Chevy says its FNR concept car, unveiled at Auto Shanghai 2015, is a model for an affordable, autonomous car you could drive in the 2030s.+ READ ARTICLE
Tucked away in a nondescript commercial building in Fountain Valley, Calif., dozens of designers, engineers, and craftsmen have toiled secretively for months on a project that offers a glimpse of the way we may be driving 15 years from now.
Their hangar-like workspace belongs to GFMI Metalcrafters, a company that for decades has built many of the most important concept cars to hit the auto-show circuit. Laboring furiously in its password-protected workrooms, these teams have been assembling a car far ahead of its time.
Meet the FNR, perhaps Chevy’s most unusual concept car to date, and a stake-in-the-ground statement from Chevy’s parent, General Motors.
The FNR, unveiled this week at the Auto Shanghai 2015 car show in China, is a fully autonomous electric vehicle. It’s a family sedan-cum-techno-infotainment solution aimed squarely at China’s youth market — consumers who characteristically respond better to smartphones than sheet metal. The really great news, for real: This is GM’s best guess on what a family vehicle will offer on the affordable front within 15 years.
Chevy hopes that the FNR will hook millennials, not just in China but worldwide, with the promise of a vehicle that will be part Siri, part BFF and part Fitbit. “Everywhere in the world our time is constrained — commute time, work time, family time,” says Sharon Nishi, head of sales and marketing for GM China. “Those are some of the things that inspired this car.”
In a departure from current trends in autonomous-vehicle development, Chevy envisions the FNR as a vehicle for the mass market. GM projects that by 2030 — the hypothetical model year for the FNR — self-driving technologies will have proliferated enough to have become less costly, and therefore feasible for a real-world family car. And GM’s executives think autonomous vehicles have particularly good opportunities for growth in developing countries like China, where cities and roads are crowding quickly, governments are anxious to resolve congestion, and much infrastructure is yet to be built.
“Design is really important in China,” says Nishi. Appropriately enough, the FNR’s exterior projects futuristic muscle-car attitude. Motors housed in the rims of its massive, hubless wheels will power the car (once that particular innovation is fully developed). The FNR’s sculpted exterior panels are made from composites like carbon fiber, to save weight, and designed with air intakes that add drama and aerodynamic flow to the overall shape.
Double scissor doors open on each side like lotus blossoms. The crowning touch: Thousands of LED lights swathe the vehicle, illuminating it outside and in with a bright blue light, chief designer Cao Min’s ode to Shanghai’s famous evening light shows.
The interior promises that driving itself can be an afterthought, if the user chooses. The FNR would allow occupants to sit back and enjoy the ride in motorized, webbed seats that can read everything from heart rate and blood pressure to mood — and adjust temperature, speed, lighting, and even musical selections for those who want to work or sleep.
Care to swap out the map projected on the oversized canopy to work on some spreadsheets? Simply swipe your hand over the gesture-controlled crystal ball in the center console to reconfigure the display. Of course, that’s assuming you’re in the car at all. The FNR could “take itself to the dealer for service so you don’t have to,” says Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president of global product development.
There’s much work to be done before cars come anywhere close to fulfilling the FNR’s fully autonomous promise. Like other manufacturers and suppliers, GM has gradually loaded more vehicles with active-safety technologies that are precursors to a car that could pilot itself — night vision, blind-spot alerts, lane-change warnings, adaptive cruise control, brake assist. Next year, GM will be the first automaker to bring to market vehicle-to-vehicle communication — cars “talking” to one another to help them avoid collisions — in a 2017 Cadillac CTS. “It’s a step-by-step progression; some of the things we introduced in 2010 and 2011 are now trickling down into our production cars,” says John Capp, GM’s global director of safety strategies and vehicle programs.
Other, more luxury-oriented companies, including Audi and Mercedes-Benz, are closer to putting autonomous vehicles on the road. But GM executives say that by 2030, that may not matter. “How will the consumer interface with and experience all this technology — will it really help, or will it become a secondary burden?” asks Bryan Nesbitt, GM China vice president of design. The automakers that integrate the tech most successfully, Nesbitt says, will come out ahead.
A new study finds that young Americans could use some help when it comes to managing their money.
Out of these three questions measuring basic financial knowledge, the average respondent could answer only 1.8 correctly—and only a quarter got all three right. (Answers are at the bottom of this story.)
