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Ford, GM Betting Big on the Future with Major Moves into Autonomous Vehicles, Mobility Services

Detroit makers hope to lead radical transformation of the auto industry.

by on Mar.11, 2016

General Motors President Dan Ammann (right) with Cruise Automation co-founders Kyle Vogt (center) and Daniel Kan (left).

General Motors CEO Mary Barra recently suggested the level of change in the auto industry over the next five years will be greater than it has been over the last half-century – and major announcements by both GM and cross-town rival Ford appear to back that up.

The larger of the two makers has acquired Cruise Automation, a California-based start-up focusing on the development of autonomous vehicles. The smaller carmaker, meanwhile, says it is creating a new subsidiary, Ford Smart Mobility LLC, to focus on a wide range of mobility services, including not only autonomous vehicles but alternatives such as ride- and car-sharing.

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“Our plan is to quickly become part of the growing transportation services market, which already accounts for $5.4 trillion in annual revenue,” noted Ford CEO Mark Fields in a prepared statement. In a series of stump speeches in recent months, Fields noted that traditional automakers, such as Ford, currently get little to none of that revenue. (more…)

Nearly 20 Mil Self-Driving Cars Expected to be on the Road by 2025

Dealing with the deadly “Trolley Problem.”

by on Dec.03, 2015

Autonomous vehicles, like this Google Car, could become a common sight in barely a decade.

While the first autonomous vehicles  are only expected to reach production by 2020, a new study forecasts they will catch on fast, with as many as 20 million of them likely to be operating on roads around the world by the middle of the next decade.

That said, the new study by Britain’s Juniper Research emphasizes that even by 2025, self-driving vehicles will represent less than 1% of the vehicles in use around the world. And that raises serious flags, industry analysts warning that things could get bumpy in the first years the technology is in use.

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“The research noted that concerns over the decision making capabilities of these systems have been raised and questions have been asked about the decisions autonomous vehicles would take when presented with…two disastrous outcomes,” stated a summary of the new Juniper study.


Volvo Will Put 100 Autonomous Vehicles on Road by 2017

Project Drive Me will turn to the public to test the technology.

by on Feb.20, 2015

A variety of laser, radar, cameras and other sensors will give the pilot vehicles a 360-degree view.

Volvo plans to launch an autonomous vehicle pilot program by 2017, and it intends to use real motorists in its home town of Gothenberg, Sweden to get feedback on how well the technology works.

Dubbed Drive Me, the project is one of the more ambitious laid out by a conventional carmaker – though tech giant Google is already starting to roll out the first of 100 self-driving vehicles it plans to use as part of a test program near its Silicon Valley headquarters. Most major manufacturers are now working on autonomous technologies, with some predicting the first such vehicles could go on sale early in the next decade.

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“We are entering uncharted territory in the field of autonomous driving,” said Peter Mertens, Senior Vice President Research and Development for the Volvo Car Group. “Taking the exciting step to a public pilot, with the ambition to enable ordinary people to sit behind the wheel in normal traffic on public roads, has never been done before.”


Snowstorms Have You Wishing for a Self-Driving Vehicle? Think Again

Inclement weather poses big obstacle for autonomous researchers.

by on Feb.05, 2015

There's a reason Google is testing its autonomous vehicle prototypes in sunny California.

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The heavy snows that have blanketed much of the country in recent weeks might have you wishing for the day when you can buy an autonomous vehicle. Imagine not having to squint through a frozen windshield as you crawl through traffic on your way to work.

That’s one of the big promises of self-driving cars which, proponents promise, will make driving easier and safer. The first semi-autonomous vehicles are set to reach showrooms within the next several years, and several automakers are promising they’ll have the first fully-autonomous products on the road by 2020.

That timetable might work in some parts of the country. But if you live in snowier climes, don’t be surprised if you’re in for a much longer wait, especially if you’re hoping to have your car take over driving duties in inclement weather.


Safer Cars Could Mean Trading Off Privacy

Cyber-security also a critical issue.

by on Sep.11, 2014

Connected vehicles could mean safer roads, but also raise concerns about privacy and hacking.

New federal rules will require automakers to equip all of their vehicles with so-called “black boxes” that track the way a motorist is driving and can provide investigators a clue to the cause of a crash. The downside is that such data could also be used as evidence against a driver accused of breaking the law.

But that’s just the beginning of a high-tech revolution on wheels that raises even more serious concerns about the trade-off between safety and personal privacy.

A Smart Move!

The Michigan Department of Transportation this week announced plans to create a vehicle-to-infrastructure communications network along 120 miles of Detroit-area highways, while Cadillac said it will begin equipping its CTS model with a vehicle-to-vehicle communications system by 2017. The federal government has signaled it may soon mandate these V2I and V2V technologies across the country and on all new cars.


