Autopilot Isn’t Making This Any Easier

Autopilot just ranked sixth in a comprehensive review of driver assistance systems, in part because it’s not particularly good at “assisting” the driver. All that and more in The Morning Shift for October 1, 2020.


1st Gear: Autopilot Limits ‘Co-Operative Driving,’ Says Test

Euro NCAP, kind of like the IIHS over there, just put out a report on driver-assistance systems. This is the sort of thing that Tesla should ace, but apparently not! Euro NCAP rated the Model 3 in sixth, behind such cars as the Mercedes GLE and Ford Kuga. (We get that as the Escape.)

Now, I’ve driven a Mercedes with driver-assistance tech and it was like having a distracted teen take the wheel, so I was surprised any Benz could rank above a Tesla. Here’s Euro NCAP’s report, though:

Tesla’s system name Autopilot is inappropriate as it suggests full automation. The promotional material suggests automation where the handbook correctly indicates the limitations of the system capabilities, which could lead to confusion. Status information is clear, but the Model 3 does not offer a head-up display showing the system status in the driver’s direct line of sight. While the Tesla is equipped with an internal camera, it is not used for Driver Monitoring relying only on steering wheel input for driver engagement. The system resists driver steering input and then disengages, limiting co-operative driving.

Tesla uses map-based speed limit information on highways to manage changes on highways but responds to variable and temporary speed limit signs only on urban roads. The system adapts speed for upcoming road features such as curves and junctions. The Model 3 responds to avoid a collision in all the ACC test scenarios and requires AEB interventions only in the most critical cut-in and cut-out tests. The driver is supported through the S-Bend, staying centred in the lane at all test speeds. The vehicle has an Active Blindspot system designed to prevent lane changing into adjacent vehicles. A lane-change assist function is also provided. In case of an unresponsive driver, the Tesla performs a controlled stop in lane. If the radar or camera are blocked the Model 3 provides a timely warning and prevents system activation.

The Tesla Model 3 excels in the level of Vehicle Assistance but fails to balance that high level of support with a similar level of Driver Engagement leading to possible overreliance. Euro NCAP tested the latest version of AutoPilot available at the time of testing. Tesla can improve the functionality of the system remotely by over-the-air software updates.

To sum that up, Tesla misleads the driver in how much “autopilot” can do, and the system resists your own steering inputs right up until it requires you to take control. It leads you on, then cuts you off. Not great.

I often wonder, motoring down the highway passing texting driver after texting driver, if they’d all be better off with a Tesla managing the driving for them, even poorly. I’m still not so sure.


2nd Gear: Tesla Is Passing The Savings On To You

I will say this of Tesla, it is giving its Chinese customers a break. Tesla has started making batteries over there, meant to be cheaper than the ones it gets elsewhere, and now Chinese Teslas equipped with those cheaper batteries have themselves gotten cheaper, as Bloomberg reports:

Tesla Inc. launched its first Model 3 sedan that people with knowledge of the matter said is equipped with cheaper, Chinese-made batteries, allowing it to cut the cost of cars and boost sales in the world’s largest electric-vehicle market.

The mass-market Model 3s will sell for 249,900 yuan ($36,800) after government subsidies, bringing the starting price of Tesla’s basic model down by almost 10%. The car will have a range of 468 kilometers (291 miles) on one charge.


Tesla’s new powertrains are expected to include a cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery made by Ningde, Fujian-based Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd., the people familiar said, asking not to be identified because those details are private.


The vehicles produced at Tesla’s Shanghai plant have thus far used nickel-cobalt batteries made by Panasonic Corp. of Japan and South Korea’s LG Chem Ltd. Cobalt is expensive because about half of the world’s supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where long-standing corruption and governance issues are compounded by the use of child labor in mining and high taxes on the metal.


3rd Gear: Seattle Rules Uber And Lyft Have To Pay Drivers Minimum Wage

Seattle joins New York in requiring Uber and Lyft to pay app drivers a minimum wage. In the case of Seattle, that means $16/hour, which is a win! It’s a bummer in that, well, you try keeping a household afloat on $16/hr, but it’s something, as the New York Times reports:

The Seattle City Council approved a minimum pay standard for Uber and Lyft drivers on Tuesday, becoming the second city in the country to do so.

Under the law, effective in January, ride-hailing companies must pay a sum roughly equivalent, after expenses, to the city’s $16 minimum hourly wage for businesses with more than 500 employees.


As in New York, the Seattle law will create a formula for minimum compensation for each trip — a combination of per-minute and per-mile rates that are “scaled up” by what is known as the utilization rate, or the fraction of each hour during which drivers have a passenger in their car. The idea is that a lower utilization rate should correspond to a higher per-minute and per-mile rate, to compensate drivers for being less busy.

The formula is intended to produce hourly pay of just under $30 before expenses and to motivate the companies to keep their drivers busier rather than flood the market with cars to reduce passengers’ waits.


It’s also a bummer that this “win” is just getting companies to adhere to existing labor law, but I’ll take all I can get these days.

4th Gear: VW Might Just Sell A Bunch Of Lamborghini

We know that VW is in talks to “rethink” its supercar strategy, as we reported yesterday, reviewing its interest in the high-dollar, high-emissions Bugatti, Ducati, and Lamborghini. A new report today from Reuters suggests Lamborghini may get carved out:

“Volkswagen is in the process of carving out Lamborghini, and to organize future supply and technology transfer deals,” one of the sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The Italian sportscar brand, which is currently a division of Audi, could be partially listed, with Volkswagen retaining a controlling stake, the first person familiar with the talks said.

There is no formal decision to divest Lamborghini, a second person said, adding that the timetable of any deal remained unclear.

“This is a first step which gives VW the option to list the unit further down the line,” the second person told Reuters.


5th Gear: Please Enjoy This NY Times Profile Of Doug

We miss having Doug DeMuro around here, filling our office slack with such bristling stories as “I drove my Aston Martin today and it was fine.” He is off doing bigger and better things now, including his new auction site Cars & Bids, which just got a profile in the New York Times. It’s a nice story on making it, and it also includes a really excellent profile photo.


An excerpt:

Mr. DeMuro’s career had taken a number of turns before reaching this point. While working a corporate job at Porsche Cars North America in Atlanta, he discovered that writing snarky car columns was more compelling. In 2013, Mr. DeMuro left Porsche to pursue his passion, finding bylines at Jalopnik and GQ. He also started creating supplemental YouTube videos. Three years later, he became editor of Autotrader’s blog, Oversteer, before stepping away to pursue Cars & Bids.

“All of those of us who make a living on YouTube are fearful that someday it will come to an end,” Mr. DeMuro said. “And so anyone who is a YouTuber, who is smart, is thinking, ‘How can I leverage this platform for something that’s a little bit more permanent?’”


Read the whole thing, I recommend it.

Reverse: Keep Fighting, Indeed


Neutral: Does Autopilot Make You Feel Safer?

I often find myself turning off driving assistance systems when I’m behind the wheel, but I think I’m an extreme case. I rarely even drive with cruise control. A lot of that comes down to where and how often I drive (rarely commuting on the highway), but I wonder about you. Ever turn Autopilot off?



I really, truly, believe that everyone that’s continually complaining about ‘Autopilot’ being a deceptive name that misleads people is grossly misjudging the people that buy these cars.

They think that the buyers are too stupid to know that the car can’t drive itself without you paying attention.

The owners, on the other hand, continually prove that they understand this concept, but are stupid enough to find ways to override the safety features.

I’m not doubting the stupidity of the owners, but I think it’s misplaced.