Open Auto Alliance, What you Need to Know

Some of you have probably heard about the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) coalition that Google has formed with Audi, Hyundai, Honda, General Motors, and Nvidia.  The goal is to bring the Android operating system to cars and make them more connected.  You can read my article “Google forms Open Automotive Alliance with major Tech & Auto players to bring Android to Cars” from yesterday.

Since I've gotten a lot of questions about the Open Auto Alliance I thought I would post these FAQ's directly from the Open Automotive Alliance website.  This should anser a lot of questions people probably have about the OAA.  

Note, I've changed around some of the wording of the questions to make them easier to understand and read.  Why read questions written by marketers? 

What is the Open Automotive Alliance?

The Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) is a group of technology and automotive companies who have come together to bring the best of Android into the automobile in a safe and seamless way.

Who is in the Open Automotive Alliance?

The founding members of the Open Automotive Alliance are Audi, General Motors, Google, Honda, Hyundai and Nvidia. Though this announcement is the beginning, not the end. We’ll enthusiastically work with any company interested in the compatible use of the Android with cars.

Why is the OAA beneficial to automakers?

Automakers will be able to leverage a platform already being used by millions to deliver a familiar and consistent experience to their customers. Taking a platform centric approach enables high quality application development in a way that is purpose built for cars.

Why is the OAA beneficial to drivers?

Drivers are already trying to access mobile services while they're on the road, but in ways that aren't always seamless or safe. By working with automakers to deliver these experiences in ways that make sense for the automobile, drivers can get what they're looking for without disrupting their focus on the road.

Why is the OAA beneficial for software developers?

With one platform that developers are already familiar with to target (rather than a patchwork of platforms from different automakers), developers will be able to focus on delivering a powerful experience for users.

Who can join the Open Automotive Alliance?

We welcome those in the automotive and technology space who are committed to bringing the best of mobile into the automobile in safe and seamless ways.

How will Android work inside of a car?

We're working with our partners to enable better integration between cars and Android devices in order to create a safer, car optimized experience. We're also developing new Android platform features that will enable the car itself to become a connected Android device. Stay tuned for more details coming soon.

When can I get Android in my car? What does the roadmap look like?

You can expect to see the first cars with Android integration by the end of this year.

Are you working with government safety organizations?

Yes, we have been in contact with government agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Our goal is to build an experience that helps drivers get what they're looking for without disrupting their focus on the road.

Google forms Open Automotive Alliance with major Tech & Auto players to bring Android to Cars

open automotive alliance

Google announced today the formation of the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) coalition which General Motors, Audi, Hyundai, and Honda are part of.  In addition Nvidia, a graphics card manufacturer for computers, is also joining forces with Google and the OAA.  What is the goal?  To bring Google's mobile Android operating system to vehicles.

To date there have been over 1 billion mobile devices activated on Android.  While those numbers are impressive Google is hoping to extend the Android devices even further and into cars, a mobile platform too, by forming the OAA and building up this industry alliance.  Audi, GM, Google, Honda, Hyundai and Nvidia are committed to bring the Android platform to cars starting this year, 2014.

The idea it to have a common and open source platform which makes it easy and intuitive for all automakers, parts suppliers, and 3rd parties to build technology and software for cars of the future.  This open source model of Android, which utilizes the Linux kernel, should especially allow software developers to deliver powerful experiences for drivers and passengers in a safe, scalable, and secure way.

“Working toward a common ecosystems benefits driver safety above all.” said Ricky Hudi, Head of Electrics/Electronics Development at Audi.

“Millions of people are already familiar with Android and use it everyday… The expansion of the Android platform into automotive will allow our industry partners to more easily integrate mobile technology into cars and offer drivers a familiar, seamless experience so they can focus on the road.” commented Sundar Pichai, SVP of Android, Chrome & Apps at Google. “

“The Honda team is looking forward to collaborating with Google and all OAA members to help advance the safety, value and ease of use of connected-car technologies.”  said Yoshiharu Yamamoto, president, CEO and director of Honda R&D Co., Ltd.

“By introducing the latest IT technologies safely and securely throughout our full range of vehicles, we continually strive to provide the highest levels of convenience and enhance the in-vehicle experience.” said Dr. Woong-Chul Yang, Vice Chairman of R&D, Hyundai Motor Group.

“The car is the ultimate mobile computer. With onboard supercomputing chips, futuristic cars of our dreams will no longer be science fiction,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, president and chief executive officer, Nvidia.

It's pretty clear the companies behind Open Automotive Alliance share a vision for the connected car which has been talked about for years in the tech and automotive press.  Up until now it really seemed more of a pipe dream than something that was doable since most automakers have their own infotainment systems and software which is proprietary and only for that automaker.  

