Monthly Archives: November 2014

What Has Auto Makers Working Together?

What has auto makers working together?  Nineteen auto makers accounting for most of the passenger cars and trucks sold in the U.S. have signed onto a set of principles they say will protect motorists’ privacy in an era when computerized cars pass along more information about their drivers than many motorists realize.

The principles were delivered in a letter Wednesday to the Federal Trade Commission, which has the authority to force corporations to live up to their promises to consumers. Industry officials say they want to assure their customers that the information that their cars stream back to auto makers or that is downloaded from the vehicle’s computers won’t be handed over to authorities without a court order, sold to insurance companies or used to bombard them with ads for pizza parlours, gas stations or other businesses they drive past, without their permission.

The principles also commit auto makers to “implement reasonable measures” to protect personal information from unauthorized access.

Many recent-model cars and light trucks have GPS and mobile communications technology integrated into the vehicle’s computers and navigation systems. Information on where drivers have been and where they’re going is continually sent to manufacturers when the systems are in use. Consumers benefit from alerts sent by auto makers about traffic conditions and concierge services that are able to unlock car doors and route drivers around the path of a storm.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also working with auto makers on regulations that will clear the way for vehicle-to-vehicle communications. The technology uses a radio signal to continually transmit a vehicle’s position, heading, speed and other information. Similarly equipped cars and trucks would receive the same information, and their computers would alert drivers to an impending collision.

“As modern cars not only share the road but will in the not too distant future communicate with one another, vigilance over the privacy of our customers and the security of vehicle systems is an imperative,” said John Bozzella, president of Global Automakers, an industry trade association.

The auto makers’ principles leave open the possibility of deals with advertisers who want to target motorists based on their location and other personal data, but only if customers agree ahead of time that they want to receive such information, industry officials said in a briefing with reporters.

“Google may want to become an auto maker, but we don’t want to become Google,” said Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

The possibility of ads popping up on the computer screens in cars while drivers are behind the wheel worries some safety advocates.

“There is going to be a huge amount of metadata that companies would like to mine to send advertisements to you in your vehicle,” said Henry Jasny of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “We don’t want pop-up ads to become a distraction.”

Industry officials say they oppose federal legislation to require privacy protections, saying that would be too “prescriptive.” But Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said legislation is needed to ensure auto makers don’t back off the principles when they become inconvenient.

“You just don’t want your car spying on you,” he said. “That’s the practical consequence of a lot of the new technologies that are being built into cars.”  Technology is incredible but some time we need to stop it before it goes too far.

 

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Toyota Takes Fuel Efficiency To The Next Level

Toyota has always pushed the environmentally friendly vehicles. Toyota Motor Corp. said it’s chosen the name “Mirai,” which means “future” in Japanese, for a fuel-cell powered sedan that travels 483 kilometers with a hydrogen tank that can be refilled in less than five minutes.

The announcement, on the eve of the Los Angeles auto show, increases the company’s commitment to fuel cells, as opposed to battery-only cars, as long-term alternatives to internal combustion engines, said Jeff Liker, a University of Michigan engineering professor. Toyota also promised to develop and supply fueling stations in northeastern U.S. states.

Liker predicted Toyota’s fuel-cell commitment will be as significant as those that came in 1989, when the company introduced its Lexus luxury brand in the U.S., and in 1997, when it started selling Prius gasoline-electric hybrids. Lexus led the U.S. market in luxury sales for 11 years, and Prius is by far the top-selling hybrid line, now with four models.

“In most cases, Toyota has been a fast-follower, not a leader,” Liker said. “But when it comes to the environment, they’re seeking to play an aggressive leadership role.”

Many battery-only cars in the U.S. can travel fewer than 100 miles on a full charge, and charging them can take hours. Toyota argues that fuel-cell cars can provide the same clean transportation with far greater convenience. And with a low center of gravity, it’s particularly fun to drive, Akio Toyoda, the company’s chief executive officer, said in a videotaped statement.

“Today, we are at a turning point in automotive history,” he said. “A turning point where people will embrace an environmentally friendly car that is a pleasure to drive.”

Tesla, Honda

In its statement, Toyota didn’t provide details on how much the Mirai will cost in the U.S., or how many the company hopes to sell. Toyota has said previously the car will go on sale in Japan in April for about 7 million yen ($60,300), with U.S. and European introductions a few months later.

Automakers are under pressure in California, as well as across the U.S., Europe, Japan and South Korea, to offer vehicles that emit little or no carbon pollution and reduce petroleum use.

