By CNN's Jack Cafferty:
Imagine getting in your car in the morning and having it drive you to work while you answer e-mails, send text messages - or nap.
Fortune magazine reports on the so-called driverless revolution; and how self-driving cars could soon affect ordinary Americans and a wide range of industries.
Google's fleet of self-driving cars have already traveled 300,000 miles. There have been no accidents when the cars were controlled by a computer and only one fender bender with a human behind the wheel.
These customized cars use a combination of GPS, radar and a 3D mapping camera on the roof that can see traffic signals, lanes and pedestrians.
Cars that drive themselves are coming - it's just a question of when. Most of the big car makers are working on self-driving models.
And three states - California, Nevada and Florida - have already made self-driving vehicles legal - as long as a human is sitting in the driver's seat in case of an emergency.
Meanwhile these cars could boost worker productivity since the average commuter spends 250 hours a year behind the wheel. Or they could come in handy after you've had a few drinks.
Self-driving trucks could also transform the trucking industry. Just picture long lines of self-driving 18-wheelers traveling down the highway just a few inches apart: no drivers, no stops for gas or food. It could boost fuel efficiency by as much as 20%.
We'll need to keep driving ourselves for a while longer, though: experts say driverless cars should be more common in another 10 to 15 years when costs come down.
Here’s my question to you: How would you feel about riding in a car that drives itself?
Tune in to the Situation Room at 4pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.
And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.
FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:
Mitt Romney grew up in Michigan. his father, George Romney, was the president of American Motors and later the governor.
Two weeks from today, there's a very real chance Romney could lose the Republican primary in his home state.
Now, it's one thing to lose any of the other 49 states, but it's another thing entirely to lose your home state where your dad was governor.
Michigan is a state especially hard-hit by the recession and chronic unemployment. We came within an eyelash of losing the domestic auto industry, which was born and almost died in Detroit.
So if there's ever a place where a wealthy Republican who seems out-of-touch with the common man might have a problem, it's Michigan - and he's got a problem there.
Polls show Romney trailing Rick Santorum - 33% to 27%.
In an attempt to connect with Michigan voters, Romney is out with an op-ed piece in today's Detroit news. In it, he calls himself a "son of Detroit" and says that American cars "got in my bones early."
He also defends an op-ed piece he wrote back in 2008 called Let Detroit go Bankrupt, in which he suggested managed bankruptcy would have been preferable to a bailout of America's car companies. Maybe so, but without the bailout many of the people Romney is looking for support from today probably wouldn't even be around.
Romney insists things in Detroit got worse after President Obama's intervention. He writes the government should sell off its auto stock - and turn that money over to the taxpayers.
Here’s my question to you: How big a deal would it be if Mitt Romney loses his home state of Michigan?
Interested to know which ones made it on air?
Here's just one more example of where the jobs have gone: Ford motor company says it's broken ground on a $1 billion manufacturing and engineering plant - in India. It will employ 5,000 people when fully operational. In India.
Translation: That's 5,000 additional jobs in India while America struggles under 9.1% unemployment.
The Ford plant is expected to open in 2014 and produce 240,000 vehicles and 270,000 engines a year.
This will be Ford's second plant in India. So far Ford has invested $2 billion in that country. It's also one of seven new plants that Ford is building in China, Thailand and India. It's not unusual for manufacturers to build plants where the customers are... happens all the time.
Ford says the new Indian facility will help them reach the goal of increasing worldwide sales by 50% to 8 million vehicles a year by 2015. They say they're expanding in markets - like India - that have the most growth potential.
Makes perfect sense. India likely has more people itching to buy cars than the U.S., with its rapidly vanishing middle class.
And therein lies the problem. People in America who don't have jobs are less likely to buy a new car. As President Obama prepares to address the nation with his jobs plan tomorrow night, the American worker is facing a real uphill battle.
Unemployment is at 9.1% nationally, underemployment is even higher... and last week we learned that there were zero jobs added to the economy in august. Zero.
Here’s my question to you: What message does it send that Ford is opening a new plant (with 5,000 jobs) in India?
(PHOTO CREDIT: STAN HONDA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
In calling on Wall St. to back reform - Pres. Obama says he believes in the power of the free market, but he also says: "A free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it."
