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Tesla Autonomous Vehicle Chief Drives Off; Latest in a Series of High-Level Departures

But new AI researcher was waiting in the wings.

by on Jun.22, 2017

Chris Lattner, Tesla's director of artificial intelligence, just parted ways with the company.

Tesla has lost another senior manager, this time the head of its self-driving car program who joined the battery-electric automaker only six months ago.

But the departure of Chris Lattner, who had previously been working at Apple, isn’t expected to have more than a short-term impact, Tesla quickly announcing that it would assign some of Lattner’s duties to a new hire, prominent artificial intelligence, or AI researcher Andrej Karpathy.

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“Turns out that Tesla isn’t a good fit for me after all,” Lattner said in a tweet, prompting Tesla to fire back in a statement that, “Chris just wasn’t the right fit for Tesla and we’ve decided to make a change.” (more…)

Virus Forces Honda To Halt Production at Japan Plant

WannaCry ransomware found in computer network.

by on Jun.22, 2017

Honda's Sayama, Japan, plant that produces the Odyssey minivan was shut down due to a ransomware attack earlier this week.

This story includes update information.

Honda was temporarily forced to shut down one of its key Japanese assembly plants this week after discovering the WannaCry ransomware virus in the plant’s computer network.

The shutdown was expected to delay production of some of the automaker’s key product lines, including the Accord sedan and Odyssey minivan. The Sayama plant, which is located about an hour northwest of Honda’s Tokyo headquarters, typically produces about 1,000 vehicles daily.

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The WannaCry virus was discovered about a month ago after rapidly infecting computer networks around the world. It briefly shut down operations at a number of British hospitals, among other things and caused production delays at both French automaker Renault and its Japanese alliance partner Nissan. (more…)

Tesla Closing in on Deal to Build Cars in China

EV maker inking deal with city of Shanghai.

by on Jun.21, 2017

Tesla is apparently closing in on a deal to build new cars in Shanghai.

Not long after suggesting a new plant in India was coming, it appears Tesla’s Elon Musk is making headway on plants around Asia, especially China.

The EV maker is reportedly close to an agreement with the city of Shanghai to build a new plant in the city’s Lingang development zone. The deal could be done in just a few days, Bloomberg reported.

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China’s central government has been pushing hard for an increase in electric vehicle sales in the last two years, providing incentives and easing regulations to help manufacturers get moving on the needed escalation of EVs. (more…)

Kia and Koreans Top J.D. Power Quality Study as Japanese Slide

Quality up overall, but Power warns of some “early warning bells.”

by on Jun.21, 2017

The 2017 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study rankings by brand.

For the second year in a row, Kia nabbed the top spot in the closely watched J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, with all three of the South Korean carmakers sold in the U.S. market landing in the Top 10.

Detroit automakers also fared well in the study, with four brands in the Top 10. But the Japanese, long credited with driving up the quality of vehicles sold in the U.S., didn’t fare nearly as well, with only Nissan landing in the upper reaches.

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Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2017 Initial Quality Study was the poor showing by Japanese giant Toyota. Along with its Lexus brand it ranked number one more often than any other manufacturer – for 14 of the 31 years the IQS has been released to the public. But this year, Toyota was 14th, and only barely above industry average. The Lexus brand fell below average for the first time since it was launched. (more…)

Kalanick Forced Out as CEO of Uber

Embattled founder resigns as turmoil wracks ride-sharing giant.

by on Jun.21, 2017

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has been forced to resign in the wake of lawsuits, sexual harassment charges and other complaints about the company.

With his company facing an array of problems, including lawsuits, complaints about sexual harassment, and the exodus of key senior executives, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has been forced to resign.

The news was announced early Wednesday, barely a week after the embattled Kalanick said he would take an indefinite leave of absence motivated, at least in part, by the death of his mother in a boating accident. The ride-sharing giant said Kalanick will remain on its board of directors.

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For his part, the 40-year-old Kalanick appeared to recognize he had become not a leader but a polarizing distraction for Uber Technologies, Inc., in a statement noting that “rather than be distracted with another fight,” his departure will let Uber focus on building its business. (more…)

Mercedes New Russian Plant: Start of Change?

