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+++ APPLE has secured a patent for a navigation system designed for self-driving vehicles. Dubbed ‘Autonomous Navigation System’, the patent application notes a method used by Apple to improve the efficiency of navigation systems for autonomous vehicles, significantly reducing the need to remake detailed maps. The technology company notes in the application that traditional autonomous vehicle systems use static information, including maps, as the base of their navigation systems. Sensors are then used to identify real-time information that changes from day to day. Rather than following this approach, Apple’s technology utilizes a computer model for predicting routes using sensors and processors. This allows the system to direct the car “independently of any data received from any devices external to the vehicle, and any navigation data stored locally to the vehicle prior to any monitoring of navigation”. Despite remaining tight-lipped about its ventures into the world of autonomous vehicles for a number of years, Apple has slowly started to admit its interest in the industry. In fact, Apple chief executive Tim Cook recently said the firm is “very focused on autonomous systems” and views autonomy as “sort of the mother of all AI projects”. +++

+++ BMW has been talking about its iNext model, which is due for 2021, for well over 18 months but so far failed to confirm what the production model will be called. However, a recent press release issued by the company celebrating its EV sales success in 2017, confirms that BMW has secured the naming rights for i1 to i9 and iX1 to iX9, confirming recent reports. Furthermore, the statement confirms that the iNext will act as the “brand’s new technology flagship.” Put this together, and there’s a very real possibility the brand will affix the i9 name to the vehicle because of this. When BMW launches the iNext, it will establish the carmaker’s electro-mobility future and lead the way with Level 4 self-driving functions. Included in the iNext’s bespoke interior will be a host of advanced connectivity functions seen for the first time in a series-production model, BMW claims. Powering the iNext will be an all-electric powertrain using the marque’s upcoming fifth-generation batteries. A range in excess of 643 km is on the cards. +++

+++ CHINA will, allegedly, instruct local governments to stop giving out incentives for electric cars and other clean-energy vehicles, as it is looking into ways to discourage protectionism between the country’s different provinces. The Chinese Ministry of Finance wants to implement its plan as early as next year. China’s existing program entitles cars that can run at least 250 km on a single charge to a 6,653 dollar (44,000 yuan) incentive from the central government, while local authorities can provide no more than the 50 percent of the central subsidy. The problem lies in the way local governments carry out their end of the program, with some car makers complaining of unfair treatment for companies based in other provinces and complaining that local governments make it tougher or more time consuming to receive funding approvals outside their home city. If the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers’ prediction turns out to be true, sales of ‘green’ vehicles in the world’s largest car market might increase as much as 50 percent in 2018, to more than 1 million cars in 2018, from an estimated 700,000 this year. +++

+++ FORD has ramped up production of the new Fiesta in order to meet the increased demand in European markets. Specifically, the automaker has extended the existing shifts and added new ones on Saturdays during November and December in order to increase daily production of the new Fiesta to 1,500 cars. “The previous Fiesta was already a much-loved car, and if you add to that the many improvements offered with the new model, including our unique pedestrian detection system, this success is not altogether a surprise”, said Ford of Europe’s vice president in Marketing, Sales and Service, Roelant de Waard. Customers in Europe are offered the new Fiesta in Titanium, ST-Line and Vignale trim levels, with the company also set to add the Active pseudo-crossover version early next year. The base engine is a 1.1-liter with either 70 or 85 hp, followed by the turbocharged 1.0-liter Ecoboost in 100, 125 and 140 hp guises, as well as a 1.5-liter TDCi diesel with 85 and 120 hp. +++

+++ GAC MOTOR recently announced its intention to come to the United States by 2019 and now I’am starting to learn more about the brand’s presence at the North American International Auto Show. For the company’s fourth appearance at the show, they will be introducing their latest MPV which is called the GM8. It will be joined by a “new signature sedan” which is apparently the GA8. GAC Motor has previously said they would show the GA4 and GS8 but the latest press release failed to mention either of the 2 vehicles. Besides showing production models, GAC Motor will unveil an all-new concept on January 15th. Little is known about the model but the company said it will be an electric vehicle that targets the “young generation in the U.S. market”. In a statement, GAC Motor President Yu Jun said “Entering the U.S. market is an essential step for GAC Motor to bring premium vehicles to global consumers that adapt to their needs”. He added: “By emphasizing independent and innovative research, adhering to the highest international standards in product quality and establishing world-class car manufacturing systems, we aim to become a world-class brand built on highly developed production, R&D and marketing capabilities”. +++

