EVs

Tricking the auto-pilot 73% of the time

So much faith is put in the hands of computers nowadays but the idea of driverless cars is still fraught with danger.  Car & Driver reports “Researchers at the University of Washington have shown they can get computer vision systems to misidentify road signs using nothing more than stickers made on a home printer. UW computer-security researcher Yoshi Kohno described an attack algorithm that uses printed images stuck on road signs. These images confuse the cameras on which most self-driving vehicles rely. In one example, explained in a document uploaded to the open-source scientific-paper site arXiv last week, small stickers attached to a standard stop sign…using an attack disguised as graffiti, researchers were able to get computer vision systems to misclassify stop signs at a 73.3 percent rate, causing them to be interpreted as Speed Limit 45 signs..”

Sure systems will improve over time but we already have a plethora of people already putting too much “blind” faith in systems being fool proof as this video demonstrates

Exactly

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From Car Buzz – Mazda’s SVP in North America talks total sense with respect to allowing automakers to come up with the best solution rather than be dictated to on how they should run their businesses. Let them live and die by the sword of their own decisions in challenging technology even if it means zero emissions targeting and let necessity become the mother of invention rather than forcing inefficiency through regulation which governments excel at.

In case you haven’t noticed, Mazda does not offer a single EV in its entire global lineup, and it has no immediate plans to do so. How come? Because it believes the internal combustion still has a future. Automotive News has reported about the speech Robert Davis, Mazda senior vice president in charge of special assignments for North America, gave at a recent seminar. But let’s make one thing clear: Mazda is still very much committed to fuel efficiency, hence its ongoing development of its SkyActiv line up gasoline and diesel engines.

But it’s in no rush to develop EV tech for several reasons. For example, Davis made this point: “Take the $7,500 EV credit off the table? At the same time, you take the EV mandate off the table. Let the government keep the $7,500 and let the industry find the best way to meet the clean air standard. Make it C02, make it grams per mile, fuel economy, whatever feels best. But don’t mandate the particular powertrain.” One of the reasons why Mazda has taken this approach is due to its small size; it simply cannot keep up with larger global automakers, so it’s forced to take its own path. Another EV related issue Davis mentioned was concerns regarding lithium-ion batteries; what will happen to them once they’re worn out?

Unlike, say, cellphone batteries, EV batteries are much more difficult to recycle. “This is where the great thinkers of our industry need to speak up and be heard and make sure the manufacturers can do what they do best: compete against each other for the customers’ hearts and minds,” Davis added. “We’re all better than this. We can do better than this. We need to consider that this not zero emissions. This is remote emissions, or displaced emissions.” But his bottom line point regarding internal combustion engine technology is that there’s more innovation to be done, and Mazda will continue doing just that.

However, the Japanese automaker is not afraid to adopt new technologies, such as batteries and plug-in hybrids, “but they all share the internal combustion engine. So before we go into the time and effort and expense of adding electrification, we were convinced that a solid, efficient internal combustion engine was critical.”

EVs impact on the grid according to MIT

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The boffins at MIT are forecasting that EVs charging with home fast chargers could add the equivalent power consumption of 3 houses to the grid. According to MIT, “Electric cars being sold today can draw two to five times more power when they’re charging than electric cars that came on the market just a couple of years ago.”

Utilities are now prioritizing areas that are seeing a higher proportion of EVs sold as the risk is that failure to upgrade the connectors could lead to more frequent blackouts. The upgrade costs are borne by all ratepayers, not just the EV buyer.

According to a UK National Grid report, peak demand for electricity will add around 30 gigawatts to the current peak of 61GW – an increase of 50%.

It is doubtful whether most governments have factored in the true costs of EVs on electricity markets other than vague commissioned reports that get them to the result their looking for. Then when it’s too late and EVs potentially start crashing the grid then comes all the regulation around when you can charge and the decade of planning required to set up a new back up electricity facility to make up for the shortfall.

Watch it unfold. Governments doing what they do best. Making promises by which time they’ll be out of office when the true costs must be borne.

2040? Watch auto lobbyists water down the EV legislation

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It isn’t a big surprise. The UK is following French plans to ban the sale of petrol/diesel cars from 2040. However let’s get real. Why is it that SUVs remain one of the most popular vehicle classes around? Could it be that the guy who likes to sail needs a V8 Land Cruiser to haul his 7000lb boat that a Tesla 22” rim Tesla can’t manage even half that? Could it be that a mother with 3 kids who often takes her parents on trips to the beach needs a minivan? Have they considered the single bachelor who wants a BMW sports car? Or the DINKs who want a Range Rover because they love to ski in the winter.

