2014 Mercedes S550: Is there such a thing as too much tech? (CNET On Cars, Episode 24)
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2014 Mercedes S550: Is there such a thing as too much tech? (CNET On Cars, Episode 24)

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-There's a sync and here we go. Mercedes new S-Class. Is there such a thing as too much tech? Antilock brakes on bikes and diesel technology explained but not apologized for. Time to check the tech. We see cars differently. We love them on the road and under the hood, but also check the tech and are known for telling it like it is. The good, the bad, the bottom line. This is CNET on Cars. Welcome to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley. This is the show all about high-tech cars and modern driving, and as soon as you say that, your mind has to go to Mercedes. They've been making high-tech cars for over a century. Things like crumple zones, digital networks, tying cars together, intelligent all-wheel drive. These are just a few things they've been at the front of or at least put their fingerprints all over. So, when they came out with the new S-Class recently, they had to do something different and really innovative and they have. I'll admit it, this all new S-Class is quite a thing to behold. I mean, these are always flagships, but this new one, it's like it found the table full of technology at the Mercedes building and gorged on all of it. Did they get it right? Or did they just get it big? Let's drive this 2014 S550 and check the tech. Now, first off, this new S is bad news for atheist, its proof there is a God, because they got rid of those crappy-looking full pontoon fenders that made the last car look like a Mazda 3. Now, spotting a new S-Class is easiest from the front, big deep aggressive grille, looks really hot to be honest, and now, you've got an LED eyebrow above the headlight as opposed to below on the outgoing cars, so easy to pick one out of a crowd. Speaking of those LEDs, Mercedes says this is the first car in production that has no filament light bulbs at all. 56 LEDs make up the headlights, 35 make up the taillights, and 300 are in the cabin. Now, this maybe the first car we've driven that totally eschews anything but LCD displays. Everything is communicated via these two 12.3-inch 8:3 ratio LCD panels. Now, right off the bat, look at that map. That is amazing. This is proof of a maximum technology that sometimes things get faster enough or bigger enough that they actually hit a limit and they change. Every road is there, every nuance of it, and you really get a sense of where you are and what road is coming up next. No other system really pulls that together like this. The bigger issue is the tech stuff that is in here. There's a lot of it scattered all over the place, particularly when you get to media. Radio, has your radio stations and you have to go through this almost sort of needless screen change to get to them. It's pretty, but it takes time of my eyes off the road. Then for your non-radio sources, you go to media. Now, a lot of car companies segregate other sources under media, but I think for an all-new design like this S-Class, they should think more progressively and start putting all media together in one place. But then when you wanna get to your internet media sources, you'd go to yet a third menu which, of course, is your phone and address book, but also the internet stuff which lives under here. And under that submenu, you find Mercedes Benz apps, but there's also internet radio under there and then there's a WWW thing which is a browser, but doesn't work when you're driving. Lot of familiar things here -- Google Local Search, POI downloads, weather, traffic cameras is new in this car. You can get a look at where traffic cameras are and look at them for the road ahead. Tune-in radio, I don't recall that being in a Benz interface before. Yelp, we've seen before, and of course, gas stations and movies. A lot of what's on this interface has to do with the seats. You can adjust the sides of the back rest. You can adjust the position of the lumbar, same thing with the shoulder region. Massage has been in there for a long time, but now instead of just having levels of intensity, they've gone into like types of massage. You have a seat-heating balance control, and thank goodness, you can reset the whole thing when you get lost. One of the things I've always hated in Mercedes is this little vestigial, weird number keypad. Who has this anymore? They finally made it useful by turning it into a touchpad. The problem is it's very vague. The touch isn't well calibrated, and as you can see, I can easily touch two stations or even more at a time, and of course, whatever you're listening to comes to a high-end audio system in this car including a couple of choices of Burmester audio systems, which suffer primarily from the unfortunate coincidence, if they look at a glance, just like a Budweiser logo. I had three passengers getting here and say, "When did Bud get into car audio?" and they weren't kidding. It, of course, sounds great. I won't say it's less filling, but it definitely is one of those where I have to wonder how much money can you put