(1) Do you think that the following statement is true or false? Buying a single company stock usually provides a safer return than a stock mutual fund.
(2) Suppose you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2% per year. After 5 years, how much do you think you would have in the account if you left the money to grow: More than $102, exactly $102, or less than $102?
(3) Imagine that the interest rate on your savings account was 1% per year and inflation was 2% per year. After 1 year, would you be able to buy more than, exactly the same as, or less than today with the money in this account?
Perhaps most troubling was what the research showed about how respondents have actually been managing their money. The average young person surveyed showed responsible behavior in only one of three categories: Paying off debts on time, budgeting and living within one’s means, and having any retirement savings at all. Only 2% of all respondents showed responsible behavior in all three categories.
Furthermore, the study—led by SDSU professors Ning Tang, Andrew Baker, and Paula Peter—found that there was little to no effect of financial knowledge on financial behavior. That is, young people manage money poorly, even when they know better.
But there is hope for America’s youth, says Tang.
“Our findings suggest that if you want to improve your own financial behavior, the best thing you can do is be open to the influences of others,” says Tang.
Though the study did not examine the influence of peers, its results suggest both family and financial professionals could play an important role in improving young people’s financial habits. The researchers found that being close with parents was correlated with better money management among women—and that higher self-reported levels of being “thorough” and “careful” was correlated with better financial behavior among men. Among both sexes, higher self-reported levels of being “self-disciplined” was correlated with better money habits.
That suggests educators and financial planners should focus on getting young people to be more self-aware in general and more motivated to improve their organizational habits across the board—not just when it comes to finances, says Tang.
“It can be helpful just to be more aware of your own psychological barriers,” she says.
One thing the study did not explore much is the cause of gender differences in the results. For example, the authors did not control for whether parents tend to treat daughters differently than sons.
And the answers to the questions above? They are: (1) false; (2) more than $102; and (3) less than today.
If you love getting free stuff—ice cream, pretzels, milkshakes, cookies, burgers, coffee, park admissions—you are loving life right about now.
Freebie promotions pop up throughout the year. Donut Day giveaways are always in early June, free Slurpees are slurped up on 7-Eleven Day (held, of course, on July 11), National Coffee Day is in late September, IHOP hosts a free pancake day every March, and so on. The calendar is sprinkled with all manner of fake holidays and their corresponding giveaways and marketing promotions.
But sometimes the deals are clumped together in what amounts to a freebie frenzy. Were are in the midst of just such a period—Peak Freebie if you will.
Freebie momentum began ramping up roughly a month ago, with Dairy Queen and Rita’s dishing out free ice cream and free Italian ices, respectively. Things really picked up steam last week, with back-to-back-to-back giveaways of ice cream (at Ben & Jerry’s), coffee (Wawa), and all manner of foods and services (to soften the blow of Tax Day).
And the fast and furious freebie gravy train isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot. Here are more freebies to take advantage of in the very near future:
• The National Park Service kicks off National Parks Week with free admission for all visitors on Saturday and Sunday, April 18-19.
• Between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 23, all Jamba Juice customers are welcomed to order their choice of a free classic smoothie or juice.
• Tuesday, April 28, is being celebrated as Hero Appreciation Day at Krispy Kreme, and anyone who purchases a dozen original glazed donuts gets a second dozen for free. The Krispy Kreme offer is being promoted as a way to celebrate the heroes in your life. But if you show up at home or the office with two dozen donuts, we all know who will be looked at like the real hero.
John Helinski, a victim of identity theft, was homeless and living on the streets of Tampa when a police officer helped him recover his ID—and a long-lost Bank of America account. He's not homeless anymore.
If it were possible and practical, most people would never set foot in a car dealership when purchasing a vehicle.
Accenture surveyed 10,000 people in the U.S. and a handful of other countries about buying cars, and the results show that most consumers aren’t exactly fans of the standard car dealership experience. In fact, three-quarters said that “if given the opportunity, they would consider making their entire car-buying process online, including financing, price negotiation, back office paperwork and home delivery.”
Some cultures are keener on purchasing via the web than others. Overall, the poll showed that Chinese, American, and Brazilian drivers are “more interested in online digital experiences than other countries,” specifically countries in Europe. For instance, 75% of Brazilians and 90% of Chinese would buy a car in an online auction, versus 45% of Germans and just 35% of French.
