NHTSA wants to know about how Tesla driver monitoring systems work, Acura brings back the ZDX nameplate, Hino suspends shipments as emissions scandal deepens. All this and more in 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.
NHTSA Seeks Information On Tesla Driver Monitoring Systems
While advanced driver assistance systems do hold promise for making long journeys easier, humans are bad at monitoring things. Thus, almost paradoxically, it’s a good idea to have an electronic system monitoring how the driver’s monitoring an electronic system.
While automakers have experimented with various driver monitoring systems before, the most promising method primarily relies on a camera to monitor where a driver is looking. For example, GM’s Super Cruise and Ford’s BlueCruise both feature face-tracking cameras that ensure drivers are paying attention to what the advanced driver assistance system is doing. Should the driver fail to pay attention, the system will disengage. While some automakers rely on steering wheel torque sensors to confirm that a driver has their hands on the wheel, steering wheel input isn’t necessarily indicative of eyes on the road.
In the wake of several high-profile crashes involving Tesla’s Autopilot advanced driver assistance system, Reuters reports that NHTSA regulators want to know exactly how Tesla driver monitoring systems use in-cabin camera images.
NHTSA’s nine-page letter demands Tesla answer questions by Oct. 12 about “the role that the Cabin Camera plays in the enforcement of driver engagement/attentiveness.”
According to Tesla, the cabin camera — a camera located above the rear view mirror — can determine driver inattentiveness and provide audible alerts to remind the driver to keep their eyes on the road when Autopilot is engaged.
Some independent testing raises questions on what Tesla driver monitoring system components are active when the Autopilot advanced driver assistance system is activated.
Consumer Reports said when it evaluated Tesla’s driver attention monitoring camera in late 2021 “we found that it wasn’t adequate to ensure that the driver was fully paying attention when the driver was using Autopilot and Full Self Driving (FSD) features.”
The magazine said it “could block the in-cabin camera, and the car wouldn’t issue a warning, slow down the car, or shut off the systems.”
In June, Consumer Reports said the company had installed an over-the-air update that issued a warning when the camera is covered while FSD is engaged, but not with Autopilot.
It’s not particularly encouraging to hear that Tesla drivers may not have anything to effectively monitor their use of the Autopilot advanced driver assistance system. An effective driver monitoring system is part of what separates good Level 2 advanced driver assistance systems from bad ones, so it’ll be interesting to see what NHTSA investigators find when looking into Tesla driver monitoring systems. In any case, advanced driver assistance systems have a long and bumpy road ahead. In the meantime, you can read all of NHTSA’s latest requests from Tesla here in this handy nine-page PDF.
The Car Shortage Is Worse Than Expected
It’s been a rough year for the automotive industry, from the semiconductor shortage to greater supply chain issues. Automotive News reports that the number of cars lost this year due to the semiconductor shortage is greater than forecast, and that’s even before counting cars lost to other supply chain shortages.
About 66,800 vehicles were added by AutoForecast Solutions to its running tally of chip-related production cuts this week, bringing the year-to-date total to nearly 3.1 million vehicles. That’s on top of about 10.5 million vehicles lost to the shortage in 2021.
But this year’s actual total might be higher than any official count indicates, said Sam Fiorani, AutoForecast’s vice president of global vehicle forecasting.
“Outside factors have allowed the lost weekly volumes attributed to semiconductors to be hidden,” Fiorani wrote in an email. “There are now more reasons for shutting down plants, including more parts shortages affected by the global supply chain.”
It isn’t breaking news that fewer cars produced spells bad news for consumers like you and I, but it bears repeating. Insufficient supply for consumer demand drives up prices of both new and used cars, from the bottom of the market to the top. Hopefully automakers will be able to increase production over the coming year to catch up with demand and make cars more affordable for everyone.
Acura Is Bringing Back The ZDX Nameplate
Acura has a name for its upcoming electric crossover, and it’s certainly a familiar one. The future electric crossover promises to be a bit of a throwback for Acura enthusiasts while still having one foot firmly planted in the electric future. Let me explain.
First, there’s the matter of the name. Acura has made the decision to revive the ZDX nameplate last seen on an ill-fated MDX-based coupe crossover roughly a decade ago. Hey, if the branding works and has largely faded from the public eye, why not use it? Interestingly enough, there will be a high-performance Type-S variant of the new ZDX, a sentence I never expected to write in my life. Of all the news from Monterey Car Week, this feels the most like a fever dream.
Then there’s the matter of the new crossover’s origin. Honda’s doesn’t plan on launching its e:Architecture EV platform until 2026, so the new ZDX will be based on GM’s Ultium battery architecture. Not only does this likely mean North American production, it also means that this is Acura’s first SUV based on another automaker’s architecture since the SLX. Granted, the SLX was really just a rebadging of the Isuzu Trooper, but that adds another weird link. The Isuzu Trooper was also sold as the Holden Jackaroo and Opel Monterey, so the SLX wasn’t far off from products sold under GM nameplates abroad.
In any case, expect the new Acura ZDX to enter the market in 2024. If this all feels like a fever dream to you, you’re not the only one. Still, GM’s Ultium battery architecture holds promise, and I’m really curious to see what this new ZDX will look like.
Hino Suspends Shipments As Emissions Scandal Deepens
Japanese commercial vehicle manufacturer Hino is having to reap what it’s allegedly sown, and this reaping could last a rather long time. Reuters reports that Hino is suspending shipments of its Dutro commercial vehicle, sold in North America as the M Series, due to the deepening emissions scandal embroiling the company.
“We are extremely disappointed that Hino again betrayed the expectations and trust of its stakeholders,” Toyota President Akio Toyoda said in a statement.
Hino said in a statement that some 76,694 vehicles of its Dutro small truck model were impacted, bringing the total number of vehicles involved in the scandal to more than 640,000.
The automaker said even though the engine for the small trucks was supposed to be tested at least two times at each measurement point, it only tested once at each site.
The latest shipment stoppage means that Hino will be pausing shipment of 60% of its vehicles for the year, a spokesperson said. It will continue to ship Dutro’s 1.5 T truck model since Toyota makes its engines, the spokesperson added. Hino sold just 187 units of the model in the 2021 financial year.
While none of this looks good for Hino, I’m really not sure if it’s particularly surprising. In an honor system, there’s not much incentive to be honorable when profits are on the line. If it was really easy to cheat on emissions reporting and the likelihood of being caught was fairly low, the reward would definitely outweigh the risk. Needless to say, we’ll keep you updated as the Hino emissions scandal continues to develop.
Whelp, time to drop the lid on today’s edition of The Morning Dump. It’s a rainy Monday here in Toronto, and days indoors often have me fantasizing about car parts. Today, I have an important question for you. What car parts do you reckon are worth ordering from the dealer parts counter? I’m not talking about specialized stuff like electronic modules and interior panels, I’m talking about stuff that’s otherwise available aftermarket. For me, my local BMW dealers typically offer really, really good deals on batteries that often undercut what generic auto parts stores price economy-line replacement batteries at. As a bonus, OEM batteries generally tend to last longer than cheapo generic batteries, so going to the dealership for a battery will save me money both now and down the road.
Lead photo credit: Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.