By Tom Krisher in Detroit
DETROIT (AP) — When it came time to showcase its electric Chevrolet Equinox SUV to the public this year, General Motors decided against doing so at the big Detroit auto show, as it typically would have done in the past. Instead, it unveiled the Equinox six days earlier.
GM’s decision symbolized just how much smaller this year’s auto show will be, with few new model debuts, less-glitzy displays, fewer journalists and possibly lower attendance.
Though the pandemic is partly to blame, larger forces are at play, too: Automakers have figured out that new models can make a bigger splash when they’re unveiled to a digital audience on a day where they don’t have to share the spotlight with their rivals. Not to mention that making a debut at an auto show can be hugely expensive.
So despite moving the show from January to balmy September and adding outdoor events, the North American International Auto Show won’t be the glitzy event it was the last time it was held in chilly January, more than three years ago.
“The industry has changed — the world has changed,” said Karl Zimmermann, vice president of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which runs the show. “Do I think it’s going to be the same as it was before? No. It’s a much different format. We’re using indoors. We’re using outdoors.”
This year’s show will be geared more toward consumers and less toward the industry. General Motors and Volkswagen will offer test drives. There will be ride-alongs in new electric vehicles from Ford and others.
“I think that’s the likely track of the future — more consumer-focused than industry-focused, because the consumers don’t need all the the fanfare,” said Jeff Schuster, president of global forecasting for LMC Automotive, a Detroit-area consulting firm. “They can essentially have it look like a showroom.”
Gone from Detroit’s Huntington Place convention center are the elaborate multi-story displays that cost millions and took months to construct. There won’t be any attention-grabbing stunts, like driving cars up steps and through the front doors or an ice rink with figure skaters. Though many automakers, including some from Europe and Asia, decided not to attend, area dealers stepped in to provide cars and displays for their brands.
Instead of around 50 new model debuts as in past years, there’s only one truly new one: The Ford Mustang, to be unveiled Wednesday night at a big outdoor event along the Detroit River. Instead of the usual 5,000 journalists, only about 1,900 received credentials this year. The press conference list has been pared back and supplemented with auto parts makers, EV charging companies and aviation startups.
“We’re trying to show the whole gamut of mobility,” spokesman Frank Buscemi said.
Zimmerman said it’s all part of worldwide trend that started about a decade ago and this year forced the cancellation of the auto show in Geneva, Switzerland. Other auto shows, too, are shifting toward becoming a place for customers in their region to see and even drive what’s new.
Even with the changes, the show still amounts to a major production. So much so that President Joe Biden, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other cabinet members will attend.
Biden, a gearhead who owns a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, is expected to tout his new new climate, tax and healthcare law that offers tax incentives of up to $7,500 toward the purchase of an electric vehicle. Whether Biden will get behind the wheel of a snazzy new car, as he has done during past visits to Detroit, remains to be seen.
The show won’t be entirely devoid of glitz. Ford, Jeep and Stellantis’ Ram brand have built displays that will hold vehicles as they drive over steep slopes. Dirt and trees were trucked in for a natural look. There will be tracks where customers can ride in new electric vehicles, including Ford’s F-150 Lightning pickup.
Zimmermann agreed that attendance will likely be smaller than the roughly 800,000 the show drew during peak years of the past. He said he would be pleased with 500,000 for the 12-day show. This year, those who attend outdoor activities alone won’t be counted, which will hold down the total.
One thing is sure: Electric vehicles will be big draws for the public. Many will be on display for the first time to customers even though automakers unveiled them earlier.
“They want to know how they ride, how they drive and have experience with them,” Zimmermann said. “It’s not just enough to see a car on a carpet or to see just a digital display on a screen, but to really interact with the vehicle.”
It’s the interaction, with vehicles and with other people, that Zimmermann says will enhance the show after the lengthy pandemic pause.
“We like to think that after 3 1/2 years away, we’ll do nothing but grow,” he said.
AP White House reporter Colleen Long contributed to this report.
Alberta to change licences in spring, reduce second road tests for new drivers
By Bill Graveland in Calgary
A graduated driver’s licence program in Alberta that has been in effect for the past 19 years is getting an overhaul.
The Graduated Driver Licensing program was introduced in Alberta in 2003. New drivers are not permitted to drive between midnight and 5 a.m. Their licence can be suspended with an accumulation of eight or more demerit points, and there is zero tolerance in the use of alcohol or drugs while driving.
In addition, after successfully making it through two years probation, drivers are requested to take a second, more advanced road test in order to receive a full licence.
That is to change next spring.
Alberta says it will no longer require the advanced road test for Class 5 (passenger vehicles) and Class 6 (motorcycle) driver’s licences, saving those drivers $150.
“The objective of the changes are meant to reduce red tape and also cut costs for Albertans and businesses without cutting the safety aspects of the program,” said Alberta Transportation Minister Prasad Panda in an interview.
Since the program began, drivers who made it past their two-year probation and didn’t take a second test have been allowed to continue driving with their graduated licences, and many do.
Panda said an estimated 700,000 Albertans are driving with graduated licences. And in the past five years, 65 per cent of those with graduated licences did not take the second advanced road test.
