Tesla strikes deal to sell cars in Michigan

Tesla has reached a deal with Michigan that will allow the company to sell its cars directly in the state, bringing a multiyear legal battle to an end. It’s a small but crucial victory for Tesla, and one that comes in the home state of the automotive industry.

Thanks to a state law that forces automakers to work with dealers to sell their vehicles, would-be Tesla customers in Michigan have had to travel to neighboring states to buy one of the company’s vehicles. Tesla owners had to do the same to get their vehicles serviced.

But that will now change. The Michigan attorney general’s office announced Wednesday morning that it reached an agreement with Tesla to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the company in 2016 over the state law. (Tesla sued after the state denied it a dealership license.) While Michigan is not repealing the law, it is essentially admitting that there’s enough wiggle room in the language to allow Tesla to sidestep dealer networks and sell directly to consumers moving forward.

Tesla will now be able to make deliveries to customers in Michigan, and also walk customers through the buying process at its lone showroom in the state — something it was previously unable to do. The company will also likely open more showrooms and service centers as a result.

There are small caveats to all this, though. Cars sold in the state will have to come with out-of-state titles in order to get around the language of the law. That means customers in Michigan will have to go through the process of transferring the title if they want the car to be titled in their home state. And any service centers Tesla opens in Michigan will have to be owned by a subsidiary.

While it may seem like a strange way to compromise, Dan Crane, a law professor at the University of Michigan, believes it may have been the only way for the state to save face.

“What happened here is I think the Michigan attorney general realized that going through this trial would be embarrassing for the state,” he said.

Instead, Crane said, the state decided to “settle in a way that lets Tesla do what it wants to do, but gives the appearance of complying with Michigan law.”

Will Zerhouni, who wrote an analysis of Tesla’s legal fight with Michigan for the Cato Institute in 2018, agreed — though he’s not sure the state went far enough.

“The settlement shows that Michigan saw its position as untenable and potentially indefensible at trial,” wrote Zerhouni, who is now a founder and partner at Mighty Stream Capital Management LLC, a new firm focused on impact investing and litigation finance. “Instead, the state, which couldn’t rescind validly passed law on its own, settled in a way that read onerous and anticompetitive (and potentially unconstitutional) restrictions out of that law. That is all to the good — but it would be better if the state (and others) did away with the charade and repealed the law altogether.”

The decision to dismiss Tesla’s lawsuit, once it’s approved by the court, will not just make it easier for Tesla to sell its cars directly to consumers, but could help other automakers as well, according to Crane and Zerhouni.

“Consumers are used to e-commerce and direct-to-consumer sales these days, and are starting to expect to be able to buy cars this way. It’s going to be hard to hold back the floodgates,” Crane said.

“The settlement is technically only an agreement between Tesla and Michigan,” Zerhouni said. “It would, however, be very hard for Michigan to say that they are going to interpret the statute differently for other automakers.”

The decision could also put pressure on other states that have resisted allowing car companies to sell directly to consumers, like Connecticut and Texas, according to Crane.

“Michigan really is a momentum-shifter on this, and it’s going to be increasingly hard for state legislators to convince consumers why they can’t do what everyone expects to be able to do,” he said.

Dealer organizations could try to stand in the way of these changes, possibly by suing the state itself over this new interpretation of the law, Crane said. (Michigan’s dealer association told The Verge it is “still reviewing” the decision, and the National Automobile Dealers Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) Still, he doesn’t see them winning out in the end.

“These are legacy statues that came from a much different time, 40, 50 years ago,” Crane said. “The world has changed in so many ways.”

Exclusive look at Cruise’s first driverless car without a steering wheel or pedals

The not-a-car sits on the gleaming black stage surrounded by a halo of light. It’s orange and black and white, and roughly the same size as a crossover SUV, but somehow looks much larger from the outside. There is no obvious front to the vehicle, no hood, no driver or passenger side windows, no side-view mirrors. The symmetry of the exterior is oddly comforting.

I am one of the first non-employees to see it, after being invited by self-driving company Cruise to come out to San Francisco for an early look. And what I see is a car. A weird-looking car, sure, but a car nonetheless. That’s what my brain tells me. But the company insists I’m not seeing what I’m seeing. One employee refers to it as “the property.”

