Two crashes involving Teslas apparently running on Autopilot are drawing scrutiny from federal regulators and point to a potential new hazard on U.S. freeways: The partially automated vehicles may not stop for motorcycles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent investigation teams to two crashes last month in which Teslas collided with motorcycles on freeways in the darkness. Both were fatal.
The agency suspects that Tesla’s partially automated driver-assist system was in use in each. The agency says that once it gathers more information, it may include the crashes in an broader probe of Teslas striking emergency vehicles parked along freeways. NHTSA also is investigating over 750 complaints that Teslas can brake for no reason.
The first crash involving a motorcyclist happened at 4:47 a.m. July 7 on State Route 91, a freeway in Riverside, California. A white Tesla Model Y SUV was traveling east in the high occupancy vehicle lane. Ahead of it was a rider on a green Yamaha V-Star motorcycle, the California Highway Patrol said in a statement.
At some point, the vehicles collided, and the unidentified motorcyclist was ejected from the Yamaha. He was pronounced dead at the scene by the Fire Department.
Whether or not the Tesla was operating on Autopilot remains under investigation, a CHP spokesman said.
The second crash happened about 1:09 a.m. July 24 on Interstate 15 near Draper, Utah. A Tesla Model 3 sedan was behind a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, also in an HOV lane. “The driver of the Tesla did not see the motorcyclist and collided with the back of the motorcycle, which threw the rider from the bike,” the Utah Department of Public Safety said in a prepared statement.
The rider, identified as Landon Embry, 34, of Orem, Utah, died at the scene. The Tesla driver told authorities that he had the vehicle’s Autopilot setting on, the statement said.
Michael Brooks, acting executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, called on NHTSA to recall Tesla’s Autopilot because it is not recognizing motorcyclists, emergency vehicles or pedestrians.
“It’s pretty clear to me, and it should be to a lot of Tesla owners by now, this stuff isn’t working properly and it’s not going to live up to the expectations, and it is putting innocent peole in danger on the roads,” Brooks said.
Since 2016, NHTSA has sent teams to 39 crashes in which automated driving systems are suspected of being in use, according to agency documents. Of those, 30 involved Teslas, including crashes that caused 19 deaths.
Brooks criticized the agency for continuing to investigate but not taking action. “What the Hell are they doing while these crashes continue to occur?” he asked. “Drivers are being lured into thinking this protects them and others on the roads, and it’s just not working.”
Musk has eliminated use of radar from his systems and relies solely on cameras and computer memory. Brooks and other safety advocates say the lack of radar hurts vision in the darkness.
Messages were left seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.
Tesla has said that Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” cannot drive themselves, and that drivers should be ready to intervene at all times.
In a June interview, new NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said the agency is intensifying efforts to understand risks posed by automated vehicles so it can decide what regulations may be necessary to protect drivers, passengers and pedestrians. There are no federal regulations that directly cover either self-driving vehicles or those with partially automated driver-assist systems such as Autopilot.
The agency also says the technology holds great promise of reducing traffic crashes.
NHTSA also has ordered all automakers and tech companies with automated driving systems to report all crashes. The agency released the first batch of data in June showing that nearly 400 crashes were reported over a 10-month period, including 273 with Teslas. But it cautioned against making comparisons, saying that Tesla’s telematics allow it to gather data in real time, much faster than other companies.
Tesla’s Autopilot keeps cars in their lane and a distance behind other vehciles. The company also is using selected owners to test “Full Self-Driving” software, which is designed to complete a route on its own with human supervision. Eventually, Tesla CEO Elon Musk says the cars will drive themselves, enabling a fleet of autonomous robotaxis that will boost Tesla’s earnings. In 2019, Musk had pledged to have the robo-taxis running in 2020.
He said at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting Thursday that “Full Self-Driving” is greatly improved, and he expects to make the software available by the end of the year to all owners who request it.
Xiaomi Unveils Internally Developed Pilot Technology for Autonomous Driving
Lei Jun, the CEO of Xiaomi, launched the first progress report for Xiaomi Pilot Technology for autonomous driving. Xiaomi, in an official blog, introduced the new fully internal developed autonomous driving solution called Pilot Technology. The company has pledged to invest RMB 3.3 billion (nearly Rs. 3,897 crore) in the development of the first R&D phase of its autonomous driving technology.
