Google, Detroit diverge on road map for self-driving cars

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.

Fossil fuels, utilities, petrol cars to be obsolete by 2030

Giles Parkinson:

Last year, in an interview with Stanford University’s Tony Seba, we foreshadowed the remarkable conclusions of his new book: that energy and transportation as we know it will be history by 2030.

That book, the Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation,tony seba book is now published, and it has even more dramatic prognosis: Silicon Valley will make oil, nuclear, natural gas, coal, electric utilities and conventional cars obsolete by 2030. And Australia – with its high solar penetration – will lead the way be the shape of things to come.

What’s more, Seba says it might happen even earlier than 2030.

He’s not the only person to predict this transformation. Jeremy Grantham agrees, and many in the utilities industry see the same risks. Paul Gilding has made similar predictions.

“Clean energy (solar and wind) is free,” Seba writes. “Clean transportation is electric and uses clean energy derived from the sun and wind. The key to the disruption of energy lies in the exponential cost and performance improvement of technologies that convert, manage, store, and share clean energy. The clean disruption is also about software and business model innovation.”

Via Matthew Grantham.

A Peek Under the Hood: Today’s Groundbreaking Engines

Via Dan Meiers:

In the latest episode of Autoline (“A Peek Under the Hood: Today’s Groundbreaking Engines – Autoline This Week 1821” there is a guest on the panel from a company called XL Hybrids. While electric only, this hybrid system is bolt on to commercial trucks (new and old). A recent fleet customer of theirs is Coca Cola (discussion 8 minutes in).

It’s an interesting data point, that I thought you guys might like to know about. Anyway I found the whole video was quite interesting throughout, you may too.

Others on the show
CTO Borgwarner
VW USA, GM of engineering

Electric cars ‘to cost more to run than petrol vehicles’

Samantha Fenwick:

It could now cost more to run an electric car than one using fuel owing to the end of UK government subsidies.
 The Department for Transport’s support for the installation and maintenance of chargers ended in April.
 Local councils, left to cover costs, tendered contracts out to private companies – and prices have gone up.
 Transport Minister Baroness Kramer told You and Yours £500m was being invested over five years to provide support for electric vehicle drivers.
 In the first five months of this year, nearly 2,000 electric cars were sold in the UK – more than double the sales for the same period in 2013.

Auto-Braking for Speed Cameras

Sebastian Anthony:

Rejoice, speeding drivers! The new 2015 Hyundai Genesis, which goes on sale around the world this year, will soon have the ability to automatically brake for speed cameras. The car will have a built-in map of speed cameras and average speed cameras, and then use a combination of GPS and its fancy Automatic Emergency Braking technology to brake if you’re still going over the speed limit when you reach the camera. While this feature is probably legal, it does appear to go against the spirit of speed cameras; after all, if you can just keep your foot down, and rely on the car to automatically brake for speed cameras, that’s hardly very safe, right?
 Hyundai’s new speed trap avoidance tech seems to be a late addition to the 2015 Genesis. When we reviewed the car back in April — and awarded it the ExtremeTech Editors’ Choice award for midsize sedans no less – there was no mention of the clever Automatic Emergency Braking being used to hoodwink speed cameras. Speaking to the Australian website Drive, Hyundai says the new speed camera tech won’t be available at launch, but instead will be added later.

129 Cars

This American Life:

We spend a month at a Jeep dealership on Long Island as they try to make their monthly sales goal: 129 cars. If they make it, they’ll get a huge bonus from the manufacturer, possibly as high as $85,000 — enough to put them in the black for the month. If they don’t make it, it’ll be the second month in a row. So they pull out all the stops. Photo gallery here. NOTE: the Internet version of this episode includes un-bleeped curse words. Bleeped version here.

Are auto loans a sub-prime crisis in the making?

Lauren Lyster:

The New York attorney general filed a securities fraud lawsuit against British bank Barclays, accusing the firm of giving an unfair advantage to high-frequency traders in the U.S., while claiming to protect other clients from the HFTs. It’s the highest profile case we’ve seen yet, according to Reuters, as a result of authorities’ attempts to make sure dealers aren’t ripping off investors in today’s largely automated stock markets.
 At the same time, regulators are reporting concerns that banks are taking on more risk to pursue profit. A major bank regulator warned Wednesday that competition along with low interest rates and a slowly-growing economy is fueling riskier bank lending.
 The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency highlighted two areas specifically: Leveraged loans (described by the Wall Street Journal as high-yielding loans issued to more speculative borrowers) and indirect auto loans (where banks buy loans originated by car dealers). The report calls out “erosion” and “loosening” in underwriting standards, including an easing of lending standards in commercial loans.

Millennials Shunning Malls Speeds Web Shopping Revolution

Matt Townsend:

CJ Chu is a retailer’s nightmare.
 The 24-year-old associate for a private-equity firm does “99 percent” of his shopping online — even toothpaste. He’d rather buy groceries on the Web than walk to the supermarket.
 “Convenience and free time is something I value,” said Chu, who works for Bridge Growth Partners LLC in New York. “Ordering online just makes more sense.”
 Chu is an extreme case. Yet millions of Americans like him are abandoning stores faster than executives predicted, pushing the industry to a precipice. Traditional retailers, for the first time ever in 2014, will generate half their sales growth on the Web, according to Stifel Financial Corp. That means about $18 billion in new revenue generated this year will come from online purchases, an analysis of U.S. Census data shows.
 The stampede online will only accelerate as 80 million U.S. millennials start families, buying homes and filling them with stuff. Mobile shopping is giving e-commerce another boost. Next month, Inc. (AMZN) will start selling a smartphone that will allow shoppers to scan a product in a mall and purchase it from the company’s online store, giving retailers another reason to fear their most potent Web rival.
 It’s widely accepted that traditional chains must mesh physical and online stores into a seamless shopping experience, but “nobody is doing it well,” said Anne Zybowski, vice president for retail insights at Kantar Retail in Boston. “There isn’t any best-in-class because nobody is there yet.”


‘Why do people need gas stations?’

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.”

Toyota Fuel Cell Sedan revealed

Toyota Media:

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.

Of Course Tesla Wasn’t Just Being Altruistic In Opening Up Its Patents: That’s The Whole Point!

Mike Masnick:

We, like many in the media, already wrote up the story about Elon Musk’s announcement that Tesla was opening up all of Tesla’s patents, promising not to bring any lawsuits against anyone who uses them in good faith. The “good faith” caveat has resulted in some head scratching and reasonable questions — and we hope that Musk clarifies this position with a clearer explanation. Some have pointed out that with such vague language, it may really be more of an invitation to negotiate a licensing deal, rather than truly opening up the patents (though, I’d imagine anyone looking to challenge that has lawyers boning up on promissory estoppel). However, I wanted to address one of the “criticisms” that seemed to come out repeatedly about this move: that it wasn’t a big deal because it’s “not altruistic.” That line was used over and over and over again in the press, almost always suggesting that people shouldn’t be celebrating this move.

Toyota, Nissan green-car divide widens

Hans Greimel:

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Within the span of a month, Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Corp. have doubled down on starkly divergent strategies for hybrid and electric vehicles.
 While other global automakers hedge their bets on alternative powertrain technologies, Nissan and Toyota are placing risky wagers that each knows exactly which powertrain will dominate among next-generation green vehicles.
 Nissan aims to be the global leader in EVs. Toyota wants to expand its lead as the world’s top maker of gasoline-electric hybrids.
 On June 9, Nissan released the second of four promised EVs, its e-NV200 battery-powered van.
 Just weeks earlier, Toyota pulled the plug on its own EV program by ending a two-year deal to build electric Toyota RAV4 crossovers with Tesla Motors Inc. When the last RAV4 rolls off the line later this year, the world’s largest automaker will no longer be producing electric cars.

