The Denver Auto Show Wheels out Fun, Fast and Fabulous Rides

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There are two extremes when it comes to cars: car lovers who want to hear engines roar and see gleaming chrome and minimalists who want maximum cargo space and minimum fuel usage. The 115th Denver Auto Show, March 16-20 at the Colorado Convention Center, has plenty for both types, with a lot to appeal to in-betweeners, too.

This is the largest auto show between Chicago and L.A. with more than 500 vehicles from nearly 40 manufacturers. And for people who just want to trick out their existing rides it also features a showcase of custom styling, aftermarket products and accessories.

The widespread notion that American’s love affair with cars is over is at odds with record auto sales in 2015 and the first two months of 2016. Our love affair is just changing with the times. Rapidly improving automotive technology means cars perform better and last longer. They are safer, more efficient and also offer an amazing array of entertainment and information options. The Denver Auto Show is where you can see them all, get your questions answered and compare the options – in one place with no pressure.

Every year the auto show brings the newest of the new, including cars that are just introduced. Among the 2017 models you’ll see are the Chrysler Pacifica; Buick LaCrosse; Lincoln Continental; Audi Q7, A4 and R8; Jaguar XE; GMC Acadia; Hyundai Elantra, Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport; Cadillac XT5; Jeep Cherokee Overland and Honda Ridgeline.

Colorado drivers have responded enthusiastically to “green” alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles. Manufacturer’s representatives will be on hand to explain the ins and outs of electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 and hybrids like the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid, Kia Optima hybrid, Toyota Prius and RAV4 hybrid. You also can learn more about the advantages of flex-fuel and diesel vehicles.

Colorado is a state where SUVs and pickups are extremely popular and useful. You’ll be able to see plenty of them including Ford, Chevrolet, GMC, Ram, Nissan, Toyota and Honda pickups and small and large SUVs from American, European and Asian manufacturers.

If sexy curves excite you, check out Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati and Aston Martin. For luxury, there’s Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Cadillac, Lincoln, BMW, Porsche and Jaguar. If you love muscle, check out Chevy’s Camaro, Ford’s Mustang and Dodge’s Challenger.  Are sporty cars your thing? We’ve got the Mazda Miata, MINI, Porsche 911 Turbo S, Buick Cascada, Mercedes-Benz SLK and more.

That’s just scratching the surface.

Tons of dirt and gravel have been trucked in to create an off-road extravaganza – Camp Jeep Organic. Sign up to ride along with one of Jeep’s professional drivers on a spine-tingling course with steep inclines and big bumps. You can try out some cars yourself. Adults with a valid driver’s license will be able to test drive a variety of models from Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Fiat, Ram, Ford, Mazda, Toyota and Lincoln. Or you can feel what it is like to drive in thrilling simulators provided by Ford, Hyundai Kia and Toyota.

The Denver Auto Show’s hours are Wednesday, 5-10 p.m.; Thursday & Friday, noon-10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for children 6-12; children six and younger are free. Buy online at www.DenverAutoShow.com or at the door.

The Denver Auto Show offers free admission to active and veteran military personnel with military ID on Wednesday evening (March 16). Thursday (March 17) is Senior Day with $6.00 admission for people 65+. Hispanic Day with live music and dance from Mexico, Peru, Spain and Puerto Rico is Saturday, March 19. Show-goers will have the opportunity to meet KDEN Telemundo personalities.

Even if you’re only dreaming about a new car, SUV or truck, your perfect ride will be on display at the 2016 Denver Auto Show. Come and take a look!

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Chicago Auto Show goes big on trucks and SUVs

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Chicago, the City of Big Shoulders, also hosts the biggest – in square feet – auto show in the U.S. The Chicago Auto Show runs through Sunday, and among the most notable vehicles on display are the big pickups and SUVs on display.

With gasoline at its lowest price in more than five years ($1.26 mid-week in Brighton) large vehicles are more popular and get big visibility at the Chicago show.

Nissan’s Murano and Pathfinder concepts would easily climb to a ski chalet high on the slopes but be impractical on streets with their tires substituted for tracks; attention-grabbing but not very practical. More sensible may be Jeep’s Wrangler Red Rock concept, customized by Mopar, with electronic locking differentials and the ability to master almost any obstacle. Billed as a concept, a 50-unit edition based on it will be built.

Toyota’s 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro is a realistic option for off-roading or street use. This 3.5-liter, V-6, with 278 hp and 265-lb-ft of torque, midsize pickup arrives next fall. The TRD Pro comes loaded with features for rugged conditions, including the display vehicle’s arrestingly utilitarian cement-gray finish.

