Are Autonomous Cars Just Around the Corner?

Three years ago, we all believed that autonomous cars were just around the corner – and we felt that was a good thing. Retain human control for the fabled blast in the country, but let the machines take on the drudgery of commuting and long-distance motorway work – and getting us home from the pub!

Range Rover Sport that managed to drive the Coventry ring road

So what’s changed?

It was shocking to read, in Autocar, that Andy Palmer, boss of recently floated Aston Martin, quoted as saying “The idea of full autonomy being widespread in my lifetime is absurd. Full Level 5 systems are a moonshot.” As an aside, Mr Palmer was also scathing about Brexit, confirming that the delay was the worst of all worlds, preferring a decision, any decision, to be made to close down the uncertainty.

Andy Palmer of Aston Martin

We have some doubts about the direction of Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd as a company, but we respect Andy Palmer as a well-connected, senior car-industry figure. So when he says that full autonomy is a pipe-dream, we listen.

Another issue revealed to us is the autonomy “big accident” risk. When autonomous cars crash, they tend to be large ones! If humans have crashes, mostly they will realise that something has gone wrong and slam on the brakes at the last split-second. Whilst this does not prevent the crash, it does mean that some deceleration occurs before impact, and so the crash happens at much reduced speed. Typically, crashes in autonomous cars happen because of a failure to correctly interpret the surroundings of the vehicle. And thus the autonomous car hasn’t noticed anything wrong – so it ploughs into the obstruction at full speed! Ooops.

There have been two famous crashes, where Teslas have sped straight into the side of juggernauts parked across the highway. Speculation among the online community (oh dear, not the most reliable source then) is that the crashes happened because seeing a juggernaut sideways is such an unusual occurrence that the AI-developed software interprets the sight as an overpass bridge and so ignores it.

Finally, there is the fabled issue of how can one let a computer decide whether to swerve away from a man in the road, if that then endangers two children on the pavement.

However, we are not convinced that these issues will prevent autonomous cars. At its present stage of development, it appears that sensors, processing power and software are not quite there. But these are engineering problems that are easy to define and will be solved.

  1. Computers are very good at measuring distances and heights. Therefore, interpreting a truck as a truck and not a bridge can be pre-programmed. Likewise, new types of sensors will be developed so that cars will know much better than human drivers what is going on around the vehicle. Add to that car-to-car connectivity, so that each car knows the intention of all the vehicles within half a mile, and suddenly an autonomous car is much better placed to co-ordinate its movements with those of all the surrounding cars.

  2. We do not agree with the idea that humans are better at split-second, morally loaded decisions than computers. In a crash situation, the choices made by a driver will be essentially random, or pre-programmed by their normal reaction. Given a little forethought by the software programmers, 99.9% of situations can be managed for an optimal result rather than the vague human output.

  3. Convoys of communicating vehicles can travel closely together, allowing for more efficient use of roads, and greater fuel efficiency.

  4. We wonder if Mr Palmer’s reluctance over self-driving cars is that it removes a key justification for buying an Aston Martin – and that providing such systems is also beyond the capacity of a relatively tiny car company?
  5. However, combining human drivers with convoys of autonomous vehicles could be tricky.

It is this last point which is exercising us! We believe that fully autonomous roads will happen within the next 10 years. Our worry is that will the take over of roads by autonomous vehicles mean that car enthusiasts in their old-fashioned, petrol engined “classics” are banned from going out at all eventually?

Peak SUV Is Now. Electric Vehicles are the Future!

We are on the cusp of Peak SUV. The automotive world has cycles of fashion. Over the last 60 years, the fads of “must-have” cars have been in regular cycles;-

1960-1975 Two-seater sports cars

1975-1990 Hot hatches

1990-2005 MPVs and retro styles

2005-2020? SUVs

Working on a 15 year popularity-life, we are due for a new type of car to become the thing to buy.

And it is clear what the new fashion is; ELECTRIC VEHICLES.

The Wonderful Jaguar I-Pace

Already, the cutting edge new automotive products are Tesla, Jaguar I-Pace and BMW i8/i3. But they are not the only ones. Waiting in the wings are premium products from Mercedes and Audi. Volkswagen have a whole range of ID EV’s to launch in the next couple of years.