In addition to connected cars it seem the OAA has the goal to make safer cars too.  The OAA has been in contact with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) but it is not clear what their collaboration could bring or how it will improve vehicle safety at this point.

We can expect to see Android integrated cars by the end of the year and Open Automotive Alliance is actively looking for other automakers and technology companies to join the coalition.  I assume a lot of other automakers will.

My Take on the Open Automotive Alliance

Highly ambitious but highly doable with Google's resources and their weight in the market. Since the company has already been working on self-driving cars for years this seems a logical step in their goal for connected and safer cars.  Probably much to the dismay of some gearheads but it seems like Google could pull off putting self-driving cars on the road quicker than anyone thought.  That depends on how many automakers join the Open Automotive Alliance.  

In addition this should make it easier for Audi, General Motors, Honda, and Hyundai to build and scale their infotainment systems. Each automaker can learn from each other about what works and doesn't with implementing Android into their vehicles. That is if they want to share and are willing to share what they know.  

This allows software developers who already build for Android to consider getting into the vehicle market too, which could be quite profitable for some Android developers.

The only people who are fretting about this news is likely are Apple and Microsoft.  They already have partnerships with automakers to integrate their software into vehicles.  Some auto manufacturers might be able to resist the siren call of Google depending on how powerful the Open Automotive Alliance becomes.  We will have to wait and see how the software wars for cars plays out.

Consumer Reports Top 10 Picks for 2013 [videos]

consumer reports auto issue

Consumer Reports at the National Press Club in Washington DC today announced the magazine's well regarded Top 10 Picks from the magazine's much anticipated April Annual Auto Issue. They presented their findings on vehicle and quality rankings on a wide range of automakers and vehicles.

Jake Fisher, Director of Auto Testing for Consumer Reports, and Rik Paul, Consumer Reports Auto Editor, presented the non-biased and independent findings to an eager audience of Washington Automotive Press Association (WAPA) members, various well-known media outlets, and reps from most of the leading automakers. Jessica Anderson, the President of WAPA, even commented it was a noticeably large turnout. Hey it's Consumer Report's and a lot of people turn to this information when shopping for a new car.

Consumer Reports Top Pick's for 2013

  • Honda Accord (Midsized Sedan) – Consumer Report's really felt that Honda “nailed it” with the redesign of the Honda Accord. The reliability, roominess, comfort, reasonable pricing, and fuel efficiency all helped the Honda Accord earn high marks and a Top Pick this year. ($23,270 to $30,860)
  • Subaru Impreza (Compact Car) – The Subaru Impreza won the Compact Car category last year and now takes the “Top Pick” title this year too. Consumer Report's noted that both the sedan and hatchback are great values and have great features. This includes nimble handling, a compliant and absorbent ride which the editors note rivals luxury sedans. Along with impressive fuel economy for an All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) car the Subaru Impreza is hard to beat.
  • Hyundai Elantra (Budget Car) – This one of the Consumer Report's top rated compact sedans and it is clear why. Hyundai offers a really great value for those on a budget. The Hyundai Elantra is more roomy, provides decent handling, a comfortable ride, smooth powertrain, a nice interior with good fit and finish. ($18,445)
  • Toyota Prius (Green Car) – The Toyota Prius can't seem to be dethroned from winning this category. It has been named a Consumer Report's “Top Pick” 12 times before and this now this is the 10th consecutive year it has won a Top Pick. The editors noted that it is hard to beat the fuel economy, hatchback versatility, practicality, affordability, and value the Toyota Prius offers consumers. Environmentalists and liberals can rejoice and can continue to feel proud of the beloved Toyota Prius. ($26,750)
  • Audi A6 (Luxury Car) – This comes as a bit of surprise since Audi has not had a car be named a “Top Pick” be Consumer Report's in over 10 years. The Audi A6 received good marks for having a stunning supercharged V6 engine, smooth 8-speed automatic transmission, and a ride you would expect from a German automobile. Handling is also quick, precise and agile and driving an Audi A6 is a sinful pleasure. The interior and high-tech features also impressed the Consumer Report's editors. ($56,295)
  • BMW 328i (Sports Sedan) – The BMW 328i edged out the Infiniti G37 which took the Sports Sedan category for 4 years. Like the Audi, BMW had not had a Consumer Report's “Top Pick” for 10 years. What made editors change their minds? The redesigned BMW 328i is roomier, more luxurious, and has better fuel efficiency with the 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Like all BMW's it still retains fun-to-drive characteristics. ($43,195)
  • Honda CR-V (Small SUV) – A smooth ride, responsive powertrain, excellent fuel economy, a great ride, roomy interior, standard backup camera, and Honda reliability make the Honda CR-V a Top Pick. ($26,455)
  • Toyota Highlander (Midsized SUV) – The Toyota Highlander returns for 2013 as it won this category last year. Consumer Report's notes that it has the practicality of an SUV with the refinement of a great sedan. The Toyota Highlander provides a quiet cushy ride along with secure handling and a smooth powertrain. With Toyota reliability it is hard to go wrong with the Toyota Highlander. ($38,578 to $47,255)
  • Honda Odyssey (Minivan) – Consumer Report's renamed the “Family Hauler” category to Minivan this year. That's probably because you can't get anything better than a minivan for a family hauler! 🙂 Editors noted that Honda Odyssey provides a comfortable ride, roominess, and versatile cabin that is quiet. Rik Paul noted that is provides a rear backup camera as standard which Consumre Report's that was an essential safety feature around a car that is going to have small children around it. With Honda reliability the Honda Odyssey takes the Minivan category. ($36,830)
  • Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ (Sports Car) – These twin sisters might have different names but are the same car underneath. The super-sharp handling, fabulous braking, a powerful engine, and Rear-Wheel-Drive (RWD) make this a true driver's car. (I know since I have drove a Subrau BRZ quite fast at the WAPA Rally.) Reliability, good fuel economy, and good fit and finish all at a reasonable price earned the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S a Top Pick. ($25,025 and $27,117)

