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Fatality raises safety concerns

One of Uber’s autonomous cars

Automakers and tech companies are evaluating whether or not to suspend their autonomous vehicle programs in the aftermath of the first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle, an accident that has raised safety concerns. 

In reaction to the fatal accident involving an Uber autonomous vehicle, Arizona officials said they do not see an immediate need to modify rules on the testing of self-driving cars in the state.

On Tuesday, Arizona’s director for policy and communications at the state’s department of transportation, Kevin Biesty, said existing regulations were sufficient and that the state had no immediate plans to issue new rules.

“We believe we have enough in our laws right now to regulate automobiles,” Biesty told Reuters. “There will be issues that the legislature will have to address in the future as these become more widespread.”

Meanwhile, both Uber and Toyota Motor Corp said it will pause autonomous vehicle testing following the accident.

Toyota said the incident could have an “emotional effect” on its test drivers: “This ‘timeout’ is meant to give them time to come to a sense of balance about the inherent risks of their jobs.”

The fatal accident is drawing attention to questions about the safety of autonomous vehicle systems, and the challenges of testing them on public streets.

Self-driving cars have been involved in minor accidents, with nearly all of them being blamed on human motorists hitting the autonomous vehicle. 

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BMW searched by Police

BMW’s corporate headquarters in Munich, Germany

BMW premises in Germany and Austria have been searched by German state prosectors, investigating defect devices capable of manipulating exhaust emissions.

Around 100 law enforcement officials searched the automaker’s Munich headquarters along with research facilities and a factory in Austria.

Prosecutors said they had opened an investigation last month against unknown persons for suspected fraud.

“There is an early suspicion that BMW has used a test bench-related defeat device,” prosecutors said in a statement.

BMW have long denied its cars are equipped with software designed to manipulate emissions tests, BMW said the findings did not reveal a “targeted manipulation” of emissions cleaning.

The automaker said prosecutors were looking into “erroneously allocated” software in about 11,400 vehicles of the BMW 750d and BMW M550d models.

BMW last month recalled 11,700 cars to fix engine management software, saying it discovered that the wrong programming had been installed.

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US investigates failing air bags in Hyundai, Kia cars

Airbags installed in 425,000 Kia and Hyundai vehicles are being investigated after the devices failed to deploy in crashes in which four people died and six others were injured.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began the investigation  after airbags malfunctioned in six crashes involving four 2011 Hyundai Sonatas and two others in 2012 and 2013 Kia Fortes.

The NHTSA review began late last month after Hyundai notified the regulatory agency that “airbag control units showing that an electrical over-stress condition of an … electronic component occurred in three of the crashes.”

The NHTSA review stops short of a formal recall of the vehicles, although there is still possibility of one. Hyundai opted to pre-empt any formal federal action by unilaterally recalling 154,753 Sonatas from model year 2011.

Hyundai’s shares fell 3.8 per cent in Seoul, the biggest drop in more than two months. Kia lost 3.5 per cent, the most in more than six months.

“This is just the start of an investigation — we don’t know how much it will be expanded yet,” said Lee Hang-koo, a senior researcher at state-run Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade in Sejong City, South Korea. “It is surely bad news for Hyundai, which is already seeing sluggish sales in the U.S.”

Air bags already are linked to the largest car-related recall in US history, it led to Japan’s Takata Corp. to seek court protection from creditors after its devices were linked to at least 17 deaths.

Unlike the Takata situation, which involved exploding air bags with shrapnel, this latest probe involves devices that failed to deploy at all.

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Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian

One of Uber’s autonomous cars

In a historic first for the self-driving car industry, a woman in Arizona has died after being hit by a self-driving car, operated by Uber.

It is the first known death of a pedestrian struck by an autonomous vehicle on public roads.

The Uber vehicle was operating in autonomous mode with a human safety driver behind the wheel when it hit the woman.

The woman was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk, according to a statement from Tempe Police.

Uber said it had suspended testing of its self-driving cars in Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident,” an Uber spokeswoman, Sarah Abboud, said in a statement.

The fatal crash will most likely raise questions about regulations for self-driving cars. 

States are starting to allow companies to test cars without a safety person in the driver’s seat – this month, California said that, it would start allowing companies to test autonomous vehicles without anyone behind the wheel.

Arizona already allows self-driving cars to operate without a driver behind the wheel. The state has promised that it would help keep the driverless car industry free from regulation. Consequently, technology companies have flocked to Arizona to test their self-driving vehicles.

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Ford to electrify more SUVs

Ford is strengthening its position in the electric vehicle sphere.

Ford plans to build a hybrid version of five SUVs it sells by 2020, promises Jim Farley, Ford’s president of global markets, and produce six battery-electric vehicles by 2022.

