Volkswagen develops 5 splitting headaches

Bertel Schmitt:

While Winterkorn is digging for Tylenol, Toyota is set to report record 2.4 trillion yen ($20 billion) profits for the year, despite, or make that because it no longer wants to grow at all costs. By the end of this fiscal, Toyota is expected to lift, at least partially, the veil off its new production system, dubbed Toyota New Global Architecture, or TNGA. Expect this to be much more than just a modular kit. TNGA will reach into all aspects of the vehicle development and production process, including planning, design, and purchasing. TNGA will extend across diverse divisions, including R&D, Sales, Purchasing, and Production Engineering. Instead of a Teutonic “out with the old, in with the (costly) new” TNGA will maximize current resources and investments, and it will be gradually implemented over the course of a decade. At Toyota, TNGA could very well be the most ground-breaking development since the Toyota Way.

Apple Watch will replace your car keys, says Tim Cook

Allister Heath:

Cook expects an explosion of new apps for the Apple Watch . One of the Apple Watch’s great missions will be to harness new technology to help improve users’ health. The Apple Watch will of course be able to monitor heart rates, Cook says; but it will be far more sophisticated than that. It is bad for people’s health to sit too much; so the watch will gently tap people’s wrist every hour to remind them to stand up and go for a walk if they haven’t had enough exercise.
 Even more intriguingly, the Watch will operate a special rewards system: users will get credits if they exercise enough. They will also be encouraged to increase their metabolic targets if they meet their exercise targets consistently. Consumers will clearly have an incentive to wear the watch for as much of the day as possible, and even in the shower.
 There will be lots of other potentially revolutionary uses. The watch is designed to be able to replace car keys and the clumsy, large fobs that are now used by many vehicles, Cook told The Telegraph. This could be a major development and will reinforce the view that Apple is circling the automotive market.
 Another major application will be for paying: the Watch will be able to serve as a very usable credit card, courtesy of Apple Pay. The system will be ultra-safe, Cook says, certainly more so than the plastic cards currently in use in the US. It will also respect users’ privacy: Apple won’t know what consumers are buying, where they are purchasing their goods and how much they are paying for them.
 Connectivity and the future of tech


Yamaha city cars to hit Europe around 2019


Yamaha Motor plans to make and sell small cars in Europe starting around 2019, President Hiroyuki Yanagi told the Nikkei Thursday.
  The world’s second-biggest motorbike maker will invest tens of billions of yen to set up a plant for two-seater automobiles.
  Yamaha will offer urban cars for short-distance driving as demand for efficient compacts grows worldwide. The company intends to tap its bike expertise to develop an agile subcompact. “As the auto market grows more diverse, we see business opportunities,” Yanagi said.
  The company chose Europe as the first market because of suitable city planning. It has yet to decide the proposed plant’s location and output capacity.
  The car will come in gasoline and electric versions. Yamaha will build 1-liter engines to be developed in-house while buying motors and batteries for the electric vehicles.

Innovation and vision for a changing auto world

Professor Gordon Murray:

The coincidence of the 2008 energy crisis and a global economic downturn changed the automotive industry as we know it and forced a change in vehicle purchase behaviour.
 Overlayed on this fundamental change was the growing uncertainty over which powertrain or future fuel path to invest in, coupled with a shift in direction of the car ownership and usage models, and a completely new attitude towards brand and brand loyalty from the younger generation who have grown up amidst the telecommunications revolution. In the resultant turmoil a few automotive giants ran over the edge of a commercial cliff and the automotive sector has emerged as an industry which is now focusing on a new direction in both their business models and their product strategy.
 Manufacturers are now having to compete in new dimensions in an arena where the old business model of high investment, single-model strategy and very high annual volumes has largely collapsed. The new direction calls for innovation and modularisation in both manufacturing and product. When a modular architecture is introduced, integration will no longer be a crucial factor in the success of the business, and we will open up multi-niche opportunities.
 Against this complex background of change and disintegration of business models, opportunities are being created for both OEMs who are open to change and new entrants to the sector alike.

Why Tesla’s battery for your home should terrify utilities

Josh Dzeiza:

Earlier this week, during a disappointing Tesla earnings call, Elon Musk mentioned in passing that he’d be producing a stationary battery for powering the home in the next few months. It sounded like a throwaway side project from someone who’s never seen a side project he doesn’t like. But it’s a very smart move, and one that’s more central to Musk’s ambitions than it might seem.
 To understand why, it helps to look not at Tesla, but at SolarCity, a company chaired by Musk and run by his cousin Lyndon Rive. SolarCity installs panels on people’s roofs, leases them for less than they’d be paying in energy bills, and sells surplus energy back to the local utility. It’s proven a tremendously successful model. Founded in 2006, the company now has 168,000 customers and controls 39 percent of the rapidly expanding residential solar market.

2015 Auto Financing Report

John Kiernan:

Is it a good time to buy a car? Consumers across the country have no doubt been asking themselves that question in recent months, as an aging fleet of vehicles – the average car is 11.4 years old – drastically suppressed interest rates and improving economic conditions have set the stage for significant buying activity. And that is exactly what we’ve gotten, with 16.5 million cars being sold in 2014.
 Whether or not the good times will keep on rolling in 2015 remains to be seen, however. Most forecasts indicate that sales will grow, ending the year with a record 17 million vehicles sold. But when you also consider expectations for rising interest rates as well as current global economic turmoil and depressed oil prices – which simultaneously make consumers feel flush yet unmotivated to buy fuel-efficient vehicles – it’s obvious why opinions are mixed as to the auto industry’s strength in 2015.
 With that being said, five of the seven auto industry and consumer spending experts we consulted for this report responded with a grade of seven or higher when asked: On a scale of 1 (an emphatic no) to 10 (an emphatic yes), is now a good time to buy a car? “I would say 9 or 10 since we are looking at an improving economy in the USA but challenges abroad,” said Frank L. DuBois, chair of the Kogod School of Business at American University. “Consumers that have delayed purchases are now getting forced into looking for cars as maintenance and repair costs on older cars rise.”

Via Edward Niedermeyer.

Apple Car: Three More Thoughts

Jean-Louis Gassée:

When we walked into Giugiaro’s Italdesign offices, a surprise awaited us. When I thought of Industrial Design — Esthétique Industrielle in French — aesthetics first came to mind, industry second. But what Giugiaro showed us was the opposite: The industrial side of his practice was, for him, truly foremost. In his own words, his job wasn’t to design an award-winning shape for a car, his job was to design the process, the factory that would eventually excrete a continuous flow of vehicles.
 An example from Giugiaro’s portfolio: The Renault 19. At a time when the French manufacturer saw a hole in its product line, Giugiaro raided the corporate parts bank, designed a production line, installed it, and trained the production technicians.
 More than 25 years later, the conversation is still with me: One doesn’t design a car, one designs the machine, the process, the supply ecosystem that produces the vehicle. As Horace Dediu puts it, innovations are in the production system:

​Why You Won’t Be Able To Buy An Apple Car

Damon Lavrinc:

Apple probably isn’t getting into the car business. At least not in the way we know it today. It’s getting into the mobility business, where you dial up a ride on your smartphone, Uber-style, get to where you’re going and move on with your life. No monthly payments, no insurance, no maintenance and repairs. That’s what Apple could bring to the game, and it’s obviously not alone.
 After the last two weeks of news, exclusively composed of “leaks” and unnamed sources, Apple is obviously doing something big with Project Titan, the codename of its car-related project. It’s poached battery and automotive engineers and executives, and put an estimated 200 people working on the project in an undisclosed location in the Valley.
 That’s led to a string of analysis and speculation about exactly what Apple is doing and how a company known for PCs, phones, and tablets could possibly survive in the traditional automotive space. It can’t because it doesn’t need to.

