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Elon Musk: Tesla Very Close To SAE Level 5 ‘Driverless Cars’
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Elon Musk: Tesla Very Close To SAE Level 5 ‘Driverless Cars’

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Elon Musk's bold claim that Tesla will have Level 5 autonomy by the end of this year is big news. Will they deliver?


Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stated that the company is “very close” to achieving SAE Level 5 autonomous driving vehicles within the year, Reuters reports.

SAE Level 5 autonomy refers to the highest level of vehicle automation meaning the car requires no input from the driver on highway, urban and sub-urban areas. This means Tesla is very close to achieving the technology that will allow you to watch a movie, or read the newspapers on your way to work while the car does all the rest.

Elon Musk and the Tesla Model X

During a video message at the opening of Shanghai’s annual World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC), Musk added, “I’m extremely confident that level 5 or essentially complete autonomy will happen and I think will happen very quickly. I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level 5 autonomy complete this year.”

Though it must be said, Elon Musk is no stranger to making exaggerated claims – Tesla claims that its proprietary “Autopilot” system achieving Level 5 puts it well ahead of many other major manufacturers – such as Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and Toyota, all of which are spending Billions of dollars in the race to conquer the next frontier of mobility.

SAE J3016 Levels of Automated Driving

Car manufacturers are not all – tech companies such as Alphabet (Google) and Uber are also leveraging Billions and their best ideas to lead the race to SAE Level 5.

If indeed Tesla does manage to achieve its stated goals and produce automation of that power, it puts the company ahead of many major manufacturers who have also committed to introducing their own versions of autonomous vehicles, though only later in this decade.

Self-Driving Capable Volvo XC90

Volvo, who joined forces with Uber in 2017, introduced a Volvo XC90 last-year that is fully capable of autonomous driving courtesy of key safety and backup features that allow Uber to easily tap into and install its own self-driving system, thereby enabling the possible future deployment of self-driving cars in Uber’s network as an autonomous ridesharing service. The company plans to sell up to 24,000 of these XC90s by 2021, though it will still require the full deployment of Uber’s self-driving architecture.

BMW and Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) who also inked a deal not too long ago, are confident of releasing SAE Level 4 vehicles by 2024. However, Elmar Frickenstein, BMW’s Senior Vice President for Autonomous Driving has previously said that it may achieve Level 4 to 5 automation by 2021.

And Toyota, perhaps one of the more sceptical carmakers in the early onset of autonomous technology, is now pouring Billions of dollars in R&D initiatives to catch up. They have also partnered with tech company NVIDIA in 2019 with hopes of introducing Level 4 vehicles within the decade.

Will we see Level 5 vehicles at the end of the year? It's hard to be certain with Musk, he does have the propensity of pulling a rabbit out of the hat when he needs to. We wait to be wow-ed!

Proton X70 VS Toyota Corolla Cross: Will They Go Head-to-Head?
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Proton X70 VS Toyota Corolla Cross: Will They Go Head-to-Head?

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Toyota broke the internet with the world premiere of the all-new Corolla Cross SUV yesterday in Thailand, and what made it more exciting is the fact that it could be headed our way very soon, but will it clash with the most popular SUV in the country - the Proton X70?


Yes, we can hear you thinking out loud if the two will be in the same segment, and the answer is not really, as the X70 is actually sitting a class above the Corolla Cross, but this comparison is just to put things into perspective to give you a clearer picture of just where exactly the Corolla Cross will fit in our market if it comes here.

Dimensions

Toyota Corolla Cross

Proton X70 VS Toyota Corolla Cross Toyota Corolla Cross

  • Length: 4,460 mm
  • Width: 1,825 mm
  • Height: 1,620 mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,640 mm
  • Boot space: 487 litres

Proton X70

Proton X70 VS Toyota Corolla Cross Proton X70

  • Length: 4,519 mm
  • Width: 1,831 mm
  • Height: 1,694 mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,670 mm
  • Boot space: 512 litres

Powertrain

Toyota Corolla Cross

Proton X70 VS Toyota Corolla Cross Engine

Under the hood, the Toyota Corolla Cross gets two powertrain options in Thailand – a naturally aspirated 2ZR-FBE 1.8 litre 4-cylinder petrol engine making 140 PS and 177 Nm of torque plus the Super CVT-I gearbox, and a newly developed hybrid system comprising the 2ZR-FXE naturally aspirated 1.8 litre 4-cylinder engine, 1NM electric motor, and an e-CVT gearbox which makes a combined total output of 122 PS.