Ram’s 2017 2500 Power Wagon also works both on- and off-road, with a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, with 410 hp and 429-lb-ft of torque. It looks wicked – in the best sense – with a blacked-out grille, and other body parts. Not powerful enough? Check out the Shelby F-150 SuperCrow, a limited-edition, 5.0-liter V-8 putting out 700 hp. Equally wicked looking, it has a composite ram-air hood, front-bumper wrap and grilled, fender flares and other decorative touches.

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Many manufacturers are signaling continued faith in SUVs and crossovers here with concept and new or refreshed models. The Kia Telluride concept is getting lots of looks. It’s a seven-seat SUV hybrid with a 270-hp, 3.5-liter V6, plus a 130-hp electric motor combined for 400 hp and 30 mpg/highway. Auto reviewers bet this one gets built.

Nissan will produce its newly designed eight-seat 2017 Armada. It looks a lot like the Infiniti QX80 and is equipped with a 390-hp, 5.6-liter V-8.

Hyundai unveiled refreshed versions of the three-row Santa Fe and two-row Santa Fe Sport. Exterior changes are mostly cosmetic – new headlights, taillights and fascia – but there’s an updated infotainment system and upgraded safety features.

Finally, there’s a wheelchair-accessible SUV, a Ford Explorer MXV customized by BraunAbility with a ramp for disabled drivers/passengers. This is targeted at younger disabled consumers who just aren’t into minivans. It’s priced at about $60,000. Ford also announced that it plans to introduce four new SUVs in the next four years.

One of the most eye-catching concepts here actually is a van – sort of – based on Mercedes-Benz’s workhorse Sprinter. This Sprinter Extreme concept is cut down and tricked out as a small-version dump truck with a roof rack and light bar atop the cab, heavy-duty tires and a jungle-style wrap.

Chicago loves muscle cars, and Chevrolet happily obliges with the Chevy Camaro SS 1LE. It’s a suspension/chassis/exhaust package that includes fatter tires and bigger brakes to add to both V-6 and V-8s to make them track-worthy and fast. BMW unveiled its super-fast M4 GTS with 493-hp water-injected engine zooming from zero-60 in 3.7 seconds.

While bigger is most visible in Chicago, federal fuel-efficiency standards keep rising, meaning plenty of small cars and alternative-fuels cars will be built. One head-turning example is Kia’s Niro crossover hybrid, available next year with an expected 50 mpg combined. The Subaru Impreza five-door concept shows off Subie’s new, more aerodynamic styling direction. Mazda brought two ultralight MX-5 concepts – Speedster and Spyder – that look like they could be instant hits with sports car enthusiasts but likely will never be built.

As usual, more to see than space to report from Chicago. Your chance to see new domestic and import cars comes up March 16-20 at the 2016 edition of the Denver Auto Show, bringing more than 600 models to the Colorado Convention Center.

 

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Detroit Show Rolls out the Va-Va-Vroom

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At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES ’16) many automakers showcased vehicles because of their technological wizardry. The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, which opens to the public today, is a showcase for the full package: gorgeous sheet metal; comfy, luxurious interiors; performance and speed (but with maximum fuel efficiency); and of course lots of whiz-bang technology. There are more than 750 vehicles on display – 50+ of them new production or concept vehicles.

Clearly, the American automotive manufacturing renaissance continues. Journalists at the press previews lavished praise on the Buick Avista concept, the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, the reintroduced Lincoln Continental and the all-electric Chevy Bolt (also seen at CES ’16) with its 200-mile range.

Buick’s tagline question, “That’s a Buick?” achieves real meaning with the Avista concept. It may never be produced, but if Buick uses its design in future cars, they’ll be noticed. Avista is a luxury sedan with 400 hp and the no-handle door openers that are trending in several high-end cars.

It’s unusual to hear automotive reviewers drooling over minivans, but they loved Chrysler’s new Pacifica, which will replace the Town & Country. It’s sleek enough to compete against the crossovers that have overtaken it in sales. It also will be offered in a plug-in hybrid model – the first minivan hybrid – that will go up to 30 miles in full electric mode. The gas-powered model has a 287-hp, 3.6-liter engine.

Ford reintroduced the Lincoln Continental with gorgeous leather and wood interior and all-adjustable seats. It has a 400-hp, 3.3-liter engine and is loaded with technology including smartphone app-powered start and lock and the latest safety software. They’re hoping it will sell well in China.