To earn the coveted Top Pick from Consumer Report's they must meet high criteria in 3 areas: road test, reliability, and safety. The vehicles must rank at or near the top of the vehicle category and earn above average reliability grades. Reliability data is calculated from the Consumer Report's survey that non-profit organization send out every year to subscribers. In the last survey data on 1.2 million vehicles was collected. Vehicles should also perform adequately in testing conducted by the government or insurance industry.

What is interesting is that last year no Hondas were on the Top Picks list. Honda seems to have adjusted quickly though and has come back into the ring fighting strong earning 3 Top Picks for 2013. Hyundai earning a top pick shows how far the automaker has come in a few years. It is also nice to see the Audi A6 and BMW 328i earn Top Pick selections, but it will remain to be seen whether they can retain the title next year.

Noticeably absent on the Consumer Reports Top Picks list were vehicles from domestic automakers, which means Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors (GM). Jake Fisher commented during his presentation that while domestic automakers have made significant strides and impressive improvements to their vehicle lineups over the past couple years, they still have quite a long way to go. Japanese, German, other automakers are also improving their lineups making it somewhat difficult to compete and catch-up so to speak with the competition’s quality and reliability.

Interestingly though during the Q&A after the press conferences I asked Jake Fisher and Rik Paul, “What car would you the two of you personally buy with your own money?” To my surprise they were willing to answer the question and did not say “No!”

Rik Paul commented he had been recently driving the Ford Fusion and really liked it but said that it does depend on a someone's priorities. Notably the Ford Fusion scored just below the Honda Accord in Consumer Reports Annual Auto Issue this year. If he was going to get a Ford Fusion he would probably opt for the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Rik Paul did mention to me that he changes his mind every other week since he gets to test drive so many different cars. If only we could all be so lucky!

Jake Fisher reply to my question was that he really enjoyed the VW Golf TDI since it is a lot of fun-to-drive. He did mentioned that it would of course have to be a stick-shift, like any auto enthusiast would want. Although squeezing kids in back would be tough. (By the way he said “That's a good question!” in case you were wondering!”

The Consumer Reports auto testing is widely regarded in the auto industry as the best. The cars that Consumer Reports uses in testing are not given to them by the automakers as press fleet vehicles, like most auto publications get them. Consumer Reports buys the cars anonymously to make sure the cars do not have any special “tweaks” to them. They go through an extremely comprehensive testing procedures and all ratings are non-biased.

While there might be disagreement and hard-feelings about the ratings and the Top Picks list…it is hard to deny the impact the Consumer Report's Annual Auto Issue has on the auto industry.

 

Sylvania SilverStar zXe’s, The Best Headlight Bulbs

Slyvania SilverStar zXe
Slyvania SilverStar zXe

As the days are getting shorter with winter upon us, I am sure you are using your headlights more. Inevitably one of your headlight bulbs is going to burn out or be on it's last legs, putting you in the market for new headlights. When you take a trip down to the auto parts store you should consider upgrading to some better bulbs, like the Sylvania Silverstar zXe's.