Campus Electric Cars

Dan Simmons:

Four mini-cars will be tooling around UW-Madison for the next year, fueled by electricity and available for short-term checkout by anyone with a university ID including faculty, staff and students. The university is one of four campuses nationally and the only one in the Midwest to host the cars.

Called “new urban electric vehicles,” the Innova Dash cars will include tablet-sized computers that will be connected to the university’s wireless network. They’ll feed data including position, speed and battery charge directly to the network. A number of research projects will then use the data. The cars have a top speed of about 35 mph and a 100-mile range, according to its manufacturer, Illinois-based Innova UEV.

An online reservation system will provide information about availability, battery charge and availability of charging stations near the desired location. The vehicles will be used like others in the local transportation fleet.

“This project aligns with the UW-Madison’s efforts to address sustainability issues by the university’s research enterprise and outreach efforts,” Suman Banerjee, a computer sciences professor who’s leading the project, saidin a news release.

Colorado State University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Washington were also chosen to receive the cars in a contest sponsored by the nonprofit organization Internet2 and Innova UEV. Eleven total schools applied.

Asymcar 8: The EcoV.

Get the Facts: The Benefits of Franchised Auto Dealers

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.

Time is running out to solve our transportation-funding crisis

Puneet Kollipara:

1. Top story: Getting up to speed on the rapidly changing transportation-funding debate
 Transportation secretary to Congress: We need more moolah, and fast. “Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Tuesday that time is quickly running out for Congress to approve a new round of road and transit funding. Foxx said the latest projections from budget analysts show that the transportation department’s Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August, a full month before the scheduled expiration of federal transportation funding.” Keith Laing in The Hill.
 Chart: The Highway Trust Fund’s balance is dangerously low. Department of Transportation.
 Bump at the pump? Bipartisan duo of senators propose 12-cent hike in U.S. gas tax. “The proposal to hike the 18.4-cent federal tax for the first time since 1993 came from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and won quick endorsement from an array of advocates ranging from road builders to AAA. In addition to increasing the tax by 6 cents in each of the next two years, the senators want the rate indexed to inflation. Failure to keep pace with inflation over the past 20 years, along with steadily increasing fuel economy, has caused the Federal Highway Trust Fund that receives the money to sink to a dangerous level.” Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post.

What the Steamship and the Landline Can Tell Us About the Decline of the Private Car

Emily Badger:

This prediction sounds bold primarily for the fact that most of us don’t think about technology – or the history of technology – in century-long increments: “We’re probably closer to the end of the automobility era than we are to its beginning,” says Maurie Cohen, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. “If we’re 100 years into the automobile era, it seems pretty inconceivable that the car as we know it is going to be around for another 100 years.”
 Cohen figures that we’re unlikely to maintain the deteriorating Interstate Highway System for the next century, or to perpetuate for generations to come the public policies and subsidies that have supported the car up until now. Sitting in the present, automobiles are so embedded in society that it’s hard to envision any future without them. But no technology – no matter how essential it seems in its own era – is ever permanent. Consider, just to borrow some examples from transportation history, the sailboat, the steamship, the canal system, the carriage, and the streetcar.
 All of those technologies rose, became ubiquitous, and were eventually replaced. And that process followed a pattern that can tell us much about the future of the automobile – that is, if we’re willing to think about it not in the language of today’s “war on cars,” but in the broad arc of time.

Estella Metayer.

US Boomers; Cars, Roads & Taxes

Ed Wallace:

Being history’s most passionate car buying and owning generation, we have consequently complained the most about traffic congestion. But we’ve pled poverty every time someone brought up the reality that we needed more roads and highways to accommodate the extreme growth happening not just in the Metroplex, but throughout Texas — which, contrary to elected officials’ statements, our growth is not a phenomenon of just the past decade but of the past 43 years. And the excuses we had for doing nothing: People buying more fuel-efficient cars, using less gas as a nation and so on.
 But the reality is far different: Today’s 26 million Texans obviously use more gasoline and diesel than the 11.2 million Texans did in 1971. For the record, according to the Federal Highway Administration, in 2011 Texans used around 15.7 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel. Add a dime a gallon in taxes for roads and you have another $1.57 billion a year for highways. In August of 2011 the Houston Chronicle reported, “For the first time in history, the Texas legislature this year appropriated more cash to pay for debt service than to pay for actually building new roads. $859 million per versus $575 million.”
 That’s right, we could almost quadruple the monies we could spend to build new roads with just a dime per gallon gas tax increase. But we don’t. Because in a world where Maserati sales this year are up by 400 percent, parting with that extra dime per gallon is just more than the rest of us could bear.

U.S. auto makers hurt themselves by opposing tougher fuel-economy rules. Now that they have signed on to a new regime, will they stay signed on?

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.

Harley-Davidson electric motorcycle prototype to be launched

Rick Barrett:

A prototype for what could become the first Harley-Davidson electric motorcycle is being launched next week to give the company consumer feedback, Harley said Thursday.

It’s a process that will take months, or even years, and there’s no guarantee Harley-Davidson will ever build an electric bike for mass production. Still, Project LiveWire is a big step forward for the company and the motorcycle industry that’s been tied to the internal combustion engine for more than a century.

While the bikes that will be introduced next week, starting in New York and Milwaukee, are not for sale, they will log thousands of hours of road time in demo rides across the country and overseas.

“Customers will tell us what they think it will take to make a great electric motorcycle. I am sure we will discover things that we cannot anticipate right now,” said Mark-Hans Richer, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the world’s largest manufacturer of heavyweight motorcycles.

“It’s an opportunity to learn, and we will see where it goes,” Richer added.

Harley hasn’t said much about the technical specifications of its electric bike, but the prototype will be limited to a top speed of 92 mph. For the test rides, the standard being applied suggests an operating range of 53 miles between battery charges, according to the company.

The bikes definitely won’t have the syncopated “potato, potato, potato” rumble that resonates from the company’s V-Twin engines.

Why finance is so important for car makers AND car buyers

Andrew Brady:

Buying anything outright is so yesterday. Everything is available for small monthly payments these days – few of us will happily pay over £500 for the latest new smartphone, for example, but £30 a month seems much more reasonable.
 It’s the same with furniture… how many adverts are there on TV, tempting punters with a shiny new sofa for as little as £20 a month?
 This is particularly true for young people. Older generations are perhaps a little more cautious about their monthly outgoings, and anecdotal experience suggests they would rather save up and buy something outright. But, young people are increasingly impatient – they want the latest thing and they want it now.
 This applies as much to cars as it does the latest gadgets. Gone are the days when new drivers would spend their formative years running around in an ancient old banger, worth no more than a few hundred quid. Look at the new Toyota Aygo, a car that I drove in Amsterdam earlier this week, a car desperately trying to appeal to a youthful market.

When The Smartwatch Meets The “Smart” Car

Barry Berman:

When I first heard that Mercedes is integrating wearable technology—such as Pebble smartwatches and Google Glass—with its smart-vehicle systems, I thought the luxury automaker had a taken just a sip or two of Silicon Valley Kool-Aid. So I tried it out.

Turns out, a week of driving a 2014 Mercedes CLA with Pebble tied to the car’s digital nervous system didn’t dispel my doubts about either the wisdom or usefulness of what I came to think of as wearing-while-driving. But I do have to give Mercedes credit for a gallant inaugural try at making the concept work.

Detroit Electric SP:01 (2014) nears production. The next Tesla?