into a car audio system before you no longer hear it, but basically see it? I would check this out. Up here in the glove box is a little bottle of stink water. This thing is a perfume that will get injected into the air conditioning and ventilation system on demand. There's a menu for this as well, the intensity of it. The key to what Mercedes says, different to those little $4 ones you get in the car wash, is this will not stain your interior. So, once you turn it off, it dissipates and goes away. They name all the scents as "Moods" including one called "Freeside Mood" that disturbingly sounds like there will be a child conceived in the back seat at some point. In the back of our S550, it's relatively spartan, believe it or not, because we haven't gotten all the options which could include these executive popup tables like you have in business class, screens that let you echo the navigation screen, like on an airplane, and of course, all manner of additional massage and heating and cooling. But even though we're kind of slumming it back here, the bear doesn't care, it got plenty of room for him. Dual panorama sunroof back here, but I gotta point this out, it's actually broken up and smaller than only just had on a Jetta Wagon, so it's not bad but it's not the best. Back around these seats and also all around the cabin, you've got this funky club mood lighting back here. This kinda goes with the whole perfume in the glove box theme. Five colors you can select from, different levels of intensity, different levels of absurdity. One day, I wanna be a Mercedes mechanic, only because they have the most spacious offices. Underneath these hoods that open perpendicular, I love that. Here we find a relatively normal Mercedes story, a twin turbo V8, one turbo on each bank, 4.7 liter displacement, direct injection, sophisticated variable valve timing. The output is 455 horsepower, 516-foot pounds of torque, great torque because it's a V8 and because it's got turbos on it. Zero to 60 for this 4300-pound Sedan comes up in a very quick 4.8 seconds. One choice on the gearbox, seven-speed automatic, a real automatic, not a dual-clutch or anything like that. The MPG numbers on this guy are still TBD as of our shoot today, but we're guessing 18/30 which will be roughly 20% better on both counts than the outgoing S-Class with a similar engine. That's what Mercedes promises anyway. Now, self-parking is nothing new in cars these days, but self-parking something this big in a space we've setup this tight, this should be fun. All right, the little blue icon tells me it's looking for parking. I'm looking for a white diamond alongside it that says it's found a space big enough to put this thing in. There it is. Put it in reverse. Okay, self-parking, and here we go. This is when you really appreciate active parking, not with a small car but with a big car that you're pretty sure you couldn't park yourself, at least not two times in a row, but we are really close to that bumper. Okay, time to cut in, let's see how it does. Well, that looks close. Isn't that looks close? Coming back, I don't hear any curb rash. I feel like I'm about to. Select drive. Look at that, hard right, nibbling, nibbling, going to the front here. Select reverse and let's mop up and finish. Very nice. Okay. First thing I'm gonna do is come to a stop. Why start with a stop? Because I wanna see how this auto start/stop technology has been refined. Engine shuts down, I did not detect that. If I wasn't watching the tach, I wouldn't have known it and the restart almost is imperceptible, quick and barely shaking the car. Finally, someone's getting start/stop done in a way that befits a car of this refinement. Now, these cars can be equipped so they will actually self-drive up to the mid 30-mile per hour range, like in traffic, they'll follow the car in front, they'll handle acceleration, braking and steering. I'll be honest, I never really got it to work in my driving with the car, dido goes for the lane departure tech that was on and off as well. But my colleague, Wayne Cunningham, says it worked out pretty well for him, combine that with the fact this is a pre-production car and I'm gonna withhold judgment on both those technologies 'till later. This car does two things really well. First of all, it showcases an awful lot of technology, most of which is not silly gimmickry. It's a good state-of-the-art showcase. Secondly, it also takes the S-Class brand and, I think, makes it much more progressive. This doesn't feel like such an old built car anymore from the interior design to the exterior design to the fact that it has a lot of really interesting technology that's pretty much all well done. Now, that S-Class, like most modern Mercedes, has five or six technologies operating its braking system. I'll be honest with you, I had almost no idea about antilock brakes on motorcycles until our partners over at State Farm recently turned me onto the technology. We dug into it and found that it's a lot like cars, a lot different in many ways and of great interest to the smarter driver or rider. You know, the old maxim, "Good brakes make you go faster." So, learning about ABS at the Marin Speed Shop makes sense. ABS, antilock