China Eyes Electric Car Dominance – JACK STEWART 04.23.1. 10:00 AM

A General Motors Co. Chevrolet FNR-X crossover concept vehicle stands on display at the Auto Shanghai 2017 vehicle show in Shanghai, China, on Thursday, April 20, 2017.QILAI SHEN/BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES

IF YOU’RE CHARGED up for a world of electric cars, consider booking a trip to China. This week, the world’s automakers gathered at the Shanghai Auto Show to reveal their latest wares, pulling the cover of one electric after another.

Audi revealed the E-Tron Sportback concept, a potential Tesla Model X competitor. Volkswagen unveiled the Crozz, part of its post-Dieselgate, all-electric apology tour. Chevrolet, Buick, Renault, Citroen, and Jaguar showed off battery-powered cars. So did the local Chinese players, like Denza, Chery, Lynk & Co, and Nio.

Compare that scene to the ‘bigger is better vibe of this month’s New York International Auto Show, where Dodge showed off the atmosphere-punishing Demon and Volkswagen unveiled its enormous Atlas SUV, which will launch in the US with just one powertrain option: a V6 engine.

Announcing a new car in one place or another is a mostly symbolic choice, but the Shanghai show’s emphasis on zero-emissions indicates an industry-wide shift in focus. Over the past decade, the US—home to Tesla, Chevy (maker of the Volt and Bolt), and a major market for Nissan’s Leaf—has played the electric frontrunner. That’s mostly thanks to regulations that demand automakers produce zero-emission vehicles alongside their profit-generating, gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups.

Now that the Trump Administration is working to shred those environmentally-focused rules, the auto industry seems to be swinging its attention east. “We are convinced China will become the leading market for electromobility,” Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess told Reuters at the Shanghai show.

The Government Play

The ups and downs of the nascent electric car industry are largely dictated by government decree. Look to Norway, where nearly 40 percent of cars sold are electric, thanks to favorable tax treatment. Or at Georgia, which saw sales plunge 90 percent when the state scrapped a $5,000 credit for EV buyers in June 2015.

In China, credits and rebates are driving impressive EV sales, and the government has considered dictating that electric and hybrid cars must make up 12 percent of each manufacturer’s sales by 2020. While US policies push for EVs to battle climate change and reduce American dependence on foreign fossil fuels, the Chinese see the technology not just as a way to reduce urban smog, but as a route to prominence.

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VW to Meet With Regulators as Patience Frays – WSJ

BN-LI661_VWCRIS_J_20151118172033Volkswagen is meeting with U.S. regulators this week amid a contentious relationship with them and their European counterparts who will determine the penalties for its cheating on emissions.

As Volkswagen AG faces a Friday deadline for proposing how it will fix nearly half a million cars tainted by illegal software, the German auto giant is grappling with a contentious relationship with regulators in the U.S. and Europe who will determine the penalties for its emissions cheating.

Two months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency disclosed that Volkswagen deceived diesel emissions testers for years and later falsely claimed technical problems when challenged, the details of how and why Volkswagen cheated, who was responsible and how it plans to fix affected cars are still largely unclear.

Volkswagen is set to discuss initial recall plans in meetings Thursday and Friday with U.S. and California regulators, an EPA spokeswoman said. On Friday, the company also is expected to provide details of deep spending cuts.

Source: VW to Meet With Regulators as Patience Frays – WSJ

The Suburb That Tried To Kill the Car – By T.R. GOLDMAN October 2015

What Works

Evanston was failing as a suburb, so it reinvented itself as a mini city. Now the city of Chicago wants to follow its lead.