The survey findings didn’t reveal all that much about why consumers don’t seem to think it’s important to make the big-ticket purchase of an automobile the old-fashioned way, in person at a car dealership. But anyone who has bought a car probably has an idea about why online purchasing is appealing. For many, buying a car at a dealership is too much of a confusing, high-pressure, unreasonably long process. It’s easy to see how it’s preferable to haggle over prices and options and review the fine print at one’s leisure in front of a screen rather than surrounded by salespeople and their “let me talk to the manager” games. After all, a classic negotiation tactic is walking away from the deal on the table, and walking away from an online offer is as simple as ignoring an email.
For another indication of the degree to which consumers don’t like the traditional car-buying experience, check out a recent survey conducted for Autotrader. Of the 4,002 consumers polled, only 17 said they like the current car buying process just as it is. The rest said they “want significant changes, particularly in the test drive, deal structuring, financing paperwork and service phases.” Many said they’d like to see the nitty-gritty of deals conducted online rather than in person. For instance:
Consumers indicate that they would like to see a big change in the way they go about negotiating the deal structure. Of those who liked the idea of online deal building, over half, 56 percent, want the ability to start the negotiation on their own terms—preferably online—and 45 percent would like to remain anonymous until they lock in the deal structure.
Nearly three fourths of consumers, 72 percent, want to complete the credit application and financing paperwork online. The key factors driving this desire are to save time at the dealership (reported by 72 percent of those who favor online paperwork) and to have less pressure while filling out paperwork (reported by 71 percent of those who favor online paperwork).
There’s no big mystery as to why car dealerships and automakers are reluctant to make online vehicle purchasing more practical and readily available. Doing so would put car sales staffers out of jobs and likely result in lower profits for automakers and dealerships. Let’s not forget that one of the supposed purposes of car dealerships is to provide a place for consumers to kick the tires, test-drive vehicles, and (hopefully) get good insights and advice from employees. A car is a major purchase, and a good car dealership will help steer you in the right direction.
Nonetheless, there’s considerable pressure to change the often-maddening experience—to make it quicker, more transparent, less stressful, and less complicated—and some auto brands are becoming more open to online purchases.
“There aren’t too many things out there anymore that you can’t buy in an online way, and it’s really automotive that’s lagging pretty much every other industry out there,” Doug Murtha, Scion’s brand chief, acknowledged in a recent Bloomberg story about how the Toyota-owned brand is attempting to make car purchasing “Feel More Like Buying an iPad.”
Most customers have been able to use Scion’s new options to buy a car in less than two hours—less than half the usual time suck—and the goal is to get the process chopped down to under an hour. Meanwhile, some Auto Nation dealerships in South Florida have been attempting to make it possible for shoppers to seal the deal on a new or used car in a Domino’s-delivery-like 30 minutes or less, thanks to customers doing much of the browsing and completing of paperwork online in advance.
Try these tips for getting started when you have limited funds and lots to pay for
Getting started as a saver and investor can be a tricky balancing act. You have bills to pay, student loans to settle, and a career to jump start. You have to create a cash cushion for emergencies at the same time that you are being urged to salt away money for a far-off retirement date. Here’s some smart advice on how set your priorities.
Adapted from “101 Ways to Build Wealth,” by Daniel Bortz, Kara Brandeisky, Paul J. Lim, and Taylor Tepper, which originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of MONEY magazine.
Even if this means paying off debt more slowly. The money can cover surprises like car repairs. Once you’ve hit that point, says financial planner Matt Becker, focus on the next goal: six months of expenses, to cover you should you lose a job.
Until you have six months’ liquid savings (see No. 1), investing isn’t a top priority. But you should put enough into a 401(k) to get an employer match. To partly reconcile the two goals, hold some less risky fare like bonds, says Lillian Wu of Research Affiliates. With taxes and penalties, cashing out a 401(k) is a last resort. But if you’re forced to do it, it’s better to have some safe money.
Getting going on a 401(k) can feel like jumping into the deep end. How much in stock funds? What about bonds? But early on, saving at all matters more than picking the best mix. Say you put away 6% of your pay, with a 3% match, starting at 25. For 10 years you earn a lousy 2%, and then adjust your portfolio so that you earn 6% for the next 30 years. That wobbly first decade will still have added 47% to your total wealth by age 65.
