Archive for the ‘General’ Category


Apr 10

Universities Building Automated Chevy Bolts For SAE and GM Challenge


By Jon LeSage

Eight universities in North America are redesigning autonomous Chevy Bolts to compete in the upcoming AutoDrive Challenge.

At SAE World Congress Experience in Detroit this week, SAE International and General Motors announced these universities will be demonstrating automated Bolts during a three-year challenge. Kettering University, Michigan State University, Michigan Tech, North Carolina A&T University, Texas A&M University, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and Virginia Tech have qualified to compete.

By year three, the teams will need to reach SAE’s level 4 standard, which means the car can be fully automated even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene. That’s one notch below level 5, which allows for full automation. Many of the automated systems being integrated now by automakers are considered to be level 3 for conditional automation.

Student teams will receive a Chevy Bolt as the vehicle platform. University teams will be working with strategic partners and suppliers in their projects by providing vehicle parts and software.

SAE and GM see these competitions as a training ground for future engineers ready to work on the next generation of automated systems.

“SAE International is excited to expand our partnership with GM to build the future STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workforce through the AutoDrive Challenge,” said Chris Ciuca, director of Pre-Professional Programs at SAE International. “Building on our success through programs like Formula SAE, the AutoDrive Challenge launches a new platform to engage industry and academia in working towards a common goal of preparing the brightest young minds for the future of autonomous technologies.”

Year 1 in the competition begins in fall 2017, where university teams will go to GM’s Desert Proving Ground in Yuma, Ariz., to work on concept designs and simple missions during on-site evaluations.

During Year 2 in 2018, teams will take it to the next level through solid system development with more sophisticated functions tested on tracks. During Year 3, the automated electric cars will go through final validation and must navigate successfully through tougher driving track conditions. The vehicles will need to go to higher speeds and safely drive through fast-changing conditions such as detecting moving objects on roads.

Skillsets gained by students will include working with real-world applications of sensing technologies, computing platforms, and software design implementation. Advanced computation will be part of the learning curve, where students are expected to gain hands-on experience in machine learning, artificial intelligence, sensor fusion, and autonomous vehicle controls, among others.

“The students and faculty at these schools bring deep knowledge and technical skills to the competition. We are proud to help offer these students the hands-on experience necessary for them to make an immediate impact on the automotive world when they graduate,” said Ken Kelzer, GM vice president of global vehicle components and subsystems.

SEE ALSO:  Toyota Demonstrates i-ROAD at SAE World Congress

GM has been fascinated with the automated driving potential of the electric car, as the company prepares to test self-driving Bolts with ride-hailing firm and partner Lyft starting in 2018.

University competitions aren’t new for SAE or GM. The Formula SAE student design competition for race cars goes back to 1980.

The Detroit automaker is now hosting EcoCar 3 with the U.S. Department of Energy. During the three-year challenge, 16 North American university teams are directed to redesign a Chevy Camaro to reduce its environmental impact while maintaining the muscle power expected by Camaro drivers.

University teams, led by engineering professors, have tried out different configurations and power options to drive GM vehicles on proving grounds during EcoCar 1 through 3. That’s included battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and ethanol flex-fuel systems.


Apr 07

Americans Hit New Mind-Numbing Peak For Gasoline Consumption


Americans prefer trucks, crossovers and SUVs, sales of passenger vehicles in 2016 hit a high of 17.5 million, and with that, the federal government says gasoline consumption hit an all time high last year too.

According to the Energy Information Agency, motor gasoline consumption increased by 1.6 percent over 2015 to 9.327 million barrels per day, and in the process it broke EIA projections and topped a peak of 9.286 million barrels Americans consumed daily in 2007.

So, if consuming more gas is considered undesirable, and consuming less is the goal, one might reasonably say that last year America as a whole regressed back to worse than 2007.

But how much is 9.237 billion barrels of gasoline really? After all, big numbers are kind of meaningless to those who don’t normally contemplate them, unless some perspective is given right?

Well, stats on the energy value of a million gallons of gasoline were not readily found, but the EIA says for each 42 gallon barrel of oil, 19 gallons of motor gasoline is extracted along with 12 gallons of ultra-low sulfur distillate fuel oil (diesel and heating oil).

Source: EIA.

So, looking just at crude oil, for which an energy value comparison has been drawn, one million barrels is enough to power a single American home for 61,117 years. Or, put another way, it’s enough to drive a Toyota Prius 2.32 billion miles, or it’s enough to power the entire world for six minutes.

Now, multiply those numbers by 9.327 to get what they are per day. Then, multiply them by 365 to get what it is per year. After you’re done that, consider each barrel only delivers 19 gallons of gas, which means Americans are burning more than double this each day in the form of refined gasoline.

