Ford Tries to Solve Self-Driving’s “Last 50-Foot” Problem

Ford Motor Company, one of the many automakers involved in the self-driving or autonomous vehicle movement, is trying to solve the “last 50-foot” problem; tackling the issue the best it can with a headless robot.

The “last 50-foot” problem is a problem nearly every company will run into if it deals with delivery by self-driving cars. When a company’s self-driving vehicle pulls up to a house, how will its product get to the front door or the last 50 feet with the lack of a human driver?

Ford decided the solution to this problem is a headless robot that will accompany the self-driving vehicle. Ford’s robot known under the name of Digit was created by Agility Robotics, a small startup located in Albany, Oregon. Digit has humanistic features with two sturdy legs, arms that can carry up to a 40-pound load, a torso embedded with a video camera and a headless upper half with a laser-radar sensor. While Digit may have an unorthodox or unappealing look to some, it more than makes up for it in its practicality; featuring a lightweight frame, the readiness to overcome obstacles with its bipedal feature, and the ability to compact itself into a small square for storage purposes.

Even though Digit is in existence, the public will not see this robot until 2021 or later. Ford plans to wait and release it as part of the company’s self-driving vehicle fleet initiative. In the meantime, Ford will continue research on Digit. Specifically, Digit’s acceptance with the general population; starting with real-world tests that involve Digit roaming the organization’s facilities.

This step toward solving the “last 50-foot” problem with robots is gaining momentum, driven by the potential profits self-driving delivery can offer. Without a human driver, delivery costs can decrease immensely, and the financial return could be in the billions. For these possible benefits, companies other than Ford are creating unique delivery robots of their own. Companies such as Anybotics, Continental, Segway, FedEx, and Starship Robots.

 

A Recent Study Uncovers A Prevalent Number of Consumers Would Appreciate Self-Driving Cars

In times of advanced technology, self-driving or autonomous vehicles are becoming more of a possibility in the automotive industry. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist (UCS), based on automaker and technology company estimates, level 4 self-driving cars-cars that can drive fully-autonomous in certain driving scenarios-could be for sale in the next several years. With such a possibility, the consulting group Capgemini decided to conduct a survey to gauge consumers expectations; discovering most consumers would appreciate and have a positive attitude toward self-driving cars.

Before analyzing the results of the survey, it is pertinent to understand autonomous vehicles and their current stage of production. Autonomous vehicles are cars or trucks that do not need a driver to operate; using a combination of sensors, and software instead. Each autonomous vehicle can have a certain level of self-automation. Some may only function with heavy driver involvement, contributing little to no automation on the road. Oppositely, others may function with little to no driver involvement with the ability to drive in every kind of traffic situation.

In the current stage of production, there are only partially-autonomous vehicles on the road or on the market today available with systems like automatic braking, cruise control, and lane assistance. Automakers are continuing to improve and produce autonomous vehicles with the available technology of today. Take Bosch, for instance. Bosch, the world’s largest automotive supplier, is partnering with Daimler to create a pilot program in California; spending 4.6 billion by 2022 on the autonomous technology.

Back to the survey, Capgemini polled over 5,500 consumers and 280 automotive executives to not only understand consumer expectation but how automakers are acknowledging them. The survey helped encapsulate the feelings of enthusiasm and hesitation as well as some of the challenges that come with autonomous vehicles.

Here are the key findings from the report:

  • Of the respondents 59 percent felt anticipation, 52 percent felt surprise, 48 percent felt fear, 43 percent felt loss of control/helplessness, 32 percent felt trust, 28 percent felt confidence, and 6 percent felt anger when asked what emotion described self-driving vehicles for them.
  • The opinion of autonomous cars depends on the country and region. At the moment, the Chinese are the most positive about autonomous cars while Britons are the most negative or skeptical.
  • Over half of the participants indicated they would pay more for an autonomous car when they said they would pay a premium of up to 20 percent.
  • Self-driving cars will gradually be accepted in a positive light with 52 percent of respondents saying they would ride in a self-driving car in five years.

The Green Future of Automotive Interiors

In the past, the classiness of a car was partially determined by the quality of an owner’s interior. This meant a car showed its worth when the seats were leather, the wide dash was sturdy, and the door panels were uniquely designed with a set pattern. However, that may change with the current transition from carbon fiber to plants.

Several well-known automakers have begun to move away from the usual material used for car interiors to something more eco-conscious and quality condition. These companies include Land Rover, Volvo, Toyota, Hyaundai, Ford, Faraday Future, and Audi. The allure for so many companies to make this change is how the plant interiors satisfy the modern consumers want for luxury as well as their desire to be eco-friendly. This trend of renewable, green materials in the automotive industry will continue to grow as Grand View Research predicts by 2025 synthetic leather will make up a $45 billion industry and the automotive industry will be the second largest in the use of renewable textiles.

