Weekly Brief: Ford driverless car chief to take top job

Autonomous vehicle Czar’s promotion points the way for Ford’s future focus.  Paul Myles and Andrew Tolve reports.

Ford’s latest executive reshuffle will see its head of Smart Mobility division, James Hackett, replace Mark Fields as CEO.

While sound business reasons, such as falling vehicle sales and a 40% dive in share price since Fields took the helm in 2014, are being cited by media outlets including Forbes and The New York Times, those on the auto technology side of the business will view this as a clear statement of intent for Ford to be at the forefront of driverless cars.

The 61-year-old is credited for turning round the fortunes of Steelcase a Michigan furniture business where he over-turned traditional methods and thinking to reach out to new business. It’s this aptitude to exploring new ways of doing business that will excite those working in the area of autonomous vehicle and mobility services technologies. Also, great grandson of Henry Ford, Bill Ford Jnr, is also reported to be a big fan of Hackett’s ‘out of the box thinking’.

In other news Google’s self-driving car company Waymo has partnered with Lyft to set up a battle Royale with Uber for the future of transportation. The details of the Waymo-Lyft partnership remain light; both companies have confirmed that they will be working together but they haven't divulged the how, when or where. It's not hard to guess. Waymo is in possession of the most tested and advanced self-driving technology on the planet but lacks experience with real people in cars. That's something that Lyft has in spades. It lays claim to a ride-hailing user base and technology second only to Uber. Presumably the idea is to fuse the two sides together to arrive at a fully-fledged robotic taxi service to be piloted in a city near you soon.

Uber already has robotic taxi pilots underway in Pittsburgh and Phoenix but the company has been mired in controversy of late. The latest blow came last week when a federal judge ordered Uber to cease using any technology that star engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded from Waymo before ditching the company for Uber several years ago. It was a partial victory for Uber in that the judge didn't halt Uber's self-driving programme altogether but the case is headed to a jury trial in October.

In other news, it was a big week for fleet telematics. First, self-driving start-up OSVehicle launched the EDIT, an electric vehicle that can transform into whatever fleet owners want of it. If they want to add Level 5 self-driving hardware, they can. If they want more rows for passengers or bigger hauling space for heavy loads, it’s done. The modular design cuts down on cost and time to market. It also means that companies can upgrade or overhaul the vehicles at any time, switching in new parts to adapt to new situations and trends.

Uber launched a new service called Uber Freight aimed at the trucking industry. Uber Freight takes the same concept and app design of regular Uber only, now, the drivers show up in big rigs rather than black cars and the passengers are loads of freight in need of hauling rather than iPhone-wielding drunk people. Uber says the app will eliminate the need for slow negotiations between companies and freelance truckers and will get truckers paid faster.

GM Fleet and AT&T launched 4G Wi-Fi hotspots with unlimited data for their corporate customers in the US. The hotspots allow up to seven mobile devices to be securely connected at one time and enable near real-time sharing of information in the field. They also allow for data pooling across vehicles. Customers can add vehicle plans to existing AT&T corporate accounts.

Mercedes-Benz is hot on Tesla's heels to introduce a complete clean energy solution for electric vehicles. Mercedes-Benz Energy announced last week that its home energy storage solution is coming to the US, starting in California this summer, in collaboration with Vivint Solar. Vivint will install the solar panels and Mercedes will supply a battery that can be customised to a homeowner’s usage patterns, including charging EVs in the garage at the most opportune time for the grid. Tesla launched its solar panels two weeks ago.

Finally, Airbiquity launched OTAmatic, an over-the-air solution meant to simplify and streamline how carmakers update their vehicles. Planning and executing automotive OTA for millions of vehicles around the world is progressively complex given the sophistication of modern vehicle architectures and proliferation of electronic components, sensors and systems from a wide-variety of suppliers. OTAmatic orchestrates and automates multi-ECU software updates and data management at scale to eliminate the complexity. Airbiquity will demo the solution at the industry’s largest automotive telematics event in North America, TU-Automotive Detroit 2017, June 7-8.

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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