Nine out of 10 doctors have said it’s statistics like these that are enough to boggle your foggle. (Just kidding – but only partly.)

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is considering reductions to U.S. MPG regulations that have been in place to slowly spur a switch toward more efficient vehicle choices.

To date, plug-in hybrid and battery electric cars are minority products that make up just around 1 percent of U.S. passenger car purchases.

On the positive side, things are changing, and global regulations are pushing for more fuel-thrifty transportation.

The goal is still to reduce petroleum consumption. It really is, even if last year U.S. engines drank more gasoline than in any other time in history.

Hat tip: Mario R. Duran


Apr 06

Chevy Volt is Country’s Best Selling Plug-in Hybrid Through Q1


Although the Chevy Volt has gone through a gauntlet of misunderstanding and detractors since it was launched in December 2010, the latest version finished March as the country’s best selling plug-in hybrid.

Now with the first quarter behind it, the Volt also leads 17 other PHEVs sold in the U.S. with a modest 5,563 sales.

The next down from it is the still-rolling-out Toyota Prius Prime. This Prius-Liftback-based car now gets 25 miles range which is less than the Volt’s 53, but its 54 mpg in hybrid mode is much better than the Volt’s rated 42 mpg.

To be sure also, the sales numbers in discussion are minor league, as PHEVs grow from their present 0.48 percent market share of the total U.S. market.

PHEVs to date have amounted to 19,293 units out of 4,013,949 passenger cars and trucks sold from January through March. That is otherwise known as a drop in the bucket, but it’s all going somewhere as carmakers slowly move toward plug-in cars – of the PHEV variety and battery electric variety as well.

Speaking of which, the BEVs are doing somewhat better than the PHEVs, with Tesla’s Model S leading the board of 13 models for sale in the U.S. with an estimated 3,100 sales.

To date, the BEV take rate is 0.53 percent amounting to 21,410.

These numbers hovering around 20,000 units for the year for PHEVs and BEVs are thus about one-quarter the number of the U.S. hybrid vehicle market, which through March has 82,939 units in the bag.

But, coming back to the Volt, it is doing OK for a legacy carmaker’s plug-in offering, and its 5,563 sales through March are not far behind Tesla’s 6,000 estimated for the Model S.

It’s also doing well for a car that politically motivated haters lined up to try and kill in the cradle, as just one of countless attacks demonstrates:

The Volt’s greatest asset is arguably its 53 miles range which lets a majority of owners stay off gas entirely meaning it is for all intents and purposes a pure EV when needed, and a hybrid when it has to be for longer drives.

Notable also is it can take full acceleration in EV mode, and does not need the gas engine to kick on as do “blended” PHEVs like the Toyota, and all the rest.

The Volt is so effective in fact, that it has actually outsold its new gee-whiz sibling, the Bolt EV which offers 238 miles range on a charge.

The Bolt sold 978 units in March, albeit it is still rolling out and not available in all markets. It has sold 3,092 units this year, and actually trails the on-its-way-out Nissan Leaf. The Leaf is rated 107 miles, but costs less, and they’re discounting them more too, so all told, it saw 1,478 sales in March, and has 3,287 for the year.

So, all this means the Volt is handily exceeding the Bolt so far but 2017 is still young, so we shall see how they and the others fare the rest of this year.


Apr 05

FedEX Chief And Energy Independence Group Call On Trump To Back Fuel Economy


By Jon LeSage

Fred Smith, FedEx CEO and co-chair of Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), is urging President Trump to support the federal fuel economy emissions targets signed during the last days of the Obama administration.  

A former military man as well, he along with several retired generals and admirals say consuming less petroleum supports SAFE’s mission to reduce America’s dependence on oil and ties to geopolitics.

“Our group is unique in looking at this problem from the perspective of national security,” Smith said. “If we can help solve the environmental risks, so much the better.”

SAFE spokeswoman Leslie Hayward said the group is having a constructive dialogue with the Trump administration. Results from the meetings were not disclosed.

Smith brings a lot of experience to the issue. A Vietnam war Marine platoon leader and forward air controller, he currently heads the world’s largest air cargo fleet. He’s considered an expert on the how global politics and security tensions impact fuel costs and supply, a reputation supported by his role as co-chair of SAFE.

During his campaign, Trump mentioned cutting oil imports as a key ingredient to making America independent of foreign economic powers. He was especially concerned about the OPEC cartel and nations who could be hostile to U.S. interests. Since the election, Trump hasn’t discussed the oil import topic.