There are a number of plant fabrics automakers are using to outfit vehicle interiors. Take, for instance, Range Rover’s use of Eucalyptus Melange and Dinamica Suedecloth on its new Range Rover Evoque. Eucalyptus Melange is a material made of 30 percent of tensile fibers or eucalyptus fibers and 70 percent polyester. It differs from the current customary materials like plastic or Alcantra through its smaller water intake and ability to be dyed any color. The other material, Dinamica Suedecloth, is a fireproof and sturdy imitating suede fabric made of recycled plastic bottles.

In addition to the plant fabrics, automakers are including or planning to add more eco-conscious options. Presently, Toyota has its seat cushions made of renewable sugar cane, Hyundai has its sedan support pillars made of crushed volcanic rock, and Ford has its seat foam made of soybeans. For the future, Volvo plans to have its 2025 models incorporate 25 percent or more of plastics made from recycled materials; exceeding the 5 percent of recycled material plastic used today.

Fiat Chrysler has a 29% profit decrease in Quarter 1

In its first quarter, Fiat Chrysler (FCA) saw a 29 percent decrease; dropping in revenue from 1.07 billion Euros in approximately January or March to 24.5 billion Euros in May. The lack of sales in FCA’s North American profit center, Europe and China is why FCA is seeing such a disappointing first quarter.

Since the start of its first quarter, FCA has had a rough start. To begin with, FCA shipped only 1.037 million vehicles, a 14 percent decrease from the previous year. Beyond the smaller number of cars shipped, the FCA has had trouble in its North American, European, and Chinese market.

In North America, which makes up 98 percent of the company’s profits, sales are slowly but surely dissipating with the operating profit margin falling from 7.4 percent to 6.5 percent in the initial months of 2018 and deliveries falling by 3 percent. This drop in the U.S. puts them behind FCA’s North American rivals, General Motors, and Ford Motor Co. FCA activities have also been fruitless in its other two markets with China experiencing economic decline and Europe facing stricter emission regulation; causing any FCA activities to have little to no impact.

Despite this concerning roadblock, FCA remains optimistic. According to the company, it still expects to earn 6.7 billion Euros prior to interest and taxes for the 2019 sales year. The current FCA CEO Mike Manley in the face of these problems has devised plans for each respective market. For China, Manley intends to do a turnaround; reorganizing FCA’s Chinese joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. through new leadership and through combining its sales operations. For Europe, Manley plans on preparing for the new emission regulations; preparing to spend $2 billion on regulatory emissions credits over the next few years to ensure all of FCA’s new plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles pass expectation.

Ford Reestablishes Its Presence in China

Ford is looking to 2020 with high hopes as it tries to reestablish itself in China. Despite some of the challenges the company will inevitably face, it plans to make its presence known by closely tailoring its product to the needs of China’s citizens and establishing closer ties with the community.

Recently, Ford has struggled to stay afloat in China’s market; decreasing in last year’s sales by 37 percent to 752,243 vehicles. This decrease is partly due to the country experiencing economic decline, lack of local demand and trade tension. Evidence of China’s struggling marketplace can be seen in the -4.1 percent loss in overall passenger vehicle sales in 2018. The loss of footing in the China market is also partly due to Ford wrongly assuming that Chinese consumers would favor the same vehicle features Americans do; allowing Japanese and German competitors to get the upper hand.

To recover from its mistakes and its decline in the marketplace, Ford plans to closely tailor its product to the needs of China’s citizens. It will do this through releasing over 30 more vehicles, up to 10 of them being electric; including the 2020 Ford Escape. These vehicles will feature designs more appeasing to the Chinese customers. The perfect example of this is seen in the Ford Escape, which personifies daqi (the Chinese term for a desire for status, pomp, and harmony) through more chrome, detailed lights and an intricately decorated grille. In addition to the release of multiple vehicles, Ford plans to adhere to China’s specific technological needs. It has begun this endeavor by partnering with Baidu – the equivalent of Google in China – to create an in-vehicle infotainment system named Sync+ that is supported by artificial intelligence and Chinese language voice recognition.

Along with the changes in its products, Ford’s last part of the plan is to strengthen its ties in the Chinese community. This part of the plan will be executed by starting a China-dedicated design center, focusing its Nanjing engineering center on producing more for China, and initiating ventures with local business organizations.

The Benefits of Window Tinting a Vehicle

With summer quickly approaching, vehicle owners should prepare for the potential road trips and family vacations with window-tinting. Window tinting is a small, but crucial process of putting on a thin laminate film to darken the glass of a vehicle. By darkening the glass, the vehicle owner experiences several aesthetically pleasing and practical benefits.

