Toronto, Ontario -- June 16, 2016 -- Among the overlooked but fascinating news from the week just passed an important question is asked: What happens when the sheriff's car is damaged in a crash, but the local autobody shop doesn't do aluminim repairs? We also take a look at the latest updates on flying cars and Nikola Motors' electric heavy truck!
- There is an autobody opportunity in a small town in Maine. A local paper reported that the police chief was travelling in a new Ford F-150 when it hit an all-terrain vehicle during a traffic stop. According to the report, “The police vehicle was only recently added to the Houlton Police Department’s fleet and had just been equipped with new emergency lights and siren. Because the vehicle’s body is aluminum, no repair shops in Houlton are able to fix it.” Oops.
- Dash cams catch some really interesting footage, like this police chase in Lithuania. Apparently someone who watches too many movies built a real live smoke screen device for their sport vehicle. The truck also seems to have caltrops—road spikes—on board. Someone has been watching too much James Bond. We wonder who they got to do the modifications? Check out the chase in the player below:
- A new company, Nikola Motors, is offering an electric heavy truck. The company claims the truck has the range of a natural gas vehicle. It is named the ‘Nikola One,’ taking the other half of the name of the early inventor Nicola Tesla not taken by that other electric vehicle maker. The truck will be equipped with a massive 320 kWh battery pack and be able to travel up to 1,200 miles. The company says it has already received 7,000 pre-orders with deposits worth over $2.3 billion. “Our technology is 10-15 years ahead of any other OEM in fuel efficiencies, MPG and emissions. We are the only OEM to have a near zero emission truck and still outperform diesel trucks running at 80,000 lbs.,” according to a company press release.
- A story in Bloomberg this week predicted that the price of oil will collapse again in the years after 2020 as more electric vehicles come on the market. Another report suggests hydrocarbon fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) will be the dominant source of energy for this culture for decades yet. During the "peak oil" debate in the early 2000s many in that movement made the point that alternative energy sources like wind, wave and solar, only work nested within the existing hydrocarbon economic structure.
It is hydrocarbon powered machines that can mine, smelt and transport ore and turn it into steel in the great amounts occurring now. Without that basic underlying flow of energy supplying power and petro-chemicals, building sophisticated machines like wind turbines, wave machines and PV solar installations would be impossible. Taking up this notion is the report out this week that suggests that, “...despite the urgency to cut greenhouse gas emissions as climate change bears down on the globe, fossil fuel use is not likely to change much in the coming decades. Though renewable energy will grow quickly though 2040, gasoline and diesel will still move most of the world’s vehicles, and coal will still be the largest single source of carbon emissions.”
Long story short, we're going to be using fossil fuel for a long time yet.
- A Volvo executive sat down with a Fortune magazine reporter to tell him how he feels that his Tesla, “is trying to kill him.” Volvo, of course, is a car company founded on vehicle safety. The company's engineer Nils Bohlin "introduced the three-point safety belt in 1959, an innovation estimated to have saved more than one million lives.” In 1972 the company introduced the first rear-facing child seat. Volvo also introduced side airbags and rollover protection, as well as “autonomous braking for cars, pedestrians, and now large animals.”
According to the Fortune magazine article, “when the Swedish automaker has something to say about keeping people alive in cars, the world listens.” Dr. Peter Mertens, the head of research and development, offered up some extremely interesting comments on Tesla's new Autopilot system, which allows the car able to drive autonomously. “Every time I drive (Autopilot), I’m convinced it’s trying to kill me,” says Mertens in the interview. Volvo cars now come with something called Pilot Assist, which helps steer Volvos on the highway. But according to Mertens “the company won’t be joining the race for so-called 'Level 3' autonomy.” Level 1 is a car that has features like automatic braking. Level 5 is the level where the driver is not expected to constantly monitor the roadway while driving.” Mertens does not think current technology is anywhere close to Level 5.
“Anyone who says we have systems that are better than human drivers is lying to you,” Mertens says. “Anyone who moves too early is risking the entire autonomous industry. We’re the safety brand, and we’re taking things slowly. Until the systems are better than a good human driver, Volvo won’t go there.”
- Driverless trucks, “will make what happened in the steel or auto industries look tiny,” says the former chief of one of America’s largest unions. New levels of automation in manufacturing saw vast numbers of steel and auto workers lose their jobs in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The advent of self-driving trucks promises more of the same, as truck driving is the single most common occupation among males in North America.
In an interview, the former union exec argues that a “universal basic income (or UBI)—a guaranteed salary for all, without work requirements—will become a necessity as automation and on-demand labour take over wider swaths of the economy.”
There are about 3.5 million truck drivers in the US alone. This doesn't include all of the people working on the service side, such as those employed at truck stops.
- Speaking of which, self-driving truck sales are forecast to reach 60,000 by 2035. The number is ontained in a new report from IHS Automotive. That number represents “15 percent of sales for trucks in the big, Class 8 weight segment.” The report also suggests that global sales of self-driving vehicles are “expected to reach approximately 600,000 vehicles by 2025” and grow substantially over the next 10 years.
“Our new forecast reflects a 43 percent compound annual growth rate between 2025 and 2035, a decade of substantial growth, as driverless and self-driving cars alike are more widely adopted in all key global automotive markets,” said Egil Juliussen, Director of Research at IHS. The report notes that Daimler debuted its Freightliner “Inspiration Truck,” the world’s first “licensed autonomous truck,” in Nevada a year ago. Nevada was the first state to authorize the operation of autonomous vehicles back in 2011. The US Army plans on testing a convoy of self-driving trucks in Michigan in late June.
- It could be that we might really see some actual flying cars at some point in the next few years. Many in Silicon Valley are watching a company called Zee.Aero that sits next to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. The company is owned and funded by Google co-founder Larry Page outside of the Google holding company Alphabet. Zee.Aero launched in 2010 and has worked to stay out of the public eye. The company employs about 150 people. Page is said to have spent more than $100 million on the company. The goal is that long-time trope of science fiction, a flying car. New advances in light-weight materials, autonomous navigation systems have “convinced a growing body of smart, wealthy, and apparently serious people that within the next few years we’ll have a self-flying car that takes off and lands vertically—or at least a small, electric, mostly autonomous commuter plane. About a dozen companies around the world, including start-ups and giant aerospace manufacturers, are working on prototypes.” Furthest along it is said are the companies Page is quietly funding. “What appears in the next five to 10 years will be incredible,” says Mark Moore, an aeronautical engineer who’s spent his career designing advanced aircraft at NASA.
- Another story from the emerging world of flying cars this week is a report that “Chinese company called EHang and the state of Nevada are ... moving forward with testing the EHang 184 drone.” The drone is billed as the world's “first passenger drone capable of autonomously carrying a person in the air for 23 minutes," (as reported in the Guardian). "I personally look forward to the day when drone taxis are part of Nevada's transportation system," Tom Wilczek, Aerospace and Defense Industry Specialist for the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED), said in a press release. The report notes that GOED and the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems reached an agreement with EHang last month and "will help guide EHang through the FAA regulatory process with the ultimate goal of achieving safe flight,” according to the press release.