Proton X70

Proton X70 Engine Bay

Powering the X70 is a turbocharged 1.8-litre direct injection 4-cylinder petrol engine that is paired to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, producing 181 PS and 300 Nm of torque.

Features

Toyota Corolla Cross

Proton X70 VS Toyota Corolla Cross Interior

Noteworthy features in the Corolla Cross include a Powered Back Door with Activated Kick Sensor, Power Adjustable Driver Seat, Dual-Zone Automatic Climate Control, Rear Seats that can be reclined up to 6 degrees, Rear Seat Armrest with Cup Holders, along with Air Vents and USB outlets for rear passengers, while infotainment features comprise a 9-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple Car Play, and Toyota’s T-Connect system.

Where safety is concerned, there Corolla Cross comes with the Toyota Safety Sense package with Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Lane Tracing Assist, Automatic High Beam, as well as Panoramic View Monitor, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear CROSS Traffic Alert, and 7 SRS Airbags.

Proton X70

Proton X70 Interior

As for the X70, let us look at the range-topping variant, which will most probably still be cheaper than the Corolla Cross when it comes here. The list of equipment includes, a 7-inch LCD instrument cluster display, Push-start ignition, 60:40 split-folding rear seats, Automatic dual-zone climate control with rear vents and air purification system, online music streaming, navigation, smartphone connectivity, Bluetooth and 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, Proton Link App, Kenwood speakers, subwoofer and amplifier, Six USB ports, Black Nappa leather steering wheel, Remote open/close all windows and sunroof, Brown Nappa leather upholstery, powered lumbar adjustment for driver’s seat and a four-way powered front passenger seat with additional shoulder switches.

Conclusion

Toyota Corolla Cross Thailand Launch

In a nutshell, it is obvious that the X70, despite being cheaper because it is our National SUV, is one size bigger than the Corolla Cross, and has much more to offer in terms of power and also features. Its natural competitor is actually the RAV4 and not the Corolla Cross.

So, in case you’ve been wondering if these two models will go head-to-head, they won’t, as the Corolla Cross will actually be more of a competitor for the upcoming Proton X50 and what a battle that will be!

Proton X50

Whatever it is, we are still not 100% when the Toyota Corolla Cross will come here, but it would be good when it does as we will have yet another SUV model for buyers to pick from.

The End Of Elegant Vehicle Interior Design?
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The End Of Elegant Vehicle Interior Design?

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With more screens dominating vehicle interiors these days, does this mean the end for good old vehicle interior design?


If you haven't seen it by now, let us introduce you to the newest interior design to come out of Mercedes Benz. Well, it's not interior design per se, but this is what the 2021 Mercedes Benz S-Class will be like on the inside as the German vehicle manufacturer steps up its MBUX integration. 

MBUX stands for Mercedes-Benz User Experience, and the three-pointed star company is assuming that everyone will like the new minimalistic and floating screen user experience approach.

2021 S-Class interior2021 S-Class interior2021 S-Class steering wheel

Now, if you're like us and appreciate vehicle interior design, buttons, switches and knobs, then you would be disappointed by these pictures, because not only do we feel that Mercedes Benz was on to one of the most beautiful interiors in any vehicle this decade, but because this is probably the direction that most vehicle companies will be going towards in the future. 

It is all too much tablet and phone screen for us, and everything seems just to be plonked on instead of integration into the dash or seat or anything! We bet even the so-called buttons are touch-sensitive instead of being real click buttons.

Who do we blame for this soulless screen design? The vehicle company of the future, Tesla, of course, as they were the first ones to go all minimalistic, including every sort of cabin control onto a screen.

Tesla interior

One of the reasons why Tesla did this was because they are futuristic and different, but essentially, the reason why they went down that route was that they did not have the manufacturing might to produce buttons, knobs, latches and so on. It's pretty clever really because by putting everything onto hardware that is programmable and operated through a screen, they save a ton of cash namely on R&D, quality control and sourcing.   

