GM suggests Congress fund EV charging, Toyota asks for hydrogen fueling support

John Voelcker over at Green Car Reports put together an interesting story about how auto companies are approaching the US federal government in preparation of infrastucture legislation.

First, the good news. GM is trying to use the environment to get more funding for EV chagrin stations. It's essential to the zero-emissions future. Here's the meat:

GM had sold almost one quarter of the 200,000 plug-in electric vehicles delivered in the U.S. last year.

In her remarks, Gross focused on “two areas where your committee could help sustain continued growth: the first is consumer adoption and the second is aiding with charging infrastructure build-out.”
— Britta Gross, GM Director of Advanced Vehicle Commercialization Policy,

Now the bad news. 

While CES 2018 saw Toyota make a move toward taking its fleet's powertrain over to battery electric; a turn of events I celebrated earlier this month, it seem that Toyota still hasn't given up on the awful Mirai concept, and wants money spent on Hydrogen fueling stations - an idea I've considered utterly foolish for years now. The problem is that they're not the only ones. Voelcker says that Toyota was joined by Honda in the request for hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

I've noted it time and again and I'll note it here now: Hydrogen, while likely the most abundant substance in the universe, is difficult to obtain on Earth. One needs to burn natural gas to get it. That's not eco friendly.

Toyota uses AI to sell the Mirai - it's Inefficient Eco Car

A few years ago I had a chance to check out the Toyota Mirai - a hydrogen powered electricly propelled car that Toyota claimed was, rather than its Pruis line or the trending battery electric vehicles,  the wave of the future.

Suffice it to say I didn't agree. hydrogen is not a sustainable or ecologically friendly fuel source at this time - maybe never. 

Still, Toyota put a lot of $$$$ into the research and development of the thing and they still believe that this thing, which allows for the continued time, energy and money drive-to-pump model of re-fuelling, in addition to the fact that one needs CNG or LNG to produce the fuel, is a product that Toyota hopes will take off.

To that end, Toyota has reached out to LA-based ad agency Saatchi to develop advertising materials for the series of poor logistical and ecological choices on four wheels that is the Mirai. 

To that end, the ad agency took to IBM's Watson Artificial Intelligence computer, where time and energy was spent programming the supercomputer to write phrases that would appeal to every single type of consumer that would be interested in the hydrogen-powered Mirai.

First, Saatchi LA wrote 50 scripts based on location, behavioral insights and occupation data that explained the car’s features to set up a structure for the campaign. The scripts were then used to train Watson so it could whip up thousands of pieces of copy that sounded like they were written by humans.

“We realized that we couldn’t just let it go out and try to figure out the creative on its own,” Pierantozzi said. “We had to give it guidelines with exactly what we wanted, so then it then had a little bit of creative freedom to come up with some of the thoughts on its own.”
— http://www.adweek.com/digital/saatchi-la-trained-ibm-watson-to-write-thousands-of-ads-for-toyota/?utm_campaign=nl_1&utm_source=sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=AWK_TodayTech

The computer was able to find myriad new ways to describe the vehicle to potential buyers. Unfortunately, the data neglected to mention that tech-savvy, eco-minded buyers, are not necessarily into under-powered vehicles that have to be powered by fuel that's only available at select pumps in or around California. Especially when they realise that hydrocarbons are needed to create that fuel in the first place.

Still, the method of advertising is novel. While it's not clear how well crafted the data set was that determined the targeting for this campaign, there are plenty of ways to identify users and consumers who are in the market for this or that trinket. The added benefit of AI is that it can make the messages more applicable to potential consumers and, eventually, it holds the promise of being able to do that in real time with the latest available data. Did your Android Watch recently report that you just finished a run? How about a smoothie? 

It may sound "creepy" at first, but relevance is everything when it comes to saving time and money in the ad space. I'd rather be enlightened about something I want than be annoyed by ads that interrupt the flow of my day, pushing products I have no real interest in. 

So what's the takeaway? We're that much closer to Minority Report, which is, in more ways than just advertising, the holy grail of so much of tech.

America, Properly Defined By German Automotive Engineering

In this time of discord about what makes America great, this 30 second ad spot (yay capitalism?) could be the greatest, most significant message about what the USA is. It is fitting that it was designed around and relies upon the Olympics.
Not surprisingly, it is a view from the outside that looks in to tell us the truth about ourselves. Thanks BMW.

Apple and the Autonomous Car

I was catching up on a news backlog and came across this interesting piece on the Project Titan, the code word for the autonomous electric vehicle that Apple seems to be making. Max at Appcessories brings us up to speed with history and findings from his recent research. 

One thing struck out to me in particular:


"Apple seems to have hit a bump when BMW politely excused itself from the future partnership. The German automaker, Daimler, also refused to join up with Apple for its project."

