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: Hold Your Horses
Everyone and their grandma is creating autonomous tech these days. Tesla, Audi, Cadillac, Mercedes and new players like Uber and Google are just a few of the companies developing software to make cars drive themselves eventually. But Toyota is hanging back. Sorta.
For Toyota, achieving Level 3 autonomy, which the Society of Automotive Engineers defines as “Conditional Automation” (in specific situations and environments, such as highway driving, the car is in absolute control; a human driver can read or text but can take over if need be), isn’t well-defined enough to make it a priority like it is for other automakers, according to Automotive News Europe.
It asserts that Level 5 (complete, humans-are-cargo autonomy) is the goal and is something no one knows how to achieve yet. From the story:
Toyota is taking a relatively conservative, safety-based approach toward autonomous vehicle technologies, with the ultimate aim of zero casualties from traffic accidents, Pratt said.
“Our goal is to create a car that will never be responsible for a crash, regardless of what the driver does,” said Gill Pratt, head of the Toyota Research Institute, who last year was named to head the new institute, which has an initial budget of $1 billion.
“We are not aiming at SAE signposts,” he said. “Our goal remains safety.”
Toyota cars already equip a number of accident-avoidance systems. And more advanced features that will let drivers take their hands off the wheel during highway driving is coming in 2020, AN Europe continues:
Toyota will offer Level 2 features in 2020, with Highway Teammate. Vehicles with the feature will be able to automatically merge, overtake and change lanes on highways. A Level 4 feature allowing driving on all public roads, called Urban Teammate, would be launched some time after that.
For Toyota, the vagueness of how Level 3 autonomy as defined is too great a risk. Obviously, it doesn’t want to be left behind in the great race to full autonomy. Yet, it’s also willing to be more conservative with its technology roll outs so that it can ensure safety and affordable pricing for its customers.
That last part is key because one of the criticisms of autonomous technology is that it’s a toy for the rich. For now, expensive luxury cars offer such options, while only Nissan has started to offer it in its more reasonably priced Rogue.
Toyota could be onto something here in terms of democratizing autonomous tech, especially if it means that it will make the roads safer for all of us. I’d definitely be willing to wait a little longer for that.
2nd Gear: Try Again, Uber
In September, we learned that Uber’s license to operate in London was in serious jeopardy because it was “not fit and proper” to hold said license, which is a very British-sounding way to describe how Uber handles reporting serious crimes.
On Friday, another blow came, reports Reuters. From the story:
Taxi app Uber lost a bid on Friday to overturn a decision by a tribunal which had said its drivers deserved workers’ rights such as the minimum wage, in a blow to the company as it also battles to keep its license in London.
On Friday it confirmed it would appeal against the latest decision. A spokesman said the company had 14 days to submit its application and decide whether to apply to take the case to the Supreme Court, Britain’s top judicial body.
“Over the last year we have made a number of changes to our app to give drivers even more control,” said Uber UK’s Acting General Manager Tom Elvidge in a statement. “The main reason why drivers use Uber is because they value the freedom to choose if, when and where they drive and so we intend to appeal.”
While some definitely thrive in this “gig economy,” it also opens up the possibility for the employer to exploit its employees, something that the driver’s union are protesting and Uber has been accused of doing before.
3rd Gear: Opel’s Future
After GM sold Opel to France’s PSA Group, the future of the company was unclear. Turning Opel into an electric car brand was a possibility. Now we’re seeing the next steps of that sale in the form of a new seven-seater SUV with plug-in hybrid variants.
The SUV will come out in 2019, reports Automotive News Europe, which writes:
The concept version, based on new owner PSA Group’s EMP2 platform, is likely to be revealed early next year. The production version will be built at Opel’s factory in Eisenach, Germany.
Lohscheller did not give any details of the SUV, except to say it will offer an electrified version.
The car will replace the Zafira Tourer minivan, which Opel will discontinue as it quickly moves to PSA’s EMP1 and EMP2 platforms.
Opel said on Thursday it would sell electrified versions of each of its models by 2024.
Well, then! As we all know too well already, SUVs sell. And electrifying them will help automakers meet the tough, new emissions regulations that the coming years will bring.
4th Gear: Speaking Of SUVs
In order to reverse stale sales figures, Korean automaker Hyundai is trying out new programs in order to try to bring more people into its showrooms and increase its profits. It’s rolling out a new car-buying program and now, it’s also considering shuffling around its manufacturing processes to help sales.
Citing unnamed sources, Seoul Economic Daily (via Reuters) reports that:
Hyundai aims to produce the Tucson and the pickup at its U.S. plant in Alabama in 2021, the report said, citing anonymous industry officials. The plant currently builds Sonata and Elantra sedans and Santa Fe SUVs.
To boost SUV production, Hyundai would increase the production capacity of the U.S. factory to 450,000 vehicles a year, from the current 380,000 vehicles, the report said. Hyundai Motor denied it had any plan to expand U.S. capacity.
Poor sales of its sedans because cheap oil has everyone buying SUVs and trucks is leaving Hyundai scrambling for ways to profit. Go where the money is, I suppose.
5th Gear: French Automatically Means Class And Good, Right?
French fashion. French food. French wine. Champagne. All these things bring to mind an image of luxury and a high-end lifestyle.
Speaking of Opel, PSA Group hopes that its associated Frenchness will appeal to Chinese buyers, who also love French things, according to Bloomberg. It wants to sell higher-end SUVs in what is currently the biggest car market in the world.
From the story:
“This market doesn’t want face-lifted European cars, but new and increasingly connected cars,” Denis Martin, PSA’s head of China and Southeast Asia, said in an interview. He acknowledged gaps in the company’s product offerings, with too many compacts and too few SUVs at a time when increasingly affluent Chinese consumers are favoring larger vehicles.
PSA plans to introduce 18 new models by 2020 in the country — including the DS7 Crossback. The partners are also developing a platform to produce electric and hybrid vehicles starting in 2019. The company currently has no plan to introduce Opel and Vauxhall autos in China, Martin said.
Branding is a fickle business, with much of it built upon public perception, which is a highly elusive factor. American cars sell well in China because American brands are highly sought-after. Will Citroën be privvy to the same treatment? Guess we’ll find out.
Reverse: Patent That!
Neutral: Wait And See
Do you think more automakers should take Toyota’s conservative approach when it comes to autonomous tech?