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Geely not planning more automotive deals

Li Shufu, the founder and owner of China’s Geely, has no plans to buy further stakes in carmakers after investing almost 10 per cent in Germany’s Daimler, he told German newspaper, Bild am Sonntag.

Li Shufu

“Currently we have no plans for further purchases. We will concentrate for now on the development of existing holdings. There are many ideas, and there is much to do,” said Li.

Since 2010, when he took over Swedish car brand Volvo from Ford Motor Co in a $1.8 billion deal, Li has led a major acquirement push.

Li’s purchase of $9 billion stake in Daimler, unveiled last week, ignited fears in Germany of its industrial expertise falling into Chinese hands.

When asked by Bild am Sonntag about those concerns, Li said that his focus was on future technology.

“For me, it’s not about available technology but what is coming in the future. Or to put it another way, I would like a slice of a cake that is bigger than the cake of today,” he said.

When asked if Geely and Daimler could work together on electric cars, Li said he was keen to cooperate on various areas.

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Daimler to buy partner’s stake in Car2Go

Daimler to buy Europcar’s 25 per cent stake in short-term rental service Car2Go for $118 million, Daimler said in a statement.

Daimler and BMW are already in discussions to combine their short-term rental services Car2Go and DriveNow to develop driverless taxis.  

Germany’s two biggest luxury automakers are gaining a strong presence in the mobility market which is currently dominated by Uber and Didi Chuxing in China.

Daimler and BMW want to build a joint business that includes short-term rental, ride-hailing, electric vehicle charging, and digital parking services, consolidating their strong footprint in Europe.

The two companies have not confirmed the plans, but Daimler said last month it was open to considering a broader alliance and a partial listing of its mobility services operations.

The automaker said on Thursday its mobility services business was poised to expand its portfolio and its customer base, using the expertise gained from Car2Go to work toward an offering with self-driving cars.

“The goal is to develop the required expertise and resources so that we are a leader in the future business with self-driving cars,” Daimler said.

China’s Geely took a 9.7 percent stake in Daimler last week, demonstrating a desire to cooperate on technology.

Consultancy firm, PwC has said that conventional automakers could become marginalised by technology firms if they do not develop pay-per-mile mobility services.

Their share of global auto industry profits might fall from 85 per cent to less than 50 per cent by 2030.

“In this scenario, the only companies that can survive in the long-term are either those that prevail as a clear innovation leader on the product side, or those that recognise that mobility is no longer a product, but rather a service,” said Christoph Stuermer, global lead analyst at PwC Autofacts.

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E-Sprinter to follow in 2019

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter – Range

The all-new Mercedes Sprinter 2018 van range has been revealed.

Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars says: “More than 20 years ago, the Sprinter established the segment that bears its name today. Since then, it has set new benchmarks for large vans through innovation time and again. No wonder it’s one of the bestsellers in Daimler’s portfolio.”

“We are investing some €2.5 billion around the globe in the new Sprinter’s development, its worldwide production network, and sales and after-sales,” stated Dieter Zetsche.

Mercedes has focused on a customisable vehicle that will be able to cater to a wider range of needs for big and small companies alike. It will be able to come in a multitude of forms including Panel van, Tourer, pickup, chassis, bus or traction head as body types.

In addition to these options will be a number of driver configurations, cab designs, body lengths and other equipment features.

The assistance systems available for the new Sprinter include e.g. a self-cleaning reversing camera showing its image in the rear-view mirror, a modern Parking package with a 360-degree view, and a rain sensor with an integrated Wet Wiper system for optimum visibility even during the wiping process.

According to Mercedes more than 1,700 different versions can be configured as a result.

The new Sprinter is available for order now and will be launched in the European market starting in June 2018. The other markets will follow gradually. With an attractive price level starting in Germany at 19,990 euros (NZ$32,100) for the entry-level version with front-wheel drive, the new Sprinter offers every customer a model tailored precisely to his or her needs.

E-Sprinter to follow in 2019

The next generation Sprinter van from Mercedes-Benz will be designed to accommodate a fully electric powertrain and also autonomous driving.

Mercedes says the eSprinter will primarily be used in large metropolitan areas, where range isn’t critical, but emissions are. The battery will be able to recharge to 100 per cent in around 30-60 minutes.

Mercedes will release more details to later on in the year. 

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Diesel fume experiments revealed

Reports of experiments that exposed humans and monkeys to diesel fumes have the Volkswagen Group, Daimler and BMW scrambling to distance themselves from the situation. 

The automakers are promising to investigate the tests whose disclosure now threatens to open a new phase in an emissions controversy that’s dogged the industry since 2015. 

Volkswagen has seen its reputation battered in recent years by deepening scandals.

The study, conducted by the European Research Association for Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT), had 25 people expose themselves to diesel exhaust fumes at different concentrations and for several hours, the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper reported Monday.  

The actions further undermine diesel’s image, steepening an uphill battle to rescue the technology amid worsening political headwinds.

“This is another hit for diesel and shows how carmakers overstepped the mark morally and ethically in their fight to make diesel socially acceptable,” said Stefan Bratzel, director of the Centre of Automotive Management in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany.

“This news means more pressure for politicians to act on diesel.”

At the weekend, the German automakers also confirmed that the EUGT researchers they commissioned used monkeys to test the health effects of inhaling diesel fumes. 

The monkeys were exposed to the exhaust fumes of an older and a modern diesel vehicle, so the progress of the technology could be demonstrated. 

The circumstances of the study, and details on how it was conducted, are contained in a sworn deposition of Jake McDonald, a scientist who oversaw the project.

McDonald said in the deposition, which was taken as part of diesel emissions suit filed against Volkswagen, that the monkeys were shown cartoons during hours of tests to help keep them calm.

“We believe that the scientific methods used to conduct the study were wrong and that it would have been better not to undertake it at all,” Volkswagen said in a statement on Monday.

“We are shocked by the extent and application of the studies … We condemn the experiments in the strongest terms,” carmaker Daimler wrote.

The German government also condemned the tests. ‘These tests … are in no ethical way justifiable and they raise many critical questions about those who are behind the tests,” said Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

 

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Daimler’s new ‘Ask Mercedes’ chatbot

Daimler will soon be introducing a digital assistant called “Ask Mercedes” that ties together previous 
digital customer support projects into a single voice-activated app.

Chief digital officer Sabine Scheunert said “Ask Mercedes” will be available in several markets and languages immediately before being rolled out globally. Mercedes is one of Daimler’s leading car brands.

Scheunert said the “chatbot” will allow both existing and also potential customers to interact with Daimler services, day or night, using voice-activated commands or text-based chat.

Chatbots are software programmes which can respond to posed questions from users using a conversational approach.

Customers can present questions to the Ask Mercedes app when it is installed in the company’s recent model cars, or by using an app or by speaking to a Google Assistant voice-activated electronics controller when they are at home.

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Mercedes recall worldwide

Over one million Mercedes-Benz vehicles are set to be recalled worldwide, thanks to an unintended issue with airbag deployments.

According to a statement from Daimler, an electrostatic discharge as well as a broken clock spring and insufficient grounding of steering components could lead to deployment of the airbag on the driver’s side.

As part of the fix, the statement said dealers would add new grounding to the steering components.

Up until now, no deaths have been reported and the issue is not related to the recent Takata recall.

The recalls covers some 2012-2018 model year A, B, C, and E-class models and CLA, GLA and GLC vehicles.

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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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