Tom Gregory:

New US based electric car maker, Detroit Electric, has been conducting final testing in Europe of its new SP:01 sports car.
 Described by Detriot Electric as the “world’s fastest production electric vehicle”, the rear-wheel-drive two-seat convertible is now nearing production having initially been unveiled in the USA and China last year.
 Is the Detroit Electric SP:01 another Lotus Elise spin off?
 In a word, yes. Much like the equally electric Tesla Roadster, the SP:01 is built on the aluminium chassis of the Lotus Elise and as such, shares more than a passing resemblance with the Norfolk-built sports car. However, Detroit Electric has worked hard to give the bespoke carbon-fibre bodywork a ‘muscular stance’, while the rear light clusters are supposedly designed to invoke American performance cars of the past.
 In place of the Lotus’s internal combustion engine sits a 201bhp 166lb ft electric motor which powers the SP:01 from 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 155mph, besting the Tesla’s 125mph top speed.

Proterra, an Electric Bus Maker, Aims to Follow the Tesla Model

Ashlee Vance:

When Ryan Popple joined electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors (TSLA) in 2007, the company was a mess. The technical issues plaguing its first car, the Roadster, pushed manufacturing costs above $150,000 apiece—50 percent more than what Tesla charged for preorders. As a senior finance analyst, Popple was part of the small team that spent months driving hard bargains with parts makers and simplifying the supply chain. Eventually, per-car costs fell enough to keep Tesla in business, and Popple later worked on its successful initial public offering before turning to venture capital.

At Tesla, Popple could rely on early adopters eager to pay a premium for an electric car. As the new chief executive officer of Proterra, which makes an $850,000 electric bus, he’s got a tougher audience: municipal governments that are used to paying as little as $300,000 for a diesel-guzzler. They’re reluctant to invest in the promise of energy savings down the line. Proterra argues that the wait isn’t long. “We’ve seen paybacks against diesel and hybrids in as little as two years and as long as six years,” says Popple. He’s persuaded some powerful backers. On June 18 he announced a $40 million round of investment led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (where he remains a partner), GM Ventures, and the Pritzker family’s Tao Invest, bringing Greenville (S.C.)-based Proterra’s total outside funding to $100 million.

BMW i Remote App

Video Introduction. Related: the i3 Long Bet.

1000-horsepower technology-packed hybrid race cars take the pole in 2014 We’ve got the skinny on the tech you’ll see on the track—and why racing is awesome

Jonathan Gitlin:

Last year Ars traveled down to Austin, Texas, to take a look at some of the most technologically advanced race cars the world has ever seen. But racing—unlike its consumer counterparts—is much like the tech sector; it waits for no one. A single year passes, and the Audi R18 and Toyota TS030 are now obsolete. So too are the machines of last year’s Formula 1 season. As fast as ever, the new cars make that speed without nearly as much fuel, thanks to new rules that force them to develop much more efficient hybrid systems. The result is a technological revolution at the race track that’s as exciting as as any time in the sport’s past.
 The cars in each major racing series—Formula 1, IndyCar, LeMans, NASCAR—are shaped by their respective rulebooks, and those get rewritten from time to time. It’s usually an effort to either slow the cars down (if they’re getting too fast for the tracks on which they race), make them more socially relevant (i.e., more fuel efficient), or level the playing field and make things more competitive. On the other side of the equation are the teams who go racing, whose ambition is to be the fastest and take home the trophies. If that means pushing the boundaries of what’s legal—well, that’s racing.
 Given that the two sides of this delicate balance had 12 months to tinker, we decided to take stock of where race car design stands midway through 2014. The best part of all the exciting tweaks outlined below? There’s still half a year of driving to come.

Via Steve Crandall.

SolarCity Will Buy Silevo for $350 Million, Build One of the World’s Largest Solar Plants

James Temple:

SolarCity has agreed to acquire solar panel manufacturer Silevo for as much as $350 million in stock in a deal that puts the clean-energy company squarely into the production business.
 The San Mateo, Calif., company also unveiled an aggressive and costly plan to build out manufacturing capacity over the next few years, starting with a massive solar panel plant near Buffalo, New York.
 “Our intent is to combine what we believe is fundamentally the best photovoltaic technology with massive economies of scale to achieve a breakthrough in the cost of solar power,” SolarCity said in a blog post on Tuesday morning.
 “We absolutely believe that solar power can and will become the world’s predominant source of energy within our lifetimes, but there are obviously a lot of panels that have to be manufactured and installed in order for that to happen,” it added.
 SolarCity leases, sells and installs rooftop solar panels for homes and businesses. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk is chairman as well as a major stakeholder.

Automatic 2.0 for iPhone brings new design & fuel gauge support to the smart driving assistant

Zach Hall:

Automatic, the smart driving assistant that connects your car to your iPhone, is updating its accompanying iOS app today with a new design and new features. The new design, Automatic says, is meant to be “lighter, faster and more modern”. The gray header, for example, has been replaced with a white field displaying the current and past driving stats collected by the app.
 In addition to the refreshed look and feel, Automatic 2.0 for iPhone brings new features to Automatic Link users. With the update, Automatic will offer fuel level information and warnings on supported cards. While this feature only works on supported cars, in many cases it goes beyond dashboard fuel gauges as Automatic can present an estimate of miles possible to be driven before running out of fuel based on previous driving behaviors.

Why An Electric Car Saves Fleet Operators $16,000 In Lifetime Cost

Matthew Klippenstein:

The average car spends about 95 percent of a 24-hour day parked.
 For the 5 percent that they’re driven, they actually spend one-third of the time idling–at red lights, stuck behind leisurely left-turners, or even while the driver waits for the vehicle to warm up (or cool down) before getting in.
 In other words, private automobiles spend only 3 percent of their time actually mobile.
 But in the longer run–starting, oh, today–a new study concludes that volume battery-electric vehicles at the low end of today’s price range would save fleet operators an average of $16,000 apiece, compared to the vehicles they’d be replacing, over a service life of seven years.
 That projection comes from a British Columbia, Canada, study of fleet vehicles, which suggests that pure battery-electric vehicles–at least, the ones not named Tesla–had enough range today to handle 94 percent of the fleet routes evaluated in the study.

US Agency Aims to Regulate Map Aids in Vehicles

Matthew Wald:

Getting directions on the road from Google Maps and other smartphone apps is a popular alternative to the expensive navigation aids included in some cars. The apps are also a gray area when it comes to laws banning the use of cellphones or texting while driving.
 The Transportation Department wants to enter the argument.
 The department is intensifying its battle against distracted driving by seeking explicit authority from Congress to regulate navigation aids of all types, including apps on smartphones.
 The measure, included in the Obama administration’s proposed transportation bill, would specify that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has the authority to set restrictions on the apps and later order changes if they are deemed dangerous, much the way it currently regulates mechanical features of cars.

Via Steven Sinofsky.

Vanadium: The metal that may soon be powering your neighbourhood

Laurence Knight:

Hawaii has a problem, one that the whole world is likely to face in the next 10 years. And the solution could be a metal that you’ve probably never heard of – vanadium.
 Hawaii’s problem is too much sunshine – or rather, too much solar power feeding into its electricity grid.
 Generating electricity in the remote US state has always been painful. With no fossil fuel deposits of its own, it has to get oil and coal shipped half-way across the Pacific.
 That makes electricity in Hawaii very, very expensive – more than three times the US average – and it is the reason why 10% and counting of the islands’ residents have decided to stick solar panels on their roof.
 The problem is that all this new sun-powered electricity is coming at the wrong place and at the wrong time of day.

Via Stefan Constantine.

Gordon Murray wants to prove “hybrid HyperCars” wrong

Bob Murray:

Do the McLaren P1, LaFerrari and Porsche 918 represent a natural progression from the McLaren F1?
 No I don’t think so. They have gone in a completely different direction from the F1. I see these cars more as a technical exercise. I am not saying the P1 is not a good car but it is 180 degrees away from what the McLaren F1 set out to do. The F1 was a pure driver’s car, a piece of engineering art and also a car you could use every day. It was always going to be quick but we never set out to achieve 240mph. The most important thing was that you could take it to the track and be able to slide it around a little. We could easily have given it three or four times the downforce but what would have been the point?

