Are Smart Dealers Making a Wise Decision? Dealers Drop Out As Ohio Proves EVs Sell and Daimler Launches Radical Concept

Photo of Autonomous concept car smart vision EQ fortwoJust weeks after more than two-thirds of Smart’s U.S. dealerships elected to stop selling the small vehicle following news that the brand would be shifting to all-electric, the next-generation “Smart vision EQ fortwo” concept vehicle has been introduced. The most prominent feature of the Smart concept is what isn’t there: no steering wheel or pedals.

Photo of interior of Smart concept vision EQ fortwo.Smart Vision

Designed to showcase a new vision of urban mobility, the concept vehicle expands on parent company Daimler’s long range “EQ” plan and offers a glimpse into what Daimler has in mind for the future, which includes ten electric vehicles scheduled to launch by 2022. (Smart is a division of Daimler AG and is distributed in the U.S. by Mercedes-Benz USA.)

Smart’s concept is a shared autonomous electric vehicle that will pick up passengers directly from their designated location. And don’t worry about getting into the wrong car, as so many of us have with Uber and Lyft (even with real drivers at the wheel!). Daimler’s future autonomous vehicles will solve that problem with a message board displaying the name and photo of the next passenger on the front of the vehicle:

Photo of message board on front of Smart concept vision EQ fortwo.“The Smart vision EQ fortwo is our vision of future urban mobility; it is the most radical car sharing concept car of all: fully autonomous, with maximum communication capabilities, friendly, comprehensively personalizable and, of course, electric,” says Smart CEO Annette Winkler. “With the Smart vision EQ fortwo, we are giving a face to the themes with which Mercedes-Benz Cars describes the vision of future mobility within the CASE strategy.”

CASE stands for Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric, and this strategy is a significant undertaking at Daimler. As described by Chairman of the Board Dieter Zetsche, “each of [the CASE features] has the power to turn our entire industry upside down. But the true revolution is in combining them in a comprehensive, seamless package.”

Smart Strategy

Most of the 27 remaining Smart dealerships are in states with zero-emission vehicle requirements, and a cynic would conclude that EVs can’t make it without a regulatory requirement or heavy subsidies. But that’s not true, as evidenced by Germain Motor Group’s decision to continue selling electric Smarts in Columbus, Ohio, a state with no zero emission vehicle (ZEV) requirement. Unusually high demand for electric vehicles in Columbus appears to be driven by a coordinated emphasis of the benefits of decarbonizing transportation and an effort to mitigate obstacles to charging and driving electric vehicles.

This is all happening because Columbus, the winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, is launching the Smart Columbus Electrification Plan. “Columbus has established itself as a leader in electrification with its ‘Smart Columbus’ initiative,” Germain COO John Malishenko wrote in an email reported by Automotive News. “It’s well funded and focused on making Columbus a leader in alternative transportation solutions, so for that reason, we’ve decided to stay put.”

The fact that sales in Columbus remain at a level high enough to warrant keeping the dealership open in the absence of a regulatory mandate demonstrates that a concerted effort to shift behavior can cause meaningful change for the better. Only time will tell whether the 58 departing dealers should have stayed Smart.

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GM Completes First Step Toward Mass Production of Autonomous Bolt EV

Photo of Chevy Autonomous Bolt EV Assembly Line.(Photos by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)

General Motors today announced that it completed production of 130 Chevrolet Bolt EV test vehicles equipped with its next generation of self-driving technology at its Orion Assembly Plant located in Orion Township, Michigan. This is unique in the automotive world because GM is the first company to assemble self-driving test vehicles in a mass-production facility, an undertaking the company began in January.

“This production milestone brings us one step closer to making our vision of personal mobility a reality,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “Expansion of our real-world test fleet will help ensure that our self-driving vehicles meet the same strict standards for safety and quality that we build into all of our vehicles.”

The self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV features GM’s latest array of equipment, including LIDAR, cameras, sensors and other hardware designed to accelerate development of a safe and reliable fully autonomous vehicle. The vehicles being produced in Orion Township will join the more than 50 current-generation self-driving Bolt EVs already deployed in testing fleets in San Francisco; Scottsdale, Arizona; and metro Detroit.

