Ford CEO doesn’t see robot army on roads anytime soon

SAN FRANCISCO — Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Hackett doesn’t foresee a robot takeover when it comes to the advent of autonomous vehicles.

Hackett outlined his vision for future mobility at Ford’s City of Tomorrow event in San Francisco on Thursday. Rather than predict an all pod-car streetscape within the next decade, he said technology will gradually augment current challenges, easing pain points such as limited parking and vehicle access that commuters deal with on a daily basis.

“When you paint the robots as perfect and humans as imperfect, we’ve made a big mistake,” Hackett said. “We don’t need the robot to get around.”

Hackett, who formerly headed Ford’s Smart Mobility subsidiary before replacingMark Fields as CEO in May, has been tasked with formulating Ford’s mobility strategy in an increasingly competitive field. The company has invested in various transportation technologies, including lidar-maker Velodyne, mapping startup Civil Maps, bikeshare company Motivate, ride-sharing startup Chariot and autonomous driving startup Argo AI.

In July, Hackett said he was using his first 100 days as CEO to review Ford’s future product plans — which includes the introduction of a Level 4 self-driving vehicle for commercial use by 2021.

To make the most of technological innovations in transportation, companies must examine every perspective, Hackett said, and work to create an egalitarian system. While automated technology can ease problems such as crash avoidance, navigating traffic accidents and parking options, it can’t fully address problems of equal access on its own.

Hackett said a combination of analog and new technologies will be necessary to create a better transportation environment.

“Networks only get stronger by inclusion, there’s no gain by carving someone out,” he said.

Hackett acknowledged that some of Ford’s competitors in autonomous vehicle development have gained an advantage in data collection by operating services off of smartphones, adding that to deliver effective mobility services, Ford must be able to understand consumer patterns and preferences.

“We need to be able to piece together these attributes of what inside a city are the pain points for customers today,” he said. “We can then marry that technological capability to the stepping stones of the pain points in a city.”

Detroit 3 to tout performance and vintage cars at Woodward Dream Cruise

DERTOIT — Ford, Chevy and Dodge will turn to the Woodward Dream Cruise, a classic-car celebration in suburban Detroit, on Saturday to generate some marketing buzz on their offerings.

Ford signed on in June on as the event’s one-year presenting sponsor, replacing Chevrolet’s previous six-year sponsorship. The extravaganza is expected to draw around 1.5 million people.

While Ford will host its mainstay event, Mustang Alley, a pony car display, it will also introduce a new driving-skills exhibit. The Driving Skills for Life program will teach drivers safety techniques through a virtual reality app, made to simulate the experience of driving a Ford vehicle.

For more Dream Cruise coverage from Autoweek, the auto enthusiast affiliate of Automotive News, click here.

“This year we are expanding Mustang Alley west for the first time to create a larger footprint than years past,” a spokesman for Ford said. “We’re also adding the Driving Skills exhibit as a free event to draw in more people.”

Dodge, on the other hand, wants racing enthusiasts to take a shot at smoky burnouts during Roadkill Nights “Powered by Dodge.” The thousands of people expected at Roadkill Nights can also take a thrill ride with a professional driver in a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, Charger SRT Hellcat or Viper.

Chevrolet will occupy its traditional spot at the “triangle” — where Woodward and Old Woodward meet north of Detroit in Birmingham — to show off its pickups and the Camaro and Corvette.

Although the event entertains thousands with food, music and speedsters, Ford also sees it as an opportunity to extend its marketing reach.

“Dream Cruise is all about the sheer joy and freedom of the automobile, and Ford has always celebrated car culture,” Ford marketing chief Mark LaNeve said in a statement. “From Fiesta to GT, we’re obsessed with making driving fun and we’re committed to celebrating that passion with enthusiasts of all ages in the birthplace of motoring.”

Here are additional details about the brands’ plans:

Ford Performance

    • Mustang Alley , in its 19th year at the Dream Cruise, features an array of muscle cars and the 2018 Mustang.

    • Vaugn Gittin Jr. will show off his toy collection, including an RTR Mustang and Formula D race car.

    • At multiple spots along Woodward, Ford will display its performance catalog, including the 2018 Mustang Shelby GT, Focus RS and F-150 Raptor.

    • The Driving Skills for Life exhibit will help new drivers master their vehicles by simulating the experience of driving through virtual reality.

    • Ford car clubs that don’t have a separate location on Woodward can show their vehicles at the enthusiast meetup at Memorial Park in nearby Pleasant Ridge.

    Dodge Showcase

      • Dodge’s celebration of old-style muscle, Roadkill Nights, started on Aug. 12 on one-quarter mile of Woodward in Pontiac. It will continue through Saturday Aug. 19.

