Weekly Brief: Latest Tesla production delay tries customer patience

Who cares about a Roadster in outer space if Tesla can’t ever ramp up production levels? Andrew Tolve reports.
Two weeks ago Elon Musk’s space technology start-up SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy spaceship into outer space with a surprise in its payload: a Tesla Roadster. The craft, its ‘autopilot’ having missed the intended orbit with Mars with a dummy named Starman behind the Roadster’s wheel, is now heading for an asteroid belt and probable destruction but, hopefully, without having to face a third-party insurance claim.

Imagine the consternation, then, when last week Tesla sent an email to customers who paid $1,000 (£712) to reserve a range entry-level Tesla Model 3 informing them that their vehicles were delayed in production yet again, this time from 2018 to 2019. This after being originally promised a late 2017 or early 2018 delivery. Elon Musk, a master at milking the media, couldn’t have set himself up any better. The man can put a Roadster into outer space but can’t get its first mainstream saloon on the road.

The ongoing delays beg the question if Tesla has the ability to handle large-scale car production. It also tests the patience of even the most diehard of enthusiasts. The Model 3 uses a mobile app in place of a traditional key fob. It offers the semi-autonomous driving system Autopilot. It’s all electric and is claimed to be able to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge and it retails for $35,000 (£24,934) pre-tax credit. Of course, none of this matters if the thing doesn’t exist. Sensing an opening, Chevrolet sent out an email blast last week to prospective customers titled: “Bolt EV: Now available.”

In other news, General Motors took its car sharing programme Maven international with the launch of a new service in Toronto, Canada. The Maven fleet in Toronto will consist of 40 vehicles, including the Cruze, Malibu, Tahoe, Trax and Volt, all equipped with OnStar, Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Customers can reserve and unlock cars through a mobile app; rates start at $9/hour.

The E-ZPass Group, the largest electronic toll collection program in the world, launched a pilot with Verdeva called PayByCar to turn automobiles into e-wallets. The pilot will let E-ZPass customers, who number 35M in America, use their toll transponders to pay for gas, quick-serve restaurants, a car wash and other automotive services. Drivers opt in to the programme and choose the payment method (credit or debit card, e-wallet, etc.) that they’ll be using for non-toll charges.

Yandex, Russia’s leading search engine, has started a public self-driving car pilot in Moscow called Yandex Taxi. It’s a first for the city and the country. In addition to heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic, Moscow also could prove bedevilling to autonomous vehicles thanks to heavy snowfall, which often obstructs important road markers in the city.

Infotainment systems remain one of the least reliable parts in cars today, as Chrysler owners were reminded last week when many of their infotainment systems started rebooting every 45 to 60 seconds, continuously, even when vehicles were shot off. The bug also rendered their rear-view cameras, radios and navigation features ineffective. The bug came from a faulty over-the-air update and affected Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat and Ram owners. Chrysler UConnect fixed the bug over-the-air last Friday.

Uber will no longer allow drivers to drive for them more than 12 hours in a row without a six-hour break. The company is implementing the in-app feature across the US as a deterrent against drowsy driving. It’s a laudable initiative, although most drivers in the gig economy drive for both Uber and Lyft, so there’s no saying they won’t just exchange one app for the other when they hit the 12-hour mark.

Finally, Boston-based mobility start-up ClearMotion is the newest addition to the MIRA Technology Park in the UK. ClearMotion plans to make MIRA its European headquarters and to test its road-sensing software on site. ClearMotion uses a combination of actuators and software to detect changes in road condition and eliminate jostling and bumps as a result. The tech is focused on the self-driving segment; in the future you won’t have to worry about spilling your coffee either.
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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