Luxury sedans like the Continental are another trend in Detroit. Hyundai has spun Genesis off into its own brand. The 2017 G90 has a heads-up display and 9.2-inch high-def touchscreen. Intended to compete with Mercedes, BMW, Acura and Lexus it’s also focused on China’s market. Mercedes-Benz unveiled the 10th generation E-Class, notable for self-driving features: ability to accelerate or brake, change lanes when you turn on the turn signal and automatically maneuver to avoid accidents.

Acura’s Precision concept is long and low with unusually angular styling, including “suicide” rear doors. It may never get built, but various elements should be included on future Acuras. Inside it had a curved screen, one of the big trends at CES ’16.

Notable entries gathering raves in the sports coupe segment include BMW’s M2, with a 365-hp twin-turbo inline six engine and optional manual transmission; the 2107 Lexus LC500 with its 467-hp 5-liter V-8 and the brand’s distinctive hex-cell hourglass grille; and the Infiniti Q60 3-liter V-6 available with either 300 or 400 hp and a raft of safety technology.

In the performance car category, Porsche is showing the next generation 911 Turbo and Turbo S models with 540 or 580 hp. The S is rated at zero-60 mph in under 3.0 seconds. Equally fast and gorgeous is the first-ever Force 1, designed by Henrik Fisker.  It can zoom to 218 mph with a 745-hp V-10. It will be built in Michigan and cost about $270k.

Trucks are very big. The long-awaited, restyled Honda Ridgeline looks more like a standard pickup and has a unique, roomy under-bed storage compartment. Nissan’s Titan Warrior concept is built for off-road and boasts “unapologetic, aggressive, athletic styling…” Ford’s 2017 Raptor uses aluminum to lose 500 lbs. even with a bigger cabin to haul more people. It’s powered by an efficient twin-turbo V-6.

Can’t neglect SUVs and crossovers! GMC debuted a reworked, smaller Acadia. Kia unveiled a large Telluride plug-in hybrid concept. Its leather seats have sensors that can read and display passengers’ vital signs.

Volvo’s XC90 plug-in hybrid is completely redesigned with amazing new technology and drive features, and notable for winning the North American Truck/Utility of the Year award. The N.A. Car of the Year winner is the new Honda Civic.

These only scratch the surface here at NAIAS.

 

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Cars Take Center Screen at Consumer Electronics Show

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American consumers bought a record 17.47 million new vehicles last year – the most technologically advanced vehicles ever. But the future technology on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES ’16, going on through today in Las Vegas) is even more awesome.

CES ‘16 is the world’s largest trade show and it’s also become one of the world’s largest auto shows since it’s a showcase for computerized automotive technology being developed for safety, infotainment and comfort.  With more than 200,000 square feet of floor space devoted just to the 115 exhibiting automakers and technology companies, cars comprise a major part of the action at CES ’16.

This year’s biggest trends include electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and the merger of cars with all other aspects of life.

Faraday Future’s FF ZERO1 super performance electric concept jolted the electric car segment here. It’s a single seat “hypercar” with 986 horsepower that zooms from zero-60 mph in under three seconds. The platform can be adapted to fit different models and its “battery string” allows stringing batteries together to accommodate vehicle size and power needs. Faraday Future, backed by a Chinese billionaire, recently bought land near Las Vegas to build a large factory.

The Bolt EV concept Chevy previewed last year in Detroit was unveiled Wednesday as a production model. It has a range of more than 200 miles on a single charge. After tax credits, the Chevy Bolt will cost less than $30,000 and will be available in late 2016. A sign of the times: Chevy live-streamed the unveiling on Facebook.

Volkswagen turned heads with the BUDD-e concept that will go 233 miles on a single charge. Outside it looks like a streamlined microbus, although without mirrors or door handles (cameras do the work of mirrors and voice or gesture controls open doors). Inside is a revolutionary “Active Information Display” that replaces the dashboard with a continuous sweeping screen that enables all functionality through touch or voice control.

Several manufacturers debuted their own much-larger screens and also are adopting voice and gesture controls. Mercedes-Benz previewed a new E-Class cockpit with two 12.3-inch screens, electronics supplier LG Display has a 25-inch “waterfall” curved LCD, and Volvo unveiled a large flip-up screen that will enable high-def streaming video. BMW is expanding on the gesture controls already available in its new 7 Series with AirTouch featuring sensors in the dash that respond to hand movements. Electronics supplier Bosch is showing a “haptic” touchscreen that is flat but gives the sensation that you’re touching a button.

