Weekly Brief: VW launches Moia as ‘mobility’ brand

German carmaker’s assault on mobility market begins with its 13th standalone bonnet badge while European manufacturers join forces to invest in EV infrastructure. Paul Myles and Andrew Tolve report.

Volkswagen Group chose the London technology conference TechCrunch Disrupt to name its 13th brand, Moia, aimed squarely at providing city mobility solutions.

TU-Automotive was among a handful for UK media organisations invited to a pre-launch press briefing to outline the carmaker’s ambitions with the new bonnet badge.

Moia CEO, Ole Harms (pictured above with Matthias Müller, VW CEO) told journalists that the brand hopes to fill a perceived gap in mobility between public transport and taxi or ride-hailing providers. For while its partnership with Gett will continue covering ride-hailing, it plans a new shuttle service using electric MPVs and it expects to reveal its first branded vehicle in summer 2017.

Harms said: “We are approaching this as a start-up company and while we have only 50 people working on it at the moment we hope that by the end of next year the number will be more like 2,000. We are actively looking for the best minds in the digital world to join us on this journey.”

However, apart for having a bespoke name plate, VW’s new mobility plan looks very much like Ford’s partnership with Chariot running Ford Transit minibuses as city on demand shuttles.

Harms said the strategy was inspired by a desire to reduce city congestion but, when challenged by TU-Automotive that the service would only increase congestion in a city like London where a huge growth in ride-hailing services has only increased traffic, he said: “Obviously, each city is different and we will have to negotiate with the local authorities to provide the best solution. At least our fleet in urban environments will be all electric and not be adding to pollution.” At the press briefing he confirmed Moia will operate as an app service and will start in German cities, including Berlin and Hamburg, before other countries in Europe and then, ultimately, being rolled out to the US and China.

In other news four of the biggest carmakers in Europe have banded together to create a network of high-power, fast-charging stations for electric vehicles. The joint venture will break ground on 400 charging sites in Europe in 2017 and plans to have thousands built by 2020, enabling EVs to cover long distances throughout Europe.

The joint venture includes BMW, Ford, Volkswagen and Daimler and lays bare an industry-wide frustration with the private sector for the slow roll out of charging stations over the past five years. Progress has been equally slow on the opposite side of the pond, where the US government recently introduced an ambitious plan to create a network of “charging corridors” across America in the coming years. The European network will be based on “Combined Charging System” standard technology, and charging capacity will reach up to 350 kW.

Chipmaker Intel is looking to become a dominant player in the autonomous car market. The company spun a new unit out of its Internet of Things division called the Automated Driving Group (ADG), which will be solely dedicated to innovating the future of driving and designing the next generation of advanced driver assist systems and autonomous driving solutions. Delphi and Mobileye both announced on Monday that they will use Intel chips to bring their autonomous vehicle technology to market.

The European Commission is on board with the vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) revolution. In its new Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS)strategy published last week, the EC lays out a plan to use EU funding to help deploy technologies that enable vehicles to talk to each other and to the transport infrastructure on EU roads by 2019. The EC wants to make sure this deployment happens in a consistent, non-fragmented manner throughout the EU. It also plans to explore security and data protection issues.

Google added "OK Google" to Android Auto. The popular voice search tool enables drivers to control the user interface without using their hands, rather than having to press a button on the screen to trigger voice commands. OK Google currently only works on the most recent update of the Android Auto mobile app. 

Another Tesla Model S crashed last week, this one on Germany’s Autobahn, possibly with its Autopilot feature engaged. Although the driver survived, the accident has renewed calls from consumer advocacy groups like Consumer Watchdog for Tesla to disable Autopilot and for transportation authorities to prohibit the feature on all cars until Tesla can prove it is safe. Even before the accident, Germany had demanded that Tesla stop calling its feature Autopilot as it was misleading consumers. The carmaker had continued to anyway.

The Consumer Technology Association called the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s newly proposed guidelines on distracted driving "disturbing" and "dangerously expansive, representing the worst of government overreach." The guidelines encourage phone makers to integrate in-car pairing and a simplified user interface called Driver Mode when a car is in motion. The CTA believes that NHTSA should leave smartphone design to the technology companies and encourage state legislation on texting while driving instead. Perhaps they have a point but let's not forget that these would only be voluntary guidelines and that the really “disturbing” statistic is the 3,500+ deaths that are occurring on US roadways each year owing to distraction caused by mobile devices.

Finally, compounding NHTSA’s rough week, three consumer advocacy organisations sued the administration in federal district court in Washington for failure to mandate automatic emergency braking (AEB) in all cars sold in the US. NHTSA announced a voluntary agreement with carmakers earlier this year, which states that all carmakers will voluntarily integrate AEB into most cars by 2022. The consumer groups — Consumer Watchdog, the Centre for Auto Safety, and Public Citizen — view the voluntary mandate as too soft and too slow, given how many lives assisted braking systems can save. They also claim that NHTSA failed to respond to a petition within the required 120 days.

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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