Apple, Inc. is a different company than it was in 2005, but it's worth remembering that Steve Job's Apple Computer, Inc teamed up with Motorola to create the first mobile device, a phone called the ROKR, that could connect to iTunes. At the time Motorola was at the top of hte mobile space, with a series of devices that had great performance and style, like the conversation piece, I owned, the Moto V70, the standard, practical flip, the Moto V60, and the gold standard of mobile device design at the time, the Moto RAZR.

Motorola was exactly where BMW and Diamler are now-- at the top of their industry. They worked with Apple to get the ROKR device out, but Apple was either distracted by the imminent release of their iPod Nano, which was smaller than the phone and could hold far more song's than the Motorola's arificially capped 100 song limit.

The disruption was complete two years later when Apple unveiled the iPhone, a device with more speed, more storage, a dazzling interface, and a music app. Motorola would never regain its spot as the top mobile phone maker again.

No- Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs but the lesson here is that BMW and Daimler, both of whom are working on both autonomy and advanced drive vehicles,  would do well to innovate on their own-- grabbing talent where they can, lest a relationship with Apple lead to a vehicle that completely devours their core audience.

An Economic Hybrid Drivetrain

Billy Steele, writing for Engadget on Honda's new hybrid motor, which they built in collaboration with Daido Steel:

The new motor doesn't use heavy rare earth metals like dysprosium and terbium, instead relying on magnets from Daido Steel that cost 10 percent less and weigh 8 percent lighter than the previous components.

Hybrids are going to be an ever-important step toward auto's step to electrification, since large batteries still cost a lot and developing nations have more access to petroleum based fuels than they do steady electricity supplies. reducing dependence on Rare Earth metals goes a long way into bringing the cost of these devices down.

Steele also mentions that without the need for these metals, Honda doesn't have to negotiate with China, which holds most of the rare earth metal reserves. A positive political externality for Japan, perhaps, but an even more positive externality for the price of these metals, which should become more accessible as the price diminishes.

The Despair of Anthropogenic Climate Change

Two stories about the our destruction of the environment that caught my attention. 

While I understand that the headline of the first story; "It's almost too late to save our planet from catastrophic climate change;" is trying to do the clickbait thing, but it's problematic in that it somewhat posits that it's too late to do anything about climate change. I can't see how anyone on the fence about the issue would be willing to read it.

The second one is more encouraging. Getting old vehicles off of the streets is the sort of thing that cities and governments have to do, thought I don't know how older people on fixed incomes could afford to just abandon the functionality of a vehicle. This is the sort of thing that the US GOP uses to promote the idea that Climate Change is  hoax invented for a government takeover.

The Americas are doing Incredible Things with Cars

While Germany has long been the place for auto innovation, it's clear that over the last decade, there's been a resurgence in US auto engineering. Unfortuneately, the Big 3 aren't leading the charge, but being dragged by Tesla, Google and even Apple these days.

Germany's big 3 are being dragged as well, but today it's interesting to see how it's not just the US that's making waves. As Alina Selyukh reports for NPR, a 24 year old Columbian man just used 3D printing techniques to create a cheap, autonomous minibus-- the sort of thing that could be made incredibly quickly, cheaply, and, in its capacity as a part of public transportation, take cars off of the road, rather than chasing a consumer play that inevitably leads to more traffic.

It's impressive. Click or tap on this blog post's title for the link that'll get you the images of this adorable minibus, it's inventor and the full story.

Driver Distraction Casts Doubt on Autopilot as the Culprit

Sam Levin and Nicki Wolf writing for The Guardian:

“The truck driver, Frank Baressi, 62, told the Associated Press that the Tesla driver Joshua Brown, 40, was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” during the collision and was driving so fast that “he went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him”.”

If this is the case, then the details of this matter become both disturbing and absurd, while moving away from mechanical failure, and into an indictment of our screen-addicted and screen-distracted society.

"Baressi, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment, said the Harry Potter movie “was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road”. He told the AP, however, that he heard the movie but didn’t see it."

Aside from the social implications, if this account is true, we can expect that the victim's loved one will have an exceedingly difficult time processing their loss. 

NPR regarding the Tesla AutoPilot Crash

Sonari Glinton, reporting for NPR's Morning Edition:

"Well, the company put out a statement saying that Brown, who was an advocate of Tesla's, that, saying, quote, that "he was a friend to Tesla and the broader EV community." And earlier in the statement, though, the company points out that this was the first accident. And then when drivers - and also they say that when drivers activate autopilot, they have to acknowledge that, among other things, it's an assist feature and it requires you to keep your hands on the wheel and steering at all times.
You have to remain in control. And before you engage, it pops up and says that. And but - and also, in a way, this accident seems inevitable because, you know, I have watched many, many videos on YouTube of Tesla drivers engaging the autopilot feature and, you know, not behaving responsibly."

