Monthly Archives: August 2016

The autonomous future will cause major disruption

At BMW Australia’s range day last Friday, members of the motoring press were gathered to drive the full fleet of BMW, Mini and BMW Motorrad products, and spend some time with BMW Australia CEO Mark Werner. Werner had some thoughts on BMW’s future in a self-driving world, and a strong message to send to the Australian government on its lack of support for hybrid and electric low-emission vehicles. Here’s a partial transcript.

Where are you at with autonomous driving, and where does a prestige brand like BMW fit in a future self-driving world?

That’s a very interesting subject. As you might have seen, we’ve recently announced a joint venture with Intel and MobilEye. Mobileye will provide the necessary camera systems for our vehicles, and Intel brings the necessary processors on the software and the hardware side in order to further boost the autonomous driving technology in our vehicles.

The interesting thing is, those cars already exist. We’re not talking about five or 10 or 15 years down the road, those cars already exist, and as we speak they’re already doing some extensive test driving – mainly in Europe, in Germany close to our R&D centers – but those cars exist, and it’s a matter of time as far as legislation is concerned, and in particular insurance policy, when these cars can actually be launched.

But we’re working very hard towards a goal with the rollout of the BMW i-next model, as we call it, to launch autonomous driving by the beginning of the next decade. So it’s all happening. And it’s quite exciting, I have to say.

We believe that the industry model is going to change substantially, and that’s why our vision is to become the premium mobility provider. And that basically means we’ll provide a mobility solution for our customer. You don’t necessarily have to own a car in the future any more, but when you have a mobility need, you’ll be able to call a vehicle and a car will pick you up.

So the autonomous technology will enable that, and that’s quite exciting, going forward. We’re talking about probably five years from now.

Will sales reduce? Not necessarily, but the ownership model will change. It’s not necessary that you will have to own or buy a vehicle, you’ll be a position to pick up a phone and call a mobile service provider, and a car will arrive. We will definitely see a substantial change in the ownership model, and what that will look like, the future will tell us, and the customers will tell us.

Maybach G650 Landaulet

When it came time for Mercedes to create its latest ultra-luxurious Maybach model, it had a few options. Having transformed the S600 Pullman and S650 Cabriolet, it would have made sense to move onto the S-Class Coupeor maybe even the E-Class, but sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense. Need proof? Just take a look at the Maybach G650 Landaulet.

On the surface, the G-Class isn’t the most logical base for an ultra-luxurious special edition. The current version has been in production since 1979 and, although it’s been treated to a few choice improvements since, very little has changed. That means the car is still built on a ladder frame chassis, still has the aerodynamics of a brick, and handles like a baby giraffe on stilts.

Measuring up at 5,345 mm (17.5 ft) long and 2,235 mm (7.3 ft) tall, with ground clearance just under half a meter, the G650 doesn’t really fit into any existing class of car. It doesn’t get any easier to pigeonhole when you take the funky roof into account, either – rather than a full convertible top, Maybach has fitted a soft top that uncovers the two rear seats, while the driver (chauffeur) and passenger remain under a hard roof up front. Furthering the separation of driver and passengers, the front cabin can be separated from the rear with a sliding glass screen that transitions from clear to opaque at the push of a button.

This setup isn’t unique to the G650 – Landaulet translates to small landau, and has been used to describe vehicles with a small folding hood over the rear seats since the days of horse-drawn carriages. The most recent car to run with the moniker was the Maybach 62 Landaulet, one of the last cars produced before Maybach became a badge applied to high-end versions of existing Mercedes models.

Given how loooong the car is, rear seat passengers should have an abundance of legroom in their individual reclining thrones. They’ve actually been borrowed from the S-Class, and include a full suite of massage programs, along with a swivelling calf rest. After all, nothing ruins the illusion of luxury like a set of unsupported calves. While they’re being massaged, rear-seat passengers are able to enjoy a heated or cooled drink from the central cupholders and, if they’re on a work trip, take care of business using the integrated folding tray tables. Naturally, the tables are topped with leather to stop tablets and notebooks from sliding around.

Should the lucky (crazy) rear passenger be travelling for pleasure instead of business, twin 10-inch displays mounted on the partition between front and rear can be called into action. If that’s not enough entertainment, fiddling with the intensity of the interior lighting could be a good way to pass the time and, should sir/madam tire of that, they could always lower the chauffeur partition and throw grapes at the driver.

Luxurious trimmings aside, the G650 Landaulet should also be a very capable off-roader. It runs with portal axles borrowed from the G500 4×4 Squared for a whopping 450 mm (17.7 in) of ground clearance, more than double what’s offered on the regular G500. Sitting on 22-inch wheels and 325/55 section tires with the usual off-road transfer case and fully locking differentials fitted, there are very few obstacles capable of stopping the Landaulet off-road.

Bugatti Type 52

Ettore Bugatti’s engines set world speed records for cars, boats, trains and airplanes and his Bugatti Type 35 became the most successful racing car in history, propelling the Bugatti name to revered public recognition. Now his cars are doing it all over again on the auction block and the baby of the fleet is performing beyond expectations.

In the years between WW1 and WW2, Ettore Bugatti became one of the lions of France, showcasing world’s best practice in everything he did. Bugatti’s cars were not just for racers. They were also the most outrageously proportioned and sumptuous for the rich and famous.

The Bugatti Royale Berline de Voyager set a world record of US$6.5 million in 1986 and another Bugatti Royale (the Kellner Coupe) broke that record in 1987 with a sale of $9.9 million, then remarkably held the world record price for a car at auction from 1987 until 2010.

The Type 35 won the 1926 Grand Prix World Championship and the Targa Florio for five consecutive years (1925-1929). In the hands of racers across the world, the production Type 35 racing car averaged 14 race wins per week at its peak, eventually winning more than 1,000 races.

That’s Ettore’s first son, Jean Bugatti, above in a T35 and second son Roland in the baby Bugatti. The response to the tiny electric vehicle at the company headquarters in Molsheim was so overwhelmingly positive that the decision was made to sell the car to the public, with the Bugatti Bebe debuting at the 1927 Milan Automobile Show.

Mobileye harness the swarm

Autonomous cars are being put through thousands of miles worth of testing every month, but specialised self-driving prototypes aren’t the only vehicles able to provide crucial information for the future of safer, smarter cars. Although we still need to drive them, sensors and cameras mounted around modern cars can still be used to further the self-driving breed. VW and Mobileye plan to do just that, creating a detailed map using cameras and sensors on new cars sold after 2018.

One of the biggest changes made to cars recently is the introduction of connected features. Now, rather than steering you straight into heavy traffic, some cars are able to gather live traffic data and work out the best possible route around it. You can also lock/unlock Jaguar, Volvo and BMW vehicles from an app, while the new Mercedes E-Class is able to warn other cars fitted with the same Car-to-X technology of accidents farther up the road.

There’s also a huge array of sensors fitted to most new cars, including cameras and radars for auto-emergency braking. Using its new Road Experience Management system, Mobileye plans to take the data being gathered by sensors to be installed on Volkswagens from 2018, including precise location information, lane marking and road conditions, and then feed it back to a central cloud.

This information will be used to create a high definition world map, something the two companies hope will become an industry standard. According to VW and Mobileye, the partnership is the first of its kind – although they aren’t alone in trying to map the roads of the world using the “swarm” of cars already out there. Tesla gathers data from all its cars running Autopilot software, helping it to work out where the self-driving system struggles and what needs improving.