In its 114-year history, Ford has been many kinds of automaker. A manufacturing innovator, a hawker of Mustang muscle, a pickup powerhouse. Now the company that helped put a car (or two) in every garage wants to be something else altogether: an operating system.
“With the power of AI and the rise of autonomous and connected vehicles, for the first time in a century, we have mobility technology that won’t just incrementally improve the old system but can completely disrupt it,” CEO Jim Hackett said in a keynote address at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, trumpeting the pivot. “A total redesign of the surface transportation system with humans and community at the center.”
As Ford executives move to execute the plan, they unveiled yesterday a reorganization of the automaker’s young mobility business, with two acquisitions to help it along. It’s all in service of a new, very 21st century goal. Ford will put less effort into convincing people to plunk down their credit cards for personal cars (though that’s still important) and more into moving them from A to B, with a little Ford badge tacked onto whatever gets them there.
It’s a turbulent time for traditional automakers, which have to keep making money today while aggressively prepping for the market changes—carshare, ridehailing, self-driving—that will happen tomorrow. Ford’s news comes eight months after the company dismissed CEO Mark Fields in favor of Hackett, a former furniture exec who oversaw the formation of Ford’s mobility subsidiary—and promised a greater vision for the future. Earlier this week, the Detroit automaker posted disappointing quarterly profits. Ford blamed rising metal prices while CFO Bob Shanks said, “We have to be far fitter than we are.”
In lean times, every expenditure merits extra scrutiny. And while Ford Mobility President Marcy Klevorn did not disclose how much it spent on its new companies, she says they’re important steps on Ford’s path to becoming more than a big ol’ automaker. “We did an assessment of our strategy and what our gaps were and the speed we wanted to go,” she says. “We looked at where we thought we needed a really fast infusion of help.”
I thought I knew the VW emissions scandal story quite well. But I’ve never seen it so well laid out as in this documentary, Hard NOx, one of a new investigative Netflix series from Alex Gibney about scandal and corruption in the business world.
It is mainly told from a US viewpoint but the story is a global one, from 2015, when the German car manufacturer was discovered to have installed defeat devices to dupe emissions tests, affecting 11m vehicles.
Gibney directs and presents this episode himself, and brings to it an extraordinary thoroughness. He interviews everyone who could and would be interviewed – VW employees, scientists, testers, lawyers, car journalists, etc, and turns up new evidence, more shocking details about the scale of the deceit, the attempts to cover it up, and the unhealthy alliance between governments and car manufacturers that allowed it to happen in the first place.
He also sets Volkswagen in a historical context, going right back to Hitler and his people’s car, through the 60s counterculture of Beetles and Campers, to declining sales, and the intense pressure to sell more, at any cost, which is what a corporate culture permeated by fraud was born of.
But to Cottage Grove parents Tujama and Jeannine Kameeta, whose son is a freshman at Monona Grove High School, the novel “provides no educational value” and is racist itself due to how themes are presented and because of its use of racial slurs — the Kameetas counted 48 — in character dialogue, they said in a statement.
“By mandating students read this book the school district is subjecting students of color to racial harassment,” the statement said. Tujama Kameeta also clarified in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal on Wednesday that he was OK with the book being available in the high school library but found it inappropriate as curriculum.
“The N-word is used so many times that it numbs the readers to its potency,” he said, also charging that the “novel reduces black people to passive, humble victims and ignores the reality of black agency in resistance.”
There are many newer books available that deal with “the same topics in more contemporary ways,” he noted, including those by minority authors who have “a different and more valid perspective when it comes to racism.”
SF city attorney Dennis Herrera has filed a lawsuit against Turo, a company that arranges rentals of personal vehicles.
San Francisco is suing Turo, which arranges rentals of people’s personal cars, for allegedly flouting fee requirements and other rules at San Francisco International Airport. Turo’s defiance of SFO regulations, such as bans on terminal curbside rental pickups and dropoffs, contributes to airport traffic congestion and gives it an unfair advantage against competitors, according to the complaint, which was filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday.
San Francisco’s Turo said it was “stunned” by the lawsuit, and that it had been trying for years to work with SFO on a permit system that would acknowledge its status as a “peer-to-peer car-sharing company.”
They will spare the world neither traffic congestion nor infrastructure expense
The fourth-generation Toyota Prius is manufactured at the company’s Tsutsumi plant, a few kilometres south-east of Nagoya, around 100 minutes from Tokyo by Shinkansen bullet train. From Tsutsumi’s viewing gantries, two production lines stretch away into the distance. These halls house the trim workshop. Here, completed body shells roll in, are divested of their doors (which make their way in pairs along a separate line) and the interior, hybrid system, dashboard and seats are installed. The factory, which has been making Priuses since 2003, produces 430,000 cars a year. From 6.30am to 1am, it can turn out a Prius every minute.