Some benefits of window tinting are:

Ultraviolet (UV) Ray Protection:

Vehicles are where drivers get a majority of UV rays, which may come as a surprise to many car owners. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the side and back windows allow in more than 60 percent of UVA rays. Consequently, US drivers get more skin cancer on the left side of the body where they are closer to the window. With enough exposure to UV rays, drivers and all their passengers run the risk of cellular level skin damage that can cause wrinkles, age spots, leathering, and even skin cancer. The way drivers can protect themselves against the risk of overexposure to UV rays is window tinting. Car owners can specifically purchase UVA-filtering window that reduces skin cell death created from UV rays by 93 percent as reported by the Skin Cancer Foundation.

UV rays not only hurt vehicle owners but the interior of their car as well. A car’s upholstery, carpeting, and dashboard can fade over time with exposure from the sun. The less protection, the more and quicker the condition of the interior will deteriorate. Window tint is a car owner’s best bet at preventing this damage.

Safety:

The thin film of window tint may not look like much, but it can protect car owners in two ways. First, window tint can protect car owners and passengers from bodily harm in a car accident by holding shattered glass in place or lessening the amount of shattered glass. Lastly, window tint can help ward off any car burglars. As of 2016, the FBI reported an approximate 765,484 of vehicle thefts nationwide. To make sure vehicle owners’ cars don’t add to the statistic they can tint their windows. The dark shade of window tint film allows valuables to stay hidden and prevent them from being easily spotted by burglars.

Fashionable Look:

While window tint may not be thought of often, it does play a major role in tying the look of a vehicle together. The dark, black, almost reflective surface of window tint makes any car look high-end. A perfect example of this effect can be seen in any movie or TV show featuring vehicles!

Nissan’s Contribution to Notre-Dame Cathedral Restoration

On April 15 the world watched as the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, one of France’s most prized pieces of architecture and history, caught on fire. While the fire was eventually distinguished, Notre-Dame still sustained a great amount of damage that would cost a fortune to repair. In light of this predicament, Nissan Motor Company offered to help in the restoration and rebuilding of Notre-Dame by donating $100,000 Euros or $112,000 US dollars.

It is pertinent to understand the fire that took place at Notre-Dame to understand what Nissan is working toward with its contribution. The fire started at 6:43 p.m., on Monday, April 15; raging on for another 12 hours before officially being extinguished. It began under the roof among wooden beams that originated from the Middle Ages; spreading to destroy two-thirds of the roof and the Cathedral’s 295-foot spire.

The exterior of Notre-Dame was not the only thing harmed by the flames of the fire. The interior of the Cathedral sustained its fair amount of damage. Potentially, the fire could have ruined three of the Cathedral’s organs and a number of paintings and sculptures that could date back all the way to the 17th century. With the amount of damage, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame could take longer than the five years to renovate.

Nissan is one of the many organizations and individuals that have made donations for the restoration of Notre-Dame. The first to donate were local citizens and companies such as L’Oréal or the billionaire Pinault family, which amounted to over $600 million Euros or over $675 Million US Dollars. After France’s culture ministry created an online portal for donations, and President Emmanuel Macron called for a fund-raising campaign, even more donations were made. Along with Nissan, more than $1 billion has been raised so far. As to why Nissan decided to contribute, the company released a statement saying it is “in recognition of and appreciation for Nissan Europe and Renault employees as well as the people of France.”

Four Tips to Spring-Cleaning Your Car

Spring is finally here; dispersing the chilly days of winter. Along with warmer weather, spring brings the phenomenon of “spring-cleaning.”  While spring-cleaning is often associated with the deep-cleaning of a house or room, the practice can also be applied to vehicles. Car owners can bring spring-cleaning to their car and have it ready for activities ranging from a family road trip to their daily commute with four simple tips.

Here are Four Spring Cleaning Tips For Your Car:

Don’t Forget the Trunk: Spring is the best time to start anew, and the best way to start anew with vehicles is to clean out the trunk. The trunk is a vehicle amenity that is often taken for granted. Car owners seem to not utilize the space provided and haphazardly throw a number of items into the back; ranging from long-forgotten moving boxes to beach chairs. Car owners should take the time to remove these items and divide them into two categories: necessary items and unnecessary items. Some necessary items that should stay in the trunk are tool kits, flashlights, and spare tires. Some unnecessary items that should leave the trunk are clothing, groceries, and leftover trash.

No More Crumbs, No More Dirt: It’s inevitable, whether it’s through eating a fast-food meal or clambering into the car with muddy shoes, the interior of a vehicle will get dirty. It may not seem too noticeable at first, but after awhile it can be an eyesore. Even worse, it could attract multiple unwanted pests or bugs. To prevent this from happening, car owners should wipe down the interior of their vehicle and follow up with a vacuum to make sure no spec of dirt or crumb is left behind.

