For Today: BMW up in plug-in sales, Sustainable fleet series at AltCar Expo

BMW up in plug-in sales:  BMW and Mini sold 8,138 electric vehicles in July, up 52.7% year-over-year. Models come under the BMW i and BMW iPerformance brands, along with the new plug-in hybrid Mini. Plug-in vehicles made up 4.5% of marketshare for all of the company’s vehicle sold last month. For the year, the automaker has delivered 50,711 plug-in vehicles, up a huge gain of 74.8% for the year.

Governments competing for autonomous vehicle mantle:  The push for autonomous technology is pitting cities and states against each other in a race to be the first to lead the way. The payoff is expected to come from economic gains and bragging rights in technology innovation; not to mention other gains expected from self-driving vehicles. Nevada and Michigan are implementing several test projects, and California continues to play a leading role. Strategy Analytics, a research firm, predicts that the “passenger economy,” a segment emerging based on autonomous vehicles will grow from $800 billion to $7 trillion by 2050.

Sustainable Fleet Series:  Early bird registration of $18 will end August 18th for fleet managers, sustainability directors, business owners, legislators, and others attending AltCar Expo & Conference. This will take place Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, at the Santa Monica Civic’s East Wing. Use the registration code AC17EB for the 67% discount. The Sustainable Fleet Series is a brand new seminar offered by NAFA,  with writing a Sustainable Fleet Plan being one of the topics discussed. This introductory session will be available to those attending AltCar 2017, the 12th annual conference sponsored by the city of Santa Monica.

 

 

 

For Today: Mazda goes sustainable, car2go increasing ridership

Mazda sustainability drive:  Mazda just released details on Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030 that includes the first ever commercialized gasoline engine with a compression ignition. That will bring 20% to 30% more fuel efficiency than current models on the market with Mazda’s Skyactiv technology. The corporate sustainability campaign will shoot for 2019 to roll out the new Skyactiv-X and its first electric vehicle. That could be coordinated with its Toyota alliance for jointly developing EVs. Sustainable Zoom-Zoom is structured around reducing corporate carbon dioxide emissions, well-to-wheel, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

Uber battle continues:  Former Uber chief Travis Kalanick won’t be returning to his previous job leading the ride-hailing company, co-founder Garret Camp said. The company is committed to bringing in a new “world-class CEO to lead Uber,” he said in an email to challenge a news report published in Recode. Kalanick stepped down in late June, seven years after starting the global giant with a group of Silicon Valley buddies. The pressure was intensifying following a series of revelations of questionable business practices, including being a bad place for women to work. Kalanick told Recode that he is “Steve Jobs-ing it,” which means he thinks Uber will have to bring him back to lead the company to victory, as Apple had done with Jobs. Several Uber board members disagree with Kalanick.

car2go seeing growth:  Daimler’s car sharing unit, car2go, reported that its usage increased 40% year-over-year in the first half of 2017 compared to a year prior. That’s taking place at 11 North American locations with 4.5 million trips taken so far this year. Members are spending 33% more time traveling this year than last. The company is in discussions with other cities about car2go opening shop there, with the company emphasizing the environmental and economic benefits of using its one-way carsharing model.

For Today: Will Apple build its own autonomous electric cars? GM builds first self-driving Bolts

Apple Project Titan:  During an interview with Bloomberg Television last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company is making autonomous vehicle technology a top priority. There’s been a lot of speculation over whether Apple will one day take its secret Project Titan electric autonomous car to its own factories. Cook wouldn’t speak to that topic, but did admit that autonomous vehicles is one of three technologies directing artificial intelligence in Silicon Valley – up there with electric vehicles and ride-hailing services. “We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects,” Cook said. “It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on.”

Proterra funding:  Electric busmaker Proterra just closed another funding round with $55 million coming through BMW i Ventures and Al Gore’s sustainability focused investment firm Generation Investment Management LLP. “More than ever before, cities are looking for sustainable transportation solutions that can reduce pollution efficiently and effectively. Proterra is incredibly well positioned to help accelerate the growth of sustainable cities and continue our transition to a clean energy economy,” said Gore, the former vice president and climate change activist who serves as chairman at Generation Investment Management.

Autonomous Bolts:  General Motors just announced that it has finished building 130 autonomous Chevy Bolt test vehicles at its plant in Lake Orion, Mich. That means the company is now capable of mass producing autonomous Bolts and other self-driving models. CEO Mary Barra has said GM is the only automaker capable of building high-volume autonomous vehicles in its assembly plant. GM will also working with ride-hailing firm Lyft on testing these vehicles with Lyft drivers.

For Today: Lots more Tesla factories coming, 2 million EVs worldwide

Several more Tesla factories: Tesla has some very big plans in store, according to CEO Elon Musk during yesterday’s annual shareholder meeting. The company may need to build at least three and possibly as many as 10 or 20 new factories to keep up with expected demand. That will include the current models, the upcoming Model 3, and the Model Y crossover, which Musk says is the next new vehicle in development for a 2019 launch. It will be the company’s most popular vehicle ever, he said, so a lot more new factories will be needed; and to support more Gigafactory battery production. Other hot topics included whether to change board member seats to annual instead of staggered three year (which failed), and safety concerns for Fremont, Calif., plant workers (Tesla is dealing with it, Musk said).

