Meet the 26-Year-Old Design Prodigy Behind Honda’s New Roadster

by Jie Ma & Yukiko Hagiwara:

“People of my generation think cars are simply a tool for transportation,” Mukumoto, now 26, said in an interview in Wako City, Japan. “I wanted them to say — hmm, this car is different,” he said. “We have made a car that will turn heads.”
 Mukumoto became a fan of Honda after reading a comic book in primary school about Soichiro. He joined the company at 19 after studying machinery at a vocational high school in Okayama Prefecture, western Japan.
 Mountain Roads
 A car aficionado who drives a Honda S2000 open-top sportscar to work, Mukumoto likes to zip through the mountain roads of Tochigi, an area north of Tokyo that’s famous for its Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. “I feel like I can have conversations with the car driving there,” he said.

@asymco: “When everything is the same, no matter how good, nothing stands out and is beautiful”

Chris Bangle:

«There seems to be a need to open our minds a bit as to what a car can look like. Check out the advantages golf-ball dimpling can have. At the Politecnico di Design of Milano I was able to teach a workshop: An Endeavor in Discontinuity: Exterior Car Design of the Future. Here is an excerpt from the brief for the students and a view of some of their work:
 One no-no that chains us to the past is a challenge to the idea that Perfect Surfaces can be the only correct forms for cars.
 But will it always be so? The three great ages of Car Design’s Morphological Paradigms have always been thought inescapable until a new manufacturing technology coupled with a dramatic shift in consumer interpretation of the meaning of the automobile come along – then the change can be bewilderingly rapid.

With Car Dealer ranks thinned, the survivors thrive

Aaron Kessler:

Third-party websites like and TrueCar have upended the car-shopping process by offering similar features on a wider scale, which give consumers far more negotiating power than in the past. Not only can consumers research vehicles, but they can also get binding quotes from multiple dealers, without ever leaving the house.
 “It cuts down on a lot of the headache involved,” Mr. Isac, the Houston car buyer, said.
 Avi Steinlauf, chief executive of Edmunds, said some consumers show up knowing more information about a vehicle than the sales representative. “But the forward-thinking dealers are adapting to this and embracing the technology,” he said. “And they find they’re making more sales than they ever did before.”
 Despite his company’s role in shifting the balance of power, Mr. Steinlauf said he believed dealers continued to play a vital role.
 “You’re still talking about the second-largest purchase most people make,” he said. “Many consumers still want to touch the vehicle, sit in it, smell it.”
 But the nature of the interaction between buyer and seller is changing.
 “The salesman is really transitioning into more of a product specialist,” said Mr. Szakaly, the N.A.D.A. economist. “It’s not about someone who’s there to haggle with you; it’s about having you come in wanting to know about a product you’re already decided you’re interested in buying.”

Toyota production system 2.0

Bertel Schmitt:

TNGA is no modular system as one would expect. Toyota still has platforms, maybe a few less, but platforms they are nonetheless. The peanut gallery in carblogs doesn’t even have to start the handwringing about the soul of the car being sold to the devil in the common parts bin. Kato had a slide that showed common parts in green/blue, and individual parts in yellow. Result, see above.
 The revolutionary part of TNGA is not the kaizen-continuously-improved product, the revolution is a new production process where the small and sprightly slay the long-tailed fire-belching dragon of the old assembly line. Production engineering is the under reported, but über-important element of the car business. It is where Toyota excelled, and it is where Toyota will excel even more.

Ford Makes a Billion-Dollar Bet India Can Become an Auto-Export Powerhouse

Santanu Choudhury & Eric Bellman:

Ford’s new factory in the city of Sanand, in the western state of Gujarat, will be one of the first foreign facilities built in Asia’s third-largest economy mainly to make cars for export. Ford said it plans to use the factory—which cost $1 billion to build–to triple the number of cars it exports out of India.
 Ford’s move shows support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” campaign to get more manufacturers expand in and export from the country. For the Dearborn, Mich., auto maker, which already has a large factory in southern India, it shows confidence India can build competitive cars despite its overstretched infrastructure and shortage of skilled labor.

Via Desi.

“automatic adherence”

Simon Rockman:

Ford has announced a new intelligent speed limiter system which reads traffic signs and reduces fuel flow to keep your vehicle within the speed limit.

As much as the petrolhead lobby decries the direct correlation the road safety brigade makes between speed and safety, current legislation means that if you’re driving too fast, regardless of how safely, you’ll usually get fined.

While a traffic officer can make a judgment call, ticket-bots won’t be quite so lenient. Now the Ford tech is fighting automatic regulation with automatic adherence.

The Intelligent Speed Limiter combines current Ford technologies: the Adjustable Speed Limiter and Traffic Sign Recognition, which are both already available on models including the Focus, Mondeo, and Kuga SUV.

Via Evgeny Morozov.

Major Insurers to Strike Deal to Support Compromise TNC Language

Ray Lehmann:

For much of the past year, we at R Street have been active in trying to promote reasonable, effective compromise on ride-sharing regulations. The goal all along has been to arrive at a model that allows transportation network companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to operate, ensures that basic coverage requirements are met and preserves the greatest possible flexibility for new insurance products to come to market that meet the needs of this emerging risk.
 If the rumblings we’re hearing from a number of state houses across the country prove to be accurate, we’re about to see a major step in that direction.

