Ford has purchased Detroit’s old train station, former owner says

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It’s all but Blue Oval-stamped official: Ford has purchased Detroit’s long-abandoned train depot, marking a return to the city where the company was founded 113 years ago and representing a pivotal moment for the economic fortunes of a long-suffering city.

Ford’s purchase of the decaying, 104-year-old Michigan Central Station was announced at a news conference organized by local businessman Matthew Moroun, whose family has owned the building since 1995.

“The deal is complete,” Moroun said. “Ford Motor Company’s blue oval will adorn the building.”

Ford spokesman Said Deep issued a brief statement following the announcement: “These are exciting times for Ford and Detroit. Together with the community, we look forward to announcing our plans for Michigan Central Station and Corktown on June 19th. It will be a historic day for Detroit, the auto industry and the future of Ford.”

That Ford was negotiating to buy the massive building, vacant since the late 1980s and until recent years lacking most of its windows, was the worst-kept secret in Detroit. News first leaked in March that Ford was eyeing the building, and the family transferred ownership on the building and an adjacent former schoolbook depository last month; Moroun himself told local media that Ford first approached the family about selling it in October of last year.

Ford is thought to be planning it as the anchor of an urban mobility campus in Detroit’s steadily revitalizing Corktown neighborhood, named for its waves of immigrants from Ireland’s County Cork, including the ancestors of Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. The company has also been negotiating for dozens of other nearby properties to form a campus to develop electric and autonomous vehicles. Ford recently moved 220 employees to a nearby building it calls The Factory to work on electric and autonomous vehicles.

Ford reportedly sees a move back into the city, where it hasn’t had a presence since 1996, as part of a strategy to help attract talent and help jump-start efforts to develop self-driving cars and electric vehicles. There are also rumors that Ford Jr. wants an office in the building.

The purchase of the building would have been seen as improbable even a year ago, having sat empty and windowless for decades, tagged by graffiti artists and serving as a destination for “ruin porn” photographers and urban spelunkers from around the world. The building will no doubt need tens of millions of dollars worth of renovations and upgrades for modern technology needs.

In recent years, the Moroun family said it spent $8 million to build a freight elevator inside the building’s old smokestack, removing asbestos and installing more than 1,000 windows, according to Crain’s Detroit Business. The news has so far had little impact on Ford’s stock, which was up a penny to $12.11 in early trading Monday.

[Source: Autoblog]

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Midsize Ram truck coming to U.S.

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The midsize truck segment is officially back in full force. Today, at FCA’s new five-year plan, company CEO Sergio Marchionne and Ram head Mike Manley announced that America will be getting Ram’s new global midsize truck. The new model is designed for a global audience.

It will not be based on the Mitsubishi Triton, we’re told. FCA already sells that model in certain markets as the Ram 1200.

Trucks for the North American market will likely be built in Mexico on the old Ram Heavy Duty production line. The upcoming Ram HD — set to debut at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show — will be built in the US. The timing of the new midsize Ram isn’t pinpointed, but the above slide from FCA’s presentation suggests we’ll see it by 2022. A with all upcoming Ram models, look for some form of electrification, likely in the form of the 48-volt mild hybrid system that’s set to debut later this year in the 2018 Ram 1500.

Don’t expect the truck to tailor too heavily to US tastes like the Toyota Tacoma or Chevy Colorado. Like the upcoming Ford Ranger, this is a global truck first and foremost. Marchionne said that Ram’s focus in the US will remain mostly on full-size trucks. Still it will be sold in the U.S., just not in any expected large volumes.

[Source: Autoblog]

Motorcycle cop tickets a self-driving car in San Francisco

Now here’s a genuine novelty: In San Francisco, a motorcycle cop pulled over an autonomous vehicle and issued it a ticket. The future has arrived.

But the reason — police said it failed to yield to a pedestrian at a crosswalk — probably shouldn’t be taken lightly, coming a day after a self-driving car operated by Uber Technologies Inc. struck and killed a woman walking her bicycle across the road March 18 in Tempe, Ariz. Cruise Automation, the operator of the ticketed self-driving car, says the vehicle did nothing wrong. The story was first reported by CBS affiliate KPIX-TV.