Latest in automated tech: Bosch and TomTom have brought a first-ever to automated driving – high-resolution maps. Video data is being used from radar signals with billions of individual reflection points. Automated vehicles can use the map to determine their exact location in a lane down to a few centimeters, Bosch said. It will enable these vehicles to reliably determine their location at all times. Reflection points are formed everywhere that radar signals hit – for example, on crash barriers or road signs – and reproduce the course a road takes. It speaks to safety during a time when industry leaders like Bill Ford are asking questions about how autonomous vehicle technology will really work; and how it will respond to emergencies and unexpected occurrences that happen while driving.

2 million EVs: There were about two million plug-in electrified passenger vehicles on roads around the world by the end of 2016, according to an International Energy Agency report. That number was next to zero just five years earlier; however it’s still just 0.2% of light-duty vehicles, according to the report. Last year saw a surge in sales – 60% more than in 2015, with much of that taking place in China. “China was by far the largest electric car market, accounting for more than 40% of the electric cars sold in the world and more than double the amount sold in the United States,” the IEA wrote in the report. “It is undeniable that the current electric car market uptake is largely influenced by the policy environment.”

For Today: Ford changes over chief executive as profit pressure mounts, California sees leap in electric car sales

Ford changes over CEO:  Ford’s Mark Field is stepping down as chief executive as profit pressures increase from shareholders. He’ll be replaced by Jim Hackett, who’s known for his efforts transforming the world’s largest office furniture manufacturer, Steelcase, and hiring popular University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh while serving as athletic director. He most recently served as chairman of Ford Smart Mobility, a new division created last year to oversee Ford’s ventures in autonomous vehicles and mobility services. Ford Motor Co.’s share price has dropped 39% since Fields took over the CEO job from Alan Mulally in 2014, and the company’s U.S. auto sales are down 5.1% year-to-date. Fields has been pouring billions into self-driving car projects and ride-sharing units. While the company hasn’t introduced any new plug-in vehicles in its lineup lately, Fields did have big plans for increasing Ford’s electrified vehicle presence in China and adding slowly to Ford’s electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid vehicles, including the all-new hybrid police car. Several other management changeovers were announced by the company, including moving Jim Farley up to executive vice president and president, Global Markets. Fields had been seeing increasing pressure from shareholders lately, which was heightened earlier this month during the annual directors and shareholder’s meeting. Officially, the company said Fields has chosen to retire after 28 years with the company. Hackett, the new CEO, is being placed in a similar role to ex-Boeing executive Alan Mulally, an outsider brought in to stabilize the company in 2006. Executive Chairman Bill Ford compared Hackett to Alan Mulally during today’s announcement. “Alan captured the hearts and minds of our employees and made them feel not only could we win but that we would win,” Ford told reporters. “I think that’s something that you’ll see very much with Jim. Jim is a cultural change agent.”

PEV sales in California way up:  California saw a 91% increase of plug-in electrified vehicles during the first quarter compared to that same time period in 2016. All-electric vehicles led the way at 13,804 units sold, with the Chevy Bolt doing especially well at 2,735 vehicles sold during the first quarter. Tesla models and the Nissan Leaf also did well. Plug-in hybrids performed well, making up 10,466 units sold, a 54% increase over last year. Conventional hybrids like the Prius were down almost 10% during the quarter at 22,328 sold. The Toyota Prius Prime did well in the plug-in hybrid category. PEV sales made up 2.7% of new vehicles sales in California during the first quarter.

BMW wants leadership in electric:  BMW CEO Harald Krueger said the German automaker is focusing more on electric vehicles and connectivity than on increasing vehicles sales. Last year, the company reached its highest sales level at 2.37 million units sold from the BMW, Mini, and Rolls-Royce brands. It reached sales of 62,000 plug-in hybrids and 25,000 all-electric i3s last year. The goal is to hit the 100,000 units sold mark this year with electrified vehicles. While the company is committed to selling more battery-powered cars, Krueger sad that fuel cell vehicles will be important in the company’s future plans, as well.

This Week’s Top 10: Electrified highlights from Detroit auto show, Green car sales in December