Watch out Google: Delphi gives Ars a ride in its self-driving car

Megan Guess:

On Thursday morning I met with Delphi at its Silicon Valley garage. The automotive component maker has been working hard in the high-tech scene, not just developing speakers and interactive navigation products, but also trying to perfect the complex network of sensors and software that will help auto manufacturers offer smarter cars in just a few years.
 To demonstrate its progress in the self-driving car scene, Delphi asked Ars to come down and do a ride-along in its tricked out Audi SQ5—which the company will send on the world’s first autonomous-vehicle cross-country road trip next week. The trip is not a stunning announcement, but an indicator of just how far autonomous vehicles have come. Until just a few years ago, self-driving cars were the purview of science fiction. Even just last year, you could probably count the number of people who had been in a self driving car in a short tally, and automakers were heralding stop-and-go cruise control as the cutting edge of technology that would be coming to a wide range of cars in the next few years. Today, the self-driving technology is being fully realized in many labs, not just Google’s, and tomorrow is just over the horizon.

Tesla: Just Another Car Company

Holman Jenkins:

Good question. When a user leaves his driveway in a Tesla, he still wastes time staring out a windshield and gripping a wheel. He still sits in traffic. As with any other car, Tesla’s electronics are long out of date before the car’s useful life has expired. As with any other car, a Tesla owner ties up thousands of dollars in a piece of equipment that sits idle 95% of the time. Uber is disruptive. Tesla isn’t. Tesla is disruptive mostly of a driver’s confidence that he’s going to reach his destination without needing a tow.

Tesla solves no problem of the automobile. It only creates a new problem.

Nonetheless Tesla’s stock price is impressive, even if it is down recently. At $25 billion, Tesla is worth almost half of Ford, though Ford sells 70 times as many vehicles, and profitably.

As the perpetually blunt Sergio Marchionne of Fiat Chrysler has pointed out, Obama fuel-economy rules virtually require car companies to produce electric cars at a loss. Part of Tesla’s market value, then, is attributable to the likelihood that it will be acquired by another car maker needing electric vehicles to offset its gasoline-powered vehicles. But here’s an irony: In a world where other car makers are forced to build and sell electric cars too, Tesla’s golden brand gives it a leg up, but Tesla does not have the option of forever losing money on electric cars. To fully realize its brand value Tesla might have to sell itself to an auto maker that does.

4 Lessons Learned After Winning A Car at Ford’s Hackathon

Daniel Scocco:

I developed an app called Good Driver (from Portuguese “Bom Motorista”). The goal of the app is to solve the problem of inefficient risk and price calculations done by insurance companies. Since those companies don’t have much real data about drivers, they need to rely on statistical models to calculate average risks. As a result, everyone ends up paying pretty much the same thing for an insurance policy. In other words, the good drivers need to foot the bill for the reckless ones. The app solves this problem by tracking several data while you drive (e.g., average speed, acceleration pattern, streets most used, seat belt usage) and then by creating a driver profile that can be shared, upon your request, with the insurance company.

Why do Americans not drive diesels

Richard Aucock:

In the UK of the 1980s, diesel drivers were outcasts. They were required to fill up around the back of the station, over by the truckers, to be looked upon by gasoline burners with a mixture of pity and smugness. And that presumed diesel drivers could even find somewhere to fill up, as not every filling station bothered to stock their fuel.
 This sheer lack of availability led to great variability in pricing. As the only filling-station proprietor in 25 miles to stock diesel, Mr. Smith could subsequently charge more or less whatever he wanted. A survey of diesel prices in the US illustrates a similarly maddening snapshot of how scarcity can produce wide price fluctuations, with pump prices varying by up to 50 cents a gallon. But with more diesel purchasers, the laws of the marketplace would kick in, bringing prices into greater alignment.
 Given the need for low-sulphur refining, diesel would not necessarily become cheaper than premium in the US. It is pricier on the other side of the Pond, too, but although Europeans gripe about it, they still know the savings add up. Diesel generally returns 30% better mileage than gas, and in the dominion of $8 gallons, this is no small advantage.
 Mind you, there are two distinct factors working in favour of Europeans’ wallets: fuel with a higher cetane rating, which makes it easier to control NOx emissions, and EU emissions standards that are generally comparable to the US’s Tier 2 standards in all areas apart from, yes, NOx. Even our EU 6 standards, due in 2015, do not quite match the States’ strict limits on smog- and acid rain-causing emissions.

