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Drivers struggle to stay engaged

The difficulty of keeping drivers in automated vehicles engaged is a growing safety concern that has spurred several car companies, including General Motors (GM) and Subaru, to position infrared cameras in the cockpit trained on the driver to track head and eye movement.

However, U.S. safety investigators have called on carmakers to do more to ensure drivers stay engaged when using an autonomous vehicles. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has opened three investigations, two of which involve Tesla vehicles, that call into question the progress that’s been made in guarding against motorist misuse of autonomous/semi-autonomous driving technology.

Tesla has lagged behind automakers in embracing driver monitoring. While the electric carmaker still relies on technology that federal investigators said was too easy to sidestep, it’s now working on unspecified improvements to its vehicles, according to the NTSB.

“They have indicated that they have already made some improvements and are working on additional improvements,” agency spokesman Peter Knudson said to Bloomberg, in the first indication that the company is contemplating more changes to its driver-assistance system. NTSB highway investigators have been in contact with Tesla technical staff, he added.

Driver-monitoring technology is needed for any vehicle that needs humans to handle part of the driving task, said Bryan Reimer to Bloomberg News, who studies driver behaviour at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This includes conventional vehicles without driver-assist systems, cars that guide themselves for some periods without human inputs, such as cruise control, and self-driving cars with people serving as safety monitors.

Motorists today are bombarded by distractions, from mobile phones to in-dash navigation systems, Reimer added. “Drivers need help making better decisions.”

The NTSB is investigating two crashes this year in which Tesla drivers were using Autopilot. The system can automate steering and follow traffic in some conditions, but the company warns drivers they must monitor it at all times. The system isn’t designed to be fully autonomous and can’t detect some objects in its path, according to Tesla. 

In the most recent case, a Model X slammed into a concrete highway barrier on March 23 in Mountain View, California, killing the driver Walter Huang. His family has hired Minami Tamaki LLP to explore legal options, the firm said Wednesday in a statement.

Tesla said in a blog post last month that Huang, 38, didn’t have his hands on the wheel for six seconds prior to striking the barrier where lanes split on the freeway.

“The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive,” the company said in the March 30 blog post.

“What Tesla has is basically a sensor that just detects whether your hands are on the wheel,” said Mike Ramsey, an analyst at researcher Gartner Inc. “If it doesn’t detect anything on the wheel for a certain amount of time, it first gives a visual warning, then an audible warning, then the car starts slowing down. It’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10 seconds or longer. At 70 miles per hour, that’s a long time — a lot can happen in that period of time.”

Tesla has installed an inward-facing camera above the rear-view mirror in its new Model 3 sedan, but hasn’t confirmed whether it could be used to monitor drivers.

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UK carmakers fear trade barriers

The number of cars sold in the UK dropped by 5.7 per cent in 2017, according to industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders. 2018 isn’t any different – ratings agency, Moody’s, predicts a further 5.5 per cent drop this year. 

“Brexit has derailed the industry,” says Sarwant Singh t0 BBC News, senior partner and global head of automotive and transportation at consultants Frost & Sullivan.

“The uncertainty causes people not to buy cars.”

Each year, about 80 per cent of the vehicles built in the UK are exported, so continued international trade relations are vital for the automotive sector’s continued prosperity.

Industry executives’ main fear is that Brexit will result in heightened barriers to trade, not only with the European Union, but with the rest of the world too, once the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

Trading relations with China are also complicated, and may well be subject to even greater complexity in future.

“A UK-China free trade agreement will be neither easy nor clearly advantageous for the UK,” says Bruegel, a European firm that specialises in economics.

Once the UK leaves the Union, the UK will be smaller and therefore in a weaker position during trade talks, so there are no guarantees China will be prepared to offer better terms.

Furthermore, UK’s automotive trade with China, and other growing markets, could suffer, depending on the terms of a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

At present, EU customers buy about NZ$25 billion worth of British-made cars per year, accounting for around 53 per cent of the UK’s vehicle exports, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA).

On the other hand, EU manufacturers deliver 81 per cent of the cars imported by the UK, to the tune of about NZ$75 billion, a trade imbalance that will give the UK leverage during trade talks.

