Toyota, GM, Ford; EVs, AVs and ADAS

By Gary S. Vasilash

Last week Norihiko Shirouzu of Reuters reported “Toyota is considering a reboot of its electric-car strategy to better compete in a booming market it has been slow to enter.”

Toyota’s Prius is synonymous with “hybrid.” The company has pretty much hybridized everything. It argues—or maybe that would be “argued”—that it is better to build a whole bunch of affordable hybrids than a comparatively few electric vehicles that are comparatively more expensive: according to Kelley Blue Book, the average price of an electric vehicle in the U.S. in September was $65,291. The average transaction price for vehicles overall, KBB calculated, was $48,094. Which is roughly a 27% delta, which is certainly non-trivial.

Yes, this is a Prius. (Image: Toyota)

Be that as it may, Shirouzu’s sources indicated that “Toyota’s planning had assumed demand for EVs would not take off for several decades.” Which is decidedly not the case.

So is Toyota making a pivot? That is one of the subjects discussed on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.” Joining “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me are automotive consultant/analyst Jack Keebler and long-time auto journalist, currently freelancing at Autoweek, Todd Lassa.

Other topics discussed are the Q3 earnings of both General Motors and Ford, as well as those companies positions on autonomous driving: GM continues to be bullish on the prospects for Cruise, still anticipating revenue of $1-billion from the operation by 2025; Ford is far more conservative, as it announced that Argo AI, the AV company that was owned primarily by it and Volkswagen (each had 39%), was closing. Ford going forward would focus more on Level 2+ and Level 3 ADAS. (Ford CEO Jim Farley: “It’s mission-critical for Ford to develop great and differentiated L2+ and L3 applications that at the same time make transportation even safer.”)

The conversation is wide ranging and lively. And you can see it here.

Mike Ramsey on Autonomy and Electrification

By Gary S. Vasilash

Mike Ramsey, as a vp and analyst for Gartner on the topics of Automotive and Smart Mobility, spends his time researching and thinking about those two topics and consulting with a wide array of people in the auto industry on the subjects. And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Ramsey talks to “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me about, primarily the subjects of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and electric vehicles (EVs).

Although AVs are getting far less attention than EVs, Ramsey suggests that work continues apace on the development of the technology. One of the factors that is going to play a big difference for the greater availability of AVs, Ramsey says, is a decrease in the cost of sensor technology (e.g., lidar). This will help make the calculations for the function more in line with what are automotive economics.

Ramsey suggests that with the amount of data that Tesla is collecting from its vehicles it may be in a prime position to make the move to actual full self-driving capability—but Ramsey underscores that it is probably not going to be with the present setup of sensors that are currently used for the various Tesla models.

EVs are going to be more widely accepted, Ramsey says—but this will require that the price points of the vehicles have to go down in order for people to be able to get into the vehicles, with most of the models out there being in the luxury pricing strata.

Another thing that needs to be addressed vis-à-vis EVs is the charging infrastructure, which many consumers have found to be quite disappointing. Ramsey thinks that automotive OEMs are going to have to think long(er) and hard(er) about what their role in charging needs to be because no matter how good the product is, if the charging experience is a negative one (a recent J.D. Power study on charging found that people are not exactly pleased with their experiences), then that will reflect poorly on the whole undertaking.

You can see the show here.

Talking Tech With NVIDIA

By Gary S. Vasilash

NVIDIA is a company that was once familiar primarily to gamers because of the GPU chips that it had developed that made rendering both fast and highly detailed.

Now NVIDIA is as familiar to those in the auto world, as it is working with Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes, Volvo and more.

Lucid Motors is using NVIDIA tech in its Air. BYD has announced it is working with the company, as well.

NVIDIA developing maps for autonomous driving operations. (Image: NVIDIA)

What’s interesting is that these companies are using NVIDIA tech to build systems that provide the characteristics that they are looking for to make their vehicles distinctive.

NVIDIA is not merely producing processors that have massive processing capability—the Jetson Orion operates at up to 275 TOPS—that’s trillion operations per second—but it is developing software that will help facilitate autonomous driving operations.

The company has developed a mapping system that not only features information collected by specific vehicles, but which takes in crowdsourced information so that there is an accurate representation of what is going on: say a construction zone has popped up since that information was collected. The system has it.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” NVIDIA vice president of Automotive Danny Shapiro discusses what the company is doing and how it is doing it.

