Category Archives: Wednesday View

Wednesday View: The Power Of Dreams

By Nathan Green

Power. We love, it don’t we? For many petrol heads, extracting as much horsepower as possible from the internal combustion engines bolted into our cars can easily become an obsession.

I know from experience that nothing puts a bigger smile on our faces than the stomach churning acceleration provided by a high-output engine in a featherweight chassis.

Those days are unfortunately a distant memory for me. My 240bhp, 2.0 16v, turbocharged Vauxhall Corsa died years ago, and, after some difficulties, my Renault Clio 172 Cup had to go.

Luckily for me, my younger brother, Liam, and many of his closest friends, drive Hondas. VTEC Hondas. The ones you want.

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Liam owns a late nineties, Honda Civic EK ‘Illusion’ hatchback. Originally a base spec 1.4 variant, now fitted with a B18C4 engine (1.8 16v VTEC petrol engine) from a Honda Civic Aerodeck (Civic estate) which plays host to a decent list of thoughtfully planned and executed power augmenting modifications.

The little terror has also fitted Recaro bucket seats from a Type R of some sort, a set of rare alloy wheels that Honda people lust after and a tasty set of coilovers to give it the necessary Honda stance. The boy’s done good.

He also has a Mazda RX7 FD and, until recently, owned 300bhp+ Toyota Starlet EP82 GT fitted with the biggest, shiniest turbocharger I ever did see. He also has a lovely, approving girlfriend. Lucky son of a gun.

Manifold is manifoldy.

Manifold is manifoldy.

Anyway, I digress. The aforementioned modifications have increased the brake horsepower of the engine in Liam’s Civic to approximately 200 at the flywheel. Maybe more.

So, with the car only weighing around 850kg, the first time I went in it, and bro hit VTEC in first and second gear, I didn’t know if I was going to shit myself or ejaculate.

Let me try to explain. Being in something VTEC powered, is, unlike any other experience I’ve had in a car, even a modern sports car, in fact most Supercars can’t match it for thrills. There’s just something so guttural and raw about the way a VTEC engined car accelerates, especially a lightweight model with an early B16 or B18 engine.

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You can feel the VTEC system switch to the higher lift cam- you can feel it at your fingertips on the steering wheel and through your toes on the pedals. You can feel it in your heart, your soul. It reverberates through you as the engine accelerates rapidly towards the rev limiter, set at some crazy level above 8,000rpm.

You don’t feel insulated from the power like you do in some cars, you feel excited by it, enclosed in it, wrapped inside of it. It becomes you and you become it, combined as one by a common love for thrusting forward motion and darting changes in lateral acceleration and deceleration. It sounds a bit like sex, I know, even stranger, it almost feels it.

Words alone cannot bring justice to the experience of being inside a Honda as the whaling, high-pitch sounds and associated vibrations of a VTEC engine are revealed during and after switching to its more aggressive camshaft profile.

It is an experience you must enjoy for yourself to fully understand. If feel you have no way of making this happen, just ask. I’ll make it happen, somehow, some way.

So, where did it all begin, this ‘Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control’ malarkey?

Allow me, if you will, to take you back to the 1980’s. Turbocharger technology had become the main focus for many mainstream car manufacturers across the globe with regards to increasing engine power output and, in some cases, fuel efficiency.

Honda had a different idea. Their aim was to increase the volumetric efficiency of the internal combustion engine by use of variable valve technology. They embarked on the task of building a reliable engine that could produce 100hp per litre of engine displacement without using forced induction. This was a goal that, at the time, seemed faintly ridiculous and possibly, unachievable.

Regardless, Ikuo Kajitan, the man tasked with making this dream a reality, cracked on and invited a team of engineers to join him. Once the scale of the project became clear, he is said to have invited them to leave if they wished. Testament to just how hugely dedicated a task he was asking them to complete.

Kajitan had been heavily involved in Honda’s New Concept Engine, or NCE, development program in the early 80’s and had recently finished this project, extracting 130bhp from a DOHC 1600cc engine for which he was highly praised.

