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Autonomous flying taxi to take off

Dubai will debut the world’s first autonomous flying taxi late this year in collaboration with Volocopter. The German start-up has received $40 million from Daimler, tech investor Lukasz Gadowski and other parties to develop the all-electric ‘flying car’.

“The strong financial commitment of our new investors is a signal as well as proof of the growing confidence in the newly emerging market for electrically driven VTOLs to be put to use as a personal air taxi,” said the managing director of Volocopter, Florian Reuter.

“We deliberately sought a mix of investors with strategic and entrepreneurial backgrounds and were able to implement this perfectly with Daimler and Lukasz Gadowski.”

Volocopter has been developing the aircraft for seven years, and the latest model is able to travel a maximum distance of 27km at 70km/hr. The all-electric motor can be fully recharged in less than two hours.

Other flying vehicles are in development around the word, including the Kitty Hawk Flyer, which has been backed by Google founder Larry Page, and the Terrafugia X, designed by a group of MIT graduates.

The project is being supported by the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority. The Volocopter is not the first piece of futuristic vehicle technology to be trialled by the wealthy Middle-Eastern city – Dubai police have announced they will use an autonomous vehicle to assist them with their duties last month.

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German car makers in emissions deal

Emissions have reached toxic levels in many parts of Germany

Politicians and car makers in Germany have agreed to completely overhaul engine software on 5.3 million diesel vehicles in a bid to cut pollution, avoid a ban on diesels and repair the industry’s reputation in Europe.

Justice Minister Heiko Mass told the German newspaper Bild that the agreement was only the first step in an ongoing process, and bans on diesel vehicles in the future would not be ruled out.

“The legal requirements for clean air remain in effect,” he told journalists.

Air pollution has significantly decreased over the past decade, but is still breaching current standards.

In February, the EU Commission found limits for the deadly nitrogen dioxide pollution were exceeded 28 areas of Germany, and was responsible for 10,610 premature German deaths in 2013.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has come under increasing pressure for not doing enough to crack down on vehicle pollution, with Merkel’s close relationship to auto executives heavily criticised.  

However, ministers have been cautious about disrupting the auto industry, which provides 800,000 jobs, and is Germany’s biggest exporter.

“We expect a new culture of responsibility from carmakers,” Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, from the centre-left Social Democrats, said at a news conference.

“There is much to make good – to the environment, to people in cities, car owners and not least to the security of the car industry in Germany and its hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) said the software updates would cut nitrous oxide emissions by 25-30 per cent for the 5.3 million affected cars.

The software update is expected to cost Volkwagen, Daimler and BMW a combined $800 million.

The popularity of diesel vehicles in the EU’s largest market is falling as a result of the ongoing emissions scandal. German diesel car sales fell 12 per cent in July, and diesel now makes up 40.5 per cent of new car sales, down from 46 per cent in 2016.

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Mercedes to recall entire EU diesel fleet

Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche

Virtually Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicle sold in the EU since 2011 will be recalled, Daimler has announced.

The move comes after allegations that the Mercedes-Benz had faked emissions tests were published in a German newspaper last week, and an investigation into Daimler in May.

Daimler refuses to say the announcement is a recall, dubbing it a “service action” in a statement.

Owners of nearly every model produced since 2011 will be asked to return their cars to their local dealer so the engine can be adjusted to reduce emissions.

Altering the 3 million cars on European roads will cost the German car maker $346 million, the Telegraph reports. The recall includes popular C-Class and E-Class Mercedes vehicles.

“The public debate about diesel engines is creating uncertainty,” chief executive of Daimler Dieter Zetsche said in a statement.

“We have therefore decided on additional measures to reassure drivers of diesel cars and to strengthen confidence in diesel technology.”’

The software update is expected to take approximately an hour, and will extend emissions controls on the engine so it will activate under wider conditions.

Zetsche said the action wasn’t the end of the diesel engine for Mercedes, and that the company is “convinced that diesel engines will continue to be a fixed element of the drive-system mix, not least due to their low CO2 emissions.”

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Daimler to wind down fuel-cell research

The head of Daimler AG, Dieter Zetsche, said at an automotive conference in Stuttgart, Germany that hydrogen fuel cells are no longer a major part of future research and development plans for the company.

According to engineering news site Smart2Zero, Zetsche told the summit that declining battery costs have made fuel cells uncompetitive in the growing EV market.

“Battery costs are declining rapidly, whereas hydrogen production remains very costly,” Zetsche said.

Last week, Zetsche announced at the annual shareholder’s meeting a $15 billion cash injection into its EV development fund and detailed plans to roll out 10 new EV models by 2022, including a Mercedes-Benz S-Class plug-in hybrid.

Zetche’s twin announcements suggest the 2013 agreement between Ford, Daimler and Renault-Nissan to jointly develop fuel-cell technology could be winding down. The process of manufacturing liquid hydrogen to power fuel-cell vehicles is extremely energy-intensive, and the recent development of long-range electric batteries have rendered the chief advantage of hydrogen fuel-cells over other alternative energy sources moot.

Fuel-cell vehicle sales lag far behind EVs. The most popular fuel-cell vehicle, the Toyota Mirai, has sold just 2,840 units as of February 2017, with sales projected to top 30,000 by 2020. Conversely, the Nissan Leaf, the highest-selling EV worldwide, sold 250,000 units by the end of 2016.

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