Jun, during the unveiling, also released a live road test video of its autonomous driving technology. The test video showcased the technology’s safe and intelligent assisted driving approach in multiple scenarios including U-turns, roundabouts, and continuous downhill driving. The Pilot Technology comes with advanced algorithms. It is able to take care of a number of scenarios, as added in its comprehensive list.
“Xiaomi’s autonomous driving technology adopts a self-developed full stack approach, and the project has made progress beyond expectations,” said Jun.
To focus on the long-term industrial strategic capabilities, Xiaomi will invest another RMB 2 billion (nearly Rs. 2 crore). This will include more than ten upstream and downstream enterprises in the autonomous driving field. Under the enterprises, Xiaomi will be in charge of core sensors, core actuators, domain controllers, and more.
In its first phase, Xiaomi Pilot Technology is working to build a fleet of 140 test vehicles.
The project will be Xiaomi’s attempt at adopt a self-developed full stack approach to autonomous driving technology, covering all core areas. With this, the autonomous driving algorithms will be quickly iterated based on user needs.
Automakers Struggle to Understand Whether New US Bill Allows EV Tax Credits for Customers
US automakers and dealers are scrambling to figure out if they can still offer $7,500 (roughly Rs. 5,97,000) tax credits to would-be buyers of electric vehicles (EVs), as the US Congress prepares for final votes today on a bill that includes a top-to-bottom overhaul of Washington’s clean vehicle policies.
Under the $430 billion (roughly Rs. 34,23,000 crore) climate, health care and tax bill that the US House of Representatives was set to vote on Friday, rules governing the current $7,500 (roughly Rs. 5,97,000) EV tax credit aimed at persuading consumers to buy the vehicles would be replaced by incentives designed to bring more battery and EV manufacturing into the US.
Manufacturers, dealers and consumers do not have answers to many basic questions about how the new rules will affect the way clean vehicles aimed at consumers – including fully electric and hybrid models – will be bought, sold and built, automakers, consultants and lobbyists said.
However, industry executives were more positive about proposed incentives of up to $40,000 (roughly Rs. 31,84,176) per vehicle for larger commercial electric vehicles, such as Tesla’s Semi or electric commercial vans developed by several manufacturers.
The provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act are “a powerful tail wind in the commercial space,” said RJ Scaringe, chief executive of Rivian which has an agreement to deliver up to 100,000 large vans to shareholder Amazon.
The legislation brings “a significant change in value chain requirements, in a very short period of time, that affects an industry where supply chain development … is measured in years,” said John Loehr, a managing director with consulting firm AlixPartners.
No longer eligible
The most immediate effect of the Inflation Reduction Act would be a ban on tax credits for vehicles assembled outside North America. That would mean about 70 percent of the 72 current EV and plug-in hybrids on the US market would no longer be eligible, said the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which warned the change “will surprise and disappoint customers in the market for a new vehicle” and “jeopardize” EV sales goals.
However, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Reuters in an interview this week: “This is … going to be a very important long-term transformational policy to accelerate the EV revolution and to make sure it is a ‘Made in America’ EV revolution.”
“Industry is capable of sometimes more than they will at first see,” Buttigieg added.
The Biden administration must still write and finalize implementing regulations to handle some of the complex questions raised by the quick rewrite of the tax credit.
New restrictions on battery sourcing and critical minerals, along with price caps and income caps, take effect on January 1, which will potentially make all current EVs ineligible for the full $7,500 (roughly Rs. 5,97,000) credit.
A Congressional Budget Office forecast estimated as few as 11,000 EVs may qualify for the tax credit in 2023.
The domestic content requirements ratchet up over the next six years.
Volvo Car North America said just one of its models that currently qualify for EV tax credits will still qualify after the bill is signed. The only one in the short term that will qualify is the S60 Recharge, that is assembled in South Carolina, and even that may not qualify after January 1.