At first glance, downtown Evanston, Illinois, doesn’t look revolutionary—just another a gentrifying urban core with the obligatory Whole Foods, the local organic sustainable restaurants serving $14 cocktails, the towering new, high-end luxury apartments filled with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. The booming downtown feels increasingly hip; this summer it was featured as a “Surfacing” destination in the New York Times Travel Section. “I have everything here,” says Joanne McCall, pausing one evening on her way inside Sherman Plaza, a soaring, 26-story condominium building. “The post office, the dry cleaner, the movies, I work out upstairs, the Whole Foods is over there, the hair dresser over here. And the Uber thing is getting big here.”

It takes, in fact, a few extra minutes in the neighborhood to realize what’s different—and what’s missing. Downtown Evanston—a sturdy, tree-lined Victorian city wedged neatly between Lake Michigan and Chicago’s northern border—is missing cars. Or, more accurately, it’s missing a lot of cars. Thanks to concerted planning, these new developments are rising within a 10-minute walk of two rail lines and half-a-dozen bus routes. The local automobile ownership rate is nearly half that of the surrounding area.

Which again, may sound like so many other gentrifying urban areas. Who owns a car in Brooklyn, after all? But Evanston isn’t Park Slope—the city, now 75,000 strong, is quintessentially a suburb, somewhere to escape the density of nearby Chicago, a place to get extra room and, especially, a place to drive your car, jetting down Lake Shore Drive or the Edens Expressway to the Windy City. The houses in Evanston were so idyllic, in fact, that filmmakers came to use it as the beau ideal of postwar suburban life—it was where Hollywood came to film all-American suburban movies like Sixteen CandlesDennis the MenaceUncle Buck, and both Home Alone 2 and Home Alone 3.

And the whole point of the suburbs, reinforced by decades of local zoning laws and developers’ plans for a car-centric lifestyle, was that you weren’t supposed to live on top of your neighbor, that there was supposed to be plenty of parking everywhere you went and that you weren’t supposed to walk anywhere.

But Evanston had a different idea: What if a suburban downtown became a place where pedestrians ruled and cars were actively discouraged? As it turns out, what looks like normal urban gentrification actually marks the success of one of the most revolutionary suburbs in America. And its approach to development is fast becoming a model across the region—a model even embraced by its urban neighbor to the south, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Evanston, Chicago and their neighbors all now want to attract more people like Tyler Hauck, 27, who pays $2,200 a month for his 1½ bedroom apartment, which he says is “definitely a high-end” building close to one of the region’s transit lines. “On the neighborhood list serve, people say things like ‘You’re paying all this money and you don’t have room for a car?’”


Urban density got a bad rap sometime in the mid-19th century—nobody found any redeeming value in the overcrowded Victorian slums of London—and by the beginning of the 20th century, the Englishman Ebenzer Howard’s concept of the “Garden City,” a series of outlying satellite villages to a larger, established central city, became the dogma of city planners around the world.

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Tesla’s Cars Now Drive Themselves, Kinda – MOLLY MCHUGH 10.14.15. 5:19 PM

Tonight, Tesla makes its cars autonomous. Well, semi-autonomous. And it did it with an over-the-air update, effectively making tens of thousands of cars already sold to customers way better.

Technically, it's advised to keep hands resting on the wheel---but you can go hands-free. MOLLY MCHUGH/WIRED

Technically, it’s advised to keep hands resting on the wheel—but you can go hands-free. MOLLY MCHUGH/WIRED

There are two things to talk about here. There’s the small story about the features and what the upgrade actually looks like and how it works. That’s a good place to start: This is the biggest change to the visual display of the Model S and X ever. There are new instrument panels, app windows are larger and take up more of the 17-inch touchscreen. Drivers will now get more information about what their cars are doing when in Autopilot, they can lock and unlock their car from the status bar. There’s a new clock!

These are simple cosmetic changes. The Big Story is that all of this—and really, who cares about anything beyond autopilot mode?—is being pushed through to customers’ Teslas overnight. The update will begin being pushed out tonight, and will hit every Tesla made and sold in the US in the past year over the course of this week.

Before you get too excited about an autonomous, hands-free present, you need to know that you can’t nap in the back, chauffeured around in beautiful, electric silence.