Center Console Declutter: Similar to the trunk, car owners seem to stick items into the center console and forget them; leaving a cluttered mess. In the spirit of spring-cleaning to venture and transform places rarely touched, the center console should be one of them. With a clean center console, car owners have the benefit of more storage and more organization.

Make it Sparkle: In the winter months, it is common for a vehicle to take a lot of wear and tear from the elements. During that time, a vehicle may be covered in dirt, snow or salt from the road. However, now it is spring and the last thing any car owner wants to see is a filthy car. Take the time to wash a vehicle, rid it of any unappealing grim, and make it sparkle. If a car owner feels exceptionally motivated, they can put a little wax on their vehicle to give it that extra shine.

Auto Industry Bands Against Trump and Potential Import Tariffs

The U.S. auto industry is banding together in a lobbying effort to prevent President Trump from implementing new import tariffs of up to 25 percent. In an industry divided on policy more often then not, this lobbying effort shows just how serious this potential threat is to several groups in the auto industry; including automakers, dealers, parts suppliers, and aftermarket companies.

The new potential tariffs the auto industry is so vehemently against come as a recommendation in the Commerce Department report that was given to President Trump earlier this year. The Commerce Department report is a result of an investigation under section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, to understand how imports of light vehicles and parts impacted national security. Although the Commerce Department claims the report or recommendation is for national security, it is more likely to help President Trump in his trade industry aspiration. More specifically, to help President Trump have a bargaining chip as he continues his trade talks with Japan, China, and the European Union.

The auto industry is taking action to prevent the new tariffs through lobbying and coordinating “fly-ins,” bringing in dealers and top auto executives to argue their position at the Capitol. This aggressive measure is happening due to the amount of damage 25 percent import tariffs could have on the auto industry; encompassing a steep increase in vehicle expenses, and hundreds of thousands of job losses. A 2018 Center for Automotive Research study puts this damage into calculated amounts. It estimates an increase in new vehicle prices by $4,400, imported vehicle prices by $6, 875 and domestically-made vehicle prices by $2,270. The research study also provides the estimated number of jobs that will be lost, which is at more than 700,000.

In addition to the monetary damage, it can be assumed these tariffs would cause additional trade or business strains with other countries. The business relationships the U.S. auto industry has with other countries are already strained with the decline in auto sales, the rise in interest rates, the increase in vehicle transaction prices, and President Trump’s recently passed steel and aluminum tariffs. These 25 percent tariffs, metaphorically speaking, would only be fuel to the fire.

It is still uncertain whether or not the auto industry will succeed in its lobbying effort or if President Trump will pass the 25 percent tariff. According to section 232 Trump has until May 18 to make a decision. However, as stated by White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, President Trump may take longer.

Fiat Works to Be in Compliance with EPA

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has begun a phased campaign to become compliant with the United States Environmental Protection Agency(EPA). To become compliant with emissions standards, FCA has recalled almost 900,000 vehicles; making it similar to some of the recent high profile recall campaigns. Some that come to mind are the Takata airbag inflators recall or Volkswagen diesel car recall.

This recall began after the FCA found and alerted the EPA to an issue discovered during customary in-use testing on aging vehicles as mandatorily set by federal regulations. The tests exposed the washcoat inside the catalytic converters were being affected by the sulfur in the gasoline; causing them to fail.

According to the FCA, every vehicle recalled has a four-cylinder engine and a catalytic converter. The purpose of the campaign the FCA is performing is to replace all these catalytic converters and perform engine calibration on the recalled vehicles.

While the FCA will not disclose how much this recall will be it can be deduced this process will become inherently expensive due to two reasons. One, the total number of replacements that will have to take place. Two, the replacement of the catalytic converters; involving valuable metals and costly, labor-intensive work. Based on estimations of the usual 40 percent retail margin on repair parts, the FCA will have to pay about 370 dollars for each converter.

To offset this no doubt expensive process, the FCA can recycle the used catalytic converters obtained from the recalled vehicles. Fairly common for the FCA to do, it can recycle the following materials from the catalytic converters: platinum, palladium, and rhodium.

As for the labor involved with catalytic converters, there is no clear way to cut costs. Since every vehicle is different, some of them may require multiple parts to be removed before there is clear access to the converter. Additionally, every vehicle has a different amount of exposure or damage. So damaging factors such as road salt, rust, or brittle bolts could not only make it difficult to reach the converter but add time to each repair.

Beside expenses, another concern the FCA has to face is customer engagement. While emissions issue is important, it is not held in as high regard as something such as a safety issue would to customers. Consequently, getting owners to bring in their vehicle, may be difficult.

The FCA plans to face the obstacle of customer engagement with their “recall playbook”. The FCA sent news of the recall by mail, which started last month. If this form of communication does not work, the FCA is prepared to go a step further and change course; going as far as to notifying consumers through social media.