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Ford increases EV investment

Ford’s head of global markets, Jim Farley has just announced ­that Ford Motor Co will invest US$11 billion in electric vehicles, a major increase on their previously announced US$4.5 billion.

Bill Ford.

The electric vehicles will include 24 hybrids and 16 fully electric vehicles by 2022. 

The increased investment reflects the costs of building a dedicated electric vehicle platform, and development of 40 electric and hybrid models, Jim Farley said.

“We’re all in on this and we’re taking our mainstream vehicles, our most iconic vehicles, and we’re electrifying them,” Bill Ford said to reporters.

Rival Detroit automaker General Motors Co has also announced plans to add twenty new battery electric and fuel cell vehicles to its global lineup by 2023.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra made a bold promise to investors that the Detroit automaker will make money selling electric cars by 2021.

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Top auto trends from CES

At the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), technology companies from around the world unveil and showcase their latest and greatest inventions. Here are the top auto trends at CES this year:

Horizontal infotainment screens.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class interior

At CES, Mercedes Benz launched a new infotainment system for its cars – Mercedes Benz User Experience, or MBUX. 

The “widescreen cockpit” replaces the traditional centre-stack touchscreen and instrument cluster with two side-by-side screens that run about half the length of the dashboard. 

MBUX debuts on the next Mercedes A-Class hatchback later this year. That model won’t be sold in the United States, but MBUX will be available here on a new four-door variant that will replace the current CLA-Class.

Pod cars

Toyota, Rinspeed and Smart Car all brought along autonomous pod shaped vehicles to CES to showcase their ideas on the future of mobility. 

Toyota’s e-Palette is a fully-automated, next generation battery electric vehicle (BEV) designed to be scalable and customisable for a range of “mobility as a service” businesses. Each e-Palette is also designed to be shared between businesses and to quickly transition between applications.


Efficient and affordable mobility is the true goal of the tech industry’s disruption of the transportation sector.

VW released further details at CES on its  ride-sharing service, which it says will enable the elderly, disadvantaged and disabled to get around easier, and Toyota and Honda showed some self-driving scooter-style mobility concepts designed to make your life easier.

In-Car A.I.

In-car assistants and artificial intelligence systems were present in just about every vehicle presented at CES.

In the new Byton SUV, for example, the AI assistant can analyse your calendar, frequently visited locations, hobbies and smartphone application data to deliver a personalised in-car experience on its various screens.

Mercedes’ MBUX in-car display is powered by a digital assistant that can be prompted by saying ‘Hey Mercedes..’ The system also has natural language recognition, so you could say ‘Hey Mercedes, I’m hot’ and the system would turn the AC on, for example. 


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GM’s radical new concept

General Motors, GM, plans to mass-produce autonomous cars that lack traditional elements such as steering wheels and pedals.

The car will be the fourth generation of its driverless, all-electric Chevy Bolts, which are currently being tested on public roads in America.

By 2019, General Motors plans to safely introduce self-driving cars to our roads.

The Bolts will primarily be deployed as ride-hailing vehicles in a number of cities.

“GM’s integrated development of hardware and software, and testing in one of the most complex environments in the world, allows for the company to safely eliminate the steering wheel, pedals, and manual controls from the new Cruise AV,” the company said in a statement.

GM plans for the autonomous cars to be launched in 2019 outmanoeuvring rivals in the increasingly hyper competitive race to build and deploy robot cars. 

Ford has said it will build a steering-wheel-and-pedal-less autonomous car by 2021, while Waymo is preparing to launch its first commercial ride-hailing service featuring fully driverless minivans (though still with traditional controls).


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New Takata death

Ford Motor Co has just announced that it has confirmed a second death in an older pickup truck caused by a defective airbag inflator of Takata Corp and has urged 2,900 owners in North America to stop driving immediately until they can get replacement parts.

Ford recently confirmed in late December that a July 2017 crash death in West Virginia in a 2006 Ford Ranger was caused by a defective Takata inflator.

It previously reported a similar death in South Carolina that occurred in December 2015.

