Weekly Brief: Toyota & Mazda partner in US plant and connected cars

A new factory in the US is the start of a wide-ranging partnership for the connected car. Andrew Tolve reports.

Donald Trumpfinally got his way. It was not with healthcare or border walls, but hey, a win’s a win. After threatening to impose a massive border tax on Toyota if it started manufacturing US-bound Toyota Corollas in Mexico, the Japanese automaker decided to partner up with Mazda and build a $1.6Bn (£1.22Bn) assembly plant in the US. The plant will employ 4,000 people and build mostly Corollas for Toyota and crossover SUVs for Mazda. The opening is scheduled for 2021, although no word yet on where the factory will be built. Trump wasted no time before jumping on Twitter to praise the move: “A great investment in American manufacturing!”

Politics and presidential pandering aside, the Toyota-Mazda plant is part of a larger business and capital alliance that the two automakers announced last week. Toyota plans to take a 5% stake in Mazda while Mazda takes a 0.25% stake in Toyota. In addition, the carmakers plan to jointly develop technologies for electric vehicles that allows them to respond quickly to regulations and trends in different markets.The two also plan to build vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technologies together with the aim of reducing traffic fatalities and to jointly develop connected technologies for on-board multimedia infotainment systems.

Toyotaalso became the first automaker to join the American Centre for Mobility, a non-profit government-industry alliance for the safe testing and development of connected car technology. Toyota kicked off its support with a $5M contribution to help ACM build an autonomous vehicle testing facility located in an old ww11 bomber factory in southeast Michigan. The facility aims to be the preeminent large-scale test environment where various companies can test their Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) technologies.

In other news, people are a bundle of contradictions when it comes to autonomous tech in cars. A new report from IHS Markit surveyed 5,000 vehicle owners in the US, Canada, Germany, the UK and China. Just 44% of all respondents indicated that full autonomy would be a desirable feature in their next car, the lowest rank of all the technologies surveyed. Then again, autonomous tech also ranked as what consumers would be most willing to pay extra for in their next car. Blind spot detection ranked as the most desired feature among all audiences.

Another week, another aftermarket OBD-II dongle for the connected car. This time it's newcomer Bouncie with a smartphone app that provides drivers with driving and location data and vehicle health reports. It also allows parents to create geofences to keep a rein on their rebellious teenagers. The dongle retails for $67 (£51) plus $20 a month for the family plan, making it competitive with existing offerings from Zubie andAutomatic.

Avisbecame the first rental car company to launch a Google Assistant action for Google Home, available next month. Users will now be able to rent a car just by hollering out, “OK Google”, from the comfort of their couches. They'll also be able modify existing reservations. Artificial intelligence allows the system to continuously learn about and intuit customer preferences. The move from Avis foretells a time not far off when drivers will be able to car share, hail taxis and perhaps even buy cars with the ease of uttering a few words out loud.

Wireless charging for electric vehicles is headed to Asia. Qualcomm signed a licensing agreement with Japanese tier 1 supplier Nichicon, which plans to commercialise Qualcomm's Halo WEVC technology for Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) and Electric Vehicle (EV) manufacturers across Asia.

Finally, DENSO is set to debut one of the most advanced image-recognition processors the automotive market has ever seen, the Visconti 4 from Toshiba. The processor is equipped with eight media processing engines, allowing it to execute a whopping eight applications simultaneously. That includes recognising traffic lanes, nearby vehicles, both parked and moving; traffic signs and signals; the headlights of oncoming vehicles; and bicyclists and pedestrians; all at the same time if need be. It also includes an image recognition algorithm to help it detect bikers and pedestrians in low light or at night.

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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