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TESLA’S PERSISTENT PRODUCTION BOTTLENECK MAY BE ALLEVIATED: Tesla’s inability to produce batteries quickly enough has been the root cause of its Model 3 production bottleneck — but this issue may not persist for much longer, Eleckrek reports. Most of the blame for the backlog has been put on the gigafactory where the company jointly produces the batteries with Panasonic for the Model 3, which opened last July. Now, it appears the issues within the facility are finally being ironed out, according to recent comments made by Panasonic CEO Kazuhiro Tsuga. The Model 3, which starts at $US35,000, is the company’s first high-volume, mass-market vehicle, and the lynchpin in its strategy to transition from a niche luxury automaker to one that competes with major players like GM, Ford, and Toyota.
The bottleneck caused the automaker’s shipments of the Model 3 sedan to fall well below its initial guidance for Q3 2017. The automaker delivered only 260 Model 3’s in the quarter, well below its target of 1,600, and only a tiny fraction of the 450,000 total preorders the company has received for the car. This has raised concerns that Tesla may not reach its goals of manufacturing 5,000 cars per week by the end of this year, and delivering “hundreds of thousands of vehicles” per quarter by sometime in 2018. In addition, it has caused the firm to drastically cut back its orders from suppliers for the vehicle. The company plans to cut orders from Taiwanese component supplier Hota, which supplies gears and axles, by 40%. Those orders likely won’t rise again until Tesla begins to ramp up battery production.
Panasonic’s Tsuga said the causes of the bottleneck are now understood and output could soon be increased. However, Tsuga did not specify when exactly the companies are expected to fix the problems they have identified. If the partners don’t solve the battery production bottleneck in the near future, it will test how long customers are willing to wait for their cars. Already, 68,000 customers have cancelled their Model 3 orders, and if that figure rises significantly due to further production delays, it would dent the rollout for the most critical product Tesla has released to date. Meanwhile, a slew of legacy automakers, including Ford, GM, and Nissan, are planning to ramp up their electric vehicle production in the coming years.
WAYMO SAYS IT’S “CLOSE” TO COMMERCIALISING SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES: John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, Google’s autonomous car spinoff, told reporters at a demo of its self-driving technology earlier this week that the company is “close” to deploying self-driving vehicles for public use without a driver, though he declined to give a more specific timeline, Business Insider reports.
Waymo is widely considered the frontrunner in developing self-driving technology, and, with other players nipping at its heels, it’s likely eager to get its offering to market as soon as possible. Waymo has been testing self-driving vehicles on public roads — with a driver behind the wheel in case of emergency — since 2009, longer than any other company. And earlier this year, it kicked off its Early Rider program in Arizona, allowing volunteer consumers to get autonomous rides in Waymo vehicles with a driver behind the wheel. The next major step for Waymo will be providing rides without a driver, and The Information reported a few weeks ago that the company is on the verge of doing just that in Arizona. Other companies, particularly GM, are pushing hard to accelerate their own self-driving tech development to get to market. A recent Deutsche Bank note predicted that GM would launch a ride-hailing service with self-driving cars — much like Waymo plans to — within the next few quarters, and the legacy automaker recently announced that it will soon start testing its self-driving cars in New York City’s crowded, treacherous streets. Waymo therefore needs to keep pushing forward with its own plans to beat others to market.
The company has started to address some of the remaining challenges with its self-driving technology. It recently announced that it will begin testing its cars in Michigan later this year to train its technology in wintry weather conditions for the first time. Also, Waymo is starting to address consumers’ concerns around the safety of self-driving cars: It recently launched an ad campaign that highlights the safety of its technology, and released a report detailing all of the offering’s safety protocols. That effort also extends to Waymo’s in-car experience, where screens provide backseat passengers with a real-time view of the car’s surroundings and information about its decision-making. However, Waymo still faces a patchwork of state regulations around operating cars with no driver behind the wheel. Several states allow cars without a driver to operate on their roads (with various restrictions), but the federal government is still weighing new legislation around regulatory exemptions for driverless cars. That said, once the regulatory situation is clear, it seems like Waymo will be poised to launch a limited commercial ride-hailing service with its self-driving cars.
TOYOTA TO BEGIN TESTING ITS SELF-DRIVING TECHNOLOGY AT GOMENTUM TRACK: Toyota Research Institute announced that it will pilot its latest self-driving test car at California’s GoMentum Station test track, a notoriously difficult proving ground for autonomous vehicles.
The station will allow Toyota to test its new self-driving technologies in dangerous scenarios, the automaker said. Toyota has been working on two separate self-driving systems — Guardian, an advanced driver assist program, and Chauffeur, a completely driverless system. It’s testing both systems in its new Platform 2.1 self-driving test car, which features a brand new LiDAR sensor system from startup Luminar. The two self-driving systems will also be powered by new semiconductors from Renesas, which announced yesterday that it is supplying its R-Car system-on-a-chip to power the Guardian system, and its RH850 chip for Chauffeur. Toyota plans to test both systems, and their underlying technologies, in the Platform 2.1 vehicle at the GoMentum track, which includes bridges, tunnels, and difficult terrain that can throw off self-driving systems.
The tests at GoMentum will augment Toyota’s on-road testing of its self-driving technologies. Toyota plans to use the research facility to see how well its cars handle hazardous driving scenarios on the site’s roads and intersections. That should help the company accelerate its self-driving technology efforts, which aim to put a self-driving car on the market by 2020.
IN OTHER NEWS
- Chinese search giant Baidu has partnered with domestic, state-backed ride-hailing service Shouqui to build out the maps for its self-driving cars, Engadget reports. As part of the agreement, Baidu will supply Shouqui’s vehicles with tools, including cameras, to map areas of China where its cars travel. Baidu is building an open-source self-driving software platform, called Apollo, which automakers can use to give their own vehicles autonomous capabilities.
- The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking input from companies building autonomous vehicles on how the agency can loosen regulatory burdens focused on safety to speed up the vehicles’ deployment, according to ZDNet, which cited a report the agency released last week. However, the agency plans to balance the companies’ feedback with its own determinations on the level of danger the vehicles may pose under less stringent rules.
- UPS launched a new service that helps small- and medium-sized e-commerce businesses handle returns of online orders, The Wall Street Journal reports. The service includes an online portal that allows companies to manage and customise their return policies, making it possible for businesses with small IT departments to adjust policies for specific products and collect customer data. UPS hopes this will ease the burden for smaller retailers ahead of the busy holiday shopping season.
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