Porsche Tries to Remain Exclusive as Luxury Demand Surges

William Boston:

limits to growth. Ferrari is increasing production slightly from its self-imposed cap of 7,000 vehicles a year and has hinted that production could eventually get to 10,000 without hurting the brand’s exclusivity. Aston Martin, which sold about 4,000 cars last year, sees the line much lower.
 “This is not a car company that is ever going to be selling a lot of cars,” Andy Palmer, CEO of Aston Martin, said in a recent interview. “Part of its mystique is the exclusivity. I would argue the magic number for our production is right around 7000 units.”
 The Cayenne, which went on sale in 2002, was the proof of concept that there is a large market for high-end luxury SUVs. The year the Cayenne launched, Porsche sold a total of 66,803 cars, of which 20,603 were the new Cayenne. Right from the start, the SUV made up nearly a third of Porsche’s total sales.
 Last year, Porsche added the Macan compact SUV and sold 44,636 units the first year—although the car was only on sale for seven months of the year.

Why Auto Makers Are Building New Factories in Mexico, not the U.S.

Dudley Althaus & William Boston:

With some luxury-car makers, at least, the reverse may be true. The Audi deal shows that besides its low-cost labor, Mexico’s trade pacts give it allure in the global car market, threatening the American South’s industrial renewal.
 Seven Asian and European auto makers have opened new Mexican assembly plants, or disclosed plans for one, in little more than a year. Other car companies have financed significant expansions in Mexico, among them Nissan Motor Co., General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.
 Last week, VW said it would spend $1 billion expanding a Mexican plant to build a small SUV for the U.S. and some foreign markets. All told, auto makers and parts suppliers have earmarked more than $20 billion of new investments, Mexican officials say.

Collapse of Oil Prices Rocks Auto Industry

Joseph Szczesny:

statement,” he said.
 The other factor re-shaping the automotive industry is that the growth of the luxury segment continues to outpace the growth of the industry as a whole over the next five years, particularly in the U.S. “There are more and more rich people in the world every year,” he said.
 The luxury boom has been particularly helpful for European carmakers, particularly the “German 3,” IHS analysts said.

“Roads were not built for cars”: how cyclists, not drivers, first fought to pave US roads

Joseph Stromberg:

streets as largely a place for cars. Bikes, if anything, are seen as a very recent intrusion on them.
 But the surprising truth is that back in the 1890s and early 1900s, it was mainly cyclists who first advocated for cities in the US and Europe to pave their streets and build new roads. Then as cars became practical, wealthy, privileged people adopted the car as their leisure toy of choice, and the bicycle’s central place in what’s now called the Good Roads Movement was largely forgotten.
 “The people who were making and promoting bicycles were the same people who later made and promoted cars,” says Carlton Reid, who uncovered this history in his fascinating, meticulously researched book Roads Were Not Built for Cars.

Apple’s drive for world auto dominance spooks the industry, RIM Quotes

Omar El Akkad:

“We estimate that the value of the automobile will evolve from being a 90-per-cent hardware device today to being a 60-per-cent software device once cars are fully autonomous,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a recent report. “This is critical to Apple’s involvement in the car. Apple has both hardware and software design expertise and the rebalance of the hardware versus software equation in the car can create a void that only Silicon Valley (and a select few existing auto makers and suppliers) can fill.”

To ward off the attack of the tech monsters, Mr. Balsillie suggests a defence neither the auto industry nor competition watchdogs seem likely to embrace: Team up and deploy their combined market clout to head them off by coming up with their own value-added model.

“If I were the automotive guys, I would get together … without violating collusion [rules] and grab my competitor’s smartest strategic guy and tell him we have to co-operate before they divide and conquer us.”

Like the record companies and cellphone makers before them, auto makers are focused on besting their main rivals. “They don’t realize there’s a bigger competitor around the corner that can wreck everybody’s business model by introducing their own,” Mr. Balsillie says.

The music industry only needed three majors to team up to offer an effective downloading service like Apple’s. But two of them couldn’t even reach a deal. So Apple, which produces no music and employs no musicians, swooped in.

“They were stuck in their existing competitive world, and tech preys on that,” Mr. Balsillie says. “They count on the entrenched guys being so stuck in their models that they don’t rethink [them], and they know they’re not really capable of topping them on the innovation front.”

Via Bertel Schmitt.

Georgia’s breaks for electric vehicles may be too good to last

The Economist:

IVIA PEDERSEN thought the Nissan Leaf parked outside her favourite lunch spot near Emory University, must be hers. But she could not open the door. Nor could she open the door of the identical Leaf behind it. Cautiously, she tried the third Leaf in line and happily drove away. More than 14,000 electric vehicles are now registered in Georgia; California is the only state with more. But the juicy state incentives for buying them are coming under attack.
 Residents can claim an income-tax credit for 20% of the cost of leasing or purchasing an electric vehicle, up to $5,000. Combined with a possible federal tax incentive worth $7,500, savvy Georgians are driving all the way to the bank in nearly-free electric cars. Nissan sells more of its Leaf models in Atlanta than in any other city, according to Don Francis from Clean Cities-Georgia, which promotes the use of cars like these.

