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Startups, old-line automakers aim to take bite out of Tesla

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PLYMOUTH TOWNSHIP, Mich. — In a renovated old cash register factory in suburban Detroit, 300 engineers are toiling away on an all-electric pickup truck and an SUV that they hope can take on Tesla.

All of them work for Rivian, which on Monday will unveil the two vehicles ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show. It is among a growing line of startups and established automakers looking to enter the fully electric vehicle market.

The influx of vehicles that run solely on batteries almost certainly will pull buyers from the current leader, Tesla, which likely will deliver over 300,000 vehicles worldwide this year.

Established automakers such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar-Land Rover, Volkswagen, Hyundai, General Motors, Ford and even vacuum cleaner maker Dyson have promised to roll out new electrics in the next few years. The luxury automakers compete directly with Tesla’s higher-margin vehicles, the Models X and S.

There also are electric car brands in China. The two biggest brands by sales — BYD Auto, a unit of BYD Corp. in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, and state-owned BAIC Group in Beijing — are making inroads into foreign markets.

BYD sells battery-powered buses in the U.S., Japan and Europe. BAIC announced plans in April to manufacture electrics in South Africa. Its EC series, starting at 150,000 yuan ($22,000), is China’s top-selling electric car.

Sweden’s Volvo Cars, owned by China’s Geely Holding, says it plans to make an electric vehicle in China starting next year for sale worldwide.

Michael Ramsey, senior analyst for Gartner, says Tesla “will unquestionably lose market share as more competitors come in.”

What is unknown, though, is whether the demand for electric vehicles will rise enough so that there’s room for everybody. Currently the market is tiny. In the U.S., electric vehicles only amounted to 0.8 percent of new vehicle registrations through August this year, according to data from IHS Markit. But that’s substantially more than the 0.5 percent at the same time in 2017. Automakers in the U.S. sold just over 155,000 fully electric vehicles through October, about 1 percent of total sales, Edmunds.com says.

Yet globally, Navigant Research predicts huge growth in the next seven years, from just over 1 million sales this year to 6.5 million by 2025.

As competition ramps up, prices are gradually coming down, edging closer to cars with internal combustion engines. At the same time, electric range is on the rise.

For instance, Rivian is promising that the top version of its R1T pickup will have