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Trucks are guzzling ever more diesel, polluting towns and cities and fueling climate change. Germany thinks it may have found the answer by using overhead lines to power big rigs.
A system that allows trucks to draw electric power from overhead cables went into operation on 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of the autobahn on Tuesday, according to the German government. It’s the first such test on a public road in Germany. Developed by Siemens, the system allows big rigs with special equipment mounted on their roofs to connect to electrified lines while traveling at speeds of up to 90 kilometers per hour (56 miles per hour). The trucks run on electric motors when connected to the overhead lines, and a hybrid system when they return to a traditional road. Sensors detect when the overhead wires are available. Siemens says its eHighway system combines the efficiency of electric rail with the flexibility of trucking. Another benefit is a sharp reduction in emissions of CO2 and nitrogen oxides.
Trucks on a section of road used to test the eHighway system in Germany.
Road benefits Siemens argues that the system can be integrated with existing road infrastructure, making it a practical way to reduce emissions and energy consumption in places where railways aren’t feasible. The section of road opened Tuesday is part of a crucial link between Frankfurt airport, a global freight hub, and a nearby industrial park. Two more stretches of highway with the system will open soon. The German government spent €70 million ($77 million) to develop trucks that can use the system. Siemens said that a truck owner could save €20,000 ($22,370) on fuel over 100,000 kilometers (62,137 miles).
A technician works on a big rig before the tests commence.
Environmental boost Truck transportation is the world’s fastest growing source of oil demand, according to the International Transport Forum, which is part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. According to the group, road transportation of goods will also account for 15% of the projected increase in global CO2 emissions until 2050.
Slashing carbon emissions from transportation including freight is a key part of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which aims limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Projects like the one in Germany could be part of a solution that includes increased railway and electric vehicle use. “Electrified trucks are particularly efficient solution on the road to carbon-neutral transportation,” said Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter, state secretary at the German Federal Ministry for the Environment. Tests and demonstrations of the eHighway technology have also been conducted on a smaller scale in Sweden and near the US ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
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WM Motor’s EX5 electric vehicle on display at the Consumer Electronics Show Asia in Shanghai in June 2019.
If you walk around Shenzhen, one of China’s big technology hubs, you’ll notice all of the taxis are electric. In other major Chinese cities, so-called new energy vehicles are commonplace — with Tesla cars and other models from the dozens of domestic manufacturers on the roads.
China is after all the world’s largest electric car market by volume. It got there with the help of heavy government support in the form of subsidies to auto firms. But Beijing is starting to wind down the support, hitting investor sentiment and prompting experts to warn of failures among the dozens of electric car start-ups.
Subsidies are slated to be cut by about half next week on June 26. The cuts range between roughly 45% and 60%, and have been completely scrapped for vehicles with ranges below 250 kilometers per charge.
That will lead to consolidation in China’s electric car market, analysts say.
“It’s always fragmentation before concentration … there will be companies that don’t make it. The weaker ones will be rooted out pretty quickly,” Bill Russo, CEO of Automobility Limited, told CNBC.
Low-end players to take hit Some of China’s electric automakers that are now beginning to deliver their first cars, are confident they can survive and feel lower end players could get hit.
“In general, I would say that, apart from a short-term blip, I think it’s actually good for the industry because traditionally … the companies that really take advantage of the subsidies are low-end manufacturers not focused on making the product — they are focused on collecting subsidy from the government,” Brian Gu, President of Xpeng Motors, told CNBC in an interview last week.
The CEO of WM Motor, Freeman Shen, echoed the same sentiments, saying his company could get a boost as consumers look higher up the value chain.
“The consumers who (are) looking at the low-end market products will have to go up and look at the products like WM Motors,” Shen told CNBC in an interview last week.
‘War of attrition’ Despite the current uncertainty in the market, the overall sector appears to be moving in the right direction. While the sales of passenger cars fell 15.2% year-on-year in the first five months of 2019, new energy vehicle sales were up 41.5% in the same period, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. In May, electric cars represented around 6.6% of total passenger vehicle sales in China.
Carmakers are currently chasing market share, by looking to ramp up production, open show rooms and deliver products. Some, like Xpeng, are even trialing their own ride-hailing service.
The focus for these companies is not on profits. For example, Nio, which is listed in New York, lost $390 million in the first quarter of the year. Xpeng and WM Motor are both private companies and do not release financials.
In looking to boost their market share, Chinese carmakers are raising huge amounts of money from high-profile investors.
WM Motor completed a 3 billion yuan ($434.5 million) funding round in March led by Chinese technology giant Baidu. Tencent-backed Nio raised $1 billion in its initial public offering in September. While Xpeng told CNBC it’s seeking a “comparable amount” of funding to the nearly $600 million it raised last year. Xpeng counts Alibaba among its investors.