The Electronic Car: Today and Tomorrow

Steve Wildstrom:

To some, it’s the model of the future, the complete electrical car with the Tesla as the winner. For some, it is a car with improved electronic entertainment and information systems. Another view is that, while petroleum may power most engines, nearly everything in the car, from fuel injection to tire pressure, is monitored and controlled by dozens of computerized electronic systems.
 The day of dominant electric powered cars will come but it will take years before prices fall and the availability of battery charging sites rise enough to dominate the market. And despite speculation, it seems unlikely Apple or Google will become major players in the field. For now, this is an important but fairly small piece of the car market and one where no one has figured out how to earn money.
 Information and entertainment is a much hotter area. The field consists of two different systems. Microsoft tried to get away with its plan to combine both the control of the gear in the car–audio, maps and routing, displays, and all the gear–and the system that receives and plays locally stored and wireless content. After years of struggling effort, with Sync as the most recent version, Ford has dropped Sync and Microsoft has largely left the field. Instead, the two sections have been split.

The Great Chinese Car Casino

Edward Niedermeyer:

China has always leveraged its potential to extract concessions from major automakers. Its initial strategy was to force the global majors to partner with Chinese firms and encourage technology transfers in the hopes that domestic players would grow to rival the established players. Decades in, however, it’s clear that Chinese automakers have not become globally competitive powerhouses: Even in their home market, they continue to lose out to their foreign partners and rivals. Unable to encourage a dynamic domestic industry, China’s government has found new ways to score populist points off the overall strength of its car market.
 Last year’s antitrust investigations into the luxury car market showed that President Xi Jinping’s emphasis on consumer protections was a convenient veil for pursuing an agenda for the auto industry as well as a substitute for meaningful political liberalization. But it’s become increasingly apparent that Xi’s anti-corruption campaign is also aimed at the allies of former President Jiang Zemin, whose close ties with China’s largest automakers put the industry at the center of a massive power struggle within the Communist Party.

Inside the Mercedes F 015

 Molly Wood:

The F 015 it demonstrated this week wasn’t even equipped with self-driving technology, like the lasers and computers the car would need to be actually autonomous. It drove passengers on a preprogrammed route, framed by San Francisco in the distance and towering cranes at the Port of Oakland.
 Instead, the focus was on the experience of riding in an autonomous car. Mercedes thinks that experience centers on a living space shielded from the distractions and the masses of the outside world.
 And yes, it is luxurious.
 The vehicle’s carriage-style design features saloon doors that open wide to reveal an interior that’s more like a living room than the inside of a car. There are no side pillars or center obstructions. The two front seats swivel around completely so the driver and front-seat passenger can face the rear of the car.
 The interior features a mix of wood, carpet and touch-enabled panels that blend together into an environment Mercedes-Benz rightly describes as a “cocoon.” When both front seats are turned around, back-seat passengers can activate a touch-screen table that extends into the middle of the cabin and can be used by all passengers.

Why parking spaces shouldn’t always be wasted on cars

Emily Badger:

Conventional wisdom says that businesses need parking spots. If would-be customers can’t pull up out front, how will they come inside?
 This is a powerful idea, and it invariably animates the opposition any time cities threaten to redesign roadways, replacing parking spots with bus lanes, cycle tracks, bike racks or wider sidewalks. Remove parking, the argument goes, and business will wither.
 The reality, though, is more complicated. Consider one illustration: For the last few years, Philadelphia has converted a handful of parking spots in front of neighborhood businesses into temporary “parklets” no bigger than the space that might fit one or two cars (these tiny interventions are now popular in a lot of cities). Records from adjacent businesses show sales went up about 20 percent immediately after the parks were installed, relative to right beforehand.


Volt Vs. Tesla: The Dealership Experience

Brooke Crothers:

Devon, PA — One is the car dealership of the future. One isn’t. Both sell electric cars.
 On the western edge of Philadelphia’s Main Line, sits a rare Tesla dealer-plus-service center (most Tesla locations are simply stores – which are, in themselves, pretty rare).
 Within five minutes, you can drive to a Chevy dealer that (sort of) sells Volts (technically a plug-in hybrid).
 It’s a radically different experience. Tesla offers a glimpse of the future while the Chevy dealer is more like a drive down memory lane.

Penske launches digital sales pilot Preferred Purchase lets customers handle more of transaction online

Jamie LaReau:

Lithia Motors Inc. is testing technology dubbed The Sales Evolution in three dealerships. In December, AutoNation Inc. launched its AutoNation Express in South Florida. That initiative converts the company’s websites from informational to transactional and aims to make buying a car more like purchasing other products online.
 Penske worked with various vendors to develop the software, and tested it for eight months, Mulcahey said. Penske launched the pilot last week on the website of Audi Tysons Corner in Vienna, Va., one of the Washington-area stores.
 Here’s how it works.
 Say a customer on the store’s website clicks on an A4 sedan. All new Audi A4s in stock appear with their sticker prices. If the customer then clicks on the Preferred Purchase icon to the right of the A4 photos, a menu appears, offering several options: chat with a sales associate, connect with the dealership via phone or proceed with online options, such as getting an instant trade-in value estimate, exploring payments or getting loan preapproval.
 There’s still human involvement. Even if a customer wants to do as much of a purchase as possible online, the store still has to send documents to be signed, physically evaluate the value of a trade-in, have a staffer present finance and insurance options by phone or in person and make arrangements for delivery at the store or elsewhere.

