Ford will launch a new brand of electric cars just for China

Ford and Chinese automaker Zotye will partner up on a new line of electric vehicles, we learned Wednesday. The pair is creating a joint venture—Zotye Ford Automobile Company—that they say will offer “a range of stylish and affordable electric vehicles for consumers in China.” It’s a 50/50 partnership, with the pair investing roughly $756 million (RMB 5 billion). The as-yet unnamed brand will get its own dedicated R&D center, and a new factory in Zhejiang Province will build the EVs for domestic consumption.

The Chinese market is especially coveted by Western automakers, which see lots of untapped potential—and the chance to make lots of money. It’s a particularly important market for EVs; even though only 1.5 percent of Chinese vehicle sales are electric, in 2016 that figure accounted for 40 percent of global EV sales. And that’s only going to grow as the country plans to phase out the internal combustion engine in the coming decades.

But tapping that market requires compromises on the part of foreign car companies. China levies a hefty 25 percent import duty on imported vehicles, so cars need to be built locally to remain competitive on price.

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Waymo has a big lead in driverless cars—but here’s how it could lose it

Waymo has long had a sizable lead in self-driving technology, and recent reports indicate that Larry Page, CEO of Waymo parent company Alphabet, is determined not to let it slip away. According to The Information’s Amir Efrati, Waymo CEO John Krafcik is under pressure to launch a commercial service in the Phoenix metro area as soon as this fall.

But at a Monday event with reporters at Waymo’s Castle testing grounds in California’s Central Valley, Krafcik was non-committal about the company’s launch plans. In fact, he cast doubt on whether a driverless taxi service would even be Waymo’s first product, as almost everyone has assumed it would be.

“We’ll have to see,” Krafcik said, noting that the company was also working on self-driving truck technology. “We’re also considering working directly with cities.”

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Crunch Report | Amazon’s New High-End Echo

Amazon reveals its high-end Echo, MIT’s CSAIL developed a robot that can wear different exoskeletons, Ford and Lyft tie the knot and Delta gives people free messaging on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage on flights. All this on Crunch Report. Read More

Lyft adds Ford to its ever-growing list of partners

On Wednesday morning, Ford revealed that it is the latest OEM to partner with Lyft as it prepares to put self-driving cars on the roads in a few short years. In a post on Medium, Ford’s VP of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification Sherif Marakby explained that the Blue Oval chose the Pink Mustache to help build out the infrastructure that will connect customers with its autonomous transport service once it’s ready.

Building out a successful ride-hailing service isn’t that simple. All the backend stuff has to work properly—matching drivers and riders and so on—but there’s the not-insignificant matter of persuading people to sign up, to trust you enough to use your service and to tell their friends.

That poses a potential problem for the legion of car companies and tech firms who plan to put self-driving mobility pods on our roads in just a few short years; their competencies lie in designing the AI platforms or building the autonomous vehicles.

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Ford becomes the latest automotive giant to work with Lyft on self-driving cars

 Unlike Uber and China’s Didi, Lyft isn’t developing its own self-driving cars. But the U.S. company sure is signing up major names to help it bridge the gap. This week it announced Ford as its latest autonomous car partner. Ford joins big names Jaguar, GM and Alphabet’s Waymo as well startups Nutonomy and as Lyft allies. Recently recognized as top of the industry when… Read More

Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal had a long, complicated history

This story originally ran October 8, 2015, just a few weeks after it was discovered that new diesel Volkswagens and Audis ran undisclosed software that allowed the cars to cheat on their US federal emissions tests. This week was the two-year anniversary of the explosive news, and we’re resurfacing this story to take another look at the history of automakers gaming regulations. Since this story ran in 2015, Volkswagen agreed to a multi-billion dollar settlement with 2.0L diesel vehicle customers in 2016, and in 2017, researchers were able to get a more detailed look at the code that made the diesels’ driving so dirty.

In mid-September, the US Environmental Protection Agency dropped a bomb on Volkswagen Group, the German company that owns Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, and other notable car brands. The EPA sent the umbrella company a Notice of Violation, explaining that it discovered “defeat devices” on Volkswagen and Audi diesel passenger cars from 2009 and later.

The defeat devices—actually less a “device” than code on the cars’ electronic control module that detects whether a car is in a lab or on the road—were preventing the cars’ emissions control systems from working properly while the car was operating under normal driving conditions, likely boosting the car’s performance or fuel efficiency rating or both. The EPA said that nearly 500,000 of these diesel cars were caught spewing emissions well in excess of the federal rules, sending the company’s stock into a tailspin.

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I sat in the seat suit of Ford’s fake self-driving car

Last month we covered a “driverless” car roaming Virginia streets that turned out to really just be a normal car with the driver hidden inside a seat suit. Today, I got a chance to try the seat suit out for myself. You can’t see my face, but this is a picture of me giving the thumbs-up sign from inside the suit.

The research was led by Andy Schaudt, a researcher at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, in partnership with Ford. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let me take a test drive. Schaudt told me that they put their drivers through hours of training before letting them loose on public roads, and there wasn’t time to give me the necessary training.

Still, just from sitting in the seat, I could tell that driving the vehicle would be awkward. The suit is designed for the driver’s arms to rest on his or her lap, gripping the steering wheel from below. Lifting my arms would cause the flimsy front of the suit to fold, ruining the illusion. So drivers were trained to turn the wheel gingerly while keeping their arms near the bottom. The study also added an extension to the turn signal so drivers could reach it without raising their arms.

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Ford disguised a man as a car seat to research self-driving

 Yes, you read that correctly: Ford put a man in a car seat disguise so that a Ford Transit could masquerade as a true self-driving vehicle. Why? To evaluate how passers-by, other drivers on the road and cyclists reacted to sharing the road with an autonomous vehicle.
The trial, conducted with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, also made use of a light bar mounted on the top of the… Read More