Our 10 Favorite Technologies in 2017 Trucks and SUVs

2017 10Best Trucks and SUVs TechnologiesBentley Bentayga Dynamic RideBuick Envision / GMC Acadia Torque-Vectoring Rear AxleChrysler Pacifica’s Stow ’n GoFord F-150 Trailer Backup AssistFord F-150 Raptor / Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Internal-Bypass Fox ShocksHonda Ridgeline Bed SpeakerHonda Ridgeline UnibodyJeep Renegade, Cherokee, and New 2017 Compass Axle-Disconnect AWDMazda CX-9 Dynamic Pressure TurboVolvo XC90 Touch Screen

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California Gets Specific about How Volkswagen Will Atone for Its Dirty Diesels

Volkswagen comebackAs part of the $14.7 billion settlement with U.S. owners and regulators over its emissions-cheating scandal, Volkswagen has to log some public service—10 years of it, to the tune of at least $2 billion of investments supporting electric vehicles.

While the settlement lays out how and when the automaker will make good with the U.S. EPA, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is a separate entity, and it’s getting 40 percent of that make-good cash, or $800 million. So the Golden State has launched into a process of laying some additional ground rules—or at the very least, some strong guidelines—over how VW is to spend that money.

To that end, CARB has put together a list of priorities, which it calls California’s Initial Guiding Principles for VW ZEV [Zero-Emission Vehicle] Investments. Those were revealed last week. Later this week, on December 8, there will be a board hearing. Until December 16, the whole issue is open for public comment.

California-Specific Priorities

The California agency specifies that 25 percent of the funds should go toward programs serving disadvantaged communities. Other California-centric examples include programs that scrap older vehicles and replace them with ZEVs, provide zero-emission transit services, or involve ride-hailing services that serve disadvantaged communities. The agency also asks that VW’s investments “demonstrate corporate social responsibility and a cradle-to-grave sustainable business case.”

Priorities for infrastructure in California include workplace charging points, charging stations for multi-unit dwellings, and solutions that fill gaps in charging infrastructure at public places such as airports and hospitals. CARB also points to projects that might expand ZEV technology to medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles. Experiential marketing—ride-and-drive events and displays—is included in the project, the agency notes, as are autonomous-car demonstrations, provided that the autonomous car is a ZEV.

VW Will Fund Nationwide Electric-Vehicle Education

There’s already a lot of structure and accountability built into the settlement as it applies both to California and the federal government. The money can’t cover projects that are directly to the benefit only of VW—such as placing chargers at its dealerships. And VW can’t spend less than $25 million or more than $50 million of it on “brand-neutral media activities” for ZEVs—such as websites, print ads, maybe even radio PSAs. And any programs that increase public exposure to ZEVs or put them into an underserved area through rental fleets or car sharing need to be approved in writing by the EPA.

Volkswagen TDI 4-cylThe hefty Consent Decree—the document that details all the settlement provisions—also requires an ankle bracelet of sorts: VW must make annual National ZEV Investment Reports that update the federal government on activities and projects, spending, and utilization rates for the new infrastructure.

So far, this is only part of the settlement, applying to Volkswagen’s four-cylinder diesels. In late November, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer delayed a hearing over the other engine, Audi’s V-6 TDI, which was used in about 80,000 VW, Porsche, and Audi vehicles in the United States—because the delay “may produce a resolution of the outstanding issues.”

Volkswagen must provide its Draft ZEV Investment Plan to California by February 22, 2017. Whatever form it eventually takes, it’s a sure bet that VW’s dirty diesels will end up financing major public initiatives promoting EVs.

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Iron and Grit: These Moody Images of the Cars of 1970s New York Are Incredible

The cover for Langdon Clay’s Cars - New York City, 1974-1976, showing the Marlin Room Car, Cutlass Supreme in front of the Marlin Room and Lounge connected to Clam Broth House, Hoboken, NJ, 1975.Carz-a-Poppin car, Ford Galaxie 500 (1966), Houston and Broadway, 1976Buick LeSabre, 14th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, 1974Gran Torino Sport, in the Twenties or Thirties on the East side, 1975. All Photographs: Clay LangdonPat’s Hot and Cold Heroes car, Buick Skylark, Soho, 1976Checker Marathon, in the Twenties near 6th Avenue, 1975Chevrolet Impala, 7th Avenue and 29th Street, 1975Buick LeSabre, Meatpacking District, 1976Silver Fish (1975): Chevrolet Impala Custom Coupe, in front of Con Edison substationLangdon Clay

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Explained: The 2017 Ford GT Supercar’s Five Drive Modes

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Ford recently made available a nearly production-ready prototype of the Ford GT supercar, during which the automaker explained how engineers tuned the car’s chassis and aerodynamic package to morph to the driver’s needs with the twist of a steering-wheel-mounted dial. Here’s an in-depth explanation of exactly what will happen when the lucky GT owner cycles through each of five modes.

