Auto Outlook: Ford experiments with self-parking car

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer
The Tesla Motors, Inc. logo is displayed at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit on January 14, 2013. UPI/Brian Kersey
The Tesla Motors, Inc. logo is displayed at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit on January 14, 2013. UPI/Brian Kersey | License Photo

Volvo and Audi are not the only automakers looking toward a future where vehicles can safely park themselves.

U.S. automaker Ford is getting into the act, showing off a prototype Fully Assisted Parking Aid system at a proving ground in Belgium last week that would allow a driver to exit a vehicle and watch it park itself.


"Imagine you're in a parking garage and the only spot available is too small to open your door," Ford spokesman Scott Fosgard said in an interview with Automotive News. "This would let you get out, and it would park for you. Then when you want to leave, it pulls out and lets you in."

Parking assist uses ultrasonic sensors to scan for parking spaces -- both parallel and diagonal -- while the vehicle travels as fast as 18 mph. " The car would park itself at the push of button on the dashboard or a smartphone app if a driver wanted to get out before parking (but it may be after mid-century before even more futuristic cars can fold "Jetsons-like" into briefcases).


"Parking in today's cities can be stressful and difficult," Barb Samardzich, Ford of Europe vice president of product development, said in a statement. "We want to make it as easy, efficient and accurate as possible."

Ford also demonstrated its Obstacle Avoidance system that uses three radars, ultrasonic sensors and a camera to automatically brake a driverless car and steer the vehicle way from objects at up to 38 mph.

Corolla 'marginal' in frontal overlap crash test

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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the folks that strap dummies in vehicles and crash them into walls and barriers, got around to testing the 2014 Toyota Corolla.

The redesigned Corolla was not ready when IIHS released the results of a dozen crash tests of small cars in August and Toyota fans were curious to see how the newest Corolla would do.

The answer? So-so.

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The 2014 version of the venerable compact earned a marginal rating in the Institute's tough new small overlap frontal crash test intended to replicate a collision of the driver's side of a vehicle with a tree or utility pole. However, Corolla continues to be an IIHS Top Safety pick because of its good rating on the organization's other four crash tests.


The small overlap frontal test has been a challenge for the Japanese automaker. No Toyota has received a good rating in the test. The 2013 Carmy, RAV4 and Prius V were all rated poor.

"With the small overlap test, the Institute has raised the bar again, and we are responding to the challenge, a Toyota spokeswoman told The New York Times in an email.

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The Scion tC so far has been the lone Toyota vehicle to earn an acceptable rating in the test.

Viper hit by slow sales, production cuts

Chrysler has revised the production schedule for its V-10 SRT Viper sports car to build a third fewer of the powerful exotics than announced.

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About nine Vipers have been assembled by hand each day since production began in Detroit this spring, but that number will be reduced to six cars a day.

"We got off to a late start," said Ralph Giles, head of the SRT brand. "We had hoped to begin shipping vehicles late last year, but we shipped the first 67 units in April. We typically do very well with the Viper in early spring."

About 200 Vipers were delivered to dealerships in July and August after some cars were held back because of quality problems, Automotive News said.


Chrysler said there will be no layoffs, but some of the 171 workers at the Conner Avenue Assembly plant where the Viper is assembled are being reassigned to other Chrysler facilities.

The 640-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive, two-seater starts at $104,480. Buyers get one free day of profession instruction to learn the driving skills to handle the beast.

Chrysler sold 426 Vipers in the United States through September, leaving 565 cars in the hands of dealers, who are asked to pay for special training from Chrysler to sell the Viper.

"We're really looking at the reality of this type of car in this economy, as well as us controlling the market and making sure that we don't over build," Giles said. "A lot of people are unnecessarily intimidated by the car."

Tesla: Model S fire "could have been far worse"

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk says the Model S electric car shown burning on a Seattle street in a video on YouTube performed exactly as it should have.

The video led to Tesla shares falling more than 6 percent this month before the stock recovered.

In his blog on the company's website, Musk explains what happened to trigger the fire. He said, as authorities reported, the $70,000 luxury sedan hit a "large metal object" that fell from a semi-trailer truck at highway speed with a force on the order of 25 tons.


The object punched a 3-inch hole through a quarter-inch thick protective metal plate under the car's front lithium-ion battery pack. He said the onboard alert system told the driver to stop and exit the vehicle, adding that the fire was contained within the battery pack's firewalls and flames were directed downward away from the passenger compartment.

There are an estimated 150,000 vehicle fires in the United States each year and Musk said statistics indicate a fire in a conventional gasoline powered vehicle is five times more likely than in a Tesla.

"Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse," he wrote.

"A typical gasoline car only has a thin metal sheet protecting the underbody, leaving it vulnerable to destruction of the fuel supply lines or fuel tank, which causes a pool of gasoline to form and often burn the entire car to the ground."

"In contrast, the combustion energy of our battery pack is only about 10 percent of the energy contained in a gasoline tank and is divided into 16 modules with firewalls in between. As a consequence, the effective combustion potential is only about 1 percent that of fuel in a comparable gasoline sedan."


Tesla shares began the year a $35.56 and closed at $178.70 Friday.

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