Sylvania was nice enough to send me a set of zXe's for my 96′ Honda Accord. Some fans of Adam's Auto Advice might remember I also wrote a review of the Slyvania SilverStar Ultras.  (Also see my review of the Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit.)  After using the zXe's I wouldn't bother with the Ultras because the zXe's are hands-down better.

This was made obvious one night while driving to a friend's house in Northern Baltimore county. The roads to his house are small, twisty, and lack streetlights where walls of trees line the side of the roads. This forced me to rely on the zXe's. With the brights on, they effortlessly lit the way for my Honda Accord. I had driven this same route with the SilverStar Ultras which were great, but definitely not nearly as good as the zXe's. The dark roads were simply no match for the light that the zXe's produced.

Another night, driving home on a dark Baltimore city street, I noticed two people walking in the middle of the street. I mean they were literally walking in the middle of the street! I braked and swerved around them honking. Luckily I saw them far before an accident would have occurred, but I am pretty sure I wouldn't have seen them as early without the zXe's.

Also, when driving in rain or bad weather, the zXe's shine. They are particularly useful at night when it is raining.

What makes the zXe's superior is fullness of the white light and the intensity. Some headlight bulbs provide a wide lighting area but the light diminishes around the edges, reducing their effectiveness. This doesn't happen with the zXe's crisp illumination.

“SilverStar zXe headlights use a proprietary cobalt blue coating combined with xenon halogen gas technology to generate a color temperature that rivals HID.” according to the description on Sylvania's website. Part of the appeal of the zXe's for auto enthusiasts and tuners is they mimic High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlight housings without the expense and hassle of installation. A big advantage to the zXe's is they are 100% legal and Department of Transportation (DOT) approved so you don't need to worry about running into any legal trouble. Sylvania hopes you will consider these before buying a set of HID's. While the zXe's did slightly improve the look of my Honda Accord with slicker lights, I am not sure the zXe's are a true replacement for the overall look of HID headlights. This is strictly my opinion though, maybe they look better on other cars.

One complaint I have read about the zXe's is that they do not last as long as regular bulbs. Slyvania doesn't really advertise it in big bold letters but on the box it does say, “Slyvania SilverStar zXe lamps are engineered to achieve the highest performance possible, which results in product life that is less than standard lamps.” So they are not trying to hide this or mislead Sylvania customers. It states this limitation clearly and it might be something to be aware of before purchasing them.  I have been using my zXe's for a number of months and haven't noticed that the light has diminished or had a bulb burn out though.  If they do I will let people know.

Once you use Slyvania's zXe's you will most likely not care about what the box says. It would be hard to go back to using any other type of bulb for your headlights. They are better and brighter then anything I have ever used and if you buy a set, I am pretty sure you will be happy with that choice.

2013 Acura ILX, the Best of Both Worlds

The last thing someone wants to do is shell out $20,000 for a new car and then have their family's physical well-being be in jeopardy. With every unveiling of a new or updated model, the safety of the vehicle is always a consideration for a buyer and the 2013 Acura ILX is no exception.

The ILX contains many parts derived from the Honda Civic sedan model. Considering the Civic's reputation as a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, that's a good sign.

Honda's ownership of the Acura brand has resulted in a fairly simple transition from the manufacturing of Honda parts to Acura parts. In addition to its shared safety and performance features, the ILX is offered at a substantially lower price than any comparable Acura model in the past. With that said, while the ILX shines in certain aspects, it lacks in others.

What The Acura ILX Has to Offer

  • The ILX features a variety of Acura parts in each of three models. The first features a 2.4-liter, 201-hp engine remarkably similar to that of the Honda Civic Si. The smaller model ILX has a 2.0-liter, 150-hp engine with a five-speed automatic transmission and custom paddle shifters. Both models get anywhere from 20 to 35 MPG, depending on driving conditions.
  • The third model is perhaps the most attractive to the modern car shopper because it is a hybrid. As you may have guessed, the Acura ILX Hybrid is derived from the 2012 Civic Hybrid. No surprise there, but it still has a decent 110-hp, 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine and Honda's CVT transmission.
  • Due to the ILX’s front wheel drive, it holds nearly two-thirds of its weight in the front end of the car. To compensate, it features increased grip on the nose, allowing the ILX to corner steadier and with increased traction.
  • Again borrowing from the Civic, but differing slightly, the ILX's frame includes a prominent overhang meant to draw out the car's hood. On the back end, the ILX has a sedan-like trunk featuring a slight deck lid. Overall, the car’s design appears far more similar to that of a Honda than an Acura.

What’s Inside?

The ILX's interior is reminiscent of other Acura models both past and present. The shifter and center console, along with many other interior aspects, bears a striking resemblance to the Acura TSX. From the driver and passenger seat frames to the upper and lower dashboard, the ILX borrows a lot from its Acura siblings.

