• Tesla volume up, but so are losses

    August 7, 2015
    Electric-only automaker Tesla reported its second-quarter financial results Thursday, announcing a net loss of $182 million despite record deliveries of its mainstay Model S Sedan.

    Tesla’s final delivery tally for Q2 was 11,532 of 12,807 produced. That production total put them above their 12,500-unit goal for the quarter.

    Tesla plans to deliver as many vehicles in Q3 as it did in Q2, and despite having a one-week shutdown period for plant retooling that did not take place last year, the company plans a production increase of 60% vs. the same period in 2014.

    “The growing success of Model S has positioned us to offer even more customer choices and accelerate the advent of sustainable transportation,” CEO Elon Musk and CFO Deepak Ahuja wrote in a letter to shareholders. They also reiterated that the upcoming Model X crossover is still on track for deliveries beginning late in Q3.

    Questions still remain about the Model X’s production and Tesla warned that since both it and the Model S will be produced on the same line, issues impacting the assembly process of either would likely impact the other. Anticipation of hiccups early in the Model X’s life cycle could explain a drop in Tesla’s forecast year-end production numbers from 55,000 units to between 50,000 and 55,000.

  • Ford taps game developers to address mobility

    August 7, 2015
    Ford is challenging game developers to tackle the future of global mobility issues with its new Smart Mobility Game Challenge.

    Announced at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany on Thursday, and developed with Cologne Game Lab, the challenge encourages developers to create games which entice players to come up with innovative solutions to integrating urban transportation systems.

    “Gamification has proven to be an effective way to solve real-life problems in many areas,” said Ford in the announcement. “For instance, the games developed could reward participating commuters for successful journeys, based on criteria such as time-taken, cost, comfort and convenience. They also could utilise personal data and technology including smart phones and watches.”

    In other words, Ford wants you to develop SimBikeAndRideTheTrainToWork, and they’ll give you a good chunk of change if you’re successful. The winning developers will receive €10,000 and have their work presented at Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona. A five-member panel including USC’s Tracy Fullerton and Turn 10 Studios’ Dan Greenawalt will determine the five finalists.

    “The Smart Mobility Game Challenge is designed to harness the creativity of the gaming community and empower gamers to take a fresh approach to tackling today’s global mobility issues,” said Ken Washington, vice president, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. “Applying the fun, engaging and rewarding aspects of games to journey planning can allow people to improve their commutes, track their success and become aware of how their behaviour impacts the transport infrastructure as a whole.”

    This isn’t the first time Ford has flirted with “gamification.” Owners of some Ford hybrid vehicles are likely familiar with the company’s “SmartGauge,” which rewards drivers with “leaf” ratings when they drive in an economical manner.

  • Takata reports Q1 profit despite ongoing airbag recalls

    August 7, 2015
    Takata, the Japanese component supplier at the heart of an ongoing global airbag inflator recall campaign, announced Thursday that it managed $24.85 million (3.1 billion yen) in net profit in the first quarter of its fiscal year (April-June).

    Reiterating that it cannot accurately project the costs of the recall campaign and associated fines and litigation, Takata opted to maintain a modest $160 million (20 billion yen) profit outlook for the year, according to Reuters.

    Takata has resisted pressure from Congress to create a national compensation fund for victims of defective airbag inflators. When challenged, Takata representatives point out that a similar fund set up to compensate the victims of GM’s faulty ignition switch was unique due to the automaker’s bankruptcy liability shield.

    The company has identified manufacturing deficiencies as likely responsible for defects in approximately 10 million components, however investigators are still working to determine a root cause for the rest of the problems. Heat and high humidity have been linked to failures, but the supplier claims the inflator designs are not inherently unsafe.

    Defective inflators have been blamed for at least eight deaths. More than 20 million vehicles worldwide have been added to the recall roster, and more may yet be announced.

  • Tesla issues patch to prevent cyber-jacking

    August 7, 2015

    Depending on who you ask, it could be the most- or least-predictable development in vehicular cybersecurity: vulnerabilities in wired vehicles. Researchers at Wired discovered several of them in Tesla’s Model S; some of which they were able to actively exploit.

    Lookout co-founder Kevin Mahaffey and CloudFlare Principal Secutity Researcher Marc Rogers spent two years pouring over the Model S, looking for potential exploits, eventually uncovering half a dozen vulnerabilities. The most severe among them required physical access to the car–the electronic equivalent of hotwiring.

    With physical access to the vehicle, the researchers were able to start the car with a software command and drive it. While operating the vehicle, they were also able to plant a Trojan that allowed them to remotely manipulate a limited number of core vehicle functions, including shutting the car off while somebody else was driving it.

    In outlining some of the vulnerabilities for Wired, the researchers pointed out that Tesla’s overall security is very good. The “gateway” between connected services and core vehicle functions operated effectively.

    They also pointed out that the company was eager to work with them to seal off the software pathways that could potentially allow for remote access to vehicle functions, which was reportedly not the case with the FCA hack.

    And while Tesla’s connectivity may expose its vehicles to more threats, it also allows the automaker to address them quickly and remotely. The collaboration between Tesla and the Wired researches resulted in a patch that has already been deployed; the vulnerabilities were effectively eliminated before anybody outside of the research team and the manufacturer was made aware of them.

    By contrast, owners of FCA vehicles have to be reached by way of a traditional recall process and then have to use a USB thumb drive to patch vulnerabilities in their onboard systems.

    The researchers plan to discuss the comprehensive findings of their exploration of the Model S software system at the Def Con hackers’ conference in Las Vegas.

  • Lexus planning range-topping CUV?

    August 7, 2015

    Lexus is developing a new flagship model to be sold alongside its current range-topping LS, and it’s likely to be a crossover or SUV.

    According to Reuters, Lexus Division General Manager Jeff Bracken told reporters on the sidelines of this week’s CAR Management Briefing Seminars that Lexus is planning the launch of a second high-end vehicle.

    “It doesn’t have to be a sedan,” Bracken said, igniting speculation as to what form the new model will take. SUVs and crossovers are hot. Truck-based SUVs can still be quite successful, as Land Rover and Cadillac have proven, but Lexus only plays in the high-end space with the soon-to-be-replaced LX and the division is already scrambling to add more rows to its existing crossovers in an effort to fill gaps in its lineup.

    Lexus execs have been lamenting the lack of a large, three-row CUV in showrooms for some time.

    However, another possible interpretation of Bracken’s comments could point to the introduction of the production version of Lexus’ LF-LC coupe, which originally debuted in concept form way back in 2012.

    Likely built on a shortened variation of the platform underpinnig the next-generation Lexus LS, rumored powerplants include a 5.0L V8 and a hybrid V8 capable of 500hp, both borrowed from existing Lexus sedans. Reports of a possible F version, powered by a twin-turbo V8 capable of over 600hp, have been floated as well.

    The good news is, we won’t have to wait too long to find out. “We’ll define what it is in January,” Bracken assured reporters, suggesting an introduction at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

    Photo by Bryan Joslin.