Cruise tells the station that its onboard data shows the pedestrian was 10.8 feet away from the car when it began driving in autonomous mode down Harrison Street at 14th Street. The officer pulled the car over shortly after it began accelerating and ticketed the human test driver.

“Safety is our priority in testing our self-driving vehicles,” Cruise said in a statement. “California law requires the vehicle to yield the right of way to pedestrians, allowing them to proceed undisturbed and unhurried without fear of interference of their safe passage through an intersection. Our data indicates that’s what happened here.” It tells the station the human test driver did everything right but is responsible for the citation.

General Motors purchased San Francisco-based Cruise in 2016 to boost its efforts to develop self-driving vehicles. GM is seeking federal approval for a fully autonomous car that lacks a steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator pedal to join its first commercial ride-sharing fleet in 2019, and it recently announced plans to build the car, which is based on a Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle, at a plant near Detroit.

Meanwhile, investigators and autonomous-vehicle equipment suppliers are still trying to figure out what went wrong in the self-driving Uber fatal crash. Uber and the family of Elaine Herzberg, the woman killed in the accident, have reached a settlement in the case.

The latest incident won’t help convince a wary public about the safety of our increasingly inevitable self-driving future. It also makes us wonder: What happens when an officer tries to pull over a completely self-driving car that doesn’t have a passenger inside of it? On that front, time will certainly tell.

[Source: Autoblog]

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric gets 250-mile range rating in the U.S.

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Let’s get the most salient details out of the way: The Hyundai Kona Electric will show up in California in the fourth quarter of 2018, and other “ZEV-focused states” will soon follow. We’d expect to see the Kona EV in dealerships along the East and West Coasts and in New England in early 2019. It’ll have an estimated range of 250 miles from its 64 kWh lithium ion battery pack. Its electric motor sends 201 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels.

Other markets get a lower-cost, entry-level model with less power and range, but the U.S. will only get this lone range-topping version.

Those specs put the U.S. Kona EV squarely into the thick of the burgeoning electric vehicle market, where it will compete with cars like the Chevy Bolt EV (238-mile range) and Tesla Model 3 (up to 220-mile range). The Nissan Leaf has a much lower 151-mile range. The Kona EV can be fully charged at Level 2 in in a little less than 10 hours. DC fast charging capability is standard on the Kona, and it can go from zero to an 80 percent charge in less than an hour.

Cargo capacity stands at 19.2 cubic-feet, which is identical to the gas-powered Kona. The EV also benefits from a standard multi-link rear suspension setup in place of the standard gas-powered, front-wheel-drive model’s low-tech torsion beam system. Normal, Eco, and Sport drive modes alter the steering feel and powertrain programming to either emphasize acceleration and performance or maximize range.

Hyundai didn’t make sweeping changes to the look of the standard Kona in its conversion into an electric vehicle. The helmet-shaped grille of the standard car gives way to a more aerodynamically efficient design with lightly debossed slashes and dashes. The door covering the charging port is also housed in the grille. Split lighting units remain front and rear, and thick plastic cladding lends a utilitarian look to the lifted hatchback profile. It doesn’t scream ‘electric vehicle’ like the Toyota Prius or Hyundai’s own Ionic, but differs sufficiently from the gas-powered Kona to make it easy to spot on the road.

The rest of the Kona EV package is well-sorted for daily driving duties. A full suite of active and passive safety systems come standard as part of the Hyundai Smart Sense package, including forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, blind-spot warning, and lane-keeping assist. A large center touchscreen infotainment system includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Qi wireless charging is optional, and Hyundai’s Blue Link app is included for three years.

We’ll have to wait a bit longer for full pricing information, but as long as it’s in line with the Chevy Bolt, the Kona Electric looks to be a serious contender in the EV marketplace.

[Source: Autoblog]

Ford Mustang may soon have Chevy Camaro 1LE-like performance pack

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Few automotive rivalries are as heated as the Ford Mustang and the Chevy Camaro. For decades, the two cars have faced off, constantly fighting tooth and nail for bragging rights and customer attention. Factory performance packs are nothing new, but the Camaro’s 1LE variants have garnered a lot of praise, more than the basic performance pack on the Ford Mustang. Now, Road & Track is reporting that an even more extensive performance pack may be in the works for the refreshed 2018 Ford Mustang.