“To achieve what we want from self-driving cars, we must deploy them at scale,” said Cruise Automation CEO Kyle Vogt. “By developing the next-generation self-driving platform in San Francisco and manufacturing these cars in Michigan, we are creating the safest and most consistent conditions to bring our cars to the most challenging urban roads that we can find.” GM and Cruise Automation engineers have been testing Chevrolet Bolt EVs equipped with self-driving technology on public roads in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona, since June 2016 and on public roads in Warren, Michigan, since January 2017.

Referring to the synergetic relationship between electric and autonomous technology at a ceremony commemorating today’s milestone at Orion, GM’s Barra observed that the Bolt “has the onboard power capacity to operate the complex computing systems necessary for self-driving vehicles [and] it provides clear benefits for the urban environments where autonomous vehicles are most likely to be introduced – including zero emissions and quiet operation.”

The Bolt EV provides an EPA-estimated 238 miles per charge at a price below $30,000 after government incentives. GM characterizes the Bolt as “a zero-emissions car that is a technology platform, is fun to drive and puts our commitment to sustainability in our customers’ hands.” The Bolt builds on GM’s electrification experience that began with the Chevrolet Volt in 2010, and whose owners have now logged more than 2.5 billion electric miles.

The National Safety Council estimates as many as 40,000 people died in motor vehicles crashes in the U.S. last year, a 6-percent increase over 2015, and more than 90 percent of crashes are attributable to human error. “That is something that autonomous vehicles have the potential to eliminate,” said Vogt.

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Audi Announces Three Electric Vehicles by 2020, Launches Autonomous Vehicle Subsidiary

Photo of Audi e-tron quattro concept.
Audi e-tron quattro concept (photo courtesy Audi AG)

Following up on the 2015 introduction of a concept for a 300+ mile all-electric luxury-class sport SUV, Audi today announced plans to introduce three battery-electric “e-tron” models by the year 2020 and to electrify additional models after that. The first e-tron will be an SUV that will go on sale next year. An e-tron Sportback will follow in 2019, and a compact hatchback built on the company’s MEB platform is expected in 2020.

Demonstrating the company’s commitment to electric vehicles (EVs), Audi explained that it has already trained more than 6,000 employees to work with high-voltage technology and is involved in developing public fast-charging infrastructure to support the company’s new vehicles.

For the U.S. in particular, Audi has established Electrify America, an organization whose mission includes (1) investing in EV charging infrastructure, (2) increasing awareness and fostering education about EVs, and (3) launching a Green City initiative in a yet-to-be-named California municipality.

Photo of Audi RS 3 Sedan, Audi RS 3 Sportback.In addition to expanding electric mobility, Audi is investing in self-driving cars through a new subsidiary called “Autonomous Intelligent Driving GmbH.” The group, whose technology will benefit not only Audi but also the entire Volkswagen family of brands, will first focus on developing systems for autonomous vehicles in cities. Potential applications of the technology the group envisions include autonomous taxis.

Audi is also developing assisted and piloted systems for other traffic situations, such as on highways or country roads. In the new Audi A8, for example, customers will for the first time be able to use Level 3 automated driving functions at speeds up to 60 km/h. Level 3 autonomy means that the vehicle is capable of monitoring the driving environment and accelerating, decelerating, and steering independently, while relying on a human driver to intervene on demand.

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Toyota Set to Unveil Compact Electric Concept Vehicle

Next month’s Geneva International Motor Show will feature the world premiere of Toyota’s “i-TRIL Concept.” Developed by Toyota Motor Europe in collaboration with the company’s ED² design studio in Nice, Toyota is promoting this electric motor powered concept as a showcase for numerous aspects of Toyota’s research into “engaging environmentally-friendly mobility solutions.”

Information is scarce in advance of the March 7 unveiling but Toyota has released a few hints, including that the concept will feature some degree of autonomy and a one-plus-two seating layout, which means one seat in the front and two in the back. The i-TRIL concept will also feature Toyota’s “Active Lean” technology, which is designed to improve maneuverability and stability on turns.

According to Toyota, the vehicles that will follow the i-TRIL concept will compete with the A and B segment markets, other electric vehicles, and motorcycles. The terms A-segment and B-segment are European designations, but such vehicles are sold worldwide. Examples of A-segment vehicles sold in the U.S. include the Fiat 500 and the Mini, and examples of the B-segment include the Audi A1, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, and Toyota Yaris.

