The automotive business blog from Dave Leggett
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Nissan: autonomous car by 2020...
28 Aug 2013 12:58
The autonomous car or driverless vehicle is already here, isn't it? Well, yes and no. The Google Car is one example. Other manufacturers have produced similar concepts, packed with very clever radar, cameras and algorithms that can, in combination, work very effectively (and machines don't get tired; accidents ought to be fewer). So, yes, technically, it can be done.
But there are still plenty of questions to be answered ahead of their real deployment. The legal questions are obvious: who's driving and who's responsible? And then there's the question of what the consumer really wants. A high-tech featureless pod that gets you from A to B? Effectively, that's a taxi without a driver. Or a brand experience that still allows greater driver engagement?
Advanced driver assistance systems can help the driver to enjoy the driving experience more, let the technology actively bolster safety, take care of things that the driver doesn't want to worry about (like a slippery road surface). A line is crossed when the technologies can actually drive the car fully. While most of us would agree that driving a car - any car - is frequently one of those small pleasures in life, there are also times when it would undeniably be nice to switch to the automotive equivalent of autopilot and read a newspaper or take a nap (that may be a big issue eventually, allowing - or not - the scenario of the driver being asleep).
Nissan has suggested that it is aiming for autonomous drive in some of its vehicles by 2020. It sounds like an aggressive target and we'll be following progress closely. Here's an interesting video that looks at work going on with the 'swarm/shoal' aspect by which these vehicles could be helping each other.
Road trip: Hiroshima to Frankfurt
19 Aug 2013 14:30
I like to hear of tales of epic trips, by whatever transport mode. I guess it's that vicarious pleasure of discovering details - insights to lifestyles etc - of far away places that you are unfamiliar with. These days, of course, the technology helps with keeping bang up-to-date with progress. This epic trip from Mazda caught my eye. Hiroshima to Frankfurt by Mazda3; Siberia is a big place and still pretty mysterious. This 9,330 mile Mazda journey follows similar adventures in 1977 and 1990. Next one, I guess, will be number 4 in 2026.
Mazda has set up a nice website where you can monitor progress, see photos and tweets.
Latest press release
All-new Mazda3 hatchbacks cross Russia with resilience
- First three legs of 9,300 mile Hiroshima to Frankfurt marathon tour completed
- Mazda3 hatchbacks pass service check at Krasnoyarsk, Russia, dealership with flying colours
- British media and Mazda dealers from UK drove three legs of challenging route
- New driver teams to continue westwards through Siberia towards Moscow
The all-new Mazda3 hatchbacks taking part in the ‘Mazda Route3 - Hiroshima to Frankfurt Challenger Tour 2013' have successfully covered the first 3,300 miles of the route, arriving yesterday in the central Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk safe and sound. The convoy of eight cars has now completed the first three overland stages of the 9,300 mile expedition right on schedule despite often treacherous roads. The new hatchbacks are holding up superbly, as a service check by the local Mazda dealer confirmed.
British media and Mazda dealers from the UK were among the first crews to drive the Mazda3 test fleet when they participated in the first three legs of the epic tour from Vladivostok to Krasnoyars, via Blagoveshensk and Ulan-Ude.
Leg one, which started in Vladivostok, Russia's main Pacific port, on 3 August, ran parallel to the Chinese border and had a definite East Asian flavour. One of the big highlights was crossing the famous Amur River bridge in Khabarovsk, the 2.4 mile long marvel of engineering pictured on Russia's 5,000 rouble note. The stage ended with the Mazda3s driving into Blagoveshchensk.
Leg two, which welcomed a whole new group of drivers, followed the course of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The 1,430 mile drive included a side trip to the Ivolginsky Datsan, Russia's most important Buddhist temple and monastery. It also featured the tour's longest single day - more than 560 miles - and a spectacular variety of scenery, plus giant potholes and crumbling pieces of road.
The main highlight of stage three was undoubtedly Lake Baikal, where the newest participants were treated to a boat trip on the world's deepest, most voluminous freshwater lake. After a stopover in the shore-side town of Listvyanka, drivers were soon back on the road under the big sky, arriving yesterday via Irkutsk in Krasnoyarsk, the final destination of the 1,000 mile leg.
The Krasnoyarsk Mazda dealer inspected the Mazda Route3 cars, paying special attention to the suspension, underbody, air filters and other components exposed to unusual levels of abuse. No problems were evident, and the new Mazda3s have heroically handled everything Siberia could throw at them. This was good news as the next service check is not until Moscow - another 4,350 miles westwards over a route that includes dangerous mountainous stretches and long segments of loose-surfaced gravel roads.
Mazda fans can follow the convoy's progress on a dedicated website at www.mazda.co.uk/mazdaroute3, which features a trip diary with images and videos or via Twitter at #mazdaroute3. Tomorrow stage four of journey continues.
