Tesla Tries ‘Genius Bar’ on Wheels

Quartz: “Customers may love their Teslas—but servicing them is a cumbersome chore. Almost 30% of those polled said they could not get a service appointment within 10 days, and 22% said their problem wasn’t resolved on their first visit. Seventeen percent said they had to go back three times or more to resolve their issues. It’s something Tesla will need to address as it ramps up production of its Model 3, its first mass-market car.”

“Tesla will need a Genius Bar equivalent if sales projections prove accurate. While electric cars are still a small sliver of the US car market, they’re growing. Tesla reportedly has a backlog of reservations for the Model 3 that is near 500,000. The company will have to … ensure that it has enough routine customer support, and hold the hands of tens of thousands of newbies. It’s imperative because unlike an MP3 player, a working car, for most drivers, is a daily necessity.”

“Of course Tesla’s support network may not look like a Genius Bar at all.” JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technology officer, explains: “We’re deploying a mobile service strategy to take 80% of the cars and fix them where it’s convenient to the customer. Not at our location, at their location. Make it invisible to them.”

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Retrocycles: How Indian Throttles Harley

The New York Times: Harley-Davidson “now faces perhaps its most trying challenge in decades. Polaris, an established American company with manufacturing know-how and a revered motorcycle brand in Indian, is quickly making big strides … Indian’s sales grew 17 percent in the second quarter of this year, while Harley’s sales shrank nearly 7 percent. Overall sales for large-displacement bikes, the kind that Harley specializes in, shrank 9 percent in the second quarter of this year.”

“The rebirth started well, with attractive bikes earning positive reviews from enthusiast publications … All Indian motorcycles are built in Spirit Lake, Iowa. While its bikes like the Scout and the just-released Scout Bobber are aimed at younger buyers, most models revel in heritage, with styling and names that hark back to the company’s prewar glory days. They represent, as Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book, an auto research firm, put it, ‘a cool theme married to a modern chassis’ and particularly appeal to buyers with a ‘what have you done for me lately’ outlook on brand loyalty.”

“Inevitably, Indian’s retro approach makes the brand a head-to-head competitor for Harley-Davidson, offering bikes in the touring, cruiser and midsize classes as well as the popular bagger category, or bikes carrying saddlebags but not the full windscreen and gear of a long-distance touring machine … To be sure, there is little chance that Indian will run Harley-Davidson out of business anytime soon. Harley’s sales last year, some 260,000 motorcycles worldwide, generated revenue of $6 billion.”

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Quantumobiles: VW Catches D-Wave

The New York Times: “Efforts by Volkswagen, trying to remake itself as a technology leader as it recovers from an emissions scandal, show how far into exotic realms of technology carmakers are willing to go. Volkswagen, a German company, recently joined the handful of large corporations worldwide that are customers of D-Wave Systems, a Canadian maker of computers that apply the mind-bending principles of quantum physics.”

“While some experts question their usefulness, D-Wave computers — housed in tall, matte black cases that recall the obelisks in the science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey — can in theory process massive amounts of information at unheard-of speeds … While classical computers are based on bits with a value of either 1 or 0, the qubits in a quantum computer can exist in multiple states at the same time. That allows them, in theory, to perform calculations that would be beyond the powers of a typical computer.”

“This year Volkswagen used a D-Wave computer to demonstrate how it could steer the movements of 10,000 taxis in Beijing at once, optimizing their routes and thereby reducing congestion … Such claims are met with skepticism by some experts, who say there is no convincing proof that D-Wave computers are faster than a well-programmed conventional supercomputer … Volkswagen executives say they will publish the results of their work with D-Wave computers, allowing outsiders to try to debunk them.”

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Cars That Stare Back At You

The New York Times: “Using cameras with facial recognition software and other biometric indicators, automakers are looking to personalize the driving experience with cars that stare back at you, quietly adjusting seats and driving modes. They may even anticipate your wants and desires by playing your favorite music based on your mood. And it’s not only about convenience, but also about the possibility of improving safety and security.”

“Honda’s NeuV concept car, for example, has a large customizable LCD dashboard and a cloud-connected, onboard computer that uses artificial intelligence to interact with drivers. NeuV employs what the company coyly refers to as an ’emotion engine’ to grease the wheels of the conversation, and its automated personal assistant can read ‘facial skin vibrations’ to help it isolate the driver’s voice and better understand spoken commands.”

“Some elements of the personalized driving experience are already coming to cars. By the end of the year, Ford plans to add Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant to some of its cars … It will not only allow personalized music stations to play with a voice command, but also enable drivers to juggle chores like adding items to an existing grocery list with just a few words.”

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Tesla: When The Story is the Company

The New York Times: “Tesla is not a stock, or a company, that is measured by the past …Tesla is about nothing if not a utopian future of safe, reliable, powerful, self-driving electric vehicles powered by solar-fed batteries that are easy on the environment. In that regard, Tesla has ascended into a rarefied realm of so-called story stocks — companies that have so bewitched investors that their stock prices are impervious to any traditional valuation measures because their stories are simply too good not to be true.”

Also: “Amazon and Snap both have stories that are compelling for many investors: Amazon has transformed retailing and is destined to dominate it. Snap is reinventing communication, at least for millennials and those even younger. Early investors in Uber and Airbnb, though they remain private companies, have valued them at stratospheric multiples based largely on the notion that Uber will transform and dominate local transportation and Airbnb will revolutionize the hotel industry.”

However: “For every Tesla or Uber, there’s a Valeant Pharmaceuticals or Theranos — two story stocks that seduced an astounding array of prominent investors and supporters based on stories that did turn out to be too good to be true.”

