Weekly Brief: A Google car crashes, world gasps, yet fuel-fumed Geneva Motor Show just smirks

All eyes should have been trained on Geneva Motor Show last week for the year’s premier European auto show; instead, a minor bump between a bus and a Google car nearly 6,000 miles away stole the headlines.

Here are the details: a Lexus SUV operating with Google’s self-driving car technology in Mountain View, California, tried to manoeuvre around some sandbags protecting a storm drain. The car misjudged the speed of a bus in the middle lane behind it and the two collided. The self-driving car was going 2mph, the bus 15 mph. Damage was minor. There were no injuries.

So what’s the fuss? After more than a million miles of test driving, Google cars have been in just 17 documented accidents and this was the first that was the Google car’s fault. The rest have all been rear-end collisions, usually because a human driver expected the self-driving Google Car to turn sooner. As self-driving cars continue to get into and cause crashes (as they inevitably will, albeit at a lower rate than human drivers), the question becomes how comfortable we are handing over the reins to a fallible software. Is an imperfect machine better than an even more imperfect human? That’s what lawmakers and consumers must answer in the coming years.

The world, of course, kept turning outside of Mountain View, and with it came a week of beautiful supercars at the show. While Renault’s fourth generation of its hugely successful Scenic compact MPV was the real star for the masses of the show, supercar launches dominated, headlined by Bugatti’s new Chiron, quite possibly the sweetest automobile you’ll ever set your eyes on. Impeccably manufactured, with a 16-cylinder engine capable of 1,500 horsepower and top speeds of nearly 300mph. The thing takes a mere eight minutes to drain its fuel tank, has basically zero connected-car features and retails for a modest $2.6M (£1.82M) but still conference goers were drawn to its side like moths to a flame.

Other hits were the Lamborghini Centenario, which retails for the more affordable $1.9M, Aston Martin’s DB9 replacement the DB11 ($211,995), Porsche’s 911R ($184,900), and PSA Peugeot Citroen’s snazzy new electric concept, the DS E-Tense, which has a purported range of 200 miles and goes zero to 62 in 4.5 seconds.

The show wasn’t just about supercars for the super-rich. A number of companies revealed plans to take mobility to the masses.

Nissan said it believes so strongly in the connected car that it’s reframing the core framework of its company around the slogan of “Intelligent Mobility.” The company will make significant R&D investments in three areas: intelligent driving (autonomous and advanced assistance tech), intelligent power (electric vehicles), intelligent integration (vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure solutions). The ultimate goal is the number zero – zero emissions and zero fatalities on the road (a ridiculous concept but one manufacturers consider a good sales pitch – Ed).

VW’s CEO Matthias Müller said that he wants mobility at the core of its brand and is opening three new international design centres to make it happen. The “Volkswagen Group Future Centres” will be located in Potsdam, China and California and will fuse the work of vehicle designers and digital experts in an attempt to make VW best-in-class in everything from customer experience to interface design to infotainment and entertainment. VW had a concept car, the VW PHIDEON, on hand in Geneva to showcase the direction its digitisation endeavours are headed. The car boasts a bevy of advanced features, from a heads-up display and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink compatibility to forward-collision warnings, park assist and lane-departure warnings.

BMW showed off a spiffy new system that helps drivers find street-parking in a fraction of the time. “On-Street Parking Information” uses a secret source of movement data (vehicles leaving parking spots, vehicles searching for them) in combination with mathematical algorithms and local prediction models to highlight the best zones in which to look for parking. Turn-by-turn navigation courtesy of INRIX leads the way. The feature is set to roll out in Germany then then the US in 2016.

On the navigation front, HARMAN showed off a new solution that uses over-the-air updates to continuously layer hyper-detailed information onto any standard supplier-based map. For example, the solution informs cars within a certain area about an approaching emergency vehicle so the driver can proactively yield or assist to remedy a life-threatening situation.

TomTom revealed new partnerships with PSA Peugeot Citroen, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota and VW. The Citroen partnership is the most extensive, with TomTom live traffic, navigation and maps scheduled to form the backbone of Citroen’s new global infotainment platform. The other carmakers will be integrating TomTom navigation into select models in the coming year, including the Fiat 500S, which made its world premiere in Geneva.

Kia announced that it will integrate Apple CarPlay and Android Auto across its entire European range of cars and SUVs by 2017. First up, the new Kia Niro hybrid crossover, then the Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid and Sportswagon, due to launch later in 2016.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.


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