Weekly Brief: Tesla unveils an all-electric semi-autonomous big rig

A slew of companies, including Walmart, are lining up to preorder the Tesla Semi. Andrew Tolve reports.

Gas-guzzling big rigs may soon be a thing of the past and so may truck drivers, for that matter. At a special event on Thursday Tesla unveiled a fully electric articulated lorry that comes with four independent motors, has a range of 500 miles between charges and can go 0-to-60mph in 5 seconds. Oh, and it comes with Enhanced Autopilot as standard, meaning that it can drive itself on highways thanks to a mix of automatic lane keeping and braking. Tesla also unveiled a surprise Roadster 2 at the event – it came zipping out of the semi’s rear door – which can go 0-to-60 in 1.9 seconds, a record among production cars.

However, it’s the truck that’s the big news here. Long-haul trucking is a tough industry on its drivers, with annual turnover for carriers approaching 90%. It’s also an industry that plays out on the open road, where autonomous technology is at its best. Combine these two factors and you have a good clue as to where self-driving technology is likely to make its biggest splash first. Elon Musk says the ‘Tesla Semi’ will go into production in 2019. Walmart already announced that it’s preordering 15 for pilots in the US and Canada. Canadian grocery chain Loblaw has 25 reserved, Michigan-based grocery chain Meijer has four, and Arkansas-based J.B. Hunt Transport has “multiple” trucks preordered for its West Coast division.

In other news, Cadillacs self-driving technology Super Cruise debuted on the brand’s flagship 2018 CT6. The technology allows cars to drive themselves on highways, much like Tesla’s Autopilot but comes with a host of safety restrictions like a camera that ensures drivers pay attention when Super Cruise is engaged. If they don’t, the car does everything from flash lights to vibrate chairs to slow to a stop in the breakdown lane. Super Cruise comes as a $5,000 (£4,238) option on the CT6’s Premium Luxury Trim, which starts at $66,300.

Ubers board has approved selling off up to $10Bn in stock to SoftBank and other investors. The deal would give Uber much needed cash to turn the page on its dreadful 2017, and it would give investors a major chunk of one of the most prized, if embattled, startups in the world today. SoftBank invested $5Bn in China’s DiDi Chuxing in May 2017 and $2Bn in southeast Asia’s Grab in July 2017. SoftBank says that it is still debating the deal.

Toyota and Launch Mobility are jointly developing a product that will make previously leased vehicles available for short-term rentals to rideshare drivers. The companies are developing a pilot with the intent to deploy in select markets by the end of the calendar year. The end goal is to expand to Toyota’s global network of dealerships, aligning with various ridesharing companies around the world.

Honda and SoftBank are teaming up to research 5G technologies in the connected car. SoftBank will install experiential 5G base stations at Honda R&D's Takasu Proving Ground in Japan, and the two companies will start full-fledged joint research into Internet-connectivity and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technologies in April 2018. They hope to develop on-board antennas that enable a stable handover of base stations for communication by a vehicle moving at high-speed and recovery technologies for areas with weak or out-of-range signals.

Continental is developing a cheaper way to build touchscreens for the affordable car segment. Rather than use the standard dispersive-signal technology found in most touchscreens today, from smartphones to tablets, Continental will use an “infrared curtain” built from an array of infrared light sources on the sides of the display. The technology detects where light is blocked and responds to swiping, pinching and zooming.

Finally, US fleet operators are showing peaked interest in and satisfaction with GPS fleet management systems, according to a new survey from C.J. Driscoll and Associates. Of the 529 fleet operators surveyed, more than half are currently using GPS fleet management systems. Over three-fourths of those who employ a GPS management system give it a four- or five-star satisfaction rating and consider it “very important” or “somewhat important” to efficiently running their fleets. More than a third of those fleets that are not currently using a GPS fleet management system expect to deploy a system in the foreseeable future.

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

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