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Pie Face: A New Era in Toymaking

The Washington Post: “Pie Face, a game in which a dollop of whipped cream is served up from a plastic “throwing arm” to someone who has positioned his face in its path … was the single best-selling item in the games category in 2016 and the fourth best-selling toy overall, according to market research firm NPD Group.”

“Pie Face is a symbol of a new era in toymaking, one in which social media is allowing the industry to marshal you, the everyday shopper, to become a product’s most powerful advertiser. And its mega-popularity has helped fuel a flurry of action from toymakers to create games that offer a ‘shareable moment’ — a brief visual morsel that parents and grandparents will post on Instagram or Facebook and that teens will put on Snapchat or YouTube. It’s a new breed of toy that can’t just be fun for players in real time. It has to be demonstrative. Performative, even.”

“Social trends go boom and bust at warp speed, and so toymakers say that they have to move at a breakneck pace to capitalize on them. Such was the case with Speak Out, another Hasbro creation. In this game, players wear a mouthguard-like plastic mold that stretches their faces to look cartoonish and makes it hard to talk. Players must say a phrase to a partner and get them to guess their garbled words. The idea for it was sparked by Web videos of people putting in dental mouthpieces and getting the giggles when they tried to speak clearly.”

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Luxury of Silence: Cheapo Cars Mask Muffles

Wired: “In your cheapo car … blowing wind, humming tires, high-revving engines, and a hundred random vibrations conspire to make conversation a chore, exhaust the driver, and strain audio systems cranked up to mask the racket. That’s because the standard silencers—sound-absorbing insulation, pricey engineering, aerodynamic tricks, and sheer weight (heavier cars tend to be quieter)—are hard to move down market.”

“But in recent years, automakers catering to the road-going hoi polloi have found new ways to lower the volume, particularly for hybrid and electric vehicles that don’t have the benefit of an engine to mask other vehicle noises. The result: Economy cars now carry things like side mirrors that maneuver airflow away from your windows, suspensions that dial out road noise, expanding tape that plugs gaps, and frames to maneuver sound away from the car’s occupants—all developed with the help of mannequins with mics in their ears and giant spherical cameras that can ‘see’ sound.”

“It’s a perk you can neither see nor hear, but one you’ll appreciate, no matter how much you paid for your car.”

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What’s Up With That Tesla Logo?

Venture Beat: “Tesla’s logo is certainly not anonymous, but it turns out there’s more to it than may be immediately apparent. What looks like simply a stylized ‘T’ is actually a reference to the company’s products … The Tesla logo is intended to represent the cross-section of an electric motor, Musk explained to a querying Twitter follower.”

“Musk seemed to be referring to the main body of the ‘T’ as representing one of the poles that stick out of a motor’s rotor, with the second line on top representing a section of the stator. Repeating the Tesla logo in a circle, with the top of each “T” facing outward, does indeed create a reasonable facsimile of an electric-motor cross-section.”

“In this respect, it matches the logo of SpaceX, another of Musk’s ventures—which in this case designs and builds rockets, and contracts to send payloads into orbit. The stylized ‘X’ in the SpaceX logo is meant to represent a rocket trajectory, Musk said in his tweets. Both logos were designed by RO-Studio, a design firm based in New Jersey.”

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Audi Breaks Rules With ‘Matrix’ Headlights

Wired: Too bad the ‘Matrix Laser’ system, which debuted as part of Audi’s Q8 concept SUV and does everything from highlighting pedestrians to auto-dimming for the sake on oncoming cars, isn’t welcome in the US … Audi combines the dexterity of its high-res headlights with its sensors’ ability to track cars and carbon-based life forms to pull off some neat tricks. At the simple end of the scale, they steer around turns and selectively dim so they don’t blind oncoming drivers.”

“Because the system can stay permanently in the equivalent of a high-beam mode, tracking other vehicles and dimming as necessary, Audi can eliminate the need for dual high- and low-beam light sources for each headlight. And that’s where the trouble comes in … Cars sold in the US must obey a rulebook that spans more than a thousand pages and gets very details. One rule: You need separate light sources for high and low beams.”

“Because the manufacturers haven’t yet proven there is significant enough life-safety benefit to a laser-based matrix system, regulatory reworking is a tough sell … American regulators have only been considering the tech for the last five or so years, so it could be a while before Audi gets its way.”

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Supercars: Captain America on Wheels

The Wall Street Journal: After Marvel’s superhero flick Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out in 2014, designers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV wanted to try putting the movie’s futuristic computer displays in real-world cars. So they hired the special-effects artists behind the superhero gadgetry to make it happen … The cockpit’s animated displays, projecting vehicle speed along with highlights of the route and dangers ahead, would feel familiar to Marvel’s Nick Fury. But the Jeep’s simulated functions are tuned to the real world rather than superhero derring-do.’

“The screen representing the windshield concept, for example, displays a driver’s view of the road overlaid with visual cues that might signal a car stopped ahead, a crosswalk or the route through traffic to a parking spot … BMW AG introduced a new feature last year in the high-end 7 Series sedan that seems straight from the movie screen: gesture control. Users can adjust the volume of music by swirling a finger in the air, or take a phone call with a jab of the hand.”

“Car makers’ increasing attention to user interfaces highlights a conundrum as most of Detroit—and much of Silicon Valley—prepare for a future when cars will have humanlike abilities to sense their surroundings and decide how to respond: Even a self-driving car will need to give passengers ways to interact with many of its functions. Chris Rockwell, president of Columbus, Ohio, design firm Lextant, points to the 2004 movie “I, Robot” as a way to frame a conversation around that idea. Will Smith’s self-driving Audi appears to give him no way to steer. But when he pushes a button to take control, a steering wheel promptly emerges from the dash.”

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