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Researchers find VW ‘defeat device’

A team of researchers from around the world have found the code buried deep in onboard software which enabled Volkswagen to circumvent American and European emissions tests for over six years before allegations of cheating surfaced in 2015.

The researchers, led by computer scientist Krill Levchenko from the University of California San Diego, obtained copies of Volkswagen onboard software from the company’s own maintenance website and from various forums online run by car enthusiasts, said the UC San Diego News Centre.

“We found evidence of the fraud right there in public view,” Levchenko said. “We found the system and how it was used.”

The code allowed the car’s onboard computer to determine the vehicle was undergoing an emissions test, and then activate emission-curbing systems to lower the pollutants emitted.

When a car is tested for emissions levels, it is placed on a chassis equipped with a dynamometer, which measures the engine’s power output. The test then begins a specific speed profile designed to imitate real-world urban driving with frequent stops.

Because the conditions for this test are standard across all stations, and publicly available, manufacturers are able to anticipate the exact conditions of the test. The code found in Volkswagen vehicles checks the speed, distance, and wheel position, and if it matches the conditions of the emissions test, the code will allow the onboard computer to activate the emissions-curbing system.

When the test was over, the onboard computer then deactivated these systems. Cars emitted up to 40 times the amount of nitrogen oxide allowed under US regulations once the emissions-curbing software was deactivated.

 “The Volkswagen defeat device is arguably the most complex in automotive history,” Levchenko said.

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US sues Fiat Chrysler for emissions cheating

The US Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler, accusing the car maker of illegally using software to bypass emissions testing regulations in over 104,000 diesel vehicles, namely Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge RAM trucks, sold since 2014.

Fiat Chrysler denies any wrongdoing and said on Tuesday it was disappointed that the US had filed the suit. According to Reuters, a spokesperson said the car maker would defend all allegations “it engaged in any deliberate scheme to install defeat devices to cheat U.S. emissions tests.”

The lawsuit alleges Fiat Chrysler installed ‘defeat devices’ between 2014 and 2016, which led to illegal levels of nitrogen oxide, and asks the district court to order a fix on all affected vehicles and a sales ban.

The civil case could result in a fine of up to $64,200 for each vehicle sold after November 2015, when news of the emissions scandal first broke worldwide, and $52,300 for those sold prior to this date – a total of over $6.5 billion, according to Reuters.

It’s not the first time Fiat Chrysler has found itself int he middle of an emissions scandal. In January, the EPA and the state of California filed a separate lawsuit against the car maker alleging the use of defeat devices. German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt also called for the affected vehicles to be pulled from European markets.

Both vehicles at the centre of the lawsuit are available for sale in New Zealand through certain dealers. New Zealand has no emissions standard testing or requirements for diesel vehicles, and the government currently has no plans to introduce any in the future.

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Mercedes builds new EV battery factory

Angela Merkel attended the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone at the new factory

Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG has broken ground on its $690 million electric battery plant in Kamenz, Saxony, at a ceremony attended by German chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The automotive industry is facing a fundamental transformation and we see ourselves as the driving force behind this change,” said Daimler AG chairman Dieter Zetsche.

“The battery factory in Kamenz is an important component in the implementation of our electric offensive. By 2022, we will have more than ten purely electric passenger cars in series. We also continue to drive forward the hybridization of our fleet.”

Daimler has invested an overall $1.6 billion in global battery production so far, and have delivered over 80,000 batteries to consumers. The new battery factory, the second built by the company, will begin operation next year.

 “With the second battery plant in Kamenz, we are giving the initial start for the development of the first premium eBattery factory,” said Mercedes board member Markus Schäfer.

Mercedes have also unveiled more plans for their next-generation electric fleet, which has been promised almost $16 billion of funding. Ten EVS will be launched over the next five years.

The company predicts total vehicle sales for Mercedes-Benz will be between 15 per cent and 25 per cent electric by 2025.

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US car makers skip Tokyo Show

Top American car makers will be absent from the 45th Tokyo Motor Show.