However, the overwhelming task of mastering the first Honda VTEC engine and achieving 160bhp from an engine with the same cubic displacement, would see him become one of the true unsung heroes of motor vehicle design and engineering. Ever.

Ever ever ever.

Ever.(1)

After a long battle of making lighter materials stronger and trying to effectively protect them against the immense rotational, frictional and thermal forces at work inside of a confined space the size of four small milk bottles while hundreds of pieces of metal work against each other’s surfaces at up to 9,500rpm for years on end over hundreds of thousands miles……..they did it. And they did it in perfect style with absolutely, for the time, unequalled precision.

The first VTEC powered car was the Honda Integra XSi, released to the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM y’aaalll!) in 1989. This car was powered by the now famous 160bhp 1.6 litre B16A engine and instantly became a huge hit.

Amazingly the later B18C engine which powered the 1995-onward JDM Integra DC2 model produced an incredible 197bhp. That’s almost 110bhp per litre. With no turbocharger!

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The first VTEC Honda to be sold in the European market was the CRX 1.6i-VT with a slightly detuned 150bhp version of the B16A engine. Don’t let the 10bhp deficit fool you. These are still very capable cars, both in a straight line and through the twisties. I remember ‘racing’ a blue one down a long dual-carriageway in 2.0 16v Redtop engined Vauxhall Corsa. It made me feel very surprised and look really rather silly as it approached from behind, reeled me in, chewed me up, spat me out and disappeared into the horizon.

Nowadays, thanks to the countless hours dedicated by many people to develop Honda’s original VTEC system and the time since spent developing abundant associated performance parts and accessories, my brother can sit in his ’99 Honda Civic, on the driveway, plug my laptop into the engine’s ECU and play with the VTEC’s timing, fuel and ignition graphs, view sensory information and even diagnose faults with relative ease.

He can even send the information to his iPhone via Bluetooth. I bet Ikuo Kajitan didn’t envision Liam Green doing that to his system, 25 years after he created it. I bet he didn’t envision me spending the last 2 hours trying say his name properly either. Damn it.

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VTEC engines are like your best friends- they are consistently dependable. They can be reserved and efficient when you need them to be and yet be absolutely insane, outlandishly good fun and provide countless smiles when you want them to.

The system is a huge credit to Honda who, despite the immense challenge and, initially, extremely daunting task of building a reliable, high-revving, high-output, mainstream engine, have actually managed to over-engineer their VTEC units to a point whereby they uphold a reputation for being almost indestructible.

This, I think, deserves the highest level of commendation. For me, the invention of VTEC is an absolutely stunning example of how, with appropriately thorough research, painstaking attention to detail and bloody hard work, as a race, human beings can achieve some truly amazing things.

Thank you Honda and, as always, thank you all for reading.

Picture Credit: Hannah Geddes. I shit ye not, she is the VTEC Goddess Of Hotness. Or GOH.

Picture Credit: Hannah Geddes. I shit ye not, she is the VTEC Goddess Of Hotness. Or GOH.


1. I won’t go into the finer details of how the VTEC system works because, if you’re a Honda lover you will already know and, if you’re not, you probably won’t care too much. However, for those of you who don’t understand how the magic behind VTEC works but would like to, I promise I will write a piece explaining it all for you.

In fact, it’s already in the pipeline. For now, search ‘how does VTEC work’ on YouTube, pick a video and stare at the screen in amazement at the feast of fine timing, it should offer you some food for thought.

 

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Wednesday View: Solving The Formula For Safety

By Nathan Green

Opinion. Noun. Def: A view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge:

Example: ‘That, in my opinion, is right.’

Formula 1 is, without any doubt or controversy, the absolute pinnacle of motorsport technology and safety. However, recently, for example, audience numbers have dropped by around 50 million, or 10%. For anybodies money, that is a significant chunk.

