June 22nd, 2010 at 12:00pm
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.
Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .
It’s Tuesday, June 22, 2010 and here’s the top news in the auto world!
CHINESE MFGs PUSH AUTOMATION
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.
AVAILABLE CREDIT HOLDS-BACK SALES (subscription required)
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.
EV DEPRECIATION STUDY
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 EXTENDED LINEUP
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.
DOW KOKAM BREAKS GROUND
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.
VISTEON’S HUMAN-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.