By 2020, Ford estimates SUV sales could account for 50 percent of U.S. industry retail sales – one reason Ford is reallocating $7 billion in capital from cars to SUVs.

By 2020, Ford plans an industry-leading lineup of eight SUVs – five of which will offer hybrid powertrains and one battery electric. Ford SUV sales are estimated to grow 20 percent – more than double the industry rate – to more than 950,000 by 2020, according to LMC Automotive, and surpass 1 million by 2021.

Ford also acknowledges that battery EVs represent more than a different powertrain – they represent a lifestyle change for consumers.

That is why Ford’s strategy includes rethinking the ownership experience so it is more seamless than with today’s gas-powered vehicles. That means making charging an effortless experience at home and on the road as well as offering full-vehicle over-the-air software updates to enhance capability and features.

“Throwing a charger in the trunk of a vehicle and sending customers on their way isn’t enough to help promote the viability of electric vehicles,” said Sherif Marakby, vice president, Autonomous and Electric Vehicles.

“In addition to expanding our electric vehicle lineup, we are redesigning the ownership experience to ensure it addresses customer pain points that currently hold back broad adoption today.”

Ford’s new performance battery electric utility arrives in 2020. It is the first of six electric vehicles coming by 2022 as part of the company’s $11 billion global electric vehicle investment.

“Our passion for great vehicles is stronger than ever,” said Jim Hackett, Ford president and CEO. “This showroom transformation will thrill customers, drive profitable growth and further build toward our future of smart vehicles in a smart world.”


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Tesla’s parts struggle

Tesla Model 3 – Source: Washington Post

Several current and former Tesla employees say the electric vehicle (EV) car manufacturer is building a high ratio of flawed parts and vehicles that need rework and repairs.

According to sources, Tesla has had to ship some flawed parts to remanufacturing facilities to avoid scrapping them, rather than fixing them in-line, however Tesla is denying the claim.

A current Tesla engineer told CNBC news that around 40 per cent of the parts made or received at its Fremont factory require rework. The need for reviews of parts coming off the line, and rework, has contributed to Model 3 delays, the engineer said.

To deal with a build-up of flawed parts and vehicles, Tesla has brought in teams of technicians and engineers from its service centres and remanufacturing lines to help with rework and repairs on site in Fremont, according to the sources.

Tesla flatly denies that its remanufacturing teams engage in rework. “Our remanufacturing team does not ‘rework’ cars,” a spokesperson said. The company said the employees might be conflating rework and remanufacturing. It also said every vehicle is subjected to rigorous quality control involving more than 500 inspections and tests.

CEO Elon Musk has been under serious pressure to increase production of the Model 3 sedan, Tesla’s first mass-market EV. More than 400,000 customers have reserved the EV, paying US$1,000 refundable fees to do so.

Originally Musk said that Tesla would be making around 20,000 Model 3s per month by December. The company then later downgraded those expectations – Tesla is currently making around 2,500 Model 3s per week.

Tesla has acknowledged problems with production of batteries, but said it is still on track to meet its target of 2,500 Model 3s per week by the end of March, and 5,000 Model 3s per week by the end of the second quarter.


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Mercedes-Benz – the world’s most valuable brand

Mercedes Benz is now worth $43.9 billion, 24 per cent more than in the previous year, according to the 2018 Brand Finance Report.  

Second place went to Toyota, who dropped 6 per cent compared to the previous year, to $43.7 billion, while the third spot went to BMW, whose brand value is estimated at $41.8 billion. Volkswagen, who suffered a severe drop in brand value following the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, is on the rebound, occupying fourth place ($25,014 billion).

The biggest increase in value belongs to Aston Martin, who managed to increase by 268 per cent compared to 2017. The brand reached $3.6 billion and is now the fastest-growing brand in the automotive sector. Overall, Aston Martin ranked 24th in the report.

The fast-growing Chinese car market managed some serious leaps in terms of brand value, with six Asian brands managing to make their way into the top 50; Haval, Geely, BYD, Baojun, Foton and JAC Motors.

According to the report, brand value is established after compiling data from several key indicators. These indicators include marketing investment, stakeholder equity, business performance and royalty rate. Brand revenue is also taken into consideration.

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Mazda and Toyota establish new company

Mazda Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Corporation have established a new joint-venture company “Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A.” that will produce vehicles in Huntsville, Alabama starting in 2021.

The new plant will have the capacity to produce 150,000 units of Mazda’s crossover model that will be newly introduced to the North American market and 150,000 units of the Toyota Corolla.

The facility is expected to create up to 4,000 jobs. Toyota and Mazda are investing $1.6 billion towards this project with equal funding contributions.

“We hope to make a plant that will hold a special place in the heart of the local community for many, many years,” said Mazda’s Executive Officer Masashi Aihara, who will serve as President.