Many people have exclaimed that the racing has become uneventful, even boring, and that too much emphasis has been placed on reliability, safety, driver aids and strategy when compared to the apparently full-on, balls-out racing of previous eras, when the cars regularly smashed up, blew up or rolled over and lots of people died.

In the sixties and seventies in particular, Formula 1 captivated a huge worldwide audience thanks to, quite frankly, insane driving skills and an abhorrent safety record. I use the word ‘insane’ because piloting a Formula 1 car during that era exposed drivers to 200mph top speeds with hardly any safety devices. I say ‘piloting’ because the cars would frequently become airborne and collide with obstacles you’d expect the Red Bull Air Racers to be contesting with.

The 'good' ol' days. (Wikimedia Commons)

The ‘good’ ol’ days. (Wikimedia Commons)

In fact, in 1968, Scottish racing icon and all round gentleman, Jim Clark, was killed during a Formula racing event in Hockenheim, Germany, when his car left the track at high speed, throwing him out of the cockpit and into a tree 15 feet above the ground. He died the same day as a result of a broken neck and a fractured skull. May he rest in peace.

After this horrific event, it was Jim Clark’s fellow drivers who decided enough was enough, it was time for change.

Although their ‘jobs’ were extremely well paid and afforded them a life of luxury and fame, the fact that their peers were being killed on an almost weekly basis lead the drivers to question the ethics of their sport. Surely human life should not be considered a disposable commodity while the F1 establishment were busy selling the television rights to a world audience, and the competing teams, mostly mainstream vehicle manufacturers, were chasing the worldwide accolade of a Formula 1 championship win and the associated sales success.

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

In the late sixties, lots of pressure was applied by the drivers to the powers that be to make changes to improve safety, reduce injuries and eliminate deaths in Formula 1. Initially, the people at the top of the F1 hierarchy seemed somewhat ignorant and reluctant to change, mostly due to the costs involved, apparently. Some might say they were too busy selling massive advertising deals to multinational companies and increasing their personal wealth whilst the very people who provided the skill and entertainment quite literally crashed and burned in front of a live audience. Obviously I would never suggest such a thing, partly because I’m not that outlandish but mostly Bernie Ecclestone is a multi-billionaire supported by a legal team worth more than the Manchester City starting eleven. It may be unwise to suggest such things about such powerful people, me thinks.

Some old bloke. (Wikimedia Commons)

Some old bloke. (Wikimedia Commons)

All I know is millions of people weirdly (or not?) find entertainment value in watching car crash videos on YouTube. Furthermore, I have watched interviews of F1 fans suggesting they mainly go to see a crash, particularly at Monaco where there are usually many crashes. Oh to seek happiness and humour in other peoples’ misfortune, aren’t we an adorable species sometimes?

Anyway, I digress. Eventually, and thankfully, the safety of the highly regaled drivers and race track attending spectators did become a prime focus for the purveyors of Formula 1 and the important thing is this- since those fateful days, much has changed. Yes, advertising revenues still provide a massive income for Bernie and his cronies, however, nobody has died driving an F1 car since the tragic death of Formula 1 legend, Ayrton Senna, at the 1994 Italian Grand Prix.

Senna. That car. That time.

Senna. That car. That time.

The single reason for this? The huge leap forward in safety. A modern F1 car is a marvel of material technology- carbon fibre, Nomex and Zylon all add their own level of protection. All three combined make for a super strong, shatter and splinter-proof monocoque chassis with an unrivalled safety record.

How safe is Formula 1 these days? Here’s an example- in 2008, during a test session, Lewis Hamilton hit a tyre wall, travelling backwards at approximately 180mph. He suffered no serious injuries, only winding himself and ending up a little shaken, as perhaps, you would. Later, during an interview with Jeremy Clarkson, Lewis described this massive car crash as ‘quite a nice shunt’.

Wow. I can only imagine Jim Clark would have said something quite different had he survived his crash in his Lotus 48 back in ’68. That’s the profound effect these advancements in safety have provided, it really has made a life or death difference.