This is the Toyota Production System (TPS) at work, a fabled refinement that funnels the immense complexity of car-making into a series of simple stages. Each step is serviced using the just-in-time manufacturing process by the requisite parts supplier. The system is controlled by the workers themselves, who have autonomy over stopping and starting the line to resolve issues.
Driving a car into the busiest parts of Manhattan could cost $11.52 under a major proposal prepared for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that would make New York the first city in the United States with a pay-to-drive plan.
Similar traffic charges are already used in cities like Singapore, Stockholm, London and Milan, but New York has rejected or ignored versions of them dating to at least the 1970s. The newest plan embraces the twin goals of easing Manhattan’s choking traffic while raising badly needed revenue for the city’s failing subways and buses.
Trucks would pay $25.34, and taxis and for-hire vehicles could see surcharges of $2 to $5 per ride. The pricing zone would cover Manhattan south of 60th Street. In a key change from past efforts, drivers would not have to pay if they entered Manhattan by all but two of the city-owned East River bridges, which are now free to cross, as long as they bypassed the congestion zone.
The proposals are part of a report by a task force, “Fix NYC,” convened by Governor Cuomo after he declared a state of emergency in the subways last June. The report says that the fees on taxis and for-hire vehicles could be put in place within a year, followed by trucks and then cars in 2020. None of those fees should be charged, the task force said, until repairs are made to the public transit system.
Cars that probably won’t survive are large sedans like Ford’s Taurus and its competitors, said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with researcher IHS Markit. She said mid-size sedans like the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion have gotten bigger, making the Taurus or Chevy Impala less necessary. A consumer who needs more space will just buy an SUV.
“In another couple of years, you just won’t see these cars being developed for another generation,” Brinley said. “There’s a good chance that in eight years, this segment of the market doesn’t even exist.”
Other GM models with uncertain futures in the U.S. include the Buick LaCrosse, while Cadillac plans to whittle down its sedan lineup to just three nameplates. But Detroit’s passenger cars won’t completely die off, said Alan Batey, president of GM’s North American business.
“With 33 U.S. locations, Buc-ee’s sweeps the ranking by capturing the highest ratings and reviews in all six GasBuddy categories: coffee, cleanliness, customer service, outdoor lighting, restrooms and overall,” GasBuddy said of Buc-ee’s.
Other top gas station brands include Illinois-based Kelley’s Market, Wisconsin-based Kwik Trip and Pennsylvania-based Wawa.
Buc-ee’s in Katy recognized for its car wash by Guinness World Records
The Katy location holds the record for the longest car wash conveyor belt.
The bicycle has come a long way since the 1980s when bicycle advocacy groups (my group, Energy Probe, among them) lobbied against policies that discriminated against cyclists. In the language of the day, the bicycle epitomized “appropriate technology”: It was a right-sized machine that blessed cities with economic and environmental benefits. At no expense to taxpayers, the bicycle took cars off the road, easing traffic; it saved wear and tear on the roads, easing municipal budgets; it reduced auto emissions, easing air pollution; it reduced the need for automobile parking, increasing the efficiency of land use; and it helped keep people fit, too.
Today the bicycle is a mixed bag, usually with more negatives than positives. In many cities, bike lanes now consume more road space than they free up, they add to pollution as well as reducing it, they hurt neighbourhoods and business districts alike, and they have become a drain on the public purse. The bicycle today — or rather the infrastructure that now supports it — exemplifies “inappropriate technology,” a good idea gone wrong through unsustainable, willy-nilly top-down planning.
BMW has acquired Parkmobile, an app that provides guidance and services for those looking for parking in North America, including on-street and garage parking payments and spot reservation. BMW Group had already held a minority investment in the company, and owned its Parkmobile Group Europe affiliate, but today it increased its holdings to reach majority ownership of Parkmobile, LLC, which is based in Atlanta.
This will provide BMW with a significant foothold in the U.S. parking services market, since Parkmobile is available in over 300 cities stateside, including NYC, Philadelphia and Phoenix. Parkmobile will become part of BMW Group’s Mobility Services portfolio, which is expanding in scope and influence now that mobility is an area of increasing interest for automakers.
The global auto industry has been in high gear for the last decade. Thanks to strength in North America and emerging markets such as China and India, annual vehicle sales in 2017 will approach 93.5 million units, up from around 63.5 million in the throes of the 2008 recession. Moreover, combined annual pro ts for the top
17 automakers worldwide are at record levels, well above US$120 billion.
Yet automotive companies — suppliers and manufacturers (OEMs) alike — are anything but sanguine. Huge upheavals in the look, feel, propulsion, and technology of automobiles, both existing and predicted, have created a deep well of uncertainty. Many companies are unsure which way to turn strategically to prepare for the transformation that appears to be under way. As a result, they have poured money into new and, in many cases, unproven technologies for automobile connectivity, new engine designs, and self-driving features. The riskiness of this approach is glaring when you consider the industry’s record of unimpressive value creation, even when the sector is delivering record pro tability. In 2016, the return on invested capital for the top 10 OEMs was only 6.6 percent, just over half the cost of capital.