The president insists that reform of the financial industry is necessary in order to avoid another crisis - the aftermath of which we're still living through.
He says reform would: Help keep consumers from being "duped" by deceptive financial deals, make complex investment derivatives more transparent, and create a "dedicated agency" to make sure banks don't take advantage of people. The translation of that last part is yet another government bureaucracy.
The president's in a tough spot - trying to convince those on Wall St. to support reforms of Wall St; and he insists the reforms are in the "best interest" of both the country and the industry.
We'll see. The fact of the matter is these calls for more regulation follow government meddling in everything from health care to the auto industry and banks… not what usually comes to mind when you think of free market capitalism.
And not everyone is comfortable with this. A new Pew poll suggests an overwhelming majority of Americans are either frustrated or angry with the federal government... and almost one-third of us see the government as a threat to our personal freedom.
This poll also shows most Americans are against a larger, more activist government... except when it comes to regulating big financial companies.
Here’s my question to you: How much should the government be involved in things like Wall Street, health care, the auto industry and banks?
Tune in to the Situation Room at 6pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.
The popular "cash for clunkers" program is out of cash; and its fate now lies in the hands of the Senate. The initial pool for rebates to trade in gas guzzlers was $1 billion; and the Obama administration says it will end the program next week if they don't get more money. The House already voted for an additional $2 billion.
So far, the cash for clunkers program has led to the sale of 250,000 new vehicles. It helped bring Ford its first monthly sales increase in two-years. Also, the administration says that 62-percent of the traded-in vehicles are trucks; and people are replacing them with cars that get better mileage.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says car and truck building was rebounding even before this program started; but he adds that the "extraordinary response" shows confidence in the economy is picking up.
Meanwhile - Republicans are asking how the government will be able to handle massive health care reform if they can't manage a smaller-scale program like this. Senator Jim Demint - one of the president's toughest critics these days - says it's an example of the "stupidity coming out of Washington right now." Senator John McCain has said he would lead a filibuster against the bill for the additional $2 billion.
Other critics say the rebates are mostly helping out middle-class people who would have eventually bought a new car anyway...
Here’s my question to you: Should the Senate approve another $2 billion for the "cash for clunkers" program?
The "cash for clunkers" program is a win-win situation for everyone. That's according to the government - which says the $1 billion plan will help the environment, automakers and drivers who want to trade up out of their old cars.
Cars bought through the program must get at least 22 miles per gallon, like this Ford Focus. Rules are different for trucks.
Under the plan - taxpayer money will be used to give people a credit of up to $4,500 to replace their gas guzzlers. The idea is they use that money to buy certain new vehicles that are more fuel efficient.
The traded-in cars have to be less than 25-years-old; and their titles can't have any liens.
The program already has about 16,000 registered auto dealers signed on; and some say showroom traffic is already up since the program's official start on July 1.
About 250,000 cars are expected to be junked through this program before it ends on November 1. This will hopefully jump start auto sales - which have been down about 35-percent across the industry.
But not everyone is so sure that "cash for clunkers" is a good idea. Under the plan - the gas guzzlers must be destroyed. Some auto recyclers say they'll lose a lot of money in sales from old engines and other car parts.
They also say the program will hurt lower-income buyers who can't afford a new car - even with the government credit, and they say that destroying cars will drive up prices for spare parts.
Here’s my question to you: Is cash for clunkers a good idea?
President Obama's 'car czar' Edward Montgomery tours a GM plant in Flint, Mich. in May. (PHOTO CREDIT: BILL PUGLIANO/GETTY IMAGES)
When it comes to restructuring the auto industry, the Obama administration is knee-deep.
General Motors is expected to follow in the footsteps of Chrysler, and file for bankruptcy in the coming days. It would be the largest industrial bankruptcy in U.S. history.
G.M. says a committee of bondholders has agreed to a new deal offered by the government. It would erase GM's unsecured debt in exchange for company stock.
If the deal goes through, the government – which has already lent GM close to $20 billion – could have a 72% stake in the company and provide billions more in financing for General Motors to keep operating while being reorganized.
The administration's goal for G.M. is to return to profitability. The White House reportedly wants to play "as minimal" a role and "exit" the investment as soon as they possibly can. But the risks for taxpayers are huge, when you consider U.S. auto sales are near their lowest level in 27 years.