The questions is, why are iconic brands like Mercedes Benz doing the same thing? They've been in this game for years and probably have a big department that can churn out a better interior feel than most. Yes, it will save them money but will these screens last a lifetime? Or maybe they're not meant to?

280SL interiorS-class interior

We know so many people with classic Mercedes Benz vehicles that can still operate their climate control, radio through the original buttons and switches. Could we say the same thing about these cars in probably 10-15 years time? By then, the screen would have probably been replaced and we bet it would cost and arm and a leg to do so too.

We're all for technology that makes our driving experience better, but some things as best left as a classic experience. We know Mercedes Benz has the tendency to surprise people and produce brilliance, but we feel that this is not the route it should go down. We'll have to wait and see what it is really like when the 2021 S-Class finally debuts. 

Mercedes E-Class interior

A-class interior

G-Class interior

Just look at the current crop of Mercedes vehicles, they have interiors to die for and the right ratio of virtual controls to mechanical controls. Maybe the current crop of Mercedes Benz's will be the Last of the Mohicans when it comes to good old vehicle interior and controls.

We may sound like sour old men and you may like this new direction by Mercedes Benz, if so we'd like to hear your thoughts. More screens fewer buttons? Let us know.

Has Fernando Alonso’s F1 Return Marked Sebastian Vettel’s Retirement? We Think So…
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Has Fernando Alonso’s F1 Return Marked Sebastian Vettel’s Retirement? We Think So…

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Fans of Sebastian Vettel might have to swallow the inconvenient truth, he might just not have any seat to fill in the 2021 Formula 1 season. 


In a dicey game of musical chairs – the recent blaze of activity with regards to the 2021 F1 team driver lineups – has left Sebastian Vettel seemingly without a drive seat next year. The final nail in the coffin possibly coming just over a day ago with Fernando Alonso returning to Formula 1 after a nearly two-year hiatus to drive for Renault in 2021.

The announcement, along with all the other confirmations for the 2021 driver roster could signal retirement as the only option for now. Unless Vettel can strike a deal with one of possibly two teams – Racing Point (Aston Martin Racing as it will be called next year) or Alfa Romeo – by the end of the year.

While Fernando Alonso’s romantic return to Renault, the team he secured two World Championship driver title’s with (in 2005 and 2006) might have little effect on Vettel's retirement, it simply means there’s one less seat in a competitive car in 2021.

That had more to do with Ferrari leaving the four-time World Champion high and dry earlier this year after both driver and team could not reach an agreement on future contracts, which saw Carlos Sainz Jr. take his spot at Ferrari, and ultimately set in motion the chain of events that led to Vettel’s current predicament.

So where does that leave Vettel in 2021?

Well, Mercedes-Benz and McLaren are happy with their driver lineup.

However, Vettel has stated that he would return to Red Bull if the seat was offered to him.

Red Bull Formula 1 car 2020

In a press conference ahead of this week’s Austrian GP, Vettel said, “I know the team very, very well from my past, so of course I am still in contact with a lot of people there whether Christian (Horner), Team Principal, Helmut (Marko), Red Bull advisor, or others. It’s not fair to say I know the team inside out because it has also changed and moved on, but I know why they were strong back then and they are still an F1 contender and it’s a car that you can win races in, so for sure that would be interesting.”

However, their current No.1 driver Max Verstappen has voiced out that there’s no reason Red Bull should replace its current No. 2 driver, Alex Albon – who is in flying form at the moment.

Verstappen added, “I think at the moment the team is very happy with both of us and I am really happy with Alex as a teammate. He’s good with setups, so we both give good feedback to the team. And he’s a fast guy. So I don’t think there is any reason to change, and I think Christian and Helmut can back that up. It’s also not up to me to decide these things.”

Red Bull’s head honcho Helmut Marko has also said that Vettel would be too expensive to maintain, especially with the introduction of new regulations on capped team budgets.

He adds, “It would be difficult to see how we could accommodate him because we weren’t expecting him to be on the market. We never expected Ferrari to so rudely not offer him another contract.”

Which leaves Vettel with (Racing Point) Aston Martin Racing or Alfa Romeo for 2021.

