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?

Aston Martin Still Has a Mountain to Climb*

* Which is kind of ironic given that it was named after Aston Clinton Hillclimb!

An Aston Martin – climbing a mountain

Since we yanked on the handbrake for AML shares in March, and again in May, how have things been? Initially, almost as soon as we made our most recent forecast, the pesky management went and bought a few shares for themselves, and the price rallied £2. Not the best of starts.

AML ugly price chart – and it’s down another £1 today

Since then, more teasers of the make-or-break DBX SUV have been released.

DBX on test in Sweden

Autocar are carrying a report that the order-books are to be opened next month at Pebble Beach. Despite our view that we have seen peak SUV, the DBX fits into the mould. To be fair, it’s not as ugly as a Bentley Bentayga, nor the Rolls Cullinan. To us, it looks rather like a Porsche Cayenne with an Aston-shaped grill nailed on to the front. So it should sell well initially, though we continue to fear that sales will fall off a cliff-edge in 2 or 3 years time as EV’s take over.

And the latest news?

Talking of sales falling off a cliff-edge, yesterday it was announced that deliveries to dealers in the second quarter were down 22% in UK and 28% in EMEA. Over the twenty four hours since then, the shares have collapsed from £10 to £7, which we can disclose is a 30% fall (see, we’ve always had a natural flair for numbers).

Our view remains that at some time, the shares of this iconic brand will represent good value. But it is not yet. There remains huge delivery risk on the crucial DBX project. And just too many variables in the world luxury car market.

As before, we recommend BUY THE CARS, SELL THE SHARES. Is it time for my bonus yet? (Ed. NO!)

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.

Geely Is The (Chinese) Car Company of the Future

One cannot help but admire how the Chinese car-maker Geely is driving (sorry) it’s business into the major league.

The excellent Volvo XC40

Geely has only been making cars for a little over 20 years, but during that time it has made some really smart choices. Probably the second most important decision was the purchase of Volvo back in 2010. And, the first most important choice was then allowing Volvo to run without too much interference. Isn’t it funny – if not a little scary – that this fledgling company was able to build Volvo into a world-class premium brand, whereas Ford, with all its American management expertise – just spoiled it with shared platforms and imported engineering.

Polestar 1 all electric coupe

More recently, Volvo has engineered and then devolved an exciting new electric-only subsidiary Polestar.

 

 

 

Geely Borui 5 door saloon

Meanwhile, in its homeland, Geely has not been standing still, with models such as Borui (pictured left) (or below, depending on what platform you are viewing this on)

Another international brand, Proton was bought in 2017, which brought with it Lotus. Lotus, as well as building the ultimate enthusiasts’ sports cars, has an awesome engineering capability.

Lotus Evora 400. Now that is a sports car!

With state support, the Chinese Auto-Manufacturers are way ahead in the electrification of cars – and you knew that Geely own the LEVC (maiden name, London Taxi International) didn’t you? Within 12 months, there will be a wide choice of Chinese-made EVs on sale in Europe – and they will be good. You should expect them to be well-engineered, reliable, and CHEAP. Who is going to buy a Jaguar I-Pace, or an Audi E-tron at £70,000, or even a Kia Niro at £35,000 when the Geely equivalent is £22,000 and performs (and looks) just as well?

Watch out Toyota and VW, the Chinese are coming and they will eat your lunch!

Oh gosh, what a great opportunity this article has been for having lots of car pictures! Couldn’t miss this chance to show the lovely I-Pace as well.

The Wonderful Jaguar I-Pace

Don’t Let Sadiq Khan and Uber Destroy Our Black Cabs

In London we have a world-class licenced taxi service. The iconic black cabs are famous globally for their knowledgable route-finding (Ha, knowledgable because they’ve all passed “the knowledge” – by going to Knowledge School!)

A new ‘electric’ cab

The vehicles are specially built for the job, with access for wheelchair users and the visually impaired. Their tight turning circles (the cabs not the wheelchairs) make them invaluable parts of the London mass-transport system. Taxis have the advantages of being allowed to use bus-lanes, and having street-wise route calculation! We have a strong community of cabbies who strive to offer a safe, friendly, professional and clean service. In their spare time, charitable endeavours such as outings for veterans and disadvantaged children are undertaken. Ha, this sounds like a plug for cabbies, but they really do deserve our support!

