A Cruise autonomous vehicle has a bit of a crash, Volkswagen unveils a new Amarok pickup truck, the Lexus LX sells out in Japan. All this and more on today’s issue of The Morning Dump.
Welcome to The Morning Dump, bite-sized stories corralled into a single article for your morning perusal. If your morning coffee’s working a little too well, pull up a throne and have a gander at the best of the rest of yesterday.
A Cruise Self-Driving Car Gets Involved In A Crash
A question that weighs on my mind constantly is “What if self-driving cars are largely bullshit?” I mean come on, autonomous cars don’t help commuters escape traffic, that’s what public transit is for. Moreover, I’m not entirely sure the cost-benefit analysis works out in favor of autonomous cars when compared to an average driver. Both humans and autonomous systems are fallible, and the latest reported incident involving a Cruise autonomous vehicle is a great reminder of that.
Automotive News reports that on June 3, a Cruise autonomous vehicle got into a crash in San Francisco when it turned left in front of an oncoming Toyota Prius and stopped in the intersection. Parties in both vehicles were allegedly treated for minor injuries, likely a testament to modern cars’ safety structures. Cruise claims that the Prius was speeding and proceeding straight from a right turn lane, but those claims haven’t been verified by a third party. More importantly, I’m not sure if those claims are relevant considering you’re not supposed to stop in an intersection mid-turn. As autonomous vehicle expert and Carnegie Mellon University professor Phil Koopman said to Automotive News, “Many people have a word for a driver who cuts in front of them and then stops in the road, and it’s not a polite or charitable word.”
Indeed, clearing an intersection is a basic driving task. If you can’t clear the intersection for any reason, pedestrians, stopped traffic, the sudden appearance of wildlife, don’t turn. It’ll be interesting to watch this story develop. Autonomous vehicle incidents resulting in human injury are usually fairly serious and warrant a good second look. If nothing else, this incident reminds us that widespread Level 5 autonomy is at a minimum, still quite a ways off.
Volkswagen Unveils A New Amarok
For years, American enthusiasts of reasonably-sized trucks have coveted the Volkswagen Amarok. A nifty blend of sensible footprint and German build quality, it found reasonable success overseas with hundreds of thousands of Amaroks making their way into driveways and onto job sites. Now, a full twelve years after the first Amarok was launched, there’s a new one, and it’s based on the Ford Ranger. Calm down, there’s no need to sharpen your pitchforks. This isn’t just a simple exercise in badge engineering. Volkswagen has carefully altered the Ranger inside and out to create their own sort of pickup truck. You know what? It works. The front fascia is properly sharp, the rear stampings are unique, and the whole thing looks distinctly VW. Job well done on the exterior styling.
On the inside, the new Amarok is more chiseled, more visually-refined than the new global Ranger. I particularly fancy the switchgear on the center console, a row of toggles interrupted by a proud volume knob. Brilliant stuff. Sure, there are still whiffs of Ford in the headlight switch and mirror controls, but they’re insignificant enough to make the Amarok look like a distinct product.
Under the hood, a raft of diesel engines and one gasoline powerplant are available, the latter a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder shared with the Ranger. Part-time and full-time four-wheel-drive are both available depending on market, while maximum capacity is reasonably impressive. We’re talking 7,716 pounds of towing capacity and 2,557 pounds of payload capacity on the most powerful V6 diesel model. While the new Amarok still has no plans of making it to America, it’s nice to know that Ford’s involvement doesn’t appear to have significantly watered-down Volkswagen’s midsize pickup truck.
Good Luck Getting A Lexus LX Or NX In Japan
In this weird age of supply chain shortages, what’s considered an unreasonably long wait for a new vehicle? Eight months? One year? Try four whole years. That’s how long Japanese customers are expected to wait for a new Lexus LX SUV. In addition, the plug-in hybrid version of the Lexus NX compact crossover has a wait time in Japan of around a year, prompting Lexus to take action. Automotive News reports that Lexus has closed Japanese-market order banks for both vehicles due to sheer wait times.
Thankfully, American Lexus customers don’t quite face the same problem. See, America gets a level of production priority for the LX, so U.S. consumers won’t be waiting a whopping four years from order to delivery. While wait times for the LX SUV and plug-in hybrid variant of the NX compact crossover aren’t exactly trivial, order banks still appear to be open. I’ll admit, it’s really strange seeing a vehicle effectively sell out in its home market, but we are living in some very weird times.
NHTSA Administrator Targets Speeding
It was inevitable, really. Reuters reports that NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff has his sights set on speeding. While announcing a new anti-speeding campaign, Cliff told reporters he wants speeding to be “as undesirable and seen as negatively as other bad” driving habits. While I agree that NHTSA regulators have done great work in areas of passive safety and theft resistance, some decisions like the footprint-based CAFE model that largely killed small cars, inaction on amber turn signal proposals, and stubborn refusal to harmonize with EU standards are really quite dreadful. This social attack on speeding seems to fall in the latter camp.
Look, stigmatizing human behavior rarely works. Drugs are winning the war on drugs, and likely will continue winning for a long, long time. You want to actually help people and make privileges like driving safer? Understand their needs and habits, then deploy the great art of compromise to achieve a desired outcome. Speed, when used carefully and reasonably, is good. Sure, it must be tempered in residential areas, but it’s only human nature when out on the open road. See, humans drive according to what feels comfortable, and in an age of four-wheel disc brakes, small-overlap crash protection, and astonishing tire technology, why not shave time off of a long freeway trip by traveling just a little bit faster than the government thinks you should? Better yet, send an email to your representative and ask for unusually low speed limits on certain interstates to be re-evaluated using 85th percentile guidelines. By speeding up the stragglers and maintaining average speed of traffic, speed differential decreases and roads get safer.
Whelp, time to drop the lid on today’s edition of The Morning Dump. Happy Thursday, everyone. Friday is just around the corner. To celebrate, let’s play a game. What’s the worst car interior you can think of? It could be uninspired, it could be filled with heinous materials, or it could fall apart at any opportunity. I’ll start things off strong by nominating the interior of the sixth-generation Malibu. Launched in 2003 for the 2004 model year, this appalling use of cheap plastics certainly didn’t help the Malibu’s market share. Not only is it made of rather mediocre stuff, it’s ugly. Still, I’m all ears for what you consider to be the worst car interiors of all time. Maybe you’ll find something even worse than the Malibu’s dashboard.
Lead photo credit: Cruise