Racing Point Formula 1 car 2020

We can pretty much cancel out Aston Martin Racing; who would have to replace Lance Stroll (whose father is a major funder of the team) - so not happening, or boot out up-and-comer Sergio Perez, who's been in great form and also comes with major funding. While it's not beyond imagination that a few silly mistakes by Perez during the season could change the situation in favour of Vettel - it's still early times.

Hence, the last chance hurrah would be Alfa Romeo, who will have to replace Kimi Raikonnen at the end of 2020 after the Finn announced his retirement from F1 and hopeful return to the World Rally Championship. (Psst… Vettel, this is how you leave in style).

Nonetheless, Sebastian Vettel’s experience would be invaluable to the smaller outfit who would want to develop a car capable of winning podiums. However, once again Vettel’s competitiveness (and to a certain extent, ego) might deprive him of taking the jump.

Alfa Romeo Formula 1 car 2020

In a recent statement, Vettel said, “It’s not a secret that I’m competitive. I’ve achieved so much in this sport and I’m interested in achieving more – not just taking part.” Hence, the chances of this happening are slim as well.

We could enlist the Haas F1 team as a candidate as well, who have yet to confirm their 2021 roster but this is a further impossibility than the former two. 

All said and done, we really think this is goodbye for now Sebastian. Or Forever.

Cover image credit: Scuderia Ferrari

Proton, Then, Now and Tomorrow
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Proton, Then, Now and Tomorrow

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Hate it or love it, there's no denying it, there's a sense of national pride when it comes to Proton. After all, Proton is more than just a local vehicle manufacturer, as they are the company that kick-started our very own automotive industry.


Today, the company celebrates Proton Saga's 35th birthday, and what a few decades it has been for the entry-level vehicle. It's had its fair share of ups and downs, sorrows and joys, but the most important thing is, the car is still alive and kicking and on to a path that is about to bring it back to its glory days.

In conjunction with this celebration, we thought we would look at Proton's three-decade journey. To mention all the fine details would mean for a very long read, so we figured we would just re-visit the most significant milestones.

Mahathir Mohamad Proton

The beginning

It's hard to tell the story of Proton without mentioning Tun Mahathir Mohamad because ultimately, he was the one that conceived a vision to create a national car in 1979. A monumental challenge! In 1983, PROTON was formed, laying the foundations to industrialise our automotive industry. Instead of just relying on our natural resources like tin, gas, petroleum and timber, Mahathir wanted us to create something that would industrialise Malaysia for good, and a national car was a result of that. The name Proton actually stands for Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional (National Automobile Company).

Proton Saga 1985

The Saga begins...

The Proton Saga rolled out to an eagerly awaiting Malaysia in 1985 and marked the arrival of Malaysia's very own self made car. Gleaned from Mitsubishi’s Lancer Fiore sedan, it had all you can want from a car back in the eighties. It was also the car that allowed many Malaysians to own a four-wheel vehicle. Due to its starting price of RM 17,575, many Malaysians could afford it. 

Proton brochure UK 1989Proton Saga 1985 UK brochurePic credits:UK Spec Proton

When a local car becomes a foreign car

The fruits of making your own car can be juicy if done right - and in the case of the Saga, it was tasty. In 1989, Proton started exporting the Saga to the United Kingdom and marketed it as a vehicle that had 'Japanese Technology, Malaysian Style'. - haha, Malaysian style, cute. It was so successful in Blighty it broke the record for 'Fastest selling make of new car ever to enter the United Kingdom', exceeding their 12-month sales target by 6 months.

 

Proton Wira NST

The arrival of the hero

After seven years and over 300,000 vehicles sold, the Saga just didn't cut it anymore so in 1993 the Proton Wira came to the rescue. Again, a car produced in collaboration with Mitsubishi Motors, the Wira, was based on the Lancer Mirage. Other than some exterior and interior aesthetic tweaks, the Wira was mostly the same as the vehicle it was based on. It was also the first Proton vehicle to be fitted with an airbag (driver’s side), ABS and rear disc brakes. Believe it or not, until today, the Wira was also the only ever local car to be produced with a diesel engine, there are some still lying around in the used car market if you look for hard enough.