But investor sentiment toward electric carmakers has soured, particularly in the public markets. Shares of Nio are down over 60% year-to-date while American rival Tesla is more than 32% lower.
“I think the general macro environment in sort of trade as well as in EV (electric vehicles) sector in general, the public company trading performance … has not been stellar. That has a … (dampening) effect, I think, on investment sentiment,” Xpeng’s Gu said.
“But I think the investors tend to still be drawn to, I would say, top companies in the sector. So I think it will create probably more trouble for the followers, people who does not have a product in the coming month(s) or years,” he added.
Automobility’s Russo said that costs incurred by electric auto companies will rise given that they will continue to release new models, increase production, open showrooms and build infrastructure. That could lead to the race between these automakers being all about stamina.
“Will there be consolidation? Yes, because the cost of not only building a product, but having to support the infrastructure to present their product to the market, is pretty high,” Russo said.
“And how deep are the pockets of investors? Are they willing to sustain loses for a long period of time? In some cases, the answer is yes. They see the long term potential for this market becoming exponential,” he said. “But to get there, you have to survive a number of years of losing money. It’s going to be a war of attrition for some of the companies in this space.”
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Waymo unveils a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. on January 8, 2017.
Waymo has signed a deal with Renault and Nissan to develop self-driving cars and trucks for use in France, Japan and possibly other countries throughout Europe and much of Asia, the autonomous car company announced Thursday.
It’s the first agreement Waymo has signed to provide its technology and services to automakers working to build their own self-driving vehicles. The deal doesn’t extend to China, the companies said.
Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is testing a small fleet of autonomous vehicles just outside of Phoenix. Those vehicles, modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans, are part of Waymo’s work to develop autonomous ride-share services. With Renault and Nissan, Waymo’s relationship will be more as a provider of technology and services that each automaker will use as they develop their own self-driving vehicles.
“Our Waymo Driver can deliver transformational mobility solutions to safely serve riders and commercial deliveries in France, Japan and other countries,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in a statement.
Renault and Nissan — which have a close yet strained relationship since the October arrest and detention in Japan of former Nissan chairman/ex-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn — are putting aside their differences when it comes to autonomous vehicles.
The companies said they’re creating a joint venture companies to focus exclusively on driverless mobility services.
Renault CEO Thierry Bollore said in a statement that the deal will put his company, “at the forefront of driverless mobility new business streams in our key strategic markets.”
Hiroto Saikawa, president and CEO of Nissan, echoed that confidence.
“Our expertise in the global automotive industry and expertise in strategic partnership will enable us to explore opportunities to grow our portfolio and deliver new value to customers with Waymo, the recognized leader in this space,” he said.
Waymo, formerly known as the Google Self Driving Car project, is considered a leader in autonomous vehicles, analysts and technology executives say.
That lead, however, is far from safe. General Motors’ subsidiary Cruise is expected to launch its first autonomous vehicle this year. Uber is also working to develop autonomous ride-share vehicles.
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In the fight against unconscious bias, Sweden experiments with AI – but will robotic interviewers really catch on?
Meet your interviewer, Tengai: she’s friendly, observant, and did we mention she’s a robot?
Tengai’s 16-inch glowing face sits on a table at eye level with the candidate. She smiles and blinks forming empathetic facial expressions as she asks “have you ever been interviewed by a robot?”
For most people today, the answer would be ‘no’, but that might not be the case in five years. For that, we have to thank Furhat Robotics, creators of Tengai. The AI and social robotics company that has spent the past four years building a human-esque computer interface that can replicate our speech and subtle facial expressions. The idea being, a human-like robot is much less scary than machine-like one.
A few companies, like the Swedish recruitment firm TNG currently trialing Tengai, are experimenting with the use of robots in their early interviews, and many more companies already use some form of AI in their selection process.
Many people have reservations about using AI to make hiring judgments. ‘How much should we trust these droids?’ they wonder. Indeed, the question has its merits.
Proponents of the technology point out humans aren’t great judges of character or ability because we are all affected by unconscious bias, which impedes our ability to assess fairly. And what’s more, this bias is hard to shake – numerous studies have shown that trainings which aim to minimize unconscious bias’ influence in the workplace has little to no effect on future behavior.
On the other side, decriers of recruiting’s new reliance on AI-driven judgments point out that the underlying algorithms of these technologies can also be biased and given the homogeny of the tech and data-science field, we must be careful.
Understanding Unconscious Bias
To grasp the argument for using robots in interviews, it’s first important to understand what unconscious bias is and how it occurs. As it has become a workplace buzzword, there’s often confusion around the actual defintion.
