Yet another example of how the Federal Government stifles innovation

George Hotz is a brilliant computer engineer (some might call him a hacker) who gained notoriety for pioneering the first iPhone jailbreak. Recently, he turned his programming skills towards autonomous cars, and developed a user-installable, self-driving system that would work on many Hondas and Acuras for only $1000. Watch the video of it in action – it’s looks absolutely mind-boggling.

It was only in the prototype stages, but it worked well enough for Tesla CEO Elon Musk to supposedly offered him tens millions of dollars for it, which Hotz turned down. Hotz’s idea was so promising, he received enough investment capital to valuate his company at $20 Million.

Sound like a nice American entrepreneur story – like Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk, who builds a highly-successful company from nothing, and winds up stimulating the economy and providing tens of thousands of jobs.

Maybe 20 years ago. But now, we have new “progressive-thinking” leaders running the Federal Government who are here to “protect” us. Yesterday, a faceless Washington bureaucrat sent George Hotz the equivalent of a company destroyer – a letter demanding numbers specifications, inputs, analysis, compliance, business forecasts, etc., for his invention, which much be completed in full in less than two weeks. Or else pay a fine of $21,000 a day.

Faced with the insurmountable task of complying with a Washington regulation from left field, George Hotz announced today that he’s hanging the project up.

This makes no sense! There’s a better way to do this.

Let the entrepreneurs hackers, and dreamers invent, create, and build. Ideas that are worthwhile will attract funding, and make it to market successfully – like Tesla’s Autopilot, for instance. Sure, some stupid people will die using it, but this is America – give us the freedom to live our lives and create our businesses. Some say the government is here to protect the consumer. I don’t see them protecting the 15 people died last year using a toaster or the 1000 people who injured themselves using a blender.

No, instead, they’re crushing an entrepreneur whose prototype might save hundreds of thousands of lives  in the interest of “public safety” because one person died using Autopilot while watching a Harry Potter movie.

Autotrader’s Doug Demuro completely botches the facts about Tesla.

In his column on Autotrader, Doug Demuro writes that the Tesla Model S should not be compared with large sedans like the Mercedes-Benz S Class and BMW 7-Series, but rather midsize sedans like the E Class and 5 series. Why? So Tesla can’t make claims like “The Best Selling” large sedan in America anymore.

A word of caution – beware of advice about Electric Vehicles from someone who post videos of himself lurking at gas stations.

Doug’s arguments suggesting the Model S should be re-classified as a mid-sized sedan are factually cringeworthy. He claims the Model S is 196 inches long, making it shorter than the BMW 5-series, which is 196.8 inches long. This is incorrect. The 2016 BMW 535i is 193.1 inches long, according to BMW’s own website. (note the technical drawing on top). Where does he get his facts from – truckstop restroom walls?

His next argument for downsizing the Model S classification: it’s a foot shorter than the full-sized 7-Series or S-Class. Let’s look at the facts, Doug. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety considers any car longer than 195 inches as full-sized. This includes the Model S. Just because Doug wants Tesla to be in a smaller class doesn’t make it so. That’s like telling the IRS to put you in a lower income bracket because you’re closer to the lower one, even though you’re actually in the higher one.

Let’s look at what determines whether a car is mid-sized or full-sized. There are 2 organizations with car classification formulas.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) uses overall measurements to determine a vehicle’s classification. Since the Tesla Model S is 196 inches long, it falls into its large, not mid-sized category. Source: Wikipedia

The EPA uses interior volume, and considers the Tesla Model S a full-sized car.

But maybe Doug knew he didn’t have facts on his side, because next he introduced a brand-new measure of differentiating mid and full-sized sedans – price. This is invalid and arbitrary. Why not stick with the size classifications government and professional organizations have been using for the past several decades, instead of inventing new ones to bolster a feeble argument?!? Maybe next he’ll suggest alphabetical order as new way of classifying cars.

Doug claims “the Model S’s closest competitors are cars like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the BMW 5 Series, the Cadillac CTS, the Audi A6, the Lexus GS and the Hyundai Genesis.” Seriously? On what planet do people cross-shop like this? No established automotive publication has ever compared the Tesla Model S to any of these lower-end models.

