GMC Wins Most Refined Brand Award…Again

Winning the Kelly Blue Book’s (KBB) Brand Image Award is never as easy as some top brand make it look. The honor is issued on an annual basis based on the new-car buyer perception data. KBB announces the vehicle valuation and information and has proven to be a very trusted and reliable source for both consumers and the automotive industry.

The Brand Image Awards is keen to recognize and honor automakers’ outstanding achievements in different ramifications of the industry, ranging from creating to maintaining brand attributes that capture the attention and enthusiasm of the vehicle-buying public.

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It’s Time to Say Goodbye: Death of the Manual Transmission

Depending on how old you are, the death of the manual transmission likely means something different to you. For older generations, drivers grew up on the manual transmission, learning how to properly shift gears while their parents taught them to drive.

For younger generations, this may not be on your radar at all. You may have had a friend or two who drove stick shift during college, and they were considered a rare and cool breed of driver.

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A Look at the Driverless Car Race in AZ

If you happen to live in Arizona, then occasionally coming in contact with driverless or self-driving cars wouldn’t be a surprise to you.

With major auto industry leaders like Uber and Google investing a huge amount of money developing driverless car technology, it is becoming clear that self-driving vehicles may eventually take over the automobile industry, although it will likely take some time for this to happen.

The development of self-driving cars in Arizona could bring about a radical reform in how Arizona cities build, govern, and manage their roads.

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Is Car Ownership Actually Decreasing In The U.S.?

The first half of the twentieth century witnessed the domination of Americans in the automobile industry, with three big auto companies (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler) emerging by the 1920s. History has shown us that automobiles had their greatest economic and social impact in the U.S. in 1980, when about 87.2 percent of American residents owned one or more vehicles, 51.5 percent owned more than one, and 95 percent of domestic car sales were for a replacement.

Recent studies and trends, however, indicate that Americans won’t be needing or purchasing as many automobiles in the future. But why is that?

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SB1080 Making Major Changes on Arizona Roads

It looks like Arizona roads are about to become a lot safer, thanks to Senate Bill 1080. On April 20, the Arizona state House gave final approval to legislation banning teens with a learner’s driving permit from texting or making calls from their cell phones behind the wheel. Passing with a 32-24 margin, SB1080 also extends that restriction to the first six months the driver has their actual Class G license, which is reserved for new drivers.

This bill was first introduced to the state senate on January 17, 2017, and just earlier this month, many had doubts that the bill would pass. Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, who chairs the House Rules Committee, expressed on April 6 that he would refuse to give a hearing to the Senate-passed bill. The Senate had previously approved the bill on a 24-6 margin.

While Lovas claimed that he personally was for the bill, he heard enough concerns from other members to take a bold stance. According to Lovas, once Arizona enacts its first-ever restrictions, no matter how minimal, it potentially becomes easier to expand the law so that more people, not just new drivers, are barred from driving while texting.

This type of thinking is how the term “nanny state” was coined. This describes a situation where the state begins telling people what’s best for them. Those arguments have proven successful in the past, even resulting in lawmakers voting in 1976 to repeal laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets.

As it currently stands, Arizona and Montana are the only two states that do not have any restrictions on cell phone use behind the wheel of a vehicle. In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 14 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. 37 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice or teen drivers, and 46 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers.

Unlike laws in other states, SB1080 would make cell phone use and driving for new drivers a secondary offense, meaning the driver could only be issued a ticket for it if they had been pulled over for some other reason, such as speeding.

Despite his threat to squash the bill before it reached the state house floor, it was indeed presented and passed, thanks in a large part to Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who shepherded SB1080 through the Senate. She expressed that the Rules Committee, unlike other panels, is not supposed to debate the policy merits of a measure. Instead, the only issue for that committee to decide is whether a measure is constitutional and in proper form for consideration by the full House, and SB1080 was approved in both areas.

Now, the bill just needs one remaining signature to become law—Governor Doug Ducey’s. Ducey, who has three sons, two of whom are of driving age, finds this to be a personal bill to him.

That, partnered with the sad statistic that 11 teens die nationally every day while texting and driving, pushes many to believe that Ducey will sign the bill without any hesitation.

While a AAA study found that 94 percent of teen drivers recognize the danger of texting and driving, 35 percent admit to doing it anyways. This gives merit to the importance of the bill and getting it passed.

Ducey is expected to make a decision shortly, so be sure to follow the story for more updates in the coming days.