What’s accessible through these screens is amazing. The buzzword being used is “The Internet of Things.” Using screens and apps vehicles soon will be totally interconnected with our homes – security, kitchen appliances, HVAC, lights, as well as with personal information such as calendars – becoming command centers and/or mobile offices.

BMW’s Open Mobility Cloud “networks the correct information and functions, and uses intelligent control to allow complex processes to be started automatically…” FCA vehicles (Fiat-Chrysler-Jeep) will be able to read drivers’ habits and “deliver personalized information at the time it’s needed.” Audi announced research on a system to monitor drivers’ vital signs and help them relax.

Most of this technology is aimed at facilitating autonomous driving, beginning as early as 2020. Toyota announced a huge artificial intelligence initiative here. Ford said it is tripling its test fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions. Audi said it’s racetrack-testing high-speed autonomous driving; and Kia announced a new DriveWise program targeting partial autonomy by 2020, and full autonomous mobility by 2030. Several manufacturers are working on real-time road mapping to provide information autonomous vehicles will need to get us where we want to go.

In the nearer term, though, we came across two pretty cool ideas. First, BMW’s Bumper Detect, which alerts your smartphone if you’ve been bumped and even sends a picture of the transgressor. And there’s a Smartwheel snap-on steering-wheel cover that monitors hands on the wheel, thereby discouraging distracted driving (texting, phoning, etc.). It goes on sale this year.

 

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Automotive Stars on the Red Carpet at LA Auto Show

LRevoque.conv.LAIn LA it’s hard to get around without a car, so you would expect an auto show with cars that people will want to drive. This year’s Los Angeles Auto Show (open through Sunday) has them. They span the range from basic sedans and coupes, to convertibles, crossovers and performance cars, including concepts that may not ever get produced.

Common to most vehicles on the show floor, however, is amazing automotive technology. Even lower-end cars come with built-in tech; rearview cameras are standard on all Hondas, for example, and electronic stability control, which was introduced on luxury models in the mid-‘90s, is now required on all vehicles. Technology ups costs, but it’s made cars safer, more convenient and comfortable, while also expanding in-vehicle information and entertainment offerings.

Convertibles are big in LA, including the Range Rover Evoque, the Mercedes-Benz SL, Fiat 124 Spider and MINI Cooper. When the Evoque crossover was introduced a couple of years ago it was a hit – whether it finds buyers as a soft-top is anybody’s guess. The Benz SL is a streamlined mid-cycle redesign but is still a head-turner. The Fiat 124 Spider is newsworthy for its classic roadster styling and the fact that it’s being built by Mazda, whose Miata set the current standard for less-expensive convertibles, spawning the nickname “Fiata.” The Spider will have the Fiat Abarth’s 160-hp engine. MINI’s new droptop keeps the iconic design and the top can sport the Union Jack for a little extra jack.

Crossovers are top sellers and many are displayed here. The turbocharged Mazda CX-9 with 250 hp and seven seats is on most “best of show” lists. Jaguar’s first SUV is the elegant F-Pace meant to take on Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. BMW’s updated X1 and Infiniti’s QX30 – making their North American debuts – will compete in the small luxury space, as will Cadillac’s XT5, which is lighter, more efficient, roomier and with more tech than the SRX it replaces.

For the budget-minded crossover market, the new Ford Escape’s SYNC Connect will start, lock and unlock and check the diagnostics via mobile app. The updated 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage is a budget-minded, tech-heavy entry as is the redesigned Kia Sportage. Scion’s C-HR concept (coming in 2016) has cutting-edge design to target young urbanites; it’s engineered with a lower center of gravity to improve handling and comfort.

Despite the attention on crossovers, there are some standout sedans and coupes. The Buick LaCrosse front-wheel drive takes some design cues from the Avenir concept that debuted earlier this year. Subaru’s Impreza concept is sleek and sharp and should be a hit when it goes into production next year. Lincoln’s MKZ has a new grille design and a 400-hp 3.0-liter V-6. Honda’s 2016 Civic coupe is capitalizing on last month’s warm reception for the all-new Civic sedan.

For the eco-conscious customer Honda offers its Clarity FCV hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, coming next year, Toyota showed off a redesigned Prius and Audi offered the E-tron Quattro electric crossover concept designed to compete with Tesla’s Model S.

