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Germans, Japanese Struggle as Koreans Expand Lead in Power Initial Quality Study

Detroit automakers show strength, though industry, overall, stalls out.

by on Jun.19, 2019

While Porsche scored below average overall, the 911 was the highest-quality model in the 2019 IQS.

Once known for bargain-basement pricing and mediocre quality, Korean carmakers have not only moved up-market but shown that they can deliver industry-leading quality, or so it seems, based on the latest annual J.D. Power Initial Quality Study.

If anything, Kia, Hyundai and recently launched luxury brand Genesis are actually expanding their lead over the Japanese and European marques that had traditionally led the closely followed Power IQS. Genesis topped the 2019 chart, followed by Kia and Hyundai, followed by Detroit-based Ford and Lincoln. Japan managed to place only three brands in the IQS top 10, while not a single European brand scored above average.

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But the new study – which focuses on new cars, trucks and crossovers during their first 90 days on the road – also revealed that the quality of the latest models leveled off after scoring significant improvements through much of the past decade, according to Power. (more…)

Lexus Adds Advanced Safety Suite Across the Line

Announcement follows addition of new safety features by sibling Toyota brand.

by on Jun.19, 2019

The Lexus LSS+ suite of advanced driver assistance systems becomes standard for 2020.

Toyota’s luxury arm will make its Lexus Safety System+ standard on all future models, the automaker announced on Wednesday, a move it said could prevent many crashes and reduce the severity of others.

The move comes a week after sibling brand Toyota announced it will introduce two all-new safety features on its 2020 line-up, including one system designed to prevent potentially deadly vehicle rollaways.

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The industry, as a whole, has begun integrating new advanced driver assistance systems on more and more vehicles, often as standard features. That is expected to save thousands of lives and prevent even more injuries, according to safety advocates.

(more…)

Tesla Stock Rebounds, But Questions Remain About Production

Musk fires up troops to break production record.

by on Jun.18, 2019

Tesla's stock rallied in early morning trading, but by the end of the day, it gave back most of its gains.

After plunging last month to levels not seen since 2016, Tesla shares have been rebounding in recent days. And though a Tuesday morning rally wound up the day in negative territory by the time the final bell was rung, shares are still up more than 4% in recent days, giving the battery-carmaker a bit of a respite.

But whether the upturn will continue is far from certain, with analysts and investors anxiously waiting to see how Tesla’s second-quarter production and sales numbers fare. The automaker fell well short of its first quarter target, driving its bottom line deep into the red. CEO Elon Musk has signaled that the losses likely will continue for the current quarter, but he has also indicated that production and sales have been picking up.

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Separately, Tesla bulls appear relieved by the 47-year-old entrepreneur’s newfound caution when it comes to using his Twitter feed. Musk has found himself in serious trouble on several occasions over the past year due to his tendency to say whatever comes to mind in his steady flow of tweets. Among other things, that has led to his removal as Tesla chairman and it had earlier this year raised the prospect he might also be forced out as CEO. (more…)

Chevy Could Be First to Deliver $100,000 Pickup

Demand for pickups of all sizes, prices, defies overall U.S. sales downturn, says truck marketing chief.

by on Jun.18, 2019

Chevrolet is investing heavily into its plants to keep up with demand for its heavy-duty trucks.

The U.S. automotive market is expected to post only its second downturn since the end of the Great Recession, a decline that likely would be worse if not for surging demand for pickups of all sizes and price points, said Sandor Piszar, the marketing chief for Chevrolet trucks.

If anything, Chevy and sibling brand GMC are struggling to meet demand for their latest line-up of midsize, full-size and heavy-duty pickups, Piszar noted during an interview with TheDetroitBureau.com, a situation that last week led parent General Motors to announce a $150 million expansion of its truck plant in Flint, Michigan.

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As always, demand is being driven by the “core” audience who want trucks for work and need lots of towing and cargo capacity, said Piszar. But there’s a growing market among non-traditional buyers who see a pickup as an alternative to a sedan or coupe and, in many cases, a luxury car. And those buyers “are demanding more” high-line features while also accepting fast-rising transaction prices. Chevy moved up-market with is latest trim level, the Silverado High Country. But it is exploring the potential to reach even higher, a move that could see it offer the first truck to top the $100,000 mark. (more…)

Toyota’s Gazoo Racing Teases Planned Hypercar

Street and track versions under development.

by on Jun.17, 2019

Toyota is in the midst of developing a hypercar for both the track and the road that will race in the 2020/2021 season.