Road & Track compiled a list of evidence that points toward a more robust performance option. The current Mustang GT Performance Pack includes things like staggered wheels and tires, six-piston Brembo brakes, new front springs, a larger radiator, a limited-slip differential and more. The upgrades to the Camaro 1LE are roughly the same, but somehow Chevyseems to eek out more performance from its parts than Ford has with the Camaro, especially with a car like the ZL1 1LE (internal option codes are sexy).

A new Mustang was spotted wearing a new set of wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, some of the stickiest street tires available. There have also been some leaked order guides that hint at an even greater performance pack. Still, we’ve been burned by leaks before. There’s no comment from Ford on the matter, so we’ll have to wait for the Mustang to hit showrooms before we know any more.

Ford, others will sell cars in Alibaba’s giant cat-shaped vending machines

Ford, revamping its China sales strategy due to listless sales, recently signed onto a strategic agreement with Chinese tech titan Alibaba. The three-year partnership will trial opportunities in areas like artificial intelligence, cloud computing, digital marketing, and online retailing. That online component will involve Ford directly selling vehicles on Alibaba’s Tmall online store — a new avenue for the carmaker that will need discussion with Chinese Ford dealers to manage. Even more adventuresome, Ford will offer vehicles for sale in giant “automotive vending machine” kiosks Alibaba will build all over China. And the vending machines are built to look like cats. Watch the video here!

One of the issues holding online car shopping back in China is that buyers can’t see and touch the car they’re interested in. An Alibaba spokesman said the vending machines address that drawback by providing Chinese buyers a hands-on experience as well as test drives, and the entire experience works through an app.

A potential buyer could scan a car they see on the street into the app. The app would direct them to a vending machine that has they car they’re interested in. Once at the vending machine — which is unstaffed and all digital — the buyer would use facial recognition or a log-in code to get the car out of the machine. Then the customer could take the vehicle out for a three-day test drive, or buy the car outright with a 10 percent down payment and financing through Alibaba’s Alipay affiliate.

Any wanna-be machine user needs to meet certain criteria: They must have a credit score of at least 700 on China’s Zhima state-sponsored “social credit system” — the same system that ensnared Faraday Future backer Jia Yueting — and they need to be an Alibaba Super Member. Car shoppers can only test drive one of each model, and will get a maximum five test drives in the first two months of the vending machine program.

Alibaba plans the first two automated test drive centers in Nanjing and Shanghai, with dozens more planned across the country. Ford isn’t the only OEM interested in the trial, with Audi, BMW, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo also queuing up to be included. Check out the video above to see how it works.

[Source: Autoblog]

Oregon admits violating rights of man fined for using math

Back in April, we reported on Mats Järlström, an Oregon resident who was fined $500 for using math to challenge the state’s traffic cameras. This week, The Oregonian reported that the Oregon state board admitted it violated Järlström’s First Amendment rights when issuing the fine. Though Järlström’s $500 was returned, he and the group at the Institute for Justice aren’t satisfied. They’re now working to change the regulations that led to Järlström’s fine in the first place.

Long story short, Järlström was fined because his public critiques of traffic cameras mention his background as an engineer. The problem is that Oregon doesn’t recognize him as such because he isn’t certified by the Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying. The thing is, Järlström holds a bachelor’s of science degree in engineering. He wasn’t paid for any of his critiques and wasn’t working professionally as an engineer, just using his background to bolster his reports.

The fine blatantly and egregiously violated Järlström’s First Amendment right to criticize the government. It shouldn’t matter if he was certified or not. Using math isn’t illegal.

Järlström wasn’t the first victim of the state board’s heavy-handed regulations. The Oregonian‘s report mentions Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman. The state board investigated Saltzman because a voter pamphlet called him an environmental engineer. Like Järlström, Saltzman wasn’t state certified. Also like Järlström, Saltzman holds an engineering degree (two actually).

Järlström and the Institute for Justice say the state is trying to close the case without forcing any real change. In theory, someone else could be fined because of the state board’s nebulous reading of professional and commercial speech. A U.S. magistrate judge is currently investigating the case and plans to issue a ruling in the next few weeks. Both Järlström and the state attorney general can issue an appeal if things don’t go their way.

[Source: Autoblog]