      • An M-1 course neighboring the Roadkill Nights track will host a car show, simulators and dyno tests. Last year the event drew around 30,000 spectators.

      • A celebrity drag race will take place that evening at 6:30 p.m., featuring Roadkill hosts and celebrities from “House of Muscle” and “Hot Rod Garage.”

      Chevy Showcase

        • Chevy will have Heritage displays of its pickups aand the Camaro and Corvette as well as Redline Edition models and the full Chevy lineup at the confluence of Woodward and Old Woodward in Birmingham.

        • The triangle formed by Woodward and Old Woodward will also showcase the new Camaro ZL1 NASCAR Cup Series Race.

        • At 13 Mile and Woodward, Chevy will have a Performance and Motorsports display including concepts that feature performance parts and accessories. Race cars will also be on display here.

        • The Corvettes on Woodward Event — a main attraction for Corvette owners in past years — has been canceled this year, with hopes of resuming in 2018.

BMW and Daimler may consider merging car-sharing units

FRANKFURT — German carmakers Daimler and BMW may be in talks to combine their car-sharing services Car2Go and DriveNow, the chief executive of car rental company and DriveNow partner Sixt hinted on Thursday.

Daimler and BMW have discussed pooling their car-sharing businesses to better compete against ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft which have started offering pay-per-use mobility services that are more convenient than car ownership.

Asked whether Sixt was involved in merger talks with Daimler and BMW, CEO Erich Sixt said: “At the last press conference I made clear that we are not involved. Today I can only say ‘no comment’. This is of course a slightly different statement from the last one. Why things are dragging on is not down to us.”

In May Sixt had said it was not involved in any merger talks, but added that its 50 percent DriveNow stake had been valued at around 480 million euros ($560 million).

Car2Go declined to comment. No one at DriveNow was immediately available for comment.

On being asked whether BMW was in talks to combine its car-sharing business with Daimler’s, a spokeswoman for BMW said, “We are in constant talks with our partners and are of course evaluating the strategic options for our activities and stakes.”

Demand for car-sharing services has taken off in a number of major cities including London, Frankfurt, Berlin, Milan and Helsinki, where customers can use free parking, a major cost and convenience factor.

More than a third of clients who tried BMW’s DriveNow car-sharing business in London sold their own car and only 20 percent were determined to keep their privately owned vehicles.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler are now working on developing autonomous cars, vehicles which could enable them to upend the market for taxi and ride-hailing services.

The market for ride-hailing services currently makes up around 33 percent of the global taxi market, and could grow eightfold to $285 billion by 2030, once autonomous robotaxis are in operation, Goldman Sachs said.

Sixt said its DriveNow business had grown its customer base from 815,000 people at the end of 2016, to 950,000 at the end of June. As of August 2017, Car2Go had 2.7 million members, who have access to 13,900 vehicles in eight countries in North America and Western Europe and in China.

Tesla responds to D.C. businessman’s complaints

Tesla Inc. has responded to comments made in a Tuesday guest blog on the Automotive News website by Washington, D.C., businessman Alain Cohen.

Cohen, a self-described Tesla fan, filed a lawsuit against Tesla in Fairfax County, Va., claiming that he encountered several problems with his Tesla. He wrote that Tesla was not responsive to his need for timely repair work. He contends his experience signaled that Tesla was losing its way with its loyal customers.

On Thursday, Tesla issued this statement in response to Cohen’s comments:

Tesla consistently achieves the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any auto manufacturer because we do everything we can to ensure owners have the best possible experience. Our philosophy is to work closely with a customer to resolve issues if they are encountered, however we will also strongly defend ourselves against claims that are unjust or lack merit. We have this same philosophy for every customer because we believe that all customers should be treated equally well. This is a matter of basic fairness.

All of the issues mentioned by this customer have long ago been fixed under warranty, at no expense to the customer, to the extent that repairs have been requested and are appropriate. The only exceptions are the seat, which we have been trying to install for many months, but the customer has chosen not to bring in the car to have it replaced, and the Bluetooth, which we have confirmed is operating correctly. Even though there are no remaining issues with his car, the customer has demanded a new vehicle, plus an additional cash payment. These demands are simply unreasonable.

Cohen, who was co-founder and president of OPNET Technologies, a Nasdaq traded company until it was sold for $1 billion in 2012, then issued this statement:

In the process of trying to have the car seat repaired, I did NOT ask for a new car in lieu of having the car seat fixed! I think my emails to the company and all the documentation in the lawsuit shows that I was just asking for the seat to be repaired in a timely manner. Nor did I ask for an additional cash payment. What they are saying is simply false.