If performance is your passion, there were some standouts: BMW’s M4 MTS limited edition (only 300 coming to America) with a 493-horsepower water-injected engine; Alfa-Romeo’s Giulia Quadrifoglio with a 505-hp turbo six that does zero to 62 mph in 3.8 seconds; Audi’s S8 Plus and RS 7 Performance, both with 605 hp, or the A8 4.0T with 450 hp; the Ford GT Supercar; a pair of Porsche 911 Targas; and the Lamborghini Huracan LP 580-2 with a 5.2-liter V-10 that costs out north of $200k.

Finally, a little whimsy in the shape of Volkswagen’s Beetle Dune, a bit reminiscent of the dune buggies of yore. May be more suited to the beaches of SoCal than the Rockies, though.

With more than 50 world, North American and concept debuts there’s something for everyone at the LA Auto Show. Many will be on display at the Denver Auto Show March 16-20.

 

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Tokyo Motor Show Promises Both Fantasy & Technology

“Your Heart Will Race,” is the Tokyo Motor Show’s theme.  And people who yearn for cutting-edge technology, way out-of-the-box concepts, and even some vehicles that will actually be produced, will probably find that true. Preshow publicity promised “Technology x Fantasy” and that’s been delivered during its nine-day run, which ends Sunday.

“Fantasy” doesn’t mean “no wheels,” but it takes in a wide spectrum of other design ideas. The shapes and sizes range from weird to wonderful.

One writer described Toyota’s Kikai concept as “a bit like one of the post-apocalyptic vehicles of Mad Max 2.” The engine is completely visible.  Meanwhile, the tiny Toyoda Gosei Flesby concept is covered with external airbags to help protect pedestrians.

Nissan’s Teatro for Dayz concept is geared toward tech-savvy youth. It’s a box on wheels, with an all-white exterior and interior that can instantly change via LED lights and screens to reflect the occupants’ desire. Onboard cameras let passengers communicate with friends wherever they may be.

Mercedes’ Vision concept also is designed for “Generation Z.” The sleek, rocket-like pod is configured like a lounge inside. It runs on a fuel-cell powered electric engine and can be driven or operated autonomously while the passengers are occupied with their media.

Toyota, Honda and Lexus also are showcasing hydrogen fuel-cell cars. Toyota’s FCV Plus concept is quirky-looking and interesting partly because Toyota boasts it could generate power for a home. It moves Toyota closer to its goal of being 90 percent emissions-free by 2050. Meanwhile, Honda’s new Clarity fuel-cell vehicle will be available next year offering a 300-mile range and capacity of five passengers. With just 12 public hydrogen stations in the U.S., Clarity will have limited appeal for now.

The Lexus LF-FC concept uses a fuel cell to power the rear wheels and electric motors for both front wheels.  However, when comes to market in a year or so as the next-generation LS it likely will be gasoline-powered. This concept version is longer, lower and wider than the current LS and offers gesture controls and several autonomous driving features in its technology portfolio.

The Nissan IDS (Intelligent Driving System) concept could indicate the direction for the next-generation Nissan Leaf. It’s a hatchback with a 60 kwh motor. It’s also a showcase for Nissan’s autonomous vehicle technology. Nissan says it’s testing an autonomous vehicle in Tokyo and promises multiple autonomous models available by 2020. In “Piloted Drive” mode the IDS’s seats swivel inward, the steering wheel retracts and the cabin is softly lit.

Subaru and Mazda are showing concept vehicles that signal future directions. Subaru’s Impreza concept hatchback is streamlined with a wider and lower profile than the current model, although the drivetrain probably will be retained. Subaru’s Viviz concept may be the future Forester – a crossover hybrid with a serious cool factor: a sliding bumper that converts into a bike rack. It also carries some new crash avoidance and autonomous driving features.

Perhaps the biggest oohs and ahhs were over Mazda’s RX Vision concept. It’s sexy by almost any standard, with an amazingly long hood. Speculation centers around whether it will ever get built, and if it does whether its Wankel rotary engine – remember? – will make driving it just as appealing

Arguably the most exciting drive shown in Tokyo is the BMW M4 GTS sporting 493 hp that does zero-60 in 3.7 seconds. The unique water-injection system helps up the speed. About 300 of them will be sold in the U.S. beginning next year for about $160,000 each.

The Tokyo show also offers many tiny, less costly, tech-laden “city cars” that may be the future of personal transportation in congested cities for drivers who want more than a bike and less than a luxury sedan. While they may not make your heart race, there’s plenty here to confirm that “Technology x Fantasy” are rapidly changing how and what we drive.

 

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The Future of Driving Is No Drivers

Back in 1956, General Motors envisioned cars driving on “autopilot.” That was pretty unrealistic. Self-driving cars are just now within reach; fully autonomous cars are not far behind. “Look Ma…no hands!” has taken on new meaning.