Profound technological change, uncertainty will test automakers’ reserves

Neil Boudette:

The world’s major automakers are sitting on tens of billions of dollars in cash.
 Given the challenges they face, they’re going to need it.
 It’s not just the known challenges, such as meeting stricter regulations in the U.S. and Europe, that threaten to put a strain on their reserves. It’s also the things they don’t yet know: Which technologies will prevail in the marketplace? And how will trends and companies outside the industry influence the pace of progress?

Nissan, Endesa to tap power from electric cars for use in homes


Endesa SA, the Spanish unit of Italy’s Enel SpA, and Nissan Motor Co agreed to work together to develop technology that will allow owners of electric cars to supply their homes with power or sell unused energy to the grid.
 The technology enables the energy stored in electric vehicles to be used for powering homes or sold to the grid, Endesa said in a statement on its website. The companies will work together to bring the systems to market.
 “Thanks to this technology, electric vehicles will become a fully integrated part of the electric system, adding new storage capacity and utilizing that capacity in the new and innovative ways, for purposes other than mobility”, Jose Bogas, chief executive officer of Endesa, said in the statement.

Tesla China has a Record Unsold Inventory of 2301 cars

Tyco de Feijter:

Reports in Chinese media say Tesla China has a record inventory of 2301 Model S cars. The number is based on a comparison of the 2014 sales number and the 2014 import number: in 2014 Tesla sold 2499 Model S cars in China, but the company imported 4800 cars, leaving a gap of exactly 2301.

It is the first time that the exact 2014 sales number for Tesla in China has been revealed, 2499 accounts for 208.25 cars a month. The numbers have been confirmed by various Tesla employees and ‘insiders’, speaking anonymously to said media.

Why did Tesla ship so many cars to China, and where are they now?

An anonymous source, quoted by Chinese media, says the huge inventory is partly caused by the many cancellations of orders by Chinese buyers. The cancellations went up in October last year after Tesla announced the new P85D, with many customers cancelling their original order and going for the D instead. But in many cases, still according to the same source, their original-ordered cars were already shipped and underway.

China’s BYD takes aim at Tesla in battery factory race

Nichola Groom:

Chinese automaker BYD (1211.HK) Co Ltd (002594.SZ), backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N), aims to triple its production of batteries as it takes on Tesla Motors (TSLA.O) in the race to supply electric vehicles and boost energy storage.

Shenzhen-based BYD plans to add 6 gigawatt hours of global production for batteries in each of the next three years, and hopes to keep adding at that pace afterwards if demand is solid, Matthew Jurjevich, a spokesman for the company, said on Friday.

That means BYD could ramp up from 10 GWh capacity at the end of this year to about 34 GWh of batteries by the beginning of 2020. This would put it about even with Tesla’s planned $5 billion Nevada gigafactory.

The companies are fast emerging as two of the key players in the nascent electricity storage sector. Storage technology is considered critical to integrating large amounts of renewable energy because it can absorb excess power from wind farms or solar panels and keep that for use when conditions don’t allow for power generation.

Car Designer Giorgetto Giugiaro on Comfort, Curves and Drawing Tools

Steve Barbarino:

A trend I don’t subscribe to is: cars with rounded lines. You lose a remarkable amount of space. Square lines and flat surfaces allow designers to use inner room the best, both for passengers, mechanics and luggage.

When buying a car, it’s important to consider: its interior, apart from any pleasure you might get from the external shape and architecture of it. Important features of an interior are comfort, functionality, visibility and having enough space to move around.

Hertz puts cameras in its rental cars, says it has no plans to use them

Kashmir Hill:

This week I got an angry email from a friend who had just rented a car from Hertz: “Did you know Hertz is putting cameras in rental cars!? This is bullsh*t. I wonder if it says they can tape me in my Hertz contract.” He sent along this photo of a camera peeping at him from out of his “NeverLost,” a navigational device that the company has started putting in many of its cars:
 “I even felt weird about singing in the car by myself,” he said. A Googling expedition revealed that my friend was not the first person driven to disturbance by the in-car surveillance system. A Yelp user was revved up about it. Disgruntled renters on travel forums like MilePoint and FlyerTalk want Hertz to put the brakes on “spy cams.” A loyal Hertz customer who rented a car in Chicago said it might make them never want to rent with Hertz again:

I Sell Car Insurance But Don’t Know How to Drive

Zocalo Public Square:

I sell car insurance, but I don’t know how to drive. I don’t think much while I’m on the bus. Either I go to sleep, or I play games on my phone. But I did make a friend once.

Dirty Downside to Driverless Cars Revealed in Study

Isaac Arnsdorf:

Here’s how they’d use more energy than conventional cars: more trips. In most households, each adult commutes, runs errands and shuttles the kids separately, according to the U.S. National Household Travel Survey. A self-driving car would make more trips to finish the same tasks, the University of Michigan researchers said. It might drop off one parent at work, return home to pick up the other, and then take the kids to school, return home, then start the return cycle.
 What isn’t known yet is how many people who don’t currently drive, like kids and users of public transportation, will start sharing a self-driving car. Those new trips — and all the return trips in between — could mean more total driving.