Regulation: U.S. BMW i3 REx Actually Has 2.4 Gallon Gas Tank, But Clever Software Limits Fueling To 1.9 Gallons

Inside EVs:

When BMW launched the i3 REx in the U.S., one of the main difference from the European version of the same car was the fuel tank capacity. Since BMW needs the i3 REx to qualify as a BEVx and one of the qualifications of the BEVx is that the car has a smaller gasoline range than it does electric range, and also to meet EPA requirements, the fuel tank capacity was said to be reduced from 2.4 gallons to 1.9 gallons.
 This is a 21 percent capacity reduction which translates in a smaller driving range on the range extender itself.
 Recent developments reveal that the fuel tank capacity of the i3 REx was not physically reduced, but rather controlled via software. This was accomplished by shutting off the fuel pump at 1.9 gallons.

Toyota I-Road to start Tokyo trial

Dave Leggett:

The new trial will see iRoad paired with Park24’s Times Car Plus service, which allows members to make use of a fleet of share-cars at any time of day. The scheme will also incorporate elements from Toyota’s Ha:mo urban transport template, which has also been adopted for the Grenoble project.
 The Tokyo trial is planned to run until the end of September. Usage data and user feedback will be gathered to assess ease of use, changes in user activity patterns and public receptiveness to new mobility systems of this type.

Secret to the Apple Car Is the Battery

Katie Benner:

But if Apple’s goal is to make an electric car that disrupts the auto industry like the iPhone disrupted smartphones, then the tech that matters the most is the battery. And car battery tech has thwarted many other companies. Building a better battery is a tough chemistry conundrum, not the sort of electronics problem that tech companies are used to solving.
 Just ask the guys at A123 Systems, the startup that got funding from the Department of Energy’s loan-guarantee program before it went bankrupt trying to make batteries for electric cars. Apple was sued for poaching employees from A123 and Tesla to be part of its car team.
 A123 ran into problems trying to make batteries that were effective and affordable, as the MIT Technology Review pointed out when the company went bankrupt. The batteries were so expensive that they made electric cars cost too much to compete with conventional gas-fueled cars (a dynamic that’s exacerbated by low gas prices). Even though the cost to produce a battery has fallen, battery technology hasn’t improved much in terms of longevity or design.

Daimler welcomes Apple into car market

Robert Wright:

“It shows that the industry has a major growth potential and therefore I’m happy because we’re part of the automotive industry,” Mr Uebber said of Apple’s putative plans.

He insisted that Daimler was at the forefront of many of the areas where new industry entrants were seeking to make inroads, including electric vehicle technology and autonomous driving.

“We have autonomous driving,” Mr Uebber said, referring to experiments that have included having a Mercedes-Benz truck — known as FT2025 — driving autonomously along a German autobahn, largely without human intervention. “We’re the frontrunner. In trucks, last year we demonstrated a truck on the highway autonomously driving between Mannheim and Pforzheim. FT2025 demonstrated what we can do in the future.”

“If there were a rumour that Mercedes or Daimler planned to start building smartphones then they (Apple) would not be sleepless at night. And the same applies to me.

“And this is full of respect for Apple. That is what I am saying.”

What does the congressional grilling of Akio Toyoda have to do with the Mirai FCV? More than we imagine

Bertel Schmitt:

Historically important as the date may be, some think it’s strange that it is being remembered. This morning on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to today’s event in Motomachi, Craig Trudell of Bloomberg called an old source, an American professor in Tokyo, and a gem of a quote was received:
 “It is quite unusual that Toyota is holding this event on an anniversary of a time many in Toyota would think was a time best forgotten. Do you think Ford Motor Co. launches any product on the day they retired the Pinto?”
 Touché, but that’s Toyota for you.


Edward Niedermayer:

Instead of buying and owning an Apple or Google car, like you would a Ford or Toyota, you would simply have access to the nearest available one via an Uber-style app. Rather than having to fulfill every consumer mobility need with a single large purchase, these autonomous “service” vehicles will be optimized for different scenarios on a pay-per-use or subscription basis. One model may replace taxis for urban hops; another model may be focused on longer commutes, while yet another may provide weekend adventure mobility. Rather than owning a city car, a sedan and an SUV, an Apple or Google mobility service may someday replace all three with a single subscription.
 This not only opens new relationships with mobility for consumers, but it also allows new players to avoid the pitfalls of the traditional auto industry. If operated as a service, Google or Apple could build far fewer cars than any modern automaker and ensure that those vehicles operate at peak efficiency rather than sitting parked, as most cars do most of the time. This, along with the relative simplicity of electric-vehicle manufacturing, would mean that a mobility service would need a far smaller manufacturing footprint. Because there is also no need for a dealership network, the service model avoids the need for huge investment and entanglement with complex dealership franchise laws. With the auto industry’s main “moats” — manufacturing and retail scale — cut down to size, Apple and Google’s interest in what we still think of as “cars” would become far more viable.


What Apple Is Driving At

Dan Gallagher:

Gaining just a small portion of the high-end car business could help diversify the Apple’s revenue. And even if it falls short of rolling its own car off the line—consumers have yet to see a much-discussed Apple television—the company could make significant breakthroughs in areas like batteries, software and electronics. Those could form lucrative businesses in their own right.

Outstanding Auto Loans Hit $886 Billion In 2014

Tom McParland:

When you have a record year for car sales such as what happened in 2014, you can also expect a record number of auto-loans. Credit reporting bureau Experian says that Americans borrowed a staggering $886 billion dollars last year to finance new and pre-owned vehicles, but they maintain this is no cause for alarm.
 Experian mirrors what Equifax has already said about the possibility of a so-called sub-prime bubble. That is, despite the massive increase in lending, there has been a relatively small growth in sub-prime and deep sup-prime borrowers, which up 3.83 percent and 5.60 percent, respectively. However, the total market share of sub-prime and deep sub-prime loans actually fell by twenty percent.


“most of the future product programs from these manufacturers are being designed for the Asia-Pacific region first, not here”

Peter DeLorenzo:

For instance, everyone seems to be frantic about Apple poaching Detroit-based engineering talent and making noise about developing automotive technology these days, maybe even a car. There seem to be two polarized camps on this subject. One suggests that Apple – being the invincible arbiter of all things technical when it comes to the consumer – has the smartest guys and gals in the room and the biggest pile of money, and that they can pretty much do whatever they want if they put their minds to it. And with their pitchforks raised and at the ready, and their superior intellect – just ask ‘em – needing a new challenge, they are sure to be successful at whatever suits their fancy, whether it means building an electric car of their own, or just burying Detroit altogether for the sheer sport of it.

The other perspective lies with the “here we go again” theory, as in here we go again with a tech company trying to manufacturer big, complicated machines that they have no experience with. And even though they have to come to Detroit to grab talent that understands how to make it all work – just as Tesla did (something the pitchfork-wielding denizens of Silicon Valley conveniently forget) – they will ultimately bite off more than they can chew.

The reality is somewhere in the middle. Is Apple up to something? Yes, obviously but what that is, exactly, remains to be seen. I think, for starters, that Apple wants to own the center stacks in the interiors of cars. They strongly believe in this notion of “seamless connectivity,” so that their existing customers can keep their Apple-dominated lives synchronized, even when they step into their cars. And Apple wants one manufacturer to agree to hand over the design and engineering of their center stacks, so that they can make the world a better place for all of us, as is their wont.

Will a manufacturer buy into it? I can think of a few that should, given their piss-poor attempts at customer connectivity to date, but at this point it’s another giant “we’ll see” that will roil this business for a good while.

At UPS, the Algorithm Is the Driver

Steven Rosenbush & Laura Stevens:

Here’s a math problem for you. Each United Parcel Service Inc. driver makes an average of 120 stops per day. There are 6,689,502,913,449,135,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 alternatives for ordering those stops. Which option is the most efficient, after considering variables such as special delivery times, road regulations, and the existence of private roads that don’t appear on a map?

Even if an optimal answer exists, the human mind will never figure it out. And while experts at UPS have been giving the problem their best shot for more than a century, the company is shifting that work over to a computer platform called Orion, which is 10 years and an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in the making. “Can a human really think of the best way to deliver 120 stops? This is where the algorithm will come in. It will explore paths of doing things you would not, because there are just too many combinations,” says Jack Levis, senior director of process management at UPS.

Why GM Hired 8,000 Programmers

Jeff Bennett:

Alvin Kowalik has purchased many General Motors Co. pickup trucks over the years. But last year, the cattle rancher in Selma, Texas, tried something new, and purchased a pickup through GM’s Shop-Click-Drive website.