brakes have been universal on cars, I mean, literally since the 2012 model year, but it turns out motorcycles are picking up the technology at a very rapid pace. Now, ABS on a bike works very similarly to the way it works on a car. Let's look at the apparatus. This ring right here with these holes punched in it is rotating with the wheel obviously and this little detector back here is looking for a very smooth rhythmic passing of those holes. If that changes, that is telling the ABS pump and computer that it detects some stutter when there is a skid then the pump begins to modulate pressure up here to the caliper and the whole idea is to back off a little bit in little micro slices until you've got traction again and then put the pressure back on. In those respects, ABS is very similar to the way it is on cars. Where it differs a lot is in the ways you can set it up as a rider. For that matter, the fact you can set it up at all. Settings like these let you grab pre-set driving modes with varying levels of ABS or you can dial that in specifically from level three all the way down to off. And remember, bikes differ from cars in that they have two discrete brake systems, one for each wheel. Okay, some numbers. Our partners at State Farm tell us the research indicates up to 31% fewer fatalities on bikes that have ABS. Highway Loss Data Institute says up to 23% fewer collision claims from those machines. Now, but the best numbers I can find indicate that around 100 models of motorcycles industry-wide have ABS standard or optional, but here's an interesting trend. Look at this Ducati 1199. 2012, that bike had ABS optional. 2013, it's now standard. And on bikes where ABS is a discrete option, expect to pay somewhere close to or at a thousand dollars. The Highway Loss Data Institute and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have petitioned NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to require a new rule that says, "Every new bike sold in the US has to have ABS soon." Coming up, diesels explained and maybe even a little bit extolled as CNET on Cars rolls on. Welcome back to CNET on Cars. I'm Brian Cooley, coming to you from our home here at the Marin Clubhouse of Cars Dawydiak, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Now, if I tell you about an engine that has gobs of torque and really good fuel economy, you get interested, right? Until I tell you it's a diesel. And then, if you're an American, anyway, you get real disinterested and probably even leave the room. Let's find out why these engines are so maligned. It's really rather unfair, making for a very interesting car tech 101. -The first experimental engine was built in Ausburg in Germany during 1893. Most people were convinced that no machine would work at the high pressures which Diesel insisted were necessary. -Now, let's start our little journey into diesel learning. Here is an unusual diesel. This is the Chevy Cruze Diesel. Not only are diesels rare in America but this one is made by an American company, making it twice as rare, but the principles are the same. A diesel engine starts this combustion cycle by compressing air and just air, highly. Twenty two to one can be as much of a compression as you find in here. Compare that to a gas engine, around eight or nine to one. So, it's night and day. Then, at the very top of that compression cycle, the diesel fuel is injected and it all combusts spontaneously because the temperature is so high because the pressure has been raised so much. There are no spark plugs. That's how a regular gas engine gets combustion going, but these guys do it spontaneously by heat. Then, at the very last minute, as that piston comes up and compresses the hell out of that air, what happens then is this blast of power. It's a really high explosion because of that high compression rate and you get that characteristic knock related to that whole idea of spontaneous combustion. So, notice that one of the key timing factors that makes a diesel run well is the timing of that fuel injection as opposed to the timing of a spark. That's why very precise direct high-pressure injection is key to these motors in the modern era. Also, because they compress their charge so much before combusting, they tend to ring more out of the fuel, up to 50% of the energy in a droplet of diesel. Gasoline cars don't do nearly that well. Now, if you think diesels are noisy, stinky, and slow, you're probably over 40, old enough to remember when they were. Modern diesels like a Mercedes GLK, a Volkswagen Jetta TDI, or even a Chevy Cruze are none of the above and there are there important technologies you can thank for that. First off is common rail direct injection. The common rail part means you've got this metal plenum or basically pipe that has the fuel pumped in, under extremely high pressure, up to 29,000 PSI. From there, it is direct injected into the cylinders with extreme precision partly because it has that high pressure behind it and partly because they're now using piezoelectric injectors which open and close extremely quickly, sometimes multiple times in one combustion cycle. Precise injection means better use of fuel, lower emissions, more power, better