Oregon Plans Per-Mile Road Tax “plugs into a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics port”

Hannah Lutz:

In July, Oregon will implement the first such alternative.
 Oregon is giving its drivers a choice: pay the gas tax at the pump or pay a flat 1.5 cents per mile driven.
 “Fuel efficiency is getting better and better, which is great,” said Michelle Godfrey, an Oregon Department of Transportation spokeswoman. But “when your road maintenance is funded by fuel sales, that spells trouble.”
 Oregon’s Department of Transportation has teamed up with road-tolling company Sanef ITS Technologies America Inc., the Long Island, N.Y., unit of a French company, and connected car company Intelligent Mechatronic Systems Inc., of Waterloo, Ontario. As many as 5,000 registered vehicle owners in Oregon will be able to join the program starting July 1.
 Legislation setting up the system initially limited participation to 5,000 volunteers “to see how the public would accept the program,” Godfrey said.
 Here’s how it works.
 Intelligent Mechatronic Systems will provide a device that plugs into a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics port to gather mileage data used to determine the usage charge.

Automakers spot a profit opportunity in mobility services

Vince Bond, Jr.:

When mobility app RideScout launched in November 2013 in Washington, D.C, automotive giant Daimler AG pounced.

The automaker quickly showed interest in RideScout the next summer, and in September, Daimler announced that it had acquired the company for an undisclosed amount.

RideScout, like Daimler’s moovel smartphone app in Germany, puts taxis, bikes, car sharing, buses and trains at the fingertips of people looking to get from point A to point B in 69 cities in the U.S. and Canada.

RideScout’s mission meshed perfectly with that of Daimler, parent of Mercedes-Benz.

Via Edward Niedermeyer.

Community Solar Gardens

ABC News:

A new concept in renewable energy is catching fire across the country, allowing customers who might find solar panels too expensive or impractical to buy green energy anyway.
 Community solar gardens first took off in Colorado a few years ago, and the model — also known as community or shared solar — has spread to Minnesota, California, Massachusetts and several other states. Capacity is expected to grow sharply this year, and interest is up among both residential customers who just like the idea and large companies that want to cut their carbon footprints.
 The gardens feed electricity to the local power grid. Customers subscribe to that power and get credit on their utility bills, with contracts that typically lock in for 25 years and shelter against rate increases. Some developers say customer bills will drop below regular retail rates within a few years; others say the savings begin immediately.

Are Cars Driving Into the Sunset?

Zocola Public Square:

How our love affair with automobiles is changing the face of climate change and denser urban living
 On a typical Saturday night in the 1970s, Whittier Boulevard in East L.A. would have been thumping with lowriders—those lacquered, richly colored sedans with chassis that could bounce up and down with the flip of a switch. Slow cruising in a Chevy Impala was perfect for people watching and showing off your glorious Frankenstein handiwork.
 Cars have long defined who Americans are, how we socialize, where we live, and where we work. They still have a hold over us—just look at how many Fast and Furious movies keep coming at us—but the world we drive in is changing. It’s now been about a century since we were introduced to cars. Gas prices are on the rise while wages stay flat. We’re increasingly aware of how burning fossil fuels harms the environment. And commutes into downtown from the ever-expanding suburbs can take two hours or longer. In advance of the Zócalo/Metro event, “Is Car Culture Dead?” we asked experts to weigh in on the question: In an age of climate change and dense urban living, what role will cars play in our lives?

Report: large-scale layoffs at Tesla China

C Custer:

Tesla did not have the greatest 2014 in China. Although the government is eager to promote the use of electric cars, Tesla’s sales were weak. Weak enough to make Tesla founder Elon Musk upset. Musk reportedly threatened firings at Tesla China, and now Chinese newspaper The Economic Observer is reporting that the company is engaged in large-scale layoffs.
 According to the Economic Observer, Tesla China has about 600 employees, and it plans to cut around 30 percent of them (or around 180 people). “Before Spring Festival they had already started [layoffs],” one Tesla China employee told the paper. “Big departments like sales, marketing, public relations, and administration have all had cuts. The proportion of cuts in each department isn’t the same; in a big department like sales the plan is to cut 50 percent.”

Automotive Lenders ‘Fierce’ Competitors

Steve Finlay:

But many well-financed lenders are vying for a piece of the action in a hot market. Auto-loan outstanding balances total about $840 billion. Vehicle sales are expected to increase to nearly 17 million units this year, and the vast majority of car consumers buy on the payment plan.
 “There’s a ton of money to lend,” Russi says. “The year 2015 will be interesting. Winners and losers will emerge in this space.”
 On Duckett’s right, Joy Falotico, a vice president at Ford Motor Credit, says, “The landscape will continue to be very competitive.”
 More than 75% of auto loans are indirect, or arranged at dealerships. That means lenders have two sets of customers: car buyers themselves and dealers who can influence which lender to go with.