At the same time, about 80 per cent of the parts and components used to build cars in the UK are also imported from the EU, while 70 per cent of the parts and components made in the UK are exported to EU countries.

“Any changes to the deep economic and regulatory integration between the EU and the UK will have an adverse impact on automobile manufacturers with operations in the EU and/or the UK, as well as on the European economy in general,” the ACEA said to the BBC.

It is therefore unsurprising that both the UK and the European car industries want to see a final UK-EU deal that retains smooth trade in the long-term.

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Uber believes AVs have a future

Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi said on Wednesday that the ride-sharing company still believes in using autonomous technology after one of its self-driving vehicles was involved in a fatal crash in Arizona.

A pedestrian was killed after being hit by a self-driving Uber vehicle, resulting in the company to suspend testing of autonomous vehicles.

The accident has sparked conversations in the car industry about the apparent lack of safety standards for autonomous vehicles.

“We believe in it,” said Khosrowshahi, speaking at a transport forum, adding that Uber has always considered autonomous vehicles being “part of the solution.”

The company’s interest in investing in bike sharing and public transit should not be interpreted as a move away from self-driving cars, he added.

Arizona’s governor suspended Uber’s ability to test self-driving cars on public roads in the state following the crash.

Arizona had been key part of Uber’s autonomous project. About half of the company’s 200 self-driving cars and a staff of hundreds were located there. 

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BMW opens autonomous driving campus

The BMW Group today celebrated the official opening of its autonomous driving campus in Unterschleißheim, Munich.

Klaus Fröhlich, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Development and Research, and Bavarian state premier Markus Söder were present for the inauguration of a forward-looking development facility that showcases the BMW Group’s transformation into a tech company.

The BMW Group’s campus for autonomous driving is a state-of-the-art centre of excellence that covers every base when it comes to offering greater capacity for innovation and increased development efficiency.

15 months ago, the BMW Group took the decision to pool together its development expertise in the fields of vehicle connectivity and highly / fully automated driving at a single location.

 

The BMW Group is intending to drive forward development of highly automated vehicles with the new campus in Unterschleißheim, and is looking to recruit IT specialists and software developers in the areas of artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analysis.

 

 

This is a time of disruptive change in the automotive industry, with the arrival of new players making the competitive environment ever more challenging. The pace of innovation is accelerating rapidly and young professionals cite future viability, a modern working environment and flexible, agile workflows as key to an employer’s attractiveness.

A cutting-edge development facility such as the new campus for autonomous driving therefore represents a crucial asset for the company’s long- term sustainability and innovative capability.

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Tesla reveals production date for Model Y

Tesla has announced that November 2019 will be the start of production for its Model Y sport utility vehicle, with production in China to begin two years later.

Two sources told Reuters this week that Elon Musk is currently accepting preliminary bids for supplier contracts on the Model Y, a compact crossover companion to the Model 3 sedan.

Tesla has given suppliers limited details about the program and had not provided a production time frame, but has signalled that the vehicle would begin to be built at its Fremont, California, plant in 2019, the two sources said.

This shows that even though Tesla is struggling to produce the Model 3, which was launched in July, Tesla is pushing ahead on plans to build a new vehicle.

Despite attracting about 500,000 advance orders in the form of refundable deposits, the sedan’s launch has been overrun with delays and factory bottlenecks.

Competitive bidding is an important step in the process of automotive manufacturing. After the automaker discloses its plans, suppliers compete based on factors including cost and technology.

With a new car model, automakers normally choose parts suppliers two to two-and-a-half years before the start of production, said the sources. At about one-and-a-half years away, a November 2019 start date for the Model Y would be considered “aggressive, but possible.”

Tesla is known for its aggressive timelines and high risk-tolerance in order to get cars to market quicker.

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EU to give more power to consumers

European Commission

The European Union have announced a proposal to give more powers to consumers to sue firms such as the Volkswagen Group after the diesel-emissions scandal showed the limits of consumer protection.

Wednesday’s proposal would allow some affected groups to launch collective action and consumer protection authorities higher sanctions for rule breakers.