“I found the truck, listed my trade-in and was given the sales price. A nice lady from the dealership calls me, we made a deal, they drove it out and I signed the papers,” Mr. Kowalik said.

For Mr. Kowalik, 68 years old, the transaction was easy. For GM, the deal effectively took three years, involving an overhaul of its computer infrastructure, beginning with creating its own software development unit and building programs to reflect customers’ preference for online shopping and ordering.

For Apple, an opportunity to revolutionize the automobile, without ever selling one

Gabe Nelson:

Few people know the actual parameters of the project. Some have suggested Apple wants to build a better self-driving car than Google or a better electric car than Tesla Motors. Reports last week said Apple wants to begin production of an EV as early as 2020. A lawsuit by battery maker A123 Systems alleging that Apple poached its top engineers suggests that Apple is working on acquiring advanced battery technology.
 Others think Apple wants to expand its electronics empire by designing an upgradeable in-car interface that wouldn’t become obsolete as rapidly as the infotainment systems in most of today’s cars.
 But the code-name of the project itself suggests that Apple’s ambitions are broader than that, even if they don’t include selling an Apple-branded vehicle.

DEAR SILICON VALLEY: Here’s your wake-up call

Henry Blodget:

For the past 15 years or so, ever since the tech industry began its recovery from the dot-com bust, observers have rushed to declare a new “bubble.”
 With each successive increase in the valuations of companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Pinterest, Snapchat, skeptics have dismissed the growth as a “fad” and the extraordinary and real value created as a delusion.
 For the past 15 years, these skeptics have been wrong.
 And insofar as they dismiss today’s tech environment as a “bubble,” they’re still wrong. Today’s investment climate is still a far cry from the bubble years of the late 1990s.

Tesla: Bonfire Of The Money Printers’ Vanities

Tyler Durden:

Not surprisingly, the speculative mania on Wall Street has reached such absurd lengths that Telsa is being heralded and valued as the second coming of Apple and its circus barker CEO, Elon Musk, as the next Henry Ford. Indeed, so raptured were the day traders and gamblers that in the short span of 33 months between early 2012 and September 2014 they ramped up Tesla’s market cap from $2.5 billion to a peak of $35 billion.
 That’s a 14X gain in virtually no time—-and its not due to the invention of a revolutionary new product like the i-Pad. Instead, we’re talking about 4,600 pounds of sheet metal, plastic, rubber and glass equipped with an electric battery power pack that has been around for decades, and which is not remotely economic without deep government subsidies.
 Beyond that, the various Tesla models currently on the market carry price tags of $75k to more than $100k. So they are essentially vanity toys for the wealthy—–a form of conspicuous consumption for the “all things green” crowd.

The established carmakers, not tech firms, will win the race to build the vehicles of the future

The Economist:

APPLE’S ability to make desirable iGadgets designed for easy portability is beyond question. Reports emerged this week that it is planning to make a mobile device that will instead carry its users—an electric car. Apple’s plans are unclear and unconfirmed. By some accounts it has put a few hundred people to work developing cars to match Tesla, another Silicon Valley firm that makes fast and luxurious battery-powered saloons. Others reckon that it is working on a self-driving car.
 Plenty of other tech firms are turning their attention to cars. In February Uber, a firm that provides taxis through a smartphone app, said it would set up a laboratory in Pittsburgh to develop self-driving taxis. Sony recently put money into ZMP, a self-driving car startup; Google has been working for years on driverless cars. Silicon Valley is eyeing up the auto industry for two reasons. One is that technology—in the form of electric cars, driver-assistance systems and fully autonomous cars—is already altering the industry. Another is that carmakers themselves look vulnerable, thanks to chronic overcapacity, hefty legacy costs and a spate of damaging recalls.

Seven Pillars of Subprime: Maximize Today’s Opportunity

GM Financial:

The landscape of our economy has changed dramatically over the last ten years. Take a look at today’s reality:

 There are approximately 242 million adults in the US
 41 percent of this population is subprime

 This translates to about 99 million potential customers
Only one of them is important – the customer in front of you

Cia Edward Niedermeyer.

Software is steering auto industry

John Gapper:

It is an easy error to make. Although much of the technology that guides and controls cars is built by suppliers, even the biggest of them is little known outside the industry. The balance of power, and most of the market value, lies with the “original equipment manufacturers” that assemble vehicles and sell them to consumers.
 But competition is intensifying as Google and Apple enter the market. Google is testing a self-driving car that uses Bosch sensors. No one knows precisely what Apple is doing, but it is employing several hundred people on a project called Titan. Along with Elon Musk’s Tesla, Silicon Valley companies are challenging Detroit.
 The challenge is not merely external. As software and communications become as integral to a new generation of vehicles as hardware, the tradition of OEMs being able to control and squeeze their suppliers is shifting. There is a revolution from below.

Loans to those with low credit scores driven by boom in car lending, new crop of financial firms

Alan Zibel & Annamaria Andriotis:

Loans to consumers with low credit scores have reached the highest level since the start of the financial crisis, driven by a boom in car lending and a new crop of companies extending credit.
 Almost four of every 10 loans for autos, credit cards and personal borrowing in the U.S. went to subprime customers during the first 11 months of 2014, according to data compiled for The Wall Street Journal by credit-reporting firm Equifax.
 That amounted to more than 50 million consumer loans and cards totaling more than $189 billion, the highest levels since 2007, when subprime loans represented 41% of consumer lending outside of home mortgages. Equifax defines subprime borrowers as those with a credit score below 640 on a scale that tops out at 850.

Why Is Chevrolet Sending Their Dealers To Disney?

Tom McParland:

There, Chevrolet dealers are taught to act like theater actors: When they meet customers at the dealership, they’re onstage playing the gracious host. Through this process, Chevy dealers learn the finer points of focusing on the customer, an art the Mouse House has perfected over the years.
 At $2700-$2800 per participant, this training doesn’t come cheap and don’t expect to by greeted by sales staff in a costumes, though that may make for an interesting test drive. What Chevrolet is trying to do is move away from the stereotypes of slick salespeople, and more towards a model of assisting someone with their purchase. Of course when you have commissioned salespeople that make their money from each sale, this is very different than paying someone a flat wage regardless on how many iPads or cappuccinos they sell within a day.
 For many years dealerships have done things their own way with minimal influence from the automakers, but Chevrolet has realized the need for a more consistent buyer experience regardless of location. However, doing complete overhauls to dealerships is expensive and some long-standing locations can be resistant to change.

Apple Wants to Start Producing Cars as Soon as 2020

Tim Higgins:

“That’s the inflection point — the proving ground — that brings on the electric age,” Steve LeVine, author of “The Powerhouse,” a book about the automotive battery industry, said on Bloomberg TV Thursday. “Now you have Apple coming in and this is critical mass. Was GM really going to be able to match Tesla? Apple can.”

Apple, which posted record profit of $18 billion during the past quarter, has $178 billion in cash with few avenues to spend it. The Cupertino, California-based company’s research and development costs were $6.04 billion in the past year, and Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook is facing increased pressure to return cash to shareholders. The CEO has been pushing the iPhone maker to enter new categories to further envelop users’ digital lives with Apple’s products and services.

Apple’s possible foray into cars follows a similar path it’s taken to break into other industries. The company wasn’t the first to make a digital-music player or smartphone, and only entered those markets once it had a product that redefined those categories.

Bosch CEO: Tech industry interlopers force car industry to react

Andreas Cremer:

Apple has declined to comment on whether it will become a manufacturer of cars, but the speculation about the emergence of a new rival from Silicon Valley is enough to force the established industry to react, analysts and car executives said.
 Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner said the emergence of a prototype vehicle by Internet giant Google had already demonstrated the potential disruption of an Apple car.
 “Google is pushing the theme of self-driving cars very strongly. That’s having a very positive effect for the entire automotive industry, because it enormously accelerates the pace of introducing drive-assist systems and semi-automatic functions,” he said at a conference in Berlin.
 Denner declined to comment on whether Bosch was working together with Apple to develop a car.
 “That’s something many would like to know but unfortunately I cannot comment. We only talk about customer projects when they’re implemented,” he said.