Expectations are that Toyota will do its best to differentiate the i-TRIL concept vehicle from more traditional offerings, as indicated by the company’s promise that, “even as slow speeds in the urban environment,” the i-TRIL concept will be fun to drive.

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Faraday Future Unveils All-Electric “FF 91” Supercar

Photo of Faraday Future FF 91.Faraday Future yesterday unveiled its first production vehicle, the all-electric “FF 91” (referred to as the “FF nine-one”). With 1050 horsepower produced by a 783 kW motor, this pre-production supercar accelerates from 0 to 60 in an eye-popping 2.39 seconds. More important to most drivers, though, is that the FF 91 carries a massive 130 kWh battery. With more electric energy storage capacity than any other vehicle, Faraday states that the FF 91 achieves an EPA-estimated range of 378 miles.

The battery technology Faraday is developing with LG Chem is doubtlessly impressive, but EV drivers should expect a horserace between leading OEMs in battery capacity. As an example of this fierce competition, Tesla’s P100D’s range today is 337 miles. By the time the FF 91 enters production, Tesla (or another EV manufacturer such as NextEV’s NIO or Lucid Motors) could well match or surpass that benchmark.ff91_detail_vpaWith such a large battery, charging speeds have to increase from most of today’s charging technology, which is generally designed to serve vehicles with batteries less than half the size Faraday plans. For this reason, the FF 91 can accept a 200 kW charge (think of this as charging at a peak rate of 500 miles in an hour). For comparison, most DC fast chargers today top out at 50 kW (comparable to 200 miles in an hour). A notable exception is Tesla, whose superchargers are 145 kW. Meanwhile, Porsche is working on 350 kW charging, so high speed charging is a technology sure to see significant change.

The FF 91 also features autonomous driving technology, as impressively demonstrated at the unveiling when an unmanned vehicle drove through a parking lot looking for an empty space, then perfectly backed in and notified the person who had been driving where to find it. While at first a vehicle’s ability to park itself may seem rather insignificant, think how nice it would be to be dropped off at a building’s entrance while your car parks itself.

Based at least in part on Faraday Future’s relationship with Chinese infotainment giant LeEco, Faraday vehicles will possess technology capable of learning driver and passenger preferences over time. Examples include seating positions, favorite music and movies, ideal temperatures, and driving style settings. Faraday Future is also introducing advanced facial recognition technology – called Arrival Interface – allowing drivers and passengers to unlock the car without a key. Photo of FF 91's "Arrival Interface."A camera installed in the B-pillar between the front and back seats can accurately identify the user’s face to grant vehicle entry. Similarly, interior cameras use this technology to recognize users and automatically adjust interior settings to their preferences.

Faraday is now accepting reservations for the FF 91. A $5,000 deposit the company states is refundable guarantees a priority position once production begins; potential customers unwilling to put up a lot of cash without knowing key factors such as what the interior will look like or the ultimate price of the vehicle can register an “intent to reserve” at no cost. The company announced plans to begin production in 2018.

The FF 91’s unveiling is a much-needed bright spot for Faraday, which in recent months has suffered from an exodus of prominent personnel, troubled financing, and construction delays. Nonetheless, said Nick Sampson, the company’s SVP of research and development and a former Tesla engineer, “Despite all the naysayers, the skeptics, we will persist, we will carry on, to make the impossible possible.”

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With 300-Mile EV, Mercedes-Benz Flips the Switch on Electric Mobility and Launches “Generation EQ”

Mercedes-Benz today unveiled an aggressive plan to electrify its fleet. Dubbed “Generation EQ” (EQ stands for Electric Intelligence), the first glimpse of the future is an all-wheel drive sport SUV coupe concept (shown above) having an output of approximately 400 horsepower (with 0 to 60 mph in under 5 seconds) and an all-electric range of more than 300 miles.

Speaking at the Paris Auto Show, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche explained that:

The mobility of the future at Mercedes-Benz will stand on four pillars: Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric. Generation EQ is the logical fusion of all four pillars.

Elaborating on the particular subject of electrification, Zetsche announced that “the emission-free automobile is the future.” Recognizing the consumer interest and regulatory imperative to reduce tailpipe emissions, Generation EQ is the clearest signal to date that Mercedes is committed to the transition from gasoline to electric transportation.