“Consumer authorities will finally get teeth to punish the cheaters,” Europe’s Justice Commissioner, Vera Jourova, said to Automotive News. “It cannot be cheap to cheat.”

EU regulators say that, after VW was caught using software to cheat emissions test by U.S. authorities, they lacked the tools to ensure EU car owners received the same kind of compensation offered to US clients.

Jourova said only two national consumer protection authorities imposed fines on VW, amounting to 5.5 million euros.

“This is nothing in comparison to what Volkswagen paid in the United States,” she said.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) said the move was long overdue but cautioned that judges and national authorities would still hold sway over what may be a laboriously lengthy process.

Business groups said the plan, which still need approval from national governments and the European Parliament, could lead to a proliferation of lawsuits, saying EU citizens already enjoy some of the world’s strongest consumer protection rules.

Defending the draft rules, Jourova said they would not allow US-style, profit-seeking class action suits. 

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VW set to replace Müller as CEO

Volkswagen has seen its reputation battered in recent years by the scandal

Volkswagen is set to replace its chief executive, Matthias Müller, due to the diesel emissions scandal that has cost the car manufacturer billions of dollars, led to the imprisonment of two executives, and ruined the German carmaker’s reputation.

Two people with knowledge of the situation told the New York Times that Herbert Diess, who is in charge of the company’s flagship Volkswagen brand, was likely to succeed Müller. The company said earlier on Tuesday that it was considering a leadership change, and a final decision was expected by the end of the week.

In the statement, Volkswagen said it was considering “a further development of the management structure of the group,” which could “include a change in the position of the chairman of the board of management,” referring to Müller.

Political leaders are currently pressing the German carmaker to compensate diesel owners who bought cars that turned out to be dirtier than advertised, which could add to the already huge cost of the scandal.

Müller, 64, took over Volkswagen days after it admitted in September 2015 that it had cheated on diesel emissions tests, installing illegal software in 11 million vehicles.

He succeeded in preventing a collapse of sales and profits. But Müller, who has spent his entire career at Volkswagen or its subsidiaries, struggled to deliver on his promise to remake the company’s solid foundation.

However, the carmaker has continued to suffer blows to its reputation, including revelations in January that it had financed tests on monkeys in an attempt to show that diesel exhaust was not as dangerous as it once was.

“This is a chance for Volkswagen to make a change,” said Christian Strenger, the former chief executive of Deutsche Bank’s wealth management division, who is suing Volkswagen because he said it violated its duty to shareholders by failing to be forthcoming about the emissions scandal. 

Diess has led Volkswagen’s push to mass produce electric cars, which are seen as essential to the company’s ability to defend itself against challengers like Tesla, Uber and Google that are trying to upend the auto industry.

German prosecutors have not charged anyone in the Volkswagen case, but they expect to complete their investigation this year.

Two former Volkswagen executives are currently serving prison sentences in the US after pleading guilty to charges including conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act.

Müller was a high-ranking executive involved in product development at the same time that the company was developing the illegal software and deploying it in vehicles, however he has insisted he was ignorant of any wrongdoing, but he has faced the accusation that he was part of a system that allowed it to take place.

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Land Rover celebrates 70th anniversary

After 70 years of all-terrain adventures and global expeditions, Land Rover has once again taken the Defender to new heights.

Stretching over 250 metres, the most remote Defender outline was imprinted on the side of a mountain in the French Alps. The unique snow art was created to announce World Land Rover Day on 30 April, exactly 70 years since the original Land Rover was first shown to the world at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show.

The unique image is a tribute to the moment when the engineering director of Rover, Maurice Wilks, first sketched the shape for the original Land Rover in the sand of Red Wharf Bay and proposed the idea to his brother Spencer, Rover’s managing director. The forward-thinking design was christened the ‘Land Rover’, the outline of which we now recognise as the Defender.

Jaguar Land Rover CEO, Prof Dr Ralf Speth, said: “Land Rover is an iconic brand around the world and the outline of the Defender is instantly recognisable. To reach the landmark of 70 years is truly special and we will mark it with a year of celebrations that represents Land Rover’s ‘Above and Beyond’ spirit and honours the people behind the world’s favourite SUVs.”