Auto originations advance 17%; 90-day delinquencies tick up in Q4, Fed says

Jim Henry:

The rate for serious auto delinquencies, defined as accounts 90-plus days overdue, also rose in the fourth quarter, to 3.47 percent from 3.35 percent in the year-earlier period.
 Analysts are keeping an eye on delinquencies because of a gradual increase in subprime auto loans. To put delinquencies in context, the uptick was the first year-over-year increase in 90-day delinquencies since the fourth quarter of 2012. Ninety-day delinquencies hit a recent high of 5.27 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to Fed statistics.
 Total auto debt, including loans and leases, reached $955 billion as of Dec. 31, up $92 billion, or nearly 11 percent, from where it stood as of Dec. 31, 2013.

Ford hires John Casesa as head of global strategy

Michael Martinez

Ford Motor Co. on Tuesday said it will hire John Casesa, a former auto analyst and investment banker, to fill a newly-created position of vice president of global strategy.
 Casesa will report directly to CEO Mark Fields as the most senior leader and corporate officer overseeing global strategy and business development and will lead a team “focused on enhancing existing business strategies and identifying and evaluating new opportunities for profitable growth,” Ford said.
 He will begin his position starting March 1.
 “John knows business and the auto industry inside and out,” Fields said in a statement. “His deep experience and relationships will help guide and shape our global strategies — particularly as we challenge today’s business model and push to innovate to make us even stronger tomorrow.”
 Ford said Casesa will lead the company’s investments in new products, technologies and business models supporting a focus on innovation and Ford’s smart mobility efforts.


Commentary on Car Sale Numbers

Bertel Schmitt:

Lastly, here is an item that cannot be repeated often enough: Don’t trust what you read. These numbers are registrations, and in an ideal world, they should reflect actual cars sales much better than the “deliveries to wholesale” that are reported in other markets. The world is not ideal, and the numbers you read are heavily skewed by manufacturers and dealers registering their own cars, thereby creating dummy “sales.” The cars are then sold, later, as “nearly new” at high discounts, or are shipped to other countries. Car dealers and manufacturers are “their own best customers,” as Germany’s favorite car-commentator Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer said. In Germany alone, a whopping 34.2 percent of all registrations reported in January were phantom sales, writes Germany’s kfz-Betrieb. Dealers registered 48,216 of their own cars, manufacturers registered 24,075. Net-net, actual January new car sales in Germany were down slightly. Retail sales crashed 9.1 in January. In all of 2014, retail sales were down 1.9 percent compared to an already gruesome 2013. And that, this also bears repeating, was in Europe’s largest and richest market. And there you have it, Europe, up for the seventeenth month in a row. A full table is here.

One Giveaway Tesla Doesn’t Need


Elon Musk, all-purpose impresario of the future, is enthusiastic about electric cars. “Eventually,” he says in the forthcoming issue of Bloomberg Markets magazine, “all cars will go electric.”
 As the founder and head honcho of Tesla Motors, he would say that. But he has some evidence on his side. Electric cars are culturally modish. They’re by most accounts fun and safe to drive. And their sales have been holding up lately, even as the price of oil has sunk and Tesla’s stock has had a bumpy ride.
 One problem: The success of electric cars generally — and of Tesla in particular — is due in no small part to a government mandate. And that mandate is distorting the auto market without clear evidence that it’s going to achieve its stated purpose.
 Tesla benefits from something called zero-emission credits. Pioneered in California and adopted by 10 other states, the policy will impose fines on large automakers this year unless zero-emission vehicles account for at least 4 percent of their sales, rising to 15.4 percent for 2018 models. Companies that exceed the mandate get credits they can sell to their noncompliant competitors. For Tesla, each new sale brings multiple credits, adding up to a windfall that could total more than $30,000 for each Model S sold.

Dare Greatly

Peter De Lorenzo:

Is it something I personally like? No, but frankly, I’m not the target. It’s the new-generation “X” and “Y” buyers who matter. Was this a purposeful attempt to eradicate Cadillac’s glorious past? No, it was a stark admission that new stories had to be written for new generations of buyers who not only couldn’t care less about the history of the brand, but who are impatient to find the luxury brand that speaks to them most. In other words, whatever previous notions of Cadillac that were hovering out there in the mist simply no longer applied.

What has transpired in the last six months in regards to Cadillac in terms of marketing strategy, product direction and everything else associated with this brand in transition has been monumental and is geared to what Cadillac will be in the future – where it needed and wanted to go, and what it will look and feel like on the journey there.

This new Cadillac is armed with a driven leader bolstered by conviction and experience, one who has a completely different outlook for the brand. He has a like-minded and aggressive CMO at his side, a new advertising agency and a whole new way of thinking about the brand unfolding in staccato bursts of thought and creativity.

And the result of this swirling maelstrom of new thinking?

Ford guns for China’s app addicts, seeks WeChat tie-up

Jake Spring:

Ford is in talks with Tencent over the business aspects of putting the app in its cars, Huang said. Tencent declined to comment.
 Huang said Ford envisages drivers syncing their phone to the car’s software system and controlling specific WeChat functions, chosen by Tencent and then certified by Ford as safe, through voice commands or limited use of buttons.
 Making WeChat and other apps convenient, safe and legal to use while driving could help automakers gain market share in China, especially as auto sales growth eases in a slowing economy. Yale Zhang, managing director of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight, said connectivity was a key deciding factor for Chinese customers buying a car.
 “Those kind of things are the fundamental things people will consider,” he added.
 Many Chinese use WeChat’s free voice messaging feature instead of phone calls, holding up their smartphones like a walkie-talkie as they speak, tap and listen to replies.
 They often do that while they are driving, breaking a 2004 traffic law that bans any behavior that hinders safe driving.

Used car prices expected to fall

Michael Martinez:

Strong demand for the low supply of SUVs and pickups drove up the cost of used cars and trucks slightly in 2014, but prices are expected to come down this year, experts say, thanks to low interest rates and a glut of available vehicles.
 Jonathan Banks, executive automotive analyst for the National Automobile Dealers Association’s used car guide, predicts used prices will drop between 2 and 2.5 percent in 2015, after a 1 percent rise in 2014.
 “As we look forward, we’re looking at a very positive environment,” Banks said. “Prices are going to be lower, the quality of the vehicles out there is really good, and interest rates are going to be fantastic.”
 Last year, car buyers paid an average of $11,878 for a 5-year-old used vehicle, NADA data show.

Peak Cars

Bertel Schmitt:

You may not notice it in the U.S. , where auto sales are heading towards pre-carmageddon heights, but globally, automakers are slowing down. With the exception of the U.S., auto markets around the world have either cooled of, or are downright miserable. Global automakers are adjusting their plans.

Ford To Develop Affordable, High-Volume Carbon Fiber Production


More than a hundred years ago, the Ford Model T brought the automobile to the multitude. Now, the Dearborn, Michigan, car manufacturer is aiming to do the same with carbon fiber.
 Apparently, the recently announced new Ford GT halo car is only the tip of the iceberg. The ferocious Ecoboost supercar is slated to serve as the Broadway stage for Ford’s plan to pioneer in carbon fiber technologies.
 Ford announced that it has teamed up with materials company DowAksa to move forward innovation in carbon fiber production. Essentially, Ford’s aim is to be the first company to create a viable, high-volume manufacturing process that will make the material more affordable and accessible than ever before.
 “This opportunity builds upon Ford’s current joint development agreement with Dow Chemical and accelerates our timeline to introduce carbon fiber composites into high-volume applications,” says Jim deVries, the Ford Global Manager of Materials and Manufacturing Research.