Wrong Way Drivers in AZ Becoming Frequent Occurrence

On Friday, April 14th at 2 A.M., Keaton Tyler Allison, a 21-year-old student at Grand Canyon University (GCU), was driving the wrong way down Interstate 17. Approaching the Greenway Road exit, Allison collided head on with a driver traveling the right way on the 17. Carrying fellow GCU student Karlie Arlene Richardson, 20, and her sister Kelsey Mae Richardson, 18, neither vehicle made any attempt to brake, and the cars collided at a high rate of speed.

With all three individuals trapped in their vehicles, they were pronounced dead at scene after being extricated by Phoenix fire emergency crews.

Bob Romantic, a spokesman at GCU, released the following statement to students and staff in an email sent early Friday morning: “It is with great sorrow and heavy hearts that we share the news that three people, including two students from Grand Canyon University, were killed in a wrong-way driver accident last night on Interstate 17… As a close-knit community of students, faculty, and staff, please keep these families in your thoughts and prayers during this tragic time.”

The death of these three individuals is heartbreaking, and sadly, not a unique situation in Arizona. In 2016 alone, the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) received more than 1,600 reports of wrong-way drivers, 27 of which resulted in serious injury or death. Of those 1,600 cases, more than 100 of the drivers were arrested with suspicion of impairment.

These incidents didn’t begin in 2016 either. Back in June 2014, ADOT, DPS, and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety held an emergency meeting to help combat the increase in wrong-way driving accidents. At the end of that month, Arizona transportation officials erected new signage at various highway exit ramps throughout the state, including larger “do not enter” signs and an additional “wrong way” sign below. They also painted two large arrows equipped with light reflectors signaling the correct direction of travel.

In 2014, DPS reported fielding an average of 25 calls per month with reports of a wrong-way driver on an Arizona freeway. In 2012, wrong-way drivers played a role in 15 fatalities, and 78 fatalities between 2008 and 2012. So it’s clear that this problem is nothing new, and appears to be worsening.

So what is being done in 2017 to reduce the number of wrong-way drivers and save lives along Arizona freeways?

An ADOT spokesperson says they’ve received an influx of suggestions from the public regarding possible preventative solutions. One mentioned was the use of spike strips, which are used to blow the tires of wrong-way vehicles moving at very low speeds. ADOT will not be utilizing them on Valley highways for a variety of reasons, including:

ADOT admits that there is no perfect solution for stopping wrong-way drivers, especially when drugs and alcohol are involved. They do want the public to be assured, however, that they are working on a solution. In 2017, ADOT began work on a project that would use existing highway sensors to detect wrong-way vehicles and alert police and other drivers. These sensors would also be placed on freeway on-ramps. While there is no exact time frame for when ADOT expects to roll out this technology, they do plan to do so in 2017.

DPS Director Frank Milstead believes that increasing local police traffic squads could also help prevent wrong-way crashes on highways. According to Milstead, wrong-way accidents are often devastating because “the closing speeds are so tremendous” as was the case in Friday’s incident.

Milstead doesn’t believe the freeway system needs a multi-million dollar sensor system. His theory is that budget cuts and shrinking police forces are contributing factors in the crashes. If local traffic enforcement officers can be used to spot and pull over impaired drivers, they’ll never even reach the highways, according to Milstead’s theory.

“We can spend millions and millions of taxpayer dollars to try and defeat this, “ Milstead said in reference to impaired, wrong-way drivers, “but at the end of the day, it’s really upon each of us to defeat the wrong-way driver.”

Uber’s Brief Suspension Ends After Tempe Crash

Back in December 2016, Governor Doug Ducey announced that Uber would move its self-driving vehicle program to Arizona. Fast-forward four months, and the program has already been briefly suspended.

Take a look at the major milestones during Uber’s time in Arizona to better understand the progress Uber has made, and what their unknown future may hold.

December 2016

After operating briefly in San Francisco, Uber’s self-driving vehicles were told to leave California due to safety concerns. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, state legislators believed Uber needed specific permits to operate self-driving cars. Uber, however, disagreed, stating that the permit should not apply to their vehicles since they have someone behind the wheel of the car at all times.

After much back and forth, Uber decided to pull out of California, and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey welcomed Uber’s program with open arms, looking to name Arizona as an innovative state for technological advances.

“We think it’s going to provide jobs for Arizonans, and ultimately we think our streets are going to be much safer for our citizens and for our teenagers who are driving,” Ducey said at the time.

February 2017

While the announcement of Uber’s move to Arizona took place in December, the program wasn’t up and running until late February. Branded vehicles began making their way into the state earlier in the year, but were not accepting passengers.