Zillow.com says these metros offer job growth above the median 1.3% and homes for less than the typical 2.9 times income:
Atlanta: Home to HQs of Fortune 500 companies including Coca-Cola and the United Parcel Service
Job Growth: 2.4% Housing Cost: 2.7 x income
Indianapolis: Metro boasts another Best Place: walkable, arts-rich Carmel.
Job Growth: 2% Housing Cost: 2.4 x income
Reducing small expenses can’t hurt, but housing is where you can save real money when you’re young. Rent on a two-bedroom, with a roommate, can be 44% less than for a one-bedroom alone, according to Apartment List data.
Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York have found that most Americans get their biggest raises during their first decade in the workforce. So lay the groundwork for wage growth early. Don’t be afraid to shell out some money for a business communication class, technology training, or an additional job certification, says Michael Kitces, co-founder of XY Planning Network, a group of planners with Gen X and Y clients. A $500 class that leads to a promotion and raise could pay off in compounding returns throughout your career, as future raises build on top of your higher base wage. “It may literally be the single greatest investment you can make,” says Kitces.
If you want to know why fast food menus are being overloaded with hot flavors and extra spicy sauces, look no further than millennials and their "adventurous" tastes.
Walk into almost any chain restaurant in America and you’re sure to encounter spicy new menu items that’ll put a little sweat on your brow. A few examples:
• This week, Wendy’s rolled out two hot-hot-hot limited-time menu items: the Jalapeno Fresco Spicy Chicken Sandwich and Ghost Pepper Fries.
• Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. introduced El Diablo, a burger featuring not one but “four sources of fiery flavor”: sliced jalapenos, crunchy Jalapeno Poppers, spicy habanero bacon sauce, and pepper-Jack cheese. The company has described the El Diablo—which translates to “like a fighting chicken,” according to Ricky Bobbie in Talladega Nights—as both “fast food’s hottest burger” and a “lava bomb.”
• New chicken-and-rice bowls from KFC offer the magic combo of spicy flavors for millennials—Sweet ‘n Spicy BBQ and Zesty Tex-Mex—and a cheap price point of just $5, including a medium drink and a cookie.
What’s behind the up-spice, so to speak? Surely the most extreme flavors will only appeal to a small subset of customers, won’t they?
“I think ghost peppers and other really spicy ingredients are gimmicks,” Nation’s Restaurant News senior food editor Bret Thorn said in a recent discussion about fast food trends. Still, reasonably spicy food is rapidly becoming more mainstream: “We actually are seeing a seismic shift in how Americans respond to spicy food. In fact, now the majority of Americans say they like spicy food.”
“When it comes to spicy food, a lot of the consumer research being done on the topic today clearly shows that the public’s desire for heat just keeps growing and growing every year,” Brad Haley, chief marketing officer of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, said in a press release announcing the El Diablo burger. “We’ve witnessed that phenomenon in our own restaurants, where potential menu items that used to be rated as ‘too spicy’ in our market tests just a few years ago are now just right.”
According to a 2013 Technomic survey, 54% of consumers said they preferred spicy foods and sauces, and high percentages indicated they’re driven to try new flavors (37%) and that new flavors can push them into visiting restaurants (41%). With that in mind, it’s easy to see why more and more restaurants are periodically adding hot new flavors to their menus.
For that matter, this is hardly a new trend. Red Robin first offered a Ghost Pepper burger in 2012, while McDonald’s, Sonic, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Subway have added menu items dashed with habanero, jalapeno, chipotle, and of course Sriracha in recent years.
Yet lately hotness on fast food menus seems to have picked up, well, heat. And, as with so many consumer categories nowadays, appealing to the tastes of millennials is a big motivating force behind the shift. Nearly 75% of millennials say they want to experience more flavors at restaurants, according to Mintel data, while 62% describe themselves as “adventurous eaters” (compared with 54% of all U.S. adults). Sriracha has been declared the “go-to condiment” for millennials as well.