Toyota is bound and determined to prove everything you thought you knew about the company is wrong, especially if that included words like “boring,” and “plain vanilla.” Fresh on the heels of its successful effort at the the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as its revival of the Supra model, the Japanese giant is giving us a hint of the hypercar it is developing for both track and street.

It’s not far away, either, with Toyota promising its most powerful model ever will be “on the grid” during the 2020/2021 World Endurance Championship series.

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“Both road and race car are undergoing design and intensive development at the company’s technical centers in Toyota City, Higashi-Fuji and Cologne,” the automaker said in a release. It has also noted that president Akio Toyoda – the guy who keeps demanding more “passion” from the company – has himself spent some time test driving the as yet-unnamed hypercar. (more…)

Good News for Battery-Cars: Renewables Now Top Coal as U.S. Energy Source

Gap is small, but alternatives expected to continue growing despite Trump push for coal.

by on Jun.17, 2019

Renewables, like wind power, let EVs eliminate emissions, not just shift them from tailpipe to smokestack.

Not everyone is convinced that battery-cars really are good for the environment, noting that in some parts of the country they rely on energy generated by burning coal. But in more and more of the country, that fuel source is continuing to lose ground – to the point that renewables like hydro, wind and solar in April actually topped coal for the first time on a nationwide basis.

A report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, likely won’t be well-received in some places, notably West Virginia, a center of the coal industry. And it flies in the face of the pledges made by Pres. Donald Trump who repeatedly has promised to bring coal back as a major source of U.S. energy.

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But the die appears to be solidly cast, according to FERC, with renewables expected to continue expanding their lead over coal over the coming years, with a quarter of the U.S. electric supply likely to be generated by wind, solar, geothermal and other clean sources by 2022. (more…)

Exterior Airbags Could Save Lives of Passengers and Pedestrians

ZF bag automatically triggers ahead of an collision.

by on Jun.13, 2019

Auto supplier ZF has developed exterior airbags to help mitigate injuries to both vehicle occupants as well as pedestrians.

Today’s cars are loaded with smart safety systems, including technology like forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, designed to prevent crashes. But when a crash does occur, airbags can substantially reduce the risk for vehicle occupants.

Today’s airbags can pop out of all sorts of nooks and crannies, including the steering wheel, the instrument panel and a vehicle’s headliner. But ZF has unveiled a new airbag concept that is mounted outside the vehicle where it can be triggered in the milliseconds before a crash occurs, rather than after an impact already has taken place.

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“Occupant safety is paramount when developing new vehicles for automated and autonomous driving,” said Michael Büchsner, head of ZF’s Passive Safety Systems Division. “Our concept of the pre-crash external side airbag is a great example of how ZF wants to achieve its Vision Zero, a world without accidents and emissions.” (more…)

Two Major Public Charging Companies Team Up

Goal is to make EV charging easier, more affordable.

by on Jun.11, 2019

ChargePoint and Electrify America are partnering to allow users of their charging networks to use both now at no additional cost.

Imagine trying to travel if you could only fill up your tank on one brand of gasoline – or had to pay a stiff premium if you pulled into some other brand’s station. That has been more the norm than the exception for EV owners, another reason why some potential buyers have been reluctant to plug in.

Now, however, the various charging companies that will depend on building up a market are starting to team up. Electrify America and ChargePoint today announced a roaming partnership that will let their customers plug in at each other’s stations and not have to pay additional fees or set up separate accounts.

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The move could mean substantial savings while also making it easier to find a place to plug in. Together, the two companies already operate more than 30,000 Level 2 and Level 3 quick chargers across the U.S., with thousands more expected to open in just the next year. (more…)

First Look: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250

A small SUV with room for seven.

by on Jun.11, 2019

Mercedes-Benz had a gap in its utility line-up between the GLA and GLC. There isn't one anymore with the debut of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB.

There’s a war out there among luxury automakers, the Germans, in particular, determined to fire a new model into every possible bit of “white space.” Nowhere is that more apparent than over in Stuttgart where Mercedes-Benz has rolled out an array of new offerings, including its first long-range all-electric model, the EQC, which was previewed at the New York International Auto Show a couple months back.

Now, Mercedes has pulled the wraps off yet another significant new offering: the even more downsized GLB, which was previewed at an event in Utah overnight. Slotted in-between the GLA and GLC models, the downsized crossover appears to have plenty going for it, including an array of tech features that should appeal to young buyers. But there’s another surprising plus. Despite its diminutive footprint, the GLB manages to offer seating for up to seven passengers.