Apple Car or not, driverless cars are an ethical dead end

Charles Moore:

While there is an apparently near consensus a priori assumption afoot in the tech community that self-driving cars becoming a consumer reality is both a foregone conclusion and will be a good thing, a white paper by researchers the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute investigates several important issues associated with autonomous autos. And while it’s not the central focus of the paper, entitled: “Potential Impact of Self-Driving Vehicles on Household Vehicle Demand and Usage (Schoettle and Sivak), Report No. UMTRI-2015-3, February 2015,”the report coauthored by Dr. Michael Sivak—a research professor in UMTRI’s Human Factors Group with Brandon Schoettle—observes that there are still vast technological gaps that have to be bridged before self-driving vehicles should be turned loose on streets and highways.
 One of the most important is the still very much open question of how a self-driving car’s operating program will be able to accommodate the unpredictable nature of roadway dynamics such as how they will relate to other drivers, pedestrians, and changing—often challenging—weather conditions. What happens, for example, when road markings disappear under coatings of snow and ice, as they have been pretty much the whole first half of February on highways in my neck of the woods. For that matter, what about dirt roads that have no lane markings at all and precious few road signs, such as the road I live on? Reliance on GPS isn’t going to help much there. And what will a computer make of a police officer at an intersection directing traffic using hand and arm signals or a worker at a construction site doing likewise?

How will the car survive the future?

Neil Winton:

Uber is busily engaged on a global venture to recruit citizens to provide taxi-like services in their own cars, at the behest of smart phones. Its partner Google is also preparing to become a thorn in the side of auto manufacturers with its autonomous car, although it’s not clear yet what form this will take. Imagine what a bargain deal Uber could offer you if it eliminated the expense of drivers by replacing them with computers with some help from Google? And new ideas about car use abound. FlightCar offers vacationers the chance for free airport parking while they are away if they offer their car up for rental. If your car is rented out, you might return home with extra cash in your pocket, not a bill.
 Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader at Gartner, a technology research and advisory firm, believes that Americans can’t wait to embrace new ways of getting around.
 “Gartner research has shown that in the U.S., 23 percent of vehicle owners would consider giving up their vehicle ownership if they had access to an on-demand transportation service using autonomous vehicles. That’s almost a quarter of the population,” Santa Clara, California-based Koslowski said.

Cars 3.0

Steve Crandall:

Everyone is talking about fully autonomous cars and dreaming about the future these days. I’ll claim we’ll see much more automation, but full autonomy is some way in the future. For now fully autonomous vehicles are the gyrocopters and jet packs of today. One can imagine several transportation as a service and transportation on demand.
 To think about costs you have to consider specific scenarios, but a very long lasting platform that forms the basis for a service could be interesting. A fun area of speculation even if Apple isn’t doing it – after all, where’s their large screen TV. Potentially this ‘feels’ more interesting than Uber or Tesla in their current form.

Volkswagen Exec: We Need More Federal Investment in Electric Vehicles

Mary Mazzoni:

During his presentation, Jörg Sommer, Volkswagen’s VP of product marketing and strategy, said the company believes continued legislative support is needed to reach the next level of electric vehicle adoption.
 “Automakers have effectively delivered electric vehicles that can satisfy the needs of most American drivers,” Sommer said this week in Washington, D.C. “In addition to the investment we and other companies and industries are making, we would like to see federal financing support for establishing fast-charging networks in urban areas and interstate corridors.”
 Sommer’s statements come on the heels of Volkswagen’s announcement that it will partner with BMW and ChargePoint to create express-charging corridors on the East and West coasts.
 Sommer went on to add a dollar figure to that commitment: The company will invest $10 million in the EV infrastructure initiative, which will add 100 fast-charging stations to both coasts by the end of this year. The company will also invest to support the installation of charging stations in certain dealer locations.

The cities where no one wants to drive

Thomas Frohlich:

Roads are the arteries of the nation, and the automobile has been the centerpiece of American culture for decades. Despite Americans’ love for their cars, however, the rush hours are no more pleasant, and not everyone wants or can afford a car. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9.1% of American households did not own a car in 2013.
 According to a review of carless households in American cities, residents in some urban areas are far less likely to own a vehicle. In New York City, 54.4% of households did not have a car, the highest percentage nationwide. Based on the percent of households who did not own a vehicle in 2013, these are the cities where no one wants to drive.
 The concentration of businesses and people plays a major role in both traffic congestion and in many peoples’ decisions to own a car or not. Seven of the 10 cities with the highest proportion of carless households were home to more than 1,000 people per square mile, and all had above average population densities. The average population density across U.S. metro areas was 273.5 per square mile in 2010, by contrast. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Clifford Winston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that above all, “density is an indication of accessibility.”

Honda aims to cut car model variations by a fifth to focus on quality


“My sense is that we need to slash the number of cars we develop by about 20 percent,” he said, referring to the various versions developed for a single car model to meet specific needs in different markets around the world, as well as minor facelifts during the life of a car.
 “In the end, with so many different specs you lose the essence of what a Honda car should be. It also puts a big burden on (engineers) and it’s inefficient,” he said.
 Yamamoto said the reduction efforts were already underway, although he declined to say when they started or when he expected the work to be complete.

Apple aftershocks: Maybe it’s Toyota that should be worried?

Clark Schultz:

The automobile industry was jolted yesterday by reports on Apple developing its own electric vehicle.
 Though the development has the potential to be disruptive for EV automakers, the impact could be even larger for companies betting on fuel cells if the $740B Cupertino giant takes a strong position in the EV vs. hydrogen debate through a partnership or vehicle introduction.
 Shares of Tesla Motors only showed a mild reaction to the Apple reports yesterday during the regular session and AH trading.

Japan Has More Car Chargers Than Gas Stations

Timothy Coulter:

There are more electric-car charging points in Japan than there are gas stations.
 That surprising discovery comes from Nissan Motor Co., which reported that the number of power points in Japan, including fast-chargers and those in homes, has surged to 40,000, surpassing the nation’s 34,000 gas stations.
 The figure shows that in the relatively brief time since electric vehicles were introduced, the infrastructure to support them has become bigger than what the oil industry built over decades in the world’s third-biggest economy — at least by this one measure.

Apple Learning to Make Self Driving Cars

Edward Taylor & Eric Auchard:

Technology giant Apple (AAPL.O) is learning how to make a self-driving electric car and is talking to experts at carmakers and automotive suppliers, an automotive source familiar with the talks said on Saturday.
  The Cupertino, California-based maker of phones, computers and watches is exploring how to make an entire vehicle, not just designing automotive software or individual components, the source said.
 “They don’t appear to want a lot of help from carmakers,” the source, who declined to be named, said.
 Apple is gathering advice on parts and production methods, the source said, adding that Apple appeared not to be interested in combustion engine technology or conventional manufacturing methods.

Apple Gears Up to Challenge Tesla in Electric Cars

Daisuke Wakabyashi & Mike Ramsey:

Apple Inc. has revolutionized music and phones. Now it is aiming at a much bigger target: automobiles.

The Cupertino, Calif., company has several hundred employees working secretly toward creating an Apple-branded electric vehicle, according to people familiar with the matter. The project, code-named “Titan,” initially is working on the design of a vehicle that resembles a minivan, one of the people said.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Apple ultimately could decide not to proceed with a car. In addition, many technologies used in an electric car, such as advanced batteries and in-car electronics, would be useful to other Apple products, including the iPhone and iPad.

Marketing the Mercedes Way: Ola Källenius of Daimler discusses the high-tech and high-touch marketing of an iconic brand.

McKinsey Quarterly:

The Quarterly: What does the digital side allow you to do that you couldn’t do before?

Ola Källenius: Here’s one example where big data has actually changed the way we’re doing business: car2go.1 We know everything that happens to those cars, 24/7, around the year. If you start analyzing that data, you can see patterns. You can see, for instance, that between 8:00 and 10:00 in the morning, in different cities, there is a likelihood that somebody picks up a car, drives somewhere, and is in a certain “neighborhood A.” So we can make sure there are more cars in that neighborhood during those hours.

We can also improve the customer experience so there is a one-to-one relationship with the customer. That’s what we do now with “Mercedes me,” which allows our customers to have a unique Mercedes ID. This allows seamless integration between your smartphone and your car, and between us and our vehicles. We know, for example, how your brake pads are wearing. That data lets us know when a car needs service even before the customer does, so we can prompt a service appointment.


The Quarterly: Is this also a response, in part, to the challenge of proliferation? How do you break through the clutter?

