Clean Mobility: The latest on VW, Maven, Lyft, Uber, and Google

Matthias Muller at press conferenceVolkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller will be speaking to the company’s senior management in mid-June on how VW will emerge from the diesel emissions scandal more as a “mobility provider” than as an automaker. Based on comments Mueller and other VW executives have made recently, it might look something like this:

  • Developing a strategy to handle the demands of increasingly connected vehicles, driver assistance systems, and the need to develop autonomous technology.
  • Last October after reorganizing management, VW announced its Modular Electrification Toolkit, a standardized technical model for developing plug-in electric vehicles within the Volkswagen Group. The focus is on plug-in hybrids with an even greater range, high-volume electric vehicles with a range of up to 300 kilometers (186.4 miles) and eventually to 500 kilometers (310.7 miles), a 48-volt power supply system (mild hybrid), along with more efficient diesel, gasoline, and CNG concepts. It’s all part of what VW earlier announced as its Modular Transverse Toolkit.
  • In late April, Mueller gave a presentation on the company’s 2015 annual financial statements. He reiterated plans to launch over 20 additional ‘e-vehicles’ by 2020, as VW pushes ahead with developing its bespoke architecture in the form of its Modular Electrification Toolkit. The first vehicles produced on the MEB module are slated to hit the streets at the end of the decade. “We plan to make electric cars one of Volkswagen’s new hallmarks,” Mueller said.
  • VW will be shifting its strategy to profitability, not sales volume. Being No. 1 in global sales won’t be its top priority anymore. It will mean limiting the number of volumes its builds and sales, and using its own resources more efficiently. It will also ties into what other automakers like BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, and Toyota have been experimenting with lately: testing out business ventures focused on mobility services and new technologies: carsharing, ridesharing and ride-hailing, delivery services, autonomous vehicles, vehicle electrification, and urban commuter cars.
  • VW’s investment resources for mobility and electrification will be limited by the vehicle recall. The company said that it lost 16.2 billion euros ($18.2 billion) for 2015 alone once the diesel scandal was revealed last September, and that’s likely only a part of the total cost.

Maven is rolling out to cities as GM’s hourly carsharing/car rental service expands its Ann Arbor, Mich., operations and moves over to Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston.

  • In its Ann Arbor office, prices for renters range from $6 an hour for the Chevrolet Spark and Volt, to $12 an hour for the Tahoe; and $42 per day for the Spark and Volt, to $84 a day for the Tahoe.
  • As part of the Maven brand expansion, certain residential buildings in Chicago, Washington, and Boston will be equipped with Maven cars for tenants to use for an hourly rate. Other Maven vehicles will be parked throughout the cities for anyone to reserve using a smartphone app developed by GM.
  • Speaking recently at a women’s technology conference in Detroit, GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said carsharing services like Maven can help eliminate the headaches of car ownership in cities where congestion and parking costs are challenging.
  • The automaker sees Maven as critical for its mobility strategy as it competes with carsharing companies like Avis Budget Group’s Zipcar and Daimler’s Car2Go and ridesharing giant Uber through its Lyft alliance. Earlier this year, GM bought a 9% stake in ride-hailing/ridesharing company Lyft Inc. for $500 million.
  • GM working to develop a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles. GM and Cruise Automation, another mobility company GM recently invested in, have begun testing autonomous prototypes of the Bolt in San Francisco. Cruise Automation is providing technology for the test cars. One of GM’s goals is to launch of a fleet of autonomous self-driving taxis with Lyft within a year.
  • About a year ago, GM hired a Silicon Valley engineer, Zafar Razzacki, to lead the marketing and user experience for Maven. Razzacki, who worked for Google and a few tech startups, was profiled by Automotive News as leading the way for shaping the Maven “personal mobility” brand. GM’s objective is to get young drivers in its cars, even if they don’t own them. Assembling a team of outsiders is necessary to get there. “We literally view ourselves and are treated by the company as a small startup within GM,” he said. “We’ve got this crazy assortment of engineers and creatives and technologists and business people all working together. We are breaking a lot of rules. We are trying a lot of new things.”

Uber showed off its latest self-driving test cara hybrid Ford Fusion outfitted with a variety of sensors and high-resolution cameras to gather mapping data and refine the vehicle’s autonomous driving capabilities. It’s being driven through Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh. Uber had previously been involved with Carnegie Mellon University and its group of experienced experts in autonomous vehicle technologies, enough to have donated $5.5 million to the department; and to hire over some of its staff for the Uber project. As of March, CMU had not worked with Uber on its self-driving car test project, according to CMU faculty and administrators. Uber recently joined a coalition that includes Google and to advocate for safety regulations for self-driving cars and help bring them to American roads.

Google recently received a patent for enhancing safety features on its self-driving cars. Google’s approved patent involves coating the front of a car with adhesive for pedestrian safety. It focuses on what would happen if that self-driving car were to hit a pedestrian. Google says coating the front of a car with adhesive could prevent someone from bouncing onto the windshield, sliding under the wheels, or flying into the air and landing in the road. “The adhesion of the pedestrian to the vehicle may prevent the pedestrian from bouncing off the vehicle after the pedestrian impacts the hood,” the patent says.

 

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