Episode 418 – Chinese MFGs Automate, Credit Holds Back Car Sales, BMW Micro Navigation

June 22nd, 2010 at 12:00pm

Runtime 7:30

As workers across the country get restless, Chinese manufacturers are starting to embrace robots and automation to reduce the number of people needed.  A.T. Kearney reports that U.S. new-car sales could be a lot better if more consumers had easy access to auto loans.  BMW is working on a new research project in the field of “micro navigation,” a new way to help drivers and pedestrians get where they need to go.  All that and more, plus a look at some of the advanced human-machine interfaces Visteon is developing.

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Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

It’s Tuesday, June 22, 2010 and here’s the top news in the auto world!

No sooner do wages start to go up in China than automakers react with ways to get rid of workers. Bloomberg reports that Nissan and contract manufacturers like Foxconn are putting automation and robots in their manufacturing plants to reduce the number of line workers they use. I would point out that this is going to increase the productivity and quality of Chinese manufacturing, especially if they use more robots for painting and welding cars.

Car sales are recovering slowly in the American market, but A.T. Kearney reports that they could be much better if only consumers could get car loans more easily. It says that for the period of 2009 to 2014, 3.5 million consumers will be pushed into buying used cars because they can’t get loans to buy new ones. The problem affects people who do not have pristine credit ratings. If only 1 percent more buyers could get loans, that would translate into 350,000 more sales a year.

A new study says EVs could be worth next to nothing on the used-car market. According to Autocar, Glass’ Guide in the UK says if batteries are sold rather than leased, the typical EV will only retain 10 percent of its value after the first five years, compared to at least 25 percent for a conventionally powered car. The study assumes that battery life will last eight years and cost £8,000 or $11,700 to replace. If batteries were leased, researchers say the cost can be offset against gas or diesel savings.

Tesla’s much-anticipated initial public offering could happen as early as next week, and in preparation to help sell stock, the company showed off some future product concepts to the people who might buy it. According to Autoblog, the future models include a convertible, a van and a crossover. The company revealed that it will build all the models on the same platform as the Model S. This is a real smart move and one that makes me start to think Tesla could actually succeed.

Yesterday construction began at the site of Dow Kokam’s new battery plant in Midland, Michigan.  The event is a big deal for the state, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.  And apparently it was a big deal for Washington, too, since Vice President Joe Biden was on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony.  He praised the plant as a solid step towards ending our oil addiction.  When completed in 2015, the $600 million facility is expected to employ around 800 people.  It should be able to build 30,000 to 60,000 battery packs per year for hybrid and electric vehicles.  Amazingly, the United States, which up to now has lagged far behind in battery manufacturing is about to take a big leap forward, with five new battery plants under construction in Michigan.  Johnson Controls-Saft has one in Ottawa County on the West-side of the state’s Lower Peninsula.  LG Chem and Compact Power have one located nearby.  Fortu PowerCell is located in Muskegon and A123 Systems is setting up shop near Detroit in the suburb of Livonia.

BMW MICRO NAVIGATION (login required)
BMW started a research project that offers drivers a new way of getting around.  Called microNavigation, it goes beyond the conventional maps and directions you get from your car or cell phone.  Here’s an example: suppose you’re trying to go to a museum.  A regular navigation system can tell you how to get there but it can’t tell you where to park or the easiest way to get to the ticket counter.  The idea behind microNavigation is to fill in these blank areas.  If a micro map is available for a given destination, drivers can download it in advance from their personal computer and send it to their vehicle.  The information is seamlessly synced to their phone for continued navigation upon arrival at the destination. BMW hasn’t said when – or if – this technology will go into production, but it sounds like a pretty logical feature for future navigation systems, so I’d say look for it to come out in the not-too distant future.

Putting all this electronic technology in cars if fine and good, but only if it’s easy for us human beings to use. Coming up next, how one supplier is improving the human-to-machine interface.

Putting advanced technology in cars isn’t worth it if we can’t figure out how to use it, as anyone who used early versions of BMW’s iDrive know all too well. But that complexity opens up business opportunities for suppliers to take advantage of. Visteon is one supplier working on making improvements on HMI, the human-machine interface.

Designers will like this HMI concept because the components for driver info, audio, and the center stack electronics are all in a single box, instead of being housed in different locations. That gives designers more real estate in the interior. But the real improvement Visteon was able to make was with displaying high-end graphics.

The company is also working on a more advanced version that allows you to manipulate controls and move objects between screens with the touch of a finger.

Now we just need someone to come up with a way for machines to read our minds.