New Aluminum-Air Battery Powered Car Travels 1,800 Kilometers Without a Recharge

Len Rosen:

Back in April of 2012 I wrote about the evolution of battery technology for electric cars. In the posting I wrote about lithium-ion and lithium-air technology. What I didn’t know was that a company named Phinergy was working on a different type of metal-air battery using aluminum and zinc plus air.
 This week Phinergy, an Israeli company, along with the aluminum giant, Alcoa Canada, demonstrated an electric vehicle (EV) capable of driving 1,800 kilometers (over 1,100 miles between charges) using a combination of aluminum-air and lithium-ion storage technologies. The Phinergy aluminum-air battery at 100 kilograms (220 pounds) weight contained enough on board energy to allow the vehicle to travel up to 3,000 kilometers (over 1,860 miles). Compare that to the best, current lithium-ion batteries in the Tesla Model S sedan. At best they can do less than 500 kilometers (310 miles) on a single charge and the on board battery weighs 5 times as much.
 How does an aluminum-air battery work? They use an air-electrode capable of breathing ambient air and extracting the oxygen from it. Compare this to traditional batteries which store and release oxygen from chemicals contained in a liquied or solid cathode. An air battery doesn’t need to replace or recharge its cathode. And an air battery is far lighter. The combination means significantly more power for a longer period of time.

Assault on batteries

The Economist:

THE author of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, E.L. James, has mused at length about a billionaire inflicting punishment in her bondage-based bestseller. As the recipient of one of the first right-hand-drive versions of the Tesla Model S to hit Britain’s roads, personally handed to her at an event in London last week by Elon Musk, the carmaker’s wealthy boss, she is clearly attuned to billionaires dishing out pleasure too. The “range anxiety” that afflicts other electric-car owners has been minimised in the Model S by packing it with lots of batteries; the agony-inducing cost of filling up at the petrol station need never bother Ms James again.
 Other all-electric cars, costly and with limited ranges, have proved a hard sell. The models from most mainstream carmakers still look and feel like gimmicks. Tesla’s main achievement is producing a car which can be judged credibly alongside any fast and expensive petrol-propelled saloon. But the Californian company’s long-term growth prospects, and the widespread adoption of electric cars, are both dependent on a big drop in battery costs. Tesla’s next mission, to begin making a cheaper, mass-market electric vehicle in 2017, will rely heavily on ambitious plans for a new battery “gigafactory” in America.
 Batteries are the priciest bit of electric cars. Mr Musk, a founder of PayPal and a serial tech investor, claims that his come much cheaper than those of other carmakers. Although Tesla has designed the powerpacks and their associated circuitry, each of them contains up to 7,000 standard lithium-ion cells of the sort found in laptops. The firm is said to buy more of these sorts of cell than all the world’s computer-makers combined.

Electric-car groups eye collaboration over charging technology

Henry Foy:

Three of the world’s biggest electric-car makers are interested in collaborating on charging technology, following Tesla Motors’ decision to offer its patents to rivals in an attempt to promote the low-emission vehicles.

Nissan and BMW, two of Tesla’s main competitors, are keen on talks with the US carmaker to co-operate on charging networks, sources at the three companies told the Financial Times.

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk last week said that he would allow rivals to use any of Tesla’s patents for free, a day after meeting with BMW executives to discuss the future of the electric-car market.

Mr Musk said that he hoped the unprecedented move would precipitate “a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform”.

Consumer fears over the ease of recharging electric vehicles have been a major stumbling block for the vehicles, which use various different chargers, plug types and power standards across geographies and brands.

Nissan, BMW and Tesla are keen to collaborate on creating possible global vehicle-charging standards, the sources said.

Electric Vehicle Driver Survey Dashboard

Energycenter. Org:

The Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP) User Survey gathers data from California EV drivers, providing monthly updates of market data on a variety of demographic and behavioral topics. The dashboard only reflects data from EV drivers who purchased or leased their vehicles since September 2012 and who participated in the project and responded to the self-administered survey.
 You can explore various EV market areas in different tabs of the dashboard (demographics, dealer experience, motivations to purchase, decision-making process, etc.) and sort the data by fields such as vehicle type and location. The dashboard also contains a notes tab with more detailed information about the survey and the functionality of the tool. Questions? Contact

Via Steve Crandall.

“There is a lot more freedom for the engineers involved in these W.E.C. regulations compared to the Formula One regulations”

Brad Spurgeon:

The Le Mans race is part of a series called the World Endurance Championship, which has run two races this year. At the first one, the 6 Hours of Silverstone race, in England, in April, Porsche finished on the podium, in third place. It finished fourth in the second race, at Spa, Belgium, in May.
 Although Porsche has been absent from the highest level in Le Mans since 1998, when it last won the overall title, it has remained present in the lower categories of the race. It has supported teams running its GT class cars.
 Its team at the top level this year is a mix of experienced and less experienced drivers, with the notable hiring of Mark Webber, the winner of nine Formula One Grand Prix races in a career that ended at the Red Bull team last season.

Tesla “Will Put Millennials Behind the Wheel”

Edward Niedermeyer:

Once again, Tesla Motors’ founder Elon Musk has grabbed auto-industry headlines, this time for hinting at a broad patent release that could mean making Tesla’s electric cars more “open source.” It may seem a head-scratcher that a company whose success depends on its cutting-edge technology would give away its secrets, but as usual, there is a method to Musk’s madness. Tesla’s open patent play — like its dealer franchise battle, Gigafactory and Hyperloop concepts before it — are increasingly the firm’s most important “products.” Whereas cars take huge amounts of time and money to develop, Musk’s brash re-imaginations of the car industry cost little to produce and generate the same fevered public acclaim as the sleek, pricey Model S. In effect, Musk has monetized the public perception that change in the car business is long overdue.
 When you ask auto-industry insiders about Musk’s affection for contrarian business models, they invariably roll their eyes. They see Tesla as too small to be anything more than a gadfly, and Musk as something between a well-intentioned amateur and a downright charlatan.
 But bring up the car business with anyone who knows nothing about the car business, and it’s clear Musk’s new ideas are selling. Tesla may not enjoy even one percent of market share, but its “mind share” exceeds that of the biggest players, and Musk is by far America’s best-known car executive. (General Motors’ Mary Barra has high name recognition, though not for the right reasons). While Tesla’s hype-to-sales ratio is cause for some investor concern, it’s success holds valuable lessons for a car industry that has a long record of taking its eye off the ball.

City cycling: health versus hazard

Lesley Evans-Ogden:

It was just another morning commute. That is, until a bus driver ran a red light, turned right, and drove straight into Ann-Doerthe Hass Jensen. The bus knocked the social worker off her bike, trapping her underneath, a wheel pinning down and crushing her left foot. It was a school bus heading to a Copenhagen kindergarten, and the children aboard were screaming. Ann was rushed to hospital in excruciating pain, every bone in her foot shattered.
 In the six weeks of hospitalisation that followed, part of Ann’s foot was amputated. Salvageable bones were wired back into place and skin grafts were taken from her thigh to replace the torn and missing flesh. “I’m pretty lucky,” says Ann. “People normally die when this happens.”
 It was a year before she could walk again. During that year, she had to take a taxi to work every day. “I hated it,” she says. “Here, the taxi drivers are a menace, and I was really scared of accidents.” She also hated having to wait. Travelling by bike in Copenhagen is often the fastest way to get around, which is the top reason why Copenhageners cycle.
 Ann’s physiotherapy was tricky. The missing portion of her foot is a crucial stepping point, and its absence affects her balance. But walking wasn’t the only part of her rehabilitation. In Copenhagen – where people own 5.2 bicycles for every car – over a third of residents pedal to work, school or college. So rehabilitation often literally means getting you back in the saddle. The City of Copenhagen helped Ann get a specially adapted Nihola cycle: a sturdy, stable three-wheeler that has allowed her to regain independent mobility.

