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]

Alibaba, Ford to partner on car sales, wide range of projects


SHANGHAI — Alibaba Group Holding has signed a deal with Ford to explore cooperation in areas such as cloud computing, connectivity and retail, which could involve selling Ford cars on Alibaba’s online retail platform Tmall.

Alibaba in a statement on Thursday said digital marketing-focused Alimama and operating system firm AliOS would be among subsidiaries working with Ford under the three-year agreement.

One avenue under consideration is the sale of Ford cars on Tmall, an Alibaba spokeswoman said. Reuters on Wednesday reported that Ford was planning to sign such a deal as it overhauls its China strategy to stimulate growth.

“The agreement aims to explore new ways to redefine how consumers purchase and own vehicles, as well as how to leverage digital channels to identify new retail opportunities,” Alibaba said in its statement.

The Chinese e-commerce firm and U.S. automaker will initially “explore a pilot study” for new retail opportunities, Alibaba said.

Ford President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Hackett in the statement said collaborating with technology firms builds on its vision to make “smart vehicles.”

Ford’s China sales have been sluggish in recent months as it struggles to keep pace with rapidly changing trends, including increased demand for entry-level cars in smaller cities.

Meanwhile Alibaba is increasing its presence in the automotive sector with Banma Technologies, a partnership with SAIC Motor Corp developing Internet-connected cars.

Reporting by Brenda Goh and Norihiko Shirouzu

[Source: Autoblog]


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


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.


Honda Civic Type R K20C1 turbocharged crate engine debuts at SEMA


Honda pulled the covers off its K20C1 crate engine at SEMA today, greatly reducing the hassle for enterprising racers wishing to bolt 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque into their track-day weapons of choice. Details on how to apply for the right to purchase one of these powerplants can be found at Honda’s Racing Line site.

A purchase price of $6,519.87 (plus shipping) sounds downright reasonable for a factory-fresh, ready-to-run engine with this kind of reliability and power. Remember, this is the engine that powers the Civic Type R, which is capable of lapping the legendary Nürburgring in just 7 minutes and 43.8 seconds. But before you start dreaming up that perfect engine swap scenario, know that Honda won’t sell a crate engine to just anyone.

The Japanese automaker says these crate engines are available “to U.S. grassroots and professional racers for verified, closed-course racing applications,” which means these turbocharged beasts are not intended for the street. That said, we won’t be surprised at all the first time we see a K20C1-powered Integra at the local Cars and Coffee…


Ken Block teases new Escort Cosworth as his ‘biggest project ever’


We’ve already seen Ken Block do donuts in his new project car, the 1991 Ford Escort Cosworth. Now, as SEMA approaches, it seems the Escort has experienced a bit of a makeover since appearing in fridge white on Ken’s hoonage video. In this teaser image released by Pennzoil, the still-recognizable Escort is spewing sparks from its suffering tires.

Pennzoil calls the Escort Block’s “biggest project ever.” and says in the adjacent tweet that there will be a special trailer released tomorrow. In the earlier video the Escort appeared to be a rally car pretending to be a “regular” Escort Cosworth, but the new teaser image suggests all sleeper pretensions are long gone. Tomorrow will tell just how far the “Cossie” has been taken.


Honda Sports EV Concept is exactly the EV sports car we want


Hot on the heels of the Urban EV Concept shown at the Frankfurt show, Honda has another electric car, and it’s exactly what we as enthusiasts hoped for. It’s the Sports EV Concept (admittedly the name could be more inspired), and it hits every traditional sports car note. The whole car sits low, which is emphasized by a very low roof. It has a long, sleek nose, and a rakish fastback. The fenders are appropriately bulging, especially at the front where the arches rise above the top of the hood. In fact, the car looks like a modern interpretation of the AMC Javelin and AMX. That’s not a bad thing.

The Sports EV also owes much to the Urban EV. There are many styling cues shared with the little hatchback. Immediately obvious are the black panels that house the headlights and taillights, and imply a grille without actually having one. Though we can make out a small slit in the front. The lights are also similar in that they use simple circles up front and rounded squares in the back. The wrap-around windshield and black bars on the sides are also clear Urban EV cues.

It’s not just styling that the Sports EV shares with the Urban EV, though. According to Honda, it uses the same electric car platform as the economy car. This gives us some hope that this electric sports car could see the light of day. This is because Honda confirmed that a production version of the Urban EV would go on sale in Europe in 2019, and it announced at the Tokyo show that the same car will arrive in Japan in 2020.

Honda didn’t reveal many details about the mechanical parts of the Sports EV Concept, nor general features. It did, however, mention that the Sports EV has an AI system on-board. It’s called the Honda Automated Network Assistant, and all Honda said about it was that it’s supposed to “create communication that unites driver and car.” We’re not really sure what that’s supposed to do, but hopefully, since Honda also said it was focused on a “a one-ness between driver and car,” it has something to do with making the car nimble and fun. You know, like a certain little Mazda that’s philosophy, Jinba Ittai, means “horse and rider as one.”