Mercedes’ new generation of electric vehicles will be based on an architecture developed specifically for battery-electric models, and which the company says is scalable in every respect and is usable across all models. For example, all system components, especially the batteries (which can be configured to exceed 70 kWh of storage), are variable thanks to a modular building-block system. Vehicle weight is an important consideration with regard to safety, fuel efficiency, and cost, and Mercedes’ new vehicle architecture builds on an intelligent multi-material mix of steel, aluminum and carbon fiber already incorporated in the company’s latest models.

Customization, Touch-Based Controls, and No Knobs

Mercedes Benz Generation EQ Concept Car InteriorThe focus of the driver-oriented cockpit is on simple, touch-based controls. The innovative digital user experience differentiates Generation EQ from the familiar controls in today’s vehicles, while giving a peek into the future of user interaction at Mercedes-Benz.

Unlike traditional dashboards containing a predetermined (and typically mechanical or physical) set of controls and displays, the Generation EQ concept features a massive and customizable 24-inch TFT high-definition wide-screen display presenting as much, or as little, information as the driver desires. In a nod to the fact that the vehicles will be all-electric, a clever and convenient feature is that the navigation display will inform the driver about their driving style and how to achieve the best possible range, while also showing all the destinations that can be reached based on the battery’s current state of charge and other relevant factors such as outside temperature and vehicle speed.

Features such as climate control and infotainment systems are controlled via touch controls on the digital display rather than physical buttons. Generation EQ also does away with conventional exterior mirrors; instead, cameras project an image of the traffic behind onto integrated displays in the doors.

Charging and Energy Technology

In keeping with Daimler’s commitment to the complete driving experience, Generation EQ offers a comprehensive electric mobility ecosystem with products, services, technologies, and innovations. The spectrum ranges from electric vehicles to wall-mounted chargers to charging services to home energy storage units. Mercedes-Benz will market future battery-electric vehicles under the brand name EQ.

Mercedes Benz Generation EQ Concept Car ExteriorWith regard to charging, Generation EQ brings together the latest technologies. The vehicle is ready for Level 2 wired and wireless charging, as well as for rapid charging at direct current (DC) fast chargers. Mercedes is adopting the Combined Charging System (CCS) protocol that is also generally being used by all of the European and American OEMs (other than Tesla). Today’s CCS chargers typically top out at 50 kW, though output up to 150 kW is possible. In the medium to long term, a charging capacity of up to 300 kW is planned. This would enable sufficient power for 60 locally emission-free miles to be recharged within five minutes.

Many EV drivers like the ability to charge their vehicles using solar power but this is not always possible, for example when the vehicle is not home during the day when the sun is shining. To serve this market, Mercedes will be offering battery systems so that solar energy produced but not consumed by other electrical devices in the home can be stored for later use. Policies relating to home solar production vary greatly by utility and by jurisdiction, so before investing in stationary batteries customers should explore the economics of storing excess energy vs selling it back to the grid.

Autonomy

Mercedes Benz Generation EQ Concept Car ExteriorNo major announcement would be complete without a discussion of autonomous driving technology, and Generation EQ checks that box. Using highly accurate maps, the vehicle’s systems know millions of data points, including for complex scenarios such as traffic circles. By intelligently combining a massive amount of information from many difference sensors and data sources, a process Mercedes calls “sensor fusion,” the vehicle can automatically adjust the speed and driving dynamics to assist the driver in a wide range of situations.

Anticipating a future in which cars will talk to each other as well as to surrounding infrastructure, Mercedes is incorporating “Vehicle-to-X” technology. This will be important for services such as safe autonomous driving, notice of relevant information (including but not limited to safety), enhanced navigation, and route options to maximize mileage based on the battery’s state of charge and information about charging stations when necessary.

The concept vehicle unveiled today is described as “close to production,” and will be the foundation for battery-electric vehicles across all models, from the compact to the luxury class.

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Demand for Powerful Technology Drives Electronics Suppliers Together

Renesas and Intersil logosSensing that the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts in a rapidly growing market for smart products, Renesas Electronics Corporation, a premier supplier of advanced semiconductor solutions, and Intersil Corporation, a leading provider of innovative power management and precision analog solutions, announced they have signed a definitive agreement for Renesas to acquire Intersil for $3.2 billion. The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2017 pending stockholder and governmental approvals.

