Composing The Corvette Symphony

The New York Times: “I make Corvettes sound like Corvettes. I fine-tune what the engine sounds like, both inside and outside the car, at our Milford, Mich., testing facility, the Milford Proving Ground. There’s a 65-year heritage behind the way these performance cars sound, so we take the work very seriously. I’m the composer of a symphony, in a way.”

“The base model’s sound is the tamest. The Grand Sport, our midlevel model, has a wider body and sits lower, and the engine sound is more rambunctious. The Z06, our supercar, has a powerful, aggressive sound.”

“The sound is a combination of the engine and exhaust system outputs, and there needs to be a balance between the two. I manually adjust pipes in the exhaust system and record engine sounds digitally and adjust them. We place microphones all over the car for recording. I might do 40 iterations of the engine and exhaust system sounds before I’m satisfied.”

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Vision: Michelin Prints The ‘Perfect’ Tire

The Verge: “They’re completely airless, last virtually forever, and could be the perfect tire for our autonomous future. Michelin, the 128-year-old tire manufacturer based in Clermont-Ferrand, France, recently unveiled a 3D-printed tire concept that it says could be the ideal ride for self-driving cars. It just needs to figure out how to actually manufacture them first.”

“Dubbed ‘Vision,’ these spidery, psychedelic-looking sponges are printed from bio-sourced and biodegradable materials, including natural rubber, bamboo, paper, tin cans, wood, electronic and plastic waste, hay, tire chips, used metals, cloth, cardboard, molasses, and orange zest.”

“These tires would be embedded with RFID sensors to collect data and predict performance and function of the vehicle. And they will be adaptive to different conditions. Heading to the mountains for some skiing? Drive through a Michelin printing station and get your tires retrofitted for snowy terrain … this isn’t Michelin’s first rimless, airless tire to be released. The Twheel, an airless tire concept that emerged over a decade ago, is currently in use in small-frame, low-speed vehicles and appliances like golf carts and lawn mowers.”

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Heinz 57: Souped Up Car Giveaway

The Wall Street Journal: “In the mid-1960s, Heinz launched a contest in Britain. The entry form, which appeared in magazines, read ’57 Unique Cars to Be Won!’ after the company’s ’57 Varieties’ tagline that it still uses today. Contestants had to match a Heinz soup flavor (Cream of Celery, Cream of Green Pea) with the picnic item that best went with it (Liver Sausage Salad, Beefburgers). Contestants who got the matches right were put in a drawing, and 57 cars were given away.”

“The convertible cars were custom-built by a British company called Crayford, based on a model called the Wolseley Hornet. The vehicles came with a picnic basket, a Max Factor cosmetics tray, a tea kettle and the same carpeting used in Rolls-Royces. Nowhere did the vehicle say Heinz … Today there are reportedly 41 of the original 57 cars in existence.”

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Truth to Power: Tesla Flips The Switch

Quartz: “In 2016, Tesla sold two different versions of their Model S and X electric cars. One version had a 60 kilowatt per hour battery, and another a 75. The 75-kilowatt version cost $9,000 more. Prior to Irma’s landfall, Tesla announced that it would flip the proverbial switch, and allow the 60-kilowatt cars to become 75-kilowatt cars. This enabled the 60-kilowatt vehicles to go 230 miles per charge, rather than 200 … Tesla was able to upgrade the kilowattage in the cheaper version of the car because both models actually have the same 75-kilowatt battery. The company just chooses to limit the capacity in some cars so they can have two different price points.”

“The response to Tesla’s decision has been mixed. While some observers congratulated the company for proactively reacting to the impending storm, others were disturbed by the revelation that the company could so easily increase the capacity on their cars. If the battery could be more powerful without any extra cost to Tesla, ask critics, why deny this capability to certain drivers?”

“The answer: Limiting battery capacity actually makes Teslas more affordable. The extra $9,000 that Tesla gets from its less price-sensitive customers is what allows it to charge a lower price for the lesser version of the car, the one that more cost-conscious consumers might purchase (though of course anyone purchasing a $60,000 Tesla is not poor). Perverse as it may seem, having a version of the car that gets less mileage actually makes it more accessible.”

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Driverless Cars To Deliver Domino’s Pizza

The New York Times: “The Domino’s pizza chain this week plans to start testing deliveries using a self-driving Ford Fusion sedan outfitted with enough sensors, electronics and software to find its way to customers’ homes or offices in a section of this city 40 miles west of Detroit.” Dennis Maloney, chief digital officer at Domino’s, comments: “It’s going to be a real learning experience. No one really knows what’s going to happen when customers walk out to the car. They’re faced with a car. There’s no human interaction. What happens if they approach the car from the wrong direction? Will people mind coming out of their house? We want to understand all that.”

“For the Domino’s trial, Ford is providing a self-driving Fusion that scans the road with radar and cameras. It also uses lidar – a kind of radar based on laser beams – that can be found in a rooftop unit featuring distinctive spinning canisters. The images collected are compared instantaneously with highly detailed digital maps to ensure that the car knows precisely where it is on the road and how to reach its destination.”

“Because there is no delivery person to bring pizzas to the door, customers will have to walk outside the retrieve their order. They will be alerted by text when the car is nearing their home and when it arrives. A red arrow on the car’s rear, passenger-side window tells customers to ‘start here’ and directs them to a touch screen. Keying in the last four digits of the customer’s phone number causes the window to open, revealing an insulated compartment large enough to hold five pizzas and four side orders. One customer advantage of taking delivery from a self-driving car: If there’s no driver, there’s no tip.”

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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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