What about emergency services vehicles? Have these governments considered the impact of having reliable heat exchangers (from combustion engines) to power life saving equipment in ambulances? From one of my high school mates who works as a paramedic tells me, “We have Webasto heaters in our cars in the colder areas. Running off the diesel they can run 24/7 if needed. If we don’t have them some of our equipment doesn’t work like our tympanic thermometers, the blood glucose reader and then there is the problem of having cold fluids in the car. This is a problem if we are giving these IV because we can make a patient hypothermic if it’s cold. Then there’s just the general environment inside the cab. It needs to be warm in winter.”

What about LCVs? Will light commercial vehicles be exempt? Just watch the auto makers classify their SUVs as LCVs and dodge the rules! The Hummer is a perfect example of this. It was so heavy that it managed to be excluded from the passenger vehicle qualifications on fuel economy.

Let’s not forget the actions of VW (and all of its sub brands) who use the same technology blatantly lied about emissions and found a way to cheat the system. That isn’t to condone their behaviour for corporate malfeasance but certainly shows their true colours on what they feel about climate change. Now they will be forced to sell plenty of brands to pay for the penalties imposed on it.

Take California’s new $3bn plan to support EV sales – effectively a deeply Democrat state fritting away tax dollars to subsidise the wealthy. The poor guy who has to drive a 20-yo petrol pick-up truck because he can’t afford a new one is probably paying taxes to subsidise the guy who pays him to mow his lawn to buy a Tesla.

Have these governments consulted the auto industry? It wouldn’t seem so. Automakers are dead against full EV because it ruins the most fundamental part of their DNA – the drivetrain. When you read all the blurb on the pamphlets what is the one area car makers can milk consumers for? Power and performance. Mercedes can sell you a C180 for a little bit of profit and absolutely gouge out your eyeballs for the high performance C63 and basically vaporize your wallet with the options. Auto makers don’t want to go full EV.

What is it with these governments getting involved in every aspect of our lives? Have they considered the huge hole in the budget to come from a reduction in petrol excise taxes? Fuel duties in the UK are expected to fetch around $35bn in 2017 or c.4% of total tax receipts.

Have they considered that consumers are already clearly showing their belief in ‘climate change abatement’ by the cars they buy? When the subsidies were torn from Tesla in HK, sales went to ZERO while in Denmark Tesla registrations fell 94%. Isn’t that evidence enough of how these vehicles are only tax avoidance devices, not the action of deep seated ecologists?

So before running for more mad green schemes to save the planet perhaps they should look at the evidence and listen to their constituents. Moreover when governments get heavily involved in subsidizing industries it generally results in disaster by creating massive oversupply like we saw in solar and wind industries. Spain perhaps provides the strongest evidence of this. Around 2004 it wanted to get 1GW of solar under its feed in tariff over 4 years. Instead it got 4GW in 1 year meaning its budget exploded 16x and it had $100bn in tax liabilities over the course of the promise. In the end the government reneged. So much for the assurance of government programs.

The German authorities went big for bio-fuels in 2008 forcing gas stands to install E-10 pumps to cut CO2. However as many as 3 million cars at the time weren’t equipped to run on it and as a result consumers abandoned it leaving many gas stands with shortages of the petrol and gluts of E-10 which left the petrol companies liable to huge fines (around $630mn) for not hitting government targets. Claude Termes, a member of European Parliament from the Green Party in Luxembourg said in 2008 that “legally mandated biofuels were a dead end…the sooner It disappears, the better…my preference is zero…policymakers cannot close their eyes in front of the facts. The European Parliament is increasingly skeptical of biofuels.” Even ADAC told German drivers to avoid using E10 when traveling in other parts of continental Europe.

So for all of the grandstanding of governments this push for mandated EVs will not be a plus, much less achievable. I remember as an auto analyst in Europe in 2000 when law makers were saying EVs would be 10% of the market by 2010. It is 2017 and they’re 1%. Once again governments are clueless as ever. They’ve achieved only 10% of their goal in effectively twice the time. Then again what do we expect of governments who do their math on the back of an envelope and never let we, the tax payer, properly evaluate how they got there? Then when targets aren’t reached and costs associated with their incompetence end up a double whammy for taxpayers. Anyway by 2040 most of the current crop of politicians won’t be there in parliament to defend their legacy, or what is left of it.

The reality is that the automakers will skillfully lobby these bureaucrats to water down the laws which will allow hybrids and all other types of loopholes to exist making the “ban” more like a “request”. Appeal to industry wide job losses and technical hurdles (which are immense by the way) and it will be bumped. Even in the US, Corporate Average Fuel Economy laws continually got pushed out, reclassified and adjusted to suit the industry.