In conjunction with car safety, huge measures have been taken to protect spectators and improve the way accidents are managed. These days, at least 5 fire engines, each manned by 4 fire fighters, are available at any one time during a race weekend. Ambulances and dozens of doctors and health professionals are on hand at all times, backed up by helicopter which are on permanent standby, just in case injuries cannot be effectively treated at the scene.

Safety first.

Safety first. (Wikimedia Commons)

To avoid needing a trip to hospital, or the morgue, every driver and member of the pit crew wears an overall made with a Nomex brand fibre in which they can survive for 11 seconds in temperatures of 840 degrees Celsius. By comparison that is the approximate temperature of lava ejected during a volcanic eruption. Toasty to say the least.

Also impressive is the 12,000 microthreads that now make up a Formula 1 drivers helmet? Each one of these microthreads is 15 times thinner than a single human hair. The total length of all the threads processed in one helmet is approximately 16,000 kilometres. Excellent news considering F1 drivers, like most of us, operate much more effectively without any holes in their heads or swelling in their brains.

My opinion:

Formula 1 cars are technically fantastic and, now, are relatively safe. The drivers are still insane but none of them are dying or being gravely injured on a regular basis. The investments made in promoting a vast improvement in safety are not conducive to a drop in audience numbers. The reason for the drop, I believe, is the huge gap in performance and ability between the top teams and the teams fighting for position on the back half of the grid.

Let’s compare Formula 1 to the Barclay’s Premier League. Car racing versus football. International level sport, broadcast internationally versus national level sport, also broadcast internationally. The television audience for Premier League games over one season is 4.7 billion people and the broadcasting contracts for 2013-16 are worth £5.5 billion. By comparison, the television audience for Formula 1 is 450 million and only brings in around £300 million in revenue each season.

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Why, you might ask, would a national sport invoke such a massive global response? Because, dear readers, the Barclay’s Premier League showcases some of the worlds best footballers but has a propensity for being relatively evenly matched, especially when compared to the teams competing in Formula 1.

The outrageous financial difference displayed by F1 team operations, if compared to football, would reflect a Premier League made up of Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Leeds United, Swindon Town, Forest Green Rovers, Shortwood United and the Stroud Harriers.

The drop is due to F1’s unattractiveness to the average television viewer. The die-hard fans will always watch due to a genuine interest in the sport. However, it is the season packed with close, nail-biting racing that provides an upward trend in viewer numbers. F1 audiences have historically increased when the point differential between the highest and lowest performer is minimal. Unfortunately, the big boys who keep winning everything will make this very difficult to achieve because the more genuine contenders there are in the Formula 1 championship, the less chance they have of winning it. They would rather keep winning the easy money instead of battling it out every season just to please the viewers.

And that, in my opinion, is wrong.

 

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Motor Sport May Have Just Grown Some Balls For The UK Motoring Press

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By Tim Smith

Remember that time, long ago when the motoring press in this country was interesting? Remember when journalists got into trouble and advertising was pulled because of cutting stories? Remember when the magazine covers used to make bold statements, when they didn’t all look the same?

No? Don’t worry it was ages ago. You can all be happy that *most* of the motoring press is safely written by ex-public school boys who all know each other and have cosy relationships with those who represent the ‘brands’. Hell, you can even rest easy that most of the copy is being written by people who’ve never read anything other than the Telegraph or Car magazine.

Sadly, it seems to me, there are a few exceptions to this general rule. Sometimes, though, just sometimes, I’m surprised by something and Motor Sport magazine have done just that.

Just look at this cover:

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Now, it is somewhat of a cliche to use a Che Guevara look to describe a revolution, but it still hits hard. You see this image and you think about totalitarianism. You think about the good fight. *This* is a cover.

So let’s move onto the story itself. I’m gonna lift some points from the press release, but they do go someway to help explain what I’m saying here.

