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January 26, 2017 News of the Day: Tesla Experiencing Quality Issues with the Model 3, Nikola Motor Co Teases Video of its New Hydrogen Electric Truck

January 26, 2017 News of the Day: Tesla Experiencing Quality Issues with the Model 3, Nikola Motor Co Teases Video of its New Hydrogen Electric Truck

Author: Eric Walz   

Tesla Experiencing Quality Issues with the Model 3, Including Batteries Assembled by Hand

Tesla's problems with battery production at the company's Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, are worse than the company has acknowledged and could cause further delays and quality issues for the new Model 3, according to a number of current and former Tesla employees. These problems include Tesla needing to assembling some of the batteries by hand and even borrowing scores of employees from one of its suppliers to help with building batteries.

Tesla's future as a mass-market carmaker hinges on automated production and delivery of the Model 3 sedan, which more than 400,000 people have already reserved with a $1000 deposit.

The company has already delayed production, citing problems at the Nevada Gigafactory. On Nov. 1, 2017, CEO Elon Musk assured investors in an earnings call that Tesla was making strides to correct its manufacturing issues and get the Model 3 out.

However, a month later in mid-December, Tesla was still making its Model 3 batteries partly by hand, according to current engineers and ex-Tesla employees who worked at the Gigafactory in recent months. They say Tesla had to bring in scores of temporary employees from Panasonic, which is a partner in the Gigafactory and supplies lithium-ion battery cells, to assist with manual assembly of the battery packs.

Tesla is still not close to mass producing batteries for the basic $35,000 model of this electric sedan, sources say. These people requested anonymity as they are not authorized by the company to talk to the press.

A Tesla spokesperson told CNBC: "Until we reach full production, by definition some elements of the production process will be more manual. This is something Elon and JB (CTO JB Straubel) discussed extensively on our Q3 earnings call, and it has no impact on the quality or safety of the batteries we're producing."

Meanwhile, industry analysts are growing more skeptical. Stanphyl Capital's Mark B. Spiegel, who holds a significant short position in the company, told CNBC: "While I've no doubt that Tesla will eventually work out its Model 3 production problems, the base model will cost Tesla at least mid-$40,000s to build. The company will never deliver more than a token few for less than the current $49,000 lowest-cost offering. Sales will hugely disappoint relative to expectations of over 400,000 a year. And even at those higher prices Tesla will never come anywhere close to its promised [profitability]."

According to shareholder updates, the company delivered fewer than 2,000 Model 3s through the end of 2017, and only the more expensive long-range verison. No $35,000 basic models have shipped as of mid-January.

Nikola Motor Co Teases Video of its New Hydrogen Electric Truck

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SALT LAKE CITY — Electric truck maker Nikola Motor Co. released a teaser video of its new hydrogen electric, 1,000 HP, zero emission Nikola semi-truck. The company says that pre-production units will be available for fleets to test in 2019.

Nikola says is hydrogen-electric truck outperforms every other truck in the category, including weight, acceleration, stopping and safety. The truck also as an impressive range of 500 to 1,000 miles and a 15 minute refill time. There are over 32,000 individual lithium-ion cells welded together on the Nikola One, resulting in a 320 kilowatt hour (kWh) battery pack. That is 3 times the pack size of a Tesla Model S P90D.

One concern for an hydrogen powered trucks is where to refill. A network of hydrogen filling stations is still under construction. In November of last year, Nikola announced that it had chosen Nel ASA as the sole equipment supplier to create the largest hydrogen network in the world that will cover over 2,000 miles and include 16 stations. Nikola has already kicked off two of the 16 stations and 14 more will follow immediately after installation. Nikola says that any hydrogen powered vehicle will be allowed to refill at their stations. As another incentive, Nikola is offered 1 million miles of free hydrogen fuel with each truck purchase.

The truck will be available in two configurations, the Nikola One and the Nikola Two. Nikola is currently accepting $1500 reservation deposits for the its new trucks.

Nikola uploaded a short video on the company's Facebook page showing the new truck. It can be seen below:

In a Push Toward Autonomy, Ford Buys Up Software Firms

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As the Ford Motor Co. prepares for its autonomous mobility future, the company has been quietly acquiring technology companies and startups. Ford announced it is acquiring two small software firms to help build out its mobility business.

Ford said Thursday it is buying Autonomic Inc., a Silicon Valley startup with 70 employees that is developing a software backbone for Ford to provide urban transit services to consumers and businesses. Ford said the firm's CEO, Sunny Madra, will lead a new team inside Ford that will come up with ideas for new transit options. Autonomic has been working on a ‘mobility cloud' that will connect the components of today's urban mobility systems, including connected vehicles, mass transit, pedestrians, city infrastructure and service providers

The nation's No. 2 automaker also said it would acquire TransLoc, a North Carolina firm that makes software to help transportation operators optimize drive routes. Ford did not disclose terms of either transaction.

Adding talent through acquisitions has become a common strategy among conventional auto makers and suppliers as they scramble to compete with Silicon Valley tech giants to develop self-driving vehicles, AI and other technology to build mobility services around them.

Ford is spending $1 billion over five years for artificial-intelligence startup Argo AI, whose founders had previous ties to Alphabet Inc. and Uber.GM in early 2016 bought autonomous-vehicle developer Cruise Automation in a deal potentially valued at $1 billion, based on performance milestones.

Cruise, based in San Francisco, has become GM's Silicon Valley front for attracting tech talent. GM has grown Cruise's workforce 10-fold in two years, to about 500 employees.

In acquiring Autonomic and TransLoc, Ford considered areas "where we thought we needed a really fast infusion of help," Ford Mobility President Marcy Klevorn said.

Nissan Puts its Pro-Pilot Self-Parking Technology in a Pair of Slippers

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Nissan has put some of its automotive technology to use in other areas, like slippers and autonomous chairs.

Nissan this week unveiled its ProPilot Park Ryokan. The footwear is based on a traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan, the automaker added its tech to a number of items, including slippers, tables and floor cushions.

Each item is capable of moving back to a specified location after being moved, similar to how Nissan's ProPilot Park system is capable of using the steering, brakes and throttle to maneuver a vehicle into a parking space without human input. With Nissan's ProPilot parking system, a driver can leave their vehicle and it will park itself into a predetermined parking space.

The technology leaves the slippers in the same place in the house — no more lost slippers.

Last year, Nissan built an autonomous chair to alleviate the strain of queueing -- when a person gets up from a chair at the front of the line, that chair moves itself to the back of the queue to another person can sit down and wait. Whether it's waiting in line, arranging slippers or parallel parking, ProPilot is all about reducing tedium. Now the family dog does not have to fetch your shoes for you.

Here is the video of Nissan's ProPilot Slippers:

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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