I dare you to show me a major car publication with any of these comparisons:

Tesla Model S vs Mercedes-Benz E-Class
Tesla Model S vs BMW 5 Series
Tesla Model S vs the Cadillac CTS
Tesla Model S vs Audi A6
Tesla Model S vs Lexus GS
Tesla Model S vs Hyundai Genesis

Doug, you may have the wit of of Dave Barry, but you have the command of facts and numbers of Willie Nelson’s accountant.

When it comes to the Tesla Model S, maybe it should be in a class by itself. But until that’s official, let’s stick to the facts.

BMW shoots its customers in the foot

In 2014, BMW was happy to announce to the world “Remote Controlled Parking.” This option lets owners maneuver their 7 Series into parking spots with their key fob. There’s even a setting to have the vehicle park in handicapped spaces, across two spaces, diagonally across one space, etc.

This feature, however, was disabled for the US market because of Federal regulations. However, last year, the NHTSA told BMW “Ha ha – just kidding – carry on.”

So BMW did, and triumphantly announced this new feature to the US Market with a YouTube video showing two annoying kids eyeballing each other from their hyper-rich dad’s 7 series.  BMW promised 7 series owners that hardware could be added down the road to make this feature work.

Then, two months later, bad news. In a statement BMW says, it isn’t possible, since they apparently forgot to include the necessary hardware for US-bound cars. However, US buyers who waited can get get this feature.

All auto manufactures are mired in the old way of thinking, which is “Include technology that will be obsolete in 2 years so they have to buy a new car from us.” Suddenly Tesla comes along, and like Santa Claus, gives their owners features like Traction Aware Cruise Control, Autosteer, and Summon, all with a software update. Was BMW so cheap they couldn’t have included a couple hundred dollars worth of hardware to make US owners happy? Apparently not.

Tesla Autopilot Review

6 days after I’d purchased my 2014 P85+, Tesla introduced Autopilot. I would have returned it, but a) I was having too much fun and b) I figured I’d keep it until something better came along, for at the moment, all the new models did was vibrate the steering wheel when you got out of your lane.

Well, something did happen. An over-the-air software update added Autosteer in November 2015. I couldn’t take it anymore, and had to trade mine in – a 2014 white P85+ for a 2015 white Inventory P85+. Yes, that’s a 2015 P85+, with VIN 69xxx. They told me at the Raleigh service center it’s the last P85+ ever made. I also liked the 85D, but at this price point, I could only get bare-bones models. The year of depreciation factored in for the P85+ made it the better deal –  I got one completely loaded, except for the rear-facing seats.

Our first test was a 60-mile road trip to an open house in Greensboro, NC, 75 miles away. Once underway, we merged onto I-40, and I double-pulled the cruise control stalk to set the Traction Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer. I then took my feet off the pedals, and hands of the steering wheel, and sat back. I didn’t touch the controls again until over an hour later. My Tesla drove herself to Greensboro, over 75 miles!

She maintained a speed of 79 mph, while staying in the center of its lane, following all curves as if there were a cushy forcefield between the rims and the lane markers. The electronic buffer extended to the front of the car as well: she kept a pre-set distance behind the car in front of us, slowing down even before I noticed it was necessary, all while backing off when someone merged in front of us. The following distance is adjustable between 1 and 7 by twisting the stalk, with 1 and 2 being feeling uncomfortably close, and 7 being a little too far, inviting people to merge in front.

I found myself transfixed by the display. It shows in real-time the relation of the car to it’s lane markers – she’ll humbly admit when she’s too close to one side, and you can see and feel it correct. Changing lanes was as easy as operating the turn signal, although the initial swing into the next lane is a little abrupt for me.

The best part was arriving. Usually, when I arrive at a destination after a 1-hr. drive on the Interstate, it takes me 5 or 10 minutes to “de-tense” or unwind, for driving a vehicle 80mph for an hour or two involves a mental investment which can be tiring. However, when we arrived, I practically sprung out of the car, feeling refreshed.

It’s the difference in stress levels between driving, and letting someone else drive. The road passes by, and yet there’s a feeling of detachment, for you know someone else is handling it.

