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GM’s Cruise Origin is not like other autonomous cars

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Rarely has “form follows function” been so fitting as with the Cruise Origin, the autonomous taxi pod that the GM and Honda-backed transportation company revealed this week. It’s a far cry from most of the self-driving concepts we’ve seen before, swoopingly futuristic vehicles fit for a sci-fi movie. That’s not from a lack of design attention, however: indeed, everything about the Origin is painstakingly intentional.

Cruise isn’t talking about when its ride-hailing service might actually be launching yet, or where that’ll happen initially. It has some bold boasts about how affordable the Origin will be – roughly half of an electric SUV like the Tesla Model X, apparently – but no actual figures.

At this point we’d be ready to consign the project to the “far fetched” tray, were it not for Cruise’s backers. General Motors – which acquired Cruise in early 2016, though has left it relatively independent since – and more recently Honda may not be the first names you think of when you consider autonomous driving, but they certainly know how to pump out affordable, mass-produced cars. That, Bryan Nesbitt, Executive Director of Global Architecture and Global Advanced Design at GM, explained to me, is why the trio works.

“For us, this was basically a dedicated white paper study,” Nesbitt says. “We started from the very base of what is the experience today, how could it be improved, and what are really the solution sets to enable that improvement?”

What the Origin isn’t is a Bolt EV – Chevy’s all-electric hatchback – with a boxy body slapped on top. “Everything’s very dedicated, a very dedicated execution,” Nesbitt insists. “Now we’ve got a lot of equity in battery-electric, with the Bolt, and of course that’s a big enabler in the construction of the platform. So the flat floor, getting things low for entry and egress, it’s a big enabler. And then with a dedicated electrical architecture you can move things around a lot.”

Platform sharing between automakers isn’t new, but when it comes to the brave new world of autonomous driving we’ve already seen fiefdoms spring up. Traditional car-makers seem simultaneously obsessed with, and terrified by, the idea of driverless vehicles. On the one hand it’s a whole new market; on the other, a massive step away from the status-quo. The idea of challenging that preconception, while also working with Honda, is something Nesbitt argues has fallen together relatively straightforwardly.

“It’s a partnership and collaboration,” the GM exec told me. “Certainly Cruise is here in the heat of collecting all the data, and they understand the users. We’re collecting all that information and trying to look at different scenarios of what are the solution sets, and then working with Honda on how to execute those solution sets.”

“At a high level we’re bringing our EV experience in chassis development,” Nesbit explains. “Honda’s experience in a lot of closures areas, and body areas. And then of course integrating all the hardware and software relative to Cruise.”

As for the boxy shape, that too was very intentional: not least for how it allowed Cruise’s engineers to place their sensor pods. “We wanted everything high and on the ends so that it doesn’t get damaged, expensive stuff doesn’t get damaged, and it’s a better field of view,” Carl Jenkins, Vice President of Hardware at Cruise, told me. “And it’s easier to replace: it allows the vehicle to get off and do high volume, long mileage, and that allows me to be able to swap and change as much as possible.”

Modularity is key to the ethos of the Origin, and to its value proposition. On the one hand, being able to upgrade each vehicle as new sensors and other technologies come online – or for more mundane things, like broken body panels – means Cruise can keep them on the road longer. Each Origin is promised to have a lifespan of over a million miles.

It also helps keep the costs down, since the rapid pace of autonomous technology evolution could easily mean this year’s Origin is outdated twelve months from now. “This is very modular because we’re going to constantly upgrade, because we’re driving new design in sensors ourselves and onto the marketplace,” Jenkins says. “There’s lots of very interesting startup companies. There’s lots of very interesting established ones, deciding whether they want to be part of this game or not. So we’re going to embrace the use of that.”

Such an approach gives Cruise the flexibility to target the relatively “low hanging fruit” first in terms of deployments. “First of all it’s going to be urban environments that have okay weather,” Jenkins says. “Then we want to bring in more extreme weather conditions. So that that drives another set of sensor requirements again.”

For the automotive industry, where car development lifecycles are typically measured in several year increments, Cruise’s pace is an outlier. We’re talking sensors being switched out in a matter of weeks, as the company finds a balance between performance, price, and packaging. What’s inside those owl-inspired rotating sensor pods, or their counterparts fixed elsewhere in the Origin’s bodywork, is flexible by design.

“I can’t even say whether it’s camera, radar, or LIDAR,” Jenkins told me when I asked what sort of sensors the vehicle shown off this week was equipped with, “because I can tell you that even in the last few weeks we’ve changed that and we’ve actually got rid of one of those.”

What’s interesting isn’t just how much of GM and Honda’s expertise filters down to Cruise, but what of the technology Cruise is developing will – and won’t – be shared with its heavyweight backers. You won’t, for example, see the Origin’s sensor pods on a GM vehicle, Jenkins confirms, though that’s not to say the tech behind them won’t.

“Do we work together,” the former chief engineer for Google’s self-driving car project explained, “on some of the compute and sensor technologies that could make sense for Super Cruise and whatever their need is? Of course we do, that’s economies of scale as well.”

Down the line, Cruise might even branch out into selling its sensor technology to other companies making autonomous vehicles, Jenkins told me, or indeed anything else that demands high-performance tracking and mapping abilities.

Today, exactly how Cruise’s eventual ride-hailing service will operate has more questions than answers. The company has been operating a closed beta with its Bolt EV-based prototypes in San Francisco for more than a year now, driving Cruise employees around the peninsula though with a human safety driver poised at the wheel, and the city would seem an obvious place for a commercial service to start out, too. That’s something the company isn’t willing to talk about yet, however.

