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If We Want Electric Autonomous Cars They’ll Need A Hell Of A Lot More Juice

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Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are the important stories you need to know.

1st Gear: Surprise, Self-Driving Cars Need A Lot Of ‘Brain’ Power

Oh, you want an electric car that can also shuttle you around without you having to move a muscle? What do you think this is, magic fairy land?


Turns out, battery- and computer-powered cars may not mix too well because autonomous driving technology needs so much power just to run. From Automotive News:

Some of today’s prototypes for fully autonomous systems consume 2 to 4 kilowatts of electricity — the equivalent of having 50 to 100 laptops continuously running in the trunk, according to BorgWarner Inc. The supplier of vehicle propulsion systems expects the first autonomous cars — likely robotaxis that are constantly on the road — will be too energy-hungry to run on battery power alone.

In an industry where the number of LEDs in a brake light are scrutinized for their impact on gas mileage, processing data from laser, radar and camera sensors will be an enormous challenge — not just for coders working on machine learning, but for engineers trying to power vehicles efficiently.


The vice president of BorgWarner, a parts supplier in the auto industry, told Automotive News that companies are constantly battling because governments push for percent improvements in fuel economy each year. Mix that in with power-sucking driverless technology, and you’ve got a recipe for fun!

2nd Gear: How Trump’s Newest Outlook On NAFTA Could Affect Car Prices

The U.S., Mexico and Canada are still talking about the North American Free Trade Agreement, and car dealers are saying what we already knew: Car prices could very well go up if President Donald Trump gets what he wants.

Trump has called NAFTA, a 1994 deal that eliminates most tariffs on products traded between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, a “disaster” and threatened to pull the U.S. out, according to the Wall Street Journal. While he’s not pulling the U.S. out of NAFTA yet, dealers told Bloomberg Trump’s new proposal to require a percentage of U.S. content in vehicles could suppress demand and hike prices:

“Anything that raises the price of a car will affect ultimately consumers and automobile sales,” Mark Scarpelli, the chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said Tuesday in Detroit. “We are concerned, but at the end of the day, we don’t know what the rule-making is going to be.”

The Trump administration is expected to call for stricter automotive rules of origin as part of talks to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement that resume this week. Nafta requires that 62.5 percent of car content be sourced from the continent to avoid tariffs. Key business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce have said a Trump proposal requiring substantial U.S. content is a non-starter.


If you need more information on what NAFTA is and what could happen if Trump does decide to dismantle it, head over here.

3rd Gear: Guess Who’s Actually Making Money On Electric Cars?

Well, to be fair, we should say: “Guess who says they’re actually making money on electric cars?” Renault says that. Weird.


Business Insider reports that Renault board member Gilles Normand told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper recently Renault “can make money selling electric vehicles.” That’s different from one of the U.S.’s most well-known EV producers, Tesla, as Business Insider reports Tesla is not yet able to cover costs.

From Business Insider:

Together with its sister company Nissan, Renault has already sold half a million electric cars including the Leaf and Zoe models. Currently, Nissan is the market leader in electric cars.

Renault has lofty goals. In five years’ time, they are aiming for 20% of their models to run only on electricity. In addition, half of all their models will be equipped with an electric motor so that, in addition to petrol, they can also be powered electrically. Renault and Nissan don’t yet have any hybrid cars but the third company in their alliance, Mitsubishi, does.


Business Insider didn’t give any numbers for Renault or Tesla, so take all of that with a grain of salt or two.

4th Gear: Dealers Aren’t Thrilled At Automakers’ Approaches To Bonuses

Usually, when you get a bonus, you take that money and run—no questions asked. But car dealerships aren’t that way, because many think a traditional automaker bonus system is hurting brands and customer confidence.


“Stair-step” bonuses are programs used by automakers, which give incentive to up sales numbers per model. Put simply, it would be like somebody telling you you’d get a bonus for selling five chocolate bars at $1 a piece than one bar at $5—just because they want more of those chocolate bars out among the public.

That method leads to bad tactics like offering too-steep discounts and generous trade-ins at dealers, which isn’t good for the bottom line. It also, in the eyes of the National Automobile Dealers Association, impacts customer confidence and brand trust. From Reuters:

In a speech in Detroit, NADA Chairman Mark Scarpelli said the practice results in “wild discrepancies and fluctuations” in vehicles prices between different dealers, as well as a “lack of consistency, lack of transparency, and lack of explanation” that lead directly to a “lack of trust” in auto dealers and in vehicle brands, he said

Stair-step bonuses are paid out to dealers on an escalating scale as they hit progressively higher sales targets. Dealers that fall short of targets receive nothing.


Automotive News reports that Scarpelli said customer confidence goes down the drain when two customers go into a dealership on different days of the month and get two different prices, which, uh, yeah—that’s understandable.

5th Gear: Finally, A Way For People To Actually Learn How Their Cars Work

Vehicles have a lot of technology in them. They have so much technology and so many features, in fact, that a J.D. Power study found that people just won’t use certain features if they’re too complicated.


That means buyers pay for stuff and don’t get to enjoy it, which doesn’t sound like a worthwhile investment, but some folks don’t feel like they have the time to sit at a dealership and go through which buttons to press or knobs to rotate.

So, a few Ford dealers in the U.S. are sending teams to help people learn how to use the more complicated features of their cars. Here’s what Ford told Jalopnik, while adding that there was no official Ford initiative involved:

To bridge the gap between providing effective tech training and being considerate of a customer’s time, Don Sanderson Ford of Phoenix, Arizona, is putting a new spin on an old convenience: offering on-demand house calls aimed at providing comfortable, convenient technology training for new customers. ...

Ineffective tech training sessions – ones that are rushed or in which a customer is distracted – are one reason why 20 percent of vehicle technologies never get used, according to J.D. Power. (If you’re a millennial, that percentage is even higher.) But not knowing how to use the tech in your car could also mean you’re missing out on helpful features that can help reduce anxiety in stressful driving situations.


No matter how much time you do or don’t have—and no matter whether the dealer you buy from has this kind of deal—do your wallet a favor and learn how to use the cool stuff. After all, you paid for it.

Reverse: An American Woman Takes A Walk In Space

On Oct. 11, 1984, Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan became the first U.S. woman to walk in space when she went outside the shuttle Challenger to do a refueling test. The first woman to walk in space had been Russian astronaut Svetlana Savitskaya the year before, according to The New York Times.


The Times’ headline on the space walk, which came out the day after Sullivan completed it, is nothing short of amazing:


“Really great,” Sullivan said. She “love[d] it.” No word on whether or not it looks better on Google.


Neutral: Is Paying For More Power For A Self-Driving Car A Decent Trade Off?

Driving is good and fun, except for when it’s not (such as those times you’re sitting in standstill traffic, wondering how your life wound up here). But should self-driving cars still take a ton of juice once they get on the market, would you be willing to pay to power their greedy robot brains?