My geeky engineer friends tell me that the key challenge to EV design is the balance between driving range and battery weight/cost. The standard target is to achieve 300miles between recharges. Range is driven (pardon the pun) by rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag. Rolling resistance minimisation means large wheels and stiff tyre sidewalls. Aerodynamic drag is the product of slipperiness and cross-sectional area. We all like a sleek looking car, so aerodynamic designs will be welcome.

But here is the coffin-nail for SUVs. Not only are they heavy – which increases rolling resistance – but they have large cross-sections. It is like trying to push a barn-door through the air at 60mph. Which takes much more energy than pushing a cupboard-door. This is why the Tesla Model S is a large but low car – lots of interior space, but lower air-resistance.

Autocar’s image of the Dyson EV

Interestingly, Autocar magazine reports that the new Dyson EV will be high-riding, but with much ground clearance – so that the cabin remains shallow. This gives the dual benefit of lower air-resistance from a reduced cross-sectional area, but retains the popular high-riding high-visibility seating position.

You heard it here first. The days of the SUV are numbered. Sleek, high-riding EV’s are the future.

No U-Turn on Aston Martin (AML) – Yet!

At the time of the Geneva show, we recommended ASTON MARTIN – BUY THE CARS, AVOID THE SHARES. We didn’t buy the shares. Sadly, we weren’t able to buy the cars either. One day, it will be time to brake (break) our recommendation, reverse our view, steer in a new direction and accelerate purchases. Okay, now with the car-puns done, as before, let’s have some pictures before getting to the boring numbers.

Aston Martin Vantage – is it bonus time for me yet? (Ed; NO!)
AM-RB 003 – sold out already!

So to the financials.

AML Financials still look scary

The numbers still don’t look great, (Data from Sharecast.com) with strong growth in revenue required before a decent profit can be made. Turning the numbers around relies on the forthcoming SUV, the DBX, being introduced successfully and selling well. All the industry pointers confirm that this vehicle will sell at great speed and with good margins. However, it is being built in a new factory in Wales (not that the location is desperately relevant, I’m sure that the Welsh have produced outstanding engineering in the past, like, er…. didn’t the Sinclair C5 get built there?) Anyway, the fact is that a new factory producing a new type of car does hold some risks – just ask Elon Musk at Tesla.

AML Share Price since IPO

Here is the share price chart….. not looking like the trend has reversed yet is it? We’ve helpfully added the point where we advised not to buy last time! How modest of us!

Where Next For the Share Price?

Reasons for Up!

  1. Once sales of the DBX SUV fire up, revenues and profits should race away

  2. Autocar has reported that sales of the AM-RB 003 £1 mio hypercar are over-subscribed

 

Reasons for Down!

  1. The trend is firmly downwards – expect it be be oversold before it rebounds

  2. First quarter results confirmed our expectations that new-model investments will eat margins for the foreseeable future

  3. There remains huge delivery risk on the “saviour” SUV project

  4. Market cap remains twice revenue, whereas we would expect it to be closer to a 1:1 ratio

At some point in the future, these shares will be good value. That will be when revenues have grown, new products are selling well or at least have had good launches. Right now, we expect the selling to continue until perhaps 600p.

When we consider investing in AML shares, we find ourselves shaken, not stirred! Steer clear.

5 Rules for Classic Car Investment and 5 Surefire Winners

Only a fool would forecast which cars will go up in value over the next 5 years……. So here goes!

Saturn Sky – too obscure for our list, but so pretty

As we explained before, generally classic car ownership costs will overcome any long term appreciation. But here are our rules to increase your chances of minimising the loss……

  1. Buy something you like, that will give you pleasure of ownership.

  2. Buy convertibles not coupes. Classic cars are built for wafting, not driving at 90mph.

  3. Buy the best condition you can find. Restoration costs nearly always outpace increases in value.

  4. Make sure you have a nice dry garage in which to store your pride and joy.

  5. Most importantly of all, buy something that is about to come into fashion! The best chance of doing this is to purchase an icon from 20 odd years ago. Think of the teenagers of 1995. What pictures did they have on the wall? What cars were driven by the cool Dads at school? Now the schoolboys (and it mostly is boys) of that time are reaching the point in their lives where they have a bit of spare cash. What do they want to buy? A toy that will remind them of their aspirations when they were young but poor. The wheels they wanted as students but couldn’t afford or couldn’t insure.