Dolly Chugh is an award-winning psychologist and Professor at New York University. She specializes in the psychology of human bias. Speaking on the 10% Happier podcast, she offered a very helpful example which frames unconscious bias in a way that’s easy to understand:
“When I say ‘Twinkle, twinkle’ your mind probably automatically jumps to ‘…little star’. Somehow, ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ became an association in your mind. And there are many other associations we’ve all internalized.
We may associate certain groups of people with certain attributes. But we probably don’t remember when that became part of how we think. This is because it’s all part of the flow of our unconscious mind. The unconscious mind represents the vast majority of our brain’s work. Unconscious mental processing is absolutely essential for us to function as human beings, but sometimes it can lead us away from being the person we’d like to be in certain situations.”
Reining in biases, as a recruiter, can be tough. First impressions and gut feelings count for so much during interviews. But left unchecked, unconscious bias can result in unfair judgments, overlooked talent, and ultimately, discrimination.
Enter The Robots Robots designed specifically for recruitment purposes are generally much better than humans at making unbiased decisions about a candidate. This has already proven to be true through a recruitment experiment conducted in Sweden.
Since late 2018, Swedish recruitment agency TNG have been using an AI-driven robot head called Tengai to conduct first stage interviews in place of human recruiters. The results have shown an encouraging example of AI eliminating discrimination rather than amplifying it.
New Technology, Same Process Tengai was built by Furhat Robotics. At first glance, it’s appearance is a bit disconcerting. It’s a disembodied robotic head with a friendly-looking human face. It’s placed on a table where it sits about eye level to the candidate. All this to ensure the interview proceeds in a way which most closely candidates are accustomed.
Unlike a typical interview, Tengai doesn’t engage in small talk. This ensures all recorded responses are work-related. Each candidate is asked the same questions, in the same order, with the same tone of voice. Tengai standardizes the process to a degree that even the most methodical human recruiters can’t match.
Crucially, Tengai knows absolutely nothing about a candidate’s race, religion, gender, appearance, or other visual/auditory factors that commonly give rise to unconscious bias. Once the interview is complete, human recruiters then receive a transcript of the answers. It’s then up to them to decide whether or not to move that person forward.
By replacing human recruiters with Tengai, TNG and Furhat feel they are creating a fairer hiring process that still retains a ‘human’ touch. But it’s important to keep in mind that robot interviewers bring their own set of limitations and challenges.
Hiring Involves More than Interviews Research shows unconscious bias often influences whether or not someone advances to the interview stage. Tengai and other robotic interviewers offer zero benefits when it comes to creating fairer resume selection processes. So, unless such robots are accompanied by other bias-tackling measures throughout all other stages of the hiring process, they are an incomplete solution to the problem.
Key Information may Go Unrecorded Robots like Tengai create an extremely rigid interview process. And while standardization offers some benefits, it isn’t perfect. It prevents the natural ebb and flow of a typical human conversation. For example, a candidate may mention something in passing that grabs an interviewer’s attention. If they feel the information is highly relevant to the role, they can ask the candidate to elaborate or clarify. This helps prevent great candidates slipping through the net due to unintended omissions in their answers.
Candidate Experience And Employer Brand Even when the rationale for using robots is clearly presented, some candidates are not going to like being interviewed by a robot. It’s easy to see how the process may be perceived as cold and clinical by some candidates. As a result, this may cause significant damage to the employer brand. Others will welcome the change, but introducing robot interviewers will undoubtedly polarise candidate opinion. So it’s important to weigh up the risk/benefit ratio, which will vary widely from business to business.
Not All Technology Is Similar When selecting any new technology for a hiring process it’s important to consider what it actually does. Some robots are made to standardize the initial interview process to root out bias, while other tools use algorithms to evaluate the candidate’s facial expressions or speech. With the latter example, especially, organizations need to rigorously question the way the AI is making judgments and track if those judgments are leading to a homogeneous talent pool.
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It was all about autos at one of China’s top tech conferences this week.
More than 80 companies showed off vehicle technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in Shanghai, filling two of the six conference halls and forming the largest product category at the annual gathering.
China is the world’s biggest auto market, but it’s also a crowded marketplace. In recent years, fierce competition, progressive startups and popular mobile “super-apps” such as Tencent’s WeChat have made Chinese consumers more discerning about what they want in their cars, executives say.
Cashing in on the backseat
Holoride, a German startup that first began as a moonshot at Audi and spun off from the automaker in January, wants to bring virtual reality to the backseat.
Instead of catering to drivers, the company aims to “turn transit time into valuable time” for passengers, said Nils Wollny, the company’s CEO.
“There is so much time already spent in cars, and car manufacturers didn’t cater to passengers very well in the past. It was all driver-focused. That’s where we started,” he told CNN Business.