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Let’s start with the least aggressive setting, Wet. Here, the suspension is in Normal, its second softest setting, with 4.7 inches of ground clearance and the option to hit the Comfort button for even softer damping. Throttle response is lazier to prevent unintentional wheelspin; the ABS and stability-control systems are at their most sensitive.

Next up is Normal mode. The suspension, ride height, and aerodynamics are unchanged from Wet mode, but throttle response is sharper, and the stability control reins are comparatively looser. Transmission shifting strategies remain at their default.

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How the GT looks in Wet, Normal, and Sport mode, with normal ride height and the rear wing stowed.

One click more calls up Sport mode. The ride height stays the same, but the dampers firm up. In this mode, the GT’s anti-lag feature kicks in to manage throttle position and fuel delivery to keep the turbos spooling, eliminating lag even at low rpm. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission adopts a more aggressive shift strategy, using accelerometers to detect spirited driving and call up the right gear for maximum thrust at corner exit. In addition, the stability control and ABS loosen their grip a bit more.

Up until this point, the car’s movable aerodynamic elements haven’t, well, moved. To ensure aerodynamic balance while the wing is in its stowed (and thus low-downforce) position, shutters in the nose of the car open up to allow air to bypass the downforce channels that run through the chassis via a low-pressure shunt pathway.

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The GT in Track mode, sitting 4.7 inches lower and with all aero deployed.

When the driver clicks into Track mode, the full aero suite is activated as the suspension drops the ride height by 2.0 inches. The shutters in the nose flip closed, diverting air entering the front of the car into the high-pressure downforce channels. The resulting front-axle downforce is balanced by the rear wing, which rises up via hydraulic actuators to act on the rear axle.

Other changes are going on with that rear wing. While the top surface of the wing is flat when stowed, small Gurney flaps are exposed on either side of the center brake light as the wing changes its attitude and elevates. In addition, a cam system inside the wing changes the shape of the airfoil, optimizing airflow to generate even more downforce. In Track mode, the wing also doubles as an air brake, flipping to a vertical attitude under heavy braking to increase drag.

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The wing in air-brake mode.

The final mode, dubbed Vmax, calls up the lowered ride height and firmer damper settings of Track mode but leaves all the aero devices in their lowest drag settings—the front air shutters open up to divert airflow away from the downforce channels, and the rear wing stays in its lowered position. Raj Nair, director of product development and chief technical officer at Ford, wouldn’t directly say what kind of top speed the GT is capable of in Vmax mode, only admitting that it’s “above 200 mph.”

It’s worth noting how quickly these aero changes occur. Both the adjustable suspension and the rear wing actuator are powered by the GT’s old-school hydraulically assisted power-steering system. As such, everything moves with an urgency you don’t see in systems actuated via air or electric motors. Here’s a real-time demonstration in GIF form:

And another, showing how the Gurney flap extends at the rear of the wing as it elevates when switching into Track mode:

And fear not, showoffs: The rear wing still will raise up even if you haven’t dropped the car down into its super-low Track suspension setting. In Normal mode, the wing goes up at 90 mph and down at 81; in Sport mode, the wing rises at 71 and stows at 45. Even better, you can raise the rear wing to its full plumage when parked. But be warned: It’ll retract as soon as you drive off—unless you’re in Track mode.





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A version of this story originally appeared on Road & Track.

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Uber Launches Artificial-Intelligence Lab to Perfect Automotive Autonomy

Uber autonomous Ford Fusion

In a bid to master automotive autonomy, Uber is launching a new artificial-intelligence effort. Under the simple name of AI Labs, Uber’s artificial-intelligence research will initially be led by a 15-member team from Geometric Intelligence, an AI research startup. Its acquisition by Uber was announced along with the new initiative.

According to a blog post written by Jeff Holden, Uber’s chief product officer, AI Labs will attempt to solve a number of challenges related to autonomous vehicles. Geometric Intelligence, on its own website, says its goal is “to redefine the boundaries of machine learning through innovative, patent-pending techniques that learn more efficiently from less data.”

In other words, Geometric Intelligence wants to replace today’s dominant deep-machine-learning philosophy, a data-heavy approach that relies on the recognition of patterns in digital data. As Geometric Intelligence CEO and AI Labs director Gary Marcus told MIT Technology Review, “[An autonomous car] might have enough information to predict what happens at nine in the morning, but what happens at 2 a.m. and there’s less data?” The takeaway? Geometric Intelligence and AI Labs will look to create artificial intelligence that is able to learn more efficiently with less available data.

