Suppliers pick up old-school metal work

While the auto industry hotly pursues new technologies, some suppliers are picking up lucrative business from staunchly 20th-century hardware.

Internal combustion engine parts and other precision metal components are offering new rewards –​ even as the industry plots a shift from the metal-heavy internal combustion engine, according to Michael Simonte, president of American Axle & Manufacturing.

“The OEMs are spending an increasing amount of their energy and attention and capital dollars on newer technologies,” Simonte told an audience of financial analysts earlier this month at the Citi Industrials Conference in Boston. “And they’re looking to the more established, capable supply base to take over some of the more traditional activities.”

Simonte said automakers and large parts suppliers are off-loading parts business they historically considered high-value-added core activity — including precision part machining and other capital-intensive metalwork.

He said Detroit-based American Axle and some of its competitors have been taking over a growing list of tasks that used to be in-house work at auto companies, such as engine-part machining, heat treating and powertrain module subassembly.

He said American Axle is picking up incremental content in transmissions as those systems grow increasingly complex. That is occurring as part of the industry trend toward more fuel-efficient transmissions with additional gears requiring precision work. The automakers and their transmission suppliers are not keen to invest in the added work.

“Look at the content per vehicle that we enjoy on the four- and six-speed transmissions of the past, and then compare that to what we’re doing on the eight-, nine- and 10-speed transmissions,” Simonte said. “We are taking five, 10, 15, 20 bucks a vehicle and turning it into 30, 40, 50 bucks a vehicle — in some cases more.

“You’re seeing this with a couple of our competitors and you clearly see it in our business,” Simonte told the audience. The trend represents “major opportunities to expand our role in those value streams.”

American Axle has deepened its investment in the field. In April, it completed a $3.3 billion acquisition of Southfield, Mich.-based Metaldyne Performance Group. The acquisition makes American Axle’s product lineup more diverse and makes the combined company much less dependent on American Axle’s biggest customer, GM.

Metaldyne products include suspension components, connecting rods and turbocharger housings. American Axle makes components such as drive shafts and transmission gears, as well as axles.

For the first quarter, American Axle reported net income of $78.4 million, up from $61.1 million a year ago.

Panasonic sees the future of solar on car rooftops.

TOKYO — Panasonic Corp. sees the future of solar on car rooftops.

The Japanese electronics giant has started producing a 180-watt array of solar cells that can be fixed to the roof of an automobile. In February, Panasonic announced that its photovoltaic module would be used on the roof of Toyota Motor Corp.’s latest Prius plug-in hybrid.

Cars represent a potentially lucrative new outlet for solar cells in an industry where intense competition from Chinese manufacturers has pushed down prices sharply. That’s prompting some manufacturers to adapt solar cells for everything from home roofing tiles and the outer skins of buildings to backpacks and tents.

“Car roofs have the potential to become a new market for solar panels,” said Shingo Okamoto, the general manager at Panasonic who was in charge of developing the technology. “We made history in the auto industry and in the solar industry with the sun powering mass-produced cars for the first time in the world.”

New market

Cars could hold the promise of a giant new market for solar panels from Panasonic, which also is partnered with Tesla Inc. in making batteries at its Gigafactory outside Las Vegas. There are 264 million cars and light trucks in operation in the U.S., according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.

Others are noticing the potential. Tesla Chairman Elon Musk tweeted in November that his company’s Model 3 car may come with a solar roof. He’s also beginning to sell a type of roof tile for homes featuring embedded photovoltaics. Nissan Motor Co. offers an add-on solar panel option for its Leaf electric cars, giving extra charge to systems such as the air conditioners and radios, according to Nicholas Maxfield, a spokesman for the company.

Hanergy Holding Group Ltd. unveiled four concept solar cars last year but has yet to begin commercial production. It’s seeking to develop car roofs using thin-film solar chips with Fuyao Glass Industry Group.

As of the end of April, Toyota had sold 1,350 units in Japan of the new Prius plug-in equipped with solar panels, nearly 9 percent of the total, according to the car maker.

Range estimates

The latest Prius is the first mass-produced model to be outfitted with solar panels that provide juice for the car’s main battery, according to Toyota. Because of seasonal variations in sunlight, the amount of charge will fluctuate, meaning the average distance traveled on a single charge will range from an average of 2.9 kilometers (1.8 miles) to 6.1 kilometers depending on the time of year.

“That means you get about 10 percent of annual mileage from solar just by letting your car sit,” Okamoto said in an interview in Tokyo.

While that’s modest, developers say the amount of charge will improve over time and that the range could be extended by adjusting a car body’s design and the amount of surface upon which the panels can be affixed.

