Newsflash II

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+++ The BMW Group, Intel and Mobileye have announced that they have signed a memorandum of understanding with the intention for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to be the first automaker to join them in developing a world leading, state-of-the-art autonomous driving platform for global deployment. The development partners intend to leverage each other’s individual strengths, capabilities and resources to enhance the platform’s technology, increase development efficiency and reduce time to market. One enabler to achieve this will be the co-location of engineers in Germany as well as other locations. FCA will bring engineering and other technical resources and expertise to the cooperation, as well as its significant sales volumes, geographic reach and long-time experience in North America. “In order to advance autonomous driving technology, it is vital to form partnerships among automakers, technology providers and suppliers”, said FCA Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne. “Joining this cooperation will enable FCA to directly benefit from the synergies and economies of scale that are possible when companies come together with a common vision and objective”. In July 2016, BMW Group, Intel, and Mobileye announced that they were joining forces to make self-driving vehicles a reality by collaborating to bring solutions for highly automated driving (Level 3) and fully automated driving (Level 4/5) into production by 2021. Since then, they have been designing and developing a scalable architecture that can be used by multiple automakers around the world, while at the same time maintaining each automaker’s unique brand identities. The cooperation remains on-track to deploy 40 autonomous test vehicles on the road by 2017 year-end. It also expects to benefit from leveraging data and learnings from the recently announced 100 Level 4 test vehicle fleet of Mobileye, an Intel Company, demonstrating the scale effect of this collaborative approach. “The 2 factors that remain key to the success of the cooperation are uncompromising excellence in development, and the scalability of our autonomous driving platform”, said Harald Krüger, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW. “With FCA as our new partner, we reinforce our path to successfully create the most relevant state-of-the-art, cross-OEM Level 3-5 solution on a global scale”. “The future of transportation relies on auto and tech industry leaders working together to develop a scalable architecture that automakers around the globe can adopt and customize”, said Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO. “We’re thrilled to welcome FCA’s contribution, bringing us a step closer to delivering the world’s safest autonomous vehicles”. “We welcome FCA’s contributions and use of the cooperation’s platform, which has made substantial progress over the last year and is rapidly entering the testing and execution phase”, stated Professor Amnon Shashua, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer of Mobileye, an Intel Company. “The combination of vision-intense perception and mapping, differentiated sensor fusion, and driving policy solutions offers the highest levels of safety and versatility, in a cost-efficient package that will scale across all geographies and road settings”. BMW Group, Intel, Mobileye and FCA, together with the recently announced development partners and system integrators, invite and welcome additional automakers and technology suppliers to join them in adopting this autonomous driving platform in an effort to create an industry-wide solution. +++

+++ Geely Automobile Holdings said it was not planning a bid for FIAT CHRYSLER Automobiles, and while other potential Chinese suitors remain quiet, any tie-up could face significant U.S. regulatory obstacles. Geely was one of several Chinese carmakers cited in an Automotive News report on Monday that representatives of “a well-known Chinese automaker” had made an offer this month for FCA and that other potential Chinese suitors had interest. Chinese SUV maker Great Wall Motors and state-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group are among the automakers that have considered deals with FCA, sources told Reuters. It is not clear whether the automakers are interested in buying all of FCA or just certain assets. Others familiar with the situation have said that a Chinese bid could face political and regulatory obstacles in the United States. FCA Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne is seeking a partner or buyer for the world’s 7th-largest auto manufacturer in order to manage rising costs and emissions regulations compliance and develop technology for electric and self-driving cars. U.S. President Donald Trump has been critical of Chinese trade practices, and earlier this week ordered an investigation of whether China forces U.S. firms operating in China to turn over intellectual property. Powerful Republicans and Democrats have pushed for increased pressure on China’s commercial dealings, asking for the United States to take a hard stance against China buying U.S. companies. Those requests come amid concern about North Korea, which fired 2 test missiles in July, the second of which was thought to be capable of hitting Los Angeles. U.S. officials want China to do more to rein in its ally. A number of potential acquisitions of U.S. companies by Chinese buyers have been delayed or killed because of reviews by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS. The inter-agency panel assesses the national security implications of foreign investments in U.S. companies. CFIUS is on track to review a record-setting 250 to 300 transactions in 2017, one expert has told. FCA and Geely Automobile’s parent firm, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, had held initial talks late last year, a source familiar with the matter said without disclosing the nature of the talks. “We don’t have such plan at the moment”, Geely Automobile executive director Gui Shengyue told reporters, when asked if Geely was interested in Fiat. He said a foreign acquisition would be complicated, but he did not elaborate. “But for other Chinese brands, it could be a fast track for their development”, Gui added. The source noted that Geely’s parent company only 3 months ago announced its first push into Southeast Asia with the purchase of 49.9 percent of Malaysian carmaker Proton. Chinese automakers want to expand their overseas reach and FCA would offer a strong brand in Jeep as well as access to a U.S. dealer network. Marchionne said in June that Guangzhou was not interested in buying a stake. FCA and Guangzhou build Jeeps in a joint venture in China. FCA declined to comment. Marchionne has resisted separating the profitable U.S. operations of the company, including the Jeep brand and the Ram pickup business, from the less profitable Italy-based Fiat brand business. Europe’s largest carmaker, Volkswagen, and General Motors have both said they are not interested in talks with FCA.
FCA’s Marchionne had retreated from his search for a merger in April, saying the carmaker was not in a position to seek deals for now and would stick to its business plan. More recently, Marchionne promised investors a new strategic plan by early 2018. +++