Speaking at the MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Digital conference, Marcus suggested the company already is well on its way to changing the way machines learn. In Geometric Intelligence’s early testing, he revealed that its AI was able to learn more quickly than those using deep learning.

Still, Geometric Intelligence’s AI will have a challenge ahead of it to navigate the incredibly dynamic world of autonomous vehicles. Nevertheless, look for Uber to report any breakthroughs at AI Labs and to apply any learnings to its autonomous-vehicle test fleet currently prowling the streets of Pittsburgh.

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Chevrolet Debuts Nine-Speed Automatic Slated for Malibu, Cruze Diesel, and New Equinox

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That whirring sound you hear is Henry Ford and Louis Chevrolet revving up in their graves. Why? Because Chevy and Ford are collaborating on automatic-transmission design and development. This has been going on for more than a decade, with the first fruits of this cooperation appearing as the six-speed automatic transaxle currently in wide use throughout Ford and General Motors.

Based on that trial’s success, the Detroit rivals agreed to an additional program in 2013 covering new nine- and 10-speed automatics. Ford already is producing the jointly developed 10-speed for F-series trucks; the Mustang is expected to get it soon, too. Chevrolet’s Camaro ZL1 arrives soon with GM’s version, followed by eight additional 2018 models. The nine-speed is for transverse applications. As Ford led the development of the longitudinal 10-speed, GM Powertrain engineers led the design of the nine-speed. Chevrolet has just introduced the Hydra-Matic 9T50 for the 2017 Cruze diesel, the 2017 Malibu, and the all-new 2018 Equinox, with additional applications to follow.

GM/Ford co-developed 9T50 automatic transmission

Competitors enter these sorts of agreements from time to time because designing new transmissions is a labor- and resource-intensive process, and few customers know or care where their transmissions come from. In spending the same time and investment dollars required to engineer one transmission, Ford and GM reaped two new state-of-the-art designs. The same parts used by both companies are identified with different Ford and GM part numbers. Even though the hardware is common, each company writes its own software code to achieve distinctive operating characteristics.

Every maker is adding gear ratios to improve drivability and fuel efficiency. A sufficiently low gear is needed to launch the vehicle smartly from a stoplight. Extra gears facilitate snappy acceleration through the full speed range. Then, when the driver lifts off to cruise the interstate, an overdrive gear reduces rpm to hold the engine at a quiet and efficient operating point. Narrowing the space between ratios with more gears minimizes driveline disturbance while increasing the number of shifts. The new nine-speed has an overall ratio spread of 7.6 versus the outgoing six-speed’s 6.0.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

The 9-speed automatic will also be found in the redesigned 2018 Chevrolet Equinox SUV.

 

Computer-aided design and a few clever touches helped GM Powertrain engineers pack five planetary gearsets, four stationary brakes, and three rotating clutches into the existing six-speed’s space. The new transmission weighs an additional 22 pounds, a fair price to pay for the expected 2 percent gain in fuel efficiency.

More than 60 patents filed by GM cover innovations such as replacing the two clutches previously used to control reverse and first gears with a single, more compact device called a selectable one-way clutch. Computer-controlled solenoids manage all shifting functions. A large hydraulic pressure accumulator supports the essential engine stop/start function. The new elliptical-cross-section torque converter is more compact and provides three operating modes: full slippage, partial slippage, and full lockup. Gears are skipped in certain accelerating and coasting conditions to improve smoothness. Automatic downshifts provide engine braking on downgrades.

In manual mode (what GM calls range select), the driver can hold a gear with engine rpm at or near the redline. Final-drive ratios ranging between 2.89:1 and 3.81:1 are available, and this nine-speed is engineered for four-cylinder, V-6, front-, and all-wheel-drive applications.

The Hydra-Matic 9T50 will be available in 10 models throughout GM by the end of 2017. While Ford hasn’t yet revealed its plans to implement the nine-speed automatic, rest assured that it’s not about to lag behind in the ratio race.

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2017 10Best Trucks and SUVs: The Best in Every Segment

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Since the start of the decade, sales of “trucks”—an increasingly diverse group consisting of SUVs/crossovers, pickups, and vans—have fully doubled. This rapid growth means they now make up a massive chunk of U.S. new-vehicle sales, 54 percent in 2015 and 60 percent through November 2016. In other words, it’s time we expand our 10Best franchise to recognize excellence in the majority of the marketplace. READ MORE ››

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The Kia Soul Is the Best Subcompact SUV – 2017 10Best Trucks and SUVs

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The Mazda CX-9 Is the Best Mid-Size SUV – 2017 10Best Trucks and SUVs

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The Chrysler Pacifica Is the Best Van – 2017 10Best Trucks and SUVs

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