Holoride is building an app for watching VR content that is designed to move in line with the car.
A test drive arranged by the company showed two types of content on passengers’ headsets: a deep sea documentary that lets you “swim” next to a whale, and an outer space game that involved “shooting” at asteroids using a handheld clicker.
The selling point is synchronization: During the 10-minute ride, the car’s movements appeared to match up perfectly with the on-screen action, reducing the risk of nausea.
“Many people get motion sick when they consume visual media in the car,” Wollny noted. “For the first time, the vehicle becomes part of this content experience.”
The company plans to start off by bringing Holoride to “controlled environments,” like ride-hailing providers or theme parks, with the eventual goal of launching an app to customers in 2021, Wollny said.
“You can use our technology for entertainment purposes … relaxation, meditation, education and also working,” he added. “I also see people jumping into cars to experience something, not just getting from A to B.”
No longer ‘just a car’
Automakers are increasingly shifting to make their vehicles more compatible with smartphones. Several companies such as Tesla , for instance, have begun creating apps to allow users to get into their cars without the keys, and some companies are hoping to take it a step further with keyless entry on smartwatches. Mobvoi, a Beijing-based AI startup that produces wearables and vehicle tech, is one of them. The billion-dollar company, which is backed by big names such as Volkswagen and Google , has high hopes for its line of Ticwatches, said Yili Lin, vice president of sales and marketing. “In China nowadays, you don’t usually use your wallet anymore, right? You use mobile payments,” he told CNN Business. “I think the key is also gradually replaced by your fingerprint, by facial recognition, right? So you don’t need to bring a wallet, you don’t need to bring a key. Why do you still use a car key when you have a smartwatch?”
While some have compared Ticwatch to the Apple Watch, Lin says he doesn’t see Apple as a competitor. “We do look up to them to learn from them,” he noted. “But we’re also very confident in our innovation.”
Lin claims what sets Mobvoi apart is its expertise in creating AI for hardware and software.
Mobvoi, which is short for “mobile voice,” is now working to let drivers use voice recognition in Volkswagen’s next line of cars through a joint venture with the German automaker, according to Lin.
“The new generation of vehicles has to be connected,” he said.
“You’re no longer buying a car. You are buying into a digital lifestyle, which means the car you drive, the watch you wear, the phone you use, the smartphone device you use, they should be connected. “
From providers to platforms
Several automakers at CES played up their efforts to open up their platforms to developers and made the pitch for new partners to join them.
Alibaba announced Tuesday that it would team up with Audi, Renault and Honda to outfit some of their cars with its Tmall Genie virtual assistant, which lets users control smart home systems like heating or air conditioning from the road.
In the past, Audi was used to developing “its own solutions for customers in the car,” said Boris Meiners, senior director of Audi China’s digital business. “Now with this next generation, we’re opening up totally.”
The company said this week that it would start inviting all Android developers to apply to have their apps featured in cars, meaning that drivers should be able to hook up to accounts on their favorite navigation and music streaming apps instead of conforming to the vehicle’s built-in infotainment system.
“It’s like a real app store,” said Meiners. “The customer has freedom of choice of what they actually want.”
Audi’s AI:ME concept car on display at CES Asia in Shanghai. The company announced a series of updates to its vehicle technology this week, including an extended partnership with Alibaba.
Battle for survival
The three-day showcase came on the heels of industry chatter that has reinforced questions about whether traditional carmakers can still make it on their own.
Volkswagen’s alliance with Ford , which was announced earlier this year, continues to face scrutiny after it reportedly cut ties with Amazon-backed autonomous driving startup Aurora. Fiat Chrysler last week called off a proposed merger with Renault that would have created the world’s third biggest automaker.
“The world is merging with each other,” said Jack Cheng, a co-founder and executive vice president of Chinese electric carmaker NIO . “But have problems.”
NIO, which is often hyped as one of the biggest Chinese competitors to Tesla and went public in the United States last fall, built a brand for itself early on by centering “everything on the user,” Cheng told CNN Business in an interview.
Before it had even put out a single car, the company sold millions of dollars’ worth of NIO hats and other merchandise online. It went on to set up services such as battery-swapping plans, mobile power vans and the so-called “NIO House,” a series of showrooms that aim to double as clubhouses with a library, open kitchen and workshops for kids.
A library area at NIO House, which also houses the carmaker’s showroom.
“It’s the mindset,” said Cheng. “First things first, you establish a community.”
But the company has faced a rocky ride since its market debut. In March, NIO’s earnings report revealed “a greater than anticipated slowdown” in sales of its flagship ES8 SUV, which has weighed on its share price.
The company responded by pausing plans for a new factory. Instead, Cheng said he hopes to better manage the costs and production volume of the company’s newest model, a more “mainstream” vehicle called the ES6, while starting to explore its next autonomous driving software platform.
