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  • Matt Prior: The Government’s dirty car ban is not all it seems
    on February 28, 2020 at 12:01 am

    Zero-emission cars will mean a rethink to the tax system Yes, the future is probably electric, but what will this mean for our motorcycles and – shudder – tax bills? This is the most exciting time in the motor industry since the introduction of the steering wheel, they say. It’s certainly the most exhausting. Last week’s government announcement that by 2035 it intends to end sales of all new cars that aren’t zero emissions has been greeted with everything from ‘well, this is impossible’ to ‘just ban the car’, with lots in between where, as is the way with most arguments, the right path is likely to exist. But when even the biggest EV proponents are saying “please remember, these proposals are subject to consultation”, it’s fair to say they’re not without difficulty. It won’t help that Volkswagen and Bosch have conspired to ensure that legislators’ ‘consultations’ with the motor industry are at a particularly low point. But look, life generally gets better. Civilisation gets cleaner, people become less fighty, and fairer, and wealthier, and more equal, and it’ll all be fine. People who like EVs (I’m one of them) still like cars, after all. Some even like engines. (I’m one of those, too.) Switching to zero emissions is like undertaking a risk assessment at work: they still want you to do your job; they just want to mitigate the worst of the consequences. I don’t think it’ll be straightforward. Recently I said that Honda’s insistence on fitting HDMI sockets and a virtual aquarium in the Honda E seems daft, unless you’re sitting in a car doing nothing but waiting. But I was forgetting that, perhaps at times, you will be. (If you @ me, I’ll reply when I’m next doing it.) I worry that local councils won’t provide enough chargers in enough overnight parking spots for those who can’t fit chargers at home. But private energy and charge station companies will make charging easy: they want the business, because they want the money. Ah, the money. You might notice you give quite a lot of that to the Treasury on the premise that your combustion-engined car is dirty. EVs are comparatively clean but the government, I suspect, will miss the £30 billion so measures will have to make the electricity that goes to your car – but not the electricity that goes to your gran’s flat’s radiators – expensive. And, I wonder, what of the taxes designed to penalise those who take dirty cars into cities? It’s said they exist to improve air quality, but let’s see how much cities get used to having the money. What’s important is not that the internal combustion engine has a future: it’s that the car has a future, because – while I also want more trains and buses and for those to be cheaper – it’s just the best, isn’t it? The choice. The freedom. The ability to decide not to turn left and go to work, but to turn right, on a whim, and just go. The car has let us live and work where we like. People won’t accept that being turned off. The car wins. And, then, what of what will be the old stuff? You and me pottering about on motorcycles or in classics or today’s sports cars or Q-registration specials? The Silverstone Classics, Goodwood Revivals, Bicester Sunday Scrambles and all the niche motorsports and events. I think they’ll be fine. It’s big business, not small hobbies, where the battle lines will be drawn. And finally, the pressure will be off. When you fire up a vee-twin with a lively exhaust, people will look upon it with a benign air, like today they look on a steam train. It’ll be nice not to be the enemy. READ MORE 2035 combustion engine ban: public invited to have their say  Bristol City Council approves first UK ban for diesel cars  Ford of Europe boss: combustion ban debate is ‘unhelpful’

  • Autonomous Nissan Leaf: riding in Britain’s self-driving trailblazer
    on February 28, 2020 at 12:01 am

