AV Report ⁠— February 10, 2020

Reconsidering the rebate

The funds allotted for the federal government’s electric vehicle rebate program may not last as long as Ottawa initially expected, according to Transport Canada’s recent report.

As of Jan. 19, Transport Canada reported that more than $134 million in rebates have been issued to 33,000 Canadians in the last eight months.⁠ The federal government initially allocated $300 million over the next three years to the EV incentive program, but, thanks to Canada’s eager car-purchasers, those funds may be entirely gobbled up before the end of this year.

“It’s very encouraging to see how many people are now thinking about and actually going ahead and buying electric vehicles,” said Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

The incentive payments, launched last May, offer up to $5,000 off the price of buying new electric and hybrid passenger vehicles to try and bring their price tags closer to those on gas-powered models.

The government had expected the new program to be popular, but it now says “the program has induced more new sales than projected.”

According to Transport Canada, EV sales lept more than 32 percent after the rebates were launched last spring, compared to the same period the year before. In 2019, EVs made up three percent of all vehicles⁠—up from two percent in 2018. 

Detroit’s not done

It seems that General Motors will not be shuttering its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant after all⁠—the automaker has announced that it will be converting the facility into a production plant for autonomous and electric vehicles.

GM will begin making the Cruise Origin autonomous shuttle at the plant in late 2022, shortly after it starts production on its all-electric pickup next year.

The production plan was announced last Monday as part of GM’s US$2.2 billion investment in the factory, which had been slated for closure prior to last year’s negotiations with the United Auto Workers union.

The investment is set to create more than 2,200 jobs. Today, the plan employs 900 workers per shift. 

GM will also invest US$800 million in supplier tooling and other projects related to EV production. 

The Detroit-Hamtramck plant will be idled for several months beginning at the end of February, meaning up to 800 hourly workers could be laid off or transferred during the downtime.

Takeoff at Toyota

Toyota is flying high with a new collaboration with Joby Aviation⁠, an aerospace company developing an all-electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

The automaker recently invested nearly $400 million into Joby and will share its expertise in manufacturing, quality and cost control for the development and production of Joby’s eVTOL aircraft. 

“Air transportation has been a long-term goal for Toyota,” said Toyota Motor President and CEO Akio Toyoda. “While we continue our work in the automobile business, this agreement sets our sights to the sky.”

The eVTOLs are also anticipated to help alleviate persistent mobility challenges such as traffic congestion in urban areas, increased environmental burden and the lack of transportation in underpopulated areas.

The piloted all-electric powertrain, zero-emissions aircraft is 100 times quieter than conventional aircraft during takeoff and landing, and near-silent when flying over. It can carry four passengers apart from the pilot and takes off and lands vertically like a helicopter.

The aircraft is capable of speeds of 200 mph (321 km/h) and can fly over 150 miles (241 km) on a single charge. The aircraft has six propellers but is said to be able to fly with fewer. The eVTOLs are also said to offer lower operating costs, lower costs of maintenance, and enhanced safety features while accelerating the shift to sustainable transportation.

Regardless, a personal aircraft⁠ will not be hitting the market anytime soon⁠—and when it does, it certainly will come with a hefty price tag.  

Dealing with Digit

Ford Motor Company is riding a futuristic wave by parterning with Agility Robots and its humanoid robot, Digit⁠—which has arms, legs and is set to work with human employees in human spaces at select Ford warehouses.

Agility Robotics, which has had a partnership with the automaker since May 2019, recently launched Digit, a robot with arms and legs that will work alongside human employees in spaces designed for humans. 

Ford received the first two robots off Agility’s assembly line and will continue to explore ways on how Digit can help commercial vehicle customers, including autonomous vehicle businesses and making warehousing and delivery operations more efficient and affordable for Ford customers.

According to Ford, key applications for further exploration on Digit’s ability are indoor or first-mile logistics and last-50-feet delivery. The research will also focus on how Ford vehicles and Digit ‘talk’ to each other and their surroundings through advanced connectivity technololgies. 

For example, Ford’s connected vehicles can continually update cloud-based maps that can be shared with Digit, saving the robot from having to recreate the same type of information using its own resources.

The team expects that, as Digit will be part of a package delivery service, and this communication channel will also provide delivery specific information, such as where a customer prefers packages to be left, or other individual package delivery needs. This communication channel also allows Digit to ask for help if something unexpected is encountered.

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