Arguably NVIDIA is at the forefront of developing the technology that will change transportation in many ways.

He talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Joe White of Reuters and me.

And during the second half of the show McElroy, White and I discuss a variety of topics, including the opening of the Tesla plant in Berlin, the speculation that Porsche might build the long-rumored Apple car, the announced range of the Ford F-150 Lighting, and a variety of other subjects.

And you can see it all here.

Purpose-Built for Delivery

Although electric vehicles are generally thought of in the context of, say, a Tesla, and while autonomous vehicles (AVs) are something that will allow drivers to become passengers, there is a whole realm of other electric AVs that are being developed.

One is going into trials later this year, the Faction D1.

Driverless EV for deliveries. (Image: Faction)

Faction Technology focuses on the development of driverless tech for logistics applications.

It teamed with Arcimoto, which builds small, three-wheeled electric vehicles.

Ain McKendrick, CEO of Faction, said of the Faction D1 development, “Scalable driverless vehicle systems require engineering from the chassis up, and by leveraging the revolutionary Arcimoto Platform, we’re able to develop our driverless system much faster than using legacy vehicle designs. The end result will be a rightsized, ultra-efficient driverless delivery vehicle that reduces pollution and drives down costs for local and last-mile delivery fleets.”

The vehicle has a top speed of 75 mph and a range of about 100 miles. It can handle 500 pounds of cargo.

That 75 mph seems a bit, well, quick for even pizza delivery.

What Happened to Local Motors?

By Gary S. Vasilash

Justin Fishkin was the chief strategy officer at Local Motors for seven years (2011 to 2018), then senior advisor for the firm for two years after that.

Local Motors seemed to have it all going for it in terms of what it was doing and how it was doing it.

It was crowd sourcing design. It was using 3D printing to the extent that others were only dreaming about. It was developing vehicles fast. It was putting autonomy into application. It was creating mobility systems.

Olli: Electric. Autonomous. Built in a microfactory. (Image: Local Motors)

From Wired to IMTS Today and an array of media outlets in between, Local Motors was the “it” company in the transportation field.

And a few weeks ago word leaked out that Local Motors was closing up shop.

So on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Fishkin talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Chris Paukert of Roadshow by CNET and me about what the company set out to do and what conceivably happened.

One of the primary factors, Fishkin suggests, is that there was a case of mission creep in that the company found itself stretching in different directions as different constituents became involved in the company.

They went from crowdsourcing designs that led to vehicles like the Rally Fighter, 3D printing an entire vehicle (the Strati) then creating Olli, a compact people-mover with autonomous capabilities, and along the way created fans and attracted companies that wanted to get some of the “stuff” that was allowing the company to do what it was doing.

An early intention was to have micromanufacturing capabilities set up as a network such that there would be the development of vehicles that would lend themselves to specific markets. The company ended up having two, in Chandler, Arizona and Knoxville, Tennessee

It also built a demo microfactory in National Harbor; GE Firstbuild built a microfactory in Louisville, Kentucky, with Local Motors’ assistance.

In addition to GE, Local Motors worked with companies including Airbus and Siemens. All of which is to get to the point that this was something real, not speculative.

Its Olli had deployments in Buffalo, New York; Turin, Italy; Sacramento, California; Arlington, Virginia; Holdfast Bay, Australia; Akron, Ohio; Dunedin, Florida; Jacksonville, Florida; Clarksburg, Maryland; Yellowstone, Wyoming; Thuwal, Saudi Arabia; Durham, Florida; Marysville, Ohio; Neustadt, Germany; Jacksonville, Florida; Palo Alto, California; Concord, California; Ghent, Belgium; Lake Nona, Florida; Peachtree Corners, Georgia; Peoria, Arizona; Whitby, Canada; Toronto, Canada; and Crozet, Virginia, yet in the broader scheme of things, that is but a handful of places.

Fishkin also talks about his current activities with a startup Future/Of, which is helping, well, startups. One of the companies Fishkin is working with is Biliti, Inc., a company that is producing electric three-wheelers for last-mile transport.

But not just startups, he notes. As he puts it, “Future/Of works with organizations to scale disruptive business models and frontier technologies.” Which established companies can benefit from. And NGOs.

Still, in the context of Local Motors and where it came to, the question becomes where will micromobility and distributed microfactories go? This is a question that Fishkin help provide some solid perspective on.

And you can see it right here.

