The Transportation Department proposed sweeping changes this week that would expand the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 5-Star Safety Ratings system.

It would now include crash avoidance technologies, add a new frontal oblique test, and improve the frontal barrier test. NHTSA would also use more sophisticated crash test dummies, and vehicles will be able to get a half-star grade, which allows the feds to more specifically analyze safety performance. NHTSA is seeking public input, and if enacted, the modifications will go into effect for 2019 model-year vehicles.

"The changes provide more and better information to new vehicle shoppers that will help accelerate the technology innovations that saves lives," Transportation secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

It was a busy week for the feds, who also unveiled a Smart City Challenge to create transportation infrastructure for the 'city of the future.' The goal is to find practical ways to replace fuel-powered vehicles.

This isn't an academic exercise – the Transportation Department is dangling $40 million in funding – with another $10 million kicked in by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. Cities have until Feb. 4 to submit a description, and five finalists will be announced in March.


Porsche Boxster GTSPorsche brings back 718 name

Porsche dipped into its rich history to modify the Boxster and Cayman names, dusting off the iconic 718 moniker. The cars will be renamed the 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman when they launch next year. As expected, they will migrate to four-cylinder power but maintain the mid-engine configuration. Porsche said the cars will "share more similarities" than before, though it didn't elaborate. Interestingly, Porsche will flip-flop the pecking order, putting the roadster at a higher price point than the coupe in a move that mirrors its strategy with the 911. The new name is fitting for the cars' switch to four-cylinders. The 718 used flat-four-cylinders to great success everywhere from Sebring to Targa Florio in the late 1950s and early '60s.

NACTOY AwardFinalists announced for 2016 North American Car and Truck/Utility Awards

The finalists for the 2016 North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year awards were announced this week. The cars are the Chevy Malibu, Honda Civic, and Mazda MX-5 Miata. The truck/utility contenders are the Honda Pilot, Nissan Titan XD, and Volvo XC90. The awards are chosen by a jury of 53 automotive journalists in the United States and Canada. The winners will be announced Jan. 11 at the Detroit Auto Show. This year, the Volkswagen Golf and Ford F-150 captured top honors. Autoblog is the official webcast partner of the show, and we'll also pass out our Technology of the Year Awards there.

1933 Ford replicaNew law exempts vintage replicas from modern safety standards

In more auto news from The District, President Obama signed a highway bill that includes a provision exempting low-volume manufacturers from federal safety standards. The new law limits production to 325 vehicles annually, and they must be based on a design from at least 25 years ago. The companies are exempt from passing roof crush and side impact tests, don't have to post fuel economy figures, or have a Monroney. Additionally, the replica cars can meet EPA emissions rules by using modern (compliant) engines from the year the replica is made, or by receiving a waiver from the California Air Resources Board. In simple terms, custom shops don't need to crash test a '65 Cobra replica that will be used mostly for shows or parades. Still, some federal oversight is maintained, and manufacturers must register and file reports with NHTSA and put stickers on their replica cars indicating the lack of crash testing.

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