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It’s the first three-row offering from the Stuttgart-based automaker in this segment and, considering the market demand for seven-seaters, could gain a leg up on its two-row competition. (more…)

Fiat Chrysler Teams Up With Autonomous Vehicle Start-Up Aurora

Move could fill a gaping hole left open after collapse of merger talks with Renault.

by on Jun.10, 2019

Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley hasn't stopped looking for partners the wake of the FCA-Renault falling apart.

Fiat Chrysler will form an alliance with autonomous vehicle start-up Aurora to develop technology for commercial vehicles that could range from hands-free taxis to driverless delivery trucks.

Aurora currently runs operations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as well as San Francisco and Palo Alto, California, three of the hotbeds of autonomous vehicle research, with more than 200 employees. Earlier this year it raised $530 million through a Series B funding round, with Amazon one of its key investors.

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“As part of FCA’s autonomous vehicle strategy, we will continue to work with strategic partners to address the needs of customers in a rapidly changing industry,” said Mike Manley, chief executive officer, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. “Aurora brings a unique skillset combined with advanced and purposeful technology that complements and enhances our approach to self-driving.”

The deal, which officially links Aurora with Fiat Chrysler’s North American unit, FCA US, was announced only days after the parent company broke off merger talks with Renault. One of the potential benefits of that tie-up would have been access to autonomous and electrified vehicle technologies being developed by the French automaker’s Japanese alliance partner, Nissan.

(French government blamed for collapse of Fiat Chrysler-Renault merger plan. Click Here for the story.)

Fiat Chrysler also supplied Waymo with 65,000 Pacifica minivans for its Waymo One service.

FCA insiders have blamed French government interference for scuttling the proposed “merger-of-equals,” but sources in France have, in turn, claimed that they were concerned that the deal could have fractured the two decade old Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

What is clear is that Fiat Chrysler has needed help when it comes to autonomous technology. Under Sergio Marchionne, the former CEO who passed away unexpectedly last summer, it was little more than an afterthought. There was little work done in-house, in sharp contrast to other major competitors such as Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, General Motors and Ford.

Prior to this announcement, FCA’s biggest move in the autonomous field was to agree to provide as many as 60,000 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans for use in the new Waymo One ride-sharing service started by the Google spinoff Waymo in the Phoenix area – which is scheduled to expand to at least 20 more cities in the coming years.

In an ironic twist, Aurora’s CEO Chris Urmson, a pioneer in the autonomous field, previously headed Waymo before it was spun off by Google and new CEO John Krafcik came onboard.

In the non-monogamous world of high-tech transportation, the connecting lines crisscross all over one another. Amazon, which is now paired with FCA though Aurora, led a consortium that purchased a major stake in electric vehicle start-up Rivian earlier this year. While the digital retailer hasn’t explained its goals, it is widely believed to be working up plans to field a fleet of driverless delivery trucks.

Meanwhile, another investor in Rivian is Ford Motor Co., a key rival of Fiat Chrysler’s in the commercial vehicle market.

(Click Here for more about the failed FCA-Renault merger.)

Neither FCA nor Aurora would discuss specific details of their new alliance, including any financial arrangements. Earlier this year, after the Series B funding round was completed, the start-up reportedly had a $2.5 billion valuation, according to the Reuters news service.

Along with the new FCA deal, Aurora has also forged relationships with Hyundai, Volkswagen and Chinese electric vehicle start-up Byton.

“We are thrilled to forge a partnership with FCA US to develop a meaningful business model for delivering the benefits of self-driving commercial vehicles,” said Sterling Anderson, Aurora co-founder and chief product officer.

Precisely what those vehicles will be isn’t clear, but the dozens of automakers and research firms exploring autonomous technology see a number of possible options. The general consensus is that costs will run too high, at least in the early years, for most consumers, putting the focus on commercial ventures. These include autonomous cabs like those Waymo One is fielding, with General Motors and its Cruise Automation subsidiary promising to launch their own operation later this year.

Local delivery services would like to dispense with costly drivers, as well, though the challenge is resolving the “last 100 foot” problem, getting packages from the truck to the door. Some experiments have required customers to go and pick up their packages but that isn’t seen as a popular option. Drones are a possibility, but Ford last month demonstrated a robot that could take packages from truck to drop-off.

(Waymo kicks off autonomous taxi and ride-sharing service. Click Here for the story.)

Long-haul trucks are also a possibility, though not an area in which FCA competes. Its former partner, Daimler AG, however, has been fleet testing hands-free technology through several subsidiaries, including the U.S.-based Freightliner.