Several automakers, including startups Rivian and Fisker, this week began urging would-be customers to get off the fence and commit to buying vehicles before the current rules are replaced.
The bill does allow consumers to still get the credit if they buy before Biden signs the bill into law, but must have a “written binding contract” to purchase.
Rivian encouraged would-be buyers in a letter to make $100 (roughly Rs. 7,900) of their deposits non-refundable in order to qualify for the credit. Rivian executives said Thursday customers are ordering R1 trucks and SUVs with average prices of $93,000 (roughly Rs. 74,03,200) – well above the cut-offs in the proposal before the House.
“We cannot guarantee that the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) will approve tax credit eligibility as we interpret the terms of the Inflation Reduction Act,” Rivian cautioned in its letter.
Mercedes-Benz said it is “reviewing the proposal in anticipation of the new provisions becoming final in the coming week.”
European Union and South Korean government officials on Thursday said they were concerned the domestic content and manufacturing requirements in the Inflation Reduction Act could violate World Trade Organization rules.
US electric vehicle market leader Tesla and General Motors already sell their EVs without a federal tax credit, because they hit the 200,000 vehicle cap under the current law.
Tesla and GM may not become eligible to offer tax credits under the new law until Jan. 1. And even then, it is not clear which models – if any – will get the full $7,500 (roughly Rs. 5,97,000) by meeting requirements that 40 percent of battery minerals come only from North America, or countries with which the US has free trade agreements.
The proposed subsidy limits would hit hardest on automakers and battery makers with corporate parents in China.
Starting in 2024, rules will take effect that make vehicles ineligible for any credit if they have content from a “foreign entity of concern,” a term that could include Chinese firms.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
CATL to Set Up $7.6 Billion Hungary Battery Plant to Supply BMW, Mercedes Amid Growing Demand
China’s CATL said on Friday it would build a EUR 7.3 billion (roughly Rs. 59,600 crore) battery plant in Hungary, Europe’s largest so far, as the world’s biggest electric vehicle battery maker gears up to meet growing demand from global automakers.
CATL said that construction of the 100 GWh (gigawatt hours) plant in the eastern Hungarian city of Debrecen, its biggest overseas investment, would start this year after receiving approvals, and should last no more than 64 months.
Once built, it is set to be Europe’s largest battery cell plant and CATL’s second in the region, making battery cells and modules for carmakers including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Stellantis and Volkswagen.
The expansion comes as European automakers accelerate a transition to electric vehicles in their home markets, prompting surging demand for batteries from local suppliers and causing a run on supply deals to avoid production bottlenecks.
Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla have all announced or started to implement major battery expansion plans in Europe to secure access to vital cells and raw materials and support their electrification strategies.
CATL’s investment will mark “a giant leap in CATL’s global expansion”, the company’s founder and chairman Zeng Yuqun said in a statement.
The Chinese company is also pressing ahead with plans for battery production in North America by 2026 for clients including Ford Motor, Reuters reported earlier, despite tensions between Beijing and Washington.
The investment is also key for Hungary, which is becoming a major hub for electric vehicles and batteries in Europe.
Debrecen is home to a plant being built by BMW, while Volkswagen’s Audi brand has a factory in western Hungary’s Gyor and Mercedes-Benz operates one in Kecskemet, in the central part of the country.
BMW declined to comment but said it plans to release some battery related information in early September. VW and Stellantis did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mercedes-Benz said in a separate statement it would be the first partner to receive battery cells from CATL’s Hungarian plant, and that its order marked the highest initial order volume for the site.
“This new state-of-the art European CATL plant in Hungary is another milestone for the scale-up of our EV production together with our key partners,” Mercedes-Benz management board member Markus Schaefer said.
CATL previously said it would start supplying cylindrical cells to BMW from 2025 for its new series of electric vehicles.
The Chinese company also said it is also examining the possibility of joining forces with local partners to establish facilities for battery materials in Europe.
As of end of 2021, CATL had an annual battery production capacity of 170.39 GWh, with 140 GWh capacity under construction. The company said previously it aims to install a total of 670 GWh annual capacity by 2025.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
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