Weekly Brief: Beijing Motor Show launches suggest SUVs may revive Chinese auto market

It’s been a rough year for the Chinese auto market. Sedan sales are down 5.3%, minivans have slipped 17.5% and the outlook for mini cars and electric vehicles look equally glum. But the Beijing Motor Show has an answer: the SUV.

The event paraded upward of 20 new SUVs from local Chinese and global carmakers alike, many of them pimped-up with fancy infotainment units on the interior, big wheels and shocks on the outside to endure China’s notoriously bad roads.

For example, Volkswagen unveiled the latest generation of the Touareg SUV, which features a plug-in hybrid drivetrain under the bonnet and a new connected-car concept called T-Prime in the interior –  gesture controls, a 15-inch infotainment screen and touchpads on the steering wheel all included.

Ford showed the new Kuga SUV first seen at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February with a fully networked dashboard entertainment centre. Honda debuted two SUVs, one of them the new compact Acura CDX, an exclusive for the Chinese market. General motors, Jeep and Mercedes-Benz, plus Chinese carmakers Geely, Chery and Beijing Automotive Industries, all showed off SUVs as well. Some 52 new SUVs are scheduled to hit the Chinese market in 2016.

In other news, Mercedes-Benz now finds itself on the hot seat over a potential dieselgate scandal. The same week that the US Department of Justice slapped VW with a massive fine (the company has lost $18.2Bn since the scandal broke), it’s investigating claims that Mercedes-Benz also installed a “defeat device” in its BlueTec diesel models in the US Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche is adamant that there is no malfeasance to find. Mercedes-Benz’s bottom line is sure hoping so.

Volvo will launch Great Britain’s largest autonomous driving pilot in early 2017. Dubbed “Drive Me London”, the programme will put real families in autonomous cars on public roads and use their experiences to better understand how self-driving cars perform in real-world driving conditions. Thatcham Research will do the data analysis. The pilot will start with a handful of semi-autonomous cars in London and ratchet up to 100 autonomous cars in 2018.

Smart cities may be the next frontier of connectivity but how and when they arrive is still a major question mark. To that end, Nissan has convened a new Intelligent Motoring Advisory Board for the first time last week in London. The board includes 12 experts from the technology, transportation, energy and infrastructure sectors and is led by the Head of Electric Vehicles for Nissan in Europe, Gareth Dunsmore. The board will meet biannually moving forward.

On the fleet management front, Telogis partnered up with HERE to integrate real-time traffic and traffic patterns with historical data into its fleet offering. The significance is twofold: fleets can now better plan routes based on historical traffic patterns, and they can get real time updates when trucks are en route, enabling pinpoint estimation of arrival times.

TomTom wants to make it as easy as possible for truck drivers to figure out when they need to take a break and where they can take it. Its answer? A new partnership with Truck Parking Europe (TPE). TomTom’s Remaining Driving Time app will remind drivers when the next stop is due, while the TPE app will show where suitable truck parking spots are located and how those parking locations are rated by other truckers. Users of TomTom PRO8 devices can download the TPE app today.

Finally, a pair of interesting rumours swirled around Silicon Valley and the self-driving car: first, German newspaper Handelsblatt reported that Apple is indeed pursuing the mythical iCar, according to industry sources, and that it’s floating partnerships with a range of global carmakers. Specifically, German carmakers, because Apple is attracted to the idea of using German engineering. Talks recently broke down with Mercedes-Benz, however, over disagreements about which company would ultimately lead the project and get control of the data. BMW aired similar concerns. Magna is reportedly still in the running.

Fiat is a possibility for Apple as well, although the Italian automaker is in the late stages of negotiations with Google parent company Alphabet to integrate Google self-driving tech into Fiat cars, according to The Wall Street Journal. If the partnership comes to fruition, it wouldn’t spell the end to Google’s own pursuits with the Google Car but the company has suggested that it fashions itself more as an automotive supplier for self-driving cars than an automaker in the long run.

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

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