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+++ John Leonard, head of AUTONOMOUS vehicle research at the Toyota Research Institute, has expressed doubts about Level 5 autonomous vehicles becoming viable in the near future. “Taking me from Cambridge to Logan Airport with no driver in any Boston weather or traffic condition; that might not be in my lifetime”, Leonard told. While many other automakers are working to create a future full of cars without a steering wheel, Toyota wants to use the technology as a backstop for human drivers, as well as allow for total autonomous operation. Akio Toyoda, Toyota CEO, has admitted the automotive sector is now in “a life-or-death battle … in a world of unknowns” where technology companies are “our new rivals, with speed many times greater than our own”. Generally seen as late to the self-driving party, Toyota has significantly increased its efforts over the last few years. The Toyota Research Institute was established in 2016 with multiple sites across the US, and reportedly has around $4 billion in funding. In addition to autonomous vehicle technology, it is also doing research in the field of robotics, artificial intelligence, materials science, and user experience. It also has official partnerships with a number of universities, including Stanford and MIT. Toyota has also invested $500 million in Uber, and is working together with the ride-sharing company on self-driving technology. As a counterpoint to Leonard’s pessimism, Waymo, Google’s self-driving division, plans on launching an autonomous taxi-style service in Phoenix within a year or so. +++

+++ Chinese brand CHERY has opened its first facility in Europe, with a design and development centre near Frankfurt now hiring its first staff ahead of the manufacturer’s intended market launch after 2020. Between 30 and 50 people will be hired at the centre by the end of next year, as the brand gears up to sell its products in Europe. Tongyue Yin, Chery chairman, said: “At last year’s Frankfurt motor show, we presented ourselves as a brand. Now we’re going to execute our plans in and for Europe. We will therefore be launching models from our high-end brand Exeed. They will be competitive with the leading European manufacturers in terms of quality, design and technology”. The brand’s TX SUV is expected to be its first offering in Europe, although it’ll likely be a newer iteration than the brand showcased at Frankfurt last year. That car was suggested for launch in petrol-electric hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure-electric forms, with the plug-in hybrids being the quickest, capable of hitting 100 km/h from a standstill in 6.0 seconds. Rather than simply relocating a team from China to staff the European facility, Chery aims to hire a team of European automotive experts at its Raunheim facility, with some hires likely to come from European brands. The focuses of the centre will be design and development, as well as sales and marketing. The Exeed sub-brand has tipped its first European model to be a pure-electric vehicle, rather than a hybrid or internal combustion-engined model. Exeed is tipped only to have electrified models, so a traditional car powered solely by a petrol or diesel engine will not happen. The production car will join a growing number of all-electric SUVs on the market, with competition from Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and Tesla in the segment.  With no European production facility yet, the cars would be manufactured in China. Chery Auto is partnered with Jaguar Land Rover in China for local production of the UK-based company’s models. +++ 

+++ Audi is planning the return of the super-luxury HORCH name, which will be used on a flagship A8 that could also mark the return of the VW Group’s W12 engine to the Audi line-up. The Audi A8 Horch will likely bring the W12 powertrain (currently only used in the Bentley range and not yet relaunched in the A8) back to the brand, but that an Audi insider claims a V8-engined version would also work. The return of the Horch name would be Audi’s equivalent of Mercedes’ revival of Maybach. The name was last used in 1932. This means no Horch-badged stand-alone models like the Maybach 57 and 62 would be planned. Audi doesn’t plan to stretch the badge beyond the A8, although Mercedes has a Maybach SUV in the pipeline aimed at China, as well as having demonstrated coupé and cabriolet Maybach concepts. The A8 Horch will get 600 hp 6.0-litre iteration of the engine; 300 cc less than that of the earlier A8 W12 but more powerful. It’s reported that although the W12 A8 is ready for launch, it’s currently being postponed. An Audi spokesman couldn’t offer further comment. +++