“That will give the IPO, Wall Street, a vision that the stock will come back.”
Cheng also said he wasn’t worried about competition from Tesla, which is soon set to open its own factory in Shanghai and has previously slashed prices for models in China.
In the next few years, “I think the car company will be more like a technology company. And the technology company will try to be more like a mobility company,” he said.
NIO isn’t worried about the contest, particularly because it has a strong network of backers such as Chinese internet giants Tencent and Baidu , as well as other automaker partners, Cheng added.
“We’re no longer talking about the merger of the big guys. I think we should have the vertical integration, with the cloud, the system and the car. All together,” he said. “From China — we can do it better.”
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Volvo Trucks’ electric, connected and autonomous vehicle Vera will form part of an integrated solution to transport goods from a logistics centre to a port terminal in Gothenburg, Sweden. The assignment is a result of a new collaboration between Volvo Trucks and the ferry and logistics company, DFDS.
Volvo Trucks’ autonomous and electric vehicle Vera is getting ready for a first assignment: the transportation of goods in a connected and repetitive flow from a DFDS’ logistics centre to a port terminal. The new collaboration is a first step towards implementing Vera in a real transport operation and develop her potential for other similar assignments.
The purpose of the collaboration is to implement Vera in a real application, enabling a connected system for a continuous flow of goods, from a DFDS’ logistics centre to an APM Terminals port facility in Gothenburg, for distribution across the world.
In 2018, Volvo Trucks presented its first electric, connected and autonomous solution, designed for repetitive assignments in logistics centres, factories and ports. Vera is suited for short distances, transporting large volumes of goods with high precision.
“Now we have the opportunity to implement Vera in an ideal setting and further develop her potential for other similar operations,” says Mikael Karlsson, Vice President Autonomous Solutions at Volvo Trucks.
The aim is to implement a connected system consisting of several Vera vehicles monitored by a control tower. The purpose is to enable a seamless and constant flow responsive to demands on greater efficiency, flexibility and sustainability. The collaboration with DFDS is a first step towards implementing Vera in a real transport assignment on pre-defined public roads in an industrial area.
“We want to be at the forefront of connected, autonomous transportation. This collaboration will help us develop an efficient, flexible and sustainable long-term solution for receiving autonomous vehicles arriving at our gates, benefitting our customers, the environment and our business” says Torben Carlsen, CEO of DFDS.
The autonomous transport solution will be further developed in terms of technology, operations management and infrastructure adaptations, before it can be fully operational. Moreover, necessary safety precautions will be taken to meet societal requirements for a safe path towards autonomous transports.
As Volvo Trucks gains more experience, Vera has the potential to be used in similar applications as a complement to today’s transport solutions.
“Autonomous transports with low noise levels and zero exhaust emissions have an important role to play in the future of logistics, and will benefit both business and society. We see this collaboration as an important start and want to drive progress in this area. Vera may have a speed limit, but we don’t. Testing has already started and we intend to implement the solution within the coming years,” adds Mikael Karlsson.
The assignment is to move containers from the DFDS logistics centre in Gothenburg to an APM terminals container terminal according to needed capacity.
The autonomous system is monitored by an operator in a control tower who is also responsible for the transport.
The solution is suited for repetitive flows with a maximum speed of 40 km/h.
Infrastructure adaptations are part of the scope in the implementation of the total transport system, including automated gates at the terminals.
Volvo Trucks and DFDS are main partners but several actors are involved in implementing Vera’s first assignment.
DFDS provides ferry and transport services in Europe and Turkey, generating annual revenues of around DKK 17bn. The 8.000 employees are located on ships and in offices across 20 countries. DFDS is headquartered in Copenhagen, and listed on NASDAQ Copenhagen.
APM Terminals is a port service and container terminal solution provider, operating a network of 76 ports globally. APM Terminals is a part of A.P. Moller – Maersk, an integrated container logistics company working to connect and simplify its customer’s supply chains, operating in 130 countries and employs roughly 70.000 employees.
The initiative is carried out with support from the Swedish Innovation Agency Vinnova, the Swedish Transport Administration and the Swedish Energy Agency through the Strategic vehicle research and innovation programme FFI.
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Climate activists say Tokyo is moving too slowly and its continued use of coal undermines its objectives
Japan has joined Britain in pledging to become carbon neutral later this century, as the world races to prevent catastrophic climate change, but critics blasted Tokyo’s plan as unambitious.
While Britain on Wednesday outlined plans for fast-track legislation that would reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, Japan’s policy only pledges to meet the goal sometime after the middle of the century.
Both countries are among the nearly 200 nations that have signed up to the Paris climate agreement, which commits signatories to efforts to cap global warming at “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).
