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Smart Reveals New ForTwo Cabrio

America’s smallest car goes topless.

by on Aug.28, 2015

The newly redesigned Smart ForTwo Cabrio will offer a three-position canvas top.

The new Smart car hasn’t yet landed in showrooms in the U.S. but the German microcar maker is already rolling out a second version, with a third on the way.

The redesigned Smart ForTwo Cabrio gets a new canvas “tritop” that can open up like a sunroof or fold back more like a conventional convertible. Set to formally debut at next month’s Frankfurt Motor Show, the two-seater will reach showrooms in mid-spring 2016.

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“Our new smart cabrio really exudes joie de vivre in the city – which is what our brand stands for”, said Smart brand boss Annette Winkler. “I am sure that we will delight our present 220,000 cabrio customers and win lots of new fans with this successful lifestyle icon.”

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Little Smart Has Big Ambitions for New ForTwo

But is there a market for microcars in truck-happy U.S.?

by on Aug.25, 2015

Two extremes of the Daimler AG family, the 2016 Smart ForTwo with a row of Western Star trucks.

Size matters. That’s long been a guiding principle in the U.S. auto industry, and with fuel prices down sharply this year, it seems truer than ever as American motorists once again shift from fuel-efficient small cars to larger SUVs, CUVs and pickups.

And that raises a serious question about this year’s launch of what will be the smallest car on the U.S. market, the 2016 Smart ForTwo. After a seemingly endless delay, parent Daimler AG has launched an all-new version of the microcar just as potential competitors, such as the Mini Cooper and Fiat 500 struggle to reverse double-digit sales declines.

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Nonetheless, “We hope there is much more potential” for a brand that has so far failed to live up to its initial promise, says Annette Winkler, the head of the Smart brand during a first U.S. media drive of the new ForTwo model.

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Apple Hires Key Tesla Engineer as Daimler Mulls Joint Ventures with Apple, Google

A Silicon Valley “poaching war” turns up the heat.

by on Aug.24, 2015

Apple's Jeff Williams has hinted at the possibility that the company may be looking at moving into the auto industry with more than its CarPlay system.

Apple has hired one of Tesla’s top autonomous driving engineers, according to a post on LinkedIn, the latest sign that the Silicon Valley firm best known for its smartphones and computers is getting ready to enter the auto industry.

Separately, the CEO of Daimler AG suggests he would be open to an alliance with both Apple and its high-tech rival Google, which has become a leader in the development of autonomous vehicle technology. The parent company of Mercedes-Benz also has had an ongoing relationship with Tesla.

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“Many things are conceivable,” Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche told the German magazine Deutsche Unternehmerboerse. “Google and Apple want to provide system software for cars and bring this entire ecosystem around Apple and Google into the vehicle. That can be interesting for both sides.”

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Daimler, Renault-Nissan Point COMPAS Toward Mexico

Makers continue expanding partnership.

by on Jul.28, 2015

Daimler and Renault-Nissan are building a new plant in Mexico to produce small cars. The entity, COMPAS, is run by a board of executives from both companies.

Daimler AG and the Renault-Nissan Alliance are pointing their compass south of the U.S., or more precisely their putting COMPAS in Mexico to build compact cars for them.

The companies announced that they’ve formed COMPAS (Cooperation Manufacturing Plant Aguascalientes), a 50-50 partnership that will “oversee the construction and operation of a manufacturing plant for the production of next-generation premium compact vehicles for the brands Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti.”

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The two automakers announced last fall they would team up to find a way to build small cars in Mexico, but did not provide any substantive details at the time. The new entity will build a $1 billion plant – each kicking in half of the funds – on the grounds of Nissan’s plant in Aguascalientes. The new plant will be built alongside Nissan’s existing plant in the central Mexican city of Aguascalientes. (more…)

Daimler to Begin Testing Autonomous Trucks in Germany

Project debuted in Nevada earlier this year.

by on Jul.27, 2015

Daimler expects to begin testing its self-driving Freightliner truck in Germany shortly.

Daimler AG expects to begin rolling out its semi-autonomous heavy truck on German highways “within the next few weeks,” according to a senior executive.

The maker first began testing its Freightliner Inspiration truck in Nevada earlier this year, and hopes to put the technology into production around the end of the decade. But where it would go on sale first has been a question even the automaker says it can’t yet answer as most countries still don’t have in place the laws that would allow the use of hands-free vehicles.

