It doesn’t matter how fast he was going – the crash would have likely happened regardless. That’s not to say that speed wasn’t a factor in the crash. If Brown had been going slower (the speed he was travelling is not currently released to the public), he might be alive. Baressi clearly did not see the Model S, or he would not have made the turn.

2016 Tesla Model S

Why Europe Should Be Worried About the Runaway Success of the Ford Mustang

The 2016 Ford Mustang is a great car, especially in the supercar-slaying GT350/GT350R form. It’s relatively fast, affordable, and can be easily modified. It turns out that the Yankee muscle car is now the most popular sports car in Germany. Why should they be worried?

In March, the Ford Mustang outsold the Porsche 911, Porsche Cayman and Boxster, and the Audi TT. It’s not that it’s inexpensive in Germany – a Mustang GT with no options costs about 50,000 Euros, while it costs $32,395 here in the U.S.

The Internet loves to trash talk the typical Mustang owner. A spike in high-profile crashes at car club meets doesn’t help with the Mustang’s PR either.

One of the problems that I have found about the Mustang is that the 1979 “Fox body” Mustang and it’s immediate successors were immensely popular and somehow durable. What does that mean? There’s a ton of them around, and used Mustangs are cheap horsepower. In 1979, there was a Dodge Challenger, which was a re-badged Mitsubishi Galant Coupe intended for the Japanese domestic market. The Challenger/Galant had a lifespan of five years at most, so it’s safe to say that your microwave has some Mitsubishi DNA in it!

Because the Mustang is so inexpensive, various misconceptions about the Mustang are out there. There’s nothing like a Porsche 911 or BMW M3 owner looking down on your ragged-looking Mustang GT with a set of Bilstein coilover shocks on it. Those owners have nothing better to do than look down at the lowly Mustang owner. Show up to a track day in a brand-new Mustang GT, and you’ll hear this kind of trash talk: the Mustang is heavy, it wallows, it doesn’t turn or stop very well, the rear end is uncontrollable, and you’re going to end up taking somebody else out when you spin. None of that is really true.

While the Mustang isn’t exactly light, the GT350R comes within 100 pounds of the BMW M4, a direct competitor to the GT350R. The steering in the GT350R is, according to pro race car drivers, worlds better than the M4. Don’t like the way it stops, even with the available massive Brembo brakes? That’s OK; the aftermarket will give you brakes that are IMSA (endurance racing) spec for less than half the cost of a single Porsche 911 GT3’s brake disc. You can walk into any Ford dealer, walk out with a Mustang in 45 minutes, and have a ton of fun. The GT350 (non-R model) is in a league of it’s own among four-seat performance cars. What about the Mustang being a tail-happy crash magnet? Well, the previous generation is notorious for that. It has a live rear axle, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Conestoga wagon, and couple that with 400+ horsepower, a driver who doesn’t know how to handle that much horsepower, and you know where I’m going. It’s mostly due to user error that there are so many Mustangs crashing. There have been a good deal of BMW M4 crashes as well. Trust me, it’s the same thing with Porsches.

If you haven’t driven a Mustang in a while, or your opinions are based on the old Mustangs with the live rear axle, I strongly encourage you to go down to the local Ford dealer and take a Mustang for a test drive. Any Mustang will do. Your expectations will be shattered.

Inside the Mustang, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The fit and finish holds up against whatever Germany and Japan have to offer. The interior is both classic and modern. The seats hold you in a bear hug, but are incredibly comfortable for any person. The infotainment systems are easy-to-use, and you’ll never really want more out of them. You’ll get plenty of feedback from the steering wheel, and all of the controls feel like Ford pulled them out of an Audi.

While the Mustang might be a large car, it feels perfectly comfortable on small back roads. You know exactly where the car is, what it’s doing, and how much gas you can give it. The overall driving experience feels like something Mercedes-Benz and Audi would co-develop. The only real differences between any current Mustang and a BMW 4-Series are the high door sills in the Mustang…and the availability of a manual transmission with every engine!

But, don’t take my word for any of this. I’m just an 18-year-old car enthusiast who does all of his automotive homework. Just ask any German car enthusiast. Clearly there’s something amazing about the Mustang, or there’d be a spike in Audi TT sales. Don’t get me wrong – all of the major automotive magazines have given rave reviews of the TT. It’s just you get a whole lot more car for the money out of the Mustang. Even in it’s home country, the Porsche 911, Cayman, Boxster, or BMW M4 is a rare sight. Why? Because they’re really expensive to buy and maintain. While it’s true that the Porsche 911 GT3RS will leave the Mustang (and most cars) far behind at any race track, the 911 GT3RS is a very rare and expensive sighting.