What’s the difference?  Self-driving cars handle many, if not most, of the driving chores but drivers still have to take control in some circumstances. Fully autonomous means the cars drive themselves completely and may not even have a steering wheel. Both kinds are steered by computers with input from cameras, lasers and GPS signals.

While Google and other companies are testing autonomous cars, several automobile manufacturers already offer hands-free features such as self-parking and keeping their vehicles in the correct lane. For example, Subaru currently is advertising “Eyesight,” highlighting its ability to automatically brake to avoid a collision without driver intervention.

Adaptive cruise control, which maintains a car’s distance from the vehicle ahead – particularly useful in heavy traffic – is already a commonly available feature. Audi is building on that with a car that is able to drive itself completely in a traffic jam, and others are following suit. Cadillac, for example, will offer “Super Cruise” hands-free highway driving sometime next year. Ford says its next Super Duty pickup will have seven cameras to totally eliminate blind spots, with other camera-enabled features available soon on its other models.

Nearly every vehicle manufacturer is racing to develop a self-driving/autonomous vehicle. Daimler-Benz, which builds Freightliner trucks, already debuted the first self-driving semitrailer truck. During a media event early in May it showcased its “Inspiration Truck” by having it drive itself on the road atop the Hoover Dam. The truck could take over driving tasks on a pre-selected route. The driver could use the time to fill out paperwork or even play video games while the truck rolls down the highway.

Fifteen automakers, including GM, Toyota, Honda and Ford are each spending $1 million to conduct self-driving/autonomous vehicle research on a 32-acre Michigan testing facility that’s filled with different road situations and conditions. The State of Michigan and other companies spent $10 million to build the campus. Automakers are flocking to Silicon Valley to tap into its concentration of high-tech expertise.

Silicon Valley-based Google says its autonomous cars have driven almost two million miles, while experiencing only 14 accidents – 13 caused by the other vehicles and one when the Google’s engineer took over control from the car’s systems. Earlier this month, Continental (an automotive technology supplier) sent a self-driving Chrysler more than 200 miles to an automotive convention in Michigan. Delphi, another supplier, “drove” a robotic Audi A4 from San Francisco to New York in April.

The vehicles raise many questions. Who regulates self-driving/autonomous cars – federal or state governments? Will insurance companies lower rates for the vehicles since human error causes about 90 percent of accidents? Since the vehicles are programmed to follow traffic laws, how will local governments replace traffic violation revenues? How can vehicles be programmed to make ethical decisions; for instance, how would they choose between crashing head-on or swerving into a pedestrian? How can the vehicles be made hacker-proof…and prevent misuse of private consumer information?

Self-driving and autonomous cars have many benefits. Beyond their ability to improve safety, they likely will drive more smoothly and efficiently, increasing fuel economy. By freeing drivers from focusing on the road, they could enable more productive or enjoyable use of time. They would offer the elderly and disabled better mobility.

But consumers will have to be convinced that self-driving/autonomous cars are safe. According to one survey of 1,000+ people, 55 percent of women and 37 percent of men are apprehensive. Half of respondents also reported unwillingness to pay more, problematical since by some estimates being self-driving/autonomous could add $7,000 or more to a vehicle’s price by 2025, dropping to an added $5,000 by 2030 and $3,000 more in 2035.

Making transportation “easier” is pretty complicated.

 

Tim W. Jackson

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College not the best fit? Opportunities abound in automotive technology fields

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Jobs in automotive service technology pay well and have long-term potential. Certified automotive service techs spend less time and money in school than at a four-year college degree and automobile dealers in Colorado are eager to hire them. In fact, dealers say jobs are going unfilled.

One reason is that high school graduates don’t know – or don’t believe – that college is not the only way to a good future. According to Lincoln Technical College Director of Career Services Lee Koelliker “I think high schools still preach that [four-year college] traditional paradigm and it’s been difficult to get it shifted. We’re working to change some stereotypes.”

Auto tech jobs require plenty of smarts, though, says Schomp Automotive Service Director Jim Thurman. “The idea is that if you’re not smart enough, you can go work on cars. But working on cars today is more like being a mobile computer programmer. There used to be maybe 15 things that the computer controlled and now it’s 250-300.”

Bill Carmichael, CEO of Summit Automotive Partners, agrees. “This is a path for people with technical and critical thinking skills who are fast thinkers and productive. The opportunity to learn and grow without a college education is a great way to enter into a career.” Koelliker adds, “Technical college actually teaches skills students can universally use to sustain themselves for a lifetime.”