+++ China’s GEELY Automobile Holdings said that first-half profit more than doubled, scoring its fastest earnings growth in 8 years as cars designed with its Swedish affiliate Volvo won over domestic consumers. Although known at one point more for its copycat designs and lower quality vehicles, the Hangzhou-based firm has transformed itself into an automaker with up-market aspirations. Vehicles engineered with Volvo know-how, such as the GC9 sedan and the Boyue SUV, have been hot-sellers in China, the world’s biggest auto market. “So far in 2017, the group’s performance has exceeded management’s original expectations despite a generally weaker market in China during the same period”, the company said in a statement to the Hong Kong bourse. Net profit came in at 4.34 billion yuan ($648.96 million), 128 percent higher than the 1.91 billion yuan it made in the same period a year earlier and eclipsing an estimate of 3.61 billion yuan from CCB International. It said it had decided not to pay an interim dividend. Sales jumped 89 percent in January-July and last month Geely raised its 2017 sales target by 10 percent to 1.1 million vehicles. It sold 766,000 vehicles last year. Geely’s parent Zhejiang Geely Holding Group owns Volvo, as well as the maker of London’s black cabs and this year acquired a 49.9 percent stake in Malaysian automaker Proton. The carmaker said that the business environment in its previous key export markets in Eastern Europe and the Middle East remained weak and that it would continue to operate its exports business at the current restricted scale for the rest of 2017. In its next phase of expansion, Geely plans to market a third brand, Lynk & Co, in developed markets next year, beginning with Europe and the United States. Geely also plans to use more Volvo-developed technologies including small turbo-charged gasoline engines in Geely-brand cars. +++

+++ MAZDA pledged that its next generation of petrol-engine vehicles will be cleaner than electric cars due to the use of efficiency-boosting compression ignition technology, and it’ll boost that promise in 2021, when a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) drivetrain will join the range. The PHEV system will be the last of the planned drivetrains to be added to the Skyactiv-X range. The first to arrive will be the new petrol engines, which will replace the current Skyactiv-G units in 2019. These engines use compression ignition technology that has previously only been used in diesel engines. Mazda claims they are 30 percent more efficient than its current petrol units, matching or even improving on the brand’s Skyactiv-D diesel engine range. Alongside the launch of these groundbreaking petrol units, the Japanese brand will add mild hybrid and full electric drivetrains to its line-up in 2019. The latter will be available in pure battery EV form or with a range extender engine. The technology will be shared with Toyota, which Mazda has recently teamed up with for research and development. The next Mazda 3 will also arrive in 2019, suggesting it could be an early benefiter of the new powertrains. Interestingly, despite the zero tailpipe emissions of electric vehicles, Mazda claims that its Skyactiv-X engines will actually be the cleanest power sources in its range. Mazda said they’ll produce lower carbon dioxide emissions than electric powertrains from a ‘well-to-wheel’ perspective, which accounts for the whole life cycle of a vehicle and the fuel needed to power it. The company has been developing the new engine technology for several years. Compression ignition technology has not yet been used on a mass production scale in petrol engines. The system, labelled Spark Controlled Compression Ignition, mixes petrol and air together in the engine’s cylinder like a regular spark ignition engine, but then ignites it using compression at lower load or with a spark at higher loads. This means around half the volume of petrol is required for the same combustion level across most of the rev range. Mazda director Kiyoshi Fujiwara, who has oversight of the firm’s R&D programme, explained that this “very lean air-fuel mixture that is too lean to combust by spark ignition alone can combust by this method cleanly and rapidly”. He added that this enables “better thermal efficiency, improved fuel economy and lower nitrogen oxide emissions”. Other benefits include higher efficiency across a wider range of revs, thus improving engine responses and performance. The company has pursued this technology because it believes spark ignition technology is reaching its peak. Mazda also argues that while electric technology produces no emissions from a car’s tailpipe, it is yet to represent a truly sustainable option on a global scale because much of the world’s electricity grids are still powered by fossil fuels. As part of its Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030 plan, Mazda has pledged to reduce corporate average well-to-wheel CO2 emissions to 50% of 2010 levels by 2030, before reducing them by 90% by 2050. The company will begin introducing electric technology into its range from 2019, but has stated that it will focus sales of these models in regions where sustainable energy is produced. It will continue to invest heavily in petrol technology beyond this point, citing a continued growth of combustion engine demand in other regions, such as developing economies. +++