+++ HYUNDAI and KIA has built a dedicated proving ground to develop autonomous vehicles and is targeting global leadership in the technology it admits it has been slow to develop to this point. The vast 276-acre site, close to Hyundai-Kia’s existing Namyang proving ground in Seosan, South Korea, is run by the Hyundai-owned Mobis supplier firm, which has been contracted to develop autonomous vehicles. The current fleet of autonomous vehicles, based on domestic market Kia K5 (Optima) saloons, are called M.Billy, which stands for Mobis Intelligent Learning Library. The fleet is a small one (just 3 vehicles across Korea, the US and Europe), but it will expand to 20 in 2019. The autonomous development is being overseen by ex-Daimler-Chyrsler, Siemens and Conitental engineer Gregory Baratoff, who said Hyundai Mobis was a long way behind German firms in developing its own radars, cameras and sensors that are key to ensuring autonomous vehicles can operate, as well as the software that runs them. He expects it’ll be 2021 before Hyundai Mobis’s Level 2 autonomous technology is a match for the German technology firms. “We’re behind the curve at the moment”, he said. “It’ll take 4 years to internalise the key technology and catch up with the likes of Bosch and Continental”. From 2021-2025 it will then develop the most advanced Level 3-5 systems that will are needed to allow fully autonomous driving, should legislation ever allow it. Mobis than plans to commercialise the technology to sell to other companies, as well as use on Hyundai-Kia’s own vehicles. The autonomous test facility includes 14 testing tracks, including a fake city with fake shops, junctions, traffic lights and roundabouts. It’s not only used for developing the cameras and sensors, but also the kinds of vehicle-to-infrastructure technology that will also be crucial if autonomous cars are ever to work in real-world circumstances. Why the name M.Billy? “We want to make autonomous cars friendly”, says chief engineer Gregory Baratoff. The name might be a gimmick, but the technology isn’t. Autonomous ridealong stories have been told on these pages before, but the M.Billy demonstrated two impressive things on its trip around Hyundai Mobis’s fake city streets. First, it used a roundabout. It waited while another car entered from the left, and then negotiated entry and exit behind that car. Next, we were overtaken by another car on a 2-lane road, before being cut up and the car stopping in front of us; we were just as quick to move to the other lane and go round the new-found obstacle. The technology remains very much in its infancy, and the speed at which it tackles situations that remain controlled are careful and considered. Yet it is nonetheless impressive to experience, with more life-like situations being tested and the car learning how to deal with them and think for itself by the day. +++ 

+++ LAMBORGHINI is set to follow up the range-topping Huracán Performante with a raft of revisions for the entire model range, likely to debut early next year. The Ferrari 488 rival has been on sale since 2014 with only minor changes to the base coupé and Spyder convertible variants. A more extensive update programme is planned for the 2019 car. Visual changes include a redesigned front bumper with a more intricate design for the air intakes, which could adopt active shutters or flaps to boost aerodynamics. Further visual tweaks include a new horizontal fin for the side air scoops. Every variant in the Huracán range looks set to adopt the Performante’s high-mounted centre twin exhaust system, so in turn it’s reasonable to expect greater acoustics from the 5.2-litre V10. A new rear diffuser shows the car could benefit from Lamborghini’s active aero tech previewed by the Aventador SVJ, while reprofiled lights surround additional rear vents to boost cooling. The Huracán will follow its facelifted Audi R8 sibling, due for a reveal later this year, and is expected to adopt the same mechanical tweaks. Both cars are expected to see power rise by around 20-30 hp, with more torque, despite a host of new particulate filtration systems necessary to meet WLTP emissions regulations. Expect fractional improvements to the 0-100 km/h time of the Huracán, approaching the 3 second mark, and a slightly higher top speed. Lamborghini is looking to update the Huracán’s cabin to ensure it keeps pace with newer supercar rivals. We’re likely to see a new, Audi-inspired infotainment system, alongside uprated switchgear. Don’t expect to see the amount of autonomous driver assist technology shared with other Volkswagen Group brands, as it’s set to remain as pure a driver’s car as it’s possible to be in modern times. +++ 

