Weekly Brief: Nationwide US EV charging corridors announced

For all their environmental benefits, electric vehicles (EVs) still have one major drawback – they can't go very far. Sure, the top models now can eek out a range of 300 miles but the fear of running out of juice in some random town remains high for drivers and, thus, mainstream adoption continues to hover around 1%.

The US government wants to change that with a new national network of 48 electrified highways. The Department of Transportation announced last week that the charging corridors will span nearly 25,000 miles of existing highways across 35 states, making it possible to drive cross country or travel the entire east and west coasts without ever losing sight of a place to plug in. Charging stations will pepper the landscape every 50 miles on designated corridors and will be marked with signage that reads “Alternative Fuels Corridor.”

Earlier this year the Obama administration granted $4.5Bn (£3.6Bn) to expedite the commercial deployment of EV charging stations that will be able to charge most EVs up to 80% in 30 minutes. No word yet on how soon construction on the charging corridors will begin but this is a legacy issue for Obama so he wants to break ground as soon as possible.

In other news,General Motors (GM) partnered up with Uber on the ridesharing front. Uber drivers in San Francisco will now be able to rent cars from Maven, GM's ridesharing service, and use them to shuttle passengers around town. The two are starting with a 90-day pilot and, if successful, will look to expand nationwide. All of this is surprising news given that GM invested $500M in Uber’s rival Lyft earlier this year and already has a similar rental arrangement with Lyft throughout the US.

Toyota launched a new Smart Key Box (SKB) that simplifies car-sharing with keyless access to cars. Here’s how it works: a car-sharing user receives access codes on his or her smartphone and, when the smartphone is brought near the vehicle, the codes are authenticated with the SKB through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) communications. The user can then unlock (or lock) the door and start the engine via smartphone. The technology will debut in a pilot programme with US car-sharing company Getaround in January 2017 in – where else? –San Francisco.

Hyundai and Kia are partnering to build a new super brain for the connected car. Called the Connected Car Operating System (ccOS), the software platform will process the massive amounts of data that modern cars generate, from infotainment to advanced driver assistance systems to sensors in self-driving cars. Hyundai Motor Group, which owns the two South Korean brands, views the new software platform as a way to both distinguish its brands by 2020 and to create a new revenue stream as an automotive software services company.

There's a new software Tier 1 supplier on the block. Embattled smartphone maker BlackBerry, which recently killed off its iconic Blackberry Classic owing to lack of demand, is hoping to realign its business model around software and believes that the auto industry can present stable growth. Being a Tier 1 supplier should help, although Blackberry's QNX software faces stiff competition from the likes of Google, Apple and other tech companies supplying software for connected and self-driving cars. BlackBerry’s first formal Tier 1 relationship is with Ford.

Finally, start-up German Autolabs wants to put a “digital co-driver” in every car on the road. The idea is to offer an after-market device that harnesses speech recognition and gesture control so that drivers can engage with their digital devices while not becoming distracted by the physical act of controlling them. The digital co-driver will do everything from control apps and email to enter destinations in the in-dash navigation system –all without ever requiring the driver to touch a thing. Launch is scheduled for 2017.

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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