By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario -- June 1, 2018 -- In today's Friday Fun: Homeless Jesus saves pedestrians, Big Data benefitting insurers, the latest safety trick from Audi and much, much more.
The well-known “Homeless Jesus” statue in Hamilton is being credited with saving the life of several pedestrians. A local news report notes that the statue, in place on a bench in front of St. Patrick's Church in Hamilton, “stopped a runaway junk removal truck from crashing into pedestrians.” According to police the truck was rolling down a street when the driver realized he wouldn't be able to stop in time for a red light. According to the report, the driver “veered east and hopped the curb outside the church to avoid hitting other vehicles or pedestrians. Instead, the truck smashed into the statue, which depicts Jesus wrapped in a blanket, his pierced feet the only indication of his identity. If the statue hadn't been there, wrote Constable Jerome Stewart in a media release, the truck would have continued into oncoming traffic and could have struck pedestrians.” In a radio interview later in the day the artist who sculpted the piece noted that it should be easy to fix. It’s made out of bronze, and so, unlike marble statues, it can be repaired.
In Grand Forks North Dakota this past week a car driven by a visitor from Minnesota ended up “inside a Sherwin Williams store” around 2 o'clock in the afternoon. According to the local paper, “Police say it appears Anderson hit the gas instead of the brakes and drove into the store, causing extensive damage. She was issued a citation for failing to have her vehicle under control.”
The Audi A8 has a new and odd little safety trick. Utilizing new sensors, the car will react if it senses another vehicle headed toward its side panels. If there is a vehicle impact imminent the car’s suspension will tip up that side of the car so the vehicle impacting that side will hit lower down on the door, thereby increasing the likelihood a passenger or a driver will emerge unscathed.
Another self-driving Tesla has been involved in a crash. According to authorities, a Tesla sedan, said to be in Autopilot mode at the time, crashed into a parked Laguna Beach Police Department vehicle on Tuesday morning. Teslas in self-driving mode have suffered several accidents of late. Elon Musk continues to complain that the cars are not at fault, but that the media is engaged in a campaign to portray Tesla in a bad light. Be that as it may, it does seem the company is working on a plan to get the insurance costs on Teslas under control. According to a report in the financial trade media Tesla is said to be working on a new car insurance program, the 'Customer Centric Insurance Company,' as a way of containing huge insurance rates on the cars. The Tesla Model S is the single most expensive car to insure in the U.S. According to the report, “Tesla's Model S topped it with an annual average insurance paid of $1,789.48 and annual collision insurance paid of $1310.40. Last year, some insurance companies announced that they would increase their rates on Tesla's vehicles based on a report that claimed ‘abnormally high claim frequencies’ from Tesla owners.” Tesla has guaranteed buyers that there will always be an insurance provider that will, “charge less for a Model S or X than any other car with a similar driver, price and vehicle category.” Now it seems Tesla has hired Alex Tsetsenekos, a former exec at Liberty Mutual, to lead the development of a new insurance program for the automaker in North America.
A U.K. newspaper report finds that insurance companies have taken up the trend toward so-called Big Data in a bid to generate new profits. Today, there are companies that gather information from social media companies and other sources to generate more detailed pictures of the behaviour of individuals. These now massive databases are being tapped by insurance companies to determine the cost of a policy. According to the UK report some insurers, “are exploiting sensitive data to hike bills. Firms now spy on shopping habits, credit records, social media posts and even phone usage before setting premiums. Those judged unlikely to shop around – typically the elderly or 'cash rich and time poor' – are hit with higher renewal rates.” According to the report the firms can access data from loyalty cards, government records and even logs from call centres. “The detailed picture allows the firms to predict a customer's behaviour – and their likelihood of shopping around. A recent blog from the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which advises big insurers, lays bare the tactics. It says firms can use data from loyalty cards to determine how wealthy a target is – and whether they would swallow a big price hike.” The Financial Conduct Authority is understood to be so alarmed by the tactics that it is investigating the issue.
Also in Europe this past week: “Homeowners with a ride-on lawnmower will have to take out car insurance under plans drawn up by [the EU] which ministers fear could even kill off the British Grand Prix.” The report goes on to note that, “The latest draft of a European Commission directive on motor insurance, slipped out last week, would force everyone driving a vehicle on private land to take out insurance. Department for Transport officials say it could also force Formula One drivers such as Lewis Hamilton to take out insurance to protect themselves in the event of an accident at a private circuit within the European Union.” The law also seems to require people with Segways, E-bike, golf carts and electric scooters to have third-party insurance. Chris Grayling, the U.K. transport secretary, was quoted as saying, "This is typical European regulation gone mad.”
Japanese materials makers are working on new forms of plastic for electric cars. According to an article in the business media, one of these companies, Toray, is a market leader in polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) products. “Fibre and plastic made with the polymer are not only lightweight, but some can withstand temperatures as hot as 200 C. This makes PPS well-suited to electric vehicles because some of their parts run very hot, including the lithium-ion batteries and other electrical components. The polymer is in high demand for wires that wrap around motor coils, as well as insulating materials and films for electrical parts. The average gas-powered car uses about 900 grams of PPS materials, but heavier electric and hybrid cars use up to 2-3kg.”
Hamburg will on Thursday become the first German city to ban older diesel vehicles from some highly polluted stretches of road. This is a remarkable shift in a country based on an auto industry designed around diesel fuel. A recent article in the German media notes that, “diesel fuel was patented by Bavarian engineer Rudolf Diesel in 1892, the fuel is subsidised to this day in a number of European countries. But its reputation has lain in tatters since Volkswagen's ‘dieselgate’ scandal broke in 2015. The mammoth carmaker admitted to fitting millions of cars worldwide with ‘defeat devices’ – software designed to trick regulators into thinking cars met emissions standards.” It turns out that the output of harmful fine particulates and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are far higher than legally permitted. According to the report, “Drivers have voted with their wallets ever since, sending diesel's share of new car sales plunging from 47.7 percent in 2015 to 38.7 percent last year.” But with some 600,000 jobs dependent on the internal combustion engine some in the government still want to continue with diesel as an important fuel in the country’s vehicle sector. An executive with the Centre of Automotive Management Diesel is quoted as saying, diesel is "a German child that we'd rather not allow to die." But even as the industry fights to save diesel, the people are saying, “enough.” In Hamburg, a 1,600-metre (one mile) stretch of highway and a 580-metre section of another major road will be closed to older diesels. “The port city is the first to act on a court ruling that found such bans were a legitimate way for local authorities to reduce air pollution below European Union health thresholds,” according to the report.
Another story notes that Daimler may now be getting caught up in Dieselgate. A new crop of executives in the German transport ministry “spells trouble for the makers of Mercedes-Benz cars and trucks.” The new guard is not as interested in protecting the German car industry as the older generation. “Since taking over the ministry in March, Andreas Scheuer, a tough protégé of Chancellor Angela Merkel, has vowed to up the pressure on Germany's powerful car industry to come clean on Dieselgate and face the consequences,” according to a news report. “Daimler has long dismissed any link to the environmental scandal that has cost rival Volkswagen tens of billions of Euros in fines, refits and recalls. But the KBA, Germany's motor vehicle authority, begs to differ. Last week the KBA ordered Daimler to recall 6,300 of its Mercedes Vito vans, but that may just be the tip of the iceberg: The agency may add up to 600,000 Mercedes C-class and G-class models cars to its list,” according to an article in the well-respected news magazine Der Spiegel.