By adding spicier options, restaurants can draw in more adventurous—and younger—customers, and they don’t seem nearly as concerned about alienating their core clientele as they used to be. In the NRN discussion, Thorn recalled that a decade or so ago, in order for a new item to be approved to go national, “it had to score high among the vast majority of their customers, and that meant that they never offered really spicy food because it was considered polarizing.” Tastes have changed for many consumers, and so has the thinking about what’s a good addition to restaurant menus. “Now,” says Thorn, “the food even at mass-market chains has gotten a lot spicier.”
Netflix says it has more than 62 million subscribers worldwide. It added nearly 5 million in the last quarter alone.
SSNs were never designed to be a secure key to all of our personal data.
While tax season is still producing eye twitches around the nation, it’s time to face the music about tax-related identity theft. Experts project the 2014 tax year will be a bad one. The Anthem breach alone exposed 80 million Social Security numbers, and then was quickly followed by the Premera breach that exposed yet another 11 million Americans’ SSNs. The question now: Why are we still using Social Security numbers to identify taxpayers?
From April 2011 through the fourth quarter of 2014, the IRS stopped 19 million suspicious tax returns and protected more than $63 billion in fraudulent refunds. Still, $5.8 billion in tax refunds were paid out to fraudsters. That is the equivalent of Chad’s national GDP, and it’s expected to get worse. How much worse? In 2012, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration projected that fraudsters would net $26 billion into 2017.
While e-filing and a lackluster IRS fraud screening process are the openings that thieves exploited, and continue to exploit, the IRS has improved its thief-nabbing game. It now catches a lot more fraud before the fact. This is so much the case that many fraudsters migrated to state taxes this most recent filing season because they stood a better chance of slipping fraudulent returns through undetected. Intuit even had to temporarily shut down e-filing in several states earlier this year for this reason. While the above issues are both real and really difficult to solve, the IRS would have fewer tax fraud problems if it kicked its addiction to Social Security numbers and found a new way for taxpayers to identify themselves.
Naysayers will point to the need for better data practices. Tax-related fraud wouldn’t be a problem either if our data were more secure. Certainly this is true. But given the non-stop parade of mega-breaches, it also seems reasonable to say that ship has sailed. No one’s data is safe.
Identity thieves are so successful when it comes to stealing tax refunds (and all stripe of unclaimed cash and credit) because stolen Social Security numbers are so plentiful. Whether they are purchased on the dark web where the quarry of many a data breach is sold to all-comers or they are phished by clever email scams doesn’t really matter.
In a widely publicized 2009 study, researchers from Carnegie Mellon had an astonishingly high success rate in figuring out the first five digits for Social Security numbers, especially ones assigned after 1988, when they applied an algorithm to names from the Death Master File. (The Social Security Administration changed the way they assigned SSNs in 2011.) In smaller states where patterns were easier to discern the success rate was astonishing — 90% in Vermont. Why? Because SSNs were not designed to be secure identifiers.
That’s right: Social Security numbers were not intended for identification. They were made to track how much money people made to figure out benefit levels. That’s it. Before 1972, the cards issued by the Social Security Administration even said, “For Social Security purposes. Not for Identification.” The numbers only started being used for identification in the 1960s when the first big computers made that doable. They were first used to identify federal employees in 1961, and then a year later the IRS adopted the method. Banks and other institutions followed suit. And the rest is history.
In fact, according to a Javelin Research study last year, 80% of the top 25 banks and 96% of the top credit card issuers provide account access to a person if they give the correct Social Security number.
There are moves to fix related fraud problems elsewhere in the world, in particular India where, in 2010, there was an attempt to get all 1.2 billion of that nation’s citizens to use biometrics as a form of identification. The program was designed to reduce welfare fraud, and according to Marketwatch, 160 similar biometric ID programs have been instituted in other developing nations.
In 2011, President Obama initiated the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, a program that partnered with private sector players to create an online user authentication system that would become an Internet ID that people could use to perform multiple tasks and aid interactions with the federal and state governments. There may be a solution there — but not yet.
The first Social Security card was designed in 1936 by Frederick Happel. He got $60 for it. It was good enough for what it had to do (and was clear that the card wasn’t a valid form of identification). That is no longer the case. That card is nowhere near good enough. Perhaps one solution is a new card design — one with chip-and-PIN technology. Just how something like that might work — i.e., where readers would be located, who would store the information & support authentication, etc. — would have to be a discussion for another day.
The point is, we need to do something.
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.