Via Steve Crandall.

Nissan’s ZEOD RC prototype racer completes first all-electric lap at Le Mans

Richard Lawler:

The 24 Hours of Le Mans (check after the break for details on how to watch, for free) hasn’t even started yet and already history has been made. During warmups, Nissan wheeled its ZEOD RC prototype race car around the 8.47-mile Circuit de la Sarthe track running only on battery power, a first. ZEOD stands for “Zero Emissions On Demand” and the car squeezes a 1.5-liter three cylinder engine that produces 400hp plus two electric motors and the regenerative breaking of a Leaf RC into the frame similar to the older DeltaWing prototype racer. Did we mention that it has no rear-view mirrors? Ray Harroun would be appalled.

Where are driverless cars actually legal (US)?

mojo motors:

Driverless cars are all the rage in the news cycle right now, especially after Google revealed this video of its autonomous vehicle driving around with no input from humans. Even if the driver wished to override the cars computer system and steer into that coffee shop on the way to work, he couldn’t. That’s because there’s no steering wheel. Or brake pedal. Or accelerator. Just a computer system linked to a drivetrain that gets you to where you want to go.
 For many people, the idea of having a car drive itself while its occupants relax, read the paper or even sleep is a revolutionary concept. It frees people from the burdens and responsibilities of having to drive. For others, the driverless car brings about a fear of relying too heavily on technology that seems susceptible to failure or an end to car culture. Regardless of your opinion, the important question is, are they even legal?
 Now here’s where it gets interesting. In terms of automotive laws, anything not clearly prohibited is technically allowed. At the time most laws were written, self-driving vehicles were a futuristic concept never thought to become a reality. As a result, no state has a law that explicitly prevents the use of a self-driving vehicle.

Cockpit complete for 1,000mph Bloodhound car

Jonathan Amos:

The cockpit for the British Bloodhound supersonic car has been built and fitted out.
 Driver Andy Green, who will use the vehicle to try to break his own World Land Speed Record, calls it “my 1,000mph office”.
 Bloodhound is about a year away from full assembly.
 The plan is to take it to South Africa in Autumn 2015 and raise the current record of 763mph, before returning in 2016 to go beyond 1,000mph (1,610km/h).
 Bloodhound’s cockpit is a snug fit, although not as tight as, say, a Formula One racing car.

Via Stefan Constantine.

BMW met Tesla executives to discuss electric cars


“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.

VW enters the “Home Power Plant” market

Michael Scaturo:

olkswagen car engines purr in the basement of German green power company Lichtblick’s test site in a church across the street from Berlin’s Jewish Museum.
 The VW motors sit inside metal boxes adorned with meters, including one reading “how much CO2 you’ve not released by using this unit.”
 It’s not the VW engines that are special – but the software that manipulates them from afar.
 Lichtblick controls each of its 1,500 Volkswagen “home power plants” from its Hamburg headquarters. The utility – which says it wants to become “the Google of electricity” – has created an algorithm that automatically starts and stops each VW engine connected to the network based on the usage data it collects.

Via Steve Crandall.

Anti-Tesla sentiment + the death of optimism (Part 1)

Chris Johnson:

The thing about capitalism, and our dismal history with capitalism-at-large, the “assume the other party is a shitbag” idea is so fundamentally ingrained in our cultural DNA that it is very hard to imagine any other form of collaboration/competition where this assumption doesn’t hold. There’s an argument to be made that when capitalism is local, IE, you can look the other person in the eye, you both know each other, and the village will hold you accountable for your actions, this contstraint can be relaxed somewhat. And indeed, research into an iterated from of the Prisoner’s Dilemma — having players play multiple rounds of PD, as opposed to a one-shot game — appears to bear this out somewhat.
 I believe our unfortunate heritage with capitalism, and our steadily decreasing trust in other Americans, is exactly how we end up with these intractable tragedy of the commons-type situations, where no individual party is willing to be vulnerable enough to move toward cooperative solutions in lieu of safe, selfish solutions. The longer this cultural feedback loop persists, the harder it becomes for any one party to make any meaningful move toward a Pareto optimal solution without inviting an equal-but-opposite increase in skepticism toward the first mover. And it’s been persisting in this direction for quite some time. This explains, at the very least, why rampant partisanship is an inevitability in a large Democracy, despite it being worse off for everybody (including politicians themselves).

Tesla Motors opens door to electric vehicles’ technology secrets

Henry Foy:

Electric carmaker Tesla Motors has taken the unprecedented step of opening its technology secrets to its rivals as chief executive Elon Musk attempts to boost interest in the low-emission vehicles.
 Tesla, which has defied larger carmakers by making money out of its luxury electric vehicles, will allow competitors to use its patents in a gamble that it hopes will bring down industry costs and open new business opportunities.
 “We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly evolving technology platform,” Mr Musk said. “Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”
 The decision is characteristic of billionaire entrepreneur Mr Musk, who has a record of outlandish ideas and has stirred up the space industry with promises of reusable rockets and plans to colonise Mars.
 Mr Musk has long stressed that his primary goal of widespread electric-car usage is more important to him than Tesla’s ultimate success. In offering its patents to rivals, he also hopes to create a larger market for electric cars, which would bring down the cost of the company’s charging infrastructure.
 Tesla, which sold 22,500 cars last year, has seen its market capitalisation more than double over the past 12 months to $25bn, as investors bought into bullish growth predictions and high profit margins as volumes rise.

Japan’s premium motor brands are still far behind their German rivals. The giant carmakers that own them are missing out on pots of potential profit

The Economist:

A MONTH before launching Lexus in America in 1989, Toyota considered running a television advertisement showing German aristocrats at a wild party in a hilltop castle. The voice-over intoned that the Teutons had dominated upmarket, high-performance cars for nearly 60 years but they had only “30 days left to enjoy it”.

The ad never made it to the TV screens, which is just as well: three German brands, Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen’s Audi, have become ever more dominant as emerging-markets growth has expanded global demand for premium cars. Lexus, Acura and Infiniti, the upmarket brands dreamed up in the 1980s by Japan’s big three carmakers, Toyota, Honda and Nissan, have been left trailing (see chart). Together the German trio now have 70% of the market for fast, expensive and luxurious cars, whereas the Japanese have just 10%. And they are being overtaken by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), a British (but Indian-owned) firm, which last year sold almost half a million cars, just behind Lexus.

“the hotness is lost in the 4G LTE cloud”

Peter DeLorenzo:

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Dial in Brand Image and everything will be good, right? Yes, but it is not that easy, far from it, in fact. This business is littered with strategic missteps, ham-fisted executions, an endless stream of miscalculations and that ever-present danger – rampant cluelessness – that can serve to impede a Brand Image from resonating in the market.
 Get it right and you can live to fight another day. Nail it perfectly and you may be able to build sustained momentum for a brand for years to come. Get it wrong and you will guarantee a life of misery for a brand as it flounders and sputters in the market.
 Winning car companies understand that expert brand image wrangling can make or break their efforts. Having outstanding products is a fundamental requirement, of course, but knowing how to present those products and being able to expertly nurture a brand’s image completes the equation. And less-than-winning car companies, or car companies only intermittently able to be on their games for whatever the reasons (infighting, lack of talent, abject stupidity or all of the above), pay for their mistakes exponentially, compounding their troubles with each misstep.
 As I’ve said before, executives at the less-than-winning car companies get into trouble because they actually start to think that they’re selling something they’re not, which leads them to deluding themselves into thinking that their products are something other than what they are.
 In other words, an incurable case of brand delusion.