Training to be an automotive service technician requires investing some time and money, but far less of both than for a Bachelor’s degree. Auto tech programs lead either to Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification or an Associate’s degree. Programs are available through vocational schools and community colleges.

Denver metro area programs are available through Lincoln Tech, both Denver and Jefferson County Schools (Emily Griffith Technical College and WarrenTech), and at Arapahoe, Front Range and Red Rocks Community Colleges. Other community colleges throughout the state also have programs. Scholarships, such as the ones offered by the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association-sponsored Clear the Air Foundation, are available, as is financial aid. Several programs offer apprenticeships and training partnerships in conjunction with dealerships and manufacturers. Manufacturers frequently require techs to receive some additional training specific just to their vehicles.

With auto sales at the highest in years, the need for qualified technicians is also soaring. In Montrose, Flower Motors Fixed Operations Manager Ron Ellis says “It’s become such a problem that even when I have a full load I devote 45 minutes to an hour every day” to identifying potential employees. He travels to other cities to interview several candidates at a time, flying the most qualified to Colorado for a final look-see. “If you’re going to do a quality job in servicing new cars, you’d better have the best techs on the line.”

Auto service technology is proving popular among military veterans. Lincoln Tech’s Campus President Al Short says, “Veterans are one of our core groups,” with about 150 among the program’s 800 students. Vets can use their GI benefits for training.

“The opportunity for women is greater than it’s ever been, too, because it’s not just heavy work like it used to be,” Schomp’s Jim Thurman says.

Once a tech has secured a job he or she can expect frequent ongoing training through their employer to keep up with the latest automotive technology. “Becoming a master tech is the same as having an advanced degree,” according to Carmichael. “You can go anywhere, and based on certifications and work ethic, you would be highly valuable.” Lincoln Tech’s Koelliker agrees, “You can come out with a skill set and go essentially anywhere else in the world.”

“This industry offers great benefits and a good work environment,” says Thurman. It can also lead to other jobs, he points out. “I started as a tech and I’ve done all the pieces of the puzzle but I always gravitate back to service.”

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Frigid Chicago puts on a hot auto show

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Media and auto industry honchos may flock to auto shows in Detroit, New York and LA, but the Chicago Auto Show (CAS), which closed last Sunday, was designed to appeal to consumers. CAS actually is the largest U.S. auto showcase, with over one million square feet stuffed with more than 1,000 vehicles.

The massive McCormick Place made it easy to house Jeep’s Camp Jeep obstacle course as well as a test-track for some of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ hottest wheels. There was also a sizeable amount of space devoted to displaying exotic vehicles from storied brands like Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus and McClaren.

Plunk Coloradans down at this year’s Chicago Auto Show, though, and they would have been likely to gravitate toward the trucks and SUVs. There were several exciting things to look at in this segment.

The redesigned 2016 Honda Pilot, which debuted at CAS, generated maximum buzz. In fact, one media type called it “the most significant car at the show.” The eight-seat SUV lost 300 pounds, gained fuel-efficiency and now has a more rounded silhouette and all of Honda’s latest safety and tech bells and whistles. Its Acura cousin, the RDX crossover, also been updated with new LED head and taillights, a nine-speed gearbox, better fuel efficiency and tons of tech and safety features.

Another attention-attracting SUV was the full-size Mitsubishi Concept GC-PHEV (plug-in hybrid), notable for its angular design. It has both a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 and a 70-kilowatt electric motor, which together generate 335 horsepower with an electric range of 25+ miles.

Chevrolet showed off its updated Equinox SUV with new taillight and rear bumper styling, a seven-inch touchscreen and reworked center stack. Ford’s big debut was the Police Interceptor, available only to law enforcement, but based on its newest civilian Ford Explorer. Ford boasts that it is “a vehicle ready to meet extremely demanding needs.”

Fiat Chrysler’s Ram top-of-the-line Laramie Limited comes with huge gleaming chrome grille and trim and wicked all-black leather interior. It goes on sale later this year with engines ranging from a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel to 5.7 or 6.4-liter Hemis and 6.7-liter turbo-diesel.

The Chevy Colorado GearOn Special Edition, available this spring, should appeal to Colorado’s outdoor enthusiasts. The pickup’s GearOn accessory system facilitates mounting equipment such as bikes, kayaks, paddleboards and even a tent. Most can be attached to upper rails, leaving the truck bed open to hold more stuff. As AutoWeek.com put it, “This truck was made for glamping.” Glamping: “glamorous camping.”

