The 10 Best & Worst of Automotive Tech in 2018
Because there’s too much going on to wait for December.
We love Top 10 lists, but it's the 10 Worst lists that really get our hearts pumping. A lot of automotive "journalists" pull their punches so as not to endanger those sweet, sweet junkets. I don't have that problem. I was blacklisted years ago by just about everyone. Am I too honest? Maybe. Too unpredictable? Probably. But I say you can't trust someone who hasn't said something negative about someone. If everything was great, cars wouldn't need warranties. If software-based tech functioned as promised, I wouldn't have a column.
Here's my list of the 10 Best & Worst in Automotive Technology in 2018. Feel free to disagree.
10. Most Embarrassing New Mobility Strategy Implosion
Cadillac Book. WTF is going on at GM? With $1B invested in Cruise Automation to develop self-driving Chevy Bolts, you'd think CEO Mary Barra would have the nerve to support Cadillac's Book subscription service until it found its feet. But no, they pulled the plug just under two years since launch. What went wrong? Was it the pricing, which started at $1500, then rose to $1800? The marketing? NYC as the first market? The wonky Book app? The departure of Melody Lee, who really seemed to get it? The concept itself? Rivals like Volvo, BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche who have recently launched competing services should take notice. An unlimited PR budget ≠ profits, let alone cash flow.
9. Most Disappointing Technology from a Car Company We Love
Volvo Pilot Assist. I love Volvo, and so should you. Every new Volvo is so cool, they make their malaise era cars cool too. I would drive one in a heartbeat. The look. The feel. Who doesn't love clean design? The Nordic school really gets it. Polestar? Awesome. But there's a problem. Volvo — the original car brand built on safety — isn't leading on driver assistance systems, otherwise known as ADAS. Volvo's ADAS suite is called Pilot Assist. The Automatic Emergency Braking is good. The lane keeping, display, and transition warnings? Not so much. What's going on? Volvo should own this. Instead, Tesla leads on lane keeping and Cadillac on safety and driver monitoring. Come on Volvo, you can do better.
8. Best Tech From a Company that Needs Better Management
Cadillac SuperCruise. Where Volvo is falling short, Cadillac is killing it on driver assistance. I remember when people made fun of GM for failing to deploy SuperCruise, which marinated in R&D for years before Tesla released Autopilot in late 2015. But one drive in a SuperCruise-equipped CT6 made it clear: GM's R&D had done its job not only correctly, but brilliantly. SuperCruise includes Seeing Machines' driver monitoring system (DMS) — an infrared camera pointed at the driver — solving Tesla's biggest omission, and adds a class-leading, steering wheel mounted mode indicator. So what's Cadillac's problem? GM management. SuperCruise should have been an option on every Cadillac two years ago, if not every GM vehicle. Why isn't it? Because GM's attention and money is being showered on their self-driving division Cruise Automation, whose cars will only see limited deployment next year, maybe. SuperCruise is GM's killer tech, and every day they don't deploy it they're squandering their lead. Come on, GM.
7. The How-Not-To-Market-Your-Cars Trophy
BMW. I'm a BMW guy. Always have been. But Klaus Fröhlich, BMW development chief and board member, sure does make it hard. When asked about the E46 CSL being "the last real 3 series," he replied "I do no want to hear that shit any more." But it gets worse. Fröhlich's words are a noose: "First thing and this is for me the most important thing; you can drive fast and completely relaxed. You don't feel how fast you are." When it comes to driving, feedback is everything. That means feeling. Who doesn't want to know how fast they're going? Passengers. Who wants to feel how fast they're going? People buying The Ultimate Driving Machine. Fröhlich is the wrong man, in the wrong job, saying the wrong things. Let him retire.
6. Best Electric Vehicle On The Market Today
Tesla Model S. Yeah, yeah. Everyone wants to talk about the Model 3. Do I love it? Sure. But the Model S—the original premium EV that invented the segment and woke up an industry—is better than ever. Six years and countless invisible hardware and software updates later, it's still light years ahead of everyone else for EV and driver assistance tech. Cadillac's SuperCruise equipped CT6 still runs on gas, and the upcoming Porsche Taycan's ADAS suite is unlikely to touch Tesla Autopilot. By why the S over the Model 3? You can get a great used S for the price of a loaded Model 3 Performance, and the S is quieter, more comfortable, has more storage, rides better, has a better sounding stereo, has a traditional dashboard, a bigger/better GPS display, and Tesla's killer situational awareness display. I'd take a base S over a 3 any day. I recommend getting a Model S now, before Tesla swaps out the interior for the 3's, and loses what makes human driving an S something special.