Japan’s policy, adopted by the cabinet on Tuesday, is expected to be submitted to the United Nations before the country hosts the G20 summit in Osaka later this month.
It sets “a carbon-neutral society as the final goal, and seeks to realise it at the earliest possible time in the latter half of this century.”
But while it says renewable energy — such as solar and wind — will become the mainstay of the country’s energy use, it adds that coal-fired power plants will remain operational.
Climate activists say Tokyo is moving too slowly and its continued use of coal undermines its objectives.
The plan “shows the Japanese government is not truly serious about mitigating climate change,” said Hanna Hakko, senior energy campaigner for Greenpeace Japan.
“This is especially clear in the fact that there is no indication or timeline about phasing out coal.”
“You simply can’t solve climate change while continuing to burn coal,” she said.
The move comes before environment ministers from the Group of 20 meet in central Japan this weekend, and as Tokyo looks to position itself as a leader on climate efforts and reducing marine plastic waste.
The policy says Japan will keep a 2016 pledge to reduce greenhouse gas by 80 percent by 2050 from around 2010 levels and seeks to make renewable energy a major source of electricity.
It aims to reduce reliance on nuclear energy while also tackling the “reduction of CO2 emissions from thermal power generation” fired by fossil fuels like coal.
Expansion of renewable energy is key in the plan, “but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t use thermal power at all,” environment ministry official Jun Sato told AFP.
Japan believes with technological breakthroughs “we will make efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from thermal power plants,” he said, for example by collecting CO2.
Carbon capture technologies remain largely untested, and some climate activists warn that a reliance on the development of future technologies to mitigate emissions will lead to countries failing to meet their Paris deal targets.
In a separate long-term energy plan approved last year, Japan said it aims to have non-fossil fuel energy account for 44 percent of its whole energy demand by 2030, compared to 19 percent in 2017.
These non-fossil fuel objectives may prove difficult. Toughened safety measures — introduced after the 2011 Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster — mean some existing nuclear reactors face being closed because they do not now conform to standards.
Britain’s government on Wednesday outlined legislation that would make the country the first in the EU to put its emission reduction deadlines into law.
“As the first country to legislate for long-term climate targets, we can be truly proud of our record in tackling climate change,” Prime Minister Theresa May was quoted as saying in a statement.
She said Britain “must lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth”.
The move was welcomed by Greenpeace campaigners there, with the group’s chief UK scientist Doug Parr saying it “fires the starting gun for a fundamental transformation of our economy.”
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A rendering of an air taxi whose development is being explored by American helicopter maker Bell. It is anticipated that the vehicles will rely on hybrid and electric propulsion systems to fly.
Japanese automotive parts supplier Denso will join forces with Honeywell International to jointly develop electric and hybrid propulsion systems for flying passenger vehicles under plans announced Monday.
The powertrains will use traction motors and inverters found in hybrid and fully electric autos. Denso, a Toyota Motor group company, holds a large global share in these components for hybrids.
American aerospace manufacturer Honeywell will contribute technology such as actuators — the devices that help move rotors, flaps, doors and landing gears — to help make flying cars a reality.
Urban air mobility offers new possibilities for addressing traffic congestion, and many companies have announced plans to enter the field.
Because electric propulsion systems will make the vehicles more environmentally friendly and affordable, the partners say the technology will be key to the development of the field.
The market for transporting people this way will reach 9 trillion yen ($83 billion) in 2030, with 650 billion yen in Japan alone, Tokyo-based Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting forecasts. A report by Morgan Stanley says the vehicles could be commonplace by 2040.
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Long list of battery-electric products lined-up. Solid-state battery to be launched next year. Nagging doubts about profitability.
A common public refrain among Tesla fans and shareholders is that “dinosaur legacy automakers’ are intentionally slowing down the development of electric vehicles, most likely because they are in cahoots with “big oil.” In the privacy of their detached 2-garage homes, the song turns into an evening prayer for that the OEMs will keep on sleeping, such as not to trample on the nascent demand for electric cars. The prayers have not been heard. Today, Toyota, the world’s (currently) largest automaker, declared its full support for battery-electric vehicles, and this after the other two of the top three automakers, Volkswagen and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, have long thrown their considerable industrial might behind electric cars.
The big story of today is not just that Toyota, a company widely suspected of harboring anti-battery tendencies, is going full-bore BEV. The much bigger story is that Toyota is bringing three additional automakers to the electric party: Subaru, Suzuki, and Mazda (the latter not yet officially, but I have it on – see below – excellent authority that Mazda will be next on board.) Convinced by Toyota to join a coalition that shares common platforms, technologies, batteries and not to forget goals, Subaru, Suzuki, and Mazda add the production and sales power of roundabout six million vehicles produced and sold annually and globally to Toyota’s ten million, making it by far the largest block of companies to join the electric fray.
