Uber's Self-Driving Cars Made It Through 37 Crashes Before Killing Someone

This March 17, 2017, photo shows an Uber self-driving Volvo in Pittsburgh.
Photo: Gene J. Puskar (AP Images)
The Morning ShiftAll your daily car news in one convenient place. Isn't your time more important?

A U.S. agency finds Uber’s self-driving software that led to the fatal Arizona crash last year had “flaws,” pricing for the big Aston Martin DBX is announced, SUVs continue to save BMW and more await you in The Morning Shift for Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019.

1st Gear: Software Flaws

In March of 2018, an Uber self-driving test car struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. As a result, Uber stopped all its self-driving car testing and didn’t start up again until that following December. The National Transportation Safety Board, which has been investigating the company, does not have stellar things to say about Uber’s self-driving software.

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The car that killed Elaine Herzberg while she walked a bicycle across a street at night had “software flaws,” the agency said, according to Reuters. On Nov. 19, the board will meet to decide the probable cause of the crash but released a report before the meeting that claims the Uber self-driving car was unable to correctly identify Herzberg as a pedestrian crossing the street:

“The system design did not include a consideration for jaywalking pedestrians,” NTSB said.

The Uber car also initiated a one-second delay of planned braking while the vehicle calculated an alternative path or the safety driver could take over. Uber has since discontinued that function as part of its software update. NTSB during its investigation it “communicated several safety-relevant issue areas (to Uber) that were uncovered during the course of the investigation.”

In March, prosecutors in Arizona said Uber was not criminally liable in the self-driving crash. Police have investigated whether the safety driver who was behind the wheel and supposed to respond in the event of an emergency should face criminal charges. Police have said the crash was “entirely avoidable” and that the backup driver was watching “The Voice” TV program at the time of the crash.

Additional NTSB findings also say between September 2016 and March 2018, “there were 37 crashes of Uber vehicles in autonomous mode, including 33 that involved another vehicle striking test vehicles.”

In one case, the test car hit a bent bike lane post that was partially in the test car’s lane of travel. In another, the human operator had to physically take back control to avoid an oncoming vehicle that came into its lane of travel. While that collision was thankfully avoided, the vehicle operator instead hit a parked car.

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The fact that a self-driving car lacked adequate software to spot a pedestrian jaywalking speaks volumes to the mindset of the autonomous vehicle industry. In fact, this was the very opinion some chud penned for the New York Times not too long ago. It was a bad a take.

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2nd Gear: That Big Aston Will Cost Big Money

The Aston Martin DBX, the Aston Martin SUV that’s been tooling around in camo paint for the past few months, finally has a price. And it’s high. Color me surprised.

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Pricing for the big Aston will start at $189,900, according to a company press release. That brings it squarely in the price range of the Bentley Bentayga, which starts at $156,900, and the Lamborghini Urus, which starts at $200,000.

The DBX will likely have a 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 that’s been sourced from AMG and puts out 542 horsepower. And I have little doubt in my mind this SUV is aimed squarely for the Chinese market. The global unveiling will take place in Beijing later this month, for crying out loud.

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If you do happen to be in the market for one, don’t forget to check out the extensive accessories list.

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3rd Gear: SUVs Are Pushing BMW

I’m so annoyed I have to write this type of gear again, but here goes. Healthy SUV sales helped BMW to a rise in profit during Q3. SUVs and crossovers are still the moneymakers.

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BMW saw a 33 percent rise in operating profits last quarter because people kept buying SUVs, reports Reuters. From the story:

Sales of BMW’s passenger cars rose 3.6% in the quarter including a 5.8% rise in China sales in September, thanks to a newly launched X3 sports utility vehicle, even as overall car sales in China fell for the past 15 months in a row.

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At the same time, though, BMW is preparing itself to launch a bunch of EVs and hybrids, as that’s where it sees demand going. The X3 just saw the launch of a plug-in variant and the upcoming BMW electric cars will be led by the iNext.

Maybe, one day in the future, I’ll write you a TMS gear that reads something along the lines of After SUV Ban, EV Sales Surge Forth.

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4th Gear: Charger Love Still Strong

Despite the demise of many American sedans (the Fusion, Impala, Taurus) there is one, a lone king that still stands atop their corpses, planting its foot upon their charred remains. The king spits in the face of the sedan-apocalypse, gives a middle finger to the swarming sea of SUVs that threaten to steal its throne. Who is this king?

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The Dodge Charger.

It’s true, according to the Detroit News. The Charger has seen over 71,000 units sold this year through September. This is a 20 percent increase over last year, keeping the car on its way to topping the large-sedan market for the third year in the row. Sales were, no doubt, helped along by the Scat Pack and Hellcat variants.

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From the story:

As rivals have fallen away, the Charger has emerged as the segment sales leader. Brauer says that the Charger has also benefited from the timing of GM’s bankruptcy. “Charger absolutely cashed in on the loss of Pontiac,” he says of the GM’s former performance brand.

Still, the market remains challenging for large cars, and Charger sales had dipped 17% from 97,110 in 2016 before this year’s rebound. As with its Ram trucks that have eclipsed Silverado sales this year, Dodge is typically aggressive with rental fleet Charger sales.

In addition to bringing customers into showrooms, the Charger has fattened Dodge profits. A Charger Hellcat Widebody can fetch prices north of $80,000, producing BMW-like luxury price spreads from the entry-level $30,000 Charger.

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Did you buy a Dodge Charger recently? Why’d you get that over an SUV?

5th Gear: Chinese Shift

China has a healthy playbook of domestic automakers, who have been trying to establish themselves in other markets for quite some time now. But the focus has shifted recently. No longer is the United States the primary target. Rather, it’s western Europe now.

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This is undoubtedly a result of the trade dispute (see also: war) between Trump and Beijing, reports Automotive News Europe. So, Chinese automakers are now planning to launch in western European countries instead of here. Here are few examples it named:

  • Nanjing-SAIC, which owns MG, has started shipping the fully electric MG EZ to the UK, Norway and Netherlands.
  • Great Wall opened an assembly plant in Russia recently and has plans to sell cars in Germany within two years.
  • Lynk & CO, which is owned by Geely, said that it will start selling cars in Europe next year. There’s really no word yet on when it will sell them in the U.S.
  • Aiways has plans to start European sales in April.

You may turn your nose up at a Chinese car, but you also cannot deny selling them here would offer consumers many more options in terms of EVs and potential pricing variation, two things we need more of.

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Reverse: Fiat Saves Alfa

Thursday 6th November 1986

33 years ago

The destitute Alfa Romeo company approved its takeover by fellow Italian automobile manufacturer Fiat, shortly after rejecting a takeover bid by the Ford Motor Company. Alfa Romeo was founded by Nicola Romeo in 1908, and during the 1920s and 1930s produced elegant luxury racing cars like the RL, the 6C 1500, and the 8C 2900 B. 

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Via 365 Days of Motoring.

Neutral: How Far Away Are We From Fully Autonomous Cars?

Truly, how many years away are we from fully legal, fully autonomous cars? I’m talking highways and avenues and streets filled with self-driving cars and occupants inside either reading, sleeping or working. How far out are we from that?

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About the author

Kristen Lee

Writer at Jalopnik and consumer of many noodles.