White House spokeswoman Kelly Love said the administration had no immediate comment on SAFE’s viewpoint. Myron Ebell, the former head of Trump’s environmental transition team, did have something to say about it.

Ebell thinks that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has made SAFE’s agenda irrelevant. Fracking is considered to be the main reason domestic oil and gas supplies have increased dramatically in the past decade, reducing oil imports.

“History has passed them by,” Ebell said.

That argument may be a shallow one, however, as petroleum is a global fungible commodity subject to world market prices and political stability, or lack thereof. In simple terms: that means even if the U.S. were 100-percent domestically supplied, it pays a world market price for oil. That makes it still dependent upon what happens in the Middle East and other hot spots around the world.

This is one of the other core reasons why Americans have seen it as patriotic to electrify – electricity is truly domestically sourced, and its pricing is not dependent upon world markets.

And, as things stand, oil reportedly makes up about 93 percent of the energy used by the U.S. transportation sector. Smith hopes to see that share slashed to 50 percent by 2040. He’s been supporting batteries for passenger cars and natural gas for freight haulers, along with bringing in lightweight, fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles in the FedEx fleet.

SEE ALSO:  Energy Security Council Makes Recommendations on Autonomous Vehicle Policies

Last year, SAFE called on the federal government to adopt a national standard overriding state policies on autonomous vehicles, along with flexibility on how targets will be met. The group offered to share its perspectives on development of the technology and its implications for energy consumption, national security, safety, and mobility benefits.

Retired General James Conway, who co-chairs SAFE with Smith, is concerned about oil imports from the Middle East. The U.S. still has about 100,000 troops on constant alert to defend its access to Middle East oil, he said.

“We’ve seen low oil prices in the last two or three years, and people are buying sport utility vehicles at a record pace,” Conway said. “In a year or two, when prices go back up, the U.S. will be more dependent on foreign oil than ever.”

Gas 2.0,


Apr 04

Tesla Q1 Sales Record Could Be The Calm Before The Model 3 Storm


On Sunday Tesla reported a record 25,418 sales for the first three months of 2017, but this peak may look anticlimactic compared to pending plans for explosive growth.

By any other measure, 25,000-plus sales are a big leap forward, being 69-percent more than the year prior, and consisting of about 13,450 Model S sedans and around 11,550 Model X crossover SUVs. By the half-year mark, Tesla hopes to have doubled this.

But plans for the down-market Model 3 are far more dramatic and a lot is resting on the shoulders of the $35,000-and-up EV with 215-plus miles range.

“Model 3 is the next logical step of Tesla’s ‘secret master plan’ and mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” says Tesla of a car aimed to project it from boutique luxury carmaker to mass producer overnight.

The Model 3 is to be highly configurable though simpler rear-wheel-drive versions will show up ahead of AWD models to facilitate an expedited rollout to a list of what may be in excess of 500,000 intenders.

An optioned prototype version with glass roof.

At last count a few months ago it was over 400,000 and with news that the car is on schedule, the Model 3 – which will skip “beta” testing and use employees as effective beta testers instead – may have many more lined up for it, and that’s good.

It’s good as Tesla is preparing to push so many cars out the door that it defies belief of some analysts.

“Our Model 3 program is on track to start limited vehicle production in July and to steadily ramp production to exceed 5,000 vehicles per week at some point in the fourth quarter and 10,000 vehicles per week at some point in 2018,” said Tesla’s most recent quarterly letter. “To support accelerating vehicle deliveries and maintain our industry-leading customer satisfaction, we are expanding our retail, Supercharger, and service functions.”

On a conference call, company head Elon Musk projected that by July Model 3s would to be coming off the line at 1,000/week, by August 2,000/week, and by September 4,000/week.

In 2018, he anticipates 500,000 vehicles produced, and by 2020, 1 million.

If this comes to pass, that’s more than 10-times growth over fewer than 80,000 global sales in 2016.

In the process, a crossover variant coined the Model Y is expected based on the Model 3 platform.


“We assume 0 Model 3 deliveries in ’17,” Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote in a January 3 note to investors.

Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas in a January 19 note said he expected a “soft launch” of the Model 3 to be delayed until late 2017.

And while Tesla disregards those bearish memos, it has otherwise never been on time with a projected launch, nor have new cars ever been bug free, and that was for vehicles costing twice and up what the Model 3 is to sell for.

Musk has hired big league talent to streamline production speed and quality control, but it is otherwise aiming to do a much better job than it has yet with a much bigger volume of vehicles.

A think piece by Wired has said challenges will be compounded beyond quality and safety concerns and will depend also on a relatively stable global supply chain and the Nevada Gigafactory battery plant connection as well.