economy. Win, win, win, win, win. The second big tech trick is turbocharging. This complex turbocharging is key because the diesel without it will tend to bunch up all its power down at the bottom of the tach. What the turbo does is help to spread the power further up the RPM rate and get it delivered faster, get it off the line quicker. These things are not slugs anymore. That's an old school idea. The last technology trick is exhaust scrubbing. This Mercedes, for example, uses urea injection. Urea fluid is vaporized and sprayed into the hot exhaust which catalyzes it to convert those nasty nitrous oxides into pretty benign water vapor and nitrogen. Secondly, there is additional sort of cooking of the exhaust. Hot catalysts downstream actually recook it a couple of times in some cases to cause a chemical reaction that also reduces the nasty stuff coming out of the tailpipe. And thirdly, ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel has become pretty much the rule of the US, Europe, and many other areas. By not having so much sulfur, it is innately cleaner, and by not having so much sulfur, it doesn't clog up the other two technologies I just mentioned, allowing them to work. Now, I could talk to you about high compression ratios in common rail injection and blah, blah, blah 'till I'm blue in the face, but all you really wanna know is -- does a diesel car drive and feel like a UPS truck or is it actually a nice car? Let's go for a ride. I think you're gonna be pleasantly surprised. Now, the first thing you figure out on a diesel is the tachometer is different. The redline is much lower. You don't run these cars up as high. There's no reward there. Like on this Jetta TDI, it gets you about 4000 and basically game over. It's time to shift. These are low-end grunt engines compared to a gas motor. And even if you do run them out, there's not much pay off which is actually a very easy way to drive or just not so much used to it. The torque in the low to low mid is just a delight and it makes everyday driving a lot of fun. It's also that kind of acceleration that we all love. You will notice in really every diesel I've driven, less so at the high-end, more at the low-end, but there is a different engine note. There is a diesel rattle that is innately in there, and depending how well the car is isolated and insulated, you will detect more or less of that. You have to get used to that, but it's not a bad sound as much as a difference, though. Beyond that, one of the other things you have to get used to is the back of that damn fuel gauge hardly ever moves. I didn't know if this one was broken in this car 'till I've driven it for an hour and finally saw it come off the full peg and start to work its way down. Diesels tend to have tremendous range; 700 and 800 miles is not unusual because they have normal-sized tanks and can get great long-legged highway economy in particular. In all, if you're in the market for a very efficient car and you enjoy the real joy of driving which comes from torque, you owe it to yourself to drive a couple of today's modern diesels and see what they're like. I think diesels have a lot going for them, and in many ways, have got better market legs than a lot of the hybrids and highly electrified cars out there. Now, we just took a look at a compact crossover, a wagon, and a compact sedan, all running diesel engines and nothing about that is too odd or hard to imagine. But how about a sports roadster with a diesel? Is that even worth bothering with? The guys at the XCAR team in London checked it out for us and rendered a verdict on the Mercedes SLK 250 CDI, diesel. -This Mercedes Benz SLK 250 CDI makes little to no sense to me. Why would you have a sports car with a diesel engine? Okay. I'll admit it, the idea of a diesel sports car isn't entirely new to me. Audis have diesel lump in the TT for ages, and well, this isn't exactly brand spanking new itself. But I wanna understand what the appeal is with having a diesel sports car. On paper, it's quite rapid, knot to 62 takes 6.7 seconds. It's got a top speed of 151 miles an hour, 201-brake horsepower, and 368-pound per foot of torque. Almost sporty. Well, quite sporty actually. But then you put your foot down and all of a sudden, you find yourself inside an elderly smoker from the north. You get this kind of-- diesel noise. Just have a listen. Handling-wise, it's just fine. It feels as you'd expect a Mercedes sports car to feel -- planted, pleasant, and easy to drive. This diesel isn't the kind of car that will take its owner by the scruff of the neck and threaten to bog flush them if they step out of line. This is a car you wafted. This is a car you just put into gear, let its amazing 7-speed also do its thing, seamless shift. It feels really, really good. This isn't a drag car. That's for the AMG to do. So, its engine makes no sense and it's very lovely to drive; however, the main reason this car will find its way onto driveways is because of its looks. It's a bit pretty, isn't it? And I really like the looks of this third-generation one. The first generation, well, that was designed almost entirely using a ruler. The second generation was supposed to be a facsimile of the SLR hypercar, but it wasn't