Mercedes X-Class Pick Up To Be Discontinued

The Mercedes-Benz X-class pickup will soon be dropped as a Mercedes-Benz offering by the parent company, Daimler this year. The company is looking to reduce costs amid profit warnings.

Mercedes launched the vehicle in 2017, in an attempt to diversify the line and increase sales by entering the marketplace of midsize pick up trucks.  However, only 16,700 vehicles were sold last year in Australia, South Africa and Europe.  The United States was left out of sales as a market due to an increase in consumers looking for midsize pickups.  The pricing for the X-class started at 37,294 euros in Germany, which was too high for the vehicle due to ongoing competition between Mercedes and other brands.

The vehicle also experienced several recalls due to a footwell light that came loose, jamming under the brake pedal.  As part of Daimler’s industrial cooperation with Renault-Nissan, the X-class uses the same frame as the Nissan Navara and the Renault Alaskan. The vehicle is actually built in Nissan’s Barcelona factory.  In February, Mercedes opted not to manufacture the vehicle at a Renault-Nissan plant in Argentina, which would tap into the South American market.

Daimler cut its profit forecast for a fourth time in 13 months, and set aside even more money for regulatory compliance with diesel emissions and vehicle recalls related to Takata airbags.

Chinese Auto Sales Hit 4-Year Low

Chinese auto sales hit a 4-year low when they fell for the 12th consecutive month in June.  Fiat Chrysler, Ford and General Motors are among the manufacturers that are seeing losses, as well three recorded the worst first-half sales in several years.

Chinese auto sales declined 9.6% each year to 2.06 million in June.  The decrease in the January-June period was from 12.4% to 12.32 million units according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.  Sales of 26.29 million vehicles in the 12 months to June were down 11.3% on the year before, and were the lowest for the period since 2015-16.

Chinese electric-vehicles sales however did remain strong. That part of auto sales rose by 50% from the January to June period, accounting for 617,000 units and 5% of the total auto sales, according to data.

General Motors reported a 15% sales drop in China in the first half of the year, while Ford sales were down by another 27%.  Sales of Fiat Chrysler-owned Jeep were down by 41% in the first five months of 2019 as well.

Big Changes Ahead From Aston Martin’s CEO

The increase in mass market vehicles is one of the biggest changes coming to the automotive industry, according to Andy Palmer- CEO for Aston Martin.  He says mass-market cars will resemble pods as autonomous-driving technology continues to expand.  At some point, the vehicles will require little human involvement, and that will happen once cars reach level-4 autonomy.

When it comes to a brand such as Aston Martin, the executive says “If you’re an entirely rational brand, then you’ve got to compete on price,” Palmer said. “In the car business, the margins are really, really, fine, if not zero.”  However, he states that luxury vehicles have an emotional appeal that allows them to charge higher prices and collected bigger profits.  Palmer says that “there’s nothing rational about buying an Aston Martin. You’re appealing to the heart, and the margins in that business are much greater.”

Under Palmer’s direction,  the brand has expanded into high-end condominiums and luxury yachts. He states that he thinks Level-4 autonomy, which

Toyota Using Sun Power to Fuel Prius

Toyota is experimenting with sun power to fuel the Prius, making its bestselling green car even “greener.”  The automaker is experimenting with top cover solar panels to run the vehicle almost exclusively on solar power. The trial is part of an ongoing goal by Toyota, starting in Japan.  The system generates enough power to drive the Prius PHV for approximately 35 miles.

The company is running the trial on public roads through February in conjunction with solar cell maker Sharp Crop. Under a Japanese-government backed initiative called the “New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.”

Toyota has already manufactured a Prius with solar panels, but the technology is offered only in Japan as an option for the PHV model.  The vehicle is available in the United States as a plug-in vehicle known as the Prius Prime.

The new vehicle significantly affects performance.  The new vehicle allows to charge while the car is parked or being driven.

The current Prius PHV generates approximately 180W of electricity while the car is parked, which is enough to power less than 4 miles of battery-only driving.  The new system delivers 860W, nearly 5 times the energy it currently allows for.  That makes for about 28 miles if the car is charged while parked, or 35 miles if charged while driving.

Toyota is experimenting with more efficient solar cells, but that may require using more panels.  The roof, hood and rear window are layered with black solar cells that are very thin.  Because they are so thin, they can be form-fitted to the body of the vehicle and curved.

Toyota said that the test will help to determine how much solar energy will boost the driving range and fuel efficiency of electric vehicles.

Amazon Expands Reach into Automotive Industry

Amazon plans to move its way into the automotive industry with its Alexa voice assistant.  Amazon is expected to grow its Alexa-enabled offerings in the coming months to include a significant expansion into the embedded software systems of vehicles.

By brining Alexa into vehicles, Amazon is able to expand their business portfolio into the automotive market.  Amazon recently made a substantial investment into a electric-vehicle start up called “Rivian.”  In 2016, Amazon began partnering with automakers to have basic tasks such as checking fuel levels remotely.  Through Alexa, Amazon can be enabled through a vehicle’s sound system on an app, which requires automotive accessories with Alexa built-in.

“The real North Star for us is to be embedded with all the cars,” said Ned Curic, vice president of Amazon Alexa Automotive. “That’s where we want to get. We’re working very hard to get there because we believe that is the best experience.”

It’s not clear how many automakers Amazon is in discussions with about embedding Alexa into their vehicles, but Amazon has said that “consumers should expect a significant number of vehicles having access to Alexa in the coming years.”  Audi, BMW and Mini have already begun installing Alexa into their vehicle software systems.

Curic, a former executive with Toyota Motor North America, said starting with luxury brands was important because of their commitment to connectivity, including the ability to remotely update Alexa’s software.

“We update our experiences constantly on a weekly basis, and that’s not something the auto industry is used to,” he said. “When we have embedded experience, it’s quite important that experience is really solid, and obviously there will always be need to improve. We’re working closely with them.”

Audi plans to use Alexa across all vehicles,  and even launched Alexa on the E-Tron crossover in 2018.  Audi plans to launch this in the Q3 in 2020.

The partnership between BMW and Amazon is supposed to provide a seamless integrated experience for users between their home devices and their vehicles. The goal is to connect home and vehicle for those with a busy lifestyle. The Amazon Alexa would allow drivers remote access to the technology in their car, making for a safer and easier driving experience.  Users can simply place phone calls or change the radio station through Alexa.