Lincoln Approaches 100

Yet it is working to maintain freshness and relevance in the market by paying attention to the market

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the aspects of vehicle ownership that probably doesn’t receive as much attention as it ought to is the act of ownership itself.

As in purchasing the vehicle. Then the on-going owning of the vehicle.

To be sure, the product itself has to be worth acquiring. Features, functions, capabilities and the like. Style and technology.

Lincoln, which is now predicated on a lineup of SUVs, is going to be launching an electric vehicle next year and will be offering a fully electrified lineup by 2030.

Lincoln is readying the launch of the Lincoln Intelligence System, a cloud-based system that provides extensive capabilities for its vehicles, including over-the-air updates.

Lincoln will soon be launching its Lincoln ActiveGlide hands-free driving system.

And there is more.

But one of the more interesting aspects of what Lincoln has been steadily doing is providing excellent customer—it calls its purchasers “clients”—service. According to a recent J.D. Power survey, Lincoln is number-one in sales satisfaction among luxury brands.

2022 Lincoln Navigator (Image: Lincoln)

It has developed what it calls the “Lincoln Way,” which is a customer-centric approach to the buying and ownership experience, which it is initially launching in China—an important market for the brand—and then will roll out in North America.

Michael Sprague is Lincoln’s North America Director, which means he is in charge of marketing, sales and service for the marque in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Sprague talks to “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me about what Lincoln is doing to help increase the momentum that it is building with not only vehicles like the Navigator, but with its approach to the customer both during and after the sale.

Sprague is one of the most thoughtful and articulate people in the industry, so his observations about the brand—which will be 100 next year (at least will have been part of Ford for 100 years, since it was founded by Henry M. Leland in 1917, and he sold it to Ford in 1922. . .and it is worth noting that Leland had earlier founded another company: Cadillac)—are worthwhile for those with interest in the industry.

In addition to which, McElroy and I talk with Patrick Lindemann, president, Transmission Systems, E-Mobility, Schaeffler, and John Waraniak, CEO, Have Blue, about the Indy Autonomous Challenge, which will be run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 23.

This race will pit 10 vehicles, all Dallara AV-21s, that have been engineered by student teams from around the world, in a race with $1-million going to the winning team.

No, it will not go to the winning driver, because as the name of the race indicates, there are no drivers, this is an autonomous event.

And you can see all of this right here.

How Autonomy Will Really Start

Why Ford, Argo AI and Walmart are going to be making a difference in the implementation of the tech

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although many people think—or imagine—that autonomous driving is going to occur from a company like Tesla, which will allow people to do whatever while their vehicle chauffeurs them to wherever, in point of fact, that is not going to be the case for a variety of reasons, not the least of which that sensors and processors are expensive, and even though there are some people who are willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money for something that claims to be “full” but is really more than half empty, OEMs are going to need to have assurance that there are going to be many more than a few who are willing to buy the tech.

But while consumers might not opt to spend the money, commercial carriers are likely to if they can determine that the tech is going to provide them with an economic advantage.

Ford, Argo AI and Walmart are driving autonomous tech forward. (Image: Ford)

Which makes the announcement by Ford, Argo AI and Walmart about the retailer using vehicles from Ford (Escape Hybrids) and self-driving technology from Argo AI to launch an autonomous delivery service for the “last-mile” in Miami, Austin, and Washington, DC, all the more significant.

These are mass-manufactured vehicles that are going to be put work by the world’s largest retailer in urban settings doing driving that will conceivably provide an ROI to Walmart, if not immediately, then at some point in the future.

Tom Ward, senior vice president of last mile delivery at Walmart U.S., said, “This collaboration will further our mission to get product to the homes of our customers with unparalleled speed and ease, and in turn, will continue to pave the way for autonomous delivery.”

The way this will work is that the Walmart online ordering platform will send information to the Argo AI cloud-based infrastructure, which will then calculate the necessary scheduling and routing.

The point is that this is all predicated on business processes.

And that’s what is going to make actual autonomy a real thing long before something shows up in your driveway that will take you from somewhere to somewhere else while you sit in the back seat eating a hot dog and watching Netflix.

Know that this is something of a journey as Ford and Argo AI have been testing their tech on city streets since 2018, the same year that Ford and Walmart ran a test in Miami. It takes time, effort and consistency of purpose.

The technology needs to be developed, tested, validated and verified.

It is not the consequence of an over-the-air update that follows a tweet.