There’s several other bonus that came with the Autopilot upgrade:

– automatic low/high beam headline adjusting
– Hill hold brakes
– Automatic parallel parking – I’ve used it twice, and it’s worked flawlessly.

So far, I’ve had my Inventory Autopilot P85+ for almost 2 weeks, and Tesla hasn’t announced anything major, so I think I’m good!

 

Your new car is putting your future in jeopardy

This morning I went to look at a desk I saw on Craigslist. As I got closer to the seller’s address, I got a little disheartened for I noticed I was driving into a bad neighborhood. When I turned into seller’s apartment community, I saw a sign placed by a landlord that said “Freezing Temperatures – Leave Heat On. Let Faucets Drip.” Which tells a lot about the living situations of these residents.

However, what really caught my eye was parked in front of one apartment – a brand-new yellow Mustang GT, which looked out of place. (You knew there would be a car involved – after all this is a car blog). Why would someone buy a $45,000 car, while living in a shabby apartment?

Here’s the thing, no matter what your situation, buying an expensive car, even if you can afford the payments, puts a crimp on your future.

Let’s assume a $36,000 a year job, for now. It brings home around $1700 a month, so a $500 car payment isn’t that far of a stretch. However, let’s look at the big picture. Over the term of a 4.9% loan, that means $6,000 in interest. Imagine throwing away $100 a month every month, for 5 years, and you get the idea.

Here’s another way to look at it. Would you work at your job for one year in exchange for a car? If you drive a car that costs as much as your annual salary, that’s exactly what’s you’re doing.

Put quite simply, if you can’t pay cash for a car, the universe is trying to tell you something. BING BING BING!! You can’t afford it. Don’t ignore the signs – buy a $1000 clunker. Put aside the $500 a month you’d spend on a car payment until you can afford a better car. Then keep trading up.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder Review

This 2015 Pathfinder is my wife’s loaner vehicle while her car is getting fixed. She hates driving it so much, every morning she bats her cute eyelashes at me, and sweetly asking me if I’d drive it instead. Since I love writing about cars, and genuinely love my dear wife, I took the Pathfinder for a week, and gave her my car, which made my wife so happy, I think I can get away with not cleaning the garage for at least another 6 months.
After driving the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder for a week, I can imagine the final conversation in the engineering boardroom.
“Hey Stosh – you done with that Pathfinder prototype yet??
“Yup.”
“Did you check off the entire engineering mandatories list?”
“Yup.”
“Lets see..#1, Third Row, check, #2, Heavier than a African Gray Hippo, check. Did you test drive it?”
“No.”
“Great! Let’s put it into production.”
Maybe I’m being too harsh, but my favorite parts about this truck can be found while it’s standing still. Namely, the third row seat. Okay, just kidding, I also like the driving position, which gives a great view of the earth below. Yes – this is a large vehicle.

Now, start the engine, and put it in gear, it’s a different story. I was ready to turn this vehicle in after driving it less than 45 inches. I was backing up out of my garage while attempting to raise the headrest, when the entire thing came off in my hands. So, with the Pathfinder’s rear end partly sticking out of my garage, I put it in Park, and attempted to re-insert the headrest. I did, but then it tilted so far forward, my chin was practically on my chest. Thinking I had it in wrong, I re-inserted it the opposite way, but now the headrest slanted so far backwards I felt like I was sitting in a padded church pew. So I put it in the original way, which was uncomfortable, but at least if I was rear-ended, I wouldn’t have to look for my head in the back seat.

Glancing over at the passenger seat, I noticed the headrest was reversed, for obviously the previous renter’s passenger couldn’t get comfortable either. Keep in mind by this point, I’m still halfway out of my garage.

There’s some fun corners near my house, so I eagerly pointed the Pathfinder towards the first one, and almost drove off the road. In a bend, the steering requires several corrections to keep it from putting two wheels on the shoulder.
The transmission is a continuously variable unit, which means when you step on it, the RPMs rise to a pre-determined RPM, and stay there. If you like hearing an engine drone, this is your vehicle.