Ford said both Takata deaths occurred with inflators built on the same day installed in 2006 Ranger pickups. At least 21 deaths worldwide are linked to the Takata inflators that can rupture and send deadly metal fragments into the driver’s body. The faulty inflators have led to the largest automotive recall in history. The other 19 deaths have occurred in Honda Motor Co vehicles, most of which were in the United States.

The new recall announced on Thursday affects 2,900 vehicles. These include 2,700 in the United States and nearly 200 in Canada. The new recall will allow for identification of the 2,900 owners in the highest risk pool.

Japanese auto supplier Takata plans to sell its viable operations to Key Safety Systems, an affiliate of China’s Ningo Joyson Electric Corp, for $1.6 billion.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urged owners to heed Ford’s warning. “It is extremely important that all high-risk air bags are tracked down and replaced immediately,” NHTSA spokeswoman Karen Aldana said.

Takata inflators can explode with excessive force, unleashing metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks and have injured more than 200. The defect led Takata to file for bankruptcy protection in June.


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New manufacturing plant

Toyota Motor Corporation President, Akio Toyoda, speaks at the announcement of the new joint Toyota-Mazda manufacturing plant.

Toyota and Mazda to build new assembly plant in Huntsville, Alabama, cementing the state’s position and influence in the U.S. auto industry.

The plant aims to manufacture around 300,000 vehicles annually, to do this they will also be employing 4,000 workers.

Once opened in 2021, the plant could make Alabama the fourth-biggest state in the U.S. when it comes to auto manufacturing.

“With this announcement, our world changes overnight,” said Tommy Battle, mayor of Huntsville. “It vaults Alabama to the top as an industry leader in producing the next generation of cars that will power our nation.”

Why is Alabama a top choice for auto manufacturers and suppliers?

This plant is going to be in the centre of auto alley,” said Thomas Klier, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Klier says Alabama benefits from being so close to other Toyota facilities.

“It’s a very sensible location,” he said. “Toyota has an engine plant in Huntsville and two other facilities nearby in Mississippi, so this makes sense.”

This is comes as no surprise, Trump criticized Toyota and threatened hefty tariffs against the Japanese automaker if it built its Corolla sedan for the U.S. market in Mexico.

When announcing the plans Toyota said it would shift production of Corollas from Canada to the new venture rather than in Guanajuato and would build Tacoma pickups in Mexico instead.

While Toyota plans to build Corollas, Mazda is using their new facility in Alabama to build SUVs.

The Japanese automaker wants to improve a model line-up that has historically relied more on cars than utility vehicles.

Last year, Mazda sold just under 300,000 vehicles in the U.S.

New venture launched

Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi have launched a US$1 billion corporate venture fund to focus on investments revolving around mobility services, which includes electrification, autonomous platforms, network connectivity and artificial intelligence, A.I.

The venture is called Alliance Ventures and plans to invest up to $200 million in start-ups and “open innovation partnerships’ in its first year and will continue to do this over the next five years.

Carlos Ghosn, chairman and chief executive officer of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, said: “Our open innovation approach will allow us to invest and collaborate with start-up companies and technology entrepreneurs, who will benefit from the global scale of the Alliance. This new fund reflects the collaborative spirit and entrepreneurial mind-set at the heart of the Alliance.”

Carlos Ghosn, chairman and chief executive officer of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi.

Alliance Ventures will utilise the technologies, developed by the fund and its portfolio, in-house across the three brands that comprise the group.

The fund has also already made its first investment – an equity stake in Ionic Materials, a battery technology developer. Alliance’s investment will help out with research and development as the Massachusetts-based company looks to bring its solid polymer electrolyte to market.

While Volkswagen doesn’t appear to have a dedicated venture fund or investment group, they are also willing to invest in the technology sphere on a similar scale. They are currently making direct investments in companies or setting up joint ventures with other automakers.

Alliance Ventures will be led by François Dossa, who has over 20 years of experience in investment banking, plus six years of experience within the Alliance, most recently, as chief executive officer of Nissan Brazil. The Alliance Ventures team will also draw on the expertise and business opportunities identified by a Cross-Functional Team of experts from Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi.