“We are aware that the panels are supplying only a small amount of electricity,” said Shoichi Kaneko, chief engineer for Prius. “But this system is still a breakthrough as we are making use of the energy we would be wasting otherwise. By filling all available space with cells, it is possible to extend the range easily to 10 kilometers.”

In its current iteration, the solar rooftop represents a step forward for Toyota as it aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by 90 percent by 2050 from 2010 levels.

Main battery

This is Toyota’s second attempt to outfit a Prius with a solar roof. A Prius released back in 2009 had the option of a solar panel capable of producing 56 watts of power, but it was only used to charge the ventilation systems.

To come up with the panels needed for the new Prius, Panasonic engineers first began compiling a set of conditions and constraints they figured solar panels would face when affixed to the roof of a car instead of a house.

The list included constant vibration, the unpredictable appearance of shadows, and the limited amount of space for installation. Engineers also considered how to make panels fit the contours of a car’s roof instead of the flat surfaces found on residential rooftops.

To handle the variable sunlight expected from shade, Panasonic also adjusted the way bypass diodes are configured in the solar panels to ensure a smooth flow of electric current, according to Panasonic’s Okamoto.

“You’ll see panels become more common as an option, particularly on high-end electric sedans and SUVs,” said Colin McKerracher, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “But the range benefits are always going to be limited. This is mostly about feeling smug.”

Waymo hires ex-Tesla engineer to lead self-driving hardware

SAN FRANCISCO — Waymo has hired Satish Jeyachandran, Tesla Inc.’s former director of hardware engineering, as the mobility division created by Google parent Alphabet Inc. moves closer to commercializing its self-driving vehicle technology.

Jeyachandran, 38, spent nearly seven years at Tesla before leaving earlier this year. He will lead Waymo’s hardware team, overseeing the development and integration of cameras, radar, lidar, and computer vision, while working closely with the company’s software team.

“I wanted to join Waymo because it has a talented, mission-driven team that has made impressive advancements in self-driving hardware,” Jeyachandran said in a statement on LinkedIn. “This technology offers incredible potential to save millions of lives.”

The hire is the latest in a series of high-profile talent acquisitions and departures that have rocked the fiercely competitive autonomous driving landscape.

Established automakers, suppliers, tech companies and a raft of startups are racing to bring self-driving cars to market on the promise that the technology will save lives and transform vehicle ownership. Engineers with expertise in hardware, software, artificial intelligence, and computer vision — particularly those with experience leading teams — are in incredibly high demand.

Chris Urmson, the former head of Google’s car project, is now running an autonomous driving startup with another former Tesla executive. And the prior hardware chief at Waymo, Bryan Salesky, co-founded his own self-driving startup, Argo AI, which received the majority of its investment from Ford Motor Co.

Since Waymo spun out of Alphabet’s X lab in December, it has thrown resources and talent at the hardware underpinning its autonomous vehicles, aggressively hiring engineers specializing in the field.

“A few years ago, Waymo made the decision to start building our own self driving vision system, radar and LiDAR in house,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in a statement on LinkedIn.

“This has been crucial to improving the quality of our self-driving technology, and bringing down cost. With Satish’s expertise, we’ll be able to further advance our self-driving hardware, and bring our technology to more people, more quickly.”

Waymo recently started a free, experimental service to ferry hundreds of people around Phoenix in an effort to get consumers comfortable with the technology.

Tesla in talks with labels for music-streaming service, report says

LOS ANGELES — Tesla Inc. is in talks with record labels about creating its own music-streaming service, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

It’s unclear if the automaker will ultimately decide to go forward with the service or continue with its current music partners, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. Tesla offers Spotify Ltd.’s streaming service in Europe, Hong Kong and Australia, and works with Slacker in the U.S. and Canada.

“We believe it’s important to have an exceptional in-car experience so our customers can listen to the music they want from whatever source they choose,” Tesla said in a statement, without directly addressing talks with labels.

Recode reported the Tesla talks earlier Thursday.

Spotify, the world’s largest music-streaming service with more than 50 million paying subscribers, has become a major source of growth for the music industry. Record labels wary of its expansion have encouraged more competitors to enter the industry, including Apple Inc. and Pandora Media Inc.

Spotify, Pandora and other digital-music companies have been pushing to get into more cars as wireless networks offer better wireless internet coverage, creating new threats against traditional radio and satellite radio.

EU prepares to move two agencies from London

People look at Canary Wharf in London

EU leaders have officially launched the competition between member states to decide which will host two London-based EU agencies, responsible for medicines and banking.

The relocation must take place by the Brexit deadline – 30 March 2019.

Some countries are bidding to host both the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and European Banking Authority (EBA).

It means hundreds of jobs moving from London, along with significant revenue from hotel stays and conferences.