 

Lotus cars Malaysia

The time Proton wanted some Lotus for dinner

In its quest to go further, Proton decided to buy an exceptionally established sports car maker, Lotus. With a reputation of producing high-performance cars which were rich in racing heritage, it was no longer the pride of Britain, but kebanggaan Malaysia. This acquisition was a shrewd piece of business by Proton as they tapped into Lotus's knowledge and engineering so that they could produce exceptional products such as the Satria GTi, R3 as well as the CAMPRO engine which we will go into later.

All Proton cars after this acquisition came standard with Lotus ride and handling, which gave Proton cars a smooth drive and tight control during corners and challenging situations. 

 

You don't just buy Lotus and not produce anything

Launched in 1998, the (C99) Satria GTi took the successful and sporty looking Satria three-door hatchback and developed it into a tarmac loving bruiser for the common man. Proton’s ownership of Lotus at the time gave them invaluable resources and know-how to take the relatively sedate Satria body and totally re-engineer it into one of the best driving cars in its class at the time. The main highlights were a strengthened and stiffened body shell, suspension that was tweaked by the boffins at Lotus, with the Mitsubishi sourced 1.8-litre 4G93P twin-cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder shoehorned under the bonnet – thereby giving it the guts and ability to be a serious sporting machine!

 

Waja celebratedPic credit: Huffingtonpost

The new face

Now that they had Lotus and experience under their wing, Proton was confident to go at it alone. This resulted in the Proton Waja in the year 2000, the first model from the young company which was totally designed and manufactured in house. Although the chassis was still a borrowed chassis from Mitsubishi, everything else was all homegrown. The Waja upped the ante by offering a host of safety and comfort features including ABS, traction control, climate control and a driver’s side airbag. Although it is was the prettiest car to ever come out of Proton, it did pretty well in Malaysia sales wise and sold as much as the Saga.

CAMPRO engine

The time is nigh for Proton's very own engine

To be taken seriously in the automotive world, you have to, at some point, build your own engine. In 2004, along with the debut of the Gen 2, a four-door hatchback, Proton introduced to the world the CamPro engine, a powerplant created in conjunction with Lotus. CamPro is short for Cam Profiling. The engine was developed in the Lotus factory in UK and came in either a 1.3L or 1.6L displacement. 

Preve export to Chile

Proton's first world car

After a lot of mediocre years, Proton got fed up and wanted to make a car that they could sell worldwide. This car was the Proton Preve, a car that really did seem ready to take on the world. It was designed to come with Proton's new signature look, to be the first domestic car with standard in-car wifi and the first car to attain a 5-star safety rating in the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP). It was also the first car to come with Proton's CamPro CFE engine which featured a turbocharger. 

Proton Iriz in Rally

Proton tries to be exciting again

There were no outright performance variants of the Iriz sold, but it was one of the last few Protons that you could buy with a truly exciting setup. A fairly limited run of 1.6-litre manual variants was made available, and as a warm hatchback it was an incredibly fun and balanced machine. That aside, R3 had an incredibly cool variant set up for touring car racing in Malaysia which pushed close to 200 hp from a fettled version of that 1.6-litre engine, and who can forget MEM’s Iriz R5 which regularly competes in stage rallies in Europe, as well as making an appearance on the Goodwood rally stage. If you find one of these for sale, pick one up quickly. You will not be disappointed.

 

Proton X50

The new dawn

After so many years of being in a tug of war of producing quality products vs pleasing politicians, Proton finally got a break they needed. In 2017 Zhejiang Geely Holding Group came to an agreement that saw the Chinese carmaker acquiring stakes in both Proton Holdings Bhd and subsidiary Lotus Advance Technologies Sdn Bhd.

Yes, in the beginning, some argued that Proton is no longer a national car because it sold out to the Chinese, but do your sentiments still hold water today? They are starting to get their groove back, a groove that they had 35 years ago. The Proton X70 is proving to be a popular SUV, and the upcoming X50 is proving to be one of the most talked-about local product in a long long time.

Its been a rollercoaster ride for Proton, but they are in a good position now. But to be honest, no matter how you look at it, aren't you glad that Malaysia has not one but two national carmakers? Not many countries can say the same.