Auto ABS credit quality will remain steady globally, except for in North America

Global Credit Research:

The credit quality of global auto loan asset-backed securities (ABS) pools will remain steady globally except for pools in North America, where lenders are easing underwriting standards and borrower credit is declining modestly, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service, “Global Auto ABS: Lenders in North America Continue to Ease Underwriting Standards, but Credit Quality Remains Steady Elsewhere.”
 “Globally, auto loan ABS pools will continue to consist primarily of loans to prime borrowers,” says Sanjay Wahi, Moody’s Vice President and Senior Analyst. “The exception is the US, which has a sizable market for securitizations backed predominantly by near-prime and subprime borrowers.”

Cars & Civilization


Thanks to the Harris Family and the Cal Tech community, especially Jed Buchwald and Diana Kormos Buchwald, for the honor to speak with you about “Cars and Civilization.” The first speaker, my long-time research partner Nebojsa Nakicenovic, concluded his remarks with the transition
from sail to rail about 1830. My title page shows both a horse-drawn coach, the Brewster Park Drag, custom made in 1892 for the Vanderbilt family, who made their fortune in shipping and railroads, and the 1964 Chevrolet research vehicle CERV II with a top speed of 320 km/h (200 mph), and the power of 500 horses. In November 2013 Sotheby’s auctioned the horse-drawn coach for $253,000 and the Chevy for $1,100,000.

Via David Levinson.

An Interview with Porsche’s design chief; Regulation

Ben Barry:

‘Legal regulations make life very tough for designers. I try to look at it positively – it forces you to be creative, to look in other directions. But whenever you get something right – safety, aero, styling – you can bet someone from Brussels or Washington or Tokyo has invented some new rule. I can accept it if it is an engineering requirement – you need stability at 300kph – but pedestrian-protection is based on hitting a pedestrian at such a height, and [that person] flying through the air in a certain way. I hope that if I am hit by a car I am hit in this exact way.’

Apple Carplay vs Android: the smartphone hits the road

Damion Smy:

For Apple and Google, your car is the next digital frontier. It’s the place where drivers can’t deeply interact with their smartphones, but the computing giants want to change that by offering user-friendly, simple and intuitive infotainment systems. And it’s another way for them to influence your phone choice, and sell you apps and services.
‘The car is like the second lounge room, with the amount of time people spend there, and this presents a big opportunity,’ says T3 magazine’s Kieran Alger.

Volvo vows to be at the leading edge of CarPlay: it’ll be plumbed into the new XC90 arriving this autumn. ‘It’s not about replacing a car’s functionality, it’s about extending it,’ says Volvo’s connectivity brand manager, David Holecek. But what if you haven’t got an iPhone? You can wire your Android phone up to Volvo’s in-car interface, but you won’t be able to unlock so many features. Clunkily, your iPhone will also have to be physically attached, and it has to be by lightning cable and to an iPhone 5.

Ford, which has a long-standing supply deal with Microsoft, paints itself as ‘device agnostic’. ‘The lifecycle of a car is much longer than a smartphone’s,’ says Ford’s director of connected services, Jo Beiser. ‘We’ll work with a number of systems; we’re not gambling on one tech.’ For Ferrari, CarPlay is a natural fit – some 90% of its customers are Apple junkies.

Which car makers are choosing Apple Carplay and Android OS?

Land Rover
Opel/Vauxhall Subaru
Peugeot Citroën

ANDROID (Google)

New laws set to allow driverless cars on Britain’s roads in race to develop transport of the future

Matt Chorley:

New laws are to be drawn up to allow driverless cars to take to Britain’s roads.
 Ministers admit the current Highway Code and rules of the road are inadequate for the new generation of vehicles which pilot themselves.
 With technology being developed on both sides of the Atlantic, the government wants to ensure that Britain is not overtaken by Google’s drive to see its cars used legally on the streets of California.

Wireless charging set for “massive growth by 2020”

Danny King:

Count wireless vehicle charging system sales as yet another sector in which both supply and demand will soon surge because of the growing popularity of plug-in vehicles. The relatively nascent inductive charging market will more than double every year from 2012 to 2020, research firm Frost & Sullivan says. With inductive charging, a driver can simply park the vehicle over a sensor in the ground or on a garage floor and have the vehicle recharge without the aid of power cords.

Frost & Sullivan blog.

BMW Smart Charging App saves money at the plug Notes cheapest hours for charging electric i3

Jake Lingeman:

BMW introduced its Smart Charging App on Monday that helps customers save money on charging their cars at home by identifying the hours during which electricity is cheapest. BMW says the app has the potential to save customers nearly $400 annually.
 The app is available for Android and Apple devices, and it’s integrated into the iRemote App, which sends drivers information about vehicle temperature, status, charging times and related costs on their i3.
 For this first phase, the app will be offered only to BMW’s Electronauts. That’s the company’s cute name for its i3 early adopter program, which started in 2012. The app uses a direct connection to a national energy-rate database, hosted by a BMW partner Genability. BMW says the app allows drivers to adjust their charging strategy days and even weeks in advance.
 We drove the i3 late last year, and we liked that it was open, airy and spunky on the road. Check out the review here.

The i3 Long Bet.

Japan Seeks to Squelch Its Tiny Cars

Hiroku Tabuchi:

SHINSHIRO, Japan — Toshie Yamada’s “kei,” with its pint-size engine and tiny wheels, looks more like a Fisher-Price toy car than a regular truck. But don’t underestimate her Nissan NT 100 Clipper microtruck. At a recent farmers’ market, where she sells orchids from her flower farm here in central Japan, she loaded up a mountain of crates, buckets and a folding table before hopping in and zipping away.
 “In these parts, keis are definitely the No. 1 car,” Ms. Yamada said. “Big cars are too much of a hassle.”
 As farmers’ trucks, family cars, delivery vans and even tiny cafes-on-wheels, keis are everywhere in Japan. They are more popular than ever, thanks to the country’s high gasoline prices, a preferential tax system and an uneven economic recovery that have made the wee cars enticing value propositions.

Via Steve Crandall.

I, robot, am your collaborator

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.

Here’s everything Tesla has done to the Model S’ software since 2012

David Noland:

While today’s Tesla Model S electric car may look just the same as the first one that rolled off the line two years ago, it’s had quite a few hardware updates under the surface.
 But from a Tesla owner’s point of view, the car has been improved far more by numerous updates to its computer software than by a handful of hardware changes — many of which can’t be retrofitted.
 That’s because all owners of a Tesla Model S car get those software upgrades automatically, over the air — for free.
 Try doing that with your new wiper-blade defroster.
 Virtually every aspect of Model S operation, from the climate control system to the suspension, is controlled by software. “A computer on wheels,” some have called it.
 That software, of course, can be updated. The Model S is unique among cars in that it can be reprogrammed remotely from the factory over its 3G or WiFi network. Since the Model S first hit the streets in June 2012, there have been a number of major software updates — on average, one every few months.

Would a Google car sacrifice you for the sake of the many?

David Weinberger:

1. The programmed morality of networked cars
 Google self-driving cars are presumably programmed to protect their passengers. So, when a traffic situation gets nasty, the car you’re in will take all the defensive actions it can to keep you safe.
 But what will robot cars be programmed to do when there’s lots of them on the roads, and they’re networked with one another?
 We know what we as individuals would like. My car should take as its Prime Directive: “Prevent my passengers from coming to harm.” But when the cars are networked, their Prime Directive well might be: “Minimize the amount of harm to humans overall.” And such a directive can lead a particular car to sacrifice its humans in order to keep the total carnage down. Asimov’s Three Rules of Robotics don’t provide enough guidance when the robots are in constant and instantaneous contact and have fragile human beings inside of them.
 It’s easy to imagine cases. For example, a human unexpectedly darts into a busy street. The self-driving cars around it rapidly communicate and algorithmically devise a plan that saves the pedestrian at the price of causing two cars to engage in a Force 1 fender-bender and three cars to endure Force 2 minor collisions…but only if the car I happen to be in intentionally drives itself into a concrete piling, with a 95% chance of killing me. All other plans result in worse outcomes, where “worse” refers to some scale that weighs monetary damages, human injuries, and human deaths.

