Car torque: Caught in web concept

PLUS Small Volkswagen drops dead | Safety doesn't sell | Maserati makes a big move

Caught in web concept

More than 30 carmakers are contributing to an European Union-funded project called Webinos, which aims to develop an open-source application that allows unrestricted communication between web-capable devices of any type.

The Webinos concept is based on the now-familiar principle of cloud computing. “Personal zones” are set up by users, who include all of their personal internet devices in a single hub and authorise the application to link them for specified services. 

The project was launched in September 2010 and runs until August 2013. The first tangible result from the work was on show last week at the Communication World Fair, in the form of a BMW prototype car.

In it, the complete on-board computer display appears in the browser with the Webinos add-ons. Thanks to the new interfaces in Webinos, features such as the parking radar can also be visualised in the browser.

Small Volkswagen drops dead

The Australian New Car Assessment Programme has praised Volkswagen Australia, which has launched the Up! city-car with an autonomous emergency braking system as standard.

The system, which VW calls City Emergency Braking, can detect vehicles ahead, predict an impending impact and apply the brakes automatically to minimise damage – or even prevent the crash altogether at low speed.

“ANCAP is pleased to see that the Up! provides advanced safety features as standard and offers other occupant comforts such as Bluetooth as optional extras,” chairman Lauchlan McIntosh says.

“It is hard to fathom why features that protect vehicle occupants are sold as optional extras by most manufacturers, yet alloy wheels and leather seats, for instance, come as standard.”

Safety doesn’t sell

The reason for the slow uptake of expensive new safety technology by carmakers is simple. When it comes to writing the cheque, most buyers prefer style/comfort over extra protection.

This was confirmed at the recent New Zealand launch of the Volvo V40 (another car which has autonomous braking as standard), where company executives admitted most customers prefer to spend their money on option packages featuring large alloy wheels or special interior equipment, than on the comprehensive range of cutting-edge safety equipment also offered at extra cost.

That’s not sad, merely an indication that a new car is still as much an emotional purchase as a rational one. But it is a reality check for ANCAP, which is starting to sound a little austere to this writer.

ANCAP also says it is considering making autonomous braking a mandatory safety requirement. Given that the technology is only offered by a handful of carmakers, that is wishful thinking at its most extreme.

ANCAP membership includes the New Zealand government and New Zealand Automobile Association.

Maserati makes a big move

Discussed at dinner during the Maserati GranTurismo Sport launch in Melbourne this week: the Italian marque is hell-bent on hitting 50,000 sales per year by 2015.

Last year, its global total was 6158 and the three largest markets were the US (up 21% over the previous year), China (up 95%) and Italy (no growth). Are the Italians over-reaching? Possibly.

Volume hopes will ride on new models with broader appeal like the Levante luxury off-roader (previously seen in concept form as the Kubang), due for launch in late-2013, and a new sub-Quattroporte sedan due in 2014.