Of course, most German car enthusiasts will say that this article is a load of garbage. Why? Because the March sales are an “isolated incident.” It’s just inventory availability, rebates, and the same occasional fascination with American novelty that sends so many European tourists to the U.S. to ride rental Harley-Davidson motorcycles along Route 66. But, what if it’s not an isolated incident? What if it’s a perfectly reliable indicator of things to come?

After all, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi have spent the past 15 years engineering any semblance of character and authentic heritage out of their vehicles. The same industry that introduced so many to wonderful cars like the air-cooled Porsche 911, the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, the E39 BMW M5, the Audi Quattro, the E30 BMW M3, the AMG Hammer, and the Porsche 944, has abandoned those wonderful examples for 5000-pound SUVs making gobs of horsepower from high-tech twin-turbocharged engines, put down to the ground through fragile AWD drivetrains, all controlled by hundreds of pounds of self-destructive electronics meant to save them from doing just that.

Let’s imagine that this isn’t just an isolated incident. Maybe the Germans are tired of driving expensive, self-destructive, massive transportation pods. They want something that reminds them of their dad’s AMG Hammer, their grandpa’s Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, their uncle’s Audi Quattro. They want something different. Something real. The Mustang will continue to sell in droves. Soon, the mighty roar and scream of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat will be heard across the Atlantic on the last unrestricted sections of the Autobahn. Trails once populated by Nissan Patrols and Mercedes-Benz G-Classes will be filled to capacity with Jeep Wrangler Rubicons. You’ll hear the bellowing shriek of the Corvette Z06 at the Nurburgring and the Hockenheimring. What’s that massive hulking truck taking up the tiny country road? Is it really a Ford F-250?

OK, I’m going to start to wrap this up. What does this all mean? No matter what happens, there is a very important lesson to be heard. American automakers got lazy during the late 1970s through the late 1980s. This in turn allowed German automakers to bring us incredible cars. Can you imagine picking a Lincoln Versailles over a BMW 528i, or picking a Cadillac DeVille over a Cosworth-powered Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 (2.3 is the engine size in liters, 16 is the number of valves)?

If German car enthusiasts are buying a Ford Mustang over a BMW M4 or a Porsche Cayman, that should be a message ringing loud and clear in automotive executive boardrooms all over Europe. The last time something like this happened, it was in 1989 with the Lexus LS400. That sent BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Lincoln scrambling back to their drawing boards. In turn, that gave us such gems as the BMW 740i, a wonderful crisp, clean cruiser plagued by electronic maladies, and the Lincoln Town Car, which was a great car held back by the fact that it had a horrific drivetrain. The Lexus LS400 also inspired hideous cars like the early 1990s version of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which had so many electrical problems it was a miracle if the door opened.

It seems like it might be America’s turn. The German Big Three put peanut butter on their homework and gave it to their dog. America did the same thing 30 years ago, but they have made massive strides with their cars.

All of this is not to say that the BMW M4, Porsche 911, Cayman, Boxster, and Audi TT are horrible cars. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They are all incredible performance cars that many of us would love to own, or at least go for a spirited drive in. This is a golden age of automotive performance, and the performance cars put out by various manufacturers (American or otherwise) are fantastic.

 

Robert De Niro is Going to Play Enzo Ferrari!

The legendary Hollywood actor, Robert De Niro, star of several blockbuster films, is going to play Enzo Ferrari in an upcoming biopic of one of the most legendary people in the automotive industry.

De Niro announced that this film will take top priority.  Production is expected to begin soon.  De Niro said, “It is an honor and a joy to tell the life of an extraordinary man who revolutionized the automotive world.”

De Niro will play the legendary Italian, whose team has been actively competing since 1929 as Scuderia Ferrari.  Scuderia Ferrari started off running Alfa Romeos, then started building their own cars in 1947.  They have gone on to win an incredible 16 Formula 1 Constructor’s titles since 1950.  They have also won 15 Driver’s titles, 222 races, and you get the point.  They know their stuff.

The film is going to be produced by former photographer Gianni Bozzacchi, owner of Triworld Cinema, and will work with De Niro’s Tribeca Enterprises company.

According to Bozzacchi in an interview with the Italian newspaper, Il Messaggero, “The film will be titled Ferrari and will be based on an epic story.  It will have a high budget and will cover a wide span – from 1945 to the eighties in a twisted game of eras and episodes.”

Robert De Niro isn’t the only big name working on this film, as Clint Eastwood has been approached to direct the film.  Bozzacchi claims that Eastwood was “very interested” but wanted to read the script.  It is unclear as to whether Eastwood read the script or not.

The writers of Oliver Stone’s Nixon, Steven Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson, also have links to the movie.

The film is expected to hit theaters in 2016.  I can’t wait to see it!  Look for a review of it as soon as it hits the big screen!