It’s easier to describe what it’s not, rather than what it is. For example, it doesn’t look like a toaster on wheels, as some autonomous “people movers” tend to do. A microwave might be more accurate, but I’m not convinced.

Its official name is “Origin,” and Kyle Vogt, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Cruise, is clearly excited to be showing it off. With a broad smile, he reaches out and touches a button on the side, causing the doors to slide open with a little whoosh like something out of Star Wars.

Inside are two bench seats facing each other, a pair of screens on either end… and nothing else. The absence of all the stuff you expect to see when climbing into a vehicle is jarring. No steering wheel, no pedals, no gear shift, no cockpit to speak of, no obvious way for a human to take control should anything go wrong. There’s a new car smell, but it’s not unpleasant. It’s almost like cucumber-infused water.

“The way vehicles are designed, normally they have a hood in the front where the engine is and some storage in the trunk,” Vogt says, as we sit across from each other. “But when you don’t need all that stuff… we can have this enormous, spacious cabin without taking up any more space on the road than a regular car would. Which is kind of insane.”

But the Origin is arriving into an unforgiving world: half of Americans are skeptical to the point of being fearful about self-driving cars. They don’t mind a car that can drive itself — as long as they can take over when they choose. That’s impossible with this vehicle. I ask Vogt where he gets the confidence to take away everything we’ve come to associate with human driving.

“I guess it’s important to note that we haven’t validated and released our technology yet,” he says. “So we haven’t gone out there and said it’s safer than a human and getting ready for prime time. But we’re getting pretty close.”

Approximately 18 minutes later, after a brief tour of the vehicle and back-and-forth about the company’s grand plans for the Origin, Vogt says something bolder. “By the time this vehicle goes into production, we think the core software that drives our AVs will be at a superhuman level of performance and safer than the average human driver,” he says. “And we’ll be providing hard empirical evidence to back up that claim before we put people in a car without someone in it.”

Cruise has often been described as a “division” or “unit” of General Motors, but the company prefers “majority owned subsidiary.” (The automaker technically owns two-thirds of Cruise, which it bought in 2016.) However, GM isn’t the only major automaker in Cruise’s corner. In October 2018, Honda announced its plan to invest $2.75 billion in Cruise over 12 years. The company has also raised money from Japan’s SoftBank Vision Fund and T. Rowe Price, and has a valuation of $19 billion.

As part of the Honda deal, GM teamed up with the Japanese automaker to design a “purpose-built” self-driving car. A “purpose-built car” is not a normal car retrofitted to be self-driving, as a majority of the autonomous vehicles on the road today are. Rather, it’s a car designed from the ground up to drive itself. That would be in addition to the steering wheel-and-pedal-less Chevy Bolt that GM and Cruise are working on. At the time, Vogt teased a vehicle with “giant TV screens, a mini bar, and lay-flat seats.”

The Origin has none of these amenities, but Vogt insists its real asset is its modularity. “We built this car around the idea of not having a driver and specifically being used in a ride-share fleet,” he says. “This vehicle is engineered to last a million miles and all the interior components are replaceable. The compute is replaceable, the sensors are replaceable. And what that does is it drives the cost per mile down way lower than you could ever reach if you took a regular car and tried to retrofit it. The replacement cost and the upkeep of that would just kill you from a business standpoint.”

I don’t typically hear AV companies talk about “unit economics” and profitability. But that’s going to creep up sooner than a lot of people realize, Vogt says. Experts estimate that each self-driving car could cost upward of $300,000-$400,000, when taking into account the expensive sensors and computing software needed to allow the vehicles to drive themselves. Recouping those costs will be enormously challenging, and Cruise is trying to address that by building a car with more staying power than most personally owned vehicles.

Cruise has been working on the design of the Origin for over three years, but Honda’s involvement “super charged” the effort. The two automakers didn’t collaborate on every tiny detail; instead, they split up the work based on their expertise. GM was responsible for the base vehicle design and the electric powertrain, while Honda helped create the interior’s “efficient use of space,” Vogt says. Meanwhile, Cruise handled the sensing and computing technologies, as well as the experience from the rider’s standpoint.