A note on the media-- the announcer, Steve Inskeep, stated that the vehicle in question was a self-driving car. It's not, and while Glinton clears this up in his quote, it's important to realise that by setting the stage with his opening comments, and that makes the story harder to understand for people not in the know about Tesla, autopilot, and the other key bits of this situation.

Tesla Makes Offer to Acquire SolarCity

There's not much to say about this, but here's my initial reaction:

It's  important to understand that Tesla CEO Elon Musk is the chairman of Solar City, which is run by his cousin. 

Given some takes on Tesla's cash flow situation, this gambit will allow the automaker to further diversify revenue, which is currently not limited to just car sales, but battery sales and sales of carbon credits to big polluters. Investors could be intrigued to put down more money now that it's clear Tesla is in fact much more than a one-trick pony that's focused in the risky business of manufacturing and selling autos. 

On the flipside, those autos are a huge draw for the business, especially now that Tesla has taken VolksWagen's place as one of the top ten auto brand values. Considering that VW is the second largest automaker in the world, that's pretty significant.

But back to Solar City. If this $2.9 billion bid is successful, Tesla is essentially an Electric Company that leases and sells devices for power generation, storage, and consumption. That's called vertical integration, and it's a principle that has long gotten the attention of investors.

German Automakers Aggressively Moving Forward with EV plans

Jason Graul of Business Finance News is reports that Germany's Big Three automakers (BMW, Daimler, and VolksWagen) are beginning to ramp up their EV product goals. It's a strange concession from an industry that, less than a decade ago, thought EVs were impossible. The reason for this renewed interest in electronic vehicles?

US Automaker Tesla Motors

"Even though for Tesla, Germany has remained a low-volume market, for the German automakers, US has proved to be the key auto market. Recently, Tesla garnered overwhelming response for its latest mass-market Model 3, which indicates how much electric vehicles are being preferred by the people if they were offered at lower prices. The US electric car maker also revealed a new goal of producing half a million cars per year in 2018 — two years ahead of its actual planned date of 2020. This is reflective of the fact that the company is aggressively moving ahead with its EV plans and hence, other automakers need to ramp up their operations if they are to compete with Tesla."

Dieselgate: Korea

It's our nature to move forward and leave the past in the past. Still, it's important to realise that Dieselgate is still here, and that while the US EPA discovered the scandal, the US isn't the only nation affected by it.

Some highlights:

Prosecutors also recently confiscated 956 vehicles of Audi Volkswagen Korea from its pre-delivery inspection center in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, and said 606 of them had been imported without proper environmental authorization.
The legal action came a few days after prosecutors said last week that Volkswagen Audi Korea allegedly submitted 37 doctored reports of the vehicles’ emissions results and noise levels from 2010 to 2015.
Meanwhile, the environment ministry here last week rejected Volkswagen’s plan to recall its vehicles with fabricated emissions results, saying the local unit of the German carmaker did not admit to using a defeat device to trick vehicle testing.

The ministry rejected two previous recall plans in January and March for insufficient data and the lack of a proper outline to rectify the shortcomings of the vehicles affected.
— -Korea Times.

It's incredible that the facts are still yet to be uncovered in this matter because of the sheer scale of the deception, which appears to have been perpetrated by the VW management worldwide.

You can read the full Korea Times story here.
 

 

The Tesla Model X - A Lifestyle Take

Whereupon Bloomberg's Hannah Elliott takes a road trip in a $150,000.00 Model X through super-charger rich California and produces a video assessment of the vehicle with a duration of less than three and a half minutes.

Elliott's video review is posted below from YouTube. The conclusions are that the car feels virtuous but it's cost isn't the money, but the time-sucking lifestyle of an electric auto's charging requirements and the lack of "mechanical" nature of the drive.

I genuinely appreciate the lifestyle discussion from Elliott due to her funky personal fashion taste and the casual but caring but also matter-of-fact tone she uses, but when you put it all together it doesn't ring with sincerity. She scratches the surface of lifestyle, states that doors open unexpectedly without any real visual evidence, and forgets that a single-gear dual motor drive train is about as direct as once gets when it comes to the mechanics of a car-- especially when one compares that to the Triptronics and paddle shiftiness of modern, conventionally powered sport luxury vehicles. 

When it comes to complaints about range, the crossover segment, perhaps more than any other auto segment, is designed for the daily errands and the weekend warrior-- both well within the battery range of the top-end model Elliott evaluated-- and that's in Colorado, where mountain climbs are steeper (I-70) than CA and Superchargers are bit more rare.

