Auto Outlook: Self-parking cars to go beyond parallel parking

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer  |  June 30, 2013 at 5:30 AM
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Sometime in the not-too-distant future a driver will be able to get out of a vehicle in front of a hotel or restaurant and her car will find an open parking spot and park itself at the touch of a button.

At least that's what automaker Volvo predicts. But don't hold your breath waiting to buy one.

Thomas Broberg, senior safety adviser at Volvo Car Group, says the Swedish car company is looking beyond self-driving cars like the ones pioneered by Google that can negotiate traffic and avoid pedestrians.

Volvo, which plans to introduce autonomous steering in the next-generation XC90 SUV by the end of 2014, is developing a system that goes beyond allowing a vehicle to parallel park itself hands-free. Those self-parking systems have been around for a few years and require the driver to remain inside the vehicle.

Volvo's system would detect an empty parking spot, allow the driverless car to go there and park itself and later return on its own when the driver summons it via a cellphone app.

"The driver uses a mobile phone application to activate the autonomous parking and then walks away from the car. The vehicle uses sensors to localize and navigate to a free parking space. The procedure is reversed when the driver comes back to pick up the car," Broberg told USA Today.

The key to development of the futuristic system is "Vehicle 2 infrastructure technology," which would embed sensors and transmitters in roadways and parking spaces that would detect empty parking spots and inform both the car and driver.

"Autonomous parking is a concept technology that relieves the driver of the time-consuming task of finding a vacant parking space," Broberg said. "The driver just drops the vehicle off at the entrance to the car park and picks it up in the same place later.

"Our approach is based on the principle that autonomously driven cars must be able to move safely in environments with non-autonomous vehicles and unprotected road users," he said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to spend the next four years researching autonomous vehicles as it evaluates systems like automatic braking to prevent accidents. The project will look at safety, reliability, how human beings interact with the technology, and the risk of hacking and cyberattack.

Last month, NHTSA issued non-binding recommendations to states for self-driving cars, saying they should only be approved for testing if a licensed human driver is aboard with the ability to take over in case of a malfunction.

Driverless cars are being tested in California, Florida and Nevada, the only states with laws on the books permitting restricted use of such vehicles. Michigan is considering a law allowing testing of automated systems that use radar, laser rangefinders, video cameras and computer maps to monitor real-time road and driving conditions.

"We believe there are a number of technology issues as well as human performance issues that must be addressed before self-driving vehicles can be made widely available. Self-driving vehicle technology is not yet at the stage of sophistication or demonstrated safety capability that it should be authorized for use by members of the public for general driving purposes," NHTSA said in a statement.

The Association of Global Automakers, a trade group representing foreign auto companies, welcomed NHTSA's guidelines on autonomous vehicles.

"This is a fast-evolving issue with numerous states having passed or considered legislation in this area," the association said. "We support the agency's efforts to ensure that state legislation does not compromise motor vehicle safety or inhibit current or future safety technology."

Volvo owner aims at 3 million miles

The odometer on Irv Gordon's Volvo has flipped over so many times it's a wonder it works at all.

After 47 years, Gordon, a resident of Patchogue, N.Y., is on pace to record 3 million miles driving his red 1966 Volvo P1800. He hopes to reach the milestone during a road trip to Alaska in September.

"It's not about getting to the 3 million miles. It's about the trips that got me to the 3 million miles," Gordon said. I never had a goal to get to 1 million, 2 million. I just enjoyed driving and experiencing life through my Volvo."

With more than 2.99 million miles on the car, the 73-year-old retired science teacher currently holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for most miles driven by a single owner in a non-commercial vehicle.

Gordon takes his car to a certified technician at Volvoville in Huntington, N.Y., the same dealership where he bought it nearly five decades ago.

GM near top in J.D. Power quality study

General Motors Co. has bounced back from its 2009 bankruptcy in both sales and quality, industry analyst J.D. Power & Associates says in its 2013 Initial Quality Study.

GMC, on the strength of its big trucks, ranked second in initial quality among 33 brands and Buick, Chevrolet and Cadillac all ranked below the industry average for problems with new vehicles. The study measures problems per 100 vehicles reported by owners -- including mechanical and design-related issues -- in the first three months of ownership.

"GM had a banner year with eight model-level awards when the next best was three," Dave Sargent, J.D. Power vice president of global automotive, told the Detroit Free Press. "Considering where they were four or five years ago when people said their vehicles should be kicked to the curb."

GM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson said GM vehicles already had a reputation for quality in China and other emerging markets.

"We don't have the kind of baggage in some of our foreign markets as we do here as a result of the bankruptcy," Akerson said celebrating with employees at the Warren Tech Center Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Ford ranked 27th, seventh from the bottom, largely because of problems with its voice-activated MyFordTouch infotainment system that controls audio, climate and navigation by touch screen and voice command. Ford is rebooting MyFordTouch this summer with a software upgrade and restoring dashboard dials and buttons to simplify controls.

Germany's Porsche led the Initial Quality Study with 80 problems per 100 vehicles, followed by GMC with 90, Lexus with 94 and Infinity with 95. Next were Chevrolet, 97; Acura, 102; Honda, 103; Jaguar, 104 and Mercedes, Hyundai and Kia, all with 106 problems per 100 vehicles.

Audi, Cadillac, Buick, and Chrysler were below the industry average of 113 problems per 100 vehicles and Lincoln equaled it.

Next were BMW and Volvo at 114, Smart, 115; Land Rover, 116; Jeep, 118; Volkswagen, 120; Mazda, 125, Subaru, 128; Dodge, 130; Ford, 131; Ram, 132; Mini, 135; Nissan, 142; Fiat, 154 and Scion, 161.

J.D. Power said 22 percent of the initial quality problems in the 2013 study concerned audio, entertainment and navigation systems.

New Mazda3 unveiled

Mazda took the wraps off the 2014 Mazda3 hatchback in New York last week and is banking on continued success of its best-selling compact.

Mazda has sold more than 3.5 million Mazda3's since it debuted in June 2003, accounting for nearly a third of the company's global sales in the last decade.

The "zoom, zoom," automaker is on its own after splitting from Ford and all models of the Mazda3 are expected to account for 40 percent of its U.S. sales when they hit showrooms in September.

The all-new hatchback is about 2 inches shorter than the current model but at 106.3 inches has a 2.4-inch longer wheelbase. It features the same sharp "Kodo" styling of the new Mazda6 and Mazda CX-5 crossover and Mazda's suite of Skyactiv technologies that get higher mileage from vehicles burning regular gasoline.

The Mazda3 will offer two engines, a base 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque and a 2.5-liter four-banger with 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, the same engines in the Mazda6 and CX-5, which should make the little Mazda a gas to drive.

A diesel or gas-electric hybrid will not be offered in the United States initially.

The Detroit News says all Mazda3s will be built in Japan until production begins at a new plant in Mexico in early 2014.

"We are proud to mark 10 years of the Mazda3's success with the global debut of the next-generation vehicle," said Jim O'Sullivan, president and chief executive officer of Mazda North American Operations. "There is no doubt that the all-new Mazda3 arrives with all-new expectations."

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