Subaru can barely make enough cars to meet demand and has the best profit margin in the industry. But expanding might jeopardize what makes it work so well ... Since 2011, Subaru’s global sales have surged 45 percent to 913,100 vehicles, a pace bested only by a few burgeoning Chinese brands and Fiat Chrysler which has been intent on making Jeep a popular choice in Europe and Asia. ... Almost any car company one can name is far bigger than little Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru's parent. BMW? More than twice the size in terms of unit sales. Kia? Almost three Subarus. Even Mazda sells 50 percent more cars. ... Being small, though, is the reason Subaru has become such a big deal. With manufacturing capacity maxed out, it now has to decide what kind of company it wants to be. ... Traditionally, the company has spurned the volume game for steadier prices and better relationships with its dealers. Because supplies are so tight, a Subaru sitting on a sales lot right now might be the closest thing the car business has ever seen to a fixed price. Last month, the average incentive on a Subaru in the U.S. was a minuscule $481, compared with almost $2,000 on a Mercedes and almost $3,000 on a Ford. This is also why Subarus today retain their value better than any other brand, according to a TrueCar analysis.
By 1999 John DeLorean was bankrupt and swimming in $85 million debt, but he still hoped that his namesake De Lorean car would eventually come back into style. The thought wasn’t entirely absurd – Volkswagen was enjoying phenomenal success with its ‘new’ Beetle and the retro-styled PT Cruiser was a hit for Chrysler. Then again the De Lorean Motor Company’s signature car, the DMC-12, only had a ten to 11-month run of less than 9,000 cars. In other words, the 1982 De Lorean car was retro by 1983. By 1985 the De Lorean was a joke in Back to the Future, so dated it made for a perfect time machine. ... The timeline of DeLorean’s personal history is so tied to the history of automobiles that, even after his death in 2005 (at age 80, after suffering complications from a stroke), his various supporters and detractors are still debating his accomplishments and foibles. Both lists are long. Some argue for the flashy and obvious, such as the DMC-12’s gull-wing doors and rust proof stainless steel body. Others point to a design accomplishment that is far more ubiquitous but rarely attributed to DeLorean: the lane-change turn signal.
Rodney Durham stopped working in 1991, declared bankruptcy and lives on Social Security. Nonetheless, Wells Fargo lent him $15,197 to buy a used Mitsubishi sedan. ... “I am not sure how I got the loan,” Mr. Durham, age 60, said. ... Mr. Durham’s application said that he made $35,000 as a technician at Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, N.Y., according to a copy of the loan document. But he says he told the dealer he hadn’t worked at the hospital for more than three decades. Now, after months of Wells Fargo pressing him over missed payments, the bank has repossessed his car. ... This is the face of the new subprime boom. Mr. Durham is one of millions of Americans with shoddy credit who are easily obtaining auto loans from used-car dealers, including some who fabricate or ignore borrowers’ abilities to repay. The loans often come with terms that take advantage of the most desperate, least financially sophisticated customers. ... Auto loans to people with tarnished credit have risen more than 130 percent in the five years since the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, with roughly one in four new auto loans last year going to borrowers considered subprime — people with credit scores at or below 640. ... While losses from soured car loans would be far less than those on subprime mortgages, the red ink could still deal a blow to the banks not long after they recovered from the housing bust. Losses from auto loans might also cause the banks to further retrench from making other loans vital to the economic recovery, like those to small business and would-be homeowners. ... In another sign of trouble ahead, repossessions, while still relatively low, increased nearly 78 percent to an estimated 388,000 cars in the first three months of the year from the same period a year earlier, according to the latest data provided by Experian. The number of borrowers who are more than 60 days late on their car payments also jumped in 22 states during that period.
In a suburb of Bristol, in western England, not far from the Welsh border, a band of engineers are building a machine that they hope will make the biggest jump in the century-long history of the official world land-speed record, taking it from a smidgen above the speed of sound to 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) per hour. That’s roughly the cruising speed of a fighter aircraft, but it’s considerably harder to achieve at ground level, where the atmosphere is far thicker. And there’s the not-insignificant danger that the vehicle will end up plowing into the ground. ... Even in the complicated business of breaking such speed records, Bloodhound represents a remarkable array of firsts in terms of technology, engineering techniques, and propulsion systems, all set to send the missile-shaped car down a nearly 20-km-long racetrack in the South African desert toward the end of this year. Perhaps the most striking of those firsts is the project’s method of verifying the safety of the design. To a degree that would be unthinkable today, earlier record attempts relied on overengineering, best-guess estimates, intuition, and sheer luck. Earlier generations of engineers would often discover a car’s limits with destructive testing—running it until it broke. Now modeling and data acquisition, the preferred tools for designing both aircraft and cars, are making headway in this most extreme of sports. Bloodhound is the first project of its kind to apply them. By the time the car makes its great bid for the record in South Africa, it will have done the run 1,000 times in silico. ... Take the wheels, for example. They will be the fastest-turning wheels in the world. And when the car is traveling at 1,600 km/h, material on the rim of a wheel will experience about 50,000 g’s.