Before we go into details, here are the bullets I took for you during (and after) a press conference today in Toyota’s Megaweb in Tokyo:
In addition to a BEV-cooperation with Subaru announced yesterday, Toyota did let slip today that its minivehicle-car arm Daihatsu will develop compact EVs together with kei-car giant Suzuki.
After the meeting, I asked Toyota’s President of Advanced Technologies Development, the affable Shigeki Terashi, what happened to Mazda after a technology-partnership with Toyota was announced in 2015, and doesn’t a company deeply committed to extending the life of the ICE need electric assistance the most? A grinning Terashi replied: “Along with other topics, we have discussed EVs with Mazda for a few years already. Today, I did not reveal all the projects we are working on right now, and Mazda is one of them.”
Toyota and its partners will make and sell the whole battery-powered spectrum, from electric scooters to full-sized BEV SUVs. Some of them will be available as early as next year.
Most EVs will be based on a newly developed BEV-platform, called “e-TNGA,” an electric cousin of the modular “Toyota New Generation Architecture” underpinning Toyota’s latest and future models.
First BEVs will be launched onto the Chinese market in 2020, and then onto the world.
The U.S. market will likely get an electric Lexus, and/or a Toyota-branded electric sports car.
The Japanese market will, in 2020, get an “ultra-compact 2seater” dubbed iRide.
Also in 2020, Toyota will finally sell in Japan its leaning 3-wheeler, called i-Road, and test-driven by yours truly four long years ago.
Also, there will be an iWalk, something that looks like the product of a fling between a Segway and a Bird scooter.
As the obligatory nod to Japan’s ageing population, there will be a BEV wheelchair.
Toyota hopes to announce and show its long-awaited solid-state battery next year, coinciding with the Tokyo Olympics. The revolutionary power cell that promises to shorten charge times and lengthen range will be produced in a big joint-venture with Panasonic.
Toyota and its partners will need so many batteries that they signed a total of four additional battery suppliers: China’s CATL, China’s BYD, together with Japanese GS Yuasa and Toshiba. Together with
Toyota’s existing Primearth EV battery venture and the new JV with Panasonic, this reflects the world’s biggest block of battery suppliers of tera-sized proportions (a tera is roughly a thousand giga.)
Reflecting “BEV sales much higher than our original expectations” (Terashi) Toyota cut five years from its 2017 master plan that wanted to achieve annual global sales of 5.5 million electric and electrified vehicles by 2030. Toyota now wants to to get to this goal five years earlier by 2025.
Finally, there will be the iRoad. And the iRide
Tesla-fans, analysts, investors, and influencers, take careful note: The 5.5 million vehicles consist of 4.5 million hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, along with 1 million of the battery-electric and fuel-cell variety. By 2025, Toyota’s most ardent hydrogen-devotees won’t expect anything approaching volume. For all intents and purposes, Toyota now thinks that after the herculean act of lining up the world’s most powerful army of battery-makers, and after launching six or more BEV models of different sizes, it might be able to sell a million BEVs by 2025.
Isn’t that a tad pessimistic, you may say? After all, didn’t Elon Musk originally promise to sell a million Teslas by next year, a plan recently modified to putting a million Tesla robotaxis on the road by 2020?
No, Toyota simply is realistic. Toyota never is a friend of outsized projections. When it sets a goal, it usually reaches it. This time however, the goal comes with qualifications.
The plan rests on the assumption that half of the million BEVs will be sold in China, and the other half mostly in Europe and the U.S. In the spirit of proportional representation, half of the journos in the room were flown-in Chinese. Half a million BEVs in China is easier said than done. Last year, Toyota sold roughly 1.5 million units in China. One third of that would be BEVs, would total China sales stay the same.
The plan also banks on regulations getting tougher. “Without new regulations, we will not meet the one million units,” Terashi said. “It will be fewer than a million.”
If it’s less than a million, then not because Toyota is unable or unwilling to produce the BEVs. “We will have all sorts of vehicles ready that can satisfy various regulations,” Terashi promised. “However, the final decision will be up to the customer. If the customer is willing to buy more vehicles, we will make them. If not, we won’t.”
To everybody’s surprise, Toyota even gave a peek at the future models, and lined them up in the back of the room. “Normally, clay models made for internal studies are not made public, but we’d like you to know the progress we’ve made,” said Terashi. Toyota even made its Chief Designer Simon Humphries available, who expressed his love for EVs, because they offer a much longer wheelbase and the big tires designers adore. He also expressed his designer-disdain for “the autonomous stuff they are putting on cars around the worlds, those big radar and lidar things, that’s got to go.”