+++ HONDA is reportedly the latest company to jump onboard the solid-state battery train. Spokesman Teruhiko Tatebe said that the car manufacturer is researching solid-state batteries. At the same time, the spokesman shot down rumors that Honda was researching the tech alongside Nissan, stating that “at the moment we’re not developing them with another automaker”. Earlier this week, BMW became the latest carmaker to confirm that it was working on solid-state batteries as the industry looks beyond the lithium-ion batteries currently used by hybrids and all-electric production vehicles. Whereas lithium/ion batteries use a liquid or gel-based electrolyte, solid-state batteries instead use a solid electrolyte. This results in greater thermal management and energy density properties, allowing technology companies to squeeze greater range out of smaller batteries. In addition, solid-state batteries offer superior charging times. Honda says it is interested in finding technical partners to accelerate the development of its future range of cars but has no intention of forming capital tie-ups. In an age where many major car manufacturers are acquiring stakes in rival automakers and rapidly-emerging technology companies, Honda wants to remain independent, chief executive Takahiro Hachigo recently told. “We do have a sense of crisis. Things are changing drastically. So we should not be late in responding. But, it’s not the case where we have any plans for such equity holdings”, he said. However, this isn’t to say Honda will go it alone in the brave new world of electric and autonomous vehicles. Instead, it continues to form partnerships with various companies and just last week, announced that it will develop artificial intelligence with China’s SenseTime. In addition, Honda has partnered with Softbank to research 5G networks for its vehicles. At CES, Honda will also announce a selection of startups it will support through the Honda Xcelerator incubator program. Other partnerships recently formed by Honda include one to produce and sell EVs with Hitachi and a joint venture with General Motors to build hydrogen fuel cell stacks. “We don’t think it’s business as usual. But we must recognize our strengths. If we continue to play to our strengths, we can gradually adapt to these changes and make whatever changes are necessary”, Hitachi said of the brand’s push for partnerships. +++

+++ HYUNDAI will introduce an advanced voice control system on new models starting from 2019, the automaker announced today. Unlike conventional systems, the “Intelligent Personal Agent” can predict a driver’s needs ahead of time and control additional features such as adjusting the temperature in the cockpit. The feature can suggest departure times to make sure the driver arrives at a given destination on time, accounting for current traffic data. It can also remind the driver of upcoming meetings. Hyundai says drivers will even be able to control their electronic devices at home via voice commands in their cars. Hyundai already offers the opposite functionality, enabling drivers to control functions on their cars from home via devices compatible with Amazon Alexa. With the Intelligent Personal Assistant, voice commands will work for features that drivers once had to control manually. These include locking the doors, controlling the sunroof, or adjusting the air conditioning system. Drivers can even say two commands in the same sentence, and the system will perform each separate task. Hyundai teamed up with SoundHound, an audio recognition technology company based in Silicon Valley, on the new feature. The personal assistant is a step toward connected cars that will offer advanced artificial intelligence technologies. Hyundai will demonstrate the feature in a concept vehicle cockpit at the 2018 CES show in Las Vegas next month. The automaker will also test out a simplified version of the personal assistant on next-gen fuel cell vehicles in Korea early next year. Initially, the personal assistant will understand only English, but other languages are expected to follow. +++

+++ The head of JEEP , Mike Manley, has revealed some new details about the company’s future lineup. He confirmed the company will launch an all-new model in China next year that was designed specifically for the local market. Manley declined to discuss the model but there’s little doubt he’s talking about the Grand Commander which was previewed by the Yuntu concept earlier this year. While the concept had a bold design, renderings from the European Union Intellectual Property Office revealed the production model will have a tamer styling. Notable changes include a less aggressive front bumper and more traditional headlights. The model is expected to debut at the Beijing Auto Show and it could be powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The company could also offer an eco-friendly variant sometime in the future. Speaking the latter, Manley hinted the plug-in hybrid Wrangler could be just the tip of the iceberg. As he explained, “Our approach is always to bring that technology to bear on the markets when we see the markets develop and demand begins to grow, and that clearly is beginning to happen so in the Jeep lineup you will see electrification in the coming years”. +++

+++ LEXUS lacks a sub-compact crossover, but it will likely soon introduce a production version of the UX concept shown at the 2016 Paris auto show. Lexus originally imagined the production crossover for Europe only, but things may have changed at the brand. Lexus is still mulling over the UX for the U.S. market. Jeff Bracken, general manager of Lexus for Toyota Motor Sales, told that its dealership network is absolutely thrilled with the compact crossover and urged the company to build it and bring it to American shores. Although the concept measures in as a compact SUV, a production version would likely fit into the lineup as a sub-compact SUV akin to the Toyota C-HR and fit below the NX. The production car may debut next March at the 2018 Geneva motor show. “We’re in the process of helping our company understand what we’re leaving on the table”, he said with reference to the product gap within the Lexus lineup. The brand discontinued the CT 200h as its entry-level vehicle, which leaves a prime opening for a sub-compact crossover like the UX. The sub-compact crossover segment has grown significantly in 2017. Through November, sales rocketed 52.1 percent, per the report’s sales metrics, and it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Potential competitors to the Lexus UX sub-compact SUV include the Mercedes GLA, BMW X1, Audi Q3, and the new Volvo XC40. +++