Virginia Reiterates: Uber and Lyft Are Illegal, And Need to Provide Services Less and Lobby Government More

Brian Doherty:

As my post yesterday about how Lyft drivers were being cited and having cars impounded in Austin, Texas, made clear, in the uncertain, shifting, and highly varied legal and regulatory environment across the nation for “e-hailing” apps like Uber and Lyft, the companies have a tendency at times to operate first, and see what cities try to do to stop them later. (Which in many cases is to try to fine, ban, limit, or otherwise harass them.)

So far only California has been sensible enough to carve out a manageable, not terribly restrictive, statewide space for such services to operate legally, as I discussed in this October article.

Spiros Vathis / Foter / CC BY-NC-NDSpiros Vathis / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Today the state of Virginia loudly and firmly reiterated that this superhelpful, wonderful, makes-life-easier-for-nearly everyone, technical innovation in rides-for-hire is not permitted, and thus prohibited, in that state. There is nothing so helpful to the public that our public defenders won’t try to destroy it.

Uber Lands $1.2 Billion So You Can Get Rid of Your Car

Marcus Wohlsen:

Uber just became one of the most valuable tech startups in history.
 Co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick announced today that investors are pouring another $1.2 billion into Uber in a funding round that values the five-year-old company at $17 billion. Though nine and 10-figure deals have become common enough in Silicon Valley to seem almost normal, the news may leave many people out in the real world scratching their heads. Does Uber–an app-ified version of the cab business–really need that much money?
 Given the scope of Uber’s ambition, it just might.
 Kalanick doesn’t just want to give you a ride when you don’t have your car. He wants you to give up your car, period. “Our vision is to offer a way for people to get around cities without having to drive a car,” Kalanick told Bloomberg Businessweek. “If you can make it economical for people to get out of their cars, or sell their cars, and turn transportation into a service, it’s a pretty big deal.”

Regulation: Pro-Tesla electric car bill advances in NJ Assembly

Matt Friedman:

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.

moving beyond cup holders, color and monthly payments

Steve Crandall:

Stripped to the basics a vehicle is just a device that moves by converting stored energy into mechanical energy. In the early days of the automobile it wasn’t clear what the stored energy would be and how it would be converted. Experimenters worked with steam engines, a wide variety of two and four cycle internal combustion engines, compressed air and electric motors. There were engineering and usage hints from horse drawn wagons and carriages as well as the bicycle, but infrastructure ranged from poor to nonexistent. There was something of a race to see what would be good enough to begin to define and infrastructure and it was up to the users to invent and evolve usage patterns.
 By 1900 three of the main contenders were the internal combustion engine, the steam engine and the electric motor. All were expensive and limited, but new designs were changing and improving rapidly. By 1910 the gasoline engine had matured to the point where it was more efficient, cheaper to manufacture and less temperamental than the steam engine. The electric car had seen considerable use in large cities where its short range wasn’t a big issue, but it faded as trip lengths increased, electric starters appeared on gasoline powered cars making them easier to use and the price of gasoline cars dropped.
 By the time the Ford Model T arrived it was clear the future was going to be a gasoline fueled internal combustion engine. The innovation that came with the Model T was a dramatic price reduction made possible by standardization and a soup to nuts scale assembly line. Suddenly cars were available to the middle class and the supporting infrastructure from oil refineries to better roads grew sprouted up. So many people had mobility that the distances between where we lived, worked, shopped and played adjusted to fit the hour or so a day we were willing to devote to travel.

Privacy & auto technology: Telematics 2014

Michael Martinez:

Car technology is advancing at a rapid pace. But automakers and manufacturers are in the very early stages of managing the privacy and security of information gathered by that technology, industry officials say.
 Every time you turn the key of a newer car with an infotainment system or other technology, it knows your location, driving behavior, physical dimensions and dining, gas and traveling preferences. And, whether the public realizes it or not, there are few regulations that limit who can access that information.
 “(Your car’s) presumably tracking you all the time,” said Roger Lanctot, associate director of Strategy Analytics, a consultancy firm and research company. “Somewhere along the way we need to have a better understanding because right now, the reason why it feels like the Wild West is that it’s so open. You’re basically letting the carmaker gather whatever data it wants and share it with whoever, including marketing partners and law enforcement.”
 Lanctot spoke Thursday at Telematics Detroit 2014, a conference about connected mobility, at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. Many of the talks during the conference’s second day focused on privacy and security issues.


Oliver Bruce:

There is a lot that Google is telling us that they’re not saying in this video.
 1) That manufacturing process they’re using looks remarkably similar to Gordon Murray’s iStream. Just see that tubular frame chassis and (what appears to be) bonded plastic panelling. The framework design seems very much like the Yamaha Motiv.e. Of course, if Google was thinking about getting into making its own cars, doing so via a fully formed and disruptive method of car manufacturing would be a good way to do it.

Via Oliver.

Policy vs Technology

Jonathan Gitlain:

Being able to see where you’re going is rather important when you’re controlling a car, regardless of whether it’s day or night. It’s therefore not surprising that headlight technology is a constant focus of the auto industry. One of the latest steps forward is the adaptive headlights that debuted in Audi’s R8 LMX. These use lasers (I’m not going to make the Austin Powers joke) to augment traditional high beams without blinding everyone in their path. Unfortunately, they won’t be seen on US roads, thanks to inflexible regulations written before humankind landed on the moon.
 If the secret to night driving was just more powerful illumination, things would be much simpler. Brighter illumination is fine if you’re the one behind the wheel, less so if you’re being dazzled by those beams. The R8 LMX’s headlights aim to solve this problem, detecting cars that would be dazzled by its laser spotlights, then adjusting the cone of that spotlight to prevent that happening.
 Each headlight actually has four blue LED lasers that the unit modulates to create a focused spotlight with twice the range of the car’s LED high beams. The blue laser light is also transformed into a white light with the same temperature as daylight (5500K) by a phosphor converter. The laser spotlights kick in once the car is above 37mph, and an integrated camera system constantly monitors the road ahead and adjusts their throw to avoid blinding the rest of us.

Via Steve Crandall.

Robot Truck Convoy Tested In Nevada

Kelsey Atherton:

Like Olympic skiers racing in single file to reduce air resistance, two 18-wheeler trucks in Nevada recently proved that uncomfortably close convoys can save drivers fuel and money. The key, instead of bold Olympic athleticism, is robotic assistance. A computer-assisted truck was able to follow closely behind a human-driven truck perfectly, maintaining exactly 33 feet of distance between the vehicles. The promise is a future of safer, more fuel efficient, and more robotic trucking.
 While Nevada is a friendly state for driverless cars, the system tested is only partially automated, with a driver in the computer-assisted truck still responsible for steering. In a way, that makes this a very, very advanced cruise control. The technology, developed by Peloton Tech, uses radar and a wireless link so that the following trucks travel at the same speed, braking simultaneously for safety, and doing so on an automated system that doesn’t have the delays of human reaction time. In addition, the drivers of both vehicles also have a video display, expanding both drivers’ vision and reducing blind spots.
 Besides safety, the major selling point of this system is that the reduced drag saves fuel costs. Peloton says the “technology saves more than 7% [of fuel] at 65mph – 10% for the rear truck and 4.5% for the lead truck,” which is tremendous because “Long-haul fleets spend 40% of operating expenses on fuel, accounting collectively for over 10% of U.S. oil use and related carbon emissions.” These savings come primarily from reduced aerodynamic drag.

via Charles Arthur.