Mark Hughes, Grand Prix editor at Motor Sport is calling for an all out revolution. We’re not just talking about a regs changes here, we’re talking,

  • ‘Restructuring of the sport’s finances to give F1 teams more return combined with the Introduction of a budget cap. This would make F1 teams less beholden to demands from commercial partners thus removing the need for technical sterilisation of the sport and pay drivers
  • Opening out the technical regulations to allow for greater competitive volatility
  • A reduced 15-round F1 calendar with grands prix only staged in countries with strong F1 fan base
  • Reducing fees charged to circuit promoters staging grands prix, thus reducing ticket prices
  • The re-introduction of a tyre war to generate more unpredictability
  • The end of codified driver penalties to encourage real racing
  • The removal of all pits-to-driver communications
  • Banning team PRs from circuits to encourage freedom of speech and personalities to flourish
  • Capped costs feeder formulae with chassis engineering freedom’

 Wow. Can you imagine all of that actually happening? This is balls out journalism. This is why I *used* to get excited when the new issue of Car would come into the local newsagent. You know, back in the 80’s and early 90’s.

Here’s another bold statement,

‘The sport should be owned by the participants, not a third party that essentially rapes it’.

Correct, my good man. Not something that will win you any friends, either. But then, journalism, I mean proper journalism, not recycled PR (one reason I’m specific about labeling my posts as such), is not always going to be popular with that lot, up there.

Mark Hughes, I salute you.

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You And Yours Is Still Skeptical About Electric Cars

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By Tim Smith

As I’ve said before, to pay the bills, I work for a restaurant. It’s a nice one. Most of our customers are nice middle England types. You know, Doctors, Accountants, those sorts.

Being ‘just’ a waiter I do occasionally get treated like a naughty dog. It is this same tone of voice that I sometimes hear, that You And Yours (BBC Radio Four’s consumer news programme) uses when they talk about electric cars.

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Here’s a link to a programme from roughly six months ago (the item starts at about 1:18) where they effectively tell local councils off for spending money on charge points where ‘some of them haven’t been touched in a year.’

Pffft.

Here’s another link (scroll to 5:41) to their almost incredulous feature (broadcast today) on the growing popularity of electric cars. Highlights include the use of the word ‘trendiness’ and an unerring tone of disapproval.

Whateve’s.

BMW i3, I still love you.

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Electric Car Subsidies Are Here To Stay Says Man Who Hangs Around The Tory Party.

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By Tim Smith

Speaking to the Conservative Party’s megaphone, The Daily Telegraph, Nick Clegg announced to middle England that electric cars are here to stay, Ok?

Venturing out to the Ace Cafe, somewhat holy ground for men of a certain age who ride/rode motorbikes, Nick Clegg stated that the current £5000 government subsidy on Electric cars is here to stay, saying ‘There is no date in the diary’ for an end to the strategy.

He went on to add that the government (that is, the tax payer) will invest ‘£9 million’. I can’t help but read that in Del-boy’s voice.

It’s an interesting position to be in, this. You see, also in the piece, Suzanne Gray, Head of BMW ‘i’ in the UK (I think that means she’s head of PR for ‘i’, although, as always, I’m willing to be wrong) states that ‘if you stopped subsidies at the end of 2015, then the market will suddenly dry up’.

In other words, even the best, the champions for this new electric age, know the hoi palloi aren’t ready to accept electric cars.

I guess that would mean they would have to be ready to accept that climate change is happening, and that Homo-sapien are the cause. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

It is interesting to note, though, that Prof Michael Marmot said on the Today programme, erm, today, regarding Cancer prevention that ‘We know it’s close to useless to lecture people about living healthily’.

Hmmmm…

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I Was In The Jaguar Super Bowl Advert For One Second.