Snow artist Simon Beck, who specialises in creating geometric outlines on foot, braved sub-zero temperatures to start the celebrations by creating the Defender outline 2,700m up at La Plagne in the French Alps.

To produce the high-altitude Defender, Beck walked 20,894 steps and 16.5km (10.2 miles) through the French Alps. He said: “Making my snow art requires endurance, accuracy and strength – all attributes shared with the Defender. Its iconic shape is so simple and recognised across the world; this must be the most recognisable piece of art I’ve ever made.”

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Carmakers are delaying efficient cars

Carmakers are delaying building more efficient models until 2019 in a bid to maximise profit margins before new EU rules on CO2 emissions kick in, according to a new report.

The report uses a wide range of sources to show that progress has stalled and many of the underlying trends are contrary to what is needed.

Only six of top 50 car models were upgraded in 2017, however 21 will be re-launched as more fuel-efficient, low-carbon models in 2019-2020, the Brussels-based sustainable transport group Transport & Environment said in its most recent report.

Battery electric models are expected to increase five-fold to 100 by 2021, increasing driving-range, choice, and competition. That means most European carmakers are set to meet EU’s 2021 CO2 reduction targets on time, the report adds.

However, the move comes after European car constructors have pushed the sales of bigger cars, the organisation stressed in its report.

“SUV sales have rocketed from 4 per cent in 2001 to 26 per cent in 2016 and the average SUV has emissions of 132 g/km compared to 118 g/km for a medium segment car. The increase in the average weight of new cars by 124kg from 2000 to 2016 led to a rise in average emissions of around 10g/km.”

“Another common misunderstanding is that a fast fleet turnover is essential to lower CO2
emissions.There is a trade-off between measures to improve the efficiency of new cars and keeping cars cheap to encourage their early replacement.”

However, the report concludes that on a lifecycle basis, rapid fleet renewal actually increases emissions due to the additional releases during manufacture and disposal.

“A vehicle lifetime of 15-20 years is optimal to minimise lifecycle emissions the typical lifetime of cars today.”

Sales of new cars and vans with engines must end by 2035 to ensure that by 2050 the fleet is fully decarbonised. To achieve the Paris climate goals transport emissions must be reduced by more than 90 per cent.

 

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California hints at removing backup drivers

The California Public Utilities Commission, a regulatory body that deals with transportation companies, has indicated that they will allow autonomous car companies to transport passengers without a backup driver – a huge step forward for developers, just as the industry faces scrutiny due safety concerns.

The commission has issued a proposal that means companies such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo and General Motors Co can give members of the public a ride in a self-driving car without any backup driver present.

The proposal, which is set to be voted on at a meeting next month, would clear the way for autonomous vehicle companies to do more testing and get the public more closely acquainted with driverless cars in a state that has closely regulated the industry.

It also comes at a time when regulators across the country are analysing the autonomous technology in the aftermath of a fatal crash in Arizona where a self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian.

The proposed California rules require that companies hold an autonomous vehicle testing permit for at least 90 days before picking up passengers.

The service must be free and passengers must be 18 years or older.

 

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GM Korea workers destroy CEO’s office

Security footage of the incident was uploaded to YouTube

General Motors (GM) workers in South Korea forced their way into company executive offices, destroying and removing furniture, shortly after the car maker announced that long-promised benefits for its employees would be cancelled due to a cash crisis.

Security footage of the incident was uploaded to YouTube, showing the group destroying furniture before leaving the office completely empty. The workers’ union has urged for the chief executive to resign.

According to Automotive News, the union had agreed to a wage freeze and bonus cut for its workers for 2018, but benefits remained a sticking point in negotiations with GM Korea. 

The company later confirmed in a statement to Automotive news that a “violent incident” had occurred at its executive offices that “resulted in significant damage to company property.”

The incident was reported to police, with GM Korea saying that it would be taking legal action against the workers.

GM Korea is seeking union concessions in a bid to present a turnaround plan to the government.

The subsidiary has proposed a $2.8 billion new investment plan and a $2.7 billion debt-for-equity swap to turn around the unit.

GM Korea says it intends to file for bankruptcy if the union fails to agree to a restructuring plan.

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