I think they are probably referring to a dialog they had with my attorney where they asked “what do I want” to settle the case. That is an entirely separate question because it is what I asked for once things had to escalate to this extreme point of legal action. Also, those were not the demands in the lawsuit. They asked for a list that would “make things right” at this point. I also asked for an apology and a commitment to a 72 hour response time in the future for my service inquiries.

The notion that I have not brought my car in despite their request is false. I have not received any notices from them that they are ready to install the replacement seat is false. If that were true why didn’t their attorney mention it to my attorney when they spoke. The last contact I had with them was with Mr. Alberto Cortinas (the most senior person I spoke with) who promised to fix the problem promptly, and then subsequently did not return any of my emails or calls. I haven’t received calls, emails, and nor has my assistant.

BMW remaps the roadster with Concept Z4

PHOTO GALLERY: BMW Concept Z4








PHOTO GALLERY >>

BMW Group on Thursday unveiled a long-awaited concept car that indicates the design direction for the next-generation Z4 roadster.

The Concept Z4, introduced during Monterey Car Week in Pebble Beach, Calif., is BMW’s vision of a modern roadster. It is a preview of the production car that BMW says is set “to be revealed over the course of next year.” The next-generation Z4 is expected to go on sale in the U.S. in the first half of 2019.

BMW Group design chief Adrian van Hooydonk says the Z4 concept “expresses the new BMW design language from all perspectives and in all details.”

“Stripping the car back to the essentials allows the driver to experience all the ingredients of motoring pleasure with supreme directness,” Hooydonk said in a statement. “This is total freedom on four wheels.”

Compact, sporty cars are a small but bright spot in an overall U.S. car market that is expected to shrink for the fourth consecutive year in 2017. U.S. sales of small sporty cars, largely behind the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Fiat Spider, are up 9 percent this year while the overall car market has slumped 12 percent.

The last Z4 went out of production in August 2016. BMW is working with Toyota to jointly develop the Z4’s replacement and a Toyota sports coupe speculated to be a revived Toyota Supra. The cars will use a new lightweight platform, and the next-generation Z4 is expected to grow in size.

The Concept Z4 has classic roadster design cues such as a long wheelbase, a low-slung and stretched silhouette and a compact rear end. But a shorter hood and “crisp” overhangs in the wedge-shaped concept put the driver closer to the center of the car than in previous BMW roadsters, the company says.

It also notes that juxtaposition of the low-set kidney grille and higher-up headlights makes for a deliberate association with the old BMW Z8. Instead of the customary bars, the inside of the kidney grille uses an elaborate mesh meant to recall the design of early BMW roadsters such as the BMW 328 Mille Miglia. The vehicle’s interior is designed for a total focus on the driving experience. Display screens are integrated into the driver’s cockpit, and all controls are grouped into what are called function islands.

There had been speculation that the Z4’s successor would be named the Z5, but that will not happen. Whether the new car will include a manual transmission had been in question. But reports indicate that a manual will be offered, along with new four- and six-cylinder engines. A plug-in hybrid variant is possible. A fabric roof will replace the retractable hard top on the previous-generation Z4.

Canada pushes back as NAFTA talks heat up

WASHINGTON — The Canadians may be characteristically polite as they carry out negotiations to amend the North American Free Trade Agreement, but apparently they won’t be pushovers.

In a briefing following the opening day of NAFTA talks Wednesday, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland forcefully pushed back against two key U.S. negotiating objectives regarding trade deficits and rules of origin.

Hours earlier, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer complained in harsh terms that NAFTA had been a job destroyer and needed a major overhaul, while his counterparts talked in positive terms about modernizing the 23-year-old agreement without harming existing economic benefits. He reiterated the Trump administration’s interest in narrowing trade deficits, pointing to a $57 billion shortfall with Mexico and even calling out Canada for cumulatively exporting $365 million more in goods than it imported over the past decade, despite overall bilateral trade being almost perfectly balanced last year.

Freeland rebutted that view, saying those numbers fail to give a meaningful picture of the trade relationship.

“Canada does not view trade surpluses or deficits as a primary measure of whether a trading relationship works,” she told reporters at the Canadian Embassy here, with the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop.

She noted that the U.S. had an $8.1 billion trade surplus with Canada in 2016 and that a holistic view of trade includes services, an area where the U.S. dominates.

“Services are an essential and growing part of the 21st-century economy,” she said. “It’s important to include them in any measure of a trade balance.”