5. Best Autonomy Car On The Market Today
Any Jeep. Forget autonomous cars. We want autonomy cars, as in cars that increase our freedom. What is autonomy anyway? It's liberation from boundaries, which are the only thing the self-driving lobby can promise. As I said in my recent op-ed Autonomous Cars? We Want Autonomy Cars, "get in a prepped Jeep with some jerrycans and you've got more autonomy than most of the humans ever born." A vehicle that can go anywhere, anytime is what people really want. If it can drive itself part of the time, great. Who cares how safe it is if it actually limits where you can go, because you're no longer allowed to own a car with a steering wheel? I'm all for safety, but not at the expense of human autonomy. Would you like to know more? Follow the Human Driving Association and read our manifesto.
4. Dumbest Use Of The Word "Autonomous"
David Pogue. Beware anyone called an expert, especially a technology expert, and especially a technology expert writing about cars. The latest outrage? "Tech critic" David Pogue's article "What it's like to use Tesla's newest self-driving car technology" is PR journalism at its penultimate, surpassed only by the garbage from the Tesla shills at Electrek. It's impossible to know if Pogue actually drove the car. He claims to own one, but there's no evidence in the article that he does. He gets so much wrong—from language to functionality—it would be better for his reputation if he didn't. There's so much to pillory here I'm going to devote an entire article to Pogue's article, so let's move on.
3. Worst YouTuber Most Likely To Inspire Self-Driving Apocalypse
Alex Choi. When the self-driving lobby gets moving on trying to ban human driving, there'll be no shortage of videos they can present to a Senate hearing demonstrating why. At the top of the list? Youtuber Alex Choi, who nearly kills a passing motorcyclist on Mulholland Highway while... being Alex Choi. As the founder of the Human Driving Association, I'll be the first to say there are people who shouldn't be driving. It's a privilege, not a right. And people like Choi are unlikely to keep it in the future. If you believe in freedom, Choi is one of those who should shunned, because he's not on our side.
2. Worst Performance From A Car Company Executive, Part 2
BMW's Klaus Fröhlich is just the gift that keeps on giving. My friends in Munich need to muzzle this guy or fire him. Every time I see his name, he is hurting BMW's brand. The latest outrage? This story: Electric Cars Will Always Be More Expensive Than Gas Cars—in which he says exactly what you think he did. If he's right, what is accomplished? Nothing...except he sounds like someone who doesn't understand EVs at all. Tesla has shown that EVs don't need to be cheaper than ICE to sell and that people will pay UP from ICE to own a Tesla, but not necessarily other EVs. Not that BMW would know or understand that, since their EV strategy is dead on arrival no matter what happens, at least for the next few years, during which the Porsche Taycan will do what BMW failed to. And if Fröhlich is wrong—and EVs do eventually become cheaper than ICE—he was just another legacy industry exec who missed the boat. FYI, when cars were invented, they were more expensive than horses. But people still preferred cars. Products don't exist in a vacuum, and big company execs should understand that better than Fröhlich.
1. Most Despicable Fansite For A Major Car Company
Electrek. For those who don't give a s**t about Tesla, consider yourself lucky, for you've been spared exposure to one of the most toxic of modern media outlets, the news/fansite Electrek, whose existence is an intellectual and moral blight on those who like the cars, or believe in the vision. Helmed by bald-faced shill Frederic Lambert, Electrek will spin any story to make Tesla—in which Lambert is admittedly long—look good. Lambert never met a fact he wouldn't omit, or clickbait headline he wouldn't run if he could get $TSLA a little higher for the day. Lambert's history is well documented here and here, but the most bizarro chapter in the Electrek saga happened when Lambert turned against Musk for dropping the price of the Model 3 Performance by $4000...two months after Lambert bought one. Lambert got dismantled by his own fans for his hypocrisy, then again by long-time critics, then he doubled down, then reversed himself again to get back in Musk's good graces. To call Lambert a whore is an insult to those who chose sex work because they lack a better alternative. Lambert has a choice, and always chooses the low road. Lambert is the gift that keeps on taking, a bad actor in a show he doesn't understand, occupying a secondary role anyone could, if only they were willing to work for less than the perks of living off the star's discarded script. There are a lot of reasons to root for Tesla, but there is one big reason to pray for their failure, and that's to prevent people like Lambert from being financially rewarded for lowering the informational bar and gutting ethics. If you think I'm being harsh, you're wrong. I LOVE Tesla. Not because I'm blind to their failures, but despite them.
What else might attract my love or ire in 2018? We'll find in two months.
Alex Roy is Editor-at-Large at The Drive, founder of Geotegic Consulting, and the Human Driving Association. He also hosts of The Autonocast, and is the author of The Driver. He has set numerous endurance driving records, including the infamous Cannonball Run record. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.