Argonne, Achates Power and Delphi Automotive to investigate new approach to engines

Greg Cunningham:

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Argonne National Laboratory is working with Achates Power, Inc., and Delphi Automotive to develop an innovative new engine that could yield efficiency gains of up to 50 percent over a comparable conventional engine.
 The research is being conducted under a three-year project funded by a $9 million award from DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and an additional $4 million of cost share from the team members.

Self-Driving Cars And The Kobayashi Maru

Andrew Heikkila:

In 1966, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek would boldly go where no man had gone before, telling the tale of Captain Kirk and his crew as they explored the galaxy while taking on myriad sci-fi adventures.
 In the opening scene of the franchise’s 1982 motion picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the U.S.S. Enterprise responds to a distress call from another ship, the Kobayashi Maru. Stranded in an area of space that the Enterprise can’t enter without risking interstellar war, the limping ship has almost 400 souls on board and is quickly losing life support. These people are going to die without help; the captain has an impossible choice to make.
 The scene is later shown to be an unwinnable simulation, created as part of a training scenario. Deciding to not aid the Kobayashi Maru results in the death of its crew and passengers. However, acting to help the stranded ship will trigger conflict and result in the death and destruction of the Enterprise. The theme of a no-win scenario is prevalent throughout the rest of the film, and many Star Trek fans have colloquially come to call “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situations by the name of the ship: Kobayashi Maru.
 The idea of the no-win situation has gotten more attention over the last couple of years, as Google has been making strides with the driverless vehicle and Apple is rumored to be getting into the same market. But how does the Kobayashi Maru relate to self-driving automobiles?
 Imagine you are driving down the road and you suddenly find yourself boxed in. In front of you is a large semi-truck with heavy crates on the back, to your right is a person on a motorcycle and to your left is a big SUV. All of a sudden, one of the crates falls off the back of the semi, directly in your path. What do you do?

Disruptive trends that will transform the auto industry

Paul Gao, Hans-Werner Kaas, Detlev Mohr, and Dominik Wee:

Most industry players and experts agree that the four trends will reinforce and accelerate one another, and that the automotive industry is ripe for disruption. Given the widespread understanding that game-changing disruption is already on the horizon, there is still no integrated perspective on how the industry will look in 10 to 15 years as a result of these trends. To that end, our eight key perspectives on the “2030 automotive revolution” are aimed at providing scenarios concerning what kind of changes are coming and how they will affect traditional vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, potential new players, regulators, consumers, markets, and the automotive value chain.

This study aims to make the imminent changes more tangible. The forecasts should thus be interpreted as a projection of the most probable assumptions across all four trends, based on our current understanding. They are certainly not deterministic in nature but should help industry players better prepare for the uncertainty by discussing potential future states.

How we found (and lost) the dream of Personal Rapid Transit

Adi Robertson:

Half a century after its heyday, the Alden StaRRcar clearly wasn’t made for its world. It looks like a white flatiron with wheels or a sleek, plastic bullet, dwarfed by the regal sedans of 1960s Detroit. It belongs in one of Buckminster Fuller’s domed cities, a vehicle for traveling under the geodesics of a bubble-topped Manhattan. Its future wasn’t one of highways, but of narrow cement tracks looping gracefully between city and suburb, connecting increasingly alienated parts of the American landscape.
 Once considered a key to solving urban blight, the StaRRcar was part of a public transit revolution that never was — but one that would help launch one of the weirdest and most politicized public infrastructure experiments of the 20th century. It’s an old idea that today, in an age of self-driving cars, seems by turns impractically retro and remarkably prescient.
 And it all started with a pile of mail.
 It was the 1950s, and William Alden’s job was teaching machines to act more like humans. A Harvard Business School graduate with an industrial engineering background, Alden had been recently fired from the family’s electrical equipment business — his father, he recalls, urged him to “get out into the world and learn the hard way.” After using his severance pay to start a small consulting company, he’d gotten a contract debugging Mail-Flo, a promising Detroit pilot program for automated mail sorting. Mail-Flo replaced manual labor with conveyor belts that pushed letters into piles based on which mail truck they’d be put on. While figuring out how to route letters to their destinations, Alden imagined using the same system for something bigger. “I said, well, if you can do that with trays of mail, why can’t you do it with people?”
 His epiphany had come near the peak of the American automotive renaissance. In the years following World War II, car ownership climbed rapidly: there were roughly 40 million automobile registrations in 1950, and 60 million — or one car for every three people — a decade later. Much of it was thanks to a federal government that had thrown its weight behind the auto industry. In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, putting $25 billion ($218 billion today) towards linking roads across the country into one massive interstate system. Mass transit funding, by comparison, languished.