+++ The launch of a Chinese-made car built to a standard that will give it a genuine chance in the European market is a significant development, but perhaps more interesting is the innovative way Geely’s new LYNK & CO sub-brand is planning to operate in Europe when sales begin in late 2019. Behind its grammatically challenging brand name, and its mission to appeal to millennial buyers, Lynk is closely related to Volvo, with its model range set to be built on the same flexible Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) that underpins models such as the new XC40. Lynk’s first stand-alone product, an SUV named the 01, has just gone on sale in China and will soon be joined by a crossover with a lower roofline, the 02, and a conventional saloon, called the 03. All will use the same 3 and 4 cylinder petrol engines as their Swedish sisters, although European models will all be powered by a forthcoming hybrid powertrain that uses a dual-clutch gearbox and gives the 3-pot engine electrical assistance. Ambitions are high, with Lynk & Co boss Alain Visser saying the brand plans to sell 500,000 cars a year globally by 2021. I only got to drive the 01 briefly, but I can report that it will at least be competitive with more mainstream alternatives when it reaches Europe. Although the car is conventional enough, the company’s wider business model is anything but. Lynk plans to launch in Europe and the US without a dealer network and rely instead on direct sales, in a way similar to that of sister brand Polestar. Cars will be serviced by Volvo franchises but definitely won’t be sold there. While it will be possible to buy Lynk & Co models outright, and for what we’re promised will be very competitive prices considering the generous standard equipment, the company is putting its faith behind a pioneering subscription system that will in effect offer flexible short-term leasing with minimal commitment, or, as Visser puts it, “like Spotify or Netflix for cars”. The ambition is for what will in effect be a monthly arrangement, enabling buyers to change cars when they need to. Visser says the ambition is for 70 percent of Lynk’s European sales to use this subscription model. This means that Lynk & Co will not only own most of its fleet but will also manage it throughout its entire lifespan. Visser says the plan is to offer two or even three subscription “rounds”; cars going back to the company, getting reprepared and then being rented again as used models at a lower cost than newer versions, “like getting an iPhone 7 for less than an iPhone X”. The current thinking is that at the end of these rental cycles, cars will ultimately be scrapped rather than sold. That means one of the biggest problems for any new, unproven firm (that of managing residual values) will be outflanked, albeit by Lynk keeping significant costs on its own books. Plans for a smartphone app that will allow other users access to the car, or make it possible for users to share ownership, will also make the subscription model more like car sharing than a conventional lease arrangement. Lynk is also bucking industry trends by planning to carry an inventory of each model rather than building them to order. The latter would result in major lead times given the distance to the Luqiao factory where the 01 is constructed. That means a stripped-out range and no options. Visser says the plan is for just eight variants of the 01 in Europe (including colours) and only 3 prices. “All the cars will effectively be in stock”, says the company boss. “There will be no waiting; if you want one you can be driving it the same day”. There’s still time for things to change before the brand’s formal launch in Europe, but if Lynk can deliver its plans, it could have the disruptive influence to match its tech start-up ambition. +++

+++ SUBARU has begun investigating claims it falsified fuel economy figures for some of its vehicles. Possible irregularities with the company’s fuel economy numbers were raised during the compilation of a report into uncertified trainees, who were involved in the final inspection of its domestic market vehicles. Some inspectors interviewed by investigators reportedly said fuel consumption tests could have been doctored during the inspection process. Subaru released the conclusions from the report yesterday, but made no mention at the time about concerns regarding its fuel economy figures. “At the moment we are trying to confirm whether data was indeed fabricated, and if so, how this happened and which models are affected”, Miyuki Yasuda, a Subaru spokeswoman, told. She noted, should any discrepancies be found, a recall was unlikely as incorrect fuel economy numbers would not be a breach of safety regulations. The company is also said to be investigating if exported vehicles are affected. Should there prove to be any impropriety on Subaru’s behalf, it will be the latest in a string of scandals tarnishing the image of Japan’s industrial sector. Last year, Mitsubishi was driven into the arms of the Renault-Nissan Alliance after it was revealed it had falsified fuel economy data for its domestic vehicles since 1991. More recently, both Nissan and Subaru have admitted to using unqualified personnel to perform final inspections on its domestic vehicles. In October, Kobe Steel confessed to falsifying inspection certificates for the metal products it shipped to clients. +++

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