Not everyone is sure the level of the Obama administration's involvement is a good idea.
A poll taken in Michigan by Detroit News/WXYZ shows 42% of those surveyed say the president's role has hurt the domestic automakers, while 39% say he's been helpful.
Here’s my question to you: Is the government getting too involved in the auto industry?
(PHOTO CREDIT: JIM WATSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
If you're looking for a new set of wheels, there are lots of deals out there - as two of the big three automakers close thousands of dealerships around the country.
789 Chrysler lots have a deadline of June 9 to unload more than 40,000 cars and trucks. The dealers have to sell the Chryslers, Dodges and Jeeps before then - or risk losing thousands of dollars.
Chrysler, which has filed for bankruptcy, doesn't have the money to buy back the vehicles. But the company says that dealers being cut will get warranty reimbursement and sales incentives like rebates and low-interest financing until June 9. After that, they won't get either... and that's why dealers are in a hurry to sell, even if it's at a loss.
Over at General Motors, the situation isn't quite as bad - at least not yet. Although the company is cutting 1,100 dealers, GM isn't in bankruptcy yet so dealers have more options. They also have more time to sell their cars - and the company is still required to buy back some of the cars and trucks.
Experts say before going to a dealership, you should find out about incentives and other deals, and make a low-ball offer. Of course - People can wait until the deadline gets closer and dealers are perhaps even more desperate - but keep in mind that inventory could be lower then and you may not get your first choice.
Here’s my question to you: Is now the time to buy a Chrysler or GM car?
(PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES)
With President Obama's tough talk for General Motors and Chrysler, a bankruptcy of one or both is now a distinct possibility these days.
If it happens, the ripple effect on the U.S. economy would be serious. Everyone from car owners to dealers, autoworkers, suppliers, lenders - and yes, the American taxpayer would be affected.
The government insists it will stand behind the warranties for new GM and Chrysler cars; but that won't help someone trying to sell a discontinued model. And if either company goes out of business, it could create a shortage of new cars; which would mean it could cost a lot more to buy one.
For Dealerships, bankruptcy could create a problem getting financing to buy the cars they hold in inventory. The government might have to step in here too, forcing taxpayers to dig deeper.
Suppliers could also be in trouble. Only those suppliers which a court determines to be "critical vendors" could get back money. As for investors - forget it. In the case of GM, the shares would become pretty much worthless.
Finally it's possible bankruptcy would cost more than the $21.6 billion the car companies are asking for to stay out of bankruptcy.
Not a pretty situation however you slice it.
Here’s my question to you: What would it mean if General Motors or Chrysler or both go bankrupt?
When it comes to President Obama's plans for the struggling car companies, many autoworkers say the administration is being much harder on them than the many failing banks.
Some auto workers have called ousted GM CEO Rick Wagoner (pictured) a sacrificial lamb, scapegoat, and fall guy.
The president of one United Auto Workers chapter calls it the "age-old Wall Street vs. Main Street smackdown," adding that there's lots of money available to banks that are "apparently too big to fail, but they're also too big to be responsible." Meanwhile he says auto manufacturing and middle class jobs have to meet a higher standard.
Many workers even sympathize with General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, calling him a sacrificial lamb, scapegoat, and fall guy. They believe the government hasn't given the same harsh terms to insurance giant AIG or the banks in which it's taken an ownership stake. And they're absolutely right.
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm calls President Obama's moves quote "a bit of tough love," and says she hopes the financial industry gets "as tough a scrutiny as the auto industry has."
Also, a piece in 'Politico' asks why the banks get carrots while the auto industry gets the heavy stick. They say the White House believes it gave both GM and Chrysler a chance to prove they could come up with a plan for survival, and they didn't.
Also, although the collapse of the American auto industry would devastate workers, suppliers and executives, it probably wouldn't destroy the broader U.S. economy, like the collapse of certain financial institutions could. And since the public seems to have bailout fatigue, this was a chance for the president to show he's not willing to stick the taxpayer with the bill once again.
Here's my question to you: Some autoworkers say President Obama treated car companies worse than Wall Street. Are they right?
Jack Cafferty sounds off hourly on the Situation Room on the stories crossing his radar. Now, you can check in with Jack online to see what he's thinking and weigh in with your own comments online and on TV.
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