The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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General Motors confirmed over the weekend that it would be temporarily halting the U. S. sales of eight of its 2013 model year cars including the Buick Verano sedan, Cadillac XTS and ATS sports sedans, Chevrolet Cruze, Equinox, and GMC Terrain crossovers, and the Volt hybrid because it discovered a software issue in its popular OnStar in-vehicle security, communications, and diagnostics system. According to Reuters, when an OnStar equipped vehicle is involved in a collision where the airbags do not deploy, the OnStar system fails to send out the requisite alert to an OnStar operator triggering a call to the vehicle to check whether the driver and passengers are okay or need assistance. OnStar does work as designed when a collision involving the deployment of airbags occurs, Reuters says.

Approximately 60 000 vehicles, most of which are already in dealer lots, are affected. Each car will require about 30 minutes of the dealer’s time to get the software fixed; GM expects the issue to be fully taken care of in about a week.  Because problems with automotive electronics are becoming the biggest complaint of new car buyers, it isn’t surprising that GM would halt the sales of its new model cars for a week or so. Five years ago, I doubt GM would have taken such an action.

GM also announced last week that it “is hiring software developers, project managers, database experts, business analysts and other information technology professionals to staff the first of several new IT Innovation Centers in the United States. The centers are intended to drive breakthrough ideas into GM vehicles and business processes globally.” The hiring, which may reach 10 000 according to a story in ComputerWorld, is part of a GM plan to “rebalance [its] employment model over the next three years so that the majority of [its] IT work is done by GM employees focused on extending new capabilities that further enable [the] business,” the company said.

In other words, GM, which currently outsources 90 percent of its IT work, is starting the process to bring that work back inside its corporate structure. The automaker began outsourcing its IT operations to EDS (and others) beginning in the late 1980s. GM originally bought EDS for US $2.55 billion in 1984; HP then acquired it from GM in 2008 for $13.8 billion.  Early this year, HP wrote off $8 billion against its EDS acquisition, acknowledging that it was pretty much the failure it was predicted to end up being.

The first GM innovation center will be located in Austin, Texas, where the company is looking to immediately hire 500 IT folks. Why Austin? GM says that is where the skills it requires reside. It is reported that GM is talking with several other cities about opening innovation centers, but won't reveal which cities these are.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

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Green

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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