Alexei Oreskovic & Ben Klaymen:
In 2012, a small team of Google Inc engineers and business staffers met with several of the world’s largest car makers, to discuss partnerships to build self-driving cars.
In one meeting, both sides were enthusiastic about the futuristic technology, yet it soon became clear that they would not be working together. The Internet search company and the automaker disagreed on almost every point, from car capabilities and time needed to get it to market to extent of collaboration.
It was as if the two were “talking a different language,” recalls one person who was present.
As Google expands beyond Web search and seeks a foothold in the automotive market, the company’s eagerness has begun to reek of arrogance to some in Detroit, who see danger as well as promise in Silicon Valley.
For now Google is moving forward on its own, building prototypes of fully autonomous vehicles that reject car makers’ plans to gradually enhance existing cars with self-driving features. But Google’s hopes of making autonomous cars a reality may eventually require working with Detroit, even the California company acknowledges. The alternative is to spend potentially billions of dollars to try to break into a century-old industry in which it has no experience.
Henny Sender interviews Zhang Lei:
“When you think about it, it is not a foolish question. What is the function and can it change? Is it, for example, a good place to do grocery shopping? Can it be replaced? Become obsolete, say, because of electric cars? But this person looked at me pityingly and said, ‘Perhaps you don’t have the intellect to be a consultant.’ I had many first round interviews but I rarely was invited for the second round.”
That anecdote reveals much about the investment philosophy behind Hillhouse. “We always focus on what the business will look like in the very long term,” Zhang says. “We ask the most basic questions and that often leads us to different insights.”
Final design of the Fuel Cell Sedan revealed
Model to be launched before April 2015 in Japan, summer 2015 for Europe and North America
Price indication of around seven million yen (approximately £40,450), prices for Europe and North America to be decided later
Toyota has today revealed the exterior design and Japanese market guide pricing of its hydrogen-powered Fuel Cell Sedan, following the car’s appearance in concept form at last year’s Tokyo motor show.
The four-door saloon will be introduced first in Japan, before next April. Preparations are in hand for launches in the US and European markets in the summer of 2015.
In Japan the Fuel Cell Sedan will be sold at Toyota and Toyopet dealerships, priced at approximately seven million yen (about £40,450). Initially sales will be limited to those parts of the country where a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is under development. Prices for Europe and the USA have not yet been decided. Detailed information such as final prices, specifications and sales expectations will also be announced later.
More via Tim Pollard.
The Prius story: 0 to 3M via the i3 Long bet.
National Automobile Dealers Association:
The current franchised new-car dealer model has benefited consumers, manufacturers and local communities for nearly a century. It is supported by both dealers and factories as the best and most efficient way to buy, sell, service and finance cars in the marketplace. NADA’s Get the Facts page sets the record straight about the benefits of the franchise system for consumers and local communities all over America.
Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang:
The Obama administration’s clean-car program—the biggest single step any nation has taken to save oil and fight global warming—is working. The auto industry should stop trying to undermine it.
Although they pledged to meet the clean-car standards that they negotiated with the Obama administration when the taxpayers bailed out bankrupt GM and Chrysler, car companies are acting like they want to run the rules off the road.
Their obstinacy is all the more remarkable because the government’s first look at how the auto companies are doing under the new rules tells us we’re headed for a 2025 fleet in which cars’ carbon-dioxide emissions will be cut in half, also saving consumers billions of dollars at the pump.
According to an Environmental Protection Agency report, “Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Fuel Economy Trends,” mileage across the 2012 fleet—the most recent for which figures are available—was up 1.2 miles per gallon, a 5% step toward the administration’s 54.5-mpg standard for new cars in 2025.
The average 2012 vehicle will save $1,600 in gas over its life—far more than the customer paid for the technology that delivers the savings.
The improvement came from cars, not trucks. Auto makers failed to use modern technology to boost the mileage of their overweight SUVs, minivans, and pickups. Except for Honda, the major car companies exploited loopholes that allowed them to get away with lower performance and still be considered in compliance, according to another EPA report.
For investors, the companies’ adherence to the new rules should be considered a matter of smart business, delivering a sound, reliable product that pleases its customers. But for too long, U.S. auto makers have dragged their feet. They’ve lagged in deploying modern technology. They have left a substantial chunk of the market—car sales—to foreign competitors, and have been satisfied to make their money on SUVs and other trucks. GM and Chrysler went bankrupt after gas prices rose and truck sales tumbled, highlighting the weak spot in their strategy.
“Both companies are strongly committed to the success of electro-mobility and discussed how to further strengthen the development of electro mobility on an international level,” a BMW spokesman said in a statement.
Related: The i3 long bet, Asymcar 10: Asleep at the switch and Asymcar on Tesla.
Tesla & BMW coverage via duckduckgo and Google.
Tonya Powley & Chris Bryant:
The bodyshop and paintshop in BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, US, have long been dominated by cage-bound industrial robots that take on monotonous, dangerous or high-precision tasks such as welding and heavy lifting.
But robots were more scarce on the final assembly line, as workers need to perform intricate tasks in the vehicle interior without the risk of being clobbered by a heavy robot arm.
Now BMW is bringing robots out from behind their cages to work side-by-side with workers on the assembly line. Lightweight “collaborative” robots manufactured by Denmark’s Universal Robots help to fit doors with sound and moisture insulation, a task that previously required workers to use a manual roller that risked straining older workers’ wrists.
“Being able to reliably put a robot outside the “safety cage” and have it work with a human is a massive change for industry, and means you can have a strong precise robot help a weak dexterous human,” says Rich Walker of Shadow Robots, a UK robotics research company.
Human-machine collaboration is just one of several big trends in robotics that are opening up new markets and applications beyond automotive and semiconductor manufacturing, where robots have been a mainstay for decades.
Advances in sensors, hydraulics, mobility, artificial intelligence, machine vision and big data are making robots more sensitive, flexible, precise and autonomous.
This means robots can be employed beyond manufacturing to healthcare, the laboratory, logistics, agriculture and even the film industry.
When his appointees at the Motor Vehicle Commission banned Tesla Motors from selling its electric cars at New Jersey stores, Gov. Chris Christie said his administration was merely enforcing a decades-old state law and that it was up to the Legislature to change it.
Today, an Assembly panel took him up on that challenge.
A month and a half after Tesla was forced to halt direct sales at its two stores in Short Hills and Paramus, the state Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee approved a bill (A3216) that would allow it to restart the sales — and open two more stores.
The vote was 4-0.
The bill would allow Tesla, or any company that sells zero-emission vehicles directly to consumers, to open up to four stores in the Garden State. The companies would also be required to have at least one facility that services the vehicles.
Asymcar 13 discusses regulation.
An update from New Jersey.