“The new plant, which will be Toyota’s 11th manufacturing facility in the U.S., not only represents our continuous commitment in this country, but also is a key factor in improving our competitiveness of manufacturing in the U.S.,” said Hironori Kagohashi, executive general manager of Toyota.

“We are committed to realising a highly competitive plant and producing vehicles with the best quality for customers by combining Toyota and Mazda’s manufacturing expertise and leveraging the joint venture’s synergies. Based on this competitiveness, we will make every effort to becoming a best-in-town plant that will be loved by our hometown,” he added.

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Audi gets in on the flying car action

The “pop.up next” concept – Source: Reuters

Audi, Airbus and ItalDesign have teamed up to develop a vehicle that is both autonomous and can fly. 

Last year at the Geneva motor show, it was reported that Airbus and ItalDesign were co-developing a flying car concept, which was based on wheeled pods that could be picked up by flying drones. 

Revealed yesterday at this year’s show, the Pop.Up concept has been developed further, with Audi stepping in; the concept now bears the name Pop.Up Next.

The addition of Audi has resulted in electric and autonomous driving being apart of the vehicle, while Airbus has been refining its quadcopter top and working together with the design firm and the automaker on how to better hand off the two-seat passenger capsule between the wheels on the ground and the rotors in the sky. 

In the distant future this vehicle could transport people in cities quickly and conveniently on the road and in the air, at the same time solving traffic problems. The dominant interior feature is a 49-inch screen, while interaction between humans and the machine is performed by speech and face recognition, eye-tracking and a touch function.

“Last year Pop.Up marked a new — and as we believe highly significant — chapter in the transportation sector by bringing together two worlds, road mobility and air transport, which had never previously met,” commented Jörg Astalosch, CEO of Italdesign.

“The close cooperation with the premium brand Audi confirms that the project could become the standard bearer for future mobility, based on new technologies, sustainability, digitalisation and urbanisation; all sectors in which Audi is a leading company.”


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German car makers gain ground in South Korea

Mercedes and BMW both sold more cars in South Korea than General Motors (GM) for the first-time last month.

Demonstrating how premium German brands are growing in popularity and that consumers are moving away from GM after it announced a major restructuring.

BMW saw the biggest jump with February sales nearly doubling to 6,118 vehicles, industry data showed, which was just a little behind Mercedes which led the imported car rankings with 6,192 cars, up 12 per cent from the same period a year earlier.

GM’s announcement last month that it plans to shut down of one of its four factories in South Korea and was weighing the fate of the three other plants resulted in domestic retail sales nearly halving in February to 5,804.

With consumers worried about loss of after-care services and residual value, GM lost its long-held spot as South Korea’s No. 3 automaker, slipping to sixth place.

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Australia’s new vehicle market continues to grow

Australia’s new vehicle market grew 6.1 per cent in the first two months of 2018 compared with the same period last year.

Tony Weber, chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.

Last month’s industry total of 95,999 was an increase of 7.8 per cent over February last year and lifted the 2018 year-to-date cumulative total to 184,550.

This pattern maintains strong industry momentum at an important time.

Comparing last month’s outcomes with those of February 2017, many key segments of the market produced positive results with light passenger cars up by 10.3 per cent, small passenger cars up by 9.4 per cent and three of the four SUV segments showing double-digit growth.

SUVs remained the dominant segment with 41.5 per cent of the February market, with passenger cars holding a 35.9 per cent share, and light commercials continuing their steady climb to a 19.5 per cent share.

Light commercials produced strong gains again in the two key light truck segments, with 4×2 pick-up and cab chassis models up by 7.1 per cent (compared with February 2017) and 4WD versions increasing by 17.9 per cent.

All the states and territories produced sales gains during February compared with the same month last year. The strongest result was for Victoria which increased 14.2 per cent, followed by Tasmania with 11.8 per cent, Western Australia with 10 per cent, then the ACT (+9.7%), Queensland (+6.0%), South Australia (+5.8%), NSW (+3.4%) and the NT (+1.3%).

The Chief Executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Tony Weber, said that the strong 2018 growth provided further proof that the fiercely competitive nature of the Australian new vehicle market was providing strong value for the consumer.

“Consumers are supporting the value propositions that the brands are offering,” Mr Weber said.

“To have the market already running 6.1 per cent ahead of last year’s record total indicates that consumer confidence is still strong, and all those elements which underpin our economy remain in position.”

Toyota was the market leader for February with a 19 per cent share, followed by Mazda with 10.3 per cent, Hyundai with 8.3 per cent, Mitsubishi (7.4%) and Ford (6.3%).

The Toyota Hilux, which led the market last year, maintained its top-seller position in February with 4,426 sales, followed by the Ford Ranger (3,544 sales), Toyota Corolla (3,270), Mazda3 (2,935) and the Mazda CX-5 (2,191).

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