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October 27, 2017 News of the Day: Ford Backed Argo AI Acquires LiDAR Company, Tesla Opens Michigan Showroom, But the Cars Are Not For Sale

October 27, 2017 News of the Day: Ford Backed Argo AI Acquires LiDAR Company, Tesla Opens Michigan Showroom, But the Cars Are Not For Sale

Author: Eric Walz   

Ford Backed Argo AI Acquires LiDAR Company

Argo AI, a Pittsburgh artificial-intelligence company majority owned by Ford Motor Co., has acquired Princeton Lightwave, a LiDAR supplier whose technology can help autonomous vehicles operate in bad weather and at high speeds.

Princeton Lightwave was founded in 2000 to commercialize high power diode lasers for the telecom industry, Ford said. In 2003, it pivoted towards high performance detection and imaging, ultimately leading to a focus on LiDAR.

"With the addition of the Princeton Lightwave team, Argo is uniquely positioned to innovate in both sensor hardware and the interface between sensor and software, enabling us to achieve performance improvements that would not otherwise be possible," Argo AI CEO Bryan Salesky said in a blog post Friday. "Princeton Lightwave's technology will help us unlock new capabilities that will aid our virtual driver system in handling object detection in challenging scenarios, such as poor weather conditions, and safely operating at high speeds in dynamic environments."

Argo did not disclose the price it paid for Princeton Lightwave.

Last week, Salesky said Argo's team has grown to nearly 200 employees, from only about two dozen a year ago. He said the company still faces significant work before it can help Ford deploy a Level 4 self-driving car in 2021.

Ford in February said it would invest $1 billion over five years and become a majority stakeholder in Argo, which specializes in robotics and virtual driver systems. It was founded by Salesky, formerly of Google, and Peter Rander, formerly of Uber. Both are alumni of the Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center.

Tesla Opens Michigan Showroom, But the Cars Are Not For Sale

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TROY, Mich., — Silicon Valley EV maker Tesla opens its first stand-alone gallery space in Michigan on Friday. The gallery is located next to an Apple Store which opened in 2002 and has been an inspiration for the luxury carmaker's direct-to-consumer, shopping-center marketing.

Like Apple, Tesla locates its galleries in highly-trafficked retail spaces to make its products more intimate to buyers and to show off their elegant design. However, Tesla employees will not be able to sell or take orders for the cars on display. A Michigan law prevents automakers from selling cars directly to consumers — only through independent franchise dealers.

Prior to today's opening, Tesla opened a small display inside Nordstrom's Somerset store in late 2016. That space is set to close Friday. The new, 2,200-square-foot gallery, located between an Apple and Macy's anchor store, will feature a Model S and the Model X — an $80,000 SUV that shares the $70,000 sedan's platform.

"We are excited to expand our presence in Michigan in order to educate consumers about the benefits of Tesla's vehicles in a fun and engaging environment," a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement. "Tesla's new gallery at the Somerset Mall allows anyone interested in Tesla, including the thousands of Model 3 reservation holders in Michigan, to learn about our technology."

The gallery also opens as Tesla begins production of its $35,000 Model 3, which has a backlog of over 450,000 orders. The Model 3, however, will not be on display in the new space.

"It's important that Tesla has a place here in the birthplace of the automobile," says Joel Szirtes of Pleasant Ridge, one of the first Tesla owners in Michigan. "Everyone has heard about Tesla. Now they can see the cars and learn more about them."

The pricey Teslas standout in Somerset, Michigan. However, the stores have not been without controversy. Tesla's direct-to-consumer model has run head-on into state franchise laws designed to guard against manufacturer exploitation of consumers.

While Tesla has been allowed to sell directly to customers in about 20 states, it faces some form of sales restriction in most others and is banned from direct sale in six states, including Michigan. The Palo Alto-based company is currently suing the state to overturn its ban.

"It's unfortunate that Michigan law takes away rights from consumers in order to protect local car dealers," said the Tesla spokesperson. "Tesla continues to fight against that law so that Michigan consumers can enjoy the freedom to buy cars as they wish."

Michigan is closely watching Virginia, where Tesla was dealt a setback this summer when a judge ruled the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association could sue to prevent Tesla from opening a planned Richmond dealership.

"State laws across the country generally require large auto manufacturers, including Tesla, to appoint independent dealers," says economist Pat Anderson. His East Lansing consulting firm works with dealers, manufacturers, and suppliers. "The economic rationale for these laws include ensuring that vehicle owners will have someone ready to service and repair these vehicles long after they leave the showroom, as well as provide recall and warranty repairs in a timely manner."

Tesla buyers in Michigan can take delivery of their vehicles at Tesla's Chicago or Cleveland stores located in neighboring states that have approved Tesla direct sales.

With other electric cars coming to market like the Jaguar iPace and Audi e-Tron that will sell through traditional dealer networks, some analysts warn the Tesla brand will suffer without 50-state service infrastructure.