Ten years ago, it was Golf GTi’s, 205 GTi’s, Porsche 993’s and 944’s on the cusp of classicdom. And so it has proven, with good examples of such designs trebling or quadrupling in value over the last decade.

So what to buy now? We present five candidates for your garage. Fun, rewarding cars to own that will make you money over the next 5 years – probably.

A. Jaguar XKR

Jaguar XKR Convertible – yes please!

What a wonderful car! This one has everything – Well engineered V8 and supercharger, wood and leather, gentle ride and the ability to cruise to St Tropez at the drop of a hat. The superchargerless XK8 is nearly as tempting, but we’d want the full-fat XKR version to use, enjoy and to be worth more in the end.

B. Porsche 996

Porsche 911 in 996 iteration

Decried by the old git fraternity for not being air-cooled, the 996 shape 911 remains hugely competent. Our target generation aren’t as precious about air-cooled engines, and will see this as the bargain of the century at the present undervalued prices. Ensure the engine’s known weaknesses are okay (intermediate shaft bearings and liner-cracks) and don’t be worried about larger mileages as long as the condition is good.

C. Renault Twingo Mk1

Twingo being celebrated at Goodwood

Bit of a wild card here, but just how cute is this little baby? Ideal for nipping around town on a summer day. And it will make you think of Nicole every time you do!

D. BMW Z4

BMW Z4 – more serious than it looks.

A well engineered folding top coupe-convertible that looks the part and drives the part. Maybe suffers a bit of an image problem now, but it ticks all the boxes to enjoy going forward and to hold for the long term.

 

 

E. Mazda RX7 Gen 3

RX7 from Hegarty
RX7 with low Wankel -permitted bonnet

So pretty, technologically interesting and relatively rare. A car to enjoy as it appreciates. And a car to appreciate as it gains value! This is our absolute tip for price-growth. Just be careful to acquire one with good history – AND NO MODIFICATIONS!

 

 

In the manner of all financial-advice and tipster columns, the author would like to point out that he does not own any of these cars at present – but he certainly wants to invest (a word for Mrs Author’s consumption) in one or more over the course of 2019.

Great New Aston Martin Models in Geneva – but What About The Shares?

We love the Aston Martin brand, so before the boring writing bit, let’s have some pictures.

Aston Martin Superleggera
Aston Martin DB11
Aston Martin Vantage

The latest range are just soooooooo handsome!

The three (yes three) new models announced in Geneva are truly inspiring. Steve Cropley, writing in Autocar magazine, summed up the warm – no, radiant – response as “There’s an air of profound impatience at Aston, driven to some extent by bearish forecasts of its share price trajectory in some financial media. The will to ‘prove ‘em wrong’ is strong indeed.”

Vanquish Mid-engined Concept Car
AM-RB 003 Car jointly developed with Red Bull Racing
Lagonda purely EV Super-luxury vehicle

These pictures are directly from Aston Martin’s website. Don’t they look magnificent?

Okay, that was the fun bit. Here comes the BUT. And it’s a big BUT

BUT

The share price has not performed brilliantly since the IPO last autumn.

Aston Martin’s Share-price since launch. Oops

It was floated at £19.00. After one long skid, it closed yesterday at £11.03. That is some crash! Not helped of course by maiden results coming in at a loss.

