Weekly Brief: Toyota beats Tesla to the punch with zero-emissions big rig

Elon Musk asked us to wait until September for a peek at the world’s first zero-emissions articulated truck. Toyota had different plans. Andrew Tolve reports

Cars and trucks produce 20% of mankind’s annual CO2 emissions, 75% of our carbon monoxide emissions and up to 90% of all air pollution in urban areas. For believers of climate change, science or just plain smog, those are some pretty shameful statistics. As people around the world paused to celebrate Earth Day last week, Toyota debuted a potential remedy to the dire data: the world’s first zero-emissions articulated truck codenamed “Project Portal”.

The big rig is powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology and, although it’s just a proof of concept at this point, the possibility of replacing noxious fumes with the harmless by product of water has a lot of people excited, including the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Energy Commission (CEC), whose representatives were flanking Toyota execs at the unveiling at the Port of Los Angeles.

The Project Portal truck will now take part in a feasibility study examining the potential of fuel cell technology in heavy duty applications. The study will begin this summer and contribute to the Port of Los Angeles’ Clean Air Action Plan. The idea is that zero-emissions trucks could be well suited for hauling cargo to and from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, on shorter trips that wouldn’t require truckers to stop and fuel up on each trip. Two weeks ago Tesla hinted that it’s set to debut an all-electric truck this September.

In other news, the secret is finally out: Apple is working on a self-driving car. The tech giant has applied for and received an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which means that it will soon join the ranks of Google, Tesla, Ford, BMW and more testing self-driving cars on California roads. Apple still hasn’t revealed anything about its plans but the state of California released an Apple training manual last week in response to a public records request. The manual suggests that Apple is currently training its staff to man self-driving cars and that the automated platform will be “controlled electronically (e.g. joystick) and safety drivers must be ready to intervene and take control.”

All eyes turned to China for the Shanghai Motor Show, where 1,000 exhibitors were on hand to present their wares to the world’s largest auto market. The show included an impressive 1,400 vehicles, many of which were split between super-sized, gas-guzzling SUVs that Chinese customers are keen on and zero-emissions electric vehicles that the government has demanded must represent 8% of all car sales come 2018.

On the EV side of things, General Motors announced that the Chevy Volt is making a trans-Pacific journey from the US to China next year, where it will be sold as a Buick (the number two auto brand in China). The new Buick Velite 5 will be a hybrid that can travel 70 miles without a charge and crank out another several hundred miles once the petrol kicks in.

Volkswagen premiered three EV concepts: the Audi e-tron Sportback, Volkswagen I.D. Crozz and Skoda Vision E. No doubt the concepts are a thinly veiled attempt to help the world forget about VW's galling emission cheating scandal but they also seem to represent a genuine attempt to embrace a bold vision of electrification. The I.D. Crozz has a range of 310 miles per charge and an I.D. pilot mode that supports completely autonomous driving. The e-tron Sportback also boasts a similar range and has the body of an SUV with the top of a sports saloon while the Skoda Vision E is a full-on SUV with an all-wheel-drive electric powertrain.

Chinese auto start-up Iconiq debuted the Seven, a swanky all electric minivan that comes with Italian leather, a heads-up display, a touchscreen infotainment system, a TV screen that stretches 40 inches wide across the backseat and a personal assistant/in-car butler named IQ. The Seven was designed in partnership with supercar manufacturer W Motors and is scheduled to hit the Chinese market in 2019.

Another auto start-up angling for a slice of the Chinese market, Lynk & Co. (which is owned by Volvo parent company Geely), announced that all of its vehicles will come with a lifetime warranty and free internet connectivity. They’ll also come with what the company is hailing as “the world's first in-car digital share function”, which will make it easy for users to engage in car-sharing whenever they please. These features will debut on the 01 SUV later this year in China and the UK.

Finally, Harman introduced a new Digital Cockpit Platform in Shanghai that aims to streamline all the digital stuff on your dashboard – from centre displays and infotainment to instrumentation clusters, advanced driver assist systems, audio and sound management, lighting, e-mirrors, navigation, drive assist, an intelligent personal assistant … the list goes on. Harman’s solution integrates them all into a single platform that makes it more cost-effective and scalable for automakers and less confusing and taxing for drivers.

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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