In addition, the ILX has a premium package available that includes the latest automobile technology with voice navigation, Bluetooth hands-free technology, weather/traffic updates, rear camera and patented AcuraLink communication system built in.

Conclusion

There is no question that the new 2013 Acura ILX has borrowed a few parts from the Honda Civic. With the safety of a Civic and a selling price starting at $25,900, the LXI lands on the middle ground between security and appealing design. But for those who are concerned with safety and affordability over luxury, the Acura ILX is a solid option.

by Annabella Clavette

Sylvania Silverstar Ultras Make The Road Bright & Visible

You get into your car after a long day at work. The sun set long ago and it's dark out so you get in, put on your seatbelt (right?), then turn on your headlights. Lights…what lights? You can hardly see anything in front of you!

If you find yourself in this situation with your headlights, I recommend replacing the bulbs asap. If you are going to be replacing your headlights anyway, why not upgrade to some really bright Sylvania Silverstar Ultras?

I have been using a set of Sylvania Silverstar Ultras (#9006) in my Honda Accord for the past few weeks, and I got to say, “Wow!” having a brighter set of bulbs in your car makes a big difference while driving at night.

After driving around for awhile with such awesome and bright headlights, you tend to forget the dimness of the old bulbs. For comparison sake and for this review, I decided to put one of my old lightbulbs back in my headlights and drive my Honda Accord around. The difference between the Silverstar Ultras and my old bulbs would be much more visible side-by-side.

It was a bit hard to get a good picture at night (even with my Canon Rebel), but the difference is clear and incredible!

Bright!

You can see how the Silverstar Ultras fill out the headlight more, while the old bulb just doesn't cut it.  Honestly the one Silverstar Ultra bulb lights up the road well and compensates somewhat for the old bulb's lack of brightness.  The Silverstar Ultras were bright enough for to me realize my lights were out of alignment too.  (That was nothing that a screwdriver and a bit of patience couldn't fix.)

The only problem I have read about with these Sylvania Silverstar Ultras is a lot of people complain that they don't last long.  If you look on the back of the packaging there is a graphic that shows the Sylvania Silverstar Ultras are indeed bright, but show their life is much shorter.  Also “SYLVANIA Silverstar Ultra lamps are engineered to achieve the highest performance possible, which results in product life that is less than standard lamps.” is also printed on the back of the packaging.

That doesn't really bother me as I would rather replace really bright bulbs more often, than drive with bulbs that don't light up the road well at all.  So far I have experienced no issues with the bulbs deteriorating in brightness or going out prematurely.

The Silverstar Ultra packaging does claim to improve your forward visibility by 40% and side visibility by 50%. I think those claims are a bit lofty. After making proper adjustments, my guesstimate would be that Silverstar Ultras improve forward visibility by 30%-25% and maybe 30% on the sides.

Of course there is no easy way for me to truly measure or test my guesstimated numbers.  Getting out a measuring tape was futile!

The brightness of the bulbs makes for a much more enjoyable and safe night driving experience though.  The light that the Sylvania Silverstar Ultras bulbs puts out is much more focused, clear, and full then what I had before which was terrible.

Results can vary depending upon the condition of your headlights. If you have cloudy or yellowed headlights, getting a set of Silverstar Ultras bulbs will not improve visibility too much. The best thing for you to do is buy a headlight restoration kit and spend an afternoon restoring them to a clear and visible condition.  Then buy new bulbs if they are not good.

Bottom line, I used to dread having to drive my Accord at night or in bad weather because I thought I would hit another car, person, or object. Now it's not as much of a problem with the Sylvania Silverstar Ultras installed.

MD State Emissions Test

Write on the Envelope to make sure you don't forget the Emissions due date

Today I had to go do what most Marylanders dread, the MD State Emissions Test.  This is something you are required to do every 2 years to make sure your vehicle is not spewing too much noxious Co2 into the atmosphere in the great state of Maryland.

I waited longer than it took to actually do the test.  As most know all the test really is is hooking up your car to a computer.  What the technician did to my car today was hook-up my car to the OBDII scanner, check for a code, and that was it.  If my car didn't have a OBDII or OBDI port they just would have not checked for any codes.  He also did what is known as a “Gas Cap” test, essentially just to make sure the gas cap is there.

I left feeling great I had my emissions test out of the way and was at least glad it only took me about 1 hour and 15 minutes from my house to the emissions place on Erdman Avenue and back.  You know I realized when I got back to my house, it is just a good way for MD to make some money.  What do you think?