On a typical day Westlake finances 750 cars. It currently has 336,000 outstanding loans, each originating from one of the 23,000 dealerships it works with (everyone from CarMax to small mom-and-pop used car lots). ... most of Hankey’s borrowers aren’t average–they are financial underachievers with credit scores below 600. Many have bankruptcies, past repossessions or limited credit histories–things that make them unattractive to traditional lenders. That’s where Hankey steps in. While Westlake offers loans as low as 1.65%, it specializes in financing credit-challenged car buyers–at an eye-popping rate of 19%, more than double the average for used car loans. ... They typically shell out $344 per month over 49 months, or $16,860 on a $12,000 loan. That translates to an extra $3,920 in interest over the life of the loan when compared to the 3.67% rate a borrower with good credit gets when buying a new car, according to Experian. Sure, each month the company has to write off about $17 million in unpaid loans, but it still banks a profit of around $20 million. In 2014 Westlake netted $230 million on $600 million in revenues. ... He joined forces with the ride-share leviathan in September 2014 as its only outside financing partner. Spanish bank Santander had been working with Uber, offering a lease-to-own program, but that relationship ended earlier this year. Would-be Uber drivers who are looking to purchase a car can get pre-qualified online in a matter of minutes. ... so far a greater portion of its Uber drivers are behind on their payments compared to its typical subprime borrowers, apparently not earning enough to cover the costs.
He says it’s a self-driving car that he had built in about a month. The claim seems absurd. But when I turn up that morning, in his garage there’s a white 2016 Acura ILX outfitted with a laser-based radar (lidar) system on the roof and a camera mounted near the rearview mirror. A tangle of electronics is attached to a wooden board where the glove compartment used to be, a joystick protrudes where you’d usually find a gearshift, and a 21.5-inch screen is attached to the center of the dash. “Tesla only has a 17-inch screen,” Hotz says. ... Hotz was the first person to hack Apple’s iPhone, allowing anyone—well, anyone with a soldering iron and some software smarts—to use the phone on networks other than AT&T’s. He later became the first person to run through a gantlet of hard-core defense systems in the Sony PlayStation 3 and crack that open, too. ... The technology he’s building represents an end run on much more expensive systems being designed by Google, Uber, the major automakers, and, if persistent rumors and numerous news reports are true, Apple. More short term, he thinks he can challenge Mobileye, the Israeli company that supplies Tesla Motors, BMW, Ford Motor, General Motors, and others with their current driver-assist technology. ... Hotz plans to best the Mobileye technology with off-the-shelf electronics. He’s building a kit consisting of six cameras—similar to the $13 ones found in smartphones—that would be placed around the car. ... The goal is to sell the camera and software package for $1,000 a pop either to automakers or, if need be, directly to consumers who would buy customized vehicles at a showroom run by Hotz. ... There are two breakthroughs that make Hotz’s system possible. The first comes from the rise in computing power since the days of the Grand Challenge. He uses graphics chips that normally power video game consoles to process images pulled in by the car’s camera and speedy Intel chips to run his AI calculations. ... The second advance is deep learning, an AI technology that has taken off over the past few years. It allows researchers to assign a task to computers and then sit back as the machines in essence teach themselves how to accomplish and finally master the job. ... Instead of the hundreds of thousands of lines of code found in other self-driving vehicles, Hotz’s software is based on about 2,000 lines.
- Also: BuzzFeed - Google's Cute Cars And The Ugly End Of Driving < 5min
- Also: MIT Technology Review - A Car That Knows What the Driver Will Do Next < 5min
- Also: The Atlantic - How Many Lives Will Driverless Cars Save? < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - Can Detroit Beat Google to the Self-Driving Car? 5-15min
- Also: Marginal Revolution - Three counterintuitive scenarios for driverless vehicles < 5min
- Also: The New York Times - The Dream Life of Driverless Cars 5-15min
- Also: The Verge - Inside Faraday Future, the secretive car company chasing Tesla 5-15min
- Also: The Atlantic - The High-Stakes Race to Rid the World of Human Drivers 5-15min
- Also: Wall Street Journal - Could Self-Driving Cars Spell the End of Ownership? < 5min
No one gets to 55 without having made some decisions about their appearance. And Clarkson’s makes it clear he has decided to tell the world to piss off. In a medium obsessed with what you look like, he has chosen to dress as the understudy for Worzel Gummidge in a production at the Wimbledon theatre. In a wardrobe at home he has dozens of pairs of identical old jeans. Everyone on telly is a show-off, but Clarkson shows off by seeming to be normal. ... His lifetime behind the wheel began when, as a young reporter on the local newspaper in Rotherham, he met a contemporary from the Harrogate Advertiser behind the wheel of a car that cost as much as Rotherham council’s entire annual budget. The Harrogate lad explained how the racket worked: you said you wanted to review a car and, lo and behold, the manufacturers would deliver it to you, insured and full of fuel, for you to use, free, gratis and for nothing, for a week or two. All for a couple of paragraphs of copy.