The acquisition combines two long-standing industry leaders in their respective segments and is consistent with a recent pattern of similar transactions among the companies’ peers. The need for Renesas and Intersil to bulk up by combining resources is caused by the extremely prominent role that semiconductor-based technology is taking in products large and small.

For example, goods ranging from light bulbs to automobiles are increasingly differentiating themselves based not on their core functions (i.e., lighting a room or transporting a passenger from Point A to Point B), but rather on cutting-edge value-added technology such as sensor-packed light bulbs, autonomous driving, and other “smart” features.Graphic of Renesas R-Car D1 Series of automotive SoCs specialized for 3D graphics clustersOne of many systems experiencing evolving complexity is vehicle instrument clusters. No longer content with basic analog dials, customers demand (and vehicle possess) huge amounts of information. One solution is the 3-dimensional graphical instrument cluster, behind many of which sits a Renesas semiconductor. These systems must be customizable by individual auto manufacturers while also possessing attributes including rapid startup, driver safety protection, resistance to hacking, and interoperability with a wide variety of communications interfaces. Meeting these and other strict requirements requires the supplier to be bigger than ever.

Graphic of Intersil integrated circuitIntersil, whose roots date to 1967, has developed market leadership in power management and precision analog technology for many of the most rigorous applications in the computing, consumer and industrial markets. One of the company’s many systems is an automotive battery management solution specifically designed to meet stringent safety, reliability, and performance requirements of next generation hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and battery electric vehicles. Intersil also owns other technology, including heads-up displays and infotainment systems for vehicles, that is complementary to Renesas.

By combining Renesas’s market-proven microcontroller (MCU) and system-on-chip (SoC) products and technologies with Intersil’s leading power management and precision analog capability, Renesas will be well positioned to address some of the most exciting opportunities in key areas such as automotive, industrial, cloud computing, healthcare, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

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Volvo Cars and Autoliv to Create Joint Venture for Autonomous Driving Technology

Volvo Cars and Autoliv to create joint venture for autonomous drivingVolvo Cars today announced the signing of a letter of intent with Autoliv to set up a new jointly-owned company to develop next-generation autonomous driving software. The planned new company will have its headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden, and an initial workforce taken from both companies of around 200, increasing to over 600 in the medium term. The company is expected to start operations in the beginning of 2017.

The joint venture will create a new entrant in the growing global market for autonomous driving software systems. This marks the first time a leading premium car maker has joined forces with a tier one supplier to develop new advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous drive (AD) technologies. The new company, which has yet to be named, will develop ADAS and AD systems for use in Volvo cars and for sale exclusively by Autoliv to all car makers globally, with revenues shared by both companies.

This joint venture is an extension of Volvo’s established reputation for making some of the world’s safest cars, and the company’s medium-term vision is that no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by 2020. Autoliv bills itself as the leading supplier of active and passive safety systems to the world’s car makers for more than 60 years.

Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars, said: “By combining our know how and resources we will create a world leader in [autonomous drive] software development. This means we can introduce this exciting technology to our customers faster.”

Jan Carlson, chairman, chief executive and president of Autoliv, said: “There are no two companies that can claim to have done more for automotive safety worldwide than Autoliv and Volvo. This new company is a recognition of the fact that autonomous driving is the next step to transform road safety.”

Both Autoliv and Volvo Cars will licence and transfer the intellectual property for their ADAS systems to the joint venture. From this base the company will develop new ADAS technologies and AD systems. It expects to have its first ADAS products available for sale by 2019 with AD technologies available by 2021. Autoliv will be the exclusive supplier and distribution channel for all the new company’s products towards third parties, except Volvo Cars which will source directly from the new company. Its management will be comprised of representatives from Autoliv and Volvo Cars. Dennis Nobelius, managing director of Volvo Switzerland and formerly vice president vehicle line 90 at Volvo Cars, will be the chief executive of the new joint venture.

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Ford Joins Driverless Race; Targets 2021 For Mass-Market Vehicle

Photo of Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Vehicle (All photos © Ford)
Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Vehicle, photo © Ford
Ford Motor Company this week announced an extraordinarily aggressive timeframe for fully-autonomous vehicles to enter commercial operation. By 2021, the company intends to have a large number of fully autonomous (SAE Level 4-capable) vehicles in a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service. Level 4 autonomy means that the vehicle, without assistance from a human driver, is capable of:

  • monitoring the environment and conducting operational tasks such as steering, braking, and accelerating;
  • making tactical determinations such as responding to events, using signals, changing lanes, and turning; and
  • handling dynamic driving task requirements in situations such as expressway merging, high-speed cruising, and low-speed traffic jams.