And that’s it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

Thanks to our Partners for embedding Autoline Daily on their websites: Autoblog, The Auto Channel, Car Chat, WardsAuto.com and WWJ Newsradio 950

46 Comments to “Episode 418 – Chinese MFGs Automate, Credit Holds Back Car Sales, BMW Micro Navigation”

  1. G.A.Branigan Says:

    I still don’t understand why the big deal with HMI.No matter how easy it’s made to use,it is still an unwanted driver distraction.I understand the hands free bluetooth thing,I just recently bought the sunvisor mount blueant s1,and it works great with a very basic (by todays standards)cell phone.I still navigate with a map,on detours I follow the signs,what is so difficult about that?

  2. Billy B Says:

    In response to G.A. Branigan:

    Of course you can still use a map. But how easy is it to use that map while you are driving? In order to be safe, you need to pull over and read it. Or make sure you memorized it thoroughly before your trip.

    And what if you had to deviate from your planned path? Sure you could figure it out with a map, or try to decipher the road signs. But a GPS Nav unit would recalculate instantly and you would know exactly where to go.

    Me personally, I think all the computerized integration enhances the driving experience.

  3. pedro fernandez Says:

    John, right after you report on the expected dump in value that EV’s will suffer after 5 yrs, you say Tesla will do well with their Lee Iaccoca, one platform idea. What gives? Remarkably,used Prius prices have remained high despite the battery replacement problem. GA is right, this excess in car technology is ridiculous. Does anyone know how to use a map anymore?

  4. tj Martin Says:

    John ;

    About Tesla you should read todays articles in the NYTimes about the company , its founder and his self admitted lack of cash and having monies on paper only before singing their praises .

    Add to that you own news on the rapid depreciation of all E/V’s along with Cost of Battery replacement/disposal ( not to mention there still is no structure in place to deal with the mass of dead batteries about to hit the landfills from E/V’s as well as Hybrids ) I certainly wouldn’t be placing any bets on Tesla’s survival , never mind their success.

    Maybe someday , way off into the future E/V’s will become a viable solution but at this point in History the E/V is more ” Pie in the Sky ” than reality .

  5. Tony Gray Says:

    Yeah, G.A., some of this stuff is developed just to show what they can do…not what really is needed.

    My iDrive is the first generation, and, I must admit, it rather persnickety at times. Future versions that I have played with are much improved.

    Alas, like John’s comments on the residual value of EVs after 5 years, I wonder what will happen when all of these integrated digital controls become outdated. Anybody remember GM’s CRT display controls?

  6. dave Says:

    I find it crazy that there are so many companies starting to build bats. for what a very small% of the market? EVs are way way way out there on the time line before they could, if ever, be sold at a price the masses will buy.

  7. Roger T Says:

    Hope you’re right about EV depreciation AND Tesla taking off. The only way I’d buy an electric car is for next to nothing, especially from a startup. Maybe I will end up with a used Tesla!

  8. pedro fernandez Says:

    Question for the group: do you maintain your car’s recommended tire pressure or do you over inflate the tires for better mpg and/or handling?

  9. paulstewart Says:

    I’ve own a 1995 ford taurus w manual, I keep the pressure 3-4 pounds over the Ford recomended air p. Little harsher ride but a little better MPG

  10. HtG Says:


    Miata, 28 when 26 rec’d

  11. John Barlage Says:

    It is widely accepted that there will be a secondary market for used EV battery packs for wind and solar power storage and for back power (a battery with a max 80% state-of-charge is considered end of live for an EV).

    For this reason an EV battery pack should have a good trade in value. Further more in eight years from now replacement battery costs should less than today. So the replacement cost minus the trade in value should really not drive such a significant depreciation.

  12. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Right on G.A. When they were interviewing the ‘interfacer’ he mentioned a more intuitive finger control, for in his example, volume; well duh, with a knob you don’t even need to look at the interface (with his example, you don’t have to look as hard………..baloney). Keep the stuff that works, the way it is, and make any of the new stuff as intuitive as possible.

    Batteries are just going to have to get cheaper; why buy a used ‘electric’ if you know that in the life time of the used care purchase you are going to be looking a purchasing a new battery at a price that almost reaches a new small car price.

  13. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Re. pedro; recommended 31, my installed 35psi.

  14. HtG Says:

    EVs make sense from a regulatory angle. If OEMs will have to get higher MPG then a multipronged approach may be needed. They can reduce weight, lower friction losses, improve burn efficiency, use taller gearing, map throttles so the driver uses less gas; and get a boost from batteries, whether it’s for better mileage or less thirsty performance. And if there is a petroleum shock like an Israeli attack on Iran or just simply peak oil comes true, then we broad shouldered types are gonna be demanding our fuel sippers.