Tesla-fans, analysts, investors, and influencers, further take note that Toyota isn’t fully convinced that the electric cars will be making money. In the past, Toyota suppressed its excitement about BEVs, not because of some powertrain ideology, simply because it did not believe that BEVs would be profitable. “Now, there is a bit more visibility,” Terashi said. “Energy density is higher, price per unit has come down. Still, compared to conventional vehicles, it still is tough to achieve a profitable business with BEVs.”
Looking at Tesla’s balance sheet, you get what Terashi is talking about. OEMs are in a better position than Tesla, because they can finance the battery-electric foray from ICE sales. Terashi has a warning for friends of pure BEV plays: “If all you want is building and selling BEVs, you will not assure a viable business.”
Toyota’s BEV-business model is a complex animal, consisting of leases and sales, sales of used vehicles, re-use and recycling of batteries and a whole host of ancillary services. “Even with that, we can’t be totally sure that the business will be viable,” Terashi warned again.
Obligatory nod to Japan’s ageing population: BEV wheelchair.
An integral part of the plan is that Toyota wants to be a systems supplier for electric vehicles, something Toyota keeps repeating at every occasion. As an early example for its systems business, Terashi cited the sale of the electric powertrain of Toyota’s short-lived EQ (later rebadged as the Aston Martying Cygnet) to Singulato, a Chinese brand of high-end EVs developed by Chi Che-hung Technology Co. Reuters wrote that as part of the deal, “Toyota will have preferential rights to purchase green-car credits that Singulato will generate under China’s new quota system for all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.” It’s complicated.
Cooperation with other business partners may even morph from system sales, or buying batteries, to going into business together, Toyota’s battery business boss Keiji Kaita told me after the press conference, cautioning that “at this juncture, equity investments remain limited to the agreement with Panasonic.”
Tesla-fans, analysts, investors, and influencers, one more time take note that the battery-electric 18-wheeler, if it ever comes, may not deliver the big profits. Toyota’s heavy truck and bus division Hino makes “hardly any profit,” Terashi told me. He explained that Hino’s money is made not by selling trucks and buses, but by supplying its customers with its “Total Support” package after the sale. Toyota hopes to apply the same model to its BEVs, to enhance the currently somewhat shaky profitability of the segment.
Further in the discussion, Terashi more and more distanced himself from the million unit target, claiming it was inventend by The Nikkei. When a Nikkei asked for more detail on the million BEV plan, he got upbraided for “asking questions to support a story that was written the night before,” and when another reporter asked Terashi how confident he would be to reach the goal, the Toyota board member recommended to “ask the Nikkei.”
Terashi’s confidence was at an all-time high again when we asked him about the solid state battery. Originally, the revolutionary battery wasn’t believed to escape the lab and into production before the mid-2020’s, if ever. Throughout the day, Terashi needled his battery-boss to accelerate the project. Finally, Keiji Keita surrendered, saying that “if possible by the time of the Olympics next year, we would like to make sure that solid state batteries can be unveiled to the public.”
His boss still wouldn’t let him off the hook. Asked whether Toyota will supply its future solid state batteries to other companies, Terashi answered that “if Kaita-san is willing to expeditiously produce the solid state battery, then that would be no problem for us.” It wouldn’t be fair, said Terashi, if Toyota keeps the solid-state battery all to itself. However, he warned that the lithium-ion battery keeps improving, and that initial batches of the solid state battery “may not be cheaper that lithium-ion,” but hopefully, it will find customers willing to pay extra for the performance and convenience brought by the longer-lasting and quicker-charging solid-state variety.
“Pioneering products rarely come cheap,” Terashi said.
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A Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) sign at its U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills,
Self-driving car software startup Aurora said on Sunday it would partner with Fiat Chrysler to build autonomous platforms for commercial vehicles, the latest collaboration with an automaker for the fast-growing Silicon Valley company.
The deal with one of the Big Three will expand Aurora’s scope, “allowing us to offer a variety of solutions to strategic customers in logistics, transit and other use cases,” the Palo Alto, California-based company said in a brief statement.
Besides for ride hailing fleets, automakers and others are interested in self-driving technology for commercial applications, such as delivery vans.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
Aurora already has partnerships with Volkswagen AG, Hyundai Motor Co and China’s Byton to develop and test self-driving systems for a range of applications for automakers, fleet owners and others.
The company is among dozens of startups, automakers and large technology companies working on self-driving car systems, eager to capitalize on a sea change in the transportation industry brought by developments in machine learning.
Fiat Chrysler has an existing partnership with Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving unit, in which it supplies Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans for Waymo’s driverless fleet, which is currently in operation in Arizona.
In February, Aurora said it had raised $530 million in new funding.