Aurora and Volvo

Commercial trucks on the way to autonomy

By Gary S. Vasilash

If you read the sentence, “Sally drove her HEMI-powered Charger down Woodward” you probably know that the vehicle, the Charger, has a massive engine under its hood, a HEMI. (The “Woodward” part is just for color: M1 is a street in greater Detroit upon which countless HEMIs traveling one-quarter-mile at a time.)

When you read the line “the Aurora-powered Volvo VNL” and know that the VNL is Volvo Trucks’ big rig, Class 8 truck, you might wonder what kind of powertrain the “Aurora” is.

Volvo VNL being equipped with the Aurora Driver. (Image: Aurora)

But of course it isn’t.

Rather, Aurora, as in the self-driving technology development company, has integrated its “Aurora Driver,” its sensor suite for Level 4 autonomous driving, into the Volvo VNL.

The truck is actually being powered—in the Sally sense—by the Volvo D13 Turbo Compound engine that can produce up to 455 hp.

As for the Aurora implementation, the company is working to assure that the Aurora hardware and software are fully integrated into the architecture of the VNL so that Volvo will be able to produce the L4-capable trucks in its plant in Dublin, Virginia.

Driving Done Remotely

Imagine being driven in an autonomous vehicle that’s being controlled by someone who is remote

By Gary S. Vasilash

Most companies that are developing autonomous driving technology for vehicles—companies like Waymo and Argo AI and Cruise—are doing so such that the autonomous vehicle is. . .autonomous.

The sensors and the processors and the actuators necessary to making a given vehicle drive without human input are all embedded in said vehicle.

Teleoperation in Berlin. (Image: Vay)

Sure, the vehicle may access the cloud every now and then for an update of some sort (e.g., perhaps for some information regarding location), but otherwise autonomous is as autonomous does.

But then there’s a company out of Berlin named Vay.

Vay’s approach to autonomy is different.

Vay has developed a “teledriving” system.

This means that there is a “teledriver.” Someone who is not in the vehicle but who is in control of the vehicle.

Think of it, perhaps, like an air traffic controller combined with someone who is playing some version of Forza.

Vay co-founder and CEO Thomas von der Ohe: “As our system does not rely on expensive 360-degree lidar sensors, and is therefore comparatively inexpensive, our way of rolling out driverless vehicles will not only enable consumers to experience driverless mobility sooner, but also provide a highly scalable solution that can be integrated into every car.”

It seems that the plan is learn from the teleoperation so that they will be able to roll out autonomous features gradually.

Vay has vehicles operating in Berlin right now, but there are safety drivers on board. The company believes that they will be able to operate fully teledriven next year.

What Does a LiDAR System “See”?

“LiDAR” is “light detection and ranging.” It is a key element to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) as well as autonomous driving systems

By Gary S. Vasilash

In case you ever wondered about what a LiDAR system might “see,” here is a picture of a LiDAR point cloud that includes HD resolution and long-distance range.

AEye LiDAR image. (Image: Continental)

It is worth noting that this image, from LiDAR developer AEye, isn’t necessarily the output of all systems.

Each LiDAR system developer essentially has its own approach to how the laser beams are sent out and returned and for how far and how often etc., etc., etc.

Supplier Continental has been working with AEye for the past 10 months and has now announced that it will be using the LiDAR system in its suite of hardware and software for autonomous driving systems (Level 2+ to Level 4).

In industry parlance this is known as a “stack.”

So the AEye LiDAR hardware and software will be part of the Continental stack, which will also include cameras and radar.

The rule in developing autonomous driving capability is that the more sensors the better.

Or, as Frank Petznick, head of Continental’s ADAS Business Unit, put it, “Reliable and safe automated and autonomous driving functions will not be feasible without bringing the strengths of all sensor technologies together.”

Let’s face it: If you’re in a vehicle that is driving itself, you want as many sensors and computers as possible to keep you safe when going from A to B.

Continental anticipates that it will start producing the AEye long-range LiDAR systems in production volumes by 2024.

One more interesting thing about this. While the AEye system is long range (1,000 meters), Continental has a solid-state short-range high resolution 3D flash LiDAR that it will be bringing to the market later this year.

When you hear a certain individual talking about how autonomous driving can be done with a single type of sensor and a smart processor, realize that companies like Continental aren’t creating stacks because they just like complexity.

They don’t.

They do like to assure safety.