Certainly, major changes are coming to the industry but not as quickly as many would have us believe. Indeed, ve myths have gained credence and have served to potentially misdirect auto OEMs.
”The news sounds almost too good to be true.
“How the U.S. Transportation System Can Save $1 Trillion, 2 Billion Barrels of Oil, and 1 Gigaton of Carbon Emissions Annually,” proclaimed the headline of an article published by the Rocky Mountain Institute, an environmentally minded, innovation-focused Boulder, Colorado think tank. The institute’s prescription is a technological trifecta: electric, autonomous, shared cars.
Propelled by the ongoing digitization of just about everything, notably including cars, the thinking trumpeted in that 2015 article has been percolating in the transportation sector for the last several years. All three components of this vision are already expanding. Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) are slowly growing and should increase greatly as EVs become cheaper to own than combustion-engine cars — something that Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts believe will happen by 2024.
Automated cars, often referred to as “autonomous vehicles” (AVs) — whose passengers determine their routes without having to drive them — are being widely developed and tested, and probably will be used commercially in controlled settings within a few years. Lyft, Uber, and others have introduced ride-sharing, in which customers agree to travel with strangers in return for reduced fares. Put all three concepts together in one vehicle, posit that within a few decades this shared EV-AV technology will take over the nation’s automobile fleet, and the outcome seems environmentally irresistible, verging on fantastical.
Less than a decade after Google launched the age of the self-driving car, most of the main players have made some long-term commitments—not in the name of love, but to ensure success. With few exceptions, the companies eager to turn robots loose on our streets can’t go through life alone. None have the particular combination of manufacturing, software, and customer-facing expertise this work demands.
The hookups between the software whiz kids and the folks with the factories are especially hot and heavy. In 2016, General Motors bought startup Cruise. Last year Ford invested $1 billion in Argo AI, and industry supplier Delphi went home with MIT spinoff Nutonomy. Now one of the last significant startups without a manufacturer to call its own has found its beloved.
Two beloveds, actually. Pittsburgh-based Aurora Innovation announced today it has signed deals with both Volkswagen and Hyundai to get its self-driving software into commercial service.
“Our mission is to deliver self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly. And to do that, we needed to find automotive partners that had global scale,” says cofounder and CEO Chris Urmson.
Mark Bergen and Dana Hull have more.
Arvind, Hemanth and Marc actually only came to the United States to attend university. Arvind Thiruvengadam and Hemanth Kappanna are both from India, from Chennai and Bangalore, respectively, while Marc Besch is from Biel, Switzerland. They all ended up in West Virginia, not exactly the America you dream of when you come from Chennai or Bangalore. Probably not even when you come from Biel.
Attached to West Virginia University is an institute for emissions research – also, perhaps, not the field of study you dream of when you’re around 30 and aspiring to a career in auto engineering. The institute is called the Center for Alternative Fuels Engines and Emissions (CAFEE), located in an unprepossessing corrugated iron structure in a clearing in the hills of West Virginia. In other words, in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town is Morgantown, the nearest place you might have heard of, Pittsburgh.
This is where Arvind, Hemanth and Marc began measuring emissions. First truck emissions and then passenger cars – until they accidentally uncovered a scandal that brought the world’s biggest carmaker at the time to its knees. The emissions tests carried out by Arvind, Hemanth and Marc have already cost the Volkswagen company around 25 billion euros, mainly in buybacks, fines and settlements, and that is by no means the end of it. Because of a study written by these three students, former VW managers are wanted by the FBI, one has been arrested in the U.S. and others are in custody in Germany. One German politician called the diesel scandal “the biggest industrial scandal since World War II.”
More than a quarter of the energy consumed in Colorado goes to transportation — and a big shift from gasoline toward electricity is expected in the near future.
But before large numbers of consumers sign on, they want to see longer driving ranges on electric vehicles and more public charging stations, especially the kind that can recharge batteries quickly.
“More stations equals more electric vehicles equals more stations,” said Jonathan Levy, director of policy and strategy at Vision Ridge Partners in Boulder.
Regardless, everyone will suffer from the catastrophic loss of privacy. Any network of self-driving cars would, by definition, necessitate total and unceasing tracking of their occupants. I may know how to get to the local liquor store without a map, but my car most certainly does not. To make it there in a driverless model, I’d first have to tell it where I was going, and then it would have to ask the Internet, and the satellites, and, probably, my credit card. To the existing framework we would thus be adding a planet-wrapping exoskeleton with a perfect digital memory. The car, far from serving as a liberator, would become a telescreen on wheels — an FBI-approved bug, to be slipped beneath the chassis in plain sight of the surveilled. At a stroke, my autonomy would be gone. Without permission from the Web, I would be lost in space. A mere server glitch could render me immobile. The government, should it so choose, could stop me dead in my tracks. Yet again, I would be handing over my self-reliance to the government and to the corporations, and asking, plaintively, “Please sir, may I move?”