Group think alive and kicking

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It is hard not to laugh at the headlines in media these days. Group think pervades. The headline that 19/20 nations agree by definition must mean the 1/20 (no guessing who) is dead wrong. Sort of like one kid answering the question incorrectly to a teacher and being ridiculed by the rest of the class). This is sadly the kind of mentality which carries far more risk. Consensus is bunk. Consensus is basically the euphemism for complacency. No matter how many scandals break about homogenized temp data (even from government bodies (i.e. IPCC & NOAA to name two), deliberate concocting of data which serve a purpose or confirmation that 98% of the models using this bogus data have overestimated ‘warming’. The point is that so deeply entrenched are 19 nations in group think that they are basically falling into cognitive dissonance. That is to say they only look for the confirmation bias rather than truly seek alternative theories which might hold merit.

If one objectively reads the Paris Climate Accord the US is spot on to refuse chipping in $3bn to a pot where the three other largest polluters have openly confessed they are doing   next to nothing to combat climate change. Sure rosy press releases push the idea that they’re fully on the climate crusade bus but reality is China has no plans to actively reduce CO2 emissions til at least 2030. Do people honestly believe Premier Xi will guarantee he’ll sacrifice Chinese economic prosperity for climate abatement? President Putin? PM Modi? Will they risk putting a bullet in the brain of the economy to save the planet? Not a chance.

The French plans to ban the sale of petrol/diesel cars after 2040 is also laughable. If you want to bury relatively technology starved French automakers like PSA Peugeot-Citroen. 23 years isn’t much of a lead time in the auto industry if one is decades behind to catch up. Will the grid be able to handle the 2mn new cars France sells annually? Will anyone do the math on the toxic gunk that goes into a Li-ion battery? Will special provisions be given to emergency services which require combustion engines to power the heat exchangers that help life saving equipment function?

No. But think of it the other way. How smart is Trump to make the rest of the world do all the hard yards  at no penalty to the US? That is the art of the deal.

Tesla proves autonomous vehicles have a LONG way to go

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I’m not a believer in autonomously driven vehicles. This idea that a computer, if pre programmed, can outsmart a human. Sure, the raft of new safety features (auto brake assist) and lane assist control etc can help in situations when people cruising at brain dead slow speeds are busy texting and checking FB. Yet, there is a point where these systems are dangerous. I have driven cars with them and there have been times where the car outputs are the exact opposite of my inputs. It is unsettling and downright dangerous so I tend to switch these aids off. This excerpt from the Tesla Owners forum on FB shows how the latest and greatest auto-pilot function is flummoxed by such a simple situation. Read on.

Found a bug in 8.1 the hard way. Ruined two rims after 15 minutes of use.
That’s what happened yesterday: I started the AP on a smaller street with a sidewalk with a curb on the right. There was no line on the street next to the curb, but a line for bicycles on the sidewalk. The AP then suddenly pulled right, as it was irritated by the line on the sidewalk and ignored the curb. The rims touched the curb before I was able to react, even though I had my hands at the steering wheel…I already posted this in a German group yesterday and some people told me they had the same situation, but were able to react before it was too late.”

The idea that people put complete faith in auto-pilot systems is a worry. By the same token more advanced systems are supposed to use inbuilt algorithms to determine whether to swerve away from the kid on a BMX bike doing skids on the sidewalks toward the edge of the kerb braking as late as he dares and an old lady on a crossing 5 meters further on. The system may choose to sacrifice you the driver, err sorry passenger. While there is no doubt autonomous systems will continue to get better, would you prefer your airline pilot to be limited to a computer software program only or would you prefer a human in the cockpit who can assess the situation in real time?

Maybe I’m too analog. A fuddy-duddy that refuses to accept the future. I don’t think I’m alone but one day more people will grow tired of an app-driven existence. Life will become too boring and they’ll soul search for more tactile experiences. I was tinkering in the garage on my bikes fitting new parts, tyres, cleaning chains and doing oil changes. There is a something to be said about zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. I was completely at peace after completing these analog tasks because it requires a focus that can’t be found in a 15 second swipe of an app.

Tesla sneaks Q2 release hoping no one would notice

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I keep reminding people that Tesla is still an amateur in a professional industry. It snuck its poor Q2 results on a weekend hoping many would sleep through it. Tesla targeted 17,000 sales for Q2

Tesla Q2 deliveries were lower than anticipated at 14,370 vehicles, consisting of 9,745 Model S and 4,625 Model X. In total, 5,150 customer-ordered vehicles were still in transit at the end of the quarter and will be delivered in early Q3. That amount was higher than expected (there were 2,615 vehicles in transit to customers at the end of Q1) and is more than a third of the number of cars that completed delivery in Q2.

As we face economic downturn Tesla’s life will only get harder