Because rubber is so common, so unobtrusive, so dull, it may not seem worth a second glance. This would be a mistake. Rubber has played a largely hidden role in global political and environmental history for more than 150 years. You say you want an industrial revolution? If so, you need three raw materials: iron, to make steel for machinery; fossil fuels, to power that machinery; and rubber, to connect and protect all the moving parts. Try running an automobile without a fan belt or a radiator hose; very bad things will happen within a minute. Want to send coolant around an engine using a rigid metal tube instead of a flexible rubber hose? Good luck keeping it from vibrating to pieces. Having enough steel and coal to make and drive industrial machinery means nothing if the engines fry because you can’t cool them. ... To the extent that most people think about rubber at all, they likely picture a product made from synthetic chemicals. In fact, more than 40 percent of the world’s rubber comes from trees, almost all of them H. brasiliensis. Compared with natural rubber, synthetic rubber is usually cheaper to produce but is weaker, less flexible, and less able to withstand vibration. For things that absolutely cannot fail, from condoms to surgeon’s gloves to airplane tires, natural rubber has long been the top choice. ... Iron can be found around the globe; so can fossil fuels. But rubber today is grown almost exclusively in Southeast Asia, because the region has a unique combination of suitable climate and infrastructure. Despite all the ups and downs in the global economy, the demand for tires continues to grow, which has created something akin to a gold rush in Southeast Asia. For millions of people in this poor part of the world, the rubber boom has helped bring prosperity
Most of us simply can’t shell out more than $70,000 for a Tesla. But comparatively affordable electrics like the Nissan Leaf still travel only about 80 miles on a charge—not far enough to dispel the dreaded “range anxiety” that such a low number provokes in most American drivers. A 2013 study by the California Center for Sustainable Energy found that only 9 percent of consumers said they would be satisfied with an electric car that can go 100 miles on a charge. Increase that range to 200 miles, though, and 70 percent of potential drivers said they’d be satisfied. ... over the past couple of years, a number of major automakers—General Motors, Nissan, Volkswagen—have lined up with plans to offer an electric car with (yep) approximately 200 miles of range, for a price somewhere around the average cost of a new American car, about $33,000. They all hope to do so quickly, as fuel efficiency requirements are ratcheting up every year. And they all hope to get there before media darling Tesla does. Musk—billionaire, celebrity, space and solar-energy mogul, would-be colonizer of Mars—has said since 2006 that Tesla’s “master plan” is to work toward building an affordable, long-range electric car. ... In short, the electric car business has taken the form of an old-fashioned race for a prize—a race in very soft sand. There’s no Moore’s law for batteries, which are chemical not digital. Cell development is all slow, arduous trial and error. When your goal is to drive energy efficiency up while driving costs down on a mass industrial scale, there aren’t many shortcuts or late-night inspirations to be had. But now it looks pretty clear who the winner will be. And it ain’t Tesla.
It will take at least three years for Takata and other manufacturers to make enough air bags to replace the company’s defective ones. Because of their chemistry, Takata’s devices become less stable over time. That leaves millions of drivers with cars that could contain an air bag that’s like a ticking time bomb. ... Takata, founded by the Takada family in the 1930s as a textile maker, produced parachutes for the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. In 1960, Takata began manufacturing seat belts for Japan’s carmakers, which were leading the country’s industrial expansion. It was the only company whose seat belts passed the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash test standards in 1973. ... Air bags deploy in controlled explosions. Their designs are drawn from rockets and munitions. A former Honda engineer, Saburo Kobayashi, described Takada’s reservations in a 2012 memoir. “If anything happens to the air bags, Takata will go bankrupt,” Takada said, according to the book. “We can’t cross a bridge as dangerous as this.” Eventually, he relented. ... Lillie says he left Takata in 1999, partly because the company ignored his warnings about ammonium nitrate. He says Takata’s executives and workforce were unprepared to take on such a difficult design and manufacturing process. “Takata engineers claimed they had this magic,” he says. “No one else could figure it out, and they had.”