  15. G.A.Branigan Says:

    TP is at 35psi.Recommended is 35psi.Over inflating does give you a bit more mpg,but the excessive tire wear in the middle of the tread is more expensive to replace,IE:New tires.Want better mpg? K&N dropin air filter,less restrictive muffler,full synthetic motor oil,better grade of spark plugs and wires etc.

  16. Chuck Grenci Says:

    I can see the micro navigation working (and probably arrive fairly soon too); and in the next generation probably no downloading require (will be part of the navigation system proper).

  17. pedro fernandez Says:

    I’ve been reading a lot of articles online regarding PSI and MPG and even though it doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference in the mpg’s, I’ve noticed a little better handling and since I’ve had excessive OUTSIDE wear on my front tires (fwd) I figure slight over-inflation may even things out a bit. But I definitely do notice a bit sharper handling than before. Thanks for the input. Also late model cars (fwd) recommend higher PSI up front to compensate for more weight in front.

  18. GPL Says:

    @pedro: I run a few PSI over spec on most of my vehicles

    @G.A.Branigan: I tend to wear the edges off my tires before the middle because I enjoy curves and avoid straight roads, so the extra pressure actually helps me in that respect as well.

  19. pedro fernandez Says:

    GA: I also use full syn oil and k/n drop in filter, I don’t do cold intake because I was told without changing exhaust, I’ll be just wasting $$$

  20. capt guybob Says:

    after the battery makers finish off the state and local kickbacks and tax credits, michigan will be further in the hole than it is now.lighter, natural gas powered has the only chance of selling enough units to be feasable but most of usa will drive used gas engined autos until they drop.

  21. G.A.Branigan Says:

    Pedro,the CAI’s work well only with an exhaust upgrade,you did good.Some will argue with what I said,but it is true.A CAI makes noise which in turn fools the butt dyno into thinking your doing a stroke of business when in fact on a dollar vs gain,you loose.

    GPL:Ah yeah,canyon craving…..love it.Believe it or not,my 08 JK does pretty good at that….for what it is of course.Whenever my wife and I go to visit friends on the coast I enjoy Smith River Canyon maybe too much ;}>

  22. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I use 3 psi over what the placard says on my Malibu Maxx. I figure it should help mpg slightly, and it will be down to about the 30 on the placard by the time I inflate them again.

    My Mini had about 2 over the recommended pressure when I bought it, and I’ve left it that way. It has now leaked down to where it is at spec. I’m almost looking forward to the tires wearing out on the Mini, because they are run-flats. I would expect ride to improve and road noise to decrease with “regular” tires in place of the run-flats.

  23. pedro fernandez Says:

    I also think the quality and type of tire makes a huge diff in ride and handling, softer wall tires will give you a plusher ride at the sacrifice of handling. Better quality ones will have a stiffer side wall and thus make your car feel like a real good handler.

  24. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Short Ram Intakes are better than CAIs in general usage. In race mode then of course you want to go with a CAI, but from my experience if youre just driving the car around everyday and need a little ummph then you want to go with an SRI. SRIs provide better fuel economy in many cars.

    Try and compare, youll see a difference.

    That whole exhaust thing it depends on the exhaust itself. Exhausts are like Intakes. Some brands work better for your car, and others dont. On my Hyundai K&N intakes with exhaust dont give me the fuel economy and performance Im looking for. However, if I buy a much cheaper Spectre Intake, or a more Expensive Intake from the speciality brands like Weapon R then I get what I want and more.

    K&N Filters for my applications have always left little to be desired, and a lot of times left me pretty pissed off.

    Yep Pedro always use the Synthetic. Once you go Synthetic you never go back.

  25. Kit Gerhart Says:

    To you synthetic oil fans:

    What does synthetic oil buy you? If I use it, will it be OK for me to go 15K miles rather than the manufacturer’s recommended 7K between oil changes in my 2006 Malibu? Will it improve my gas mileage by an amount that I might be able to measure? I’m curious.

    The factory recommended oil change interval for my Mini is 15K, suggesting that the synthetic oil has some advantage, but some people tell me I should change the oil at 3-5K regardless of what BMW says.

  26. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Kit I cant speak for others, but with Syn Oil its possible to go 15K. However, Im too much of a wuss to run it that long on a regular basis. I usually do it at about 7-10K, even though I have ran it 10-16k without a change a few times..

