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The race has begun for car companies everywhere to manufacture an autonomous car. The concept is simple, but the execution has been difficult. Everybody cannot wait for Mercedes to release their Class- E car for the world to see.

What has so far only been shown in test situations will be available as of about March next year, when Daimler’s new model goes on sale. The technology packing the vehicle shows how quickly automated driving systems have advanced since 1998, when the Mercedes S class first featured cruise control that could adjust its speed to follow a car in front.

“Innovations in this area are coming thick and fast,” Thomas Weber, Daimler’s head of development, said in his office in Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart, Germany. “While we don’t want to feed wrong expectations such as sleeping in the car, autonomous driving is set to become a reality much more quickly than the public thinks.”

Self-driving systems are among many areas in which Mercedes is working to gain an edge on rivals Audi and BMW. Currently No. 3 in luxury-car sales, Daimler is fighting to take the lead in the segment by 2020.

It’s also testing the limits of what’s allowed under current regulations, which in most places require the driver to be in a position to control the vehicle at all times.

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Today there are many distractions in the car to distract the driver. These distractions include more than just the ones mentioned by the government such as arguing kids, turning on the radio and roadside diversions. Therefore, the driver can sometimes miss accidents that are about to happen.

 

Active safety systems such as forward collision prevention and lane keeping assist can automatically take over a car’s brakes and steering when sensors detect that an accident is imminent. These so-called “driver assist” systems use cameras and other sensors as well as software to detect and then respond to potentially dangerous situations that drivers may miss.

 

While driver assist systems look at external factors to determine whether to take action, researchers at Cornell and Stanford that go by the name Brain4Cars are working on a prototype that also takes into account internal elements, namely drivers and their body language. The system uses some of the same cameras and sensors employed by driver assist systems along with a new computer algorithm to predict what a driver will do and then issues a warning or takes corrective action.

 

“There are many systems now that monitor what’s going on outside the car,” said Ashutosh Saxena, an assistant professor of computer science at Cornell who spearheaded the project. “Internal monitoring of the driver will be the next leap forward.”

 

Systems such as Driver Attention Monitor found in some Lexus vehicles already keep an eye on drivers by using a small infrared camera mounted on the steering column that detects their head position. If it senses that a driver is looking away from the road for a certain length of time, a warning sounds to draw attention forward. I’ve also tested prototype systems from Continental and Volvo that can track drivers’ head as well as eye movements to determine if they are looking away from the road.

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The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention state that in 2011, 2,650 kids in the US were killed in car accidents and 292,000 were sent to the emergency room. The most important thing we can do is teach young drivers how to drive properly.

Kia Motors, fresh off the New York auto show debut of its new Optima show, will continue to partner with BRAKES (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe) teen driving school in 2015 to offer free training for new drivers. The program is expanding to San Francisco and Boston, which join a selection of other cities, listed below.

Kia is the official vehicle and presenting sponsor of the BRAKES teen driving school.

According to some scary reports, at any given time, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving and drivers under 20 have the largest proportion of fatal accidents involving distracted driving. Even for folks who don’t take the course, Kia and BRAKES want to raise awareness.

The BRAKES curriculum covers five main topics:

Accident Avoidance/Slalom is a two-part course that simulates an animal jumping out in front of a car. Students have to make an evasive lane change, focusing on weight transfer and hand positioning. We call it the moose test.

Distracted Driving demonstrates the dangers that cell phones, texting and other behaviors can pose while driving.

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Is it time that good driving is rewarded for younger drivers too?

Car insurance is always expensive for new drivers, however that is all about to change. A UK insurance company called Ingenie will be arriving in Canada to revolutionize car insurance for the average young driver. This will allow people between the ages of 16- and 24 the opportunity to lower their insurance through technology.

The goal is to repeat the success the company had in the UK, evaluated by Aviva Insurance this is one of the first companies to use technology as a way to observe and correct young drivers through an Internet connected device. This allows the company to stand out from the many other who offer discounts based on driving habits and records, but this is the first in history to offer to young drivers.

I sat down with the company’s founder and CEO, Richard King, to learn more.

Plug the Smartbox into a port in your vehicle, install the accompanying app onto your iPhone or Android mobile device, and let the tracking begin. That’s the key here – you’re trading your driving information for lower rates.

Like ingenie’s tagline says: “drive well, pay less.”

Drivers get 10% off by signing up, and save up to 25% during the year by proving they’re driving safely. If they’re not, though, then the prices increase.

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During the winter everybody got excited as the gas prices continued to drop lower and lower. However, those prices influenced more than we realized. Due to the decrease in fuel prices, dealerships will begin to give bigger discounts, deals and incentives on new vehicles.

The math makes perfect sense. When the prices of gas start to drop, consumers looking to purchase a new car will tend to choose a larger ride due to the savings on gas allowing for a bigger budget. Larger purchases mean more profit for car makers and dealers to put into sales incentives and sweeteners.

Of course dealers and carmakers do not always put every penny of their new-found riches into the deal-making side of the business. They also look to book healthier profits.

But with more money sloshing around in the system, notes auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, it is fair to expect a new wave of offers and enticements in the Canadian light vehicle marketplace. We are seeing this now.

There’s more to this story, too. Lower pump prices are acting as an economic windfall for the average car owner. DesRosiers estimates that the typical Canadian uses about 1,820 litres of fuel a year. A 30-cent drop at the pump puts $546 into the pocket of every driver – and nation-wide amounts to a $13 billion economic stimulus.

What we have here is a country of enriched drivers being chased by an army of dealers and manufacturers with more money to spend on incentives.

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When you go to buy a car, incentives and sales sweeteners are all part of your decision-making process. When these incentives begin to decrease and disappear, will you still want to buy that new car? Will there be more competition between car brands in price and features when incentives no longer separate them from one another?

This is the decision that new car buyers and prospects will have to make one day soon. Prices of incentives have been dropping as the sweetener on a new light vehicle $5,041 which is 17.2 % less than the average $29,312 transaction price before.

That’s about as rich in real dollars as the average in 2013, when the incentive money represented 17.6 per cent of a average transaction price of $28,259 — or $4,973.58. Thus, for more than two years now, carmakers and their dealers have used $5,000 to lure Canadians to pull the trigger on a new ride.

The incentive money certainly lit a fire under buyers. In 2014, Canadians bought a record 1.85 million new cars and light trucks. That sales boom broke the previous all-time record set in 2013. As J.D. Power put it in a note to clients, “the doldrums of the recession years are clearly in the rear-view mirror, albeit perhaps closer than they appear.”

We’ll call that a cryptic caveat. That is, J.D. Power and auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants both see reasons to be optimistic about what lies ahead for 2015 – but it’s a cautious optimism. 

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