The first offices for the new fund will be in Silicon Valley, Paris, Yokohama and Beijing — which align with the member companies that are committing capital to the alliance. Renault and Nissan will both put up 40% of the capital for the new fund, with Mitsubishi Motors financing the remainder.

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Tesla’s new competition

The Nexo – Hyundai’s newest practical hydrogen fuel cell car – made its debut on Monday during the Hyundai’s press conference at CES 2018. 

“Hydrogen energy is the key to building a more sustainable society. Hyundai Motor Company has already taken a lead in hydrogen technology with introduction of Tucson fuel cell,” said Dr. Woong-chul Yang, Vice Chairman, Hyundai Motor Company.

“Yet as another result of this earth-saving effort, today, I am so proud to introduce to you our second-generation Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle which is a culmination of our cutting-edge technologies.”

The Nexo picks up from where the Tucson FCEV left of. The Tuscon was Hyundai’s first attempt at a mass-produced hydrogen-powered vehicle that was available for customers to lease. The Nexo has similar proportions to the current Tucson compact SUV, but it has been built with a fuel cell in mind, meaning the structure is lighter and accommodates the hydrogen fuel tanks in a more strategic layout.

The result is a SUV that is 20 per cent quicker than the Tucson and can reach 100km/h in 9.6 seconds.

The Hyundai NEXO has a claimed range of around 600km — 30 per cent more than the Tucson FCEV (425km) and also more than the Tesla Model S’s circa-500km range. However, Hyundai sources insist 800km has been achieved in regular testing.

Unlike battery electric cars, which can take hours to charge, refuelling the hydrogen fuel-cell car’s pressurised tank takes only slightly longer than it does to fill a petrol or diesel vehicle – Hyundai says it’s around five minutes.

The biggest hurdle facing hydrogen cars like the NEXO remains a lack of refuelling infrastructure. Refuelling stations are few and far between. Japan for example has 28,000 EV charging stations but only 92 hydrogen fuelling stations.
Prices for the car are yet to be revealed but will likely be revealed shortly before the car goes on sale later this year. 


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Nissan delivers 300,000th LEAF

Nissan announced today that the company has sold its 300,000th Nissan LEAF globally since the model was first introduced to the market back in 2010.

The 100% electric LEAF is both the world’s first mass-produced and best-selling electric car. It is also New Zealand’s most popular EV.

“These numbers prove that the Nissan LEAF remains the most advanced car in the world, with the widest reach and the greatest availability,” said Nissan Executive Vice President Daniele Schillaci.

“The new Nissan LEAF is the icon of Nissan Intelligent Mobility because it delivers an even more exciting drive and enhanced ownership experience and contributes to a better world. It will take Nissan’s EV leadership even further.” 

The LEAF also topped Consumer NZ’s latest car reliability survey for 2017, with just four per cent of LEAFs in the survey having a major reliability problem that caused significant repair costs or time off the road. However, the majority of LEAF owners, 97 percent, were very satisfied with the electric car. 

Nissan launched a fully redesigned version of the LEAF in September 2017. The new Leaf offers a range of 400 km, a 33 per cent increase on the 2017 model. It will have 110 kW of power output and 320 Nm of torque a large increase in power from the current model Leaf, which has an output of 90 horse power and 254Nm of torque.

The car will go on sale October 2 in Japan. Though with only imported second hand Leaf EVs available for sale on the New Zealand market, it could be some time before we see the 2018 model on our roads.

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Another record year for McLaren

McLaren Automotive has performed significantly well this year and has recorded another record year of growth – selling a total 3,340 cars.

Around two-thirds of sales are attributed to the Sports Series family, the vast majority of which are new buyers to the brand, with the rest coming from the Super Series.

The Sports Series family accounted for 2,119 deliveries, up from 2,031 in 2016. Following the unveiling of the 720S in March, Super Series sales continued to perform strongly with 1,221 cars sold – nearly the same as 2016’s figure despite only six months of delivery.

This latest news follows the 2017 introduction of new models in each of the established three product families; the 570S Spider was added to the Sports Series, the 720S replaced the 650S in the Super Series while the track-concentrated McLaren Senna joined the Ultimate Series.