2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris hits US in October, priced from $28,950*

Noah Joseph:

Now if you’ve never heard the name Metris, you were probably distracted by all the glitz and glamor when Mercedes presented four of them at the SEMA show late last year. But that’s alright, because it’s a new nameplate: it’s essentially the same as the Vito sold overseas, where it will continue carrying that same name, while being sold in North America as the Metris.
 Both cargo and passenger versions will be offered, the latter starting at $32,500 (plus that $995 destination fee). Power comes from a four-cylinder gasoline engine driving 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels through a seven-speed automatic transmission. It’s also got all the electronic bells and whistles you’d expect from a Mercedes, including fuel-efficiency and safety equipment – but stopping short, of course, of the luxury features. This is not that kind of Mercedes, and the luxed-up V-Class version offered overseas won’t be making it Stateside.

McKinsey: Self-driving cars could generate billions of dollars a year in revenue from mobile internet services

Paul Lienert:

Self-driving cars could generate billions of dollars a year in revenue from mobile internet services and products, even if occupants spend only a fraction of their free time on the web, according to a new study by McKinsey & Company.
 The study, released Thursday, also projects that widespread adoption of self-driving cars could lead to a 90 percent reduction in U.S. vehicle crashes, with a potential savings of nearly $200 billion a year from significantly fewer injuries and deaths.
 In addition, the McKinsey study warns of several risks to established companies, including vehicle manufacturers, dealers and even insurance companies.
 McKinsey projects that future owners of self-driving cars could save up to 50 minutes a day, some of which is likely to be spent surfing the web.

Studying automotive sensor data with Open Torque Viewer

Ryan Compton:

Tapping into your car’s ECU is surprisingly easy
 All cars sold in North America since 1996 are required to support OBD-II diagnostics with standardized data link connectors and parameter IDs. This is useful, for example, for state-mandated emissions inspections. The OBDII port looks a bit like a VGA connector and, on my car (a 2003 Suzuki Aerio SX), is located under the dash and just above the accelerator.

This man is the less obvious (but possibly most important) side of Toyota’s diversity drive

Bertel Schmitt:

The end of the Japanese fiscal year is nearing, and Toyota watchers would not be surprised by a few high level management changes at this time of the year. Perplexing more than a few, Toyota announced the mother of all management changes today. On eleven pages, Toyota described the shockwaves of a major management shakeup. Apart from the obvious, the revirement most likely is the precursor of a large restructuring, with Toyota’s TNGA at the core, and very likely, some of it will be announced at or before the annual results conference in May. Let’s look at the obvious and not so obvious.
 Toyota’s overdue attempts at more diversity have gotten all the headlines. From The New York Times to the Financial Times, the media celebrates the fact that Toyota admitted into its upper ranks a foreigner (Didier Leroy), a female foreigner (Julie Hamp), and an Africa-American foreigner (Christopher Reynolds). The NYT remarks that the changes have yet to reach a “demographic tipping point.” For that, one needs to travel next town to Yokohama, where the Nissan HQ can easily be mistaken for the United Nations.
 Now for the less obvious changes. Toyota opened its C-Suite to a common laborer. Mitsuru Kawai, a man who started 50 years ago at Toyota, fresh out of High School, and not out of college, a man who was exposed to the hot and cold of a forging plant without window panes, has been elected Senior Managing Officer. Kawai is famous at Toyota for extolling the virtues of manual skills, and for saying that humans need to be better than robots, because after all, who would the robot learn from?

Volkswagen is an innovation think tank

Paul Eisenstein:

Already aiming to take the lead in global sales, Volkswagen AG also wants to be the industry’s technology leader, CEO Martin Winterkorn declared during a Geneva Motor Show news conference, and he says the company is ready to back that up with hard cash.
 VW invested €11.5 billion, or nearly $13 billion in its “Future Tracks” program last year, a pace of research and development that it apparently has no plans to slow down. The maker is offering up a number of examples of where that money went this week during a series of product debuts at the annual Geneva show from each of its more than a dozen different brands.
 Stay in the Know!
 “Volkswagen is an innovation think tank,” proclaimed Winterkorn during a Monday night news conference ahead of the opening of the Geneva show. “We develop technologies that point the way well into the future.”

Aston Daimler crossover may deepen partnership

Laurence Frost:

Aston Martin on Tuesday announced plans for a luxury crossover SUV that may draw more heavily on its partnership with Daimler, as the British sports car maker confirmed moves to raise more capital and expand into new vehicle categories.
 Aston has secured about 150 million pounds ($230 million) in additional funding, Chief Executive Andy Palmer said in an interview at the Geneva car show before unveiling an electric DBX concept car prefiguring the new vehicle, expected by 2019.
 Palmer said Aston’s main shareholders, private equity groups Investindustrial and Investment Dar of Kuwait, had agreed to back the capital hike and range expansion first reported by Reuters in December.
 He acknowledged that the future production SUV model could use a four-wheel drive architecture from 5 percent shareholder Daimler, which is already supplying Aston with electronics and V8 engines from its AMG performance division under a 2013 deal.