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) released the list of participants overnight, and GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler were all missing from the line-up.

It’s the fifth show in a row GM and Ford won’t be making an appearance, but Fiat Chrysler exhibited Jeep and Fiat models in the previous event.

“We wanted them to join, but regrettably, there was no application from them,” JAMA Chairman Hiroto Saikawa, president of Nissan, told journalists at a news conference.

The total list of participants, including suppliers and related auto companies, has slid to 150, from 160 at the previous event.

JAMA said that 13 foreign car and motorcycle makers will participate in the 45th Tokyo Motor Show later this year, four fewer than the last show.

Some car makers, however, will be putting in repeat appearances. Volvo and Harley-Davidson have committed to return to Tokyo after missing out on the 2013 event, while Swedish truck maker Scania will join the line-up for the first time.

Participation in Tokyo has waned in recent years as the event has been overshadowed by glitzy motor shows in China, such as Auto Shanghai and Auto China, held in Beijing.

The Tokyo Motor Show will run from October 27 to November 5 this year.

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Ford appoints new CEO

International business leader Jim Hackett has been appointed as CEO of Ford Motor Company, replacing the outgoing Mark Fields, who is retiring after 28 years with the car maker.

Together with executive chairman Bill Ford, Hackett has pledged to focus on sharpening operation execution, modernising the Ford business and transforming the company for the future.

 “We’re moving from a position of strength to transform Ford for the future,” Bill Ford said. “Jim Hackett is the right CEO to lead Ford during this transformative period for the auto industry and the broader mobility space.”

A total of five new high-level appointments have been announced, including three new leaders who will report to Hackett. Jim Farley has been appointed executive vice president and president of global markets and will oversee Ford’s business units worldwide.

Joe Hinrichs has been appointed executive vice president and president of global operations and will manage product development, manufacturing and labour, and Marcy Klevorn has been appointed executive vice president and president of mobility, which includes Ford’s plans to design and build in emerging mobility services, and information technology and data.

Mark Truby has been appointed as vice president of communications and elected as a company officer, and Paul Ballew is the new vice-president and chief data and analytics officer.

A spokesman for Ford New Zealand said despite the major changes in global leadership, it would be “business as normal” in New Zealand here.

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Car makers settle Takata lawsuit

Four car makers have agreed to an $800 million settlement to address claims filed in relation to defective Takata airbag inflators, according to court documents filed overnight.

Toyota will cover $403 million of the settlement, followed by BMW at $190 million, Mazda at $110 million and Subaru at $98 million, Reuters reports.

Lawsuits against other leading car makers Honda, Ford and Nissan are yet to be settled.

The four car makers – Toyota, BMW, Mazda and Subaru – said in a joint statement that they settled “given the size, scope and severity of the Takata recall,” but none have admitted fault.

At least 16 deaths and 180 injuries worldwide have been linked to the faulty airbag inflators, which can explode with excessive force and unleash shrapnel inside the cabin of the car. In most instances, the airbags ruptured in humid, high temperatures, and no incidents have been reported in New Zealand.

Reports of the incident led to the largest automotive recall worldwide, affecting 100 million vehicles.

In January, Takata pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid out a $1.4 billion settlement. Searches for a buyer have stretched on for over a year, and last month, the company reported it was considering bankruptcy.

This latest settlement includes contacting owners who still have the faulty airbags, compensation for economic losses, residual payments, rental cars for some owners, and customer support for repairs.

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Judge OK’s 3-litre VW settlement

A federal judge has granted final approval on an agreement for embattled car maker Volkswagen to fix and buy back over 80,000 3.0-litre diesels in the United States, at an estimated cost of over $1.7 billion.

Owners of affected vehicles will be compensated between $10,000 and $23,000 if they chose to opt for fixes. Volkswagen could be forced to pay up to $5.8 billion if the fixes for 3.0-litre diesels are not approved by American regulators

The ruling is one of the final acts in the long-running emissions scandal, which began in October 2015 when it was revealed Volkswagen had fitted diesel vehicles with so-called ‘defeat devices’ to cheat emissions tests.