Ola Källenius: If you look at society as a whole, we all know this, the amount of information that you absorb per day now—compared with, maybe, what you did 10, 30, 50 years ago—is much, much higher. So to grab the attention of the relevant people and drive their buyers’ choice, you have to be really smart about this. This has huge importance, as far as Mercedes is concerned, compared with where we were years ago, when marketing was more just about the product.

Now, to digitize within Mercedes, we have a proof point that we push for connectivity: “Mercedes me.” You have to have connectivity, especially for younger people. We offer all kinds of services around the car and beyond, so to speak. The look and feel of our advertising, physical presentation, and stores all need to fit into that world. This is reflected in our “Mercedes me” showroom in Hamburg—well, you could call it a showroom, but it’s really not. It’s a restaurant, it’s a happening place where we cooperate with artists and with musicians. It’s the cool place to be for young, successful professionals. They’re working hard all week, and they deserve a treat on the weekends!

The Quarterly: Which becomes a key facet of this new golden age, does it not? The better you engage with your customer, the stronger your customer’s experience going forward.

Ola Källenius: The founding father of our company called it: “The best or nothing.” What did he mean when he said that? He was not talking about a product description, per se. He was talking about attitude. You don’t rest on your laurels. You move beyond.

We push the emotional button very consciously across touch points in marketing. And the great thing with Mercedes is that you do have emotional brands. When you buy a Mercedes, it’s always been about the dream of the little kid one day driving the star.

Apple hiring automotive experts to work in secret research lab

Tim Bradshaw & Andy Sharman:

But people familiar with the company said the background of the people Apple is hiring — including automotive designers and vehicle dynamics engineers — and the seniority of the executives involved suggest a car could be in the works.

“Three months ago I would have said it was CarPlay,” said one person who has worked closely with Apple for many years, referring to Apple’s infotainment system. “Today I think it’s a car.”

Apple declined to comment.

Mr Cook has made it clear that the automotive industry is an area in which he feels Apple can make a greater impact. At a Goldman Sachs technology conference in San Francisco this week, he said CarPlay was one of three new technology platforms Apple launched last year that are “key to our future”, alongside HealthKit and HomeKit.

“We’ve taken iOS and extended it into your car, into your home, into your health,” Mr Cook said. “All of these are really critical parts of your life and none of us want to have different platforms in different parts of our lives.”

Google hopes all-or-nothing bet on robot cars will pay off soon

Richard Waters and Andy Sharman:

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“There’s a lot of really cool stuff, no doubt,” he said, listing Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Ford and General Motors as companies that have made headway. But he also called it “flawed” to see driver-assisted technology as a necessary point on the path to what Google has in mind: a fully autonomous car.

“The idea that it’s just a continuum, it’s not clear that it’s going to play out that way,” he said. “There actually is a discrete step when responsibility shifts from the driver to the . . . self-driving system.”

Google’s gamble that it can make the leap straight to full autonomous vehicles comes as Wall Street has become increasingly wary of the company’s expensive long-term bets. In a sign that it was starting to pay heed to investors’ concerns, a company executive last month said that a rethink of Glass, the company’s controversial smart-glasses project, showed that Google is prepared to draw in its horns when teams cannot hit their targets.

Mr Urmson will not discuss how much Google is spending on driverless cars or what internal milestones he has set. But he is bullish about the company’s chances of reaching its goal.

One yardstick is economic. The costs of the sensors embedded in the vehicle have fallen steadily, he said, including for the laser-controlled sensors that sit on top of the vehicles and initially cost $75,000 each. “We’re in no doubt, mounting a $75,000 laser on the roof isn’t the path to production,” he says.

Cars, Politics & Taxpayers

Edward Niedermeyer:

It strains credulity to believe that, in the course of that year, the cash pile that Wilson had gifted GM at the taxpayers’ expense had gone from being a major factor in the firm’s newfound success to being an inefficiently-allocated drain on its value and a target for corporate raiders. In fact, the only thing that had changed was that Wilson was leading the consortium of hedge funds now poised to elect him to GM’s board in return for their share of GM’s erstwhile “fortress balance sheet.”
 What is clear is that this scheme would not be possible if Wilson and company had truly improved GM’s ability to turn cash into real shareholder value. Because GM’s “product-led turnaround” has failed to translate into improved pricing power or operational efficiencies, GM’s stock has been largely unable to attract investors who might be interested in its long-term value creation rather than simply raiding its cash pile. In short, Wilson’s scheme isn’t just extremely suspicious it’s also a repudiation of the myth that the bailout really solved GM’s deep operational, organizational and cultural problems. As a result, there’s little to no chance that value investors will try –let alone be able — to stand up to Wilson’s hedge fund cash raid.
 This is a problem for GM, which will once again find itself vulnerable to market shocks once its “fortress balance sheet” is raided by Wilson and his cronies. It’s also an absolute disaster for taxpayers who are currently eyeing their latest tax bills and are unlikely to believe Wilson’s Wall Street raiders need their tax dollars more than they do. But most profoundly, this is a nightmare for an Obama Administration that has struggled to convince markets that its policies are rooted in fair play and a level competitive playing field. With the administration’s major economic policy now revealed to be little more than a transfer of wealth from taxpayers to Wall Street, the United States seems to be sliding towards a cynical kleptocracy which threatens not just General Motors but the very foundations of this nation’s success.

Fuel Station Skimmers: Primed at the Pump

Brian Krebs:

It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels this way. A reader named Tyler recently shared the above image, along with his experience.
 “I had my first encounter with tape across a gas station’s card reader the other day,” Tyler said. “I must say it led me to believe there was some sort of skimming device installed, as I have never seen this before. Further inspection showed it was actually a real attempt by the gas station to let consumers know if the device has been tampered with.”
 Tyler wanted to know what would prevent a scammer from simply removing the tape from one reader and placing it back on top of a compromised reader? Or, since most people probably wouldn’t know to look for the presence of tape around the card reader, how about just placing the skimming device right on top? I wondered that as well.
 The tape carries the bold yet misguided assurance, “securing your identity.” However, I’m guessing this security device is primarily meant to serve as a signal to gas station attendants when and if someone has monkeyed with a pump card reader.

Did Electric Vehicles Charge into the Wrong Market?


The electric car market may have been looking at the wrong country. China is the big prize, …

Garage shortage hits car insurers and motorists

Alistair Gray:

The typical wait for vehicle accident repairs has been predicted to lengthen from about 10 days to as much as six seeks, said Robert Macnab, lead analyst at Trend Tracker.
 He expected supply to be especially tight in London and the southeast, where bodyshops’ operating costs are higher, and for repairs of high-tech vehicles such as hybrids.
 Bodyshops blame, in large part, financial pressure from insurance companies — which finance an estimated 70 per cent of repairs — for squeezing profit margins.
 They complain motor insurers have taken an increasingly tough approach to negotiating prices, including setting up networks of “approved” garages to which they direct policyholders.

Google hopes all-or-nothing bet on robot cars will pay off soon

Richard Waters and Andy Sharman:

But Google is shooting for the moon.

The internet company, whose 2010 demonstration of driverless technology ignited wider interest in the car industry, is adamant about its all-or-nothing bet.

“It sounds quaint, I guess, but my team’s mission is to improve people’s lives by transforming mobility,” said Chris Urmson, head of the self-driving cars project at Google.

The stark contrast between Silicon Valley and the wider car industry has become clear in recent weeks as carmakers showed off their latest autonomous driving experiments.

“There’s a lot of really cool stuff, no doubt,” he said, listing Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Ford and General Motors as companies that have made headway. But he also called it “flawed” to see driver-assisted technology as a necessary point on the path to what Google has in mind: a fully autonomous car.

“The idea that it’s just a continuum, it’s not clear that it’s going to play out that way,” he said. “There actually is a discrete step when responsibility shifts from the driver to the . . . self-driving system.”

Google’s gamble that it can make the leap straight to full autonomous vehicles comes as Wall Street has become increasingly wary of the company’s expensive long-term bets. In a sign that it was starting to pay heed to investors’ concerns, a company executive last month said that a rethink of Glass, the company’s controversial smart-glasses project, showed that Google is prepared to draw in its horns when teams cannot hit their targets.