Smart Unveils Two New Models, Adds 4-door to Line-Up

Daimler brand hopes small is (more) beautiful this time.

by on Jul.16, 2014

Smart shows off its new Fortwo and Forfour models during a Berlin unveiling.

Aiming to take advantage of the growing global demand for small, high-mileage vehicles, Smart has unveiled two long-awaited offerings: a replacement for its pint-sized Fortwo model and an all-new four-seater, appropriately dubbed the Forfour.

The pair come to market as the culmination of an expanding affiliation between Smart’s parent Daimler AG and the Renault Nissan Alliance. The French-Japanese partnership has already launched its own version, the Renault Twingo having made its debut during the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year.

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While sharing many key, underlying components, the partners emphasized developing different visual designs, with Daimler’s Smart brand also opting for two different interior configurations. The maker is hoping to sharply increase global sales by offering both two- and four-seat models, though there are currently no plans to bring the Smart Fortwo over to the U.S. market. (more…)

Smart Video Reveals Two New Models

Next-gen city cars will get even smaller.

by on May.08, 2014

The new Smart ForFour and ForTwo undergoing winter testing in Sweden.

Finally – but will anyone actually notice? That’s the question the folks at Smart, the microcar division of Daimler AG, have to be worrying about as, after much too long of a wait, they finally get ready to launch two all-new models.

And a new video posted on Youtube offers a first close-up look at the two only slightly camouflaged new products, the all-new ForFour, and the replacement for the Smart ForTwo.

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Both are shown undergoing winter testing in Sweden, a routine part of the product development process for most manufacturers.

How soon are they likely to come to market? Soon, it appears, Chief Engineer Markus Riedel telling the video crew both models are pretty much ready to be launched.


DOT Launches Largest Test of “Connected” Cars

Goal of reducing crashes, easing highway congestion.

by on Aug.21, 2012

"Connected" cars travel down the highway.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, or UMTRI, are getting ready to launch the largest experiment ever involving connected vehicles that use wireless signals to talk to one another in an effort to improve highway safety while also easing traffic.

The first-of-its-kind, large-scale experiment will test a Wi-Fi-like technology that allows vehicles and highway infrastructure to communicate with each other. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, such technology could help prevent as many as three out of every four highway deaths.

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UMTRI will conduct the year-long project in Ann Arbor, Michigan where nearly 3,000 cars, trucks and buses equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication devices will “talk” to each other and to highway infrastructure systems.


Nevada Hands Out First License for Self-Driving Car

To infinity and beyond.

by on May.08, 2012

Google's autonomous car cruises the Las Vegas strip before receiving its new license plate.

There are plenty of distractions when you’re cruising the Strip in Las Vegas, from the neon lights of the big casinos to the heavy traffic along what’s officially known as Las Vegas Boulevard. And that doesn’t take into account the rolling billboards for Sin City’s seemingly ubiquitous “escort” services.

But the little Toyota Prius covered with an odd array of electronic sensors didn’t seem to notice any of it during a demonstration drive earlier this week.  Or, more precisely, it only saw what it needed to in order to safely navigate a stretch that is often plagued with accidents caused by distracted human motorists.

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That’s because the only humans in the Google autonomous vehicle were along for the ride, part of a demonstration showing how safe the self-guided vehicle could be.  It was enough to convince the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to issue Google the first official license for an autonomous vehicle.


Daimler Chairman Up for Another Term

Under pressure to slash costs.

by on Mar.03, 2011

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche with Chairman Manfred Bischoff admire the maker's new E-Class.

Dr. Manfred Bischoff is set for another term as chairman of Daimler AG.  But while he has won the support of the maker’s all-powerful Supervisory Board, Bischoff faces some tough challenges, over the next five years, as the German maker struggles to bring rising costs under control.

The German executive must still win a vote by stockholders during Daimler’s annual meeting in April, but will once again be proposed as candidate for the Chair of the Supervisory Board, which is responsible for overseeing the work of Daimler’s board of management.  That usually translates into an overwhelming vote in favor of senior management’s candidate.

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But it could be a case of be careful what you wish for.  Despite the major league improvement in earnings the company’s CEO Dieter Zetsche reported last month, Daimler is facing extensive cost pressures that it is struggling to overcome. (Click here for more on that story.) The company is also struggling with its long-troubled Smart car operation — and last month decided to consolidate that unit with flagship Mercedes-Benz, in the process pulling the U.S. Smart car franchise from entrepreneur Roger Penske.