+++ MERCEDES-BENZ will keep up with growing demand for the GLC, its best-selling vehicle in the United States, by importing the crossover from a factory in India. It’s more expensive to ship the GLC from India than from Germany, where the American-spec model is currently made, but Mercedes still comes out ahead thanks to lower labor costs across the Pacific. The company isn’t currently planning on making the GLC alongside the GLE in its Alabama plant and tariffs prevent it from sourcing the model from Beijing, China. Mercedes hasn’t revealed how many GLCs, or which variants of the model, will come from India. Spokesman Rob Moran told that the first Indian-built examples will arrive in American showrooms in October. “The GLC is in great demand worldwide. Therefore, Mercedes-Benz uses the capacities of its global production network on four continents. This also includes the Mercedes-Benz plant in Pune”, Moran explained. The GLC won’t be the only car sold new in America with a “made in India” label. Ford sources the EcoSport, its entry-level crossover, from a factory in Chennai. +++

+++ PORSCHE has confirmed that it will no longer offer diesel-powered versions of any of its models, with company chief Oliver Blume saying the firm will instead intensify development of hybrid and electrified technology. The company says it will no longer offer diesel powertrains in the future, noting they accounted for just 12 % of worldwide Porsche sales in 2017. “Porsche is not demonising diesel”, said Blume. “It is, and will remain, an important propulsion technology. We as a sports car manufacturer, however, for whom diesel has always played a secondary role, have come to the conclusion that we would like our future to be diesel-free. Naturally, we will continue to look after our existing diesel customers with the professionalism they expect”. Porsche is gearing up to launch the Taycan electric sports car next year, and says that by 2025 “every second new Porsche vehicle could have an electric drive”, meaning a hybrid or full electric powertrain. +++

+++ RELIABILITY is a common talking point when discussing cars; whether that be SUVs and 4x4s or tiny city cars. It is a quality that is often overlooked but never forgotten about. Top speed and bhp may grab headlines but reliability is something that is, arguably, the most important part of choosing a car. SUVs and crossovers are now commonplace on the roads and are bought for their practicality and their ability to cope with everyday use. Used on a daily basis for everything from the school run to first dates, SUVs and crossovers go through a lot in their life. Reliability problems are something that no owner wants to deal with, as major issues soon lead to expensive repairs. Therefore it makes sense to find out which SUVs and 4x4s are the most reliable from the very start. Every year the Driver Power Survey helps pick out the most reliable cars from the people who know them best, their owners. Almost 80,000 UK car owners have rated their cars across a range of categories including reliability. I have analysed the results and below you will find the top 10 most reliable SUVs and 4x4s (plus 5 runners up) as decided by you, the public. The top10 most reliable used SUVs and 4x4s are: 1. Toyota RAV4 – 95.48 %, 2. Lexus RX – 93.57 %, 3. Skoda Yeti – 92.86 %, 4. Honda CR-V – 92.72 %, 5. Mini Countryman – 92.04 %, 6. Audi Q5 / SQ5 – 91.89 %, 7. Hyundai ix35 – 91.71 %, 8. Renault Captur – 91.51 %, 9. Ford Kuga – 90.22 %, 10. Kia Sportage – 90.08 %. +++