On February 21, 2017, Uber officially began operating its self-driving pilot program in Tempe, with Ducey taking the first passenger ride. From that point on, any rider requesting an UberX could be paired with a self-driving Uber if one was available in the area. Passengers were permitted to decline to ride in one and request a different car, though.

According to Ducey, his initial ride was both smooth and safe, despite encountering many motorcyclists, bike riders, and pedestrians around Arizona State University.

March 2017

While the program appeared to be running more smoothly in its second month of operation in the Valley, a report released by Recode revealed that while the number of autonomous miles driven by the Uber vehicles had increased, the overall technology was showing little progress.

In fact, in one week alone, the driverless vehicles drove 20,354 miles, and human intervention was required for every single one of those miles. This means that the human sitting behind the wheel of the car had to take over each mile the car was in operation. Even more concerning, this number increased from the number of times human intervention was required in previous months.

Uber has yet to comment publicly on the report, or release its self-driving miles and disengagements.

This same month, Uber also launched another program in Phoenix. This pilot program would allow drivers to pick up teens between the ages of 13 and 17 as long as they are linked to their parents’ account.

Once picked up, parents are able to follow the ride on a live map, get updates during the trip, have access to the driver’s name, photo and vehicle details, and contact the driver if need be.

Brief Suspension

On Friday, March 24, a self-driving Uber vehicle was involved in their first accident in Tempe. A car failed to yield to the autonomous vehicle and hit it, causing the self-driving SUV to roll onto its side.

While no one was injured in the accident, there was a passenger in the vehicle. It is also not known at this time if the person behind the wheel of the car was controlling the SUV or if it was in the autonomous mode.

This accident caused Uber to suspend its driving program on Saturday, March 25, giving the company time to look into the incident further. However, by Monday, March 27, Uber had completed their investigation, and their entire vehicle fleet was back up and running on the road.

What’s Next?

Despite the setbacks, it appears that Uber will continue testing their vehicles in Arizona and Pittsburgh, where the program is also being tested. Additionally, after securing the proper permits, Uber can now legally operate their self-driving vehicles in California. However, passengers will not be allowed in the backseat immediately.

Unlike in Arizona, Uber will be one of 26 companies currently testing autonomous vehicles in California.

While the future of autonomous vehicles in general is unknown, it’s clear that Uber is remaining committed to their program, and looking to expand other pilot programs in the Valley.

Say Hello to the 2018 Buick Enclave

One by one, each General Motors crossover vehicle is getting a full redesign. The latest on the list is the Buick Enclave. While the new vehicle won’t officially be revealed until April at the New York Auto Show, teaser photos are giving customers something to be excited about.

From the looks of the teaser photos, the Enclave is getting a major stylistic upgrade. In line with other reboots, Buick’s new, more aggressive design language will be present. This includes tapered headlights and a more upright grille with the new “wing” motif.

Expected to be the first of the new models in Buick’s Avenir premium sub-brand, it is the last of General Motors’ three-row crossover lineup to be redesigned. With its debut in the Avenir sub division, drivers can expect ritzier styling touches and a few additional technological features, as well.

While not yet confirmed, some vehicle experts are also guessing that the new Enclave will be offered with standard front-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive and will use a 3.6-liter V-6 engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission.

The original Buick Enclave model was introduced to consumers 10 years ago, and has been a popular choice among buyers ever since. While the made over model will include a swankier look and better technology, it is expected that the starting price will remain the same as the price of the ongoing model— $40,000.

Those who are fans of the current model need not worry. While the new Enclave will have a sportier, lighter look and feel, it will still have the same conservative styling as the current model. With brimming sales of the current Enclave model, these styling overlaps are likely intentional by Buick to maintain current buyers and appeal to new buyers, as well.

Both the Enclave and the 2018 Buick Regal have been seen testing as a pair with typical Michigan manufacturer plates ahead of the New York Auto Show. Both will be debuted there on April 11, and we know many consumers will be anxiously waiting for the grand reveal.

When It Comes to Ride Sharing Apps, You Have More Options

When Uber hit the scene in 2009, they had truly created an innovative, one-of-a-kind product. With over 40 million riders in 528 cities around the world using the app monthly, it wouldn’t be long before competitors entered the picture.

Lyft made their grand debut in 2012, and quickly became Uber’s biggest competitor. Valued at $5.5 billion, they not only transport riders from point A to B, but have also joined Uber in services such as delivering food, and ordering puppies to your office to give employees a needed break.