Most automakers cut ties to market, although Ford pondering expansion.

by on Jun.20, 2017

Daimler and Russian officials show off the model for the new Mercedes-Benz plant just outside Moscow.

As many automakers have been running away from the Russian auto market, a few others are moving into to expand their foothold in their absence. Daimler AG began construction of a new Mercedes-Benz plant near Moscow: the first new investment by a major foreign automaker in years.

The German maker is investing nearly $280 million into the new factory to build new Mercedes E-Class sedans starting in 2019 with the luxury brand’s GL class sport utility vehicles following afterward.

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“Establishing a passenger car production in Russia is a strategic investment in an important sales market for Mercedes-Benz. We are extending our local footprint and, at the same time, strengthening our global competitiveness,” said Markus Schäfer, member of the Divisonal Board of Mercedes-Benz Cars, Production and Supply Chain, during the groundbreaking ceremony. (more…)

Ford Moving Focus to China

Scrapping plans for Mexican production entirely saves another $500M.

by on Jun.20, 2017

Ford had planned to shift production of the Focus to Hermosillo, Mexico, but instead will produce it in China.

In a surprise move, Ford Motor Co. says it won’t move production of its Focus model to Mexico., but rather Ford plans to move it to China.

That would make the Ford Focus the first mainstream model to be imported from China, a move that could also raise the ire of President Donald Trump, who has been pressing the auto industry to bring more production – and jobs – back to the U.S.

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But with sales of the compact vehicle line sliding sharply, Joe Hinrichs, Ford President of Global Operations, said the move will save the carmaker about $500 million. Ford had already said it would save at least $500 million by scrubbing plans to build an entirely new Mexican plant for the Focus and other small car lines. (more…)

BMW Taps Magna to Produce New 5 Series EV

Canadian supplier now builds EVs for two luxury makers.

by on Jun.20, 2017

BMW announced it has selected Magna to build its new 5 Series EV, the 530e. Magna will produce it at its plant in Graz, Austria.

BMW announced that its new plug-in hybrid, the 530e, will be built at Magna’s contract manufacturing plant in Graz, Austria, starting this summer.

Magna noted the decision by BMW to have the 530e built in Graz means that the Canadian company is now the manufacturing partner for two premium electrified vehicles – the BMW 530e and the Jaguar I-PACE.

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BMW’s decision to build the 530e in Graz isn’t exactly a surprise since Magna already builds the 5-Series for the German luxury carmaker at the manufacturing complex. (more…)

Fuel Economy Ratings Still Drive New Car Purchases

Bigger vehicles with improved mileage means better sales.

by on Jun.20, 2017

The fuel economy of the Toyota RAV4 has risen by 10 mpg in five years. Sales have jumped by 166% during that time.

Improvements in fuel economy have helped manufacturers gain a competitive edge in selling pickups, crossovers and sport utility vehicles, according to the authors of The Car Book.

A new analysis from the Consumer Federation of America indicates SUVs, pickups and crossovers that improved fuel economy ratings by at least 10% between 2011 to 2016, saw a 59% increase in sales.

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On the other hand, vehicles in the same segment that lagged behind in fuel economy with less than a 10% increase in miles per gallon from during the same period experienced a 41% increase in sales, almost 20 points less. (more…)

FCA Denies Chrysler Departure from Japanese Market

Ford left market last year, GM sells less than 1,000 vehicles annually.

by on Jun.19, 2017

FCA denied reports its pulling the Chrysler brand from the Japanese market. It currently sells only the 300 there.

Fiat Chrysler is denying reports it plans to pull its just-barely-selling Chrysler brand from the Japanese market. The maker sold less than 300 vehicles in Japan in 2016.

“Although FCA Japan has already announced its intention to concentrate its resources on the Jeep brand ahead, no decisions have been made regarding (the) Chrysler brand,” the automaker said in a statement on Monday.

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The Nikkei business daily reported FCA was ready to shut down sales of the brand based on the steady decline of sales since 2000. The brand’s never sold in close to the five-figure range in the last 17 years, and currently offers only the 300, which is sold through its Jeep dealerships. (more…)