Weekly Brief: Ford connected car hopes pinned on new cellular technology

Ford may be lagging behind with self-driving tech but it’s taking the lead on cellular technology with help from Qualcomm. Andrew Tolve reports.

Imagine if your car could communicate with everything around it, from cars and pedestrians to roadway infrastructure, parking meters and the cloud. Now imagine if it could do all these things without direct line of sight; around corners, for example, beyond the car in front of you, in the dead of night or in fog so thick you can’t see past your windshield. This is the promise of cellular to V2X (C-V2X) and its first trial is about to get underway in the US.

Ford is teaming up with Qualcomm, AT&T and Nokia to make it happen. The trial will play out at the San Diego Regional Proving Ground in Southern California. Qualcomm will install its 9150 C-V2X platform in Ford vehicles to explore the safety enhancements of specific use cases, including a do not pass warning, intersection movement assist and left turn assist. The trials will also explore improved traffic efficiencies like real-time mapping updates and event notifications using AT&T's cellular network and Nokia’s Cloud Infrastructure. The California Department of Transportation, the city of Chula Vista and ITS provider McCain will all provide additional infrastructure for the Ford vehicles to interact with. Initial testing will begin before the end of the year.

In other news, new legislation that would make it easier for manufacturers to get self-driving cars on the road cleared a key roadblock in the US Senate, but only after senators made concessions to safety advocates. The total number of self-driving cars that manufacturers will be allowed to sell each year has been reduced from 100,000 to 80,000. Also, those sales will be contingent on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration evaluating the safety performance of each manufacturer’s existing self-driving fleet. The bill now heads to a full Senate vote.

The Tesla Model 3 has slammed into some serious manufacturing delays. Elon Musk had promised that 20,000 of his next-generation all-electric saloon cars, which start at $35,000 (£26,750) and come with a bundle of autonomous driving features called Enhanced Autopilot, would be rolling off the assembly line each month by the end of 2017. However, Musk has now pushed that back three months into 2018 and says that the company has only built 260 Model 3s so far. The delay is being blamed on difficulties assembling the battery module.

Ford plans to begin testing self-driving cars in a number of US cities in 2018, Ford CEO Jim Hackett told reporters last week but he offered no timetable for when Ford plans to bring a self-driving car to market and no clear vision for commercialising autonomous technology. Remember that Ford’s previous CEO Mark Fields had planned to get a Ford self-driving car on the road by 2021. While Ford waffles, General Motors has continued to press full steam ahead with Cruise Automotive and its stocks are soaring 30% in 2017 in large part because of it. Ford meanwhile is up just 0.3%.

Waymo struck up a multi-year partnership with the biggest auto dealership chain in the US, AutoNation. AutoNation has agreed to service any vehicle in the Waymo fleet, which currently stands at 50 Chrysler Pacifica minivans but is expected to grow to 500 in 2018, potentially including other carmakers like Honda and Fiat. In view of the fact that these vehicles will rack up hundreds of thousands of miles a year, they’ll need regular servicing. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Didi Chuxing is building its own charging network to facilitate the rollout of electric vehicles on its ridesharing platform. More than 260,000 EVs already run on DiDi’s network, making DiDi the world’s largest EV fleet operator. Didi will partner with the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization (GEIDCO) to build out its charging infrastructure in China.

Finally, Continental strengthened its automotive cyber security offering with the acquisition of Argus Cyber Security. Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Continental plans to use Argus to offermulti-layered, end-to-end security solutions and services. These will include intrusion detection and prevention, attack surface protection and fleet cyber security health monitoring and management. Also, Continental will now be able to provide over-the-air software updates for security solutions.

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

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