Vogt allows that the sensor suite could change before the vehicle goes into production. But right now, it has the standard configuration found in many AVs on the road today: radar, cameras and LIDAR laser sensors. The hard drive, stored in the trunk and housing the vehicle’s artificial intelligence and perception software, is cooled by the vehicle’s battery system, making it quieter and less prone to overheating than previous iterations. That means passengers riding in the forward-facing seats won’t have to experience overly toasty tushies (as I have riding with another AV operator).

Cruise, with Honda’s help, designed the interior of the vehicle primarily for shared rides. The screens, one on either side, will display an itinerary for picking up and dropping off each passenger, so riders know what to expect. Carpooling in the age of smartphones hasn’t exactly been the runaway success that ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft have hoped. But Cruise thinks its abundance of space can help minimize the friction.

“It’s designed to be comfortable if it’s shared, but if it’s just you, you’ve got so much space in here you can really like stretch out,” he says, extending his legs so his feet almost touch mine. Almost, but not quite.

Look, as far as I’m concerned, Cruise’s Origin is a car. Cruise says it wants to “move beyond the car,” but I’m not convinced the absence of certain controls negates its inherent car-ness. As Vogt points out, it occupies the same amount of space as an SUV, and Cruise claims it can travel at normal city speeds. It is a car-like shape and does car-type things, like traveling down a road with people in it. And if there isn’t another good name for it — “the property” notwithstanding — then “car” will have to do.

I don’t begrudge the company for attempting to argue otherwise. The push for not-car-ness is evident in Cruise’s intense marketing campaign leading up to the unveiling of the Origin. The company recently emptied out its Instagram account — so long, photos of smiling people riding in the company’s fleet of self-driving Chevy Bolts — and posted a series of cryptic longitude and latitude coordinates that correspond with famous historical moments, like the invention of the compass and the steam locomotive. Not-car inventions that seriously changed how we travel, in other words.

Even so, Cruise isn’t the first company to build and test a self-driving car without traditional controls. In December 2016, Google stunned the world when it revealed that it had put a blind man in one of its egg-shaped autonomous test vehicles and sent him out for a short ride around Austin, Texas. Google’s Firefly vehicle, audaciously designed by YooJung Ahn, is widely considered to be the first car tested publicly without a steering wheel or pedals.

Waymo, the company spun out of Google’s self-driving project, retired the Firefly in 2017. But in a recent podcast interview, Waymo CEO John Krafcik voiced curiosity that no one has replicated the feat since. “Why do you think no one has done that yet?” Krafcik said on the Autonocast. “Because we all sort of scratch our heads and say, ‘Is there not the capability there? Or folks have the capability but they’ve chosen not to do it or not to show it?’”

Cruise hasn’t been as forthcoming with its technology as Waymo. The company has only hosted one demo ride for journalists in 2017, which produced embarrassing headlines such as Reuters “Taco truck halts GM autonomous car’s cruise through city streets.”

There have been other bumps in the road as well. Cruise’s plan to test its vehicles in New York City — arguably the most difficult driving environment in the US — went nowhere. In July 2019, the company announced that it would miss its goal of launching a large-scale self-driving taxi service by the end of the year. It tried to sugarcoat the disappointing news by announcing a plan to dramatically increase the number of its test vehicles on the road in San Francisco.

Coming right on the heels of the Consumer Electronics Show and its cavalcade of concept cars and design projects, there’s a sense that Cruise is trying to beat back diminishing expectations. The past year has been a pretty bad one for believers in the technology: missed deadlines, rising concerns over safety, and the growing belief that making autonomous vehicles will be harder, slower, and more expensive than previously thought.

Cruise is trying to recapture some of that early magic with this vehicle. But it’s also attempting to be more pragmatic and attuned to the realities of growing and scaling a real business.

Of course, bureaucracy and politics could drive the whole thing right off the road.