The Kia Trail’ster concept hybrid crossover SUV also was a big draw in Chicago. It kicks the hamster-friendly Kia Soul up a notch with all-wheel drive and a hybrid drivetrain with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a 270-volt electric motor that sends power to the rear wheels. It comes with higher ground clearance, tow hooks and a cloth sunroof with integrated roof rack. There’s no word on whether this concept will ever make it to production.

Even with all the trucks, crossovers and SUVs, there were plenty of cars. Nissan debuted the GT-R LM Nismo concept that earned looks with a cloth drop-top and 350 hp, 3.7-liter engine. Toyota unveiled the 2016 Avalon premium sedan. The engine stays the same but it gets an updated look, two suspension choices and five trim levels. The top trims come with a raft of advanced safety features, including pre-collision system and lane departure warning.

And for folks who think hybrid = slow, a pair of super-fast hybrids: the Porsche 918 Spyder that gets 887 hp combined gas/electric, and the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo 1,250-hp FWD race car that it plans to race at Le Mans.

The Denver Auto Show is scheduled for April 8-12, and like the Chicago Auto Show, it’s a show designed to intrigue and delight consumers. We will have something for every taste – including some of the vehicles we saw in Chicago.

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Newer cars mean safer teen drivers

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The latest data on traffic accidents and fatalities are a good news, bad news story. The good news is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that after a brief uptick in 2012, fatal crashes have started going down again, re-starting a seven-year trend. The bad news is that motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 20.

Teenage drivers comprise almost six percent of licensed Colorado drivers, but account for more than 11 percent of our state’s traffic deaths. And while the traffic fatalities for Colorado teenagers went down 67 percent between 2004 and 2011, they climbed by 10 percent in 2012, the latest year for which statistics have been reported.

Inexperience behind the wheel is the main reason for teen traffic accidents and fatalities. Other factors include not wearing seat belts, alcohol, speeding and what the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls “problematic” behaviors – many related to lack of mature judgment and teenage psychology.

Graduated driver licensing laws improved the picture. Colorado enacted graduated licensing in 1999. It specifies that teens have a learner’s permit for at least a year, how much supervised driving time they must have, when they can drive and with whom they can drive for the first couple of years as well as the number of passengers allowed during the first several months they have a driver’s license.

Newer cars = safer cars:

However, there’s another major factor influencing traffic fatalities, especially among younger drivers: the safety of their automobiles. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that many teenagers are driving vehicles that don’t have good crash protection or safety technology. The IIHS reports that in the period between 2008 and 2012, 82 percent of driving fatalities among 15-17-year-olds were in vehicles six years old or older.

While new vehicles are more expensive, they also are safest and most fuel-efficient (which will matter when gas prices rise again). They have longer warranties, better reliability and are protected by lemon laws. And they have the latest technology. Besides electronic stability control (mandatory beginning in 2012), newer cars also have anti-lock brakes (required since 2011) and many have surround airbags, not just front airbags.

Manufacturers now use safety as a competitive selling point. For inexperienced drivers they might make a critical difference. Forward-looking sensors such as radar and cameras can monitor distance to the vehicle ahead and send an alert if the vehicle is too close or even slow it down to maintain a safe distance; some can automatically brake to prevent or lessen an impact. Adaptive headlights direct headlights around curves allowing greater visibility for the driver.  Backup cameras and reverse backup sensors and side-view assist/blind-spot monitors help detect people and objects not easily visible. Lane-departure warning lets drivers know if they’re drifting.

In the long run, newer, more technologically advanced cars mean safer teenagers. Technology can’t compensate for inattentive driving or unnecessary risks, but it can help save lives.

The IIHS has some guidelines for parents to use when choosing a vehicle for their teenage driver:

  • Go for lower horsepower. The more power, the more temptation to use it, testing limits that should be off-limit.
  • Larger, heavier cars provide more protection in a crash, particularly if teenagers are driving older cars that don’t have the very latest safety technology.
  • Do not invest in a car without electronic stability control (ESC), which helps control the vehicle on curves and slick roads – where a lot of emergency maneuvers take place. This is especially important in climates such as Colorado’s.
  • Pay attention to safety ratings. Go for four or five stars (NHTSA) and “Good” and “Top Safety Pick” or “Top Safety Pick +” ratings (IIHS).

Whether you choose a new or used car for your teenage driver, it’s good to keep in mind that old advice: “Safety first.”  Although a new car will likely cost more money, it may be the purchase decision that saves a life.

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