A separate settlement to fix or buy back 475,000 polluting 2.0-litre diesel vehicles was approved last spring.

Volkswagen spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan told Reuters the settlement “marks an important milestone for Volkswagen and means that a resolution is available to all of our customers.”

In total, Volkswagen has agreed to spend $36.33 billion on various settlements. Last month, the car maker was sentenced to three years probation after pleading guilty to criminal charges, and agreed to broad reforms and independent oversight.

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Volvo to include Android in next-gen console

Google Maps is one of the new apps available to Volvo drivers

Volvo and Google have announced a new partnership to develop a new next-generation in-car infotainment system based on existing Android software, which will offer drivers access to a range of apps and services.

The new technology is expected to be available for new Volvo models within two years.

“We are making an important strategic step with the Google partnership. Google’s platform and services will enhance the user experience by enabling more personalisation possibilities, while Android will offer increased flexibility from a development perspective,” says Henrik Green, senior vice president of research & development at Volvo Car Group.

The partnership comes as more car makers are trying their hand at developing in-car technology. Many new cars now come with some form of touch-screen entertainment system in the driver cabin.

Google’s involvement means Android, the operating system used across an estimated 88 per cent of smartphones worldwide, will feature the Volvo in-car system, which will better facilitate the development of third-party apps already developed for Android software.

“With the advent of Android we will embrace a rich ecosystem while keeping our iconic Volvo user interface. We will offer hundreds of popular apps and the best integrated experience in this broad, connected environment,” says Green.

Volvo will also updated recent models to include Google Local Search as part of the collaboration. The location-based application will be released to drivers via a system update to existing Sensus Navigation technology.

More details on the partnership will be announced at Google’s annual technology show, Google I/O, later this week.

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Historic speeding ticket

The Concours of Elegance 2017 will be bringing a very special piece of history to Hampton Court Palace this September; the first ever car to receive a speeding ticket. The 1896 Arnold Benz Motor Carriage was travelling at four times the speed limit, at a heady eight mph, before being pulled over by a policeman on a bicycle.

The law at the time required all cars stick to a limit of two mph and that they be led by a man on foot waving a red flag at all times. But Walter Arnold, driving through Paddock Green in Kent, was doing neither. As a result Walter was convicted of speeding and forced to pay a shilling fine plus costs.

It was in late 1896, with the advent of the Locomotives Act, that the need for a red flag bearer and 2mph speed limit were abolished and the limit raised to 14mph. In celebration, cars raced from London to Brighton in a so-called Emancipation Run, during which Walter Arnold actually competed.

The run still exists to this day, in the form of the Royal Automobile Club’s annual Veteran Car Run, in which pre-1905 cars recreate the journey from London to Brighton. A parade of these cars will also be arriving at the Concours of Elegance in September, allowing visitors to experience the sights and sounds of the earliest motoring pioneers.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace will be welcoming some of the fastest cars ever built. On display will be the Le Mans-winning Jaguar XJR-9 and the Harrods-livered McLaren F1 GTR – both of which are capable of more than 240mph.

For the first time at the Concours of Elegance, many of the cars on display will be taking part in moving parades over the weekend, including a trip to the event’s new central stage. Featuring commentary and interviews with some of the world’s foremost motoring experts, the stage will provide a focal point for all visitors to the Concours of Elegance.

Adult tickets for this year’s Concours of Elegance start from just £25, with concessions from £17.50. Children under five and carers can enter free of charge. Members of the public also have the opportunity to attend on Friday 1st September, a day normally reserved for the Owners of the main Concours cars.

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BMW 2 NZ launch

The BMW 2 Series Coupe and BMW 2 Series Convertible are scheduled for launch in New Zealand around the third quarter of 2017.

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Alfa Romeo meets Lewis

United states athlete, Carl Lewis supported 330 runners in a collective attempt to break a two-hour marathon record.

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