Weekly Brief: $4.5Bn US government boost to build EV infrastructure

Gas stations are a signature of the American landscape. From abandoned single-pumps to 21st-century mega stations, it’s tough to go a mile in any direction in the US without bumping into one. As for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations … not so much.

The Obama administration wants that to change and last week pledged $4.5Bn (£3.4Bn) in loan guarantees to support the commercial-scale deployment of innovative EV charging facilities. The administration plans to encourage states and local municipalities to partner with the federal government to create a national network of EV fast charging stations by 2020. 

Simultaneously, the White House teamed up with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy to forge a coalition of nearly 50 vehicle manufacturers, electric utilities, EV charging companies, states and organisations to grow and promote EV charging infrastructure in the coming years. Companies ranging from General Motors to Georgia Power to National Grid to EVGo all signed on to the resolution, which is called the Guiding Principles to Promote Electric Vehicles and Charging Infrastructure.

In other news, Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled a new strategic vision to guide the company forward over the coming decade. Top of the list? Ride- and car-sharing. In the coming years, Tesla plans to allow owners to be able to share rides with other commuters via a smartphone app. The company will also build a Tesla shared fleet to enable car-sharing in cities similar to what BMW offers with DriveNow. The new master plan also envisions Tesla taking the commercial fleet world by storm, with a new Tesla semi, Tesla transport bus, Tesla pickup truck and Tesla compact SUV all due out in 2017.  All of this sounds ambitious (to put it mildly) for a company already juggling a raft of equally ambitious targets and edgy investors, but Musk has made a career out of shattering scepticism, so who are we to start doubting now?

Sticking with Tesla, when news broke last month that a Model S in Autopilot mode had slammed into a truck and killed its driver, it threatened to bring the momentum behind self-driving cars in the US to a screaming halt. How can a country entrust an inherently risky endeavour like driving to robots if they can't even pick out a big rig on a highway, some media outlets and safety advocates asked. But the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced last week that a single crash won’t hold back government endorsement for self-driving tech. “No one incident will derail the Department of Transportation and NHTSA from its mission to improve safety on the roads by pursuing new lifesaving technologies,” said NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind at a special press conference last week.

Rosekind said that NHTSA and the DOT view advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and self-driving cars as the critical technology for eliminating the thousands of deaths on American roads each year, 94% of which are attributed to human error. The agency had planned to release guidelines for the safe deployment of autonomous cars this month but has delayed the rollout to "late summer".

BMW, in partnership with Deutsche Telecom, rolled out a SmartHome app that allows BMW drivers to control smart devices in their homes, from temperature gauges to TVs. The app will live in BMW’s ConnectedDrive platform. Deutsche Telecom is also providing the connectivity for a new BMW WiFi hotspot that creates a password-protected, high-speed internet connection inside the vehicle for up to ten devices.

UK start-up FiveAI raised $2.7M to develop simpler, smarter mapping capabilities for self-driving cars. Most robot cars today depend on prior 3D mapping of settings, which requires advanced surveillance of roads and large mapping databases to store and share that information to cars. FiveAI is working on machine learning software and a suite of sensors and in-car cameras so that cars can respond in an equally informed manner without the need for laborious and data-intense prep work.

China is looking to take the lead on automotive cyber security and has created a new national committee on cyber security to make it happen. Headed by the China Automotive Society of Engineers, the committee will aim to conduct research and pool resources that will lead to more informed laws and regulations around cyber security in automobiles. The committee follows in the mould of the US’s Information Sharing and Analysis Centre (Auto ISAC),which carmakers like Toyota, GM, Honda and Ford created last July.

Finally, the UK Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) signalled that despite the Brexit vote, the UK plans to move ahead with the implementation of eCall over the next two years. The UK will also continue to provide road safety data to the European Commission and remain part of the European Statistics System and CARE database, unless excluded by the EU.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry press releases.

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