Weekly Brief: Smoke-and-mirrors act to turn Tesla into a green energy company

Imagine this: you go to buy a new electric vehicle (EV) and it comes with an optional solar panel for the roof of your home. That's the magical vision that Tesla put forth last week as it announced plans to buy alternative energy company Solar City.

Tesla’s ‘magician’ CEO Elon Musk says that he wants to turn his company into the ultimate sustainable energy company of the future, one that addresses one of EVs' largest limitations today: they don't run on fossil fuels but the grid they rely on by and large does. If customers can charge their EVs via solar panels, the positive impact of driving an EV goes way up.

Musk is a partial owner of Solar City, which has struggled in the past and some believe represents a major liability for Tesla to assume. The boards of both companies still have to approve the deal and, if they do, analysts expect that a suite of stakeholder lawsuits may ensue in protest. Never a dull day at Tesla.

In other news, Toyota announced that it will invest $1Bn (£730M) over the course of the next five years to advance self-driving car technology. The company wants to make advanced driver assistance systems as accurate and intuitive as possible by integrating artificial intelligence into vehicle sensors. It aims to have a commercial self-driving car on the road by the time the torch lights at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Verizon sent a jolt through the fleet telematics world with the announcement that it will acquire fleet management firm Telogis. When combined with Verizon Telematics, the new conglomerate would be the second biggest fleet management firm in the US behind Fleetmatics. Telogis’s core business is with the truck units of carmakers like General Motors, Ford, Mack, Volvo and Isuzu. Terms of the transaction have not been disclosed but it’s expected to close second half of 2016 pending regulatory approval.

Columbus, Ohio, won $40M from the US Department of Transportation (DoT) to become the smartest city in America. As winners of the Smart City Challenge, Columbus plans to create a model for how transportation can help bring access and mobility to lower-income neighbourhoods that are starved of transportation options and vital services. The city will create an all-access transit pass that can be used for ridesharing, bike-sharing and regular old buses and trains. There will be kiosks where people can book rides and make doctors appointments. There also will be self-driving shuttles that whisk residents around town. The six other finalists in the competition will receive support from the DoT to make their proposals a reality.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto bagged another one: Honda announced that its updated 2017 Accord Hybrid will feature the smartphone pairing systems in the dash. The car will also feature the new HondaLink Assist emergency assistance service and HondaLink infotainment on the upper trim levels.

Finally, UK car insurance app Cuvva launched The Social Garage, which allows users to see which of their Facebook friends have cars available for them to borrow in real time. Once users select a car, Cuvva allows them to give those friends a cash contribution and to get insured for small increments of time, as little as an hour. “Insurance is broken, and I believe I can help to fix it,” says Cuvva founder Freddy Macnamara. “We’ve turned a process that normally takes an hour, into a 10-second, on-demand service on your smartphone.”

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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