In an effort to keep costs down, the climate control system was sourced from a 1971 Datsun. Driving home one night in the 45-degree weather, I set the system to AUTO, and cranked the temperature setting to maximum, which was 90 degrees. The fans blew at their highest settings for 20 minutes, however, when I got home, the truck was barely warmer than when I’d started.

In conclusion, the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder SV is the perfect SUV for for a soccer mom whose only intention is to drive a vehicle so large, it sends lesser soccer moms running for cover.

The hidden lease number car dealers don’t want you to know.

I have a friend named Stan who wanted a 2015 BMW 335i. He’s a pretty savvy negotiator, so he spent many torment-filled hours at the local BMW dealer battling back and forth over the price. In the end, he bloodily emerged, proud of how he got the dealer to knock $2200 off their price.

It was a lease, so I looked over his numbers and told him something that made him turn green, red, then green again – that he just agreed to pay $99 a month in profit to the dealer, every month, over the next 3 years and 3 months, for a total of of $3896.10, all of which, sadly, was just as negotiable as the list price. It’s like in those Friday the 13th movies when the lingerie-wearing female slays a chainsaw-wielding villain, after which she stumbles to the nearest tree stump for a good cry, and Jason rises up and kills her, and 17 more campers.

That being said, auto dealers have every right to slay unsuspecting campers, for consumers who show up at the serial killer’s cabin armed with a pillow will get what they deserve. It’s not a fair fight. Dealers are sneaky, making the leasing numbers very complex, on purpose. Those who get the best deals are the ones who don’t let their guard down after the purchase price is agreed upon.

When financing a car, it’s pretty easy to calculate your finance charges, for your interest rate is proudly trumpeted across the dealer website, and reflected in your monthly payments. For example, a 2015 BMW 335i with a MSRP of $43,750.00, offers a 60 month financing package at 3.1% APR for $788.47 a month, which multiplies out to $47,308.2. That’s $3558.00 higher than the MSRP, so I’m calling that the Total Rent Charge. However, calculating your Total Rent Charge on a lease is much more difficult, for dealers intentionally shield a few critical numbers from you. (On that note, leasing this same vehicle for 36 months, and your Total Rent Charge is $3,888.32!!!) I’ll show you how to figure it out for yourself, so you don’t get ripped off when you lease a car.

Here are the 2 most important numbers to understand when leasing: The Net Capitalized Cost, and the Residual. The Net Capitalized Cost is how much you owe on the car when it leaves the lot. The next number to understand is the Residual. That’s how much your car will be worth in 3 years. The Depreciation is the difference, which is what your lease payments are funding for 3 years.

So here’s a number the dealers don’t want you to know. The depreciation divided by the number of payments. That’s how much your car payment would be, if the interest rate was zero. Any number above that is dealer profit. (Auto leases don’t use percentage rates – they use something called a money factor, which is a 4-place decimal intended to obscure what you’re paying. To calculate your interest rate, multiply your money factor times 2400).

Let’s look at Stan’s lease closer. Net Capital Cost of $47,196.00, a residual of $32,382.00, leaving $14,814.00 in depreciation. Over 39 months, a $14,814.00 depreciation comes out to $379.85 payment a month. Guess what Stan had to pay BMW? $479 a month. That’s almost $100 a month, which over 3 years, adds up to almost $3900. That $3900 is what I call the “I’m driving a car I really can’t afford” tax. Put it this way – if you’re aged 35, and you invest $99 a month in an IRA making 12% until you retire, that’s $321,107.65 you’ll have in the bank. Invest your $479 car payment, and you’ll have $1,553,642.09 to spend on a post mid-life crisis Porsche.

2 years ago, I thought I was a genius, and took over someone else’s BMW lease on a popular lease-swapping site. Yes, I did save on the $5000-ish down payment, however, I ended up paying around $100 in finance charges.

If you can’t afford to pay cash for a car, you can’t afford it. Buy a $2000 car. Save the money you would have spent on a payment towards a better car, or simply invest it. Put it this way. To finance or lease a car from you, dealers require and arm and a leg. But they’re just as content bleeding you over the course of several years, which gives them even more flesh from you, in a way you won’t notice.