“Some of them are not that young anymore. They are in their 40s, but they are simply not taking the test because they’re already driving with the (Graduated Driver Licence),” he added.
“Many of them probably thought spending that extra $150 for the advanced test is not giving them any extra benefit or comfort other than getting a full licence.”
An additional road test will also no longer be mandatory to obtain a Class 4 driver’s licence, which is required to transport passengers in taxis, ride-share vehicles, limousines, small buses and ambulances.
Eliminating the road test was suggested by many Albertans in a 2019 government survey on red-tape reduction.
Panda said about 500,000 graduated licence holders are likely eligible to move to full Class 5 licences.
“It is common sense. It reduces costs for drivers and also, in a way, for businesses, without compromising safety in any way,” Panda said.
“It’s not reducing safety. They have to be on probation for two years, so those two years should sort out if there are any issues with those drivers, whether it’s traffic violations or drug and alcohol.”
Under the change, drivers who show poor driving behaviour and get demerits or are ticketed for other unsafe driving offences during the last year of their probation would have their probationary period extended for an additional year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2022.
Edmunds: The pros and cons of vehicle touchscreens
By Ronald Montoya
There’s no denying the impact that smartphones and tablets have had on modern vehicles. Look into just about any new car and you’ll find a touchscreen and maybe even a bank of capacitive touch buttons that seek to approximate the function of mechanical buttons. The appeal is obvious: A cabin with these design elements can look sleek and modern. But there are drawbacks that aren’t always considered.
Those who haven’t been in a new car as of late may not know what to look for when evaluating the technology. With this in mind, Edmunds experts have listed a few pros and cons to touchscreen car interfaces to help you determine if this technology is something of interest or a deal-breaker.
PRO: FEWER BUTTONS EQUAL LARGER SCREENS
Most people prefer a large screen to a smaller one, so when automakers remove buttons from the car, it gives them more room to expand the screen. And much like our TVs and smartphones have ballooned in size over the years, so too have vehicle screens. For example, Lexus introduced its small SUV, the NX, in 2015. That model had a 7-inch center screen. Less than a decade later, the 2022 Lexus NX can be had with an optional 14-inch touchscreen. Some models’ screens are even bigger. The Ford Mustang Mach-E has a 15.5-inch center touchscreen, and the all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQS offers an entire dashboard that is one big Hyperscreen. Bigger screens are more legible, provide larger touch targets to interact with, and make it easier to glance at a map.
CON: HIGHER LIKELIHOOD OF DISTRACTION
With touchscreens, drivers must take their eyes off the road to perform most tasks. A simple task such as pulling up a song on Spotify caused drivers to take their eyes off the road for up to an average of 20 seconds, according to a 2020 study by IAM RoadSmart, an independent UK road safety nonprofit. For perspective, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guidelines recommend that “devices be designed so that tasks can be completed by the driver while driving with glances away from the roadway of 2 seconds or less.” The study also concluded that the impact on reaction time when using touch control, as opposed to voice control, was worse than texting while driving.
Drive any car long enough and you’ll know where things are just by feel. Think of a physical volume dial, for example. You can locate and turn it without taking your eyes off the road. But that rarely works with a touchscreen because you can’t feel a virtual button.
PRO: MORE FEATURES CAN BE ADDED TO THE VEHICLE
These days a new car’s screen is expected to pull double or triple duty. It needs to not only run the automaker’s software but also display Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration systems. Imagine the number of buttons that would be needed to run all three systems.
From the automaker’s perspective, a touchscreen interface saves designers from having to figure out where to add more buttons and gives the interior a cleaner look. A great example is the Tesla Model S. Nearly every feature on the vehicle is located on the center touchscreen. Even features you might not expect, such as the shifter, windshield wipers and lights, are located on the touchscreen.
The Kia EV6 is another notable example. It has a row of capacitive touch buttons that are used for climate controls but can completely change to stereo controls at the press of a specific button. Trouble is that if you want to adjust your temperature and are on the wrong setting, you’ll end up turning up the volume instead.
CON: CENTRAL POINT OF FAILURE
It is great to have more features in a modern vehicle, but the problem with housing them all in one place is that if the screen goes out, you don’t have access to any of those features. This has happened to Edmunds editors on numerous occasions since sometimes the software on new cars isn’t fully baked.
PRO: MORE CUSTOMIZABLE
Since virtual buttons in a vehicle aren’t physically locked into one place, it opens up the doors for customization. On the Tesla Model 3, for example, drivers can rearrange the location of the main on-screen buttons to match their preferences. Similarly, on the 2022 Lucid Air, drivers can create profiles that contain their steering wheel, seat and stereo presets that can be stored and instantly recalled in the event that another member of the house has different preferences.
EDMUNDS SAYS: Everyone has a different preference for the way they interact with a vehicle’s technology. Get a feel for the car’s tech when you’re in the showroom and if you’re not a fan of touchscreen interfaces, consider brands such BMW, Genesis, Mercedes-Benz or Mazda, as they all have control knob interfaces.
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