Carmakers seek to use carbon fibre in mass-market vehicles

Robert Wright:

The question for car groups is whether there will be a breakthrough moment for carbon fibre similar to last year’s use of aluminium body panels on Ford’s best-selling F150 pickup truck (above), which reduced the F150’s weight 13 per cent
 With its aggressive looks, the 170mph Cadillac ATS-VR racing car stood out from the crowd at last month’s Detroit auto show — not least because of the long wing stretching across the vehicle’s rear.
 This wing is made from carbon fibre: a strong and light material that is also very expensive, meaning that its use has so far been confined to high-end, low-volume vehicles. Yet there were signs at Detroit of a change in the motor industry’s attitude to the esoteric material, with US manufacturers led by General Motors and Ford seeking to turn carbon fibre into a building block for mass-market cars.


Reinventing the wheel: the Belarus artist still driving his home-made Soviet car

Aliaksandr Hoishyk and Stanislau Nikifarau:

It wasn’t easy to buy a car in the Soviet Union. Usually, the first thing to do was to sign up on a decade-long waiting list to register your interest in owning a vehicle. Secondly, you needed to save what was then a huge sum of money; a new Zaphorozhets cost the equivalent of about 30 times the average monthly salary.
 A few people found a different way, however – assembling cars with their own hands. One such person is Boris Karavkin, an artist from Minsk, who spent five years making one in his spare time. Now retired, Karavkin has been driving his ‘Fantasy’ for more than 40 years and is preparing the car for an upgrade.

Yamaha “essentially” wants to enter auto business, but isn’t sure when and how

Bertel Schmitt:

The battery-operated Motiv has been designed by Gordon Murray, who received fame for his work in Formula 1 and with McLaren. News of an impending launch of the microcar circled a few times in the past to years, but nothing happened. Today, Yanagi said that his company doesn’t have more to show of the car than the results of a European market study, and a budget.

Yamaha’s study of the market for microcars in Europe most likely did not produce inspiring results. EU sales of Daimler’s Smart Fortwo two-seater were 52,000 in 2014, less than half of what the car sold at its peak in 2002. A new four-seater version, the Smart Forfour, shares the platform with Renault’s Twingo, which last year also sold only half of its 2009 high water mark.

Asymcar has discussed Murray’s modular approach extensively.

Why own a car when you can share one?

Carolyn Said:

Living car-free or car-light in San Francisco is increasingly easy — and it’s not just thanks to Uber.
 Car sharing is quietly spreading throughout the city, allowing people to rent cars by the hour or mile, pick them up at widely dispersed locations, reserve them with a smartphone, and unlock them with a phone or credit card.

Driverless car review launched by UK government

Jane Wakefield:

Changes to road regulations and car maintenance checks will be necessary to accommodate driverless cars on the roads of the UK, a Department of Transport report has confirmed.
 The government wants the UK to become a world leader in driverless technology.
 It will publish a code of practice in the spring which will allow the testing of autonomous cars to go ahead.
 Self-drive pods that will be tested in Milton Keynes and Coventry have been unveiled for the first time.
 The government promised a full review of current legislation by the summer of 2017.

Robot Cars and ‘Coordinated Chaos’

Gabriella Stern:

Before self-driving cars get the green light, a lot of hurdles need to be overcome. To look more closely at some of those challenges and explore how this research may have broader applicability, The Wall Street Journal’s Gabriella Stern turned to Maarten Sierhuis, an expert in artificial intelligence, a former NASA scientist, and now director of the Nissan Research Center in Sunnyvale, Calif. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.
 MS. STERN: A few weeks ago, you announced a partnership with NASA, your former employer. Is Nissan sending autonomous cars to Mars?
 DR. SIERHUIS: Well, it’s easier to drive on Mars because there are no humans. But it’s more the technology that NASA’s been developing for the last decade, autonomous systems, and what we’re trying to do with autonomous vehicles. They’re very in sync. I think we can do great research together on this topic.

Steve Jobs and the king of stylish cars

Thom Patterson:

Harley Earl taught Detroit how to get its Hollywood swing on. He’s credited for single-handedly igniting an automobile renaissance. His legacy has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci and even Steve Jobs. I mean, this guy created the Corvette, for God’s sake.
 So, with a resume like that, why isn’t Harley Earl a household name?
 It’s not like Earl was a slacker. He came to Detroit from Hollywood, where he was designing cars for movie stars. As General Motors’ top designer, Earl created iconic cars with unique, sweeping lines and features like tail fins and wraparound windshields.

The failed dream of the easy commute

Sam Tananhaus:

Even as rescue teams were sifting through the wreckage of the horrific Metro-North crash last Tuesday—the crumpled Mercedes S.U.V., the molten train coaches—many wondered about the state of mind of Ellen Brody, the motorist who found herself trapped between the crossing arm and the train tracks in Valhalla, New York, in Westchester. Brody was a much respected and highly responsible person (spouse, mom, jewelry-store employee)—and a careful driver, too. In the minutes before the accident, she seemed calm and deliberate. She climbed out of her vehicle to try to dislodge the guard rail and then settled back in, long enough—Rick Hope, the motorist behind her, speculated—to refasten her seat belt. And yet Brody, with time and room to back up, instead drove across the tracks, directly into the path of a train hurtling through at its normal speed, sixty miles per hour. “The thing’s dinging, red lights are flashing, it’s going off,” Hope told the Times. “I just remember going, ‘Hurry up.’ I just knew she was going to back up—never in my wildest dreams did I think she’d go forward.”
 Did Brody, in her panic, mistakenly put the car into drive instead of reverse, or calculate that she could make it through the intersection? No one could say. “Very little is actually known about what causes accidents,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in “Epidemic on the Highways,” his pioneering essay on highway safety, published in 1959. “But all that is known points to the conclusion that accidents result when drivers find themselves in situations to which they cannot respond correctly, either because their minds don’t work fast enough or simply because it’s ‘too late.’ ”


Daimler: Google Can Disrupt Car Industry, but Unlikely to Get into Auto-manufacturing

Kuganandhan Paramanandam:

Even though cars become increasingly dependent on software and automated driving, technology big-wigs like Google are unlikely to get into mainstream auto-manufacturing business, opined Dieter Zetsche, head of German carmaker Daimler on Friday.
 Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz cars, talks about the Mercedes-Benz F015 Luxury in Motion autonomous concept car during the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Germany’s Daimler AG wants to reset consumers’ expectations about self-driving cars with its futuristic Mercedes-Benz F 015 concept, unveiled at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.Reuters

Vans of the Rich & Gridlocked

The Economist:

“I HATE driving in Los Angeles—the traffic makes you want to shoot yourself,” says Dr Dre, a rapper. So he buys wheels from Becker Automotive Design, a Californian firm that customises rides for the rich and gridlocked. His latest purchase is a stretched Cadillac Escalade with a flat-screen television and a digital system that allows him to browse his home film library in the car. “I like to close the curtains, relax and watch Martin Scorsese films,” says Dr Dre.
 Todd Doney, a property broker, used to spend three or four hours a day stuck behind the wheel of his Bentley. Now he spends that time talking to clients on the telephone, returning e-mails, and going over documents. His chauffeur-driven car is, in effect, a tricked-out mobile office. “I feel like I’m beating the system because I can work while everyone else is stuck in traffic,” he says.

Detroit hits the road to Silicon Valley

Andy Sharman & Sarah Mishkin:

They are often cast as the dinosaurs in the great disruption playing out across the motor industry. But established carmakers are trying to turn the tables on the US technology companies shaking up the automobile world by tapping talent in their Silicon Valley backyard.

“All car companies have a very strong resistance inside for what we’re facing,” says the chief executive of one car supplier, referring to the pace of change in the industry. “When you go and talk to the decision makers, you’re talking to people locked into the old ways of doing things.”

But the carmakers strongly reject this statement. For them, one of the real draws is being close to a new wave of unlikely suppliers, such as Nest, the internet-connected home devices company owned by Google.

This is why everyone hates in-car navigation systems

Chris Ziegler:

Subaru recently posted a YouTube video touting Starlink, the company’s in-house navigation and entertainment system. You’d think they’d make it look good; companies are typically in the business of making their products seem like pure, unfiltered magic. Not Subaru, which is apparently content to let its in-dash electronics trainwreck over the course of one minute, 43 seconds.