While the two companies easily dominate the game, others have begun to pop up to make a name for themselves. So if you’re someone who doesn’t like the mainstream option, read on to find other ride sharing options in your neighborhood:

1. Flywheel

If you think taxis are dead, think again. Flywheel has created the disruptive technology that allows the taxi industry to compete. By replacing the outdated hardware in a cab, Flywheel allows riders to hail a cab using an app on their iPhone, and track where the cab is.

Flywheel has also replaced the outdated pricing approach most taxis use, and even avoids surge pricing often found with Uber and Lyft. With Flywheel, passengers get the same low rate every hour, every day.

2. Ruby Ride

Founded in Phoenix, AZ by architect Jeff Ericson, Ruby Ride allows you to schedule rides in advance—even recurring trips! Going beyond the typical personal travel plans, Ruby Ride targets individuals who need assistance with medical transportation, such as going to and from doctor’s appointments.

They also focus on business plans, which allow business owners to arrange rides for out-of-town guests, and even reduce crowding in company parking lots by organizing carpools. Ruby Ride solely serves the Phoenix metropolitan area, and meets the requirements of Maricopa County’s Travel Reduction Program, adding a green flare to your transportation needs.

3. Blacklane

Looking for a more luxurious way to get around? Then Blacklane is for you. Unlike other ride sharing companies, all of Blacklane’s employees are professional drivers who are licensed, insured, and regulated by the company. Drivers do not provide their own vehicles, but drive cars provided by local partners.

Offering Business Class, Business Van, and First Class service options, Blacklane includes 60 minutes of free wait time when picking up from the airport, and 15 minutes of free wait time for all other rides, adding another layer of relaxation to your trip.

While Uber and Lyft continue to dominate in the ride sharing space, it’s important for riders to know that other options are available. Find the company that fits best with your transportation needs, and sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!

Goodbye Driverless Cars, Hello Flying Cars

Imagine taking a trip to see the spectacular views around the United States and not worrying about fighting traffic? Or what about seeing the same sites you’ve seen hundreds of times, but from a viewpoint you’ve never been able to look from before. Sounds like a fantasy, right? Well, not anymore.

Although it seems the entire automotive universe is enthralled with the concept of developing self-driving cars, there are other engineers who have dedicated quite a lot of time working on flying cars. And while most people keep talking about the ‘Flying Cars of the Future’, they’ve never really seen the possibility.

Thanks to Dutch developer PAL-V International, drivers now have access to flying cars. The company and manufacturer has officially begun taking orders for its products, the Liberty Sport and Liberty Pioneer.

The Airbus group has stated that they’re developing a self-piloted flying car in order to ease congestion in busy urban areas. Their model is a flying taxi that passengers could summon, simply with the help of their smartphone.

Although they are taking the development seriously, and even accepting orders, the Airbus company is still in the experimentation phase.

Meanwhile, the PAL-V International is a two-seater hybrid craft which, according to the reports, currently costs $400,000. The three-wheeled vehicle is also reported to have the comfort of a car and the agility of a motorcycle on the road, with a cutting-edge, ‘tilting’ system. It can hit 100mph while on the road or up to 112mph in the air where its maximum operational altitude is about 11,480 feet.

One of the most amazing features and sights to be seen is the transformation from a running car to a flying vehicle—all of which takes only five to 10 minutes. Most of this conversion process is done by the vehicle’s Semi-Automatic Conversion System, and the driver/pilot is left with simply unfolding the Liberty’s rotor blade, propeller, and tail manually.

While the company attested to all these facts, they also stated that the Liberty’s operator must have both a driver’s and pilot’s license to make full use of the two forms of the vehicle. This is because the craft uses existing aviation technology, and as such, anyone legally allowed to fly can jump into the cockpit. Additionally, a 10-to-15-minute pre-flight inspection should be carried out before entering any airspace.

PAL-V International’s hard work seems to have paid off as the company is said to have received interest from hospitals, government institutions, and the tourism sector.

They also believe these vehicles could free up some of our government’s budget. With flying, the U.S. won’t need to pour billions of dollars into concrete bridges and roads.

With these new flying vehicles, travelers will be able to cross peninsulas, lakes, and rivers to explore new destinations, and take sightseeing to a whole new level. This project seems to be something that touches both everyday drivers, as well as larger corporations that would benefit from a flying vehicle.

We’ll all continue to watch as this unfolds, and begins to take some of the attention away from the self-driving vehicle phenomenon.