Tesla counters that EVs powered by batteries and electric motors are inherently more maintenance-free than more complicated gas-powered vehicles and that it can service customer needs even as it fights states in court for more access. Tesla's electric vehicles do not rely on traditional service departments that service internal combustion engine vehicles. Its electric powertrain is virtually maintenance-free.

Tesla has innovated the "connected vehicle" where cars can be upgraded over the air just like a smartphone. Because its vehicles are always connected, the company says, 90 percent of issues can be identified and diagnosed remotely, allowing Tesla to notify customers of a problem and order parts in advance, and perform the repairs at an owner's home or office.

U.S. Probes Ford Fusion Vehicles Over Steering Wheels That May Detach

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday it was opening a preliminary investigation into 841,000 Ford Motor Co vehicles over concerns the steering wheels may get detached while the cars are in motion.

The auto safety agency said it was investigating 2014-2016 model Ford Fusion cars after three reports of steering wheel bolts becoming loose, including one completely detaching as a driver attempted to turn into a gas station.

Ford said in an emailed statement Friday it was cooperating "with the agency on its investigation, as we always do."

The Ford Fusion is a popular car for companies testing self-driving technology. Uber's early fleet of autonomous test cars were Ford Fusion models outfitted for self-driving before the company switched to the Volvo XC-90 SUV.

The company's shares fell 2 percent in morning trading to $12.03.

In 2011, GM also has steering wheel problems. The company recalled 2,100 Cruze cars because the steering wheel could detach. GM also issued a separate recall for about 150 Buick Encore SUVs in 2013 to address steering wheels that could come off.

Alos last week, Ford said it was recalling 1.34 million of the company's popular 2015-17 Ford F-150 and 2017 Ford Super Duty trucks in North America to add water shields to side door latches at a cost of $267 million. The recall came after authorities in Canada asked Ford for answers in March after four reports of doors opening while people were driving.

Tesla Slashes Orders 40% for Model 3 Parts as Production Problems Continue

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FREMONT, Calif., — Tesla plans to slash by 40 percent its orders for parts for the new Model 3 mass-market sedan from Taiwanese auto component maker Hota Industrial from December, according to a media report.

Shares of the parts maker Hota dropped nearly 9 percent after the Economic Daily News reported, citing Hota Chairman Shen Kuo-jung, that Tesla had told the firm orders would be cut to 3,000 sets per week from 5,000 sets starting December, due to a "bottleneck" in the production of Model 3.

Tesla may delay scheduled weekly shipments of 10,000 parts in March by a few weeks until May or June, the report added.

Hota, which makes gears and axles for vehicles, and Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this month, Tesla said production bottlenecks had left the company behind its planned ramp-up for the new Model 3 sedan. It began production of the model in July.

EVgo Mobile App Let Drivers Charge Their EVs Using a Smartphone

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LOS ANGELES — EVgo, the nation's largest public electric vehicle (EV) fast charging network, today announced the release of its new EVgo Mobile App for iOS and Android devices, providing EV drivers with convenient, simple use of its network of over 980 DC Fast chargers across the country. The app is the latest enhancement EVgo is introducing through its partnership and collaboration with technology solutions provider, Driivz.

EVgo is committed to making EV driving as easy as possible and is constantly improving customer experience. The new EVgo mobile app simplifies electric vehicle charging by enabling EV drivers to find and navigate to their closest charging station, check charger availability and start a charging session without carrying around an access card. The new swipe to charge feature is incredibly convenient.  The app also provides drivers with a quick and easy method for tracking their charging session time.

EVgo's DC Fast chargers are capable of charging approximately 150 miles of range per hour. When combined with other charging options, such as home chargers, EVgo's chargers offer EV drivers a no-compromise lifestyle. Additionally, because EVgo owns and operates its fast charging stations it provides a superior and consistent charging experience for drivers.

Highlighted features of the EVgo App include card-free charging, robust mapping functionality to find the closest EVgo station, a charging timer to remotely monitor charge duration, and the ability to check real-time charger status.

"EV's are continuing to gain widespread adoption and the sales of EVs are becoming a larger percentage of overall car sales," said Dave Schembri, CEO of EVgo. "EVgo is already providing a customer experience that makes EV ownership easy and the addition of new tools, such as the EVgo app, will allow EVgo to deliver the highest quality customer experience to the growing number of EV drivers hitting the road.

In addition to the release of the app, EVgo added a web-based driver portal, with Driivz, which works seamlessly with the smartphone app and allows customers to review their charging history and plans, as well as update their information.

The EVgo Mobile App is available for download in both the Apple and Android app stores.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally from New Jersey, Eric is an automotive and technology reporter specializing in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Eric has over fifteen years of automotive experience and a B.A. in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the automotive industry and beyond. He has worked on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology. Outside of work, Eric likes to travel to new places, play guitar, and explore the outdoors.
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