Delinquencies on subprime auto loans hit 6-year high

Greg Gardner:

Easy credit, the high-octane fuel propelling U.S. auto sales to record heights, is beginning to show a downside as delinquencies on the securities backed by subprime auto loans have reached the highest level since 2009, Fitch Ratings reported today.
 “Weaker performance in the subprime sector is being driven mainly by the weaker credit quality present in the 2013 through 2015 securitized pools, along with marginally lower used vehicle values,” wrote Hylton Heard, Fitch’s senior director.

Elizabeth Berman & Christoph Rauwald:

Mercedes-Benz offers the S-Class sedan with a growing array of options such as carbon-fiber trim, heated and cooled cupholders and four types of caps for the tire valves, and the carmaker’s robots can’t keep up.
 With customization key to wooing modern consumers, the flexibility and dexterity of human workers is reclaiming space on Mercedes’s assembly lines. That bucks a trend that has given machines the upper hand over manpower since legendary U.S. railroad worker John Henry died trying to best a motorized hammer more than a century ago.

Via Bertel Schmitt.

Which Professions Have the Longest Commutes?


with back pain, less sleep and exercise, and worse eating choices. It takes time away from joy-inducing activities like socializing, spending time with family and watching TV. And, unfortunately, commuting takes up an increasing amount of the average American’s time.
 When a worker chooses her career, she rarely considers commute length. Most people’s career decisions are made at a young age, when they have never experienced excruciating traffic or the feeling of not having enough time with their children. People also likely don’t realize that, in fact, there are large differences in commuting times by industry.

Here’s How Electric Cars Will Cause the Next Oil Crisis

Tom Randall:

With all good technologies, there comes a time when buying the alternative no longer makes sense. Think smartphones in the past decade, color TVs in the 1970s, or even gasoline cars in the early 20th century. Predicting the timing of these shifts is difficult, but when it happens, the whole world changes.

It’s looking like the 2020s will be the decade of the electric car.

Battery prices fell 35 percent last year and are on a trajectory to make unsubsidized electric vehicles as affordable as their gasoline counterparts in the next six years, according to a new analysis of the electric-vehicle market by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). That will be the start of a real mass-market liftoff for electric cars.

More from the Gaurdian.

The Peak Oil Myth and the Rise of the Electric Car

Bloomberg video.

Welsh-made hydrogen car prototype unveiled for trial


The prototype for a new Welsh-made hydrogen-powered car has been unveiled.
 The two-seater Rasa was developed in Llandrindod Wells, Powys, by Riversimple Movement Ltd.
 Its road-legal prototype does 0-60mph (96kmh) in 10 seconds, with its only output water.
 The Rasa, which received a £2m Welsh grant in 2015, will go on trial for 12 months later this year, with the final model set for release in 2018.

Cadillac pitches virtual stores


Luxury automakers have been experimenting with virtual showrooms, where customers can use touch screens or even virtual reality technology to digitally kick the tires. Now Cadillac wants to usher in the virtual-retailing era in a big way — with its smallest dealerships.
 Cadillac is encouraging more than 400 of its lowest-volume U.S. dealerships — mostly dual Chevrolet or Buick-GMC stores that sell 50 or fewer new Cadillacs a year — to voluntarily adopt “virtual showrooms.” Those dealerships would not stock Cadillac vehicles on their lots. Instead, sold orders would be expedited from regional inventory centers, Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen said.
 The stores would use a concierge-style approach to selling Cadillacs: Salespeople would routinely visit prospective buyers at their homes or workplaces, armed with slick touch-screen vehicle configurators or virtual-reality units supplied by Cadillac.
 “We want to work with those small dealers to give Cadillac a competitive advantage in terms of reach into their local communities,” de Nysschen said in an interview last week, “but do so in a way that’s more closely aligned with what we think the Cadillac luxury brand experience should be.”

Via Bertel Schmitt.

Carmakers Cozy Up to Tech Buyers in Barcelona

Stefan Nicola:

Carmakers are becoming a familiar sight at tech shows, where they’re rolling out new models to woo a generation of consumers who question the need for a car that only gets them from A to B.
 At this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Ford Motor Co. will unveil a new vehicle for Europe as well as in-cockpit technology, Volvo is showing off a keyless car and Mercedes-Benz Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton will appear on a panel with the president of chipmaker Qualcomm Inc.
 Eager to win over millennials who may care more about the latest Apple Inc. iPhone than a redesigned Mustang, automakers are trying to become more tech-savvy and shed their image as 20th century metal benders. The pivot toward the younger set comes amid a slowdown in China, competition from Tesla Motors Inc. — which sends automatic software updates to the car’s command center — and a boom in ride-sharing services such as Uber that have left car companies anxious about growth and eager to try out a new crop of digital products and services.
 “Carmakers have a very narrow window of opportunity to win over Generation Y,” said Richard Viereckl, an analyst at PwC in Frankfurt who co-authored a 2015 study on connected cars. “They’re at these technology shows to portray their brands as hip, and with mounting competition from the likes of Apple, Panasonic and Sony, they’re fighting to keep the attention of and access to their customers.”
 By 2022, 345 million autos worldwide will be connected to the Internet, nearly four times more than last year, according to IHS Automotive. In six years, 98 percent of the cars sold globally will be connected, up from 30 percent last year, the consulting firm said. The trend is driven by customer demand: Three in four consumers said they consider connected car services an important feature in their next vehicle purchase, AT&T Inc. and Ericsson said in a report in October.
 The risk for carmakers is that Apple, Google and Microsoft Corp. will conquer the connected-car business with operating systems and apps that people are familiar with. Google and Apple already offer in-car infotainment systems with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Google is at the forefront of developing self-driving cars.
 “Google and Apple have a good chance as anyone at grabbing the car ecosystem,” said Kevin Curran, a computer science professor at Ulster University in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. “Cars today are computers with wheels, and tech companies know that field all too well.”
 ‘Big Decisions’
 To fend off the threat, carmakers are set to make “big decisions” over the next 24 months, striking cooperation pacts and increasing spending on research and development as well as M&A to get ahead, said Thilo Koslowski, who heads the auto practice at researcher Gartner Inc. Those who don’t are at risk of being left behind, he said.

Why the Future of Work Is at Home

Alana Massey:

Once upon a time, working from home seemed a romantic and highly exclusive option for a luxury creative class. It was for writers and painters who sauntered out of their bedrooms at 10:30 a.m. to drink French roast coffee and eat locally made croissants and jam while lounging on wrap-around porches in Maine, before repairing to the typewriter or canvas. This has never been the reality of working in the home, of course. Domestic laborers and caregivers have always worked in the home, often without

The future of automotive manufacturing

Gordon Murray:

There are so many new factors influencing and challenging the standard automotive manufacturing model, some elements of them already with us and some due to arrive in the near future, but all of them will surely combine to produce a new and varied product and manufacturing model that will represent the greatest change since we began mass producing motor cars. The most visible and topical area of influence and change is the automotive engineer’s push to reduce emissions as legislation drives targets down to ever more difficult targets.
 The relative real world benefits of future fuels and future powertrain technologies are still very much a matter of debate and although we have witnessed high levels of investment in BEV and hybrid technologies and platforms, there remain important issues with the speed of development of the support infrastructure and the full understanding of the true well to wheel emissions picture. There is some movement in the development of hydrogen fuel cells, but once again issues with the infrastructure and lifecycle analysis means future emissions legislation will almost certainly focus on manufacturing energy (as it already has in other industries) as tailpipe emission reduction targets are met and the uptake of BEVs and Hybrids increase.
 The internal combustion engine improvements are now very much in the ‘law of diminishing returns’ area and of course, the recent VW scandal has cast doubt over the diesel emissions performance. The outfall from the VW situation may have a huge impact on both manufacturers’ declared emission and global emission calculations as the average discrepancy between ‘official’ fuel consumption and real world emission figures is around 25 percent. – See more at:

If you thought solar was going to hurt utilities, get a load of solar+storage

David Roberts:

As I wrote in my previous post, power utilities are pushing back against rooftop solar, but by doing so they are only accelerating the development of solar+storage, which may prove to be an even bigger threat.

Residential solar+storage (my main focus in this post, rather than commercial or utility-scale versions) refers to a) an array of rooftop solar panels connected to b) some means of energy storage, usually a battery or batteries, controlled by c) smart software that enables the system to communicate with the grid.

Ferrari Stock Likely To Stay in Low Gear

Vito Racanelli:

Af­ter hit­ting a high of $61, shares of the owner of ar­guably the plan­et’s most valu­able brand have slid to $34.15. They fetched $52 at their ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing in Oc­to­ber, at which time Bar­ron’s sug­gested Fer­rari’s cars were a bar­gain com­pared with the stock (“Fer­rari IPO: Buy the Car, Not the Stock,” Re­view, Oct. 24).

