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Waymo is building a new replica city to test its driverless tech

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Waymo is opening two new autonomous vehicle facilities, including a dense urban playground for its self-driving passenger cars as they refine their human-replacing technology. The Alphabet-owned company, spun out from Google’s labs, currently operates a ride-hailing program in Phoenix, AZ, Waymo One, but has visions of far broader applications for driverless cars and trucks.

Waymo One recently came out of closed beta, offering app-summoned rides in a self-driving vehicle around a geofenced area. At the wheel is the Waymo Driver, the company’s name for its autonomous driving technology – including software and hardware – which it plans to apply not only to taxi-alternatives but Class 8 trucks, too.

Both of those concepts will now have a new place for research, development, and testing. First up, Waymo is working with the Transportation Research Center (TRC) in East Liberty, Ohio, to open a brand new testing environment for the Waymo Driver. It’ll be built according to Waymo’s specific requirements for its autonomous vehicles, and allow for testing rare or more dangerous events that are uncommonly seen on public roads.

“This new testing facility will model a dense urban environment and enable us to test longtail challenges you might never encounter on public roads as we continue to advance the fifth-generation Waymo Driver,” the company said today, “our most advanced software and hardware (including lidar, cameras, and radar) yet.”

Waymo will also use TRC’s other facilities, including its truck testing tracks. That’s part of the company’s focus on replacing human drivers in semi-trucks for haulage, with the Waymo Driver set to be at the heart of new autonomous trucks in a collaboration with industry heavyweight Daimler. The goal there is production driverless trucks – based on the Freightliner Cascadia – on sale in the US “in the coming years.”

Focusing on that goal specifically, a new R&D facility for trucking will be opening in Menlo Park, CA. It’ll move into the new location early in the new year, and allow Waymo space not only to refine the fifth-generation Waymo Driver on Class 8 trucks, but provide space for its fleet of test vehicles and the team working on them.

This isn’t the first time Waymo has used closed-course testing, mind. The company already has a 91 acre city mock-up, at Castle Air Force base in Merced, CA, which includes a variety of setups including suburbs and high-speed highways. There, it can run repeated trials on specific challenges – such as dealing safety with railroad crossings or roundabouts – at a much more rapid pace than out on public roads.

The TRC partnership, however, will add to that with a number of advantages. Given the location, it’ll introduce different weather types: much more rain and snow, particularly. Since autonomous vehicle sensors can be challenged by reduced visibility and other conditions, that’s an important area of testing. Waymo is also taking advantage of the proximity to Waymo Detroit, in Novi, MI, for easier transportation of newly Driver-equipped vehicles to the test site.

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Dacia Bigster Concept is a bigger and more stylish Duster SUV

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Most US buyers are not privy to Dacia, a Romanian car brand and Renault subsidiary, known for making affordable, reliable, and quirky vehicles like the Sandero and Duster SUV. Most recently, Renault unveiled the 5 concept electric vehicle to coincide with the brand’s ‘Renaulution’ business strategy, and it seems Dacia is along for the ride with its newest Bigster concept SUV.

“Dacia will stay Dacia, always offering a trustworthy, authentic, best value-for-money proposition to smart buyers,” said Denis Le Vot, CEO of Dacia and Lada brands.

Part of ‘Renaulution’ is a new Dacia-Lada business partnership to boost both brand’s competitiveness through shared engineering and manufacturing. “With the creation of the Dacia-Lada business unit, we’ll have everything we need to bring the brands to higher lands, with the Bigster Concept leading the way,” added Le Vot.

This new partnership will enable Dacia and Lada to scale down from eighteen body styles to eleven while moving from four to a single platform to reduce manufacturing and engineering costs without compromising rigidity and design. Dacia and Lada will use the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s all-new CMF-B modular platform, which debuted in the all-new Renault Clio in 2019.

It’s the same platform underneath Dacia’s Bigster Concept SUV, a 4.6-meter long family hauler that paves the brand’s entrant in the highly-competitive C-segment. “Dacia Bigster Concept epitomizes the evolution of the brand,” said Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos, Dacia Design director. “It proves that accessible is not opposed by any means to attractiveness. At Dacia, we believe so, and this car is proof.”