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“We are positive that we will get approval for tests on German motorways within the next weeks,” Daimler board member Wolfgang Bernhard, head of the maker’s truck operations, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. Once approval is granted, Bernhard said, “Then we will start immediately.” (more…)

Daimler Sales Q2 Earnings up 20 Percent

German company rides strong car sales to profitability.

by on Jul.23, 2015

Dieter Zetsche said strong sales from Mercedes-Benz helped to drive Q2 profitability for Daimler AG.

Daimler AG reported its sales increased by 19% to 37.5 billion euros in the second quarter, while earnings before interest and takes increased by 20% to 3.7 billion euros.

The company’s earnings before interest and taxes improved by a substantial 54% to 3.8 billion while net profit rose by 8% to 2.4 billion euros. Prior year’s second quarter’s net profit was positively affected from the remeasurement of the Tesla shares.

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“We achieved the targeted margin for Mercedes-Benz Cars in the first half of the year. In all other automotive divisions, we are about to achieve our margin targets,” stated Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. (more…)

Daimler, Bosch Team Up on Valet Park System

Technology promises to “revolutionize” parking process.

by on Jun.10, 2015

The smartphone-based auto valet parking system could be in place within a few years.

The skies open up just as you’re pulling up to the office. No need to get soaked running from the parking lot, however. You simply step out under the awning, tap an app on your smartphone and the car goes off on its own to find a parking spot. At the end of the day, tap the app again and your car will come pick you up.

That, at least, is the goal of a new project launched by Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler AG, auto supplier Bosch, and the car-sharing service car2go. The valet system they are working on could “revolutionize” the parking process, they suggest.

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“Fully automated parking will be ready for mass-production before fully automated driving”, says Dirk Hoheisel, the board member at Bosch overseeing the smart parking project. “Low driving speeds and the information from the car park infrastructure enable a fast implementation.” (more…)

Mazda or Scion or Fiat? Alliances Are Changing the Face of the Auto Industry

Automakers partner up to cut costs, expand product lines.

by on May.28, 2015

The new Mazda Miata was developed as part of a joint venture with Fiat.

When the new iA comes to Scion showrooms later this year, it will mark the first time Toyota’s youth-oriented brand has offered a sedan.

To bring it to market, Scion sought out some help, largely repurposing a 4-door model developed by smaller Japanese automaker Mazda. Toyota also will use the subcompact Mazda2 as the starting point for the next version of its small Yaris model – which will be assembled at a new Mazda plant in Mexico.

Stay on Top!

Confused? You’re not alone.  It takes more than just a scorecard to keep up with the convoluted alliances in today’s increasingly competitive auto industry. Hoping to add more models to their line-ups while at the same time driving down costs, traditional competitors are finding advantages to working together.

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Daimler Partnership May Lead to Wireless EV Charging

Company teams with Qualcomm to develop new technologies.

by on May.27, 2015

A new partnership with Qualcomm aims to develop electric vehicle charging technologies as well as other connected car projects.

Luxury vehicles often get the latest technology first and Mercedes is looking to burnish its reputation as a tech leader through a new partnership that may ultimately develop an electric vehicle that charges wirelessly.

Daimler AG and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., a subsidiary of San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc., are partnering on connected car projects ranging from Internet connectivity to charging technologies.

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“It’s important that we remain on the cutting edge of technology and continue to deliver unparalleled experiences to our customers,” said Thomas Weber, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG responsible for Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. (more…)

Driving (In) an Autonomous 18-Wheeler

Behind the wheel of the self-driving Freightliner Inspiration semi.

by on May.08, 2015

Look, Ma, no hands! Mark Alvick let's the autonomous Freightliner take over driving duties.

Pulling myself up into the cab of the big 18-wheeler, I settle into the shotgun seat and buckle up while driver Mark Alvick fires up the Freightliner semi. With a groan, the airbrakes release, the big diesel rumbles to life and we head off down the highway.

It takes a fair bit of muscle to manage a heavy truck like this, but after a couple moments, Alvick taps a switch on the sprawling instrument console and settles back, both hands off the steering wheel. A brief moment of panic quickly subsides as the truck maintains its rock-steady grip on the road, smoothly negotiating a sweeping curve on the 2-lane blacktop north of Las Vegas.

The Last Word!

This isn’t a normal 18-wheeler. It’s the prototype Freightliner Inspiration, the world’s first autonomous heavy truck licensed for use on public roads. The company, the country’s largest manufacturer of heavy trucks, plans several years of tests and, working with its many customers, hopes to commercialize this self-driving technology by decade’s end.

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