Excluding Canadian energy exports from merchandise trade, the U.S. actually runs a $26.5 billion surplus, while in manufactured goods, the U.S. has a $34.2 billion advantage, she noted.

The foreign minister also dismissed Lighthizer’s insistence that the U.S. will seek “substantial” U.S. content requirements in addition to a higher regional content requirement to qualify for duty-free trade.

“Canada is not in favor of specific national content in rules of origin,” she said.

In the auto sector, 62.5 percent of a light vehicle’s value must have North American content to avoid duty when crossing one of the land borders. Mexican officials have suggested they could entertain a small bump in the regional content requirement but find national content requirements unacceptable.

“We are very aware of the extreme complexity of rules of origin, and it’s going to be very important from a Canadian perspective to take very great care in any changes that are made to ensure that they don’t disrupt supply chains,” Freeland said.

Automakers have warned the Trump administration that any changes to rules of origin could upset a manufacturing ecosystem that depends on a closely choreographed exchange of parts and supplies between vendors in all three nations that efficiently add value to components before delivery to the assembly plant.

“We do not believe that changes to the NAFTA auto rules of origin alone will accomplish a goal to increase employment here in the U.S.,” Ann Wilson, senior vice president for government affairs at the Motor & Equipment Manufacturing Association, said in a statement.

Freeland reiterated that Canada’s priorities are to maintain NAFTA’s ability to drive economic growth, cut red tape and harmonize regulations, and make it more progressive with regard to labor, gender and indigenous peoples as well as environmental protection.

GM creditor trust drops settlement with plaintiffs; GM avoids $1 billion stock transfer

NEW YORK — In a blow to plaintiffs’ lawyers suing General Motors over faulty ignition switches and other alleged vehicle defects, a trust that holds many GM liabilities from before its 2009 bankruptcy has canceled a settlement that sought to force the automaker to pay $1 billion in shares to resolve millions of claims.

The claims stem from GM’s 2014 recall of 2.6 million vehicles with defective ignition switches, including one linked to 124 deaths. They have since expanded to include millions of financial loss claims and hundreds of personal injury and wrongful death claims over a variety of alleged defects in millions of cars.

The settlement, first disclosed at a court hearing last week, would have called for the trust to accept $10 billion in claims, triggering a provision in GM’s bankruptcy plan that could have forced it to pay $1 billion in stock to the trust to pay off the plaintiffs.

GM opposed the settlement.

GM previously paid more than $870 million to settle claims and an additional $900 million to the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve a criminal probe.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said in a court filing late on Wednesday they had learned of the “astonishing and improper” decision to jettison the settlement the day before a scheduled court hearing on the matter.

“Game isn’t over,” Steve Berman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an email on Thursday. “We had a deal, GM has knowingly interfered with our deal and we intend to take action against GM on various fronts.”

He said the plaintiffs could bring a legal action against GM for interfering with the agreement and seek to seize the trust’s assets.

According to a letter filed earlier on Wednesday by the trust and GM, the trust decided to drop the settlement after GM agreed to help pay for the trust to defend against the plaintiffs’ claims.

“We are pleased with today’s developments,” GM said in a statement. “Now the focus can return to where it belongs, which is the merits of the plaintiffs’ remaining claims. We will demonstrate that those claims lack merit.”

Berman said in an interview last week that the settlement with the trust would have resolved about 11.9 million economic loss claims and between 400 and 500 personal injury and wrongful death claims.

About 2.4 million claims, involving vehicles sold after GM’s bankruptcy, would have remained in pending in district court, Berman said.

GM has been encouraged to keep fighting various past claims after recent court rulings narrowed the types of cases that can survive the litigation. One such ruling in July 2016 found the plaintiffs’ broadest theory of damages as “unprecedented and unsound.” GM has also come out on top in a series of test trials in cases over faulty switches that the company didn’t believe were legitimate.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.

GM thwarts plaintiffs’ $1 billion accord with Old GM trust fund

NEW YORK — General Motors thwarted a $15 million settlement between the company’s bankruptcy trust and thousands of plaintiffs that would have forced the automaker to contribute $1 billion in stock, prompting claims of a plot cooked up behind closed doors.

The now-derailed deal was intended to resolve hundreds of personal-injury cases stemming from GM’s faulty ignition switches, as well as a class-action suit over millions of vehicles that allegedly lost value due to a series of recalls in 2014. In a letter filed Thursday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, lawyers for the plaintiffs said GM conspired with the trust to block the accord after GM previously accused the trust and the plaintiffs of engaging in the same behavior in negotiations last week.