Remember the unsettling lack of steering wheel, break pedals, and so on? That means the Cruise’s not-car will require an exemption from the federal government’s motor vehicle safety standards. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration only grants 2,500 petitions a year. GM submitted a petition for permission to deploy a fully driverless Chevy Bolt in 2018, but it has yet to receive a response. And it will most likely need another exemption before the Origin is allowed to hit the road, too.

Safety advocates are urging NHTSA to take its time in deliberating these changes. For example, the Center for Auto Safety “strongly question[s]” the NHTSA’s decision to prioritize these rule changes considering self-driving cars are still in their “infancy and quite likely decades away from widespread practical utility.” And the National Automobile Dealers Association, meanwhile, takes issue with the use of the term “barriers” to describe current safety standards and argues that self-driving cars should continue “to allow also for human control.”

GM isn’t the only company seeking to fast-track these changes. Ford has said it will build an autonomous car without a steering wheel or pedals by 2021, while Waymo has begun offering a limited number of rides in fully driverless minivans to its customers in Phoenix, Arizona.

Cruise is clearly feeling the heat from its competitors, especially when you consider that it has yet to take the important step of launching a commercial business. The company has a beta ride-hailing service, but it’s only available to employees, and Cruise won’t say when it will be available to the broader public. The company also won’t say when the Origin will roll out, but promises to share more information about its production plans in the future. (It’s already been burned once when it missed its 2019 robo-taxi deadline, so it seems the company wants to be careful that doesn’t happen again.)

I have so many more questions — about the sensor suite, the business model, the testing (if any) that Cruise has conducted — but I’m informed that our time is done. The event is being managed by a unionized workforce, and any additional time could cost Cruise an additional $12,000. I thank Vogt for his time and jokingly ask if there’s an “abort” button in the vehicle.

“I think it’s been pushed,” he says, grinning. “You just go straight through the ceiling.”

This clever R/C car leans and drifts like it weighs tons, not pounds

A handy Redditor has made a really cool Arduino-powered toy R/C car that can dip, move, and drift almost exactly like a real car. (And it’s decked out with an awesome-looking 1963 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Wagon shell, to boot.)

Seriously, watch this thing take a few turns. I’ve never seen an R/C car move like this — it realistically leans into turns and drifts, almost like a stunt car driven in a movie. Most R/C cars don’t move with quite the same illusion of weight.

This next GIF is pretty cool, too, showing how the car can bounce side to side and “fire” up its exhaust pipes as if it was revving up. It also gives you a brief look of what’s under the hood, so to speak:

The maker of the car, Dimitar Tilev, says that this realistic movement is possible due to an accelerometer and four servo motors connected to an Arduino programmable circuit board that create an active suspension system. An active suspension system can actively adjust itself, usually to keep the car as stable as possible, but in this case, the system actively raises and lowers each of the wheels in ways that simulate the movements and weight of a full-size car.

If someone floors it in a real car, for example, it can feel as if the car’s nose rises up a bit and you get thrown back in your seat. Or if someone takes a hard turn, you might feel the car lean into that turn. The system in the R/C car uses an accelerometer to replicate those movements, detecting acceleration on the X and Y axes and sending that data to the Arduino. Depending on how the car is moving, the four servo motors at the wheels can extend different heights to simulate what a real car would look like in a similar situation.

Here’s the guts of the car — it’s got a lot of tech packed into it.

Image: Dimitar Tilev

If you want to know more about what makes the car go, you should read all of the nitty-gritty details on Tilev’s blog. And if you want to buy something like it, you might be able to someday. Tilev says he plans to find a way to sell something similar to this first design, though with some changes, and if you want to follow the progress of that, he says he’ll share updates on this Facebook page.

Foxconn and Fiat Chrysler will make electric cars for China

iPhone manufacturer Foxconn is getting into the electric vehicle game, thanks to a planned joint venture with Italian-American automaker Fiat Chrysler (FCA). Foxconn announced on Thursday that the two companies will combine forces to make vehicles for the Chinese market, with FCA handling the manufacturing and the Taiwanese tech giant managing the electronics and software.

The two companies have not yet signed a contract, according to a filing on Taiwan’s stock exchange, but Nikkei reports that they’ve been in talks for months.