And yet they are under threat, not only from Uber, but from London Mayor Sadiq Khan too.

A campaigning cabbie

Uber is a loss-making business, and yet still contrives to ensure that its drivers earn less than the minimum wage. They were banned in London, and only continue due to legal shenanigans. (Expect a further article on the prospects of Uber as a public company in the very near future).

Yet because it is so easy to become an Uber driver, thousands of unqualified people have done so, clogging up the streets of London. One of the more vocal taxi drivers – yep, that’s quite a high level of vocality – Dale Forwood commented “us taxi drivers spend 3 to 4 years doing the ‘Knowledge’ of London, which enables us to offer a professional and safe service. However, since Uber London were licensed in 2012, the strictly-regulated taxi trade has struggled to compete with this unregulated app. The app allows drivers to virtually ply for hire, taking much of our work.”

Vocal cabbie Dale Forwood

Read more of Dale’s comments in the Taxi-Driver’s “Badge” magazine  and listen to her podcast at on www.cabchatshow.uk

And how does Sadiq Khan respond to these 50,000 Uber drivers causing such congestion in town – by closing certain streets to taxis! Where is the logic in that? Did he miss the memo perhaps?

We understand concerns about pollution – and London taxi drivers are doing their bit by changing over to LEVC Co Electric Black Cabs. This will take time – there is a limited production rate at LEVC – and the cab-drivers need to save up too. Each new cab costs £65,000! So the cab fleet cannot be changed instantaneously, but the cabbies are going in the right direction. (Ha, see what I did with “going in the right direction”?)

In the meantime, we all have to travel around London, so why not choose to use safe, trustworthy and qualified drivers in cabs made for the job? If hailing a cab with a mobile app is important to you, there are plenty from which to choose. We recommend Taxi App UK (https://www.taxiapp.uk.com/ ) which is set up and operated by licenced cabbies.

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.

Engineer James Dyson Should Be A National Hero

Is Sir James Dyson a hero or a villain?

James Dyson

Mr Dyson is now staking his reputation on an electric car totally designed and developed by his own company. Recently it was announced that the new vehicle will be manufactured in Singapore.

Sir James is founder, chief innovator and driving force behind the Dyson company. He has devoted his career to designing, developing and selling innovative consumer products. Products for which the public around the world are happy to pay a premium because of the quality of the design and engineering.

As Mr Dyson commented on his website,We’re all about invention and improvement.”

Dyson Ltd employs thousands of highly trained engineers in Wiltshire. With his latest project of an electric car, he is taking on Tesla and all of the automotive big-boys at their own game. In some ways he is a UK version of Elon Musk (but without the cannabis and misleading market comments). We should all be celebrating his success and rooting for his new EV. Who would bet against him succeeding?

James Dyson understands that improving the standard of living of people globally is largely a result of the actions of engineers. As such, he has ploughed his own money into the James Dyson Foundation, which is dedicated to the promotion and improvement of engineering education. It is all very well for politicians to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) in schools, but here is a wealthy industrialist investing his own money in the future of our nation. He has even founded an Engineering University to train youngsters.

The only worrying sign is the recent claim that Dyson are so good that their cars will arrive on time, and the manufacturing will start up smoothly and completely to plan. I can see why Dyson might want to take a swipe at Tesla, whose ramping up of production has faced many self-created problems. However, when Dyson’s manufacturing plans are at such an early stage, this crowing is quite a hostage to fortune, and could easily start to look like hubris.

Nonetheless, James Dyson should be a national hero. We should be singing his praises in schools, showing him as an example, using him to inspire the next generation to become successful engineers.

There is the small matter of Mr Dyson organising his production in Singapore, and more recently moving his corporate HQ there as well. Rather than chastising him for such decisions, shouldn’t the Government be looking rather closely in the mirror and wondering why he made these decisions? What is so wrong about the UK that pushed Mr Dyson away?

Greg Clark

James Dyson must be one of the most successful engineers and entrepreneurs of his generation. Losing his company is a blow to the UK. But instead of internet abuse of him, why aren’t we criticising Business Minister Greg Clark and Prime Minister Theresa May for allowing such a tragedy to unfold? It’s not as if they have been particularly successful in any other areas of political management recently is it?

 

 

So in answer to our question at the top. Definitely, Sir James Dyson is a HERO.

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.