TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 30

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. What if football helmet safety ratings are measuring the wrong hits?

By Bryan Gruley in Bloomberg Business

2. If France wants fewer radicalized Muslims, it must clean up its prisons.

By Michael Birnbaum in the Washington Post

3. They 3D-printed a car.

By Umair Irfan in Scientific American

4. The low price of meat doesn’t reflect its true cost.

By the New Scientist

5. Lesser-known cities and young architects are perfect for each other.

By Amanda Kolson Hurley in CityLab

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Autos

New Acura TLX Won’t Get Your Heart Racing

This car in Honda's luxury line is long on comfort and room, but short on vroom.

The Acura TLX is a very nice car. The ride is nice, the sound system is nice, the seats are nice. All very nice.

There, I just damned the TLX with faint praise. This is a perfect entry-level luxury car for people who don’t really get excited about luxury cars, or perhaps cars in general. If you want a well-made piece of machinery that will cushion you, protect you, that will smooth out the bumps on the road and not ask much of you, then you are an Acura type.

By the same token, don’t ask that much of the car. For instance, the standard model comes with 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder, 206-horsepower engine. Perfectly adequate, for sure, with thrifty 28-miles-per-gallon efficiency, but this is not the kind of power plant to get your heart racing, never mind your TLX. And let’s not blame the four cylinders either; there are plenty of small, brutish 4-pot engines out there. But Honda, Acura’s owner, has chosen the same engine for the TLX, which starts at $32,000, that it uses for the Accord, which rings in at about $10,000 less. Taking the bigger engine offered with the TLX — a V-6, nine-speed automatic that generates 290 h.p. — will add about $4,000 to the price.

That’s why having a choice of four driving modes on the TLX seems like a bit of a tease. Yes, it has a dual-clutch, eight-speed transmission with a torque converter, which suggests seamless shifting as the car accelerates. But that doesn’t help much in Normal, Economy, or even Sport mode, because the Acura is hardly a burner. Actually, the TLX is one of the few cars I’ve driven that benefits from using the paddle shifters in Sport+ mode. The response is noticeably better. Yet it’s hard to believe that many TLX drivers would opt for this paddle mode.

Our TLX came with the Tech package that pushed the sticker to $35,000. The Tech trim includes a nifty three-way rear-view camera that allows you to look down to see if there’s anything directly under the car as well as giving you narrow and wide angles. But there were some quirks, too, including blind-spot warning lights that weren’t located in the mirrors but off to the side. The navigation system seemed confused and at one point had us driving east into the East River when we were heading north. The stacked, twin screens on the dashboard didn’t help the situation, nor did the fact that for some operations you pushed a button on the dash while others required a touchscreen, or a combination. Operating the seat heater, for instance, required the touch of a button and then the touchscreen. Annoying.

Still, you take what the Acura gives you, which is not to be sniffed at. There’s that ride, for one. The TLX can make New York City’s axle-breaking, shock-shaking streets feel a little more like suburban pavement. On the highway, it is a rolling library, quiet enough for you to converse at a whisper. The Acura has two steering and handling features: one called Motion-Adaptive Electronic Power Steering, the other called Precision All-Wheel Steer, or P-AWS in Acura-speak. The first, tuned electronic steering, isn’t unique to Acura. But it is a benefit, and uses feedback sensors to tune the steering wheel to your driving, taking conditions into account. The P-AWS part is interesting: It angles the rear wheels 1.8 degrees to improve handling and stability through turns. That proved helpful in some slick spots.

You aren’t ever going to confuse the TLX with a BMW in the way it feels or rides, and maybe that’s the point. The Acura substitutes roomy for vroomy and adds comfort in both the front and the back. It’s what you’d call a true passenger car, and I mean that in the nicest way.

MONEY Autos

So About That Goal of 1 Million Electric Cars by 2015 …

A Tesla Motors Inc. Model S connected to a charger at the Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, New Jersey
A Tesla Motors Inc. Model S connected to a charger at the Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, New Jersey Emile Wamsteker—Bloomberg via Getty Images

In the 2011 State of the Union, President Obama called for 1 million electric plug-in cars to be on American roads by 2015. Well, it's 2015, and we're less than one-third of the way there. What happened?

In Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address, President Obama discussed how “America is number one in oil and gas,” and said that “thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.” There was no mention, however, of an automobile-related goal set in the SOTU four years ago, when the president pushed for 1 million electric plug-in vehicles to be purchased by consumers by 2015.

The likely reason for leaving electric cars out of the president’s recent speech is obvious: America is nowhere near reaching that 1 million EV goal. As the Detroit News noted earlier this week, “sales [of electric cars] have been far slower than expected — about 280,000, including 120,000 in 2014,” and that “even with dramatic increases it could take at least four more years to hit the mark.”

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. A 2011 Department of Energy report declared the 1 million EV goal “ambitious” and yet “achievable” by 2015, with the help of some conditions:

While it appears that the goal is within reach in terms of production capacity, initial costs and lack of familiarity with the technology could be barriers. For that reason, President Obama has proposed steps to accelerate America’s leadership in electric vehicle deployment, including improvements to existing consumer tax credits, programs to help cities prepare for growing demand for electric vehicles and strong support for research and development.