GM “undertook a secret, contrived scheme to undermine the settlement agreement through a campaign of threats, intimidation and payoffs,” plaintiffs attorney Edward Weisfelner said in the letter, which was dated Wednesday. “At a minimum, it is the pot calling the kettle black.”

GM had fumed at the settlement and promised a court fight over what it called a “contrived scheme” to extract the $1 billion in stock. The company has been fighting to move on from the litigation after previously paying at least $870 million to settle claims and an additional $900 million to the Department of Justice to resolve a criminal probe.

GM spokesman Jim Cain said “we are pleased” that the company can continue fighting what it calls bogus personal injury claims in court instead of settling.

“Now the focus can return to where it belongs, which is the merits of the plaintiffs’ remaining claims,” he said in an email. “We will demonstrate that those claims lack merit.”

The General Unsecured Creditors Trust said it reached a separate agreement with GM under which the auto maker will pay the trust an unspecified sum to cover legal expenses for fighting the claims, according to a separate letter filed Wednesday in court.

“The GUC Trust has decided to resolve this dispute through a proposed settlement agreement with New GM,” the trust’s attorney, Matthew J. Williams, said in the letter. The previous talks with plaintiffs “did not result in a final or binding agreement.”

The settlement between the plaintiffs and the trust was due to be signed Aug. 15 and discussed at a hearing in bankruptcy court Thursday. Under that deal, the trust would have paid plaintiffs $15 million and accepted $10 billion in previously disputed claims, which would have pushed total approved claims in the case beyond a critical threshold of $35 billion.

That would have triggered a provision of the 2009 bankruptcy sale that would have forced GM to contribute $1 billion in stock to help pay the claims. GM argues the $10 billion figure had no basis in fact, and that the claims are barred because they were filed too late after the bankruptcy.

GM was encouraged to keep fighting the claims after recent court rulings narrowed the types of cases that can survive the litigation. One such ruling in July 2016 found the plaintiffs’ broadest theory of damages as “unprecedented and unsound.” GM has also come out on top in a series of test trials in cases over faulty switches that the company didn’t believe were legitimate.

The case is In Re: General Motors Ignition Switch Litigation, 14-MD-2543, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Ford agrees to settle $10.1 million in racial, sexual harassment investigation

Ford Motor Co. agreed to pay $10.1 million to settle sexual and racial harassment allegations by workers at two Chicago plants, resolving an investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The investigation yielded reasonable cause that personnel at the Chicago Assembly Plant and the Chicago Stamping Plant had subjected African-American and female employees to racial and sexual harassment — violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the agency said in a statement Tuesday,

The agency also said the company retaliated against employees who complained about harassment or discrimination.

Ford, in a statement, said it agreed to close the matter without admission of liability to “avoid an extended dispute.”

The automaker added that after conducting its own investigation “appropriate action” was taken, including “disciplinary action up to and including dismissal for individuals who violated the company’s anti-harassment policy.”

Eligible employees are entitled to a portion of the settlement via a claims process outlined in the agreement.

It also ensures that during the next five years, Ford will conduct training regularly at the Chicago facilities, and “continue to disseminate” anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and procedures to employees and new hires.

A spokeswoman for the agency declined to add any additional information about the case.

Ford said the group of employees eligible for settlement money are either women or African-American men who began working at the plant after Jan. 1, 2010, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The automaker will also consult the EEOC regarding complaints of harassment and related discrimination; and monitor its workforce regarding issues of that nature.

Ford settles racial, sexual harassment probe for $10.1 million

Ford Motor Co. agreed to pay $10.1 million to settle sexual and racial harassment allegations by workers at two Chicago plants, resolving an investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The investigation yielded reasonable cause that personnel at the Chicago Assembly Plant and the Chicago Stamping Plant had subjected African-American and female employees to racial and sexual harassment — violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the agency said in a statement Tuesday,

The agency also said the company retaliated against employees who complained about harassment or discrimination.

Ford, in a statement, said it agreed to close the matter without admission of liability to “avoid an extended dispute.”

The automaker added that after conducting its own investigation “appropriate action” was taken, including “disciplinary action up to and including dismissal for individuals who violated the company’s anti-harassment policy.”

Eligible employees are entitled to a portion of the settlement via a claims process outlined in the agreement.

It also ensures that during the next five years, Ford will conduct training regularly at the Chicago facilities, and “continue to disseminate” anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and procedures to employees and new hires.

A spokeswoman for the agency declined to add any additional information about the case.

Ford said the group of employees eligible for settlement money are either women or African-American men who began working at the plant after Jan. 1, 2010, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The automaker will also consult the EEOC regarding complaints of harassment and related discrimination; and monitor its workforce regarding issues of that nature.