Tesla

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.”

Tesla Model 3 – proof that it is still amateur hour

The press are already fawning over the new Model 3. Subscribing to the Tesla Owners Worldwide forum page I’ve learnt it is something more akin to a cognitive dissonance based cult. All of the mutual backslapping between owners trying to justify their purchase as if they know something we don’t. Despite this, Musk – for all of his rent seeking powers – is revealing his amateur status where it matters most – first in production and second in distribution. Yet the press is hailing this as the iPhone type game changer. According to automotive analysts Tesla hadn’t secured a production manager, after the Model 3 was green lighted over 1.5 years ago. Car production is a nightmare. It requires supreme coordination across the entire supply chain.

As the Tesla Model 3 is being rolled out to customers around two dozen of his staff are being given cars to iron out any bugs that haven’t been found before final fill out. Normally car makers go out of their way to iron out bugs or defects before release. Such is the emergency to keep to a schedule, Tesla reminds me of Michael Keaton (plays Hunt Stevenson) in Working Class Man (Gung Ho) where the Japanese are trying to fix the quality control issues of the poor work ethic of its American factory. Such is the sloppiness of manufacturing that the workers say “let the dealer worry about it”

Tesla has a small dealer footprint compared to major auto makers. This idea that dealers are a thing of the past is nonsense. If there is a funny clunk on an individual car or a major recall, dealers bring peace of mind and smooth out the process. Yet Tesla, which has well known quality problems has an underbaked dealer network as evidenced by the following complaint by a customer

“I was on my way to pick up my new Tesla today, when I got a call from the delivery specialist telling me that my car had mistakenly been given to another customer over the weekend. Now they want to deliver the car to me after it had been used by someone else. This diminishes the joy and experience of expecting your new car. Not a happy camper at all. Very unprofessional. After all, don’t they check VIN numbers before delivering cars?”

Wait for production nightmares to arise. Musk, who recently admitted efficient production was pretty much the whole ballgame,  has nothing in terms of experience or quality control of say a Toyota which has coined pretty much every global manufacturing efficiency jargon there is – JIT, Kansan and kaizen for starters. That didn’t come from pushing its luck – it has been decades of refinement not 1.5 years with crossed fingers.

The non motoring press can write whatever they please about how wonderful it is because it’s trendy to like Tesla. However Toyota says it is close to perfecting solid state Li-ion batteries which will be infinitely better than the antiquated things Tesla is using now. That aside, the Tesla Model 3 will be like every other Tesla venture – run in the hope nothing goes wrong. My bet is that this company that is still to turn a profit and relies on the taxpayer to fund its sales can’t compete with the incumbents when they flood the market with attractive product. By the way the centre control dashboard shows that form is being put over function.

Elon Musk may well be the modern day version of Hunt Stevenson. Got the gift of the gab but lives on endless promises that he knows is always a huge long shot. Never forget Toyota had a stake in Tesla but sold it. Be sure Toyota’s tech team went over its technology with a fine tooth comb. It found nothing it didn’t  have already and so let it go.

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.

China data leaves warmists in the cold

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As far as curioisity on any subject goes if 19 out of 20 agreed and one dissented wouldn’t you wish to work out why the lone body thought that way? Is he or she mad? On what grounds? Do we simply suck up the consensus and accept it? That’s worked well over time. Well the Chinese Meteorogical Administration has dropped a bombshell on the warmists confirming there has been no statistically significant warming since 1998. The CMA put forward the following analysis,

“In preparing the new database…the CMA say they addressed a number of problems with other surface temperature databases, in particular the relatively poor coverage of stations across Antarctica, Africa, South America, and Asia. They note that the IPCC AR5 report concluded that the warming trends in these regions are associated with a lower confidence level. They also improved the absence of early period stations, especially before 1940….The researchers find very clear evidence for the recent warming hiatus. Their results show linear trends of 0.104 °C per decade, 0.247 °C per decade and 0.098 °C per decade for the three periods, respectively. The trends were statistically significant except for the period 1998–2014, the period that is also known as the ‘‘warming hiatus”.

I would imagine Premier Xi will listen to his internal CMA over others when setting climate abatement policy. Maybe 2030 becomes 2040 or later…so why are so many governments engaged in group think where they clearly fail to heed reality? Perhaps they are so knee deep in their own poor policy decision making that they don’t want to admit they’ve acted in haste. South Australia and Tesla anyone?

The $50mn+ taxpayer funded selfie with Elon Musk

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South Australia’s Premier Jay Weatherill is looking to get a $50mn+ selfie with Elon Musk as Tesla’s battery storage packs will be selected to keep the lights on the state for c.90 seconds in the event of (the state’s frequent) blackouts. Not withstanding the blithering incompetence in adopting a power policy which will end up costing SA taxpayers a further $560mn+ to cover up the green madness which got them into this mess in the first place, Weatherill gets to turn a massive failure into a virtue by maximizing exposure with the world’s most successful rent seeker (that is a compliment) to appeal to the state’s contributions to renewable energy in full knowledge of it creating the least reliable yet most expensive electricity prices, the highest unemployment rate and slowest growth in the nation. Even companies like Coca -Cola have packed up after more than 50 years operation because of the untrustworthy grid and usury plug prices.

Of course Musk has said he’ll install in 100 days or it is free. As mentioned several months ago when the plans were on the table this will only be enforceable after his lawyers have added every contingency to ensure it is just an optical illusion of insurance. Still that won’t matter to Weatherill. He wants the pride of saying he has the world’s largest battery storage plant even though it is pointless in practice. Perhaps a bronze bust and keys to the City of Adelaide will be given to Musk for his humanitarian efforts.

Still one has to hand it to Musk. His ability to get governments to turn over cash subsidies on EVs and unproven technologies shows his guile as a salesman extraordinaire. I’m green with envy, literally!

Tesla – zero emissions and zero registrations

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An eagle eyed reader spotted this article in the South China Morning Post today showing that private EV registrations in Hong Kong fell to ZERO in April 2017 from 2,964 in March. The SCMP noted; “Since the April 1 introduction of the first registration tax on EVs, vehicle prices have shot up by 50 to 80 per cent, depending on the model, with tax relief now capped at HK$97,500. A Tesla S was HK$570,000 (under the new tax regime, the price is more than HK$900,000)…the domination of Tesla means zero-emissions motoring in Hong Kong has been largely an elitist activity.” HK is 6% of Tesla’s global volume yet the share price is pricing in blue sky.

Yet more evidence that Tesla product can’t stand on its own without massive subsidies. In previous Tesla dispatches the argument has been the car is an ostentatious fashion accessory to show the world one’s commitment to climate change but only if the price is right.