Even in Autopilot, you keep your hands on the steering wheel. Well… you don’t haveto keep your hands on the steering wheel. You can rest them on your knees (resting on knees, palms up, fingertips touching the wheel is advised), or keep one pinky on the wheel. And okay, you can take your hands off altogether for a moment. But after a few seconds, your car will give you a little message, asking you to touch the wheel in some capacity.

If at any point you grab the wheel, Autopilot will turn off, passing control back to you. The wheel doesn’t have capacitive touch, but it measures torque, so any tiny little movements you make against it, it feels and knows you’re there, and at least sort of responsive. But again, you only have to touch it if you want too—unless you’re in in New York, then you’re legally required to have one hand on the wheel.

“We tell drivers to keep their hands on the wheel just in case, to exercise caution in the beginning,” Elon Musk said today at an press event. “Over time, long term, you won’t have to keep your hands on the wheel—we explicitly describe this as beta.”

Obviously, there are legal reasons Tesla can’t let you just go totally hands free. There are different regulations all over the country, and stricter ones in Europe, where the company has a large consumer base. TL;DR, this is Tesla’s way of keeping you responsible for your car (and keeping lawyers off its back).

Still, it’s a fairly aggressive attitude, especially compared to the pokey pace at which other automakers have rolled out similar tech. “Regulators need to see clear evidence that the reliability is there,” says Musk. “It works almost to the point where you can take your hands off,” Musk laughs, “but we won’t say that. Almost.”


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VW Screwed Its Dealers, Too – w JORDAN GOLSON.: 10.07.15. 7:36 PM

Most of the immediate fallout from the Volkswagen emissions scandal has focused on customers (what does this mean for their cars?), Volkswagen itself (how much will this cost the company?), and the environment (just how much extra smog are we dealing with?).

Those valid concerns, though, ignore a key player: dealers. Most car buyers never deal with corporate offices. They buy and service cars at independent, franchise dealerships. Dealers were as surprised as anyone by the diesel deception from Wolfsburg, and could be even more screwed than VW owners themselves.

Last month, Volkswagen admitted that it had sold more than 10 million diesel-powered cars with software designed to bypass emissions testing requirements. The manufacturer is now on the hook for billions in fines (up to $18 billion in the US alone) and fixes to customer cars, including possibly buying back the cars in question. On Wednesday, the company announced basic plans for to recall and “repair” all the vehicles, starting early next year.

“This was a massive fraud,” says Steve Kalafer, chairman of the Flemington Car & Truck Country family of dealerships in New Jersey. “If our employees deceived Volkswagen in the warranty repair of a vehicle, or if a salesman claimed an incentive they weren’t entitled to, VW would have the right and probably would terminate our business relationship with them without any compensation … If we did it, we would lose our business. And, if it were a large enough fraud, presumably they would turn it over to the local prosecutor.”

This isn’t something dealers could have planned for. You know a customer or employee might try to pull something underhanded, that’s why you get corporate liability insurance. But no one expects a massive company like Volkswagen to blatantly defraud its customers and business partners. Not like this. Not on such a massive scale. On a dollar-for-dollar basis, this could end up dwarfing Bernie Madoff.

Kalafer says his business will survive, since he sells plenty of non-VW cars. But there are hundreds of Volkswagen dealers in the US, many of them family-owned, single-marque shops. Those are the ones most at risk. VW has guaranteed the payout of sales incentives regardless of the number of cars sold, and handed out small payments to dealerships. But they are losing money every day.

Volkswagen dealers have spent millions over the past few years improving their showrooms in anticipation of new models designed to reinvigorate the brand. Back in January, VW said it was planning to add an additional 100 dealerships to the 650 currently in the US to support a hoped-for increase in sales. Those millions of dollars in new and upgraded service departments, seating areas, parking lots, computer systems, and employees are all potentially in jeopardy.

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