“The next decade will be defined by automation of the automobile, and we see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” said Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO. “We’re dedicated to putting on the road an autonomous vehicle that can improve safety and solve social and environmental challenges for millions of people – not just those who can afford luxury vehicles.”

To achieve commercial operation of a high-volume vehicle with no steering wheel, accelerator, or brake pedal, the company is:

  • investing in or collaborating with four startups to enhance its autonomous vehicle development;
  • doubling its Silicon Valley team and more than doubling its Palo Alto campus; and
  • this year, tripling its autonomous vehicle test fleet to what the company asserts will be the largest test fleet of any automaker –  30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans on the roads in California, Arizona and Michigan, with plans to triple it again next year.

Ford is engaged with many partners in developing technology such as advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LiDAR, and radar and camera sensors. The partners Ford highlighted in this week’s announcement include:

  • Velodyne, a Silicon Valley-based company developing light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors;
  • SAIPS, an Israel-based computer vision and machine learning company Ford has acquired to further strengthen its expertise in artificial intelligence and enhance computer vision;
  • Nirenberg Neuroscience LLC, a company which has developed a machine vision platform for performing navigation, object recognition, facial recognition and other functions; and
  • Civil Maps, a Berkeley, California-based company that is developping high-resolution 3D mapping capabilities.

This week’s announcement is another in a series of steps Ford has taken over the past 18 months to test new ideas and address transportation challenges. For example, in January, 2015, the company announced 25 experiments (YouTube video) scattered around the globe (eight in North America, nine in Europe and Africa, seven in Asia and one in South America) and designed to anticipate what customers will want and need in tomorrow’s transportation ecosystem.

The 25 experiments address four global megatrends challenging today’s transportation model and limiting personal mobility, especially in urban areas:

  1. Explosive population growth;
  2. An expanding middle class;
  3. Air quality and public health concerns; and
  4. Changing customer attitudes and priorities.

As many experts predict the need in the coming years to expand mobility options to millions, if not billions, of people who do not fit the traditional car-owner/driver profile, Ford is clearly investing significant resources to be ready to meet the opportunities.

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Apple’s Autonomous Electric Car Project Gets New Leader

Ford SYNC3 with Apple CarPlay; photo (C) Ford Motor Co.
Ford SYNC3 with Apple CarPlay; photo (C) Ford Motor Co.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that Bob Mansfield, a highly regarded senior executive at Apple whose portfolio has included the MacBook Air, iMac, iPad, and Apple Watch, will now oversee the company’s autonomous electric vehicle initiative. Although Apple has not yet publicly acknowledged that it is developing a vehicle, electric or otherwise, the company reportedly has hundreds of employees working on what is rumored to be called “Project Titan.”

Apple is already dipping its toes into the automotive world with CarPlay, which is technology that helps drivers safely and conveniently use their iPhones in the car. According to Apple’s website, every major automobile manufacturer has partnered with the company to support CarPlay, and as of today there are more than 100 models from which to choose (CarPlay is also available as an aftermarket add-on).

But CarPlay may turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg for the company with perhaps the world’s most enviable balance sheet and market capitalization. Apple CEO Tim Cook last year predicted “massive change” in the automotive industry, said he wants customers to have “an iPhone experience in their car” and observed that “software [will become] an increasingly important component of the car of the future.” To achieve the new paradigm Cook envisions, he explains that “software becomes an increasingly important component of the car of the future.” Cook also anticipates a shift from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles, along with “autonomous driving [becoming] much more important in a huge way.”

Certainly building a car from scratch is a task not for the faint-of-heart, but Mansfield’s assignment brings a leader with a record of delivering challenging technical products to market. Commenting on Apple’s vehicle-related efforts, Elon Musk commented last month that “I think it’s great [Apple is] doing this, and I hope it works out.”

Notwithstanding the hype, the Wall Street Journal also cites one person familiar with Mansfield who cautioned that Mansfield has killed projects in the past, and that his involvement isn’t necessarily a sign that the car project is ready to move forward at an accelerated rate. Given Mansfield’s broad experience, though, his appointment to head up this massive undertaking indicates the company intends to continue full-speed ahead.

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