The report estimated that starting in 2012, GM would be selling 120,000 Chevy Volts annually, and that by 2014, Nissan would be churning out 100,000 plug-in Leafs per year. Even though 2014 was seen as a decent year for the EV market, and quite a good year for the category-leading Leaf, only about 30,000 Leafs sold last year. That was an all-time high, but far short of the goal set a few years beforehand. Meanwhile, consumers bought only 1,490 gas-electric Chevy Volts in December 2014, and fewer than 20,000 in the year as a whole. The fact that Chevy was expected to debut a new Volt in early 2015 is only part of why sales have been anemic.

It’s no sudden surprise that America is coming up way short on the 2015 EV goal. By 2013, Obama and the Energy Department admitted that it wouldn’t happen, even as federal policies promoting EV adoption will run $7.9 billion through 2019, including but not limited to a $7,500 tax credit with each EV purchase.

Among the reasons often cited for lower-than-wished-for EV sales are their limited driving range in between charges and their still high initial costs even after tax credits, as well as vastly improved fuel efficiency in gas-powered cars (even SUVs) and, in recent months, exceptionally cheap gas prices. “The need to transition to electric cars is urgent,” Tesla CEO and EV visionary Elon Musk said in Detroit last week. Based on several years’ worth of sales data, however, consumers apparently aren’t feeling much sense of urgency on the matter.

The 2011 Energy Department report noted that “automobile consumers tend to be risk-averse, preferring well-proven technology,” and that “the performance and cost effectiveness of the early EVs in the market will be a major but unknowable factor in how many EVs are on the road by 2015.” Here we are in 2015, and it sure looks like, by and large, consumers haven’t bought into the cost-effectiveness pitch for EVs, either because they deem the vehicles too pricey, too impractical, or both.

This doesn’t mean that EVs won’t enjoy mainstream success down the road. Gas prices surely aren’t going to stay cheap forever. One former oil industry executive told USA Today that he sees $5 per gallon on the horizon in the near future. At the same time, EVs will keep getting cheaper and more practical for consumers, with the recent introduction of the $30K, 200-mile Chevy Bolt plug-in as a potential game changer in a couple of years. All of which changes the math on the potential purchase of an EV, and makes the prospect of owning one much more cost-effective.

So we’ll get to that 1 million EV goal at some point. It’s just a matter of when—and how much we’ll have to spend to get there.

MONEY Personal Finance

Turns Out (Gasp) Millennials Do Want to Own Cars

150119_EM_MillennialMyth
Jamie Grill—Getty Images

Young adults want to share everything--except maybe their car

Millennials have spurred the rise of the sharing economy by embracing the notion that renting is almost always better than buying. But even they want to own their own set of wheels, new research shows. Could homeownership, a diamond ring and other traditional purchases be far behind?

Some 71% of young adults would rather buy a car than lease one and 43% are likely to purchase a vehicle in the next five years, according to a survey from Elite Daily, a social site, and research consultants Millennial Branding. This finding suggests young adults that have popularized car-sharing options like Zipcar and RelayRides—and all sorts of other sharing options from wedding dresses to leftover meals—may be warming to traditional ownership.

Could it be that the kids are growing up and want something of their own? Other research shows that millennials, widely regarded as an idealist generation that favors flexibility and personal fulfillment over wealth, have begun backtracking there as well. Increasingly, they link financial health to life satisfaction.

For now, though, home ownership remains largely off their radar: 59% would rather rent a house than buy one and only one in four millennials are likely to purchase a house in the next five years, the survey found. “This shows that millennials don’t know anything about investing, even though they say they do,” says Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Millennial Branding. “A home is a much better investment than a car.”

Schawbel believes millennials are more eager to buy cars because they are delaying marriage and children, and they don’t want to be tied down with real estate. Plenty of research supports that view—and the trend toward delayed family formation. Yet it seems only a matter of time before this generation embraces marriage and homeownership too. The oldest are just 35 and, the survey found, three in five can’t afford to buy a home anyway.

The survey also found that millennials might be struggling less with student debt than is widely believed. Yes, student debt now tops $1.3 trillion. But young adults have money to spend. They are using their income to pay off their loans and getting support from their parents to pay for other things, Schawbel says. That may mean a car now or in the near future, and it seems increasingly clear that eventually it will include real estate. This generation is carving its own path, for sure. But the path may wind up looking more traditional than they know.

MONEY Autos

New Mercedes-Benz Crossover Doesn’t Quite Bridge the Gap

The Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG is an awkward mix of sports car and family SUV.

What, exactly, is a Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG? It’s an edgy-looking thing for sure, at least from the front. And the Jupiter-red color in the model we tested looks dazzling. But then you walk around to the back and it’s, um, a small, luxury, crossover SUV thingy with a rear hatch, a place where you could park your groceries.

And yet, it’s a hatch with a you-gotta-be-kidding-me 355-horsepower, turbocharged power plant from the Benz racing division (that’s the AMG part). If getting to the supermarket in a really big hurry is your mission, this is your wagon. Call it a super crossover.