FCA, which oversees its eponymous brands as well as ones like Jeep and Dodge, has lagged behind its competitors in embracing electric vehicle technology. The company recently kicked off a merger with French automaker PSA Group, which makes cars under the Peugeot and Citroën brands (among others), partly in order to better attack the changing automotive landscape. The Italian-American automaker has also done some due diligence on a number of struggling EV startups in the US in an attempt to accelerate its electric ambitions, as The Verge first reported in November.

Aided by government policies and subsidies, China has become the biggest market for electric vehicles in the world, and it continued to grow last year despite a slowdown in the country’s overall automotive market. Electric vehicle sales increased by 6 percent in 2019 compared to 2018, despite the overall car sales dropping by 8 percent. And even though China’s economy is cooling off after decades of rapid growth, the electric vehicle market there is expected to easily outpace the ones in Europe and the US in the coming decade.

FCA is far from alone in trying to tap into this trend. Western automakers have spent years carving out space in the market. Some, like FCA, have had more trouble than others, and so teaming up with Foxconn could help the Italian-American automaker find a foothold. In return, Foxconn would get help in diversifying away from consumer technology. To wit: Foxconn chairman Young Liu told Nikkei that he believes the move into electric vehicles could ultimately account for 10 percent of the company’s overall sales.

Toyota makes a big bet on secretive flying taxi startup Joby Aviation

Joby Aviation, a California-based aerospace company that has been working on electric aircraft for over a decade, just closed its latest round of financing with $590 million in venture capital funding — and a major new partner.

Toyota will work with Joby to design and build a fleet of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft for use in a ride-hailing service. The Japanese auto giant was part of a previous Joby funding round that closed in 2018, helping the secretive startup raise $100 million. Obviously Toyota liked what it saw, because it stepped up to lead this latest round of fundraising, bringing Joby’s total raise to $720 million. Joby recently announced a deal with Uber to deploy its air taxis on its ride-hailing network — though its unclear whether Toyota’s air taxis will make the cut.

Joby is the brainchild of inventor JoeBen Bevirt, who started the company in 2009. The company operated in relative obscurity until 2018, when Joby announced it had raised a surprising $100 million from a variety of investors, including the venture capital arms of Intel, Toyota, and JetBlue. The money helped finance development of the company’s air taxi prototype, which has been conducting test flights at Joby’s private airfield in Northern California. Bevirt helps run an incubator outside of Santa Cruz that’s been described as a quasi-commune.

Unlike the dozens of other companies that are currently building electric VTOL aircraft, Joby has kept much of its project under wraps. But as part of the Toyota announcement, Joby decided to share some more details about its aircraft — and some images.

The all-electric aircraft has six rotors and seats five, including the pilot. It can take off vertically, like a helicopter, and then shift into forward flight using tilt rotors. Joby says it can reach a top speed of 200 mph, can travel 150 miles on a single charge, and is 100 times quieter than a conventional aircraft.

“We are building a new system for transportation to transform your daily life, at greater safety and, in time, at a similar cost to driving,” Bevirt said in a statement.

With Toyota as a manufacturing partner, Joby believes it can bring its aircraft to market faster than the rest. “Toyota will share its expertise in manufacturing, quality, and cost controls to support the development and production of Joby Aviation’s aircraft,” the company says. “This support, along with the capital investment, will accelerate the certification and deployment of this new mode of local transportation.”

It’s deal-making season for Joby. The company formed a partnership with Uber a few weeks ago. Joby will supply and operate the electric air taxis, and Uber will provide air traffic control help, landing pad construction, connections to ground transportation, and, of course, its ride-share network reconfigured to allow customers to hail flying cars (rather than boring, regular, terrestrial ones). The ride-hailing company also recently showed off a full-scale model of the flying taxi it helped create with Hyundai, and has other manufacturing partners as well.

Of course, many companies — Joby included — have promised revolutionary new aircraft for years, only to miss deadlines or fail to live up to past promises. Kitty Hawk, the flying car venture backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, is reorganizing amid reports about breakdowns, battery fires, and returned deposits. Zunum Aero struggled to raise money and was forced to layoff employees after Boeing backed away as a backer.