Tesla also will need to keep the pipeline of buyers full, and a piece by Business Insider postulates some disappointment will come with “a Toyota of Teslas” by those who imagine they’re getting 80-percent of a Model S for 50 percent of the price.

Tesla has not proven overly profitable to date, and while the Model 3 will be quite chic for what it is, something will have to give, suggests Business Insider.

In short, the Model 3 will still be a car, albeit battery powered, and cost cutting will be needed to make it profitable for the car produced in Fremont, Calif.

High Hopes

Tesla has to date defied odds riding a wave of public enthusiasm and forgiving customers, and could probably win a popularity contest hands down next to any legacy carmaker.

That and positive stock market momentum and new investments adding to deep-pocketed existing backers give hope to the prospect of Tesla doing what no carmaker has since Chrysler – succeeding to maturity.

Just last week, China’s Tencent Holdings bought a 5 percent stake in Tesla which speaks of current confidence in Tesla’s gambit. Its $1.78 billion buy in will also help practically in a company that has been known for excessive burning of cash.

But the bottom line will be how well the Model 3 is received.

Assured in the mind of many Tesla fans is it will be in a whole other league beyond the only other EV with its price and range, the Chevy Bolt – though there are undoubtedly others who’d beg to differ.

The Model 3 does promise curb appeal, 0-62 mph in under 6 seconds, and the kind of status that a down-market Mercedes or BMW might enjoy.

A lot is yet up in the air for whether Tesla hits the ground running, but so far things appear to be falling into place, and we shall see soon enough.



Apr 03

Uber and Lyft Face Tougher Competitors Than Taxis: Automakers


By Jon LeSage

As the taxi industry continues being decimated by Uber and Lyft ride-hailing and ridesharing services, these and other mobility companies will begin seeing a wave of competition coming from automakers jumping into the race.

Taxi and black-car operators have been sideswiped by Uber and Lyft in recent years as riders get to pay about half the taxi fare, tap into on-demand pickup from their mobile device, and have a much more user friendly and likeable experience. That’s been especially the case for younger riders in their 20s and 30s who don’t see the point in following the previous taxi-ride tradition.

Last year saw a wave of acquisitions and investment from global automakers entering the shared mobility space, and preparing for the autonomous rides of the future. The possibility of providing robo-taxis was one of the potential services being discussed as automakers reinvent themselves from vehicle manufacturers to mobility service providers.

Daimler, Ford, General Motors, and Volkswagen proved how serious they are about it. Much of that has come through acquisitions including VW launching its Moia mobility service division, and GM starting up Maven carsharing and investing in Lyft.

Market analysts warn Uber that getting into shared, automated rides could be undercut by automakers experienced in starting new divisions with the capital needed to back it up. Automakers investing in carsharing and ridesharing fleets could have the upper hand.

“Uber has to undergo a transition as large as OEMs,” said James Hodgson, an analyst with ABI Research.

Daimler has been in the market for years through its Car2Go carsharing subsidiary. The German automaker has gone through highs and lows with Car2Go, after entering a market niche it had had no experience with prior. It now serves over two million members worldwide.

Daimler, through Car2Go, has the experience to issue a wake-up call to Uber, Lyft, and other mobility startups.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” said Paul DeLong, CEO of Car2Go. “There’s significant investment [in] maintenance, repair, fuel, parking cost. It comes down to utilization. We want to get people to use our cars multiple times in the day.”

Automakers have paid serious attention to the intensive growth and interest out there in Uber and Lyft – and in autonomous driving.

SEE ALSO:  Uber To Open Self-Driving Research Center In Michigan

Uber has been quite serious about testing autonomous vehicles, experiencing its first crash Friday night in Tempe, Ariz. The company has also entered autonomous trucking through its Otto acquisition last year; that acquisition has been at the heart of a lawsuit from Google’s Waymo company based on accusations that Uber stole Waymo’s intellectual property on self-driving vehicles.

Last July in his “Master Plan, Part Deux” blog post, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that his company will be getting into the game. Tesla will be rolling out a shared fleet program that enables Tesla owners with fully autonomous cars to make income through renting out their electric vehicle to customers needed a ride.

GM is tapping into a similar revenue stream through its Express Drive rental car program. Lyft drivers can rent GM vehicles that include insurance and maintenance in the rental cost.

With GM and Lyft working together to test out self-driving all-electric Chevy Bolts, perhaps Lyft drivers will one day have that option to try out through Express Drive.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles entered the space last year through its partnership with Waymo. FCA will provide the Chrysler Pacifica; Waymo will automate the self-driving minivans and may offer a mobility service with the vehicle.

Automotive News,