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BRAKING NEWS: Batmobile creator passes away at 89

King of the Kustomizers' cars featured in many TV shows
Batmobile creator passes away at 89

A weekly round-up of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird.

Das Uh-Oh: More Problems for VW Group Diesels

Porsche and Audi joined VW in their EPA-related diesel woes recently, with the 3.0-litre TDI engines in the Touareg and Cayenne both allegedly failing emissions testing. It's just another puff of soot in what's growing to be the modern automotive industry's dirtiest scandal. If you missed the first update, VW stands accused of fiddling with the software for their 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines to produce the cleanest emissions when certain conditions were met - on a dyno, for instance. The rest of the time, the engine is designed to primarily make power and burn less fuel - regrettably, this causes higher-than-permitted levels of NOX and particulates.

Initially thought to have escaped the fray, the corporate 3.0-litre TDI now finds itself under suspicion, meaning that Porsche and Audi have egg on their face too. This must be particularly painful for Porsche, who'd probably be happier to sell you a twin-turbo V-6 instead.

Is it the corporate culture? Unreasonable demands on emissions outputs? The death-knell for the passenger-car diesel? Plenty of doom and gloom is being cast about at present, and it's likely more will follow.

VW Readies Goodwill Program for TDI Owners

If you currently own a TDI-powered VW affected by the so-called Dieselgate, your options are growing. For instance, deals are reportedly being offered to existing owners to get them into a new model. There's also a fix for the problem in the works, or so VW claims.

As something of an olive branch, VW is also preparing to offer cash as part of a goodwill program to TDI owners, which you can register for online (at least, in the United States initially). Sources contacted by The Truth About Cars website say that the amounts are small - $500-$750 - but that roll out of the plan is imminent.

It's a start. Yes, customers feel burned because VW's clean diesel image is turning out to be smoke and mirrors, but there's also going to be huge negative adjustments in resale values for these cars, something that TDI owners previously relied on. We'll see what else VW has planned.

George Barris Passes Away

They called him the King of the Kustomizers. Well, he called himself that anyway and this week, we mourn the passing of one of the custom car community's most famous Californians. George Barris has died, aged 89. His most famous creation is, of course, the original Batmobile. Built on the bones of the Lincoln Futura, the first TV show car captured the imagination of a generation.

He built many other custom vehicles too, having a hand in cars featured on everything from the Monkees to the Munsters. However, and not to speak ill of the dead, ol' George did perhaps like to embellish a bit. The Monkeemobile, for instance, was actually a Dean Jeffries creation, and Barris wasn't shy about taking credit. He also claimed at one point to have built the Ectomobile for the film, which is absolutely untrue.

But mark this down as Carroll Shelby style truth stretching and self-promotion, stuff you need if you're going to make a name for yourself. Barris certainly did, and both he and his cars will be missed.

Volvo Australia Readies Kangaroo Detection System

It will, one imagines, have a flashing "STREWTH!" light up in the instrument panel, and a didgeridoo warning chime. Not satisfied with preventing its cars from flattening inattentive swagmen ferrying jumbucks about, Volvo Australia is working on a project to add in 'Roo-avoidance. It's silly and stereotypical except for the part where it's not. Anyone from Eastern Canada, for instance, would tell you that while Americans would laugh at warning signs about moose, those things are damned dangerous. So too are kangaroos, big daft suicidal furry grasshopper that they are. Hundreds of them are hit by cars every year, and the larger ones can cause serious injury to passengers, not to mention smashing up your lovely ute.

Volvo already has systems in place for avoiding more Scandinavian road hazards - moose, deer, drunken teams of bobsledders - but the erratic behaviour of kangaroos needs further study.

Toyota Drops $1 Billion on Artificial Intelligence Research

With a stated goal of 2020 for mostly autonomous freeway driving, Toyota is ramping up efforts to make sure they've got the best software people working on cleverer cars. So, to Silicon Valley then?

Yep. In coordination with MIT, Toyota is setting up a dedicated AI facility in Palo Alto, Calif. There'll be about 200 researchers working on how to make our freeway journeys just that much more bearable.

It makes you wonder - in the future, will self-driving cars have the personalities they're associated with now? Will autonomous Toyotas, for instance, have a tendency to dawdle, while autonomous BMWs speed down the highway and constantly have signalling malfunctions?

Well anyway, having experienced Toyota's self-driving Lexus, they've still got quite a lot of work to do. The future is coming, but it's not quite here yet.

Watch this space for all the week's best and worst of automotive news, or submit your own auto oddities to Follow Brendan on Twitter at @brendan_mcaleer.