    Hyundai is the flip flop opposite. They take the conservative recommendation route, but considering that warranty (unrealistic and useless it should be 250K at the very minimum now) I do not blame Hyundai for being a little extra careful with their recommendations.

  27. Nick Stevens Says:

    # pedro fernandez Says:
    June 22nd, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    “Question for the group: do you maintain your car’s recommended tire pressure or do you over inflate the tires for better mpg and/or handling?”

    First, overinflating tires does not improve handling.

    Second, almost all drivers underinflate their tires on average, since even if they do properly inflate them once a week, month, etc, usually they LOSE pressure afterwards, so they are underinflated oveer their life average.

    Tires are intentionally underinflasted in Winter for better traction and should be overinflated in the summer to compensate for even wear.

    The BMW dealer’s service dept gave me some pieces of advice to do when I stored the 740iL for the next 6 months in my garage, and one of them was to overinflate the tires a few psi above the manual rec, so when I find it back in Jan 2011 the tiores are not too UNDER inflated as the lower outside temps make the tire air contract and lose pressure.

  28. Nick Stevens Says:

    Hybrids, and now plug-in hybrids fully cover all the people that ever thought they needed a STUPID EV.

    The tricks of the EV makers to lease the batteries now result in egg all over theiur faces, as they have caused the residual values of these POS to go to… 10% of their purchase price.

    Only a silly bureaucrat would love an EV for a private car owner. SOME city fleets and minor Hollywood brain-deasd celebs could use one of these, but the EV has miserably failed as a private auto, BOTH in 1910 AND in 2010!!!!!!

  29. Nick Stevens Says:

    “Kit Gerhart Says: What does synthetic oil buy you? If I use it, will it be OK for me to go 15K miles rather than the manufacturer’s recommended 7K between oil changes in my 2006 Malibu?”

    Depends how fast you do the 15k miles., if you do them in 6 months, probably.

    In my case, it is NOT worth damaging a $10,000 or so engine in my BMW740iL 98 to be cheap and ignore their rec to use pure synthetic (and not synthetic blend or regular oil), since I only change the oil once a year or less, since I drive it for less than 6,000 miles every year.

    The dealer charges $140 for a full oil change and inspection etc (plus a free thorough wash), others charge $90 at least. Firesdtone had a sale for $20 ‘for most cars’ wqith synthetic blend, and when I asked them what it would be for the 740 they claimed $60, half of which was their alleged price of the oil filter. IF they did pure synthetic oil, ot would jump to $98!
    I did not like the3ir games and did not bother. I will change the oil when I return on Jan 4 2011, the BMW service told me it is ok to leave the car stored witrh expoired oil for 6 months.

    “. Will it improve my gas mileage by an amount that I might be able to measure? I’m curious.”

    I’d guess not.

  30. Nick Stevens Says:

    Different cars, under fidderent loading conditions (!!-it’s different with just the driver vs with 5 people plus theiur stuff on a trip!) have different PSI reqs.

    Also, all of them are for COLD tires, so don’t measure the presure after you drove it for 20 miles!

    My 740′s recommended mic helins require 32 front and 39 back, normally I have it at 35 and 40, since I also measure it not completely cold.

    Pedro: If increasing pressure would increase handling, then race and sports cars would have very skinny tires vs the very fat wide tires they got now. When you overinflate the ‘footprint’ of your tire becomes much narrower, as you can visualize.

  31. Nick Stevens Says:

    I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW many typos I’ve made above!

  32. Nick Stevens Says:


    Why did Honda stop making Accord (or civic) WAGONS in 1997? This one is closing in on the 500,000 mile mark

  33. pedro fernandez Says:

    Nick: ’cause Honda has been making bonehead choices for what it seems 10 yrs now. Like if Whitacre was running the joint!

  34. Kit Gerhart Says:

    I don’t plan to go 15K on oil changes in my Malibu, but wanted opinions on the advisability of it. I’ll probably keep following what the computer says for the Chevy. It usually gets to “10% remaining” at about 6K, and I change it when convenient after that, with regular oil.

  35. Nick Stevens Says:

    As I already wrote, it really depends on the time it takes you to do 15,000 miles. If you can do them in less than a year, then pure synthetic oil should be fully adequate for cars (I don’t know if your speficic year model Malibu is one of them) that recommend pure synthetic oil for their service.

  36. Nick Stevens Says:

    # pedro fernandez Says:
    June 23rd, 2010 at 6:34 am

    Nick: ’cause Honda has been making bonehead choices for what it seems 10 yrs now. Like if Whitacre was running the joint!

    True. They keep making niche vehicles that never had a chance, Acura is off the cliff with their left field styling..the new CRX clone will be as big a failure as the new “Insight” cheap Prius fighter hybrid.