Viewed from the side, the Dacia Bigster resembles a hulked-up version of the Duster. The rear profile in particular, with its rising window line and powerful haunches, is reminiscent of the Mitsubishi Montero or Pajero Sport SUV (remember, Mitsubishi is also part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance). However, the concept has “no bells and whistles, no chrome trim or imitation aluminum,” said Dacia, and the protective exterior panels are crafted from raw, recycled plastic materials.

Powering the Dacia Bigster is a combination of alternative-energy or hybrid powertrains. We’re expecting Bigster to have the same Bi-Fuel (dual petrol and LPG engine) technology as the Sandero and Duster, but an all-electric model is a distinct possibility. Meanwhile, Dacia is set to unveil Europe’s most affordable electric car, the Spring, later this year.

Dacia Bigster Concept Gallery

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Tesla Model S Convertible by Ares Design: Elon Musk will be proud

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Italian coachbuilder and automotive engineering firm Ares Design is on a roll. After unveiling its latest Land Rover Defender Spec 1.2 earlier this year, the company has come up with a Tesla Model S Convertible with two less doors and a retractable fabric roof.

“At Ares, our Co-create philosophy allows clients to work side by side with our designers and engineers to create their very own bespoke vehicle, a service that is unique to Ares,” said Dany Bahar, Co-founder and CEO of Ares Design. “This Tesla project is a superb example of this; it was a pure coachbuilding project which we very much enjoy doing and seeing the results of our uncompromising standards.”

Wow. We never thought the Tesla Model S would look this good as a convertible model, and Elon Musk should be proud. In our opinion, it’s a better project than retrofitting a gasoline engine to what is otherwise a brilliant electric car, and this project is more than chopping off the roof and calling it a day. If you know Ares, the coachbuilder has a habit of going the extra mile in all its creations, like the C8 Corvette-based S1 Project Spyder, for example.

For the Tesla Model S, Ares modified the chassis, body, aerodynamics, and interior as part of the conversion. Ares engineers got rid of the factory roof, the B-pillars, and the rear doors before installing longer front doors. Also new is the trunk, which is now big enough to stow the folding roof. It also gets new 21-inch bespoke wheels wrapped in 245/35 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.

The Model S also gets an Ares-designed carbon-fiber aero kit to smoothen the airflow when the roof is down. Meanwhile, the interior has custom rear seats, Ice White leather upholstery, and a dash of color with orange detailing.

An anonymous client privately commissions this particular Model S, but the service is available to other Model S owners for a price. Ares has yet to reveal the project’s conversion costs, but we assume it’ll cost a lot. Least to say, this convertible is one of the best reinterpretations of the Model S we’ve seen so far.

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VW Golf production ends for US – Here’s what comes next

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Volkswagen is ending production of the US-spec Golf, calling time on its iconic hatchback, though it won’t be the last of the nameplate in America. Perennially popular, the Golf has seen almost 2.5 million sales in the US since VW first launched it in the market back in 1974.

Now, though, VW’s focus is changing, and electrification is arguably the biggest motivator. Though the Golf offered an early taste of the automaker’s EV plans in the US, the e-Golf was a fairly short-lived car, and predated the new MEB all-electric platform.

Effectively sweeping up what might ordinarily be Golf sales in the US will be the fast-approaching VW ID.4. Volkswagen’s electric crossover will be North America’s first example of an MEB-based vehicle – given the ID.3 hatchback is only being offered in Europe right now – with more distinctive styling and a higher level of technology.

Still, it’s not the end of the Golf nameplate in the US. Come the fall, the new Mk 8 2022 Golf GTI and 2022 Golf R will arrive on American shores, offering a performance take on the hatchback. The 2022 Golf GTI will have a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 245 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic as an option.

The 2022 VW Golf R, meanwhile, will have a more powerful tune of the 2.0-liter engine. It’s expected to get 315 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, with the same choice of transmissions. 4Motion all-wheel drive will also be included as standard, with torque vectoring and a special drift mode.

Although production of the US Golf ended at its Puebla, Mexico plant last week, VW does have a backlog of vehicles to sell through. The automaker expects that the 2021 Golf cars built there will cater to remaining demand in America through to the end of this year.

Unlike in Europe, where there are multiple configurations of Golf – and where sales of the hatchback will continue – the US gets a single trim. The 2021 Golf TSI has a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. It can be had either with a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic with Tiptronic, and has features like 16-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, and leatherette seating surfaces with heated front seats. It’s priced from $23,195 (plus $995 destination) for the stick-shift, or from $23,995 (plus destination) for the automatic.

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