What We Can Infer About Apple’s Car Plans From The One Car They Bought

Jason Torchinsky:

Now, this has been known for a few months, but I don’t think the overall implications of why this car was purchased have really been explored. Many sites have attributed the purchase to Apple Design Chief Jony Ive’s known love of early rear-engine Fiats and his charity auction (with Marc Newson) of a 1959 Fiat Jolly, but I don’t think that’s really the motivation, and, in any case, even if they’re based on similar mechanicals, the concept and design of a Multipla and a 600 Jolly (or even a conventionally-roofed sedan) couldn’t be more different.

In boost to self-driving cars, U.S. tells Google computers can qualify as drivers

David Shephardson & Paul Lienert:

US vehicle safety regulators have said the artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving Google car could be considered the driver under federal law, a major step toward ultimately winning approval for autonomous vehicles on the roads.
 The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), of its decision in a previously unreported Feb. 4 letter to the company posted on the agency’s website this week.
 Google’s self-driving car unit on Nov. 12 submitted a proposed design for a self-driving car that has “no need for a human driver,” the letter to Google from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Chief Counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh said.

Have low gas prices made small cars endangered?

Greg Gardner:

The combination of falling gas prices and the boomlet of higher-riding crossovers is forcing automakers to stop making certain passenger cars that don’t generate sufficient sales or profits to satisfy Wall Street or American consumers.
  Last month, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said production of the Dodge Dart compact and Chrysler 200 midsize sedan would stop in the near future.
  “There has been a permanent shift toward utility vehicles and pickup trucks,” Marchionne said. “And we have seen, certainly in terms of our ability to meet market demand, some severe restriction in terms of the dexterity of our manufacturing system to accomplish that end.”
  In November 2009, Marchionne said, “In this market, if you don’t have a competitive midsize sedan, you’re a nobody.” Last Wednesday, Toyota said it would scrap its youth-oriented Scion brand that targeted younger consumers with quirky, sometimes cube-shape vehicles. Scion sales peaked at 173,000 in 2006, and aside from a modest resurgence in 2012, withered to 56,167 in 2015. Remaining stocks of Scion models will be sold as Toyotas for now.
  Other manufacturers are shifting small and midsize car production to Mexico. Last year, Ford decided to stop building the Focus compact car and the C-Max hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid at the Michigan Assembly Plant in 2018, and move it out of the U.S., most likely to Mexico where it already builds the subcompact Fiesta and is consolidating all midsize Fusion production.

Uber faces ban in Moscow unless security & data-sharing agreement is finalized


Moscow has threatened to ban Uber from operating in the Russian capital unless the US-based company stops breaking deadlines and signs a data-sharing agreement with the transport department designed to increase the security of service users and taxi drivers.
 The city wants Uber to first of all only employ the legally registered taxi drivers for their mobile-app ride service. Secondly, Moscow wants the San Francisco-based company to provide the “anonymous” metadata of their passengers’ travel routes.

This Is What a World Without Oil Looks Like

Tracy Alloway:

Much ink has been spilled over the leakage of collapsing crude prices into wider markets.
 A note from Morgan Stanley analysts led by Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets demonstrates the degree to which the fortunes of the energy sector are currently driving stocks and bonds, while emphasizing that the correlation is “overstated.”
 Stripping out the impact of the energy sector reveals a far different picture for industrial production, corporate earnings, and inflation around the world.
 “Oil’s role in driving hour-by-hour market moves is overstated. But its place in the broader macro debate remains central,” write the analysts. “Energy companies are no longer leading equity or credit indices higher or lower. In our view, oil and markets are moving together because they are driven by similar things: concerns over growth, a lack of risk appetite, [and] a relentlessly strong trade-weighted dollar.”

Porsche CEO: “An iPhone belongs in your pocket, not on the road”


Porsche (VOWG_p.DE) does not plan to join luxury carmakers who are trying to develop self-driving vehicles, its chief executive told a German newspaper, indicating differences between large premium brands and sports car companies.
 Lamborghini, also part of the Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) group, has expressed similar scepticism about the trend towards autonomous driving, a concept which brands such as BMW (BMWG.DE) and Mercedes-Benz (DAIGn.DE) are seeking to build into their models.
 The comments from Porsche Chief Executive Oliver Blume show that some car makers believe their drivers want to remain firmly in control at the wheel.

Via Counternotions

A Tesla in Every Garage? Not So Fast

Matthew Eisler:

Last summer, as I drove around the San Francisco Peninsula, I caught glimpses of a sea change in American automobile culture. Plug-in electric vehicles and charging stations seemed to be everywhere. Near the entrance to Stanford University, I witnessed a three-car fender bender involving only electric cars. And perhaps most remarkable: the prevalence of the Tesla Motors Model S, a luxury electric sedan that’s become the new status symbol among the tech-savvy. With more than 90,000 built to date, the Model S is now a common sight on Bay Area highways and byways.