+++ Eric Feunteun has been involved in RENAULT ’s electric vehicle program since February 2013, starting as deputy director. He was named director in March 2015. Renault has been the leader in European electric vehicle sales with the Zoe, introduced in 2012. Since then, the Zoe has received range and power upgrades, and Renault has introduced 2 electric commercial vans. Renault has introduced a more powerful R110 electric motor in the Zoe, with 225 Nm and 107 hp. The first reason for the upgrades was that with the longer range battery Renault introduced last year (300 km of real-world range), it saw that buyers were using the car in a more versatile way. They were taking more highway trips, not necessarily from Paris to Spain but for weekend trips. The Zoe’s torque at low speeds was good, but it could be improved at higher speeds to make passing easier. With the new motor, Renault has saved 2 seconds when accelerating from 80 to 120 km/h. That is where you can feel the difference. The second part is that there is a trend toward more power for electric motors, because the cost of increasing power on an electric motor is not so high. “We are the leader in electric vehicles, so we have to remain competitive”, Feunteun says. Renault was able to keep the weight of the motor the same. “The good thing with electric motors is that an increase of power and torque has little effect on the structure of the motor. Of course, increasing power has an impact on the amount of energy you have to deliver, but compared with what we have to do on an internal combustion engine to increase power, the changes are smaller”. Right now, Renault has 2 power choices on the Zoe, 92 hp (with the previous-generation R90 electric motor) and 107 hp. “We think having 2 offers at this stage is the right thing to do, but as volumes increase, we are likely to have more”. The new engine will be used in the electric vans (Kangoo and Master), but also by Smart. “Mentioning Smart, we are very happy today to supply the motor because we are looking to increase scale to reduce costs. It’s a great asset to increase production. Our motor plant in Cleon, France, will double output this year compared with last year. In France last year, 8 % of all Kangoos sold were electric, which is a lot considering that EVs accounted for 1 % of total sales in Europe last year. The Master Z.E. came about because of pressure from the logistics companies, which wanted to have more cargo space than the Kangoo because they are delivering a lot of big but light Amazon-type boxes. They also needed access to city centers and to be able to make more night deliveries, which requires vehicles that are less noisy. The second thing is that logistics companies tend to have set routes, in which you know the mileage. So, you don’t have any questions about EV range; you know what it will be, plus or minus 5 km. For us, the electric van story started with the French postal system office, which ordered 10,000 Kangoo Z.E.s in 2011. It was a great way to democratize the technology, because when people see the letter carrier coming in an electric vehicle, that is very reassuring. They say, “This guy is a professional driver and he uses an EV”. Talking about plug-in hybrids, Feunteun says: “There is no doubt that full electric is the destination. We expect our EV market share to reach more than 10 % of our sales by 2022. The bigger question is whether that is enough to meet CO2 targets. We also know that some customers’ usage is not compatible with EVs. That is a fact. For them we have the bank of technology of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, which offers plug-in hybrids. We will offer plug-in hybrids when they are relevant from a usage point of view, from a cost point of view, and of course from a taxation point of view, incentives play a big role. Just look at the example of the Netherlands, which had a tax break that encouraged plug-in hybrids, but now is supporting electric vehicles because the government changed its policy. We will have a lineup of 8 electric vehicles by 2022. We will extend our segment coverage. We are working actively on the future, we improved the battery last year and the motor this year, and we will have more improvements next year. In terms of communication, our situation might be slightly different than our competitors, because we already have an electric vehicle business. When you do not have a current business, you have to talk about the future. We are the leaders in electric vehicles and we do not want to give that up”. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA has ended its standoff with Alphabet’s Google, clearing the way for the automaker’s vehicles to offer Android Auto connectivity. Toyota has been one of the last in the industry to adopt third-party infotainment systems, but it appears as though the walls are finally coming down. In January Toyota announced compatibility with Apple CarPlay, and a source close to the situation has revealed that the Japanese automaker has struck an accord with Google to allow Android Auto on its vehicles’ screens. Both Toyota and Google declined to comment on the report, but a second source familiar with the plans hinted that an official announcement could be coming as soon as October. Due to security and privacy concerns, Toyota had been using SmartDeviceLink (a Ford-developed telematics system) to link Android-based and Apple phones to its infotainment systems, which limited access to car data. However, SmartDeviceLink also limited the capabilities of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which turned off some buyers. The adoption of Android Auto could provide Toyota with an uptick in sales. Today’s buyers are looking for the latest in connectivity, and about 80 % of smartphone users are on the Android platform. +++

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