“Tablet-like”? What kind of jacked-up tablet are you using, Subaru?

Let’s unpack what just happened here. A gentleman — a paid spokesperson in an official Subaru video — tried to zoom in on a map. Starlink eventually got around to zooming in at something like three frames per second. If this happened on your iPhone, your Galaxy S5, your Moto X, or what have you, you’d say “something is seriously wrong” and you’d reboot or close some apps or go to Geek Squad or place your phone in a garbage disposal and flip the switch.

Indeed, I have experience with Subaru. Largely great on the basics, but I would not spend money on any IoT initiatives…

Via Oliver Bruce.

You have to be rich to own a cheap car

Jack Baruth:

A Mercedes S65 AMG, on the other hand, can be had for one-tenth of the original MSRP because owning one past the warranty is an invitation to enter a Boschian nightmare — and I mean Robert Bosch, not Hieronymus Bosch. The number of ways in which you can spend fifteen or twenty grand in parts on one of those cars has to be experienced to be believed. Hell, even my R107 560SL, which should have been about as thoroughly debugged as a car design could possibly be, was chock-full of stuff that was NLA (no longer available) from dealers or the aftermarket but RFN (remarkably fucking necessary) to the vehicle’s satisfactory operation.
 For that reason, I consider Tavarish’s “Hey College Students! You Should Consider A Six-Cylinder Jaguar XJR As A Right-Priced Alternative To A Honda Ruckus 50″ articles to be simply invitations to spend a pleasant evening strolling through eBay Motors. They’re fun to read, and they’re fun to write. They’re also a good way for him to demonstrate his talent to the audience. As many a would-be famous auto-blogger has found out, it’s tough to consistently churn out new content about cars if you don’t have much access to new cars. Most of the people who try to break into the business have enough personal experience for about five worthwhile articles. Maybe ten. After that you’re either making up stories about how you (insert ridiculous story here, leavened with enough self-deprecation to make it vaguely believable) or you’re second-guessing billion-dollar corporations on the strength of no education or business experience other than watching your helicopter dad bail out your West Coast lemonade stand. Compared to that stuff, telling people they can own a LaForza for the price of an ’06 CR-V is relatively harmless and entertaining.
 Nonetheless, when I saw the steam exiting the LS400’s left headlamp on State Route 315 last Saturday morning, I permitted a slight smile of satisfaction to appear on my lips. This would be a chance for Tavarish to eat his own dog food, so to speak. I’d been on my way to Tim Horton’s when the Million Mile Lexus decided to experience a temporary interruption in Toyota reliability. This was doubly ironic because I’d just driven the thing across the country, right into the teeth of a major Southwestern winter storm, without any mechanical issues besides an increasing reluctance on the part of the transmission to shift properly and a slug trail of oil drips stretching some 2,190 miles. I considered the trip a bit of a vindication of the Tavarish philosophy, actually. The Lexus has been serviced correctly since new, and Matt spent about $1,500 on preventative maintenance prior to my departure. A V-8 Toyota with all the stamps in the service book and a solid check-out by a respected mechanic? Every know-it-all on the Internet will tell you that such a car is as good as — nay, better than — a leased 2015 Ford Focus.

High-Tech Tractors Are Increasingly a Liability

 Kyle Wiens:

Aside from using it, there’s not much you can do with modern ag equipment. When it breaks or needs maintenance, farmers are dependent on dealers and manufacturer technicians—a hard pill to swallow for farmers, who have been maintaining their own equipment since the plow.
 “[DIY repair] is cheaper than calling out the technician. But that information is just not out there,” Dave explained to me.
 The cost and hassle of repairing modern tractors has soured a lot of farmers on computerized systems altogether. In a September issue of Farm Journal, farm auction expert Greg Peterson noted that demand for newer tractors was falling. Tellingly, the price of and demand for older tractors (without all the digital bells and whistles) has picked up. “As for the simplicity, you’ve all heard the chatter,” Machinery Pete wrote. “There’s an increasing number of farmers placing greater value on acquiring older simpler machines that don’t require a computer to fix.”
 The problem is that farmers are essentially driving around a giant black box outfitted with harvesting blades. Only manufacturers have the keys to those boxes. Different connectors are needed from brand to brand, sometimes even from model to model—just to talk to the tECU. Modifications and troubleshooting require diagnostic software that farmers can’t have. Even if a farmer managed to get the right software, calibrations to the tECU sometimes require a factory password. No password, no changes—not without the permission of the manufacturer.


Meet the Founder Trying to Start the Self-Driving Car Revolution

John Brandon:

Kyle Vogt is not a good driver. He’s more the type who steers with one hand, and appears to pay more attention to the conversation than to the road. One bright day last September, as he drove his Audi S4 near his San Francisco office, a Ford Mustang sped up and headed straight for his right rear fender. At the last possible moment, Vogt jerked the steering wheel and narrowly avoided a certain crash. “Close call,” he said, laughing. Over in the passenger seat, I started breathing again.
 Mere minutes earlier, though, Vogt was driving more safely. Or rather he was not-driving more safely, while demonstrating the handiwork of his company, Cruise Automation, which in early 2015 will become the first company to sell technology that enables cars to drive themselves. On a stretch of Highway 101, east of downtown San Francisco, Vogt had clicked a button between the front seats, turned a dial to adjust the speed, taken his hands off the wheel, moved his feet back from the gas pedal and brake–and then turned to look me straight in the face, while, at 60 miles per hour, the scenery ticked by.

State-Backed Automaker ‘Spent Millions to Buy Land, Build Villas’


A special team from the 205-member Central Committee, the party’s nexus of national power, investigated the automaker from July 29 to August 29. It informed FAW Group executives about problems it found on October 29.
 The CDIC’s notice also said that FAW Group executives were found to be engaging in corrupt practices in the sales sector. Company leaders illegally owned or held shares in dealerships, and some helped relatives do business with the automaker.
 A person with knowledge of the matter said a company that wanted to open a dealership had to pay an executive at FAW Group a bribe of 2 million yuan.

The Car of the Future May Run on Gasoline

Steve Levine:

When most of us picture the high-tech personal mobility of the future, we tend to imagine a sleek, dead-quiet electric car, packed with voice- or motion-directed gizmos and self-driving features. We see ourselves gliding around almost effortlessly, free to talk, work or text as we see fit.

What few of us conjure up is having this sort of experience in a gasoline-fueled car. But that may be changing in the face of recent design advances. The internal combustion engine—the workhorse of the industrial age—is proving to be much more than a stubborn technological incumbent.

More than a century after becoming the dominant way that people move around, gas-powered cars are challenging ostensibly more advanced electric vehicles. It has proved hard to beat engines in which fuel is ignited, drives pistons and propels a vehicle. Even in 2040, according to forecasting agencies such as the U.S. Energy Information Administration, cars with gas- and diesel-powered engines will still represent some 95% of the international car market.

One reason is that refinements of combustion-engine technology are mandated: U.S. government standards require cars to average 54.5 miles a gallon by 2025, up from 25.1 mpg last year. To get there, car makers are improving efficiency with direct fuel injection (which allows gasoline to burn more efficiently), aluminum bodies and smaller engines. Scientists are making progress on a super-battery that may some day push aside combustion, but they’re a long way from making electric cars competitive in the mass market.

The State of In-Car UX

Geoff Teehan:

We are surrounded by bad design. You witness it when you’re taking cash out of an ATM. You experience it when getting your boarding pass from the airport kiosk. You feel it when setting the clock on your stove. Simply put, bad design is everywhere—especially inside your vehicle.

With so many industries placing more value on design, specifically interface design, why does the automotive industry seem to have it all so wrong?

I’ve always had a fascination with cars. As I became more involved in design, my interest in them grew to include the interfaces and information that adorn their consoles and dashboards. In the ’80s and early ’90s, these interfaces were primarily made up of small screens and analogue buttons. Back then, you could swap out your factory stereo for something better. Teenagers primarily did this so they could include better/more amplifiers and better/more speakers—usually to make it loud and full of bass. This would result in the ability to impress friends, annoy parents, and disturb those around you in traffic.