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+++ AUDI of America has received the green light from the state of New York to test driverless vehicles on the state’s public roads, the state said. The company, an arm of Volkswagen Group’s Audi, is the first to receive approval under a year-long pilot program the state announced earlier this month. Audi plans to conduct its first test and demo on June 13 in Albany, the state said. +++

+++ The unstoppable letters and numbers catalogue of BMW models sees no sign of slowing, as the brand looks to more higher-end models to help stimulate further growth. Speaking at the unveiling of the 2018 BMW 8 Series concept in Italy, the coupe itself part of the premium strategy, BMW Management Board Member Ian Robertson noted that the push toward an ever more premium top-end “is about giving a special treatment to the customer. There is lots of opportunity for BMW at the upper end”. The expansion of markets in Asia and the Middle East, along with continued growth in Europe and North America, has indicated a high demand for the best the brand can offer. Personalisation is important too, as Robertson noted that some 20 percent of all 7 Series sales included elements from the BMW Individual catalogue. And despite the early success of the G11 7 Series, the big saloon cannot do all the heavy lifting by itself. The presentation of the new 8 Series coupe is just the start, with the large X7 also scheduled to break cover in 2018. It doesn’t stop there, with Robertson teasing the brand is “working on other options too”. According to Robertson, the next few years will see the most aggressive and most comprehensive change in product offering the brand has seen, in its now 101-year history. BMW has already committed to a new EV for 2020 as part of the NEXT strategy, but what else might we expect? There’s a convertible version of the i8 super sports car in the works, and we’re likely to see a cabriolet variant of the new 8 Series, plus BMW’s M Division showed a camouflaged M8 concept at the 2017 Nurburgring 24hr race. Even without the Rolls Royce brand, there is room above the 7 Series, as shown by the 2014 Vision Future Luxury show car, and do I dare suggest an X8 coupe derivative of the large X7? Whatever the case, BMW’s direction for 2020 and beyond looks set to be a premium one. +++

+++ A 2017 CADILLAC CTS is already capable of “talking” with other CTS sedans, through the brand’s vehicle-to-vehicle technology (V2V), but now the brand wants its cars to chat with surrounding infrastructure, too. Cadillac demonstrated its first ever application of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology, which allows cars to communicate with important objects and technology on the road. V2I technology opens a world of possibilities for cars and drivers, such as safety and environment-related alerts in various conditions. In this application, a Cadilac CTS equipped with a V2I system successfully communicated with traffic signals located adjacent to the GM Warren Technical Center campus at the intersections of 12 Mile and 13 Mile roads. The signals sent information to the car using Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) . Outside of tests, the data transmitted can help drivers avoid the potential of running a red light. By calculating the traffic signal’s operation and the CTS’ speed, it may also help drivers avoid a well-known decision process: slam on the brakes or speed through an intersection. With a simple alert, the car can inform a driver of a signal’s operation ahead. Cadillac ensures the entire system is safe from intrusion and protects all driver information, too. Notably, the V2I system-equipped traffic signal may record that a vehicle ran a red light, but the system will not save or transmit information such as VIN or driver registration. It’s the first time Cadillac has carried out such a test, but Audi beat General Motors’ luxury marque to the punch. Last year, Audi allowed media to test its first V2I system in Las Vegas. The system carried out communications with traffic lights throughout the city with ease. Audi’s system displays a handy timer to show when a signal will turn from red to green and senses when the driver is hurtling toward a protected left-hand turn. As mentioned, the 2017 Cadillac CTS already houses V2V technology; the system allows the CTS to communicate with other V2V-equipped cars on the road. In turn, other vehicles may warn the CTS of various conditions from traffic to weather occurrences. Of course, these are all small steps in a world in which the automobile is becoming more connected than ever. One day, we will certainly have “talking cars” in a non-literal sense of the phrase. +++

+++ Days before his ouster as CEO of FORD , Mark Fields was proposing to fire his top lieutenant, Joe Hinrichs, in an effort to relieve some of the pressure he was facing from a skeptical board of directors. Fields intended to get approval from the board for his decision to fire Hinrichs during the week of May 14, sources said. Fields’ plan backfired, however, when the board decided instead to part ways with him and communications chief Ray Day. Instead of a pink slip, Hinrichs was given a promotion to the newly created position of president of global operations, in charge of Ford’s global product development; manufacturing and labor affairs, among other things. Jim Hackett, the former head of furniture maker Steelcase and chairman of Ford Smart Mobility, was named Ford’s new CEO as part of a wide-ranging management shakeup.​ Hinrichs was conspicuously missing in a round of retention bonuses the company paid out to top executives, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. But Hinrichs was added to the list the following week, getting a $5 million stock bonus. Fields faced increased scrutiny during meetings with Ford’s board of directors ahead of the company’s annual shareholders meeting on May 11. The board had grown impatient with Fields’ strategy for the future and irritated with the automaker’s sluggish stock price, which had fallen nearly 40 percent since he took over in July 2014. Fields believed he could deflect pressure from himself and pacify the board by ousting Hinrichs, the sources said. Fields did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ford said in a statement, “Joe is a critical part of our leadership team for taking the company forward, as he knows Ford inside and out and has led many parts of our business. We do not comment on rumor or speculation”. Hinrichs, 50, had been president of the Americas since December 2012. Since he took over, the company earned about 38 billion dollar in North America, which represented 92 percent of its total pretax profits during that period. He also oversaw the successful redesign of Ford’s best-selling vehicle, its profit-generating F-series pickup. However, U.S. sales are down 5.1 percent through April, more than double the industry decline as the industry plateaus. The automaker has lost 0,4 percent of market share during that same stretch. Part of that sales decline is due to a planned drop in fleet sales. Ford had front-loaded fleet sales at the beginning of last year, so this year’s comparisons are much lower. In April, Ford reported first-quarter net income of $1.6 billion, down $900 million from a year earlier. +++

+++ The HONDA NSX has been on the road for a year now, but chances are, you haven’t seen one. It’s been delayed and ignored, and it suffers from a weak public image because of its association with the hordes of forgettable Honda’s out there. That’s too bad. Because after test-driving the car, I can tell you it more than deserves to be considered in the same vaunted category as the Audi R8, the Mercedes AMG GT, and even the McLaren 570S. Here’s the short version of the car’s troubled life in recent years: Honda first announced plans for a new NSX (the successor to a highly praised first-generation NSX) in 2007 but then canceled production after the economy went south in 2008. Then, in 2011, the company said it had started again on a second-generation, updated NSX concept. By 2012 it was showing one at the Detroit Auto Show, but it took an additional 3 years before the production model hit the same car show in 2015. The modern NSX finally went on sale last year, nearly a decade after first rumors. Designed by Michelle Christensen and built in Ohio, the new NSX follows the same vein of calculated angles and muted aggression of the original NSX, conceived in Japan in 1990. When compared against such distinctively designed supercars as the brash Chevrolet Corvette, the callipygian Ferrari California, the robotic Nissan GT-R, and the discreet Porsche 911, the NSX holds its own with subdued flair. Christensen, who designed the exterior, has said she used “animals and trees” as reference points in the restrained final look; I don’t quite see poplars or willows in the NSX, but careful sobriety is clearly there. It’s as if Honda didn’t want to risk making its important new supercar look too nuts, better to make it look polished, rather than polarizing. I’m glad that an automaker resisted the urge to over-style just for the sake of impact. We’ve seen that before, and it’s not pretty. Instead, the NSX comes with thin LED headlights strung like diamonds on either side of a flared front grille. The air intakes flanking its rhinoplasty-perfect nose match those set on each side of the rear haunches. The 20-inch alloy wheels are set widely on either side. The only 2 seats are positioned comfortably and supportively inside the cabin, and the visibility on all turns is actually startling, when you consider the black walls that impede vision in most other supercars. ‘Aggressive’, ‘raw’, ‘guttural’, ‘beastly’; these are not the words to describe how the NSX looks and drives. Nor ‘elegant’, ‘curvaceous’, nor ‘buxom’. NSX falls in the center of the Approval Matrix of all those extremes. Is there such thing as an androgynous coupe that edges toward the sylphlike, with the balance of a dancer and the manners of a samurai? This is it. Did you know the NSX is an all-wheel-drive hybrid? You wouldn’t pick up on this if you didn’t already know before getting behind the wheel. And you wouldn’t know it from watching one drive past. Nothing much lets on about its hidden electric power except for a small indicator on the dash and the fact that the engine kicks off when you come to a stop outside Track mode. It’s also incredibly hushed; there’s even a ‘Quiet’ drive mode that lends utter stealth. Guys who love a Corvette will complain that the NSX needs more growl behind its power, but the NSX isn’t meant for those guys, anyway. The NSX has 3 electric motors: 2 on the front axle and a third between the twin-turbo, mid-engine V6. This helps it achieve 573-horsepower and the best fuel efficiency of any in this segment (except Porsche’s 918 Spyder). Some have criticized as “not fun” the ample driving technology that the NSX uses to enhance acceleration and handling. ‘Magnetorheological’ dampers control rolling independently at all 4 corners; in Track mode, for instance, the car corrects itself coming out of corners so that you don’t (can’t) slide. The thing hits 100 km per hour in 2.9 seconds; top speed is 305 km/h. Those people are wrong. This car is a joy to drive. With swooping, swift acceleration, nimble steering, and alert, hyper-quick brakes, it easily compares well against the Audi R8 and the McLaren 570S. This type of precision, my darling, is not boring. It’s exhilarating. In fact, go drive the NSX for 30 minutes and come back and tell me you didn’t have fun. I dare you. +++

+++ On the heels of news that Uber Technologies owes its New York drivers tens of millions of dollars, drivers are now claiming that Uber archrival LYFT has been shortchanging them. The Independent Drivers Guild, a union of about 50,000 New York ride-hailing-service drivers, and New York state assembly member Robert Rodriguez are calling for a state investigation into the company, alleging that Lyft is deducting a state sales tax from driver pay for interstate trips. This comes about a week after Uber admitted it had incorrectly taken a higher commission from New York drivers and now owed drivers an average of $900 apiece. The state sales tax is meant to be calculated for trips that begin and end in the state, the guild says. However, they say drivers have found that tax, as well as a “black car fund” surcharge, being taken out of their pay for trips that began in New York but ended out of state. Together, these amount to 11.4% of total fares. Lyft, according to the guild, has said the 2 charges happen to line up with 2 administrative costs that total 11.4%. “There is no merit to this allegation”, a Lyft representative told. “Our driver agreement lays out what commissions and fees apply to driving on the Lyft platform, and we’ve consistently abided by the agreement since entering the New York market in 2014”. Rodriguez, whose district comprises East Harlem, Randalls Island and Wards Island, wrote a letter to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Nonie Manion, executive deputy commissioner of New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance, calling for the investigation. The guild says it has at least 16,000 members who drive for Lyft each week. The majority of its members drive full-time and have reported household incomes of less than $50,000 a year. The guild has also asked for an investigation into the accounting practices of Uber, Juno and other ride-hailing companies. Last month, the guild won a victory as officials in New York moved toward requiring a tipping option in the Uber app and others. Lyft already has a tipping option in its app. +++

+++ TESLA is currently trading at recordhigh levels. Analysts at Morgan Stanley said in a note more investors viewed Tesla as the “nexus of shared, autonomous and electric transportation” rather than just as a car company. “The market’s appreciation of applied (artificial intelligence) in real world driving scenarios/transportation has evolved significantly over the past 12 months and Tesla is part of a much broader discussion at all levels”, the analysts said. Tesla has joined the likes of Amazon.com, Apple, and Alphabet as part of the discussions about machine learning and a multi-trillion dollar transportation market, yet it is valued at a fraction of these 3 companies, they said. The analysts also said Tesla and its stakeholders will h ave to ask whether it is “better off disrupting transport on a stand-alone basis or whether it could extract even greater value … as part of a larger entity or consortium”. +++

+++ The TOYOTA TJ Cruiser nameplate has been trademarked in the US, hinting at a new model for the company’s already expansive SUV and crossover range. The filing for use on “automobiles and structural parts thereof” with the US Patent and Trademark Office. It’s likely the TJ Cruiser badge is being considered for a possible production version of the FT-4X concept, which made its debut at the 2017 New York motor show. As Ian Cartabiano, the Toyota FT-4X chief designer, told, the concept car is 75 percent production ready, with the company waiting to see what public reaction is like. Mechanically, the FT-4X is based on the version of the Toyota New Generation Architecture used by the C-HR. Although it has a practical interior and rugged looks, the FT-4X is designed to appeal to a “casual core” crowd interested in a weekend of camping, rather those who want to tackle the Rubicon trail. If Toyota does decide to use the TJ Cruiser name, it would draw on the equity of the FJ Cruiser name without sullying that car’s reputation with a less capable off-roader. As usual, this trademark application could turn out to be nothing. Toyota may decide not to proceed with a production version of the FT-4X or choose a different name entirely. It’s also possible the filing could be a deliberate red herring. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN ’s troubled mass-market brand is pushing upmarket again with a new flagship model a year after ceasing the flopped Phaeton luxury saloon in a bid to lift margins and revive its post-dieselgate image. Volkswagen, traditionally known for its range of practical sedans, hatchbacks and SUVs, unveiled the new Arteon fastback to woo customers who like upscale cars like BMW’s 4-Series Gran Coupe or Mercedes-Benz’s CLS coupe but at lower prices. The four-door Arteon will go on sale in German showrooms next month starting at 34,800 euro, well more than the 30,900 euro starting price of BMW’s entry-level 3-Series. The world’s largest automaker needs higher-margin models to help fund a strategic shift to electric and self-driving cars as it grapples with billions of euros in costs for its emissions scandal. The Arteon, featuring adaptive cruise control and enhanced emergency braking and steering functions, resembles VW luxury brand Audi’s A5 Sportback with its long wheelbase, extended hood and lowered roofline. “Cars like this have until now been the domain of premium carmakers”, VW brand chief executive Herbert Diess told reporters. “With the Arteon we are trying to gain a foothold in this business”. It’s not the first time the VW brand has pushed upmarket. In 2002, it launched the executive Phaeton saloon which was axed last March after never meeting VW’s original sales target of 20,000 cars per year. Volkswagen aims to sell up to 40,000 Arteons a year worldwide, Diess said, about the same as the predecessor CC saloon which ceased production last October. The Arteon is the latest example of a post-dieselgate product overhaul at the VW brand to revive profitability which has been lagging rivals such as PSA Peugeot Citroen and Toyota. Volkswagen will present redesigned versions of the Polo, one of its all-time bestsellers, in June and the flagship Touareg in September. Research firm IHS Markit expects the German brand’s new top-of-the-line model to beat sales expectations easily. Deliveries of Arteons in core markets of Europe, China and North America may more than double to 81,172 cars by 2025 from 39,265 next year, IHS said. By comparison, IHS expects sales of BMW’s 4-Series Gran Coupe to plunge 16 percent to 40,562 models by 2025 while it sees sales of the Mercedes CLS jumping 10 percent to 23,856 cars. IHS says China will account for about half of global sales of the Arteon, which will be built in VW’s biggest market and at a factory in Emden, Germany. +++

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