Mike Flewitt, Chief Executive Officer of McLaren Automotive, said: “We are continuing to invest heavily in research and development – £1billion over six years – as part of our ambitious Track22 business plan that sets out and supports our growth. Long-term, the plan will see us launching 15 new cars and/or derivatives up to 2022, with three revealed to date.

“2018 will also see the continued development of the company with the planned opening of a second production facility in Yorkshire. When fully operational in 2019, we will innovate and manufacture the carbon fibre ‘tubs’ at the heart of all of our cars’ DNA.”

McLaren continued to expand its global network with additional and updated facilities opening including in Bahrain, Montréal and Denver, along with the confirmation of a new Barcelona showroom.

In addition, and in recognition of the brand’s commitment to North America, the US saw the opening of a new 7,500-square foot North American Regional Distribution Centre, which became the first McLaren parts distribution centre outside the company’s UK headquarters.


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Toyota introduces “e-Palettes”

Toyota Motor Corporation announced today a new mobility service, “e-Palette”, to tackle mobility and delivery services in the age of autonomous vehicles.

“This announcement marks a major step forward in our evolution towards sustainable mobility, demonstrating our continued expansion beyond traditional cars and trucks to the creation of new values including services for customers”, said Akio Toyoda, Toyota Motor Corporation President.

The e-Palette is both an announcement of a mobility alliance and partnership, and a physical concept of that alliance, a blank slate for a variety of transportation needs.  

“The new e-Palette Alliance will leverage Toyota’s proprietary Mobility Services Platform to develop a suite of connected mobility solutions and a flexible, purpose-built vehicle.”

Launch partners include Amazon, Mazda, Pizza Hut and Uber, who will collaborate on vehicle planning, application concepts and vehicle verification activities.

The e-Palette is a fully-automated, next generation battery electric vehicle (BEV) designed to be scalable and customisable for a range of “mobility as a service” businesses. 

It comes in three different sizes, with their lengths ranging from 4 meters to approximately 7 meters and is purposely designed to be flexible and reconfigurable to accommodate a wide range of equipment and an even broader range of uses.

Each e-Palette is also designed to be shared between businesses and to quickly transition between applications.

The e-Palette could serve an Uber during the day and be quickly transformed for shipping packages overnight. The exterior appearance can also be quickly switched by changing the exterior graphics.

Toyota plans to conduct feasibility testing of the e-Palette in various regions, including the United States, in the early 2020s.  It also hopes to contribute to the success of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 by providing mobility solutions like the e-Palette and other innovative mobility offerings.

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FCAI supports new tariff plan

FCAI CEO Tony Weber

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

Australia’s top motor industry body, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), is showing their support for a reduction in vehicle tariffs, a move that the FCAI says “will give more Australian drivers access to the latest safety technology.”

The FCAI’s Chief Executive Tony Weber described the proposition as providing two significant advantages as it would not only help save lives on our roads by providing cheaper access to safety technology, but also help reduce vehicle emissions and CO2.

“This tariff reduction proposal should be viewed as an investment in safety and technology,” Mr Weber said.

“Currently around 88 per cent of new vehicles are five-star ANCAP safety rated. However, in direct contrast to that, the current average age of the total vehicle fleet on Australia roads is around 10 years.

“Abolishing the new vehicle tariff would pass on thousands of dollars in price cuts at the showroom, which would make more vehicles with advanced safety features such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane-keeping assistance more affordable for the average consumer.

“The flow-on effect of this would also benefit our environment because new vehicles produce fewer emissions and CO2.

“The industry is very much encouraged by the Deputy Prime Minister’s comment that this proposal has merit, and we would seek an opportunity to discuss this further with him.”

Mr Weber said that the industry had been vocal for some time about the need to reduce vehicle tariffs and abolish the arbitrary Luxury Car Tax, which distorts the market and does nothing to assist the trickle-down of vehicle safety technology into cheaper cars.

“The latest safety technology on offer by vehicle manufacturers has proven life-saving capabilities. There are a number of key elements to reducing trauma on our roads and the newer cars with features such as automatic lane keeping, warning systems, and fatigue detection, are a vital part of that safety package,” he said.

“With Government intervention through tariff reduction, vehicles can play an even larger role in saving lives on our roads.”

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