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. volkswagen-i-d-buzzDetroit auto show: The North American International Auto Show has not been dominated by certain vehicle types, such as pickups and SUVs might have done in the past. Plug-in electrified vehicles have played their part, along with futuristic concept vehicles and mobility services. Back-to-back with the influential CES 2017 show in Las Vegas, the two car shows have had a few things in common. Volkswagen’s I.D. Buzz has taken a lot of attention. The electric microbus of the future is built on the MEB platform and may be able to travel 270 miles once fully charged. It offers maximum space utilization with all-wheel drive, electric motors at the front and rear axles, a fully autonomous driving mode (“I.D. Pilot”), and a new generation of display elements and controls…. The all-new Chevy Bolt electric car continues to win big awards, taking the North American Car of the Year award. The Chrysler Pacifica minivan was named North American Utility of the Year, the first time the award has been given out, and it also comes in a plug-in hybrid variation….. BMW showed its new 530 iPerformance plug-in hybrid. At 248 hp, it will go to 60 mph in about 5.9 seconds. It will also deliver up to 14 miles in all-electric mode, earning an EPA-rated 64 MPGe. The rear-wheel drive version will start at $51,400 while the all-wheel drive xDrive version will begin at $53,700…… Ford presented its vision for the “City of Tomorrow.” It looks at how near-term mobility advancements – including autonomous and electric vehicles, ride-sharing, ride-hailing, and connected vehicles – interact with urban infrastructure and create a transportation ecosystem to deal with challenges such as gridlock and air pollution. Ford’s City Solutions team has been working with cities around the world to propose, pilot, and develop mobility solutions. The team also is beginning to collaborate with Bloomberg Philanthropies and its global coalition of mayors…… Toyota rolled out a redesigned 2018 Camry with more interior space, advancements in its drive system, and a hybrid version that gets Prius-like fuel economy……… Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced that the former Google self-driving car division has been able to drop the cost of its Lidar sensors from about $75,000 per vehicle to about $7,500, which will help lower the cost of autonomous vehicle technologies for interested automaker partners. These new Lidar systems will be installed soon in 100 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans that Waymo acquired from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles…… Audi unveiled the all-new Q8 SUV plug-in hybrid that will be out in production next year. It will be Audi’s second plug-in hybrid to enter the U.S. market, following the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron station wagon.
  2. Green car sales: The Tesla Model S took back the No .1 spot in plug-in vehicle sales during December, bumping out the Chevy Volt, according to sales figures from HybridCars.com and Baum & Associates. Chevrolet did have a good month with the brand-new Chevy Bolt coming in at No. 10 with 579 units sold, far more than a few other electric cars had seen at their birth in the marketplace. The Volt came in at 3,691 units sold (following the Model S at 5,300 in estimated sales). The Volt beat its previous all-time of high 3,351 sold. The Toyota Prius Prime did pretty well, closing the month at 1,641 units sold. Plug-in sales were up 64.8% over the previous month and up 73.9% over December 2015. Hybrid sales were up 21.2% over November and up 6.5% over December 2015.
  3. Faraday Future at CES: While the future of Faraday Future has been called in question with key executives leaving and as lawsuits have been filed by unpaid suppliers, CES 2017 turned out to be about as good for the startup as it was the year before. Revealing its FF91 electric SUV has gone well so far, with the company announcing that 64,124 reservations were placed within 36 hours of its launch at the show. The company didn’t clarify how many in this group made their $5,000 down payment. Faraday Future says that it’s a production car and deliveries will begin in 2018. Will the company be able to get through its tough times and have its North Las Vegas consistently running at full speed?
  4. ChargePoint Express Plus: ChargePoint has launched ChargePoint Express Plus, a fast DC charging solution that is ready for the electric cars, buses, and trucks. Express Plus can charge today’s newest electric vehicles, such as the Chevy Bolt, at their maximum rate; is equipped to charge upcoming EVs such as the Tesla Model 3 and is ready to deliver maximum charging speed to EVs coming to market in the years to come. A modular platform designed for businesses and charging centers along major roadways or transit depots, Express Plus can deliver up to 400 kilowatts (kW) to an EV, the company said in its release.
  5. Gigafactory starts up: Tesla Motor’s Gigafactory in the Reno, Nevada, area has started rolling its first battery cells off production lines to power the company’s energy storage products and, before long, the Model 3 electric car. More than 2,900 people are already working at the facility, and more than 4,000 additional jobs (including temporary construction jobs) will be added during 2017 through the partnership between Tesla and Panasonic Corp. Tesla also plans to begin shipping the Powerwall 2 home batteries by the end of this month, at prices that by some estimates are 30% cheaper than the closest competitor’s product.
  6. Chrysler Portal: Chrysler unveiled its 250-mile range Portal electric minivan Concept at CES 2017 that may have autonomous vehicle capabilities. The new EV will offer touch screens, ports, and social media options to find interest from Millennial car shoppers. Parent company FCA said it will be an urban mobility vehicle of the future. The six-passenger minivan “explores the possibility of what a family transportation vehicle could look like,” Chrysler said.
  7. Toyota AI concept car: Toyota Motor Corp. revealed the “Concept-i” at CES 2017. Embedded in the concept car is “Yui,” Toyota’s artificial intelligence system. Yui monitors driver behavior, interacting with the driver to facilitate the driver-vehicle relationship customized to the driver’s tastes, patterns, and road conditions. Toyota said it was built from the inside out, with a focus on making it immersive, energetic and, approachable. The Concept-i “will enhance that relationship between car and driver.” Toyota said it will be testing some of the concept vehicle’s technologies on Japan’s roads in the next few years.
  8. Volvo carsharing: Volvo Cars will establish a new shared mobility business unit as part of a broad expansion of its carsharing and mobility services strategy. It will be based around Sunfleet, one of the world’s first car sharing companies that has been operated by the automaker since 1998. Based in Sweden, the Sunfleet division has around 50,000 subscribers generating approximately 250,000 transactions in more than 50 Swedish cities, the company said.
  9. Clean Energy stock value: Natural gas prices have risen over 30% in the last two months to current levels of around $3.30 per million British thermal units since the beginning of November 2016. That rally in pricing should be good for business for Clean Energy Fuels, according to a Seeking Alpha investor and analyst. Clean Energy should be able to enter into fuel contracts at better prices. Growth may come from the transit bus and refuse truck markets. About 60% of new refuse trucks are operating on natural gas in the U.S., the analyst said.
  10. Battery cells for EVs: Volkswagen Group is weighing and balancing a big decision as it prepares to hit its ambitious target of manufacturing up to three million electric vehicles per year by 2025. The German automaker is reviewing bids from six battery cell suppliers for its EV lineup. Several other automakers are in a similar situation as VW – should they manufacture their own battery cells? Tesla Motors and Panasonic have started this process at the Gigafactory in Nevada this month, but other automakers are tending to see outsourcing to more than one battery cell manufacturer as the necessary way to go.

The latest in autonomous, shared, electrified rides from Uber, Google, FCA, Tesla, and China

uber-volvo-self-driving-vehicleUber has been testing its autonomous, shared rides for the past month in California, and it may be blocked by the state government from continuing these trips. The California Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday sent the ride-hailing company a cease-and-desist letter demanding it must stop its self-driving car tests in the state.

That hasn’t stopped Uber so far. On Friday, the company said it will continue the tests despite the DMV’s statement. The California Attorney General has threatened an injunction if Uber does not comply. Uber said that its semi-autonomous car system isn’t different from what owners of Tesla vehicles can do with the Autopilot driver assistance systems and that other automakers’ cars offer with parking and collision avoidance.

Launched in Pittsburgh this past September, Uber’s pilot program has been testing about 100 self-driving Volvo XC90s plug-in hybrid SUVs and Ford Focus hybrid sedans, each one with an engineer riding along to monitor it and take control if necessary. Customers are allowed to decline rides in the self-driving cars if they choose and wait for a regular Uber ride. In San Francisco, the company is using 11 sensor-packed Volvo XC90s. Some are meant to pick up customers, and others will be used to log mapping and sensor research miles.

In both Pittsburgh and San Francisco, the cars are not capable of being driven without active physical control and monitoring, according to Uber. The company said it has asked the DMV what is different about its technology compared with Tesla’s, which have an Autopilot partially self-driving feature. Uber said that it hadn’t yet received an answer.

As least 20 other companies have applied for and received the DMV permits to test on California roads, including Google, Tesla, Ford and Nvidia.

Google names project Waymo, may back away from fully autonomous
Google’s Self-Driving Car Project was renamed “Waymo” last week. While the company had previously been an advocate of fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels or pedals, it may be backing away from that stance. A technology news media website, The Information, reported that the growing competitive climate with several companies entering the space has caused Google co-founder Larry Page to rethink his company’s mission.

Waymo will be an independent unit within the parent company. Alphabet executives said the company is close to bringing its autonomous driving to the public and will reveal more later.

While autonomous vehicles used to be nothing more than a testing project for several automakers and tech companies, lately it’s become a much more viable sector for commercializing a new technology. Page is concerned that Alphabet and Google could be left behind. Google may be in a better position to provide technology to automakers rather than go through the capital-intensive, lengthy, and complex regulatory process of building and selling its own autonomous cars.

It may have been behind Chris Urmson leaving Google this year. Urmson, a longtime champion of fully autonomous vehicles as he headed Google’s self-driving car project for years, left in August. The New York Times had reported that Urmson wasn’t happy with the leadership of John Krafcik, formerly the head of Hyundai America, who was hired in 2015 to be chief of the project. The Times report also said that Urmson had argued with Google co-founder Larry Page over where the division was headed. Urmson may be starting his own autonomous car software firm, according to media reports.

FCA delivers self-driving minivans to Google, discussing ridesharing service
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced yesterday that it has completed building 100 minivans that are being outfitted with autonomous vehicle equipment for the new Waymo subsidiary. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids recently were completed at the automaker’s Windsor Assembly Plant.

Google parent Alphabet also has been in talks with FCA about starting up a ridesharing service using Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Google would like to utilize a semi-autonomous version of the Chrysler Pacifica minivan that it’s developing with FAC for the new service as early as the end of 2017, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The ridesharing service will be tied into the 100 Pacificas that the two companies agreed in May to develop together – and that FCA has completed. They’ll be using the plug-in hybrid version of the Pacifica minivan during the self-driving testing process.

FCA has been enthusiastically marketing the new plug-in hybrid version, which it calls the Pacifica Hybrid. The automaker will reveal an all-electric version of the Pacifica during the CES electronics show in Las Vegas next month, sources said. FCA has been looking for ways to roll out more zero emission vehicles as the global regulatory front tightens up on emissions.

Other automakers, including Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, Toyota, and General Motors, have made serious investments with partners this year to stride forward in ride-hailing, ridesharing, and carsharing mobility services.

Tesla wants to control how its cars are used for ridesharing
Tesla Motors may not like to see the presence of a startup firm that has taken the name “Tesloop,” which is offering Tesla vehicles for share rides to its customers. In October, Tesla said that it wants to launch its own shared ride service and doesn’t want to see its electric cars used outside that network.

Tesloop, based in Los Angeles, offers city-to-city shared vehicle trips. The startup seems to be structured more like longtime transportation companies than ride-hailing firms Uber and Lyft. The Tesla vehicles used in the Tesloop fleet have a California TCP number on the rear bumper, which means the company is certified as a commercial passenger carrier in the state. The company has to follow commercial vehicle insurance and driver guidelines that other transportation service providers have to follow; including more extensive driver background checks than Uber and Lyft so far have to comply with.

In October, Tesla announced that it will not allow any of its electric vehicles to be used by owners to drive for ride-hailing companies such as Uber or Lyft. While sharing rides with family and friends is fine, the company said it doesn’t want to see its self-driving vehicles used for revenue purposes outside of its own Tesla Network, which will be launched later on.

“Please note that using a self-driving Tesla for car sharing and ride hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year,” the company said.

Tesloop works with drivers now, which it calls “certified Tesloop Pilots,” but the firm is enthusiastic about tapping its autonomous systems as soon as possible. “As autonomous car technology improves over the next three years to the point where it is safer than human drivers, we expect this to become a common reality,” the company said on its website.

As for now, trips in a Tesla Model X and Model S are driven by a “certified Tesloop Pilot” and carry passengers to points throughout Southern California and out to Las Vegas. As a marketing message, the company sells $39 trips between cities.

The company will be spreading its network in the San Francisco, San Diego, and Santa Barbara areas. Vacation spots like Palm Springs are emphasized. The company uses Tesla’s Supercharger network of fast-charging ports.

China aims to be No. 1 in electrified and autonomous vehicles
China has ambitious plans to continue being the leading global market for plug-in electrified vehicles, and would like to play a leading role in autonomous vehicles – according to a planning document that was revealed recently in Beijing.

By 2030, the report expects to see “new energy vehicles” (plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles) make up 40 percent of the 38 million new vehicles that will be sold in China during 2030, or about 15 million units.

The report estimates that semi-autonomous vehicles, called “partially autonomous,” will make about 50% of new vehicle sales in China by 2020. “Highly-automated” cars (close to being fully automated) will make up 15% of sales by 2025; and fully autonomous vehicles will account for 10 percent of new vehicle sales by 2030, according to the report. That would mean four million fully autonomous vehicles would be sold each year.

Things are already in the work in China – and in the U.S., in what may also end up in China. Chinese company Baidu is teaming up with Nvidia to use artificial intelligence to building a platform for self-driving cars. LeEco, NextEV, and Lucid Motors are tapping into cutting-edge autonomous technology and talent directly from California. That may end up in vehicles sold the in the Chinese market, too.

China’s policies also include some ambitious emissions reduction targets through these measures. It also encourages foreign countries to share their best electrified and autonomous vehicle technologies with Chinese partners – or be blocked from having access to the market.

General Motors has found out recently how serious the Chinese government takes guidelines such as these. The automaker, which plays a large role in China’s auto market through its partnership with Chinese companies, is under investigation by the Chinese government for potential anti-trust violations. Forbes thinks that the risk of serious damage is low, and that China uses such tactics to keep foreign companies a little bit off balance and to follow China’s lead.

 

Uber’s new partnerships and Pittsburgh test project revealing the next phase of autonomous vehicle technologies

Uber autonomous vehicle test projectHave you ever wished you could ride in a passenger seat during a self-driving car test? You might want to go to Pittsburgh and skip Mountain View, Calif.

You can ride in an autonomous Ford Fusion as part of Uber’s self-driving car test project in Pittsburgh; and that will soon include a Volvo plug-in hybrid. Google has kept its test runs in its corporate hometown of Mountain View controlled to allow for only employees and strategic partners to participate.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told the press last week that development of autonomous vehicles is essential to the future of the six-year-old ridesharing company. Much of it has to do with eventually eliminating the cost of paying drivers, which would allow Uber to drop the cost of a ride down and make it even more attractive to customers who don’t want to make a car payment or pay for a taxi ride.

“We’ve got to be laser-focused on getting this to market, because it’s not a side project for us,” Kalanick said. “This is everything. This is all the marbles for Uber.”

Uber is no longer involved with Carnegie Mellon University’s self-driving car research for reasons that were never explained. That alliance with the Pittsburgh-based university, which is considered to be the leading university R&D center for autonomous vehicles, ended in the spring after being formed a year earlier. Uber did hire away four faculty members and 36 researchers and technicians, but Uber never collaborated with CMU on a single project. The ridesharing company did provide the $5.5 million gift to the university that it committed to.

Uber does have its own drivers behind the wheel to reduce the risk factor and protect passengers and other vehicles on the streets; and the company is working with authorities in Pittsburgh and the state of Pennsylvania to make sure safety rules are followed in the test cars. Tesla Motors is continuing to back its semi-autonomous Autopilot system even after a fatality and several collision incidents related to the Autopilot system. Safety will continue to be the key issue to be addressed by all parties rolling out self-driving car technologies.

Last week was significant for the next phase of autonomous vehicles with announcements from Uber and two major automakers. Plug-in electrified and hybrid vehicles have typically been used in self-driving test projects.

Purchases of plug-in electrified vehicles are expected to reach the 10%-to-20% of U.S. new vehicle sales mark, from their current less-than-1% level, in the next 15 years, according to a few industry analysts. Being connected to self-driving technologies and mobility services is expected to support that sales increase.

Uber will be adding Volvo cars to its test project. The companies will be investing $300 million to put 100 self-driving Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrid SUVs on the streets of Pittsburgh in less than four months.

Self-driving hardware and software will be added jointly, and tech support will be provided by Volvo. Uber will be adding Lidar, radar, additional cameras and sensors. Uber will allow customers to summon the self-driving vehicles from their phones. The fleet will be supervised by Uber staff in the driver’s seat for the time being.

Uber said it is buying the XC-90s from Volvo and is adding the self-driving hardware and software for the specific needs of its ride-hailing service. Uber is developing the technology in its Pittsburgh tech center, opened just 20 months ago. Volvo will provide technical support.

Sherif Marakby, Uber’s vice president of global vehicle programs, is leading the project. He joined Uber in April after a 25-year career at Ford in numerous senior engineering management positions. In his most recent role with Ford, Marakby served as the automaker’s director of global electronics and engineering, a position where he was responsible for electrical components on all Ford vehicles globally, including infotainment, driver assist, and connectivity.

He said that Uber’s deal with Volvo isn’t exclusive. The ridesharing company will roll out the test project to other cities and there could be other automakers and technology suppliers joining in. As for now, working with Volvo makes a good deal of sense for Uber.

“The foundation of the collaboration is Volvo’s strength in safety and vehicle development, and Uber’s strength and commitment to autonomy and autonomous technology,” Marakby said. “A significant part of that is the software. All of that is developed in house.”

Uber also announced last week that it had acquired Otto, a 90-person start-up company providing self-driving truck systems that could bring more of that technology to shipping and cargo transport. The acquisition is taking place for an undisclosed cost.

Uber plans to open a 180,000-square-foot facility in Palo Alto, Calif., to house the trucking tech company. Otto will operate as a stand-alone company focused on upending the long-distance trucking industry. Otto had previously hired former Google and Carnegie Mellon engineers. After the acquisition is complete, Otto engineers will also work out of offices in San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

Uber’s chief said the strategic alliance will team up with hardware manufacturers, Otto’s software expertise, and Uber’s large network of more than 50 million monthly riders as potential customers for a wide range of delivery services. It places Uber in the best position to be competitive with Silicon Valley giants like Google, Kalanick said.

Ford Motor Co. is tapping into Silicon Valley talent as well, said CEO Mark Fields, last week while visiting the automaker’s Palo Alto research facility. Fields announced that the company will offer a fully automated driverless vehicle for ridesharing services in 2021.

Fields said Ford is increasing its investments in Silicon Valley technology firms, tripling its investment in semi-autonomous systems, and more than doubling the size of its Palo Alto research team while expanding its campus in Silicon Valley.

Ford’s chief said he was not concerned that rival General Motors had made a high-stakes play in ride services with its $500 million investment in Lyft in January. “We’re not in a race to be first,” Fields said.

Ford does not yet know whether it will partner with Uber, Lyft, or other ride-hailing and ridesharing service providers. Fields said Ford may choose not to partner, and roll out such services on its own. The automaker has been rolling out carsharing and ridesharing in Europe and the U.S. in test projects in recent years. Fields does see Ford going toward fully autonomous vehicles, similar to the strategy Google has taken.

Ford Chief Technical Officer Raj Nair said the company likely will not offer a fully autonomous car without steering wheels or pedals to consumers until 2025 or later. Launching a self-driving car first for ridesharing is a better way to reach the mass market and make the cars more affordable, he said.

Uber CEO Kalanick isn’t speculating on when Uber might be ready to dispense with the human driver, saying that full automation can only be used now in limited places light in traffic. Uber and Lyft riders are anticipated to be more open to using driverless cars. Studies show that younger, Millennial consumers make for most of the Uber and Lyft customers. They’re less interested in car ownership and want to tap into the most efficient, advanced technologies to meet their mobility needs. Many of them have taken ridesharing trips and enjoy the reduced cost and socializing. They prefer it over driving their own car home from work, being absorbed and stressed out over getting through congested traffic at slow speeds. Whether it’s a human or machine driving the car, their main purpose for using Uber and Lyft is accomplished.

Electrified vehicles are expected to play a role in the future of self-driving, shared rides in urban settings. Their cost efficiency is valued, and growth in the charging infrastructure is expected to take away fear of being stranded in an electric car. Evercar, a provider of shared EVs for on-demand drivers (like Uber and Lyft), reported in the spring that it has been growing quickly in Los Angeles. By applying innovations in electric vehicles and carsharing technology, the company is making it possible for nearly anyone to access a vehicle to drive for the on-demand economy, Evercar said.

Navigant Research sees a global trend developing with on-demand mobility programs sprouting up, which indicates that transportation is moving toward a future that is both shared and electric. Automakers and tech partners are testing projects to examine its potential.

BMW recently announced that it will be expanding its ReachNow carsharing program to cover Portland, Ore., after successfully bringing the service to Seattle earlier this year. The service attracted more than 13,000 members within its first month of operation. BMW uses a mix of vehicles for the program that includes Mini Coopers and the BMW i3.

Nissan recently announced its collaboration with San Francisco-based electric scooter-share company Scoot Networks. The two companies will deploy 10 mobility concept cars (the Renault Twizy) in the Bay Area.

On August 2, startup company Green Commuter launched a carshare and vanpool fleet in Los Angeles using Tesla Model X SUVs. And there are several other two-wheel and four-wheel electrified vehicles being used in demonstration projects around the world.

Navigant says that companies looking to capitalize on this rapidly evolving business will need to offer high levels of vehicle accessibility, affordable hourly usage rates, and differentiating product options. As for autonomous vehicles, a recent Navigant leaderboard rating placed Daimler, BMW, Audi, and General Motors as the top automakers in the field. Ford, Volvo, Toyota, and Honda followed in the leaderboard ratings. All of these companies are investing heavily in connected, electrified, advanced technologies.

Details coming out on Autopilot fatality in Tesla Model S

Tesla AutopilotThe fatality of a driver in a Tesla Model S with Autopilot is being described as the very first casualty from an autonomous vehicle technology. Here are details from the incident and where this may lead in the near future..……..

  • The crash took place on May 7 in Williston, Fla., but wasn’t in the public spotlight until June 30 when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said preliminary reports indicated that the crash occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla, and the car failed to apply the brakes.
  • The 2015 Tesla Model S sedan crashed in northern Florida into a truck that was turning left in front of it on a double-lane highway. The Tesla didn’t stop, hitting the trailer and traveling under it. The Tesla then ran off the road, hitting a fence and a power pole before coming to a stop.
  • It is the first known fatal accident involving a vehicle being driven by itself by means of sophisticated computer software, sensors, cameras and radar. Federal regulators, who are in the early stages of setting guidelines for autonomous vehicles, have opened a formal investigation into the incident.
  • The Florida Highway Patrol identified the Tesla driver who was killed as Joshua Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio. He was a former Navy SEAL known for dismantling bombs for the Navy during the Iraq war, then coming home to start his own company to extend internet service into rural America. He loved his Model S so much he nicknamed it “Tessy.” He celebrated the Autopilot feature that made it possible for him to cruise the highways, making YouTube videos of himself driving hands-free. In the first nine months he owned it, Brown put more than 45,000 miles on the car. In a YouTube video that Brown posted a month before the fatal crash showing the technology saving him from another collision and wrote that he was “very impressed. “Tessy did great. I have done a lot of testing with the sensors in the car and the software capabilities,” Brown wrote on April 5 in comments posted with the 41-second video.
  • Tesla Motors issued a statement on the incident and investigation on June 30 that said it’s the first known fatality in over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. In “A Tragic Loss,” posted in the company’s blog, Tesla said that neither Autopilot nor the driver “noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.”
  • A digital video disc player was found in the Model S after the crash, the Florida Highway Patrol officials said on Friday. Whether the portable DVD player was operating at the time of the crash has not been determined. Witnesses who came upon the wreckage gave differing accounts on Friday about whether the player was showing a movie.
  • The 62-year-old driver of the tractor trailer, Frank Baressi, told the Associated Press that the Tesla was driving so quickly that it “went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him.” Combined with the alleged high rate of speed the Model S was traveling, Baressi told the AP that he witnessed the Tesla “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” though he acknowledged that he only heard the movie and couldn’t see it. “It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road,” Baressi said to AP.
  • One driver on the Florida highway said that right before the crash, the Model S was driving well over the speed limit, according to a local resident interviewed during a TV news report who had spoken to the witness.
  • Evidence from the crash will take NHTSA several weeks to issue a statement. NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation will examine the design and performance of the automated driving systems in use at the time of the crash. During the preliminary investigation, NHTSA will gather additional data regarding this incident and other information regarding the automated driving systems. “The opening of the Preliminary Evaluation should not be construed as a finding that the Office of Defects Investigation believes there is either a presence or absence of a defect in the subject vehicles,” NHTSA said in a statement.
  • The federal government is expected to release its national guidelines for autonomous vehicles this month, and will likely acknowledge the NHTSA investigation of the Tesla crash. Speaking last month at a telematics conference in Novi, Mich., Mark Rosekind, head of NHTSA, expressed concern over how much is really known about the safety of autonomous vehicle technology. “We need new safety metrics,” Rosekind said. “We also are going to have to broaden our view on the data sources for what those metrics might be. We have laboratory work. We have simulations and real world data.” The industry and regulators don’t know everything they don’t know about the safety of the most advanced autonomous technologies, he said.
  • Google has collected a lot of data from its self-driving car test runs in recent years. Its self-driving test cars have been in several minor collisions, but on the receiving end. Earlier this year, Google filed a California DMV accident report confirming that one of its autonomous vehicles (a Lexus RX450h) collided with a bus in Mountain View, Calif. The vehicle and its test driver incorrectly assumed that a bus approaching from behind would slow or stop to let the car through. The Lexus smacked into the side of the bus at low speed, damaging its front fender, wheel and sensor in the process. It was a minor incident with no injuries.
  • Google test cars primarily use a laser system known as Lidar (light detection and ranging), a spinning range-finding unit on top of the car that creates a detailed map of the car’s surroundings as it moves. Lidar is also used now on many of the experimental autonomous vehicles being developed by Nissan, BMW, Apple and others, but not by Tesla. The Tesla uses a computer vision-based vehicle detection system, but according to the company, it is not intended to be used hands-free and parts of the system are unfinished. Some experts speculate that a Lidar-driven car might have avoided this fatal crash.
  • Safety of vehicle drivers and passengers, and pedestrians and bicyclists, have been the core issue behind allowing autonomous vehicles to be tested, and eventually to roll out, on U.S. roads. The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles made that very clear when the state adopted the nation’s first permission and guidelines for testing self-driving cars on its roads. Google and other companies have emphasized that issue more than any other reasons for investing in the technology. The Tesla fatality will heighten the debates – over whether cars should be fully autonomous as Google advocates, or they should have allowances for humans to take over in emergencies as the California DMV and others have expressed.
  • NHTSA just released a statistical projection of traffic fatalities for 2015, which estimates that 35,200 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes. That’s an increase of about 7.7% as compared to the 32,675 fatalities reported in 2014. It would will mark the highest level of fatalities since 2008, which saw 37,423 fatalities. This data will likely affect the debate even more.
  • Tesla just announced it will be releasing this month its Autopilot software version 8.0. That was in the works long before reporting of the investigation of the fatal crash, but the company says the update is the most important to its touchscreen since the launch of the Model S in 2012 and features significant improvements to the Autopilot. It will allow for improvements in the general Autopilot experience in traffic, but more significantly, it will introduce automatic off-ramp in exits on the highway, Tesla says.

Flying cars grabbing attention and funding right up there with autonomous vehicles

TerrafugiaIf you’re a fan of science fiction author Philip K. Dick, and movies made from his writings, you’ve probably been thinking about flying cars for years. Featured in the Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? novel and Blade Runner film – and “The Electric Ant” and “Minority Report” short stories (along with the Steven Spielberg film Minority Report) – flying cars will be one of the mobility options we use daily, according to the author.

Flying cars, and similar technologies such as aerial delivery drones, are on a similar track as autonomous vehicles. They’re still in the early testing and development phase, but it looks like we will see them on our roads and skyways much sooner than expected. Google co-founder Larry Page seems to think so.

Page, CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., is spending his own money on two startups developing flying cars. He’s funded one of them, Zee.Aero, more than $100 million since it started in 2010. Since last year, Page has also been backing another startup, Kitty Hawk, which is making another flying car that could compete with Zee.Aero.

Zee.Aero conducts test flights of its prototype at an airport hangar in Hollister, Calif. The startup firm also has a manufacturing facility on NASA’s research center at the edge of Mountain View, Calif. Zee.Aero employees call Page the guy upstairs (‘GUS’). Page had demanded his involvement in the startup should stay hidden, according to an article last week in Bloomberg.

Kitty Hawk has headquarters about half a mile away from Zee.Aero, The startup is working on “something that resembles a giant version of a quadcopter drone,” according to Bloomberg.

Larry Page isn’t the only investor passionate about flying cars……..

Terrafugia TF-X received Federal Aviation Administration approval for test flights in late 2015. The hybrid-electric flying car will have fold out wings with twin electric motor pods attached to it, and is capable of recharging its batteries either from its engine or by plugging in to electric car charging stations. This mid-size car has twin helicopter-style rotors at the tips of its wings that fold out of the car and lift the TF-X into the sky. Once it’s up in the air, electric engines teamed with a 300-horsepower engine provide power. The rotors fold back, and a ducted fan pushes the TF-X along. It has a cruising speed of about 200 mph, with a range of about 500 miles.

The company says that development of the TF-X hybrid-electric flying car is expected to last 8-12 years. Once developed it will be tested in a wind tunnel at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It could go on sale for $120,000 and seat four people. You can watch the video here; and the image was taken from the video for the photo shown at the beginning of this article.

Google is working with NASA and 13 other companies, including Amazon and Verizon, to create an air-traffic control system for drones, called Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Traffic Management. With safety being a key concern, the federal government is seeking to work with the private sector to create rules of the aerial highways. Recent crashes of drones, including at national parks and on the White House grounds, have brought concern to watching over the new technologies being tested. The economic opportunities are part of gaining support from corporate backers.

“They definitely see it as an economic opportunity and as something that they want to participate in,” said Brian Wynne, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “This is real magic.”

NASA is researching prototype technologies for a UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system that could develop airspace integration requirements for enabling safe, efficient low-altitude operations. Currently, there is no established infrastructure to enable and safely manage the widespread use of low-altitude airspace and UAS operations. A UTM system for low-altitude airspace may be needed, perhaps leveraging concepts from the system of roads, lanes, stop signs, rules, and lights that govern vehicles on the ground today, whether the vehicles are driven by humans or are automated, NASA says.

Amazon has gained a lot of attention with its Prime Air automated delivery drones. In December, Amazon released a video showing a prototype of one of its delivery drones, which shares features of both helicopters and airplanes. Prime Air will get packages to customers within 30 minutes of them ordering it online at Amazon.com, according to Amazon’s Paul Misener. The range has to be over 10 miles and the carried weight will be less than five pounds for typical Amazon orders and up to 55 pounds, he said.

During a presentation at ACT Expo 2016, Steve Burns, CEO of Workhorse Group Inc., talked about the company’s truck-based HorseFly Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) delivery system, which is currently undergoing testing by Workhorse under a Section 333 exception granted by the Federal Aviation Administration. At its booth, the company showed a video featuring a small drone launching from the top of a delivery truck, flying a package to a nearby house and returning to the vehicle. Burns focused on the economic efficiencies and state-of-the-art technology in the HorseFly during his presentation.

A Chinese company’s EHang 184 has been cleared for testing in Nevada. The approval was given by the Nevada governor’s office to develop and test the vehicle at the state’s Federal Aviation Administration-approved drone test site. The electric passenger drone created by EHang was unveiled at CES in Las Vegas in January. The company says that it’s the world’s first passenger drone and is capable of autonomously carrying a person in the air for 23 minutes. It’s a 142-horsepower “personal flying vehicle” that can transport a single person at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet, China’s People’s Daily Online reported.

Other flying car projects in development described in a lengthy Bloomberg feature include:

  • Volocopter made by E-volo with a price tag of $280,000 and seating for two. The prototype all-electric vehicle will be sold as a hybrid to increase flight times. It will have 18 propellers in a circular structure placed above the cockpit.
  • AeroMobil 3.0 will cost $400,000 and seat four. It will be gasoline powered, can take off from driving down a road and soaring to the air quickly, and can cover a flight distance from, say, New York to Toronto. The company, AeroMobil, says it will start taking orders for it this year.
  • Moller Skycar is being built at Moller’s workshop in Davis, Calif. Moller International says it will cost $500,000 to $1 million and will seat four. It will have a range of 805 miles at 131 mpg, and a maximum speed of 308 mph. Founder Paul Moller has been trying to build a flying car for about 50 years; this is the fifth-generation flying car Moller has built. Investors have put in more than $100 million in his test projects over the years.
  • Lilium Jet, from German startup Lilium Aviation, is the world’s first all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) plane, according to the company. The price has yet to be determined and will seat two people. It has a range of 300 miles and a maximum speed of 250 mpg. The company says it will be easy to fly with software doing much of the work. Lilium Aviation has received funding form the European Union.
  • Joby Aviation says that customers will be able to call over its Joby flying car similar to getting an Uber ride. The all-electric plane, which seats two, will have a 100-to-200 mile range after being charged. The company expects to begin flying prototypes by this year’s end. It’s being built at a 500-acre compound in Santa Cruz, Calif. Future flying cars will seat four and look more like airplanes with six propellers positioned around the aircraft.