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January 4, 2018 News of the Day: Tesla Experiencing Production Problems With the Model 3, Toyota Research Institute Bringing Platform 3.0 Autonomous Vehicle to CES

Author: Eric Walz   

Tesla Experiencing Production Problems With the Model 3

FREMONT, Calif., — Tesla Inc. pushed back a key production target for its Model 3 sedan yet again, raising questions about whether the electric-car maker may need to raise more cash.

Tesla expects to build 5,000 Model 3's a week by the end of June, pushing back plans to reach that milestone by another three months. Tesla has hoped to reach that weekly goal by the end of 2017.

Tesla's manufacturing bottlenecks with the Model 3 has led analysts to speculate another capital raise could be coming. The carmaker has been spending nearly $1 billion a quarter and experienced difficulty scaling up output of the Model 3, despite spending heavily on robots and tooling for the long awaited electric sedan, which starts at $35,000.

"Bears will point to this as another missed promise," Joe Spak, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said in a note to clients Wednesday. While a capital raise may not be required, Tesla lacks "a ton of wiggle room" and should seek more cash to mitigate risks, he wrote.

Tesla's stock climbed 46 percent in 2017 and the company ended the year with a $52.3 billion market capitalization, placing it ahead of Ford Motor Co. and just behind General Motors.

"We believe a fundraise will be necessary for Tesla in 2018," Brian Johnson, an analyst at Barclays Plc, wrote in a report to clients Thursday. He projects the company will burn through $4.2 billion this year and assumes the company will raise $2.5 billion through an equity offering, likely during the third quarter.

Toyota Research Institute Bringing Platform 3.0 Autonomous Vehicle to CES

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The Toyota Research Institute says it will bring its next-generation Platform 3.0 automated driving vehicle to CES next week in Las Vegas. The autonomous test car is unique, as it incorporates the sensors and cameras into the body, as opposed to bulky, bolt on attachments. The spinning LIDAR rooftop sensor has been replaced by a more sleek panel of sensors.

Platform 3.0 is built on a Lexus LS600hL. Toyota Research Institute says it enlisted CALTY Design Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. and engineers at Toyota's nearby North America R&D center to conceal the equipment.

As a result, Platform 3.0 gets a new rooftop weather and temperature proof panel, which it says was inspired by off-road motorcycle helmets, integrated into the available space in the sunroof compartment to minimize height. It's also embellished with chrome trim along the side, where it meets the roofline, and the rear swoops down to integrate with the LS's contour lines. The team also managed to consolidate computational electronics and wiring into a small box in the trunk.

Toyota says the Platform 3.0 is one of the most perceptive autonomous test vehicles on the road today, with a design makes the test vehicle easy to build at scale. It gets a Luminar LIDAR system with a 200-meter, 360-degree view around the vehicle, enabled by four high-res LIDAR scanning heads that help it better see dark objects. Shorter-range LIDAR sensors on the four sides of the vehicle are designed to detect low-level and smaller objects, like animals or road debris.

Production begins this spring at the Toyota Motor North America R&D headquarters at low volumes to allow for flexibility, given the rapid rate of development of Toyota's autonomous test platforms. Some will be assembled using Toyota's Guardian dual-cockpit control layout to allow for transferring control between a human test driver and the automated system while keeping the driver as a backup, while the single-cockpit, fully autonomous Chauffeur mode will be shown at CES next week.

Ford Cancels Redesign of the Fusion Sedan

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DETROIT — As car buyers flock to SUV's in North America, sales of sedans have slowed. As a result, Ford Motor Company has cancelled plans for a redesigned Fusion sedan for the North American market.

Ford in a letter sent to suppliers has stated that the redesign of the Fusion for North America and the related Mondeo for Europe has been canceled, The Detroit News reports. The canceled program, referred to in the letter as CD542N, called for the redesigned Fusion's arrival in 2020.

The news could simply mean that Ford is delaying its plans for a redesigned Fusion in North America and Europe in the face of falling demand for sedans. The automaker did this with the Taurus which has been redesigned for China but not here. Instead, we're still getting the previous generation.

However, in December 2017 there were reports claiming production of the redesigned Fusion would be handled exclusively in China. Ford wasn't willing to confirm the reports but said at the time there were no plans to export Chinese-built Fusions to North America. This led to speculation that sales of the Fusion could end here after the current model's run.

When asked about the fate of the Fusion, Ford spokesperson Mike Levine told The Detroit News the "Fusion remains an important part of the Ford lineup for years to come with even more new fresh features on the way."

The Fusion sells in decent numbers, averaging about 17,500 sales per month in 2017. However, this is down about 22 percent on 2016's result which itself is down 11 percent on the previous year.

Ford in a strategy outlined in October 2017 said there will be fewer nameplates in the future. The automaker has not disclosed which nameplates would be discontinued.

The move is a reaction to the consumer shift to SUVs, pickup trucks and smaller electric cars, which the automaker sees as permanent. As a result, we may see the Fusion and Taurus potentially merged into a single product line, at least in the U.S.

DENSO and Kyoto University Startup FLOSFIA will Develop Next-Gen Power Semiconductor Device for Electrified Vehicles

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KARIYA, Japan — DENSO Corporation, one of the world's largest automotive suppliers, and FLOSFIA Inc., a tech startup spun from Kyoto University, are partnering to develop a next-generation power semiconductor device expected to reduce the energy loss, cost, size and weight of inverters used in electrified vehicles (EVs).

Through the joint development project, the two companies aim to improve the efficiency of EV power control units, a key to drive widespread EV use, and usher in a future of safer, more sustainable mobility.

In addition to the joint development partnership, DENSO has acquired new shares issued by FLOSFIA in its Series C funding round.

Professor Shizuo Fujita at Kyoto University pioneered the application of corundum structured gallium oxide (α-Ga2O3) for use in semiconductors. α-Ga2O3 semiconductors provide superior performance to other semiconductors on the market. The semiconductors have a wide bandgap of 5.3 eV and high electric breakdown field strength, meaning they can better withstand high voltage applications present in EVs. α-Ga2O3 will replace today's current silicon (Si) and silicon carbide (SiC) power semiconductors and help further develop the technologies that make tomorrow's electrified vehicles a reality.

Originally established at Kyoto University in 2011, FLOSFIA is a world leader in R&D and commercializing α-Ga2O3. Aligning with its vision to create the future of mobility through Connected, Automated Drive, and Electrification technologies, DENSO became interested in FLOSFIA's technology. The two will further research and develop technology in high-voltage products for hybrid and electric vehicles, including semiconductors.

Since 2007, DENSO has provided power control units (PCUs) for hybrid and electric vehicles. PCUs use an inverter to control the power supplied from the battery to the motor generator. To use electric energy more efficiently, energy losses during the DC to AC conversion by the inverter must be reduced, leading DENSO to conduct its research and development on low-loss power semiconductors.

Financial terms of the investment were not disclosed.


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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