What we do know is that Cruise will be responsible for the operations and maintenance of the service and its vehicles. The fleet will likely be stored in underground parking garages – that, Jenkins says, defined the Origin’s maximum height of 80-inches – where it will presumably be charged and cleaned. Much as the exterior strikes a practical balance, so the interior was crafted with shared use in mind, but without wearing that too conspicuously on its sleeve.

“We were designing the materials to comprehend all those situations: the spills, someone gets sick, whatever those scenarios are,” GM’s Nesbitt says. “We wanted something very inviting on the material side, something home-like, so that it didn’t feel shared.”

How soon before we can try that out for ourselves? Cruise says to expect an announcement about production location for Origin soon, but it’s unclear what sort of timelines that will follow. GM has said it aims to have 20 new electric vehicles by 2023, spread across its various nameplates, and of which Origin is believed to be just one. If all goes to plan, though, it could end up being the most interesting of the lot.

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Street Legal 2017 BAC Mono lands at auction

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Some sports cars are made for comfort and cruising long distances, and some are more built for days spent at the track. The BAC Mono certainly falls into the second category. It’s a track day god and one of the highest performance single-seat cars you could ever own. The coolest part of the BAC Mono, in this case, is that it is registered and legal to drive on the streets in the US.

The car is finished in white with a red wrap over the top and a black interior. The seat appears to be done in leather and the car has an open cockpit complete with a digital steering wheel that looks straight out of an F1 car. The car up for auction has only 3,000 miles on the odometer.

The Carfax report shows no accidents, and it features 17-inch wheels and AP Racing brakes. The Williams harness inside the cockpit is FIA approved. The car was constructed in England and then assembled in the US. The seller is a dealership and says that the only modifications to the car are a red wrap over white paint. The car was originally orange.

It does have aftermarket stickers on the sides and a GoPro mount above the seat for recording track day festivities. Power for all BAC Mono cars comes from a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder that makes 280 horsepower and 207 pound-foot of torque. The engine is from Ford and was modified by Cosworth. Power goes to the rear wheels via a 6-speed sequential transmission shifted with paddles behind the steering wheel.

The AP Racing calipers squeeze carbon ceramic brakes. The car appears to be ready for the track or streets. It’s sure to be one of the fastest rides at the track day. The car has three days to go at cars&bids and is at $85,500 right now.

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2022 Acura MDX Type S revealed as Acura heads to Pikes Peak

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The Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb is going on soon as automakers and racers from around the world converge on Colorado Springs to race up the mountain. Among the many automakers participating in the event for 2021 is Acura. The automaker has revealed the 2022 MDX Type S as the tow vehicle for the Acura race team.

Acura has confirmed that it’s entering four different racecars into the 99th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb that are all going to be driven by the Acura R&D engineers. All four of the vehicles are production-based and will race up the mountain on June 27, taking on the challenging 12.42-mile 156-turn mountain course.

The hill climb is one of the most dangerous races that automakers can participate in as cars have been destroyed and participants have been killed during the event over the years. It’s not drivers in cars that face the most danger during the race. Motorcyclists are much more likely to die during the event. The 2022 MDX Type S is being used to tow one of the TLX Type S cars from the team shop in Bremen, Ohio, to Pike’s Peak, Colorado. The SUV will also be used to support the Accurate team during the competition.

The MDX Type S is a high-performance version of the company’s SUV featuring a turbocharged engine. The vehicle is the first Acura SUV to wear the Type S badge and is the fastest and most powerful SUV Acura has ever built. It will go on sale later this year. For now, Acura is mum on any performance specifications for the MDX Type S.

Acura has historically done well at the hill climb and currently holds the hybrid class record set last year by driver James Robinson in the “Time Attack” Acura NSX at 10:48.094. Acura also holds the open division record at 9:24.433, set by Peter Cunningham driving the Acura TLX GT racing car.

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Toyota foils leakers by offering an official image of the 2022 Tundra

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Earlier this week, leaked images were going around claiming to show the next generation 2022 Toyota Tundra. Automakers never like leaks, and often they simply deny that the images are of their vehicle or ignore the leak altogether. However, Toyota used a different tactic when images of its 2022 Tundra leaked, choosing to release an official image of the truck.

2022 Tundra TRD Pro

With Toyota’s move, talk of the 2022 Tundra has moved from the leaked images to Toyota’s official image. However, it’s worth noting that Toyota only offered a single image of the TRD Pro version of the Tundra and offered no details on the truck. Last month, SlashGear posted a review of the 2021 Tundra TRD Pro, highlighting that it was the last hurrah for the current generation of the truck.

However, it does offer a nice opportunity for us to compare the exterior of the 2021 model to the 2022 model. What we see is significant changes on the exterior of the truck. While the overall profile remains virtually the same, the 2022 has a completely new front end that closely resembles the style used on the Tacoma and 4Runner SUV. That means a large black grille with hexagonal openings and bulky Toyota branding on the grille.

It’s unclear if non-TRD Pro versions will have the same front-end treatment. Another interesting tidbit that is easily seen from the official Toyota photograph is that the truck is equipped with an LED light bar underneath the Toyota logo in the grill and what appear to be LEDs underneath the grill on the front black portion of the bumper. The headlights are much smaller and appear to be LED.

2021 Tundra TRD Pro

The truck has modest black fender extensions and rolls on very attractive black wheels. We also note that the truck has integrated sidesteps to make it easier to get in and out. Unfortunately, there’s no indication of what changes might have been made to the interior or under the hood of the truck at this time.

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