CA DMV Report Sheds New Light On Misleading Tesla Autonomous Drive Video

On October 20th of last year Tesla Motors published an official blog post announcing an important development:

“as of today, all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory – including Model 3 – will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.”

Tesla backed up this bold claim with a slick video, set to The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” which depicted one of the company’s Model X SUVs driving itself from a home in the Bay Area to the company’s headquarters near the Stanford University campus, apparently with no driver input. In a tweet linking to the video, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk described this demonstration in no uncertain terms:

“Tesla drives itself (no human input at all) thru urban streets to highway to streets, then finds a parking spot”

After months of negative news about Tesla’s Autopilot in the wake of a deadly crash that the system had failed to prevent, the video prompted a return to the fawning, uncritical media coverage that characterized the initial launch of Autopilot. And by advertising a new sensor suite that made all existing Teslas obsolete, the company was able to bolster demand for its cars even as it discontinued the discounts that had driven sales in the third quarter. Like so many of Tesla’s publicity stunts, the video was a masterpiece of viral marketing that drove the company’s image to new heights… but like so many of Tesla’s publicity stunts it also turns out to have been extremely misleading.

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GM brings on the strippers

The tide goes back out...

The tide goes back out…

In a 2011 interview, Bob Lutz summed up the product philosophy that guided the product turnaround GM had hired him to lead as follows:

The product development guys, whether at Ford, BMW, Chrysler or GM, liked my leadership because I insist on good rather than cheap. And it’s definitely paid off. The average transaction prices of GM cars are up so much it more than offsets, way more than offsets, the maybe thousand bucks I put into the vehicle.

Lutz’s argument, that it is better to buy market share by investing in quality than by discounting, is unassailable in the abstract and absolute catnip for car writers (myself included, at the time).  And given the profound mediocrity of GM’s products before Lutz joined GM in 2001, it’s impossible to argue that his philosophy hasn’t had some kind of positive effect. As Lutz pointed out, GM had seen transaction prices rise throughout his tenure… but that trend appears to have turned.

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So You Want To Be A Mobility Company?

Time to get out of the lab…



Over the last decade or so, it has become increasingly fashionable for automakers to explore new forms of mobility outside of the traditional automotive paradigm. Initially much of this was the industry’s usual blue-sky “concept car” dreaming, but as Google’s pushes autonomous cars towards reality and the auto industry comes to term with the digital revolution, automakers are taking the idea of rebranding as “mobility companies” more and more seriously. But, as with most high-concept “pivots” that sound good on paper, there are real questions about how exactly a car company is supposed to expand into broader areas of mobility.

The big issues around autonomous cars –be they technological, regulatory or economic– will take some time to hash out, and it could take many product cycles before new mobility markets emerge on any kind of broad scale. But in the meantime, diversifying from automobiles to other forms of mobility may provide surprising new opportunities.

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Why CES Scares Auto Writers

 

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” ~Hunter S Thompson

Yes, Virginia, CES is the Most Important Auto Show. Want to know why? Because it isn’t a car show at all. I know, I know…. this is confusing stuff. Hang out for a minute though, and all will be explained.

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Blankenship Departure Underlines Tesla Retail Issues

Going down with the Blankenship?

Going down with the Blankenship?

For all the praise it receives for “innovating beyond internal combustion,” there’s nothing especially unique or disruptive about Tesla’s core technology.  On the other hand its approach to automotive retail, forgoing dealerships for direct sales, is both unique and potentially very disruptive. Especially at a time when some of the biggest OEMs in the US market are opening  online sales channels that could someday allow online-only retailers to bypass the dealer franchise system. With the man behind Apple Store and The Gap retail successes leading Tesla’s direct-sales strategy, car dealers have had good reason to worry that the future might be passing them by.

Now with Tesla under NHTSA investigation for what is clearly an anomalous incidence of fires and effectively banned from retailing in one of its largest potential markets, Tesla’s retail guru has suddenly and quietly retired. As much as the fires themselves, this is another clear sign of Tesla’s growing pains… and possibly the most concerning.

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Chart: Volkswagen Hits The Wall Again In The US Market

Not again...

Not again…

When Volkswagen announced that it would attempt to triple its US sales between 2009 and 2018, my fellow Daily Kanban editor Bertel Schmitt greeted the announcement with a picture of flying pigs. Long a dominant force in Europe and Asia, Volkswagen has long struggled in the profitable US market, frustrating the firm’s efforts to become the king of the global auto game. But with a new line of lower-cost sedans and the firm’s first US plant since the Westmoreland disaster, VW put some real heft behind its latest assault on the most lucrative (if no longer the largest) market for cars.

And as of the end of last year, it almost seemed like the goal was within reach; with 438,133 US VW-brand sales in 2012, Stefan Jacoby’s long-ago 2013 goal of 400k-450k sales and a profit was as good as achieved. But with 2013 winding to a close with the auto market running hot on strong credit markets, VW’s goal seems to have suddenly evaporated. With 342,000 units sold through October, VW would need back-to-back record months to even crack 400,000 units.

Automotive News [sub] reports that, whith a flat spot in VW’s product cadence, dealers are getting angry. And sure enough, a look at VW’s core model sales reveals that the brand truly is on the “roller coaster” one dealer describes.

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As the world spins: The mystery of the missing sales

Inside the truck wars black ops...

Inside the truck wars black ops…

Spend enough time looking at anything, and patterns eventually emerge; stare hard enough at auto industry news, and you can discern the movings of the PR teams who craft the messages that drive 95% of all auto media content. Spend enough time reading and a sweeping drama emerges: one side probes a competitor at a point of perceived weakness, the defender digs in or counter-attacks, a problem appears from nowhere while another problem fades away, yesterday’s non sequitor becomes today’s news.

In the polite world of the auto media, the journalist’s role on this battlefield is to be the straight man: to merely repeat each feint and parry in this informational melee as if they were the weather, or stock prices. Even the combatants themselves will back away from any direct confrontation when pressed, caught between the pull to ruthlessly compete and the inherently conservative culture of all large corporate communications departments.

But the battle for reality is constantly being waged in the auto industry… and the action is always most exciting when the stakes are highest. Which is what makes GM’s new truck launch the perfect case study.

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