Range Rover Recall is Due to a Software Glitch

It's a small recall--just 65,000 vehicles--but it's the thin edge of the entering wedge for cars that think

2 min read
Range Rover Recall is Due to a Software Glitch
Photo: Jaguar Land Rover

Range Rover is recalling 65,000 cars, a number that would normally be too small to merit mention in these days of mega-recalls. But this one has to do with a door that might come unlatched because of buggy software—a complaint that will become more common as software takes over more of the driving experience.

The British-based manufacturer reported the problem to U.S. National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) in mid-June, noting that some customers had had a door fly open while the car was in motion. Ranger Rover notified those affected, namely the owners of the Range Rover of the 2013-2016 model years and of the Range Rover Sport of the 2014-2016 model years.

Meanwhile, Subaru today recalled 34,000 Impreza ​cars for reasons that certainly involve electronics and therefore may also involve software. The control unit that is supposed to deploy the front-passenger-seat airbag during a crash may fail to do so because it can’t detect that a person is sitting in that seat. According to NHTSA, the problem can arise when the passenger “operates a device that is plugged into the power outlet, such as a music player or cell phone, or touches a metal part of the vehicle such as the forward/rearward seat adjuster lever.” 

Last year Range Rover had what the company says was an unrelated software vulnerability that allowed hackers to use “black box” tools to steal vehicles equipped with keyless ignition systems. BMW had a similar problem. Both companies have since remedied the problem.

You might think it would be hard to make such a black box, but last year a 14-year-old boy attending a carmaker-sponsored summer camp put one together with spare parts bought overnight for US $15 and used it to hack into a car made by an undisclosed major manufacturer. We here at IEEE Spectrum tried to track down the kid, but the organizers wouldn’t allow it—not even for the purpose of granting him a year’s free subscription to our magazine. Just a year—after all, it isn’t rocket science.

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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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