The deciding vote will take place in November.

The EU 27 agreed on the selection process on Thursday night, after UK Prime Minister Theresa May had left the Brussels summit.

The 27 are determined that the UK will pay the relocation bill, as Brexit was a UK decision.

The EMA’s total number of staff in 2015 was 890, while the EBA’s was 189. Both are headquartered in Canary Wharf.

The EMA had 36,000 visitors in 2015, and 30,000 hotel nights were booked, the .


EMA

  • Monitors the safety and quality of medicines EU-wide and issues scientific advice
  • Provides a single route for evaluating medicines, avoiding duplication by member states
  • Helps innovation by collaborating with medicine manufacturers

EBA

  • Works to harmonise European banking rules and supervisory practices
  • Assesses risks and vulnerabilities in EU banking sector
  • Mediates in cross-border disputes between financial authorities

The national rivalry over hosting the agencies will be closely watched. It could reveal some wider tensions over Brexit, so it will be an early test of EU unity in the tough Brexit negotiations.

In 2001 Italy’s then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi mocked Finland’s bid to host the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

“There is absolutely no comparison between culatello (speciality ham) from Parma and smoked reindeer,” Mr Berlusconi was quoted as saying.

Italy’s bid beat Finland’s, and the EFSA opened in Parma in 2005.

First the European Commission will assess the competing bids and make its recommendations.

In November each of the EU foreign ministers will vote in order of preference – three points for the preferred bid, two points for the second-favourite and one point for the third.

Accessibility and efficient infrastructure are the top two agreed criteria. But the EU also wants the new hosts to have good “European-oriented” schooling and job opportunities for the families of agency staff.


Germany’s joked that the voting would be rather like the Eurovision Song Contest.

“That’s why the Germans fear equally wretched results,” Spiegel said – even though Frankfurt, as HQ of the European Central Bank, would be a logical host for the EBA.

A flavour of this new EU “beauty contest” was provided by Austria.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said his country “is already a terrific location for many international organisations.

“We have wonderful general conditions in Vienna, and that’s why I consider that we are a very attractive location.”

The EU is keen to locate some of its agencies in the newer member states of Central and Eastern Europe – it has stated that as an aim.

But their rejection of the EU asylum policy – notably refusing to take in refugees currently in Italy and Greece – may count against them.

Troubled Toshiba flags deeper losses

Toshiba logo

Ailing electronics giant Toshiba has said its losses for 2016 may be greater than it had previously forecast.

It now of 995bn yen (£7bn) for the year to March, up from its earlier estimate of 950bn yen.

The firm was after confirming its liabilities outweighed its assets.

It also got to delay filing its annual earnings again, this time until 10 August, after a previous deadline extension to 30 June.

Failure to gain an extension would have put the troubled company’s stock exchange listing in further jeopardy.

In April, Toshiba said its future may be in doubt after facing a series of difficulties.

An accounting scandal that was uncovered in 2015 led to the resignation of the chief executive and several senior managers. The company was found to have inflated the previous seven years’ profits by $1.2bn.

The firm was dealt another blow in January when it became clear its US nuclear unit, Westinghouse, was in financial trouble.

Toshibas’s dire financial position has forced it to try to sell off its highly prized chip unit.

The company has named a consortium of Bain Capital and Japanese government investors as the preferred bidder for the business

But US-based Western Digital, which jointly runs Toshiba’s main chip operations in Japan, has filed a request with the International Court of Arbitration to stop the sale going ahead.

Toshiba is the world’s second-largest chip manufacturer. Its products are used in data centres and consumer goods worldwide, including iPhones and iPads.

ECB bids for more euro clearing oversight

City of London skyline

The European Central Bank has put forward a proposal to boost its oversight over euro clearing.

The legal amendment would give it a “significantly enhanced” role in regulating the lucrative market.

London currently processes most of the trade in this financial sector, providing thousands of jobs.

The ECB’s proposal comes shortly after the European Commission published a draft law to give it the power to move euro clearing business out of London.

Clearing is where a third party organisation acts as a middleman for buyers and sellers of financial contracts tied to the underlying value of a share, index, currency or bond.

Trillions of euros are handled through clearing houses every year, mostly through London.

The ECB said the amendment would give it “clear legal competence” in the area of central clearing, which is currently dominated by London firms.

Under the proposal, the ECB and its national central banks would monitor risks that could affect monetary policy, the operation of payment systems and the stability of the euro.

Daniel Hodson of the Financial Services Negotiation Forum told the BBC that at the moment the ECB did not have sovereignty over euro clearing in London, as the UK regulator – the Financial Conduct Authority – is responsible.

However, there are “substantial” arrangements in place with the ECB that are “very similar” to those in place with US regulators for dollar clearing, he said.

