My job means I get to drive brand-new, high-tech modern cars all of the time. They have gotten safer, faster, more efficient and overall better in just the decade I’ve been doing it. But when it comes to car safety, I’ve found that there’s still no substitute for just paying attention and general competence behind the wheel.
Even so, mistakes happen, and that’s why automatic braking systems—already a super-common feature on many new cars—may soon become required standard equipment in the U.S.
That story kicks off this Monday at The Autopian. Also on tap: electric car names are bad, electric charging companies struggle with Wall Street and more on the fight over AM radio in new cars. Let’s dive right in.
Auto Braking Is The Next Big Safety Standard
I say “cars have gotten safer” over the past few years, and that’s true, but America still saw almost 43,000 traffic deaths in 2022—about 117 people per day. Those unfortunate numbers have been rising for years now and to understand why, you have to look at who is dying: pedestrian and cyclist deaths are way up compared to the previous decade. There are a lot of reasons for this, including inadequate sidewalks and road infrastructure and the fact that our pivot to trucks and SUVs means cars are bigger, heavier and deadlier than ever for anyone not inside them.
So it’s no wonder why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is proposing car companies make automatic emergency braking into standard equipment for new vehicles. Here’s The New York Times on this:
The agency is proposing that all light vehicles, including cars, large pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles, be equipped to automatically stop and avoid hitting pedestrians at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour.
Vehicles would also have to brake and stop to avoid hitting stopped or slow-moving vehicles at speeds of up to 62 m.p.h. And the systems would have to perform well at night.
“We hope this will avoid many crashes,” Polly Trottenberg, a deputy transportation secretary, said at a news conference. “We know this is going to save lives.”
About 90 percent of the new vehicles on sale now have some form of automatic emergency braking, but not all meet the standards the safety agency is proposing.
What that means, according to NHTSA, is cars would be required to have automatic emergency braking systems that engage up to 62 mph and not only recognize pedestrians but recognize them at night too. While AEB systems are remarkably popular options and sometimes standard equipment on many cars, this would put them in place across the board just like airbags and anti-lock brakes.
Next, NHTSA will take public comments from automakers, safety groups and citizens before deciding to finalize the rule and that could take a year or more. After that, it’ll go into effect in another three years.
The downside, of course, is the added cost to automakers that will get pushed onto the consumer, as if modern cars aren’t expensive enough already. At the same time, we have all got to do something about this glut of person-outside-the-car deaths and this may just help make a big difference there.
What Is Going On With Electric Car Names?
Here’s something thankfully a bit lighter after that last item, but still relevant. How was “bZ4X” (something I have to continually Google each time I write it to make sure I got it right) the best Toyota could do for its first modern EV? Or Honda’s new Euro-market e:Ny1? How do you even pronounce that? E-NY 1? Eeeny-one? Is it named after New York 1, the greatest local news operation on the planet?
The truth is, all of these new EVs have names like physics equations, or one of Elon Musk’s kids. Bloomberg is here to call them out:
Over at Jaguar, a driver could be forgiven for assuming the carmaker’s electric option is the E-PACE, but that model has a gas engine. The battery-powered Jag is the I-PACE. And no one could fault a Volkswagen fan for confusing the carmaker’s ID.4, an SUV-shaped EV, with the ID. Buzz, a recast of the company’s famous van.“Honestly, a lot of these names are just trying too hard,” says David Placek, founder of Lexicon Branding, which helped name Lucid Group Inc., the Subaru Outback and the Honda Ridgeline. “Everyone is kind of scrambling.”
Placek says a great product name needs to check three boxes: It has to be memorable, noteworthy and distinctive within its category. It also helps if the moniker is “what we call ‘processing fluent,’” Placek says. “When the mind looks at it and says ‘OK, I can get that.’”
Many new EV names fall short. They either hew too closely to tradition to feel noteworthy, or stretch so far for distinction that they aren’t memorable.
A bunch of others just sound bad—EQS AMG from Mercedes, which is dumping the EQ branding now anyway—or Audi’s confusing “e-tron” lineup that also includes a standalone car called the e-tron. And it’s unlikely names like “EV6” will hold up well as these things become mainstream.
Do you know what the best EV name is right now? The Ford F-150 Lightning. Chef’s kiss, man. It almost makes up for the Mustang Mach-E, which has a hyphen even though historically “Mach 1” did not and it’s grammatically incorrect here. I will go to my grave mad about that.
Of course, now that I bring this complaint up, they’ll just bring back names I loved as a kid as EV crossovers. I’d hate to see the Honda Prelude and Toyota Celica go that way, but I also wouldn’t be shocked.
EV Charging Companies Face Wall Street Skepticism
With the glut of EVs coming soon, you’d think charging providers would be the next big thing. And they are! As I wrote for The Atlantic recently (yes, that’s a flex, but I’m pretty proud of it so allow me a moment to feel good about myself for a change) America’s public charging network needs to not only grow but grow up. This huge contingent of EV drivers won’t put up with the annoying stuff the early adopters did, like broken chargers, outdated plugs, proprietary payment apps and zero customer service.
A ton of new companies are rising to take advantage of the $7.5 billion the Biden Administration is putting forth to build out a better EV charging infrastructure, and most of the ones I’ve talked to are keen on fixing those problems.
The problem is, Wall Street investors want to place bets on the future. Revenues are up but stock prices are down at the charging providers.
And in a shitty capital market, they don’t like the overhead costs involved or the idea that many of these companies will not survive—or at lest not find a way to be profitable. Remember, many of them make their money (or the bulk of it) from selling maintenance contracts to property owners rather than selling electricity.
Here’s Bloomberg again:
But the companies are spending heavily to deploy chargers in what some liken to a land grab, and investors have grown leery of the amount of capital the companies will need to install their plugs along roadsides and parking lots. None of the charging companies has yet proven it can turn a profit, nor is it clear when any will. And the industry already has a cautionary tale: Volta Inc. The San Francisco company, worth an estimated $1.4 billion when it went public via a special purpose acquisition company in 2021, quickly used up its cash and accepted a $169 million buyout offer from Shell Plc in March.
“If you’re burning cash, and you still need to raise cash, well, that’s a stock that’s not going to get a lot of love,” said Gabriel Daoud, managing director of equity research with Cowen Inc. “There is certainly a risk that a number of these companies will run out of cash and become insolvent.”
There are larger economic factors at work here, of course. Interest rates are high, investors are carefully watching EV growth, and a few of these companies went public via SPAC deals and those have since gone kaput. I’d say a rebound feels imminent at some point; these cars have to get their electrons from somewhere.
AM Radio Doesn’t Go Down Without A Fight
Do you still listen to AM radio? Hell, do you still listen to FM radio? Both are functions automakers would love to kick to the curb as they seek to cut costs from new EVs any way they can. Plus, EV motors tend to create a slight interference with AM radio signals.
It’s an old-school technology that still has its defenders today even if automakers like BMW, Polestar, Rivian, Tesla and Volkswagen (among others) don’t offer AM radio on their new EVs. In fact, about a third of new EVs on sale in 2023 don’t have that function at all.
But government officials (and apparently, also people who long for the heyday of Rush Limbaugh) say dumping AM radio signals could have a huge impact on emergency broadcasts and disaster notifications. Lawmakers want to ensure it’s mandatory for future cars. Here’s Automotive News:
[…] Now, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat, and other legislators are shepherding the AM for Every Vehicle Act through the House of Representatives. It would direct NHTSA to require that automakers maintain AM broadcast radio in vehicles for free, among other provisions. The bill’s champions in the Senate include Democrat Markey and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
The House’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology has scheduled a hearing on the issue Tuesday, June 6.
It seems AM radio may have a few years, if not decades, left in it.
What radio do you listen to in the car? These days I’m pretty exclusively into XM Satellite radio (I got used to it on press cars and now can’t live without it) and Spotify for streaming music and podcasts. I can’t say I’ve touched an AM dial in about 10 years or more.
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