Tech drive strips old-school carmakers of clout

Antony Currie, Olaf Storbeck & Kevin Allison:

The move toward autonomous, utilitarian on-demand cars would probably save many consumers a lot of cash on a product most of them rarely use. On average a car is driven for an hour a day, according to Morgan Stanley. That equates to a 4 percent capacity utilization, without even considering how many of the seats are occupied.
 Shared cars with light shells, basic seating and a trunk full of technology, connectivity and entertainment could be especially appealing in cities. Replacing many of the 100,000 taxis and 900,000 private cars in New York City with a self-driving fleet with decent occupancy rates, for example, could be cheaper than using public transport, according to BCG.
 Such changes are years away and some of today’s carmakers may well build these huge fleets. Either way, the companies that deploy the most units with the best software will win.
 As technology becomes critical and costs for the shell of a car fall, carmakers that aren’t prepared could end up as little more than contract manufacturers supplying basic hardware or assembling parts for everyone from Google to Uber – a series of analogs for companies like Foxconn, which churn out iPhones and other gadgets on the slimmest of margins for customers like Apple which are far more profitable.

Ford’s connected electric bikes

James Temperton:

The MoDe:Me and MoDe:Pro are both prototypes and are intended to be used in cities clogged up with traffic. Both bikes are foldable and can be taken on commuter trains and used to finish a journey, or stored in the back of a car or van.
 This isn’t Ford’s first foray into electric bikes, nor is it unusual for a car company. The likes of Audi, BMW, Kia, Mercedes and Peugeot have all either launched electric bikes or shown concepts. Ford’s latest attempt is different in attempting to combine an electric bike with a smartphone app that also encourages people to drive or take a train.
 The MoDe:Link companion app looks for bike-friendly roads and hazards when plotting a route and can provide information on parking costs, weather and nearby charging stations. Ford explained that the app could be used to work out the best route for journeys taken in cities, which could involve driving to a train station, taking the electric bike on the train and then finishing the journey on the bike.

“We added 800,000 connected cars in the fourth quarter of 2014 alone. That is pretty significant.”

Brian Chen:

I don’t really get the appeal of connected cars. In the car when you’re driving, you don’t want to be distracted, so why would you need an extra data plan on top of your smartphone plan for a car? Doesn’t that get expensive?
 We are pioneers in the connected-car space and are ahead of our time in spotting the trend that all cars will have connectivity in the future. Car manufacturers all want connectivity because that’s the easiest and fastest way to update the software. The days of having to take your vehicle to a dealer to update maps are long gone.
 Tesla is one of the more aggressive manufacturers when it comes to updating the software in their vehicles over-the-air, which all manufacturers are moving to. When the car breaks down what happens to the car? Did the battery go dead? They can also track the history of what happens to the car for diagnostics.
 From the user’s point of view, there isn’t an autonomous driving vehicle that’s not connected that I know of. How you interact with the autonomous driving vehicle is with a smartphone. All cars will have an autonomous driving feature, so you can talk to the car while using your smartphone.
 We added 800,000 connected cars in the fourth quarter of 2014 alone. That is pretty significant.

Carmakers embrace the consumer shift to sport utility vehicles

Andy Sharman:

What do Jaguar, Bentley and Rolls-Royce have in common? They are all British marques, they are all owned by foreign companies and they are all piling into the must-have car of the 21st century: the sport utility vehicle.
 As the great and the good of the auto industry assemble in Geneva on Tuesday for the annual motor show, the predominance of these bulky cars with off-road pretensions will be apparent once more.
 The annual gathering in Switzerland’s second city will see carmakers unveil new products as they search for their next big hit and seek to reinvigorate interest in their brands.
 “The trick is to have an attractive car because people will be prepared to pay more for that,” says Håkan Samuelsson, chief executive of Volvo, the Swedish brand that recently launched an updated version of its XC90 four-wheel drive. “And right now the market considers the SUV an attractive car.”
 The rise of the SUV reflects a shift in consumer tastes towards vehicles with rugged looks and a large presence on the road, as well as a perceived increased capability, utility and safety.

Renault To Return To N America With Twizy Low-Speed Electric Car?

John Voelcker:

That would be the Canadian province of Québec, where a Twizy will appear at the 2015 Québec City International Auto Show when it opens to the public on Tuesday.
 According to Le Soleil (published online by, the display indicates a possible return of the French brand to North America.
 Renault’s Emmanuelle Desbrosse, who runs the company’s electric-vehicle unit, confirmed to Le Soleil by e-mail that it had submitted the Twizy for approval to Transport Canada, in response to what she termed many requests.
 The company would offer both the two-seat version–with its seats in tandem–and the one-seat version for deliveries, known as the Twizy Cargo.

Iconic Apple brand could be a threat to Detroit automakers

Rick Hugland:

 Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. once bemoaned that America’s love affair with the car was dying.
 “In California, people used to write songs about T-Birds and Corvettes,” he said in 2002. “Today they write regulations.”
 But oddly enough, rules requiring automakers to improve fuel economy and reduce tailpipe emissions are fueling some potentially transformational developments in the auto industry by California companies.
 Google is working on a self-driving electric car. Tesla is attempting to become the first successful start-up automaker in decades with its electric cars.
 And Apple has captured just about everyone’s attention in the auto industry with reports that it has hundreds of staffers working on a minivan-like electric vehicle.
 Apple’s possible foray into autos–something the company has not confirmed–is raising eyebrows because the tech giant has a lot of know-how and $178 billion in cash to play with.