2015 P85D review

My first week of P85+ ownership was absolute bliss. My second week, however, was marred by anxiety and regret, thanks to the unexpected 10-10-14 P85D release. Like everyone else, I salivated over the dual motors, autopilot and next-gen seats I couldn’t have, and spent way too much time on the forums, getting lectured how I’d purchased a smartphone-like device, and needed to get over myself. I agonized whether to sell my week-old P85+, and take a big financial hit.

So, today, I got to put all that to rest, and test drive the new P85D – at my wife’s insistence. She had hopelessly fallen in love with my P85+, and wants one too, for she confided in me she enjoys driving it more than her old AMG convertible. My other clue – every single morning, she playfully asks if she can borrow it for the day. My previous car was an M3 convertible, and she never asked for the keys once. On the days I’d lovingly let her take my P85+, I’d miss it terribly, for the exhaust fumes in her ICE vehicle now annoyed me, I’d often forget to turn off her engine, it takes several minutes to warm up on cold mornings (no iPhone pre-warming app!), along with the ice-age acceleration, and, once I had my wallet stolen out of her car, because I assumed it would lock itself after I walked away.

Here are my initial impressions:
– The P85D doors close with a cheap rattly clank, just like my P85+. Had they closed with that satisfying S-Class thunk, I would have traded mine in right on the spot.
– Speaking of the doors, the rear doors now open wider, which is nice, for my 75-year-old parents sometimes struggle to get in the back seat.
– The top of the dashboard had the same alcantara as my roof, which is a nice touch.
– The next-gen seats? WOW. I love my P85+ seats, but the side bolsters reminded me of strapping into my old M3. I gave the Service Manager my card, and asked him to call me if he hears anything about a retrofit possibility.

Driving Impressions:
– The 0-30 acceleration. Wow. Yes, it’s terrifying the first couple times. After 30mph, though, I really couldn’t tell it apart from my P85+. Even my wife agreed. That being said, a couple things annoyed me. One, it felt like the hood rose 5 or 6 inches on a hard launch. To me, that’s behavior suited to Buicks and SUVs, for my P85+ doesn’t paw at the sky on a hard launch. Next, the front motor makes a sci-fi kind of whine. I only heard it on the hard launches, but it did detract from that silent spaceship experience I love in my P85+. My wife’s hearing is better than mine, and she heard the whine all the time. And yes, it was in Insane more.
– The steering felt a little heavier than the standard mode of my P85+.
– The brakes were grabby, making it difficult to brake smoothly at low speeds. The Service Manager explained to us later that these are the next-gen brakes, which are software-controlled, as opposed to mechanical.
– The lane-departure warning vibrated the steering wheel when you crossed a lane marker. I immediately turned it off.
– The speed limit sign in the dash only appears for a few seconds, which was cool, because a big white sign in the center of the dash is distracting. The curved speedometer-trail color changes to gray after the virtual needle passes the speed limit, so you can glance down and see the mix of blue and gray to see how far over you’re driving.
– Did not get to test any Autopilot features, for the 6.1 update hadn’t installed yet.

Conclusion:
I love my beautiful P85+ even more than I did this morning! So happy I didn’t trade it in. If I had $7500 to spend, and had to pick between getting a retrofitted dual-motor, or the next-gen seats, I’d pick the seats. If the P85D’s acceleration took my breath away from 30-70 as it did from 0-30, I’d pick the dual-motors of course. Maybe I can get Recaro aftermarket seats installed in my Tesla. I’ve already emailed Recaro – I’ll let you know what they say.

Tesla Model S P85+ review – while in Drive.

Last week I wrote about the Tesla Model S P85+ while it was in Park. This week, I’m going to put in Drive.

Open the door and get inside, and you’re greeted with a completely silent cabin. No big deal, all cars are quiet when you get in. Put your foot on the brake, select Drive, and the car creeps forward, and there is still no sound. It’s eerie. When you’ve been getting into cars for years, you expect the VROOOM sound and the car shuddering to life. When you don’t feel that, even after car starts moving, it’s surreal.