And, frankly, though we respect CEO Andy Palmer’s team, we feel they are making two crucial mistakes;

  1. Three new cars, each in tiny segments, feels wayyyyyy too ambitious, especially for such a small company. How can Aston Martin have the engineering resource and finances to expand so quickly – and into three new markets, none of which are huge? The car-nuts in us love the concepts, but the bean-counters see it as way too risky. Come on Aston, your bread-and-butter products are in hugely competitive arenas. You cannot afford to have your best engineers distracted by vanity projects (sorry, sounds harsh but it is true). We’d rather you focussed on making the DB11 and Vantage the best they can be, with blockbuster follow ups. And then, perhaps one new niche product? Which brings us to Lagonda………

  2. Lagonda! Of the three new concepts, the Lagonda EV (Electric Vehicle) appeals the most as forward looking and brand enhancing. But which brand are you supporting, Aston? Lagonda means nothing to anyone under 40, and even to the grey-haired, it is nothing more than the huge, quirky William Towns designed 1970’s Sheikh-mobile. Aston Martin is a small company and should be polishing its famous brand, not trying to introduce a new one. A super-SUV type vehicle has worked well for Porsche, Bentley and even Rolls-Royce. We feel the new EV-SUV should be a halo product for Aston Martin.

In summary, Aston Martin cars are great. We love the brand. BUT, we feel the company is trying to run too fast, and we’re not sure about the Lagonda branding. Oh dear, we’re sounding like Steve Cropley’s “…some financial media.”

However, I’m sure we’re not the first to say this……..

ASTON MARTIN – BUY THE CARS, AVOID THE SHARES.

Is Jaguar In The Last Chance, er, Saloon?

The world has been cruel to Jaguar Cars. But our interest has been sparked by the shocking news that Jaguar is going all electric. (OK, that’s enough of the live-wire puns).

Today JLR announced a £3.4bln loss for the last quarter. We feel the pain!

How did it come to this?

During Ford’s ownership of the famous feline company, the product design went from PANACHE to PASTICHE. Who on earth thought that the X-Type or the S-Type were attractive? Not the potential customers, that’s for sure. So Jaguar’s engineers produced the masterful all-aluminium XJ8 X350 series. Only for the designers to clothe it in yet another re-hash of 1960’s glories.

Enter Ian Callum as Chief Designer. The man behind the Aston Martin DB7 – which owed much to Jaguar already – has created a modern, coherent range of Jaguar saloons. But still they are not selling. The production plant at Castle Bromwich has been on a 3 day week. Autocar magazine reports that sales in the last 3 months of 2018 collapsed – see https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/industry/opinion-can-new-defender-help-turn-around-jaguar-land-rover.

And now the resultant loss is declared. Much as many people will want to blame Brexit, the real reason is falling demand in China.

Jaguar correctly joined the SUV market. Not a natural arena for the maker of sleek low sports saloons and convertibles, but financially astute. The oddly-named F-Pace and E-Pace started off with great sales, but now seem to have slowed too.

And the final bright star, leading the way to the future? The I-Pace (as pictured at the top). All-electric, stunningly pretty, and earlier to the market than all the main competitors. What an achievement!

It is widely believed that the large XJ replacement, due later this year, will be electric only, as a Tesla model S competitor. What a bold decision!

And, in Autocar again, is the rumour that the slow-selling XF and XE will be replaced by a smaller all-electric saloon.

Suddenly, it seems Jaguar is betting the farm on going electric. Is it too soon? A niche within a niche? Or is it the boldest, most far-sighted highly-charged management choice in a long time? (Sorry, couldn’t help that one last pun sneaking in)

The world would be a poorer place for our children without Jaguar. They need the sales urgently!

So go out and buy an XF or XE RIGHT NOW! You owe it to your family.

Italian vs English Design; Maserati vs Daimler

I’m indebted to my pal – who we should call Mel, on account of that being his name – for forwarding this picture during a spot of lunchtime car porning. It is a 1953 Maserati A6GCS by Fiandri – and isn’t it gorgeous?

It’s coming up for auction next month, and if you are nipping over to Paris for the Retromobile show, with a spare EUR 4.5mio, then you could make it yours.  See https://www.artcurial.com/fr

Let’s look at another picture for a few tender moments………

It strikes me that English car design wasn’t quite as – what’s the word – resolved, in those days. As evidence, I give you Exhibit A, the Daimler Dart. Ooops, they couldn’t even select a name that wasn’t already taken, so in fact I give you the Daimler SP250.

Do you think it hit every branch on the way down?

Luckily, I feel that modern UK car-drawers are much more up to scratch, with the Jaguar XE easily as pretty as the Alfa Romeo Giula.

 

 

OK, that’s enough staring at car pictures for one day – now get back to work! (And have a good weekend)