“There is no economic reason for changing this well-developed and thought out established framework, adapted as appropriate post-Brexit,” he said.

“There is a strong argument that to try to move substantial amounts of London based euro clearing business into the eurozone would actually create more systemic risk than it would offset,” he added.

The move comes after the European Commission that would impose stricter supervision of the euro derivatives market and could force operators to leave London as a result of Brexit.

At the moment London is the world leader for clearing all types of currency-denominated derivatives including the euro.

Watchdog clamps down on online gambling

Playing cards and gambling chips

The competition regulator is to take action against some online gambling companies which it suspects of breaking consumer law.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said some punters did not get the deal they expected from sign-up promotions offering cash bonuses to attract them to gaming websites.

The CMA also said the firms were “unfairly holding onto people’s money”.

Online gambling companies should “play fair”, said the CMA.

Facebook launches initiative to fight online hate speech

Facebook

Facebook is launching a UK initiative to train and fund local organisations to combat extremism and hate speech.

It comes a week after the social network from its site.

The UK Online Civil Courage Initiative’s initial partners include Imams Online and the Jo Cox Foundation.

Facebook has faced criticism for being slow to react to terrorist propaganda on its platforms.

“The recent terror attacks in London and Manchester – like violence anywhere – are absolutely heartbreaking,” said Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

“No-one should have to live in fear of terrorism – and we all have a part to play in stopping violent extremism from spreading.

“We know we have more to do – but through our platform, our partners and our community we will continue to learn to keep violence and extremism off Facebook.”

In recent months, governments across Europe have been pushing for technology companies to take more action to prevent online platforms from being used to spread extremist propaganda.

In particular, security services have criticised Facebook, Twitter and Google for relying too much on other people to report inappropriate content, rather than spotting it themselves.

In April, Germany passed a bill to fine social networks up to €50m (£44m) if they failed to give users the option to report hate speech and fake news, or if they refused to remove illegal content flagged as either images of child sexual abuse or inciting terrorism.

Following the , UK PM Theresa May announced that new international agreements needed to be introduced to regulate the internet in order to “deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online”.

And last week in Paris, Mrs May and French President Emmanuel Macron to look at how they could make the internet safe, including making companies legally liable if they refused to remove certain content.

Similar initiatives to counter hate speech were launched in Germany in January 2016 and in France in March 2017.

They have held training workshops with more than 100 anti-hate and anti-extremism organisations across Europe, and reached 3.5 million people online through its Facebook page.

In the UK, people are being encouraged to visit the , to share stories, content and ideas, and use the hashtag #civilcourage.

Brendan Cox, the widower of murdered MP Jo Cox and the founder of the Jo Cox Foundation, has welcomed the move.

“This is a valuable and much needed initiative from Facebook in helping to tackle extremism,” he said.

“Anything that helps push the extremists even further to the margins is greatly welcome. Social media platforms have a particular responsibility to address hate speech that has too often been allowed to flourish online.

“It is critical that efforts are taken by all online service providers and social networks to bring our communities closer together and to further crack down on those that spread violence and hatred online.”

Virgin Media urges password change over hacking risk

computer hacker

Virgin Media has told 800,000 customers to change their passwords to protect against being hacked.

An investigation by Which? found that hackers could access the provider’s Super Hub 2 router, allowing access to users’ smart appliances.

A child’s toy and domestic CCTV cameras were among the vulnerable devices.

Virgin Media said the risk was small but advised customers using default network and router passwords to update them immediately.

A spokesman said: “The security of our network and of our customers is of paramount importance to us.

“We continually upgrade our systems and equipment to ensure that we meet all current industry standards.

“We regularly support our customers through advice and updates and offer them the chance to upgrade to a Hub 3.0 which contains additional security provisions.”

The company said the issue existed with other routers of the same age and was not exclusive to their model.

The study, carried out in conjunction with ethical security researchers SureCloud, tested 15 devices -of which eight had security flaws.

In one case a home CCTV system was hacked using an administrator account that was not password protected. Hackers were able to watch live pictures and in some cases were able to move cameras inside the house.

Which? called for the industry to improve basic security provisions, including requiring customers to create a unique password before use, two-factor authentication, and issuing regular software security updates.

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: “There is no denying the huge benefits that smart-home gadgets and devices bring to our daily lives.

“However, as our investigation clearly shows, consumers should be aware that some of these appliances are vulnerable and offer little or no security.

“There are a number of steps people can take to better protect their home, but hackers are growing increasingly more sophisticated.

“Manufacturers need to ensure that any smart product sold is secure by design.”

Which? said it had contacted the manufacturers of the eight affected products to alert them to the security flaws.