Then there's the ample time that the (very short) evaluation spends on waiting for the Model X to charge up at the super charging station. The editing makes the charging seem disproportionately long compared to the balance of her five day trip along the CA coast. Time that could be spent discussing the intimate details of any connection she has with the vehicle are spend bouncing a ball in a corner or talking on the phone...which she does on the handset while sitting in the car rather than showing us how well the bluetooth hands-free works.

I'm disappointed. Elliott could have done a lot more in the time she had.

The Drill Down 427: Peter Thiel, We ♥ You (Don’t Sue)!

While I was in China, Andrew and Tosin connected with Greg Davies of TARDISBlend podcast fame, to discuss Uber's ambition for autonomous cars, how Twitter plans to let you tweet longer, Google’s modular phone Project Ara, and they ask whether Apple become the next Blackberry.
Also-- in the episode: are crime algorithms racist? And why you shouldn’t piss off Peter Thiel...

Find the episode on Geeks of Doom.

The (Unofficial) Tesla Commercial

"Tesla 'Not a Dream'" is an independently created commercial, using the words of inventor Nikola Tesla to extol the virtues of Tesla Motors's vehicles and their presumed ability to lead the US to a future that's free of the pollution and destruction of fossil fuels. It's visuals are a little extreme, but I'm sure that those passionate about the problem and/or the car will find the video moving.

It's worth noting that Tesla Motors doesn't advertise very much. The fact that fans are willing to create content like this for them is impressive to say the least.

And for any geeks out there it's like 1984, all over again

So what does Tesla Motors CEO think of the video? He digs it.

 

The Best-Selling Luxury Sedan in America

Speaking of Tesla, here's David Z. Morris, writing for Fortune:

"...a huge shift in the auto industry: The Model S is now the top-selling luxury sedan in the U.S, beating out cars from established rivals like Audi, Mercedes, and Lexus. Moreover, the car, according to Tesla, is still gaining market share."

According to the article, Model S sales went from 16,689 units in 2014 to 25,202 sales in 2015-- an up-tick of +51.01% , Every other competing vehicle in the class, regardless of how its propelled, has a negative % change year over year from 2014 to 2015. 

If Tesla can get production right and satisfy demand, the US can really have a chance at hitting emissions targets well before targets. 

Let's remember that the patents for this technology were released in 2014 for all to implement in their automobiles. GM's Bolt and Volt, alongside with the new Nissan Leaf will make use of them in their next generation vehicles. Audi, BMW and Mercedes can use this tech too. But thus far, Audi has their e-Tron A3, BMW has the i3 and the incredibly (even by Tesla's standards) i8, and Mercedes has an upcoming plug in GLE.

At the end of the day, none of these are vehicles are as practical as the Tesla Model S, a saloon that can seat 5-7 people with up to two trunk storage compartments while maintaining a 200+ mile range. The aforementioned GLE and Volvo's new XC 90 are the closest thing to a Tesla offering, with their generous passenger accommodations and storage facilities, but the ride-height takes it to Model X territory, and neither of those two vehicles can begin to touch the acceleration and handling capabilities of Tesla's young SUV.

Electric Automobile Fantasy

"A $25,000 Tesla would upend the U.S. auto market. Incentives vary widely state by state, but the base incentive is a $7,500 federal income tax credit available to everyone in the country. Bringing the $35,000 sticker price of the Model 3 down by that amount would expand the potential market by roughly 50 percent, according to Morsy. Additional incentives would further knock down the price in more than a dozen states, including an additional $6,000 in Colorado and $2,500 in California, Massachusetts, and Tennessee. The only limiting factor for sales of a Tesla in this price range would be the company's ability to crank out cars."

 

$35,000.00 base price - $7,500.00 Federal tax credit - $6,000.00 Colorado State credit = $21,500.00 for a brand new base Tesla Model 3. 

Supposing one adds $10,000.00 in options, the car is still incredibly cheap for a vehicle that's about the size of the Nissan Leaf and yet has 2x the range. Taxi companies and municipalities are going to snap base trims of the Model 3 up in droves. 

DROVES.

Nissan Leaf Semi-Autonomous Concept

"The Leaf concept vehicle is equipped with dozens of sensors, 12 cameras, five radar sensors, four laser scanners, and ultrasonic sensors...that’s a whole lot more guidance technology than semiautonomous systems currently being tested on roads like Tesla’s Model S Auto Pilot."


While not at all a performance luxury vehicle, a la Tesla, the Leaf* is no slouch on the highway and 2016 may show us a vastly improved design that departs from the look of today. More important than all of that is the fact that with nearly 200,000 units on the road, the Nissan Leaf is the best selling EV in history. 

 *The A in Leaf is supposed to stand for "Affordable," and it's prices are a far cry from Tesla's.