    If Honda and Toyota do not change big time, VW will eat their lunch even if they do not improve their reliability.

  37. Kit Gerhart Says:

    Increasing tire pressure DOES improve handling with radial tires. Ask any autocrosser. They will be using over 40 PSI in most cases. The contact patch will be smaller, front-to-back with higher pressure, but will still be about the full width of the tread. The steel belt of a radial tire is a rolling cylinder that does not stretch and let the tire become “rounded” as seen from the front or back, at least not nearly to the extent as with bias ply tires.

    One of the main things you look for when adjusting tire pressure for autocrossing, other than how the car “feels,” is the amount of sidewall that has seen wear from the tire “rolling” sideways from high cornering forces.

  38. Nick Stevens Says:

    I don’t know anything about autocrossing, but I am sure Pedro was referring not to that but to the cars we drive everyday, and in their case you can improve handling, especially in snow and ice, when you lower, not increase, the tire pressure. Especially where it counts, in tight high speed turns, not on the straight line where even a Smoked Hyundai Accent can do OK.

  39. Kit Gerhart Says:

    They recommend regular oil for my Malibu, and the computer gives a “percentage remaining” indication for oil changes. I think the manual says it’s ok to use synthetic, but doesn’t say anything about longer change intervals if you use it.

    Nick, does BMW recommend 15K/one year for your 740, or did those suggestions come along more recently than your car?

  40. Kit Gerhart Says:

    With autocrossing, you’re going for “at the limit” handling, usually on dry pavement. Lower pressure works better when it’s wet, and much lower yet would be better if autocrossing on snow.

    I keep my tires in a range between “recommended” and 2-3 psi above that, always checking them cold. That is, except when I autocross, which is very seldom.

  41. HtG Says:

    Nice to have you back Nick.
    On changing oil, I am informed that for Miatas as the oil loses viscosity it doesn’t lubricate the valve lifters well enough. You start hearing tapping sounds, and it’s time for new goo.
    Also, I run slight over-pressure in my tires to give me some margin for leaks. One reason for running higher pressures is that in something like autocross you put so much sideways force on the tire, the bead can be compromised.

  42. dcars Says:

    I use regular oil in my Honda and change it when the meter says too or about 7,500 miles. I keep my tire pressures between 31 and 35 psi.

  43. pedro fernandez Says:

    Nick, I think you’ve been spoiled by your 7 that you forgot what a no-frills car drives like.I recently added 5 lbs to the front and 3 to the rear and I’ve noticed a difference in the driving and turning and even when I change lanes, as if I went out and got 4 new summer tires for my tired old Corolla, even though the struts are really not that worn (about 3 yrs old). The higher psi create a “stiffer” tire thus avoiding the mushy feel a soft sidewall of an all season tire. Don’t understand why summer tires have to be so damn expensive.

  44. Nick Stevens Says:

    “Kit wrote: ..“percentage remaining” indication for oil changes.”

    I saw this in the 2010 Malibu I rented, it was about 32% left. I would be curious how they calculate it.

    ” I think the manual says it’s ok to use synthetic, but doesn’t say anything about longer change intervals if you use it.”

    Any car can benefit from synthetic vs regular, not so much in any MPG improvement but in better lubrication, longer and better engine life and less failures.

    “Nick, does BMW recommend 15K/one year for your 740, or did those suggestions come along more recently than your car?”

    The system on my 98 has a bunch of green windows, when I change the oil five of them appear, and as I put a few 1000 miles one by one they disappear, usually I change the oil when I am left with one green window, this year I waited it out until I got the yello window which says “inspection” and then soon after a red window lights up with “service” underneath.

    I can only guess that they measure the oil vicsosity as well as the miles and the time elapsed and use some rule of the thumb formula. There is no 15k in the manual.

  45. Nick Stevens Says:

    “# pedro fernandez Says:
    June 23rd, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Nick, I think you’ve been spoiled by your 7 that you forgot what a no-frills car drives like.”

    Actually I maintain the BMW as no-frills as I can, except for tires and oil changes. I use all season tires year-round. Our as-few-frills as can be Civic here, 825 kg weight is less than Herman’s Miata, had some terribly small and skinny factory tires, and when two of them blew up at 17k km (!) my mother insisted we replace all four with identical ones, instead of fatter tires that have far better handling. It took 17 years when the second set started wearing out and blowing up and I finally replaced them with a bit better ones (from 155-13s to 175-13s I believe!) that made a huge difference in handling, before that the car could not take a sharp corner at any serious speed.

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