all that much. It looked as though it was designed exclusively for Barbie. Apart from the AMG version, that had an angry glint in its eye, but this, it's really, really good. The lines are really strong which, is always a bonus 'cause it gives a sort of muscular look, but also is very white and it looks a little bit, just a little bit like the SLS Supercar which is always a bonus. SLK, by the way, stands for Sportlich, Leicht und Kurz which is Sporty, Light and Short. Now, the first one was certainly that. This one looks quite big. It's not exactly short, is it? Now, what's good is the design of everything in here, it's so pretty. It's so beautifully put together and there's lots of swoopiness. And these vents, these are straight off the SLS AMG, another the-now Mercedes standard, but still that pretty cool. I've also got Airscarf back here. So, if I do decide to get the roof down in the winter, I've got my seat heater on to keep my bum from going cold and then the Airscarf which blows warm air over your neck to make you feel warm and so you don't get chilly. Diesel and a sports car, these are two things that really shouldn't go together like chocolate and cheese. These are one of those things that, you know, you really won't like and you really should like, but you just can't quite get your head around. With the petrol engine, the SLK is truly brilliant because, as well as the amazing drive, you get the noise and the power curve that goes with a sports car. You feel like you're driving a little race car and you feel a little bit like a hero. But with a diesel, it just-- it just doesn't make sense, it doesn't quite gel. Something is just not quite right and that's not really ideal. -Check out the new XCAR site, that's at cnet.com/xcar. Coming up, the most important features you will want in your next car's audio system when CNET on Cars rolls on. 1957, and Ford does something a little odd. They mashed up a car with a pickup truck and come up with the Ranchero. Suburban trucking is born. Enough folks got their head wrapped around the idea that Chevy followed two years later with the El Camino, wings and all. By '79, the Ranchero was done. Chevy held on with the El Camino another eight years and both ended up very much in urban cowboy mode. Now, glance down under the globe and you'll find their cousins soldiering on, the Ford Falcon Ute and the Holden Ute from a division of GM. Whatever SUV or crossover you drive, just got less cool. It should come as no surprise that car audio is something of a black art. There's no such thing as a miserable way of saying that system is correct or that sounds good. It's whatever sounds good to you. However, there are at least a few technologies, I think, have to be in there as you're on your way finding what that sound is and here are my top five. Number five, good meta tag display. Our in-car entertainment increasingly has text and album art. A good system allows lots of room for all of that without weird truncation. You'd be surprised how many systems get this wrong. Plug in your iPhone or other portable as part of a test drive and see how the meta stuff shows up. Number four, low bit-rate fidelity. Let me explain this. We're listening to a lot of crap these days. 128 MP3s, satellite radio and bluetooth streaming, they're all basically audio junk food. Don't get fooled by all that digital quality nonsense. So, listen for a system that can rehydrate the sources and make them sound like they have some give and not so brittle. Number three, streaming apps. This is key -- any system that doesn't offer at least one streaming audio option today is kind of an antique. Whether it's Pandora or MOG or TuneIn, I don't care because the carmakers that offer at least one now are likely to offer you more than one later via an upgrade. Number two is USB. Okay, if a lack of streaming apps makes a rig antique, a lack of USB makes it a fossil. USB connects all the stuff you care about, phones and thumb drives and nothing you don't, and verify that it will also charge your phone when it's plugged in there. Not all cars send 5 volts to their USB jack. Before I get you to my number one car audio feature, here are some I can't live without. HD radio, it does wonders for radio sound, not so much for its content and you're probably listening to less radio anyway. Cards and hard drives never belong in cars in the first place. USB is all you need. And surround sound, you're sitting in the corner of a noisy machine that's moving down the road. Enough with the audio file pretense. My number one car audio feature, does it sound good to you. Six speakers or 20, if it sounds good to your ear, it sounds good, but test any car system with your portable plug-in so you're listening to music you know well. A great system will bring up some things you didn't hear before and will stay balanced and smooth when you crank it. Try those two things. I hope you enjoy this episode. Nice having you here. Don't forget a whole lot of other episodes you may not have seen are waiting for you at cnetoncars.com. Hit me on e-mail, I'll read them all, that's oncars@cnet.com. Thanks a lot. See you next time we check the tech.

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