So why build a supercross in the first place? That question has already been answered by Porsche and its $50,000 Macan: because there’s a market niche for luxury-badged hatches. If somebody wants to pay two to five times the cost of the Honda Civic or a Volkswagen Golf, or even the Mercedes GLA 250 (the civilian version of the GLA45), then the industry will by all means accommodate them, as it should.

In that regard, the GLA45 is both an accommodation and an accomplishment, at least in part. Consider that the horsepower is being churned by a 2.0 liter, hand-assembled inline-4 turbocharged engine that muscles up 332-lb.-ft. of torque. The GLA45 can absolutely rip it up, going from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds; it has a factory-imposed maximum speed of 155 m.p.h. That puts it in the same range as, say, the much sexier BMW M3 sedan. Mercedes says that’s the most powerful regulation 4-pot on the planet, and it sure feels that way. By way of comparison, the GLA45 has 145 more horses running under it than the excellent 4-cylinder Golf GTI 4-door, although the VW lists for about half the price, and is actually quieter.

Yes, that’s right, the Golf is quieter. But it’s also likely that buyers of the GLA45 are trying to escape a quiet ride, and perhaps their children; in this Benz you can do both at warp speed. You will, of course, appreciate the all-wheel drive, the ridiculous passing acceleration, and the superb handling.

The GLA45’s transmission, a 7-speed, dual clutch number with paddle shifters, is the most fun I’ve driven recently. The cleverly designed gear shifter features three driving modes — normal, sport and manual/paddle shift. Plus, there’s an Eco setting that shuts the engine off when you are stopped at lights. There’s even a launch mode, if you’d like to do some suburban drag racing. Better yet, this transmission absolutely rips through the gears, yielding a wonderfully crazy sound in the tuned exhaust. The GLA45’s song is one of a very large, very angry hornet: zzzz, ZZZZ, ZZZZAAAHHH! I’d almost pay the $48,300 sticker just for that.

Almost. There are other things to consider. The ride, for one, which is sports-car stiff, a sensation you might not appreciate with those groceries in the back as you jounce around on city streets. The dashboard brims with aluminum air vents but also has a control panel that seems way too complicated. Do we really need a keypad? The navigation system, like so many others, begs you to try to figure it out: touchscreen or the control knob on the center console?

Still, the interior is handsome and luxurious but a bit hard-edged at the same time. The performance seats, which add $2,250 to the price, are aluminum trimmed; if done in the optional black “red cut” leather ($1,500), the look is exquisite. Add the hand-stitched performance steering wheel ($500) and you are going places in considerable style.

This conflict between mission and model, sports car and family car, makes the GLA45 a bit of a puzzler. Sure, you love the driving dynamics and that powerful engine, but do you really need or want a dynamic hatchback? In truth, it’s really a hackback. It’s exactly what you’d expect to happen when you let boys and girls of the racing division redesign the family wagon without adult supervision.

TIME

GM Sold a Record Number of Vehicles in 2014

The same year it recalled millions of them over safety issues

General Motors set a new record in 2014, the year when its CEO landed in the hot seat as the company recalled millions of vehicles over safety issues, by selling more than 9.9. million of them worldwide.

The automaker said in a statement Tuesday that sales were up 2% from 2013, likely placing the it third in global sales for the year. Volkswagen sold 10.4 million vehicles in 2014, according to AFP, while reports indicate Toyota may have sold 10.22 million.

Deliveries to China rose 12% to 3.54 million vehicles, and North American deliveries rose 6% to 3.4 million.

“GM is making solid progress and has good momentum,” CEO Mary Barra said in the statement.

Read next: Mary Barra’s Bumpy Ride at the Wheel of GM

MONEY cars

GM Tries to Prove Electric Cars Are Worth the Cost

General Motors hopes the new, all-electric Chevy Bolt will boost electric car sales, which are on the rise but still minimal.

TIME Autos

The New Ford GT Is a Beauty

US-DETROIT-AUTO-SHOW
The new Ford GT is introduced at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 12, 2015 Geoff Robins—AFP/Getty Images

Like, wow.

Ford Motors was not short on confidence this week.

After a nine-year hiatus, the iconic American automobile manufacturer unveiled the latest installation of the prized GT to ecstatic car aficionados at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday.

The new GT packs a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine capable of blasting out more than 600 horsepower. The car is set to hit production lines next year.

During a press conference on Monday, Ford’s executive chairman audibly scoffed after a reporter questioned the vehicle’s fuel efficiency, according to Bloomberg.

“You don’t buy this car for fuel economy,” said Bill Ford. “There’s a lot of fuel-saving technology in here, but I’d be lying if I said this was about fuel efficiency.”

On Monday, Ford also revealed the next-generation 2017 F-150 Raptor off-road pickup and the street-legal Shelby GT350R Mustang. The marque is reportedly coming off its biggest sales year since 2006.

[Bloomberg]

MONEY Autos

Cool Cars Get Rolled Out at Detroit Auto Show

At the North American International Auto Show — otherwise known as the Detroit Auto Show — big-name automakers are rolling out new models and concept cars.

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