Electric car with massive range in demo by Phinergy, Alcoa

CBC News:

Imagine making the 19-hour, 1,800-kilometre drive from Toronto to Halifax in an electric car without having to stop for a recharge.
 That’s theoretically possible with a special kind of battery being demonstrated this week in Montreal by Israel-based Phinergy and Alcoa Canada.
 The battery, demonstrated this week in Montreal by Israel-based Phinergy and Alcoa Canada, consists of panels made mostly of aluminum. (Alcoa)
 The partners have refurbished an “ordinary car” to use a special “aluminum-air” battery.
 The battery can extend the range of an electric car by 1,600 kilometres when used in conjunction with the vehicle’s regular lithium-ion battery.
 “We hope that this will increase the penetration of electric cars with zero emissions,” said Aziz Tzidon, CEO of Phinergy, in an interview with CBC Montreal’s Homerun earlier this week, adding that it should put an end to “range anxiety.”

ExperAverage automotive loan term reaches record high of 66 months; loans with terms 73-84 months grew by 27.6 percent

Experian Automotive:

Experian Automotive today announced that loan terms continued to lengthen, with the average automotive loan term reaching 66 months for the first time. According to Experian Automotive’s latest State of the Automotive Finance Market report, loan terms in the first quarter of 2014 reached the highest level since the company began publicly reporting the data in 2006. The analysis also shows that loans with terms extending out 73–84 months made up 24.9 percent of all new vehicle loans originated during the quarter, growing 27.6 percent since Q1 2013.
 The average amount financed for a new vehicle loan also reached an all-time high of $27,612 in Q1 2014, up $964 from the previous year. In addition, the average monthly payment for a new vehicle loan reached its highest point on record at $474 in Q1 2014, up from $459 in Q1 2013.
 “As the cost of purchasing a new vehicle continues to rise, consumers clearly are stretching the loan term to help lower monthly payments, keeping them at a manageable level,” said Melinda Zabritski, Experian Automotive’s senior director of automotive credit. “The benefit of a longer-term loan is the lower monthly payment; however, the flip side of that is consumers can find themselves paying more in interest or being upside-down on their loan if they seek to trade their vehicle in early. It is definitely a choice that consumers will want to weigh carefully before making a final purchasing decision.”

America has a new subprime problem: cars

Matt Phillips:

After the worst of the Great Recession, it didn’t take long for the subprime market to start growing again in the US.
 Subprime auto loans—that is car loans made to people with shaky credit histories—have been growing fast over the last few years. In 2009, about 17% of the auto loans bundled up into bonds known as asset-backed securities (or ABS, similar to the mortgage-backed securities that crashed the financial system) were subprime. By the first quarter of 2014, that figure had swollen to 31%, according to data from Citi analysts.
 And now some of those borrowers are falling behind on payments. Citigroup analysts spotlighted the trend in a recent note—though it’s somewhat strange, they pointed out, as most American households’ balance sheets are currently improving. “The deterioration is quite striking in relation to the 2003–2009 period, when households were relatively worse off,” Citi analysts wrote.

Lazy Humans Shaped Google’s New Autonomous Car

Tim Simonite:

The fact that Google’s bubble-like self-driving car, unveiled this week, lacks a steering wheel might be seen as evidence the company’s software is close to mastering the challenges of piloting a vehicle. But the car’s design is just as much a consequence of what Google’s existing fleet of automated Lexus SUVs revealed about human laziness.
 Google’s engineers had been focused on perfecting how well those modified cars could handle freeway driving, and they imagined their technology hitting the market in a way that left humans sharing driving duties with their vehicle. “The idea was that the human drives onto the freeway, engages the system, [and] it takes them on the bulk of the trip—the boring part—and then they reëngage,” said Nathaniel Fairfield, a technical lead on the project, speaking at the Embedded Vision Summit in Santa Clara, California, on Thursday.

On Tesla’s Lack of Innovation

Steve Crandall:

Google loves to show off their exploratory work and it the publicity appears to be part of building and maintaining their mystique. They’re hunting for new businesses that will take them beyond peak growth in search and ad revenue. There are many possibilities and they’re throwing a lot of darts at the wall. This is one of those darts. It seems reasonable to me that we could see small sized electric self navigating cars in a few urban and even suburban environments in the next three or four years. Moving to the North American notion of what an automobile’s job is happens to be much more complicated and will wait much longer.
 There will be a lot of competition in this area as a dozen other companies have projects investigating the same space. The megacity car for developing countries is likely to be the growth path for automobile companies – you’ve know some of the names, but it also seems likely there will be major players that aren’t building cars at this point and may not exist yet. The history of technology suggests that the people who work on technologies that eventually become major innovations rarely are those who dominate the innovation stage.
 I’ve burned up my hour without saying much about the efficiency of electric versus internal combustion power trains, how mass and aerodynamics get involved and why physics may dictate where change first appears. Fodder for the next post.

Self-Driving Cars Are Still Cars—Which Means They Won’t Improve Your Commute

Ben Walsh:

Google on Tuesday trumpeted the development of a fully self-driving car—no human intervention necessary. “They won’t have a steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal… because they don’t need them,” project director Chris Urmson wrote on Google’s blog, calling the car “an important step toward improving road safety and transforming mobility for millions of people.” Google co-founder Sergey Brin was no less emphatic in an interview with the New York Times. Asked about car companies’ advances in automatic steering for traffic jams, he said, “That stuff seems not entirely in keeping with our mission of being transformative.” The implication: Google is the only company transforming how we travel in America.
 But Google, to use a technology cliché, has chosen the wrong platform. If the company wants to revolutionize mobility, it shouldn’t waste its time with cars. They’re intractably inefficient uses of energy and space, and building our communities around them has failed.
 The internal combustion engine is laughably inefficient. Between 70 and 85 percent of the energy created by burning gas never gets put to use moving your car. The biggest inefficiency is heat loss, which immediately claims about 60 percent of the energy in burning gas. Even relatively dirty fossil fuel–fired power plants can be about 55 percent efficient through engineering modifications that aren’t possible in a four-door sedan. Gas-fueled cars emit about three times as much carbon per passenger mile as mass transit (commuter rail, subway, buses). Google’s cars are electric, but even the best electric cars still fall short of the energy efficiency of comparably advanced buses and trains. And in regions with particularly dirty power supplies, the carbon footprint of electric cars is no smaller than gas-powered cars rated at 31 to 40 miles to the gallon.

Regulation: Europe demands driverless cars be driveable

Chris Baraniuk:

The latest in a long line of breezy promotional videos from Google has landed. This time, it was the company’s self-driving vehicle project that took centre stage. Although the car’s dinky, bubble-like design was mocked by some, its announcement has also been widely understood to signal the fact that autonomous vehicles are now entering the next level of testing and development.
 Google’s cars will, for now, be limited to trials in the Palo Alto firm’s home state of California. So what about driverless transportation in Europe? Is the EU ready to embrace this technology, or is it about to be left in the wake of another American innovation?
 At first glance the situation seems a little murky. Both BMW and Daimler AG, which owns Mercedes-Benz, have been working on autonomous vehicle concepts for years, such as BMW’s self-driving 5 Series.
 However, spokespersons for both companies have admitted to that marketable products in this category are a long way off. The reason? Simply put, it’s because the legal framework that would enable the sale of such vehicles is more or less absent.
 “The legislation is just not in place for us to be able to put these vehicles on the market,” explains a BMW spokesperson.
 Essentially, EU law has not yet worked out applicable assumptions and rules that would apply to the kind of intermittently autonomous vehicles currently available, never mind the sort of design just shown off by Google—which lacks a steering wheel.