All the Mazda3 hatchback test cars are powered by a 120ps SKYACTIV-G petrol engine mated to a six-speed SKYACTIV-MT manual transmission. From the stunning ‘KODO - Soul of Motion' exterior design to the advanced lightweight SKYACTIV technology and a completely redesigned cabin space, the convention-defying Mazda3 is built to exceed customer expectations.
About Mazda Route3
The ‘Mazda Route3 - Hiroshima to Frankfurt Challenger Tour 2013' crosses nine time zones, five countries and two continents, traversing Russia (the world's largest country), before crossing Belarus and Poland. Driven by journalists, bloggers and Mazda dealers, the convoy of all-new Mazda3 cars will arrive in Frankfurt on Saturday 7 September, three days before the international motor show opens its doors.
London Taxis to Nanjing
19 Aug 2013 10:51
If you go to Nanjing, you may well spot the 'London Taxi' in operation. Locally made versions of the iconic vehicle forever associated with London are now hitting the streets.
The press release announcing the news included some relevant background to the revered 'black cab', including the fact that the Spice Girls combined with TX4s to very good effect at the London Olympics last year. I took to YouTube and reminded myself. Could not help smiling...
Summer issue of Lotus Engineering's proActive is out
29 Jul 2013 09:23
The latest issue of the magazine we help put together for Lotus Engineering - proActive - is out. It includes an interview with Flybrid's Jon Hilton (I learned a few things about flywheel technology and heard some eye catching views on future take-up...), an article on autonomous drive and a nice update on JLR's work with aluminium, as well as a column from me. What's Angela Merkel's favourite English term for summing up the eurozone crisis? It came as a surprise to me...
Future Mobility 2013 (FM13)
19 Jul 2013 20:56
Let me introduce you to FM13. We are planning to host a conference in Detroit in November this year. It's called 'Future Mobility 2013' and we're already firmly in the habit of using the acronym FM13. The idea behind FM13 is to address the challenges ahead for mobility and to focus on the changes that are now forcing their way onto companies' planning horizons.
We'll be looking at new models for urban mobility, developments in connectivity, powertrain and emissions, as well as advanced driver assistance systems and how technology will alter the driving experience.
We're putting the event together now and I can say that some exciting and well known speakers, experts in the field, are being lined up.
Follow the below link to register for more information and future updates. Not only that, but - good heavens - registrants will also be able to immediately download a full report (packed with data and charts) we have produced on this subject.
17 Jul 2013 22:53
Elon Musk certainly seems to know how to attract media attention. After Tesla's EV surge and SpaceX (and not forgetting solar rooftops), get ready for something called 'hyperloop transit'. It's a ground-based transport system involving magnetically levitated pods and vacuum tubes that would, the proponents claim, enable travel from LA to New York City in 45 minutes.
Some well honed tweets from Elon Musk are teasing about an open source project reveal on August 12. This site - ET3 - talks more about the kind of concept he's looking at. Mr Musk certainly does not lack vision. I wouldn't easily dismiss someone with his track record for business acumen and execution on what, at first sight, look like very difficult projects.
'Icons and Idiots'
09 Jul 2013 13:59
Bob Lutz has penned another book: 'Icons and Idiots'. Sounds like a potentially entertaining run-down of anecdotes interspersed with a bit of homespun analysis from Lutz on what makes top-level executives tick. Might make a very good holiday read.
Below link is to an interview on CNBC that sees Mr Lutz on good form, dropping some teasers in for his book (I recall when I interviewed him a few years' back, he absolutely made sure his 'bean counters' book got a very good plug in the subsequent article).
Who might the kleptomaniac CEOs be?
05 Jul 2013 10:02
With the demise of Better Place, I was wondering about the battery swap concept.
Tesla, it seems, is still pretty interested in the battery pack swap as a way to overcome one objection to electric vehicles - that they take a long time to charge. Elon Musk recently got a load of supporters in a theatre for what was billed as a “title fight” between the Model S and gas-powered cars. The automated pack swap system appears to work pretty well and quickly, though it's a pity the camera is so far away...
Tesla expects the first battery pack swap stations to appear by the fourth quarter.
Fiat 500s swim to the US
01 Jul 2013 09:25
Alas, they are not really amphibious, but this ad for the Fiat 500 aimed at Americans is nicely done. How well will the car do in the US?
There are transport modes and then there are transport modes
24 Jun 2013 15:27
The other cable cars were empty at 8:00am on a Thursday...
Travelling to the Frost and Sullivan event in London last week involved a modal transfer that gave me quite a 'lift'.
Amid all the talk of integrated mobility, mixing modes, congested cities, car sharing, buses, taxis and bikes...I managed to get a trip on a transport mode that is a little bit out of the ordinary and refreshingly uncongested. The 'Emirates Air Line' is a cable car ride from North Greenwich to the other side of the River Thames where you'll find the Exel exhibition centre and the Siemens Crystal building (which was the venue for the Urban Mobility conference). The cable car system was constructed built in double-quick time for the London Olympics last year and I'm not sure it gets much traffic now, but it's a nice ride that delivers some great views across the city and down the river. An oasis of calm.