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0:09 Coronavirus Cuts into Car Sales in China
0:56 Hyundai Teases Prophecy Concept
1:15 Fisker Leaks Electric Pickup Image
2:22 Bridgestone’s Airless Tire
4:47 China Revives Battery Swapping
5:39 Nissan Creates Songs to Help Kids Sleep in EVs
6:10 IAV’s Semi-Autonomous Delivery Vehicle
7:25 Volvo XC90 Plug-In Hybrid Impressions
This is Autoline Daily, the show dedicated to enthusiasts of the global automotive industry.
CORONAVIRUS CUTS INTO CAR SALES IN CHINA
As we’ve reported, the car market in China is slowing. Sales in 2019 were down more than 8% according to Wards Intelligence. But the coronavirus outbreak is making the slowdown much worse. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers reports car sales dropped 20% in January, which is the largest monthly drop since January 2012. Sales of new-energy vehicles in January also plunged 54%. While some automakers are resuming operations this week, the Association estimates that the production of more than 1 million vehicles will be disrupted by the virus. And this is a nightmare scenario for automakers who have invested heavily in the Chinese market.
HYUNDAI TEASES PROPHECY CONCEPT
Hyundai is teasing an electric concept it will unveil at the Geneva auto show. Called the Prophecy, it features the company’s “Sensuous Sportiness” design philosophy, which hints at its future styling. The company didn’t share any other details but we’ll learn more when it debuts in just a few weeks.
FISKER LEAKS ELECTRIC PICKUP IMAGE
Another startup is jumping into the electric pickup truck market. Earlier this week, Henrik Fisker tweeted out an image of a truck called the Alaska with the caption “Electric pick up!” Fisker quickly deleted the image and in response he wrote “Sorry mistake: will delete.” A company spokesperson told Car and Driver that the tweet was unintentional and that it wouldn’t confirm the name or the model in the image. Maybe that’s true but it’s kind of hard to believe it was a mistake. With so much activity with electric pickups lately, perhaps Fisker felt it was necessary to throw its hat in the ring too. But either way, the segment is starting to get a bit saturated with GM, Ford, Tesla, Rivian and Nikola all having announced plans for their own electric trucks.
BRIDGESTONE’S AIRLESS TIRE
We recently showed you the airless tire Bridgestone is developing for commercial trucks. Jon Kimpel, the Executive Director of New Mobility Solutions Engineering at Bridgestone, tells us the center is a smooth cylinder because it doesn’t need an outer rim or lip to hold the tire in place. The web, or plastic center, can be made from a thermoplastic, a co-polymer or rubber material, but more testing needs to be done to determine what’s best. On the very outside is the tread band, which is made of rubber with a reinforcement ring below it. Kimpel says Bridgestone is looking at a tread compound similar to its Ecopia tire, with good rolling resistance and low noise and harshness. The tread band and the web carry the load and provide a suspension-like effect. The goal is to be able to carry 5,000 pounds, drive at 75 miles-per-hour and last as long as a pneumatic tire. These tire assemblies could be used on Class 8 long-haul semi-trucks, one of the harshest applications, but they eliminate the need for fleets to spend time and money keeping tires properly inflated. And obviously, they don’t have to worry about a puncture. Retreading, which is a popular practice on Class 8 long-haul semis, is another advantage. A puncture that could make a pneumatic tire unrepairable, would just need a retread with an airless tire. And Kimpel tells us that airless tires can be retreaded more times than a pneumatic tire. While the airless tire assembly would cost more upfront, when you factor in things like keeping the trucks on the road for longer periods of time, the total cost per mile would be less. And that’s why fleets are very interested. So, the big question is, when will we see them? Kimpel says “years, not decades away,” but we’ve seen a lot more activity in this field in recent years, which suggests they’re getting close. Oh, one more thing I’m sure some of you will find interesting. We asked about the web structure getting packed with mud, ice and snow. Kimpel told us how Bridgestone tested airless tires on an ATV in those types of conditions and they weren’t able to get anything to stick in there. They even packed it in and let it dry and it still wouldn’t stay in. Because the web flexes and deflects, it just falls out.
CHINA REVIVES BATTERY SWAPPING
Remember Better Place, the Israeli company that proposed battery swapping for electric cars? Even Tesla demonstrated a battery swapping station, but it never caught on. Well the idea isn’t dead. AutoForecast Solutions says China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is setting specs for battery swapping, including battery sizes and installation procedures. The idea is to let drivers pull into an automated swapping station for a quick exchange, instead of spending hours recharging. China needs to do something to boost sales of EVs, which tumbled when China cut subsidies, tax breaks and exemptions from license plate costs. AutoForecast says this could also lower the prices of EVs because OEMS could lease the batteries instead of customers buying them.
NISSAN CREATES SONGS TO HELP KIDS SLEEP IN EVs
A great trick parents use to get their babies to fall asleep is to take them on a car ride. The engine and road noise helps put them to sleep. But obviously with an electric vehicle there is no engine noise. So, to help parents with EVs, Nissan partnered with Sound Designer and Sound Coach, Tom Middleton, to create an album of songs that mimic the sounds of a running engine. There are five tracks, which are kind of hypnotic sounding and you can download or stream them for free.
IAV’S SEMI-AUTONOMOUS DELIVERY VEHICLE
As traffic congestion continues to build in cities and as parking becomes more of a challenge, mobility applications are popping up to work around the problem. One of those includes semi-autonomous delivery vehicles, like this one from the consulting firm IAV, which calls it the Smart Cargobike. It has a “follow me” function that allows delivery people to walk door to door in neighborhoods with the Cargobike following them. Only the courier has access to the cargo, so it remains safe when they’re not there to watch it. And the Cargobike can alert fleet managers if it has a problem like a flat tire, they can go and fix it, or for simple problems, the Cargobike can autonomously take itself to a repair facility. We’re seeing more and more applications like this and there’s probably one coming to a city near you.
And stay tuned, because John will be up next to give his impressions of the Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrid.
VOLVO XC90 PLUG-IN HYBRID IMPRESSIONS
We get a lot of test cars coming through the Autoline Garage and this week we had a Volvo XC90 plug-in. As you probably know, Volvo is doing extremely well right now. In the U.S. market, sales were up 10% last year even though the overall market was down, and a key reason for its success is the XC90, which is the best-selling model in Volvo’s lineup even though it’s the most expensive. The plug-in only accounts for a little over 3% of the XC90’s sales and one reason for such a low take-rate is the price. It starts at $67,500 but the one I drove was almost $87,000. That’s the sticker price. A quick search on True Car shows dealers are discounting it by $4,000 to $6,000. The electric motor with the plug-in adds an impressive 88 horsepower and 177 pound feet of torque, so you get great throttle response. But you don’t get very good EV range. The EPA rates it at only 18 miles, and in winter driving, I wasn’t getting much over 12. The good news is that its small 11.6 kilowatt hour battery doesn’t take all that long to charge, but as an EV it’s only good for a few short hops around town.
But that brings us to the end of today’s show, thanks for watching and Happy Valentine’s day. We’ll see you right back here again on Monday.
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John McElroy is an influential thought leader in the automotive industry. He is a journalist, lecturer, commentator and entrepreneur. He created “Autoline Daily,” the first industry webcast of industry news and analysis.