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By James Bowman
So…, awesome!
Thanks to the good people at Jaguar I, in my capacity as an up and coming acting tour-de-force, have now been exposed to 111 million viewers around the globe. Not bad for two nights work.
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Let me explain: My name is James and I recently chucked in my office job to  start a career as an actor. Technically I’m what is known on set as an ‘SA’ or Supporting Artist. In truth I am, at present, little more than a member of the walking scenery you may have seen portrayed all too painfully well in Ricky Gervaise’s series, ‘Extras’.
Being an SA is undoubtedly the least glamorous, most looked-down-upon role in the entertainment industry. It involves a choke of travel, a sizeable depression of doing nothing, and a healthy slap of condescension. That said, every so often a gem will wink at you from the turd of rejection, disinterest and borderline unemployment that is the life of an SA. I received such a wink, albeit unknowingly at the time, in the guise of a Jaguar commercial.
When you first get offered a job as an SA, you are given little to no information about the project. A date, a location and a call time (with as much permanence as a fart in a hurricane) is about all you can guarantee. That, and your fee (less tax, less national insurance, less commission, less travel costs….). So I wasn’t immediately grabbed by the prospect of two nights of shooting in London (I live two and a half hours away, in Cheltenham) for what passes for the industry minimum rate for night shooting.
Arriving on ‘set’, however, I found myself at a small airfield in Kent with a Lear Jet, a helicopter and a brand new, just unwrapped NB4L London Routemaster bus. My spirits were high, but quickly settled down upon learning by text that my call time had changed to four hours later than quoted, shortly after my arrival. As such, I set about getting all I could out of the free food, drinks and heating in the trailer they had hired out for us.
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That evening’s work consisted of myself and nine other bored bodies sitting on the Routemaster whilst furiously pretending to be bored commuters sitting on a Routemaster. While we worked our intricate craft, the Lear jet repeatedly took off and landed and the helicopter followed us around with a Tom Middleston lookalike sipping tea inside. Blissfully, we were finished within three hours.
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The second night, sadly, lasted ten and a half hours, nine of which were spent sat on our pristine bus in Central London waiting for the ‘Talent’ (Mark Strong) to drive proper and ‘ting.
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Eventually, we were driven to our location along the banks of the Thames, opposite the London Eye, where police had blocked off a strip of road so that we could repeat the last night’s performance with a nice backdrop. Spirits had been low, it’s fair to say, during our incarceration but by now we had learnt that this was to be Jaguar’s 2014 Super Bowl commercial with a budget well into the millions and featuring, as well as Mr Hiddleston and Mr Strong (Mark, not the square red guy from the children’s books), but also cinema great, Ben Kingsley. Suffice it to say we were all thrilled at the prospect of our impending exposure in the presence of these acting greats to a massive captive audience – truly the dream for any aspiring actor.
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The advert has now been shown and is available on YouTube. For those of you wishing to catch me in my shining moment of global fame you can see me in the glorious, tantalising frames that separate second number 34 and second number 35. I am the second blurry, amorphous blob from the left in the top of the bus. I have a hood pulled over my face.
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But this is a car blog! What can I tell you about the titular New F-Type? It’s loud. And it comes in white.

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Self-Driving Cars, More Stuff To Be Frightened Of.

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By Tim Smith

 

 

Self-driving cars are coming. Fear sells stuff. Put them together and you have a whole starship of stories that we can all expect to be done on us over the next few years.

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The Guardian has reported today that the vice president of global security solutions for Verizon‘s enterprise subsidiary (not as cool as it sounds) has advised that, well, he hasn’t.

I was going to insert a quote saying that ‘self-driving cars will prove an irresistible target for hackers’. Except he didn’t say that. The Guardian did, in their opening par for the piece.

This piece does give off an odour of a reporter phoning a good source and loading questions. Questions, perhaps, like, when will the machines arise? Will hackers drink my children’s blood? Will self-driven cars prove irresistible to hackers? That is to say, will they get up in the morning, nay, not even sleep, because they cannot resist the simple thought of sending you and your family on a joy ride of death. Or something.

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Hyperbole aside, as the piece mentions, cars are now more connected than ever, they will only become more connected as the technology matures. It is clear that their will be hurdles to be negotiated, accidents will happen, we should be made aware of the risks, perhaps even a public consultation should take place, but can we please all calm down. Just for a bit?

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