However, the truly supernatural part happens when you step on the accelerator. Not sure if there’s enough words to describe it, so I’ll just quote some of the passengers who have experienced it.
“HOLY CRAP!!!” (Manager of resort, who begged for a ride).
“Are you trying to kill me?” (dude from my gym, who drives a BMW).
“EEYYAAAHHHH!!!” (3 or 4 others who begged for a ride…)
“Don’t get a speeding ticket!” (My mom).
“I’ve only felt queasy in a roller coaster. And your car.” (Dad).
“Can I borrow it for my out of town client meeting?” (My wife).

Here’s the thing: The Tesla Model S’s electric motor allows it to accelerate at speeds you’ve never knew were possible. For instance, it will launch from 0-10 mph THE INSTANT YOU STEP ON IT. If you floor a Porsche 911, there’s a split second delay for the throttle to react, then the RPMs have to rise about 3500 RPM before it really starts to move. Put it this way – once you experience the INSTANTANEOUS acceleration of an electric motor, a gas engine will feel clumsy, noisy and outdated.

Here’s another Model S exclusive sensation. Floor it at 60 mph and you are CATAPULTED to 70, in silence. Same with 70 to 80. Or 30 to 40. The only way to reproduce that in a Porsche 911/M6/Viper/Corvette is to be two gears too low. As you know, holding the engine between 4000 and 5000 RPMs will be unpleasant after about 10 seconds. Not to mention burn lots of gas. The Model S just loafs around, and accelerates ferociously, at any speed, with absolutely no delay, in complete silence. Now I know how the gentlemen felt getting back on their horses after taking the Model T for a spin.

Tesla Model S P85+ Review, Part 1, (At a standstill, in Park)

Last week I wrote how the most exciting part about driving a BMW M6 was putting it in reverse. This week I’d like to review a Tesla Model S in Park.

Most car blog review start with this phrase:

(Full disclosure: Kia wanted me to drive the K900 so bad they flew me out to Santa Barbara..)

Which means the reviewer is as unbiased toward the vehicle as a golden retriever is towards a bacon-drenched tennis ball.

They choose their words carefully, or else, they’ll never get another Kia review model unit again.

So, am I as biased as the above-reference reviewer? Of course. Possible worse. this Tesla Model S review unit is mine. I paid for it. Dearly, in fact. I could have purchased two 2014 BMW M3s instead. Or one M6. I’ve driven both, and stand by my decision.

First category: Sex Appeal. This car creates a scene wherever it goes. If Madonna was standing out of the sunroof topless I doubt it’d get any more attention. I’ve had people one lane over shout at me to roll my window down so they could fire questions at me. I can count on two hands the number of people who have asked for rides, and I haven’t even owned it one week. I’ve owned 3 BMW convertibles, one of which was an M3, and the number of people who have requested rides my first week of ownership has been, well, zero.

First category: tech goodies. The Tesla Model S comes with an unlimited, always on 3G Internet connection. So that means I can display any website on my center console while I’m driving. (History of the World, part 1, on YouTube?! ) There’s a hands-free feature that lets me say something like, “Play Jimmy Eat World, The Middle” and it will find that song, and start playing it. There’s a Slacker Radio account, which has music, sports, and comedy channels, and in my opinion, it’s as good as Satellite Radio.

The center console has an LCD screen that’s the size of three iPads stacked side-by-side. It’s kind of spooky seeing a Google map showing the same square footage of the fold-out maps mom and dad used to wrestle with.

iPhone synchronization? It downloads all contacts, plus received and missed calls via Bluetooth. It will also stream audio output via Bluetooth. Cars have been doing this for 5 years now. However, available with the 6.0 Software update is the ability to download your Calendar appointment for the day. How cool is that? Every morning when I start the car, my appointments for the day flash on the screen. It can be configured to show once in the morning, every time the car starts, or only in the evening.

If you love technology, the Tesla Model S has no equal. They’ve built an iPhone app that lets you:

– lock or unlock all doors (then again, I can set it to lock the doors automatically when I walk away)

– honk the horn

– flash the headlights

– turn on the climate control

– see how much range is left on the battery.

You don’t even need your key to drive your Model S – just your iPhone. It’s like have Apple Pay, for your car.

Next week – I’ll put it in Drive.