Battery-powered cars championed by Tesla Motors Inc. and Nissan Motor Co. store electricity in large lithium-ion packs. Fuel cells generate it in an electro-chemical reaction of hydrogen and air, producing only water vapor as a byproduct.

Honda Motor Co. has said it will offer a revamped hydrogen sedan in California in 2015. In May, Hyundai Motor Co. began leasing a fuel-cell version of its Tucson sport-utility vehicle.

Fueling Stations

To help promote fuel-cell sales, California plans to install more than 50 hydrogen fuel stations within two years, partly with financial support from Toyota and other automakers. Toyota will also start working with Paris-based Air Liquide SA to build 12 fueling stations in five northeastern U.S. states, the company said in its statement.

Most commercial hydrogen is made from natural gas in a process that consumes energy and emits carbon. Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, is also the lightest, making it difficult and sometimes dangerous to store and transport.

Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said hydrogen’s shortcomings make it a dead-end for vehicles. “Fuel cells should be renamed ‘fool cells,’ they are so stupid,” he said in an interview last year.

By 2025, California plans to require about one of seven vehicles sold by each of the biggest automakers to eliminate or reduce emissions by using fuel cells, batteries, or gas-electric hybrid engines. Ten other states are taking similar steps.  With each innovation we become closer and closer to losing our gas powered vehicles to the past.

 

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BMW and Toyota Both Release New Sports Car

Toyota and BMW plan to release new sports car in the coming year.  Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Toyota Motor Corp. are moving closer to putting jointly developed sports cars on the road.

Co-operation on the underpinnings of the vehicles “has moved on to the concept phase and is running according to plan,” Munich-based BMW said in a statement to Bloomberg News. A technical feasibility study that began in January 2013 has been “successfully completed.”

The mid-size model is the most visible project within a broader partnership the manufacturers have said will last until at least 2020. The two companies have been tight-lipped about details, including the targeted introduction date, after announcing the plan early last year. Toyota confirmed Thursday that the project has moved beyond the feasibility stage, which was initially due to be completed by the end of 2013.

Toyota, the world’s largest auto maker, needs sports cars “to put that energy back into the brand,” Europe executive vice-president Karl Schlicht said last month at the Paris Motor Show when asked about the co-operation with BMW, which this year started selling the racy i8 plug-in hybrid.

In January, Toyota showed the FT-1 coupe concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The company said the rear-wheel-drive sports car’s design drew from past models including the Supra, 2000GT and Celica.

In addition to the sports car, Toyota and the world’s biggest maker of luxury vehicles are co-operating on research into fuel cells, lightweight technology and lithium-air batteries. The two companies agreed to work together on lithium-ion batteries in 2012. Both companies declined to comment further on the new sports cars.  Many critics can’t wait to see what these cars look like.

 

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Audi’s New Self Driving Race Car

Audi has a new vehicle ready for testing.  Two Audi RS7 performance sedans raced around a track in northern Germany. The car without a driver won this matchup by five seconds.

In its effort to bring autonomous-driving technology to the streets, Volkswagen AG’s Audi is testing unmanned vehicles at speeds as fast as 305 km/h. In these experiments, the car decides for itself the best way to take the corners in its race against human drivers

The map the car gets “just contains the left and right boundaries of the track,” Peter Bergmiller, an Audi technician, said Tuesday during a test on a track in Oschersleben (193 kilometres west of Berlin) with a vehicle named Bobby. “The car starts to think about it and generates its optimal line.”

Auto makers from Mercedes-Benz to Tesla Motors Inc. are developing systems to ease the strain of driving by letting cars park themselves and even take over the wheel in stop-and-go traffic. By showing that computers are able to push cars to their limits on race tracks, Audi is aiming to convince regulators that the technology can be safe in the real world.

If authorities open the door to self-driving features, “the first systems for piloted driving could come to market in a few years,” Audi development chief Ulrich Hackenberg said in a presentation of the brand’s autonomous-driving technology.

There’s a lot at stake in getting cars equipped with these features on the road. Technology for self-driving cars is forecast to become an $87 billion market by 2030, according to Boston-based Lux Research.

Daimler AG’s Mercedes tested a self-driving S-Class sedan on a 100-kilometre drive on public roads in Germany last year. The brand, which outsold Audi last month to take the No. 2 spot in luxury-car sales, is already rolling out an optional Stop&Go Pilot on models like the C-Class sedan. The feature enables the car to steer itself while matching the speed of the vehicle in front of it, including coming to a complete stop.

Both Mercedes and Audi got approval last month to test self-driving vehicles on California roads, to get their German-engineered cars used to U.S.-specific situations including eight-lane highways and traffic lights on the far side of an intersection.  Which one of the auto giants will build the best car?

 

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