After all, the jury is still out on whether an electric vertical takeoff and landing-based air taxi system would make an appreciable contribution to a next-generation transportation system, or whether it would simply be an escape hatch for the super-rich to avoid street-level congestion.

Aston Martin won’t say whether its electric car is dead or alive

Aston Martin might have killed the Rapide E, its first electric car, before it ever shipped according to an Autocar report from late last week. But Aston Martin won’t say if this is true or not, as a spokesperson tells The Verge that the company “can’t comment on product speculation.”

“Everybody is asking…” the spokesperson said in a text message, before repeating the line about speculation. “Can’t say any more than that I’m afraid.”

The automaker did not mention anything about the Rapide E on a call with financial analysts last week. Autocar also reported, according a single source close to the British automaker, Aston Martin is instead planning to use the Rapide E as a research project for future electric vehicles — likely under its resurrected Lagonda brand.

The Rapide E made its official debut in April 2019 at the Auto Shanghai motor show after a tortuous four years of development. Announced in 2015, Aston Martin had once planned to build the car as part of a joint venture with Chinese tech conglomerate LeEco. But when LeEco went under in 2017, Aston Martin was forced to scale back its ambitions for the Rapide E. The British automaker announced that year that it would only make 155 of the electric sports sedan, and wound up once again partnering with Williams Advanced Engineering (the technical arm of the Williams F1 team), which had built the original Rapide E prototype.

Production troubles aside, Aston Martin would be asking a lot of those 155 customers if it ever brought the Rapide E to market. The specs never quite lined up with the price tag, which at one point was $255,000. Aston Martin was only promising around 200 miles of range at best, and that’s before any official estimates from the European Union or the Environmental Protection Agency in the US. That could be partially thanks to the weight; at 4,717 pounds, the Rapide E was about 400 pounds heavier than the internal combustion Rapide S. But it’s also because, in the simplest terms, Aston Martin was stuffing electric tech into the body of the internal combustion engine Rapide.

Yes, the Rapide E was supposed to have twin motors that put out over 600 horsepower, with a top speed of 155 miles per hour and a 0 to 60 mph time of under four seconds. But anyone pushing the car to that level of performance would also undoubtedly crush the battery’s already limited range.

Aston Martin has struggled mightily over the last few years (and has gone bankrupt seven times in its 100-plus-year history), and even ended production of the standard Rapide in 2019. The automaker has pinned much of its hopes on the DBX, its first SUV, but that vehicle isn’t due until later this year. In the meantime, Aston Martin is reportedly soliciting bids from outside investors, as it has $1 billion in debt and finished 2019 with just $139 million in cash.

Go watch this local TV news investigation about front blind spots in SUVs and trucks

As drivers, we typically think of our blind spots as being to the left and right of the vehicle, not in the front underneath the bumper. But as this investigation by a local Indiana television station reveals, many of the most popular vehicles in the US today have shockingly huge front blind spots — and that could spell danger for a lot of people, most notably small children.

It’s a problem that’s getting worse as American car buyers trend toward larger and larger vehicles, WTHR 13 in Indianapolis reports. Front blind zones associated with large trucks and SUVs have contributed to the injury and death of hundreds of children across the country. (The investigation was published in April 2019, but recently resurfaced on Twitter.)

So-called frontover crashes occur when children are struck by slow-moving vehicles with drivers who typically can’t see them. According to safety group KidsAndCars, at least 3,000 children are injured and an average of nearly 60 kids are killed in frontover crashes in the US. KidsAndCars tracked 575 frontover deaths over the past 10 years, compared to 304 deaths in the prior decade — an increase of 89 percent.

To demonstrate just how dangerous these front blind spots can be, WTHR 13 reporters had children sit in a line in front of a Chevy Tahoe and a Cadillac Escalade until their respective drivers could see them. It took nine children before the owner of the Chevy Tahoe could see the tops of their heads, while the Cadillac Escalade took 13 children.

“Oh my gosh, it’s absolutely terrifying,” the Chevy Tahoe owner said. The Escalade owner was equally disturbed: “That is so scary,” she told reporters. “This is just mind blowing. I can’t believe it.”

WTHR 13 measured the front blind zones of many popular vehicles, from family sedans and minivans to large SUVs and full-size pickup trucks. The Escalade had the largest front blind spot of 10 feet, 2 inches, with the driver sitting in a natural, relaxed position. The Ford F150, the most popular vehicle in the US with over a million sold in 2018, has a front blind zone of 9 feet, 7 inches. And so on, down the line. The bigger the SUV or truck, the larger the blind spot.

In its testing, WTHR 13 took a variety of factors into consideration, such as driver height and road incline:

The blind zones can vary widely based on a number of factors, such as the height of the driver, the size of the object in front of the vehicle, the position of the driver’s seat, and the incline (or decline) of the driving surface. To minimize those variables, WTHR measured each vehicle’s blind zone on a flat surface using a 5 feet 4 inch driver (the average height of a woman in the United States) and a 29 inch traffic cone (the approximate height of a 12-month-old). The testing was also conducted with the driver in two different seating positions.

The test results show most SUVs, minvans and pickup trucks have a front blind zone measuring between five and 10 feet – two to three times larger than the front blind zones of most sedans and compact cars – when a driver sits in a normal seating position. Some larger SUVs and pickups have grills and hoods that measure more than four feet off the ground, which is taller than an average 7-year-old child.

We’ve known for years that the boom in SUV and truck sales have led to increased CO2 emissions and a distressing spike in pedestrian deaths. Anecdotal evidence has shown that driving extra-large vehicles can lead to unhealthy levels of road rage.

The correlation between vehicle design and pedestrian deaths is pretty clear. While the people driving SUVs are slightly safer (1.6 percent decrease in SUV occupant deaths in 2018, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), the number of pedestrians killed by those drivers has skyrocketed by 81 percent in the last decade, according to a report released last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

That’s mostly because of the way SUVs are designed: larger bodies and higher carriages mean pedestrians are more likely to suffer deadly blows to the head and torso. Higher clearances mean victims are more likely to get trapped underneath a speeding SUV instead of pushed onto the hood or off to the side. Speed is also a factor because SUVs have more horsepower than a typical sedan. A recent investigation by USA Today and the Detroit Free Press found that the growing popularity of SUVs accounts for the alarming rise in pedestrian deaths.

There’s a human cost to our growing appetite for huge trucks and SUVs, and the WTHR 13 investigation is another example of that. Go watch it.

Elon Musk: ‘Teslas will soon talk to people if you want. This is real’

Elon Musk says that Tesla cars will “soon” be able to talk to nearby pedestrians. In a tweet announcing the functionality, the CEO shared a short clip of a Model 3 driving past while its speaker plays a clip saying “Well don’t just stand there staring, hop in.” In his Tweet, Musk says, “Teslas will soon talk to people if you want. This is real.”

We already knew that Tesla has begun adding external speakers to its cars in order to comply with new safety regulations that require electric cars to produce artificial noise. Now it seems these speakers could be used for much more. In a follow-up tweet, Musk indicated that the newly-announced functionality could work with the car’s existing sentry mode alarm system which already uses the car’s internal sound system to deter would-be thieves. Alternatively, he said that you could just have your car fart in people’s general direction.

The specific audio message played in the clip brings to mind Musk’s master plan of eventually having all of Tesla’s cars operate as an autonomous taxi fleet, earning money for their owners when they’re not driving them. In an autonomous state, with no driver to invite passengers into the taxi, the car itself could be left to tell people to “hop in.”

Musk’s tweet says to expect the new functionality “soon,” but you might want to take this promise with a pinch of salt. The CEO previously said that Tesla’s “customized horn and movement sounds” were coming “soon” back in October and they’re still yet to arrive, and we’re still waiting to see a Tesla complete the autonomous Los Angeles to New York journey that was promised back in 2016 (the plans were put on hold in 2018).

The Hummer will reportedly be resurrected as an electric pickup

General Motors is readying the announcement of an all-electric pickup truck that will carry the branding of the company’s infamous gas-guzzling Hummer, according to The Wall Street Journal. The new vehicle will reportedly be teased during a Super Bowl commercial starring LeBron James.

GM will sell the Hummer truck starting in 2022 under its GMC brand, and it isn’t expected to revive Hummer as a complete brand of its own, as it once was, according to the report. GM killed the Hummer brand in 2010 following the financial crisis, the automaker’s government bailout, and rising fuel costs. Representatives for GM and GMC declined to comment.

Rumors have swirled for months that GM was planning to revive the Hummer nameplate, likely for an electric vehicle. The company is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar push to release 20 new electric vehicles (across all of its global markets) by 2023, and it’s shown that it’s willing to take big chances in order to meet that goal. GM wanted to make an electric pickup truck with Rivian, but it was reportedly rebuffed after asking for exclusive rights to the Michigan-based EV startup’s tech. (Rivian has since struck a nonexclusive deal with Ford.) GM has also sold its shuttered factory in Lordstown, Ohio, to an electric truck startup called Lordstown Motors and is planning to build a $2.3 billion factory in the town in conjunction with LG’s battery division.

GM is reviving the Hummer at a time of skyrocketing SUV and pickup truck sales in the United States, fueled by reasonable gas prices, customer demand for things like higher seating position and a sense of security (in addition to utility), and the fact that automakers simply make more profit on these vehicles. That boom in SUV and truck sales has, unfortunately, had a human cost, though, in the form of a major jump in global CO2 emissions for the sector as well as a dramatic rise in pedestrian deaths. While an electric Hummer might help mitigate the former, it certainly wouldn’t do much to change the latter.

Byton’s 48-inch screen might not be as distracting as it looks

A car with a 48-inch screen on the dashboard sounds like a distracted driving nightmare, and to be honest, that could likely wind up being the case. But two years after Byton teased the idea in a concept car that debuted at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, the Chinese EV startup returned to CES and offered a chance to drive its electric SUV in an effort to prove that its headline-grabbing screen may not be as problematic as it seems.

On Wednesday evening, I spent 15 or so minutes behind the wheel of the second preproduction unit of Byton’s car — the M-Byte SUV — driving around a parking lot next to Bally’s Casino. It wasn’t enough time to walk away with comprehensive feelings about how the car drove, and the interior and software were in too unfinished a state for me to gather any more than the most basic impressions.

I can say the 48-inch screen stole my attention less than I thought it would. Part of that has to do with the fact that it’s designed so that it looks like it’s sinking into the dashboard. This made it easy for me to literally look past it while driving (though I am six feet tall). If anything, I found the smaller touchscreen that’s embedded in the steering wheel to be more distracting since it feels somewhat unnatural to have a screen that close to my face that I’m not actively holding.

Another thing that helped is that Byton made some design choices that mitigate the main display’s presence. The user interface is divided into sections that can be customized with different widgets, but each one of these sections can also be turned off. The overall interface has also been designed to be quite minimalist. Videos can’t be played while in motion, and even those widgets won’t update until the car is stopped, too.

“We’re focused on making it less distracting to the driver,” Jeff Chung, Byton’s vice president of digital engineering, told me earlier this week. ”We do a lot of user testing to understand the cognitive load on each driver or passenger, with people inside the company and external and all different geographies. And even though we have a big display, you’ll notice we’re trying to take a more simplistic approach.”

Whether the 48-inch screen is necessary is an entirely different issue. I mean, of course it’s not necessary, regardless of how much Byton (and companies like it) push the idea that this kind of technology helps turn a car into a connected thing that can help “give users time back,” as Chung put it. The display might make more sense in a world of fully autonomous vehicles, but its existence, let alone its size, isn’t crucial to the basic function of modern cars.

But while Byton’s massive screen may look and feel like an outlier, the startup is far from the only company trying something like this. Tesla has built its brand around the big screens in its cars. Other startups like Byton are following in its big-screen footsteps. The car that Sony unveiled this week had a similarly dashboard-spanning set of screens. Hell, even Cadillac’s new Escalade will feature a 38-inch dashboard screen.

In that sense, it feels like a fool’s errand to rely on Byton alone to say whether we should put tech like this in our vehicles when that’s really the kind of question we’d be better off answering ourselves.