+++ MERCEDES could soon expand its range of transmissions with a new 8-speed ‘box to slot between its existing 7 G-Tronic and 9 G-Tronic units. On August 10, 2017, the German car manufacturer made a patent application for the name ‘8 G-Tronic’ to the United States Patent and Trademark Office for use with “automobiles and parts thereof”. At such an early stage, it is hard to say why Mercedes has patented ‘8 G-Tronic’ but there are 2 possible explanations. First, it plans to introduce a new transmission or second, it simply wants to protect the name. The first of those two may be the most likely. While there is nothing wrong with the firm’s current 7-speed transmission, Mercedes has made the 9 G-Tronic standard on many of its newer models, rendering the 7-speed somewhat redundant. It is therefore possible Mercedes may look to replace the 7G with the 8G and use it across an array of vehicles, including AMG-branded cars. Alternatively, the 7G could stick around for a few more years alongside the 8G and 9G. Furthermore, both BMW and Audi offer a selection of their vehicles with ZF’s 8-speed gearbox and Mercedes may think it needs to offer its own. +++

+++ TESLA can now fit charging stations for its vehicles at customers’ houses as part of a new Home Charging Installation Programme, streamlining the ownership process and expanding its business remit further. The company can install 240-volt fast charging outlets close to where customers park their cars, providing them with a source of energy capable of injecting 40 kilometers of range into the batteries per hour. The service, which costs from approximately $1.000, eliminates the need for customers to source their own external electrician or fitter. This not only reduces the workload for a buyer, but expands Tesla’s business remit into yet another sector. This continues a trend set by Tesla when its CEO, Elon Musk, acquired solar panel company SolarCity last year for 2.2 billion euro. The sister brand now produces solar roof panels, which are fitted to the roof of houses, to capture energy from the sun and supply it directly to a Tesla charging port or inject power into the house. While the panels are available to customers, there’s currently no word as to whether Tesla will offer the Home Charging Installation Programme. At the moment, the service is only confirmed for the US, but the brand’s aggressive global ambitions suggest it will be rolled out in other markets in the near future. Tesla’s biggest-selling product, the Model 3, entered production this month. With an estimated 400,000 orders for the vehicle already placed, Musk has pledged to build as many as 20,000 units per month from December to meet demand. +++

+++ The redesigned 2018 Camry is having its moment in the spotlight, but there’s another TOYOTA waiting for its turn, ready to snag attention and the automaker’s overall sales title. The Camry has been Toyota’s best-selling vehicle for over a decade, but the RAV4 passed the sedan in sales for the first half of 2017, and the crossover could claim the sales title for 2017 and beyond. Considering the new 2018 Camry (a car I called a “brazen, bold effort” after driving it) I’m looking forward to what the automaker has planned for the upcoming, next-generation RAV4. Before the new RAV4 makes its debut, here’s what the crossover could offer. The new RAV4 will probably be powered by a more powerful four-cylinder engine but without a turbocharger. Toyota has resisted the turbo-four trend we’ve seen all across the industry, and in the Camry, a base 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine produces 203-206 hp and 250-260 Nm of torque. Expect the engine to be mated to an 8-speed transmission on the new RAV4. With an increase in power, the next RAV4 could be a little quicker. Aside from a base four-cylinder model, a RAV4 hybrid model is likely to return. The new RAV4 will be more efficient, and I’m guessing it’ll perform well in our real-world-oriented Real MPG tests, too. One of the current RAV4’s best features is how much room the crossover offers for people and cargo. Open up the liftgate, and you might be surprised by just how much space the RAV4 offers. I hope the new RAV4’s switch to a new TNGA architecture won’t significantly change that. Toyotas have often been good about keeping the drivetrain hump in the back seat to a minimum, which enhances the impression of spaciousness, and we don’t expect that to change on the new model. When I drove the new Camry (which moved to the TNGA architecture), I said it felt “big, open, and airy” despite having fractionally less rear legroom and shoulder room. Although the 2018 Camry doesn’t magically feel like a rear-drive sports car on the road, I still felt that the new midsize sedan was much improved, dynamically. The same should be true for the RAV4, though the Mazda CX-5 sets the bar high with driving performance. +++

+++ WAYMO has just been awarded a patent that could help save lives in the event of a collision with a pedestrian. The patent, filed in September 2015 by Google’s self-driving arm, involves changing the rigidity of vehicular body panels through a number of cables, rods or springs. In the event of an imminent collision with a pedestrian, sensors on the vehicle trigger systems to reduce the rigidity of the body to help reduce injuries. The technology sounds like something out of a science fiction film and beyond panels like bumpers, doors and hoods, could extend to the pillars of a car that are made up of tension members. There’s no indication if Google intends on bringing this technology to the market but if it does, it could be established as a new way to increase the intelligence of autonomous vehicles and reassure consumers of their safety. +++

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