    Self-driving Leaf negotiated challenges like traffic lights, tricky roundabouts and overtaking We sample the tech-laden Nissan Leaf that broke an autonomous vehicle record by driving 230 miles from Cranfield to Sunderland The organisers of a record-breaking drive by an autonomous car on UK roads have hailed the event as a major step forward for the technology. A modified self-driving Nissan Leaf travelled 230 miles from the Japanese car maker’s technical centre in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, to its factory in Sunderland on an trial dubbed the Grand Drive. That route, the longest single journey achieved by an autonomous car in the UK, included B-roads, motorways and challenges such as unlined roads, complex roundabouts, multiple traffic lights and, on motorways alone, overtaking manoeuvres. The record-breaking run was one of two trials undertaken as part of a £13.5 million development programme called HumanDrive and carried out over 30 months with the aim of creating a more human-like autonomous vehicle (AV) experience. The second trial, a test track-based activity, used machine learning to explore how blending human-like driving behaviour and autonomous technologies can enhance users’ experience of self-driving vehicles. This work was carried out at the Multi User Environment for Autonomous Vehicle Innovation (MUEAVI) facility at Cranfield University. Leafs were equipped with artificial intelligence systems developed by Hitachi and containing data on previously encountered traffic scenarios and solutions. These formed a ‘learned experience’, enabling vehicles to deal with similar scenarios on the test track – for example, plotting a safe route around an obstacle that felt natural rather than robotic. The trials were led by Nissan engineers and funded by the government through the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and Innovate UK, plus nine other consortium partners. Nissan Japan has pledged to provide funding until 2023. Autocar experienced a 13- mile section of the Grand Drive route – running from Cranfield to a service station on the M1 and back – in an autonomous Leaf similar to the one that completed the record-breaking run. For the first three miles, the car followed a B-road that, during development, had been recreated in the virtual world by a team of engineers at Catapult, the organisation managing the programme. Details such as broken lane markings, cambers and road signs were all replicated in the model. An autonomous Leaf then drove through the real environment, with its trajectory and behaviour overlaid onto this digital visualisation. Data from human drivers following the same route enabled engineers to compare the cars’ trajectories, with the aim of fine-tuning the Leaf’s autonomous responses to provide a more human-like experience. During our ride, the Leaf behaved naturally, driving around a parked car smoothly, slowing for corners, holding its direction through changing cambers that might have thrown it off-line, and accelerating and slowing progressively through changing speed limits. At the end of the road, we approached a complex roundabout above the M1 with multiple traffic lights. With the first set of lights showing red, the Leaf pulled up smoothly before, once they’d changed, pulling away to the next set, also on red. Soon, we were clear to drive down the exit ramp to the motorway and the Leaf gained speed progressively before joining the traffic. Once on the motorway, the car held position but, unlike on the Grand Drive, avoided overtaking. David Moss, Nissan’s senior vice-president of R&D, said developing a system that feels natural will be key to winning customer support for autonomous technology. He said the focus on improving the accuracy of the sensors means that “our system is much less reliant on road markings. We combined this technology with the way our own drivers performed to give the system more human-like behaviour. “We won’t be able to map every road in anything like the same detail that we mapped the test route’s first three miles, which is why the machine-learning work at MUEAVI that enables a computer to recall and learn from scenarios will be vital to the system’s development.” Professor James Brighton, a senior lecturer at Cranfield University’s Advanced Vehicle Engineering Centre, added: “We wanted to make overtaking as comfortable as possible, so we improved forward planning to make the process smooth and secure-feeling.” Brighton said that although some autonomous cars overtake in the most efficient manner, it doesn’t feel natural, so “the autonomous Leaf positions itself earlier, follows a more natural overtaking line and leaves a comfortable space between it and the other vehicle”. Autocar experienced this on the 0.62-mile-long MUEAVI test track, with a car parked at the side of the road. The Leaf began its manoeuvre in ample time and cleared the car with plenty of space to spare. Engineers are still working out how it will make the same manoeuvre in the presence of an oncoming car. Brighton explained that human perception has played a major part in refining Nissan’s and Hitachi’s AV systems. For example, a narrow width restriction makes drivers slow down automatically, whereas an AV won’t, potentially upsetting passengers. A high-sided vehicle that’s passing will make a human driver instinctively move aside but an AV will continue on regardless. Brighton said those differences in behaviour mean that, to create an AV that drives like a human, “we had to investigate and consider drivers’ attitudes to a car’s longitudinal velocity and lateral position on the road”. Moss said the Grand Drive trial was a great success and rejected claims voiced elsewhere in the AV industry that driving around on public roads teaching autonomous systems how to react to situations is dangerous, inefficient and ineffective. “Safety is our primary concern,” he said. “Over 93% of accidents are caused by human error. The technology we’re developing will make future cars safer while elements of it will soon find their way into our production cars.” Autonomous Leaf’s tech highlights The Grand Drive Nissan Leaf bristles with stereo cameras, laser scanners, a radar and a military-grade GPS system. All feed data to multiple autonomous driving and vehicle control ECUs. The boot is filled with a rack of computer equipment that, Nissan claims, will eventually be miniaturised. The Hitachi-equipped cars used for the MUEAVI trials have forward-facing stereo cameras working with rear- and side-mounted lidar sensors to provide the richest possible picture. Behind the scenes, Leeds University used its Virtuocity driving simulator to capture driving style and behaviour data for modelling and refining the autonomous driving controllers to behave in more human-like ways. READ MORE New 2020 Qashqai key to Nissan’s three-pronged SUV assault  Nissan adds tech-heavy trim for Qashqai, X-Trail and Micra  Nissan reduces Leaf pricing and adds more standard kit

  • Brabus reveals its 800 Adventure XLP take on the Mercedes G-Class – pictures
    by jakew on February 27, 2020 at 6:13 pm
  • Brabus reveals its 800 Adventure XLP take on the Mercedes G-Class
    by jakew on February 27, 2020 at 5:35 pm

    News 27 Feb, 2020 Brabus has turned the Mercedes-AMG G63 into a high-performance off-road pick-up truck

  • Opinion: Citroen leads the way for low-cost urban transport
    on February 27, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    French firm’s new two-seat electric car, the Ami, is a bold step into a car-sharing future It’s been only a year since we saw the Citroën Ami One concept, yet just 12 months later a production version of the innovative Ami is here, arriving in Europe (but not the UK) this summer. The Ami is classed as a quadricycle, like the Renault Twizy. This has two crucial benefits: it’s perfect for city living and you don’t need a driving licence to sit behind the wheel, meaning 16-year-olds can drive it. In France, the lower limit is 14 years old. Car makers have been talking about car sharing and the popular phrase ‘urban mobility’ for years, desperate to alter their business models to reflect a changing world and capitalise on the growing generations of cities. As a result, many are dipping their toes in car-sharing schemes, including Mercedes, BMW and Citroën’s parent firm, the PSA Group. But few have committed to producing a low-cost vehicle aimed squarely at this proposition. It’s true: Citroën isn’t the first, given Renault launched the Twizy in 2012. But that vehicle arrived in a very different time, when car-sharing wasn’t the ultimate goal for the segment. The Ami will be available from this summer in a number of countries, including France, Spain and Germany, costing €6000 (currently £5054) to buy outright or €19.99 (£17) per month with an initial deposit. Citroën cites the average cost of obtaining a driving licence alone as €1800 (£1536) in France, while it has calculated that it will be cheaper to rent an Ami monthly than run an electric scooter, with the aided benefit of being warm and dry. It might not catch on; indeed, French firm Bolloré’s car-sharing venture Autolib was closed in 2018. But with the weight of PSA behind it and a funky-looking car to appeal to a new generation, Citroën has taken a bold, brave and promising step into a new world, where car ownership isn’t the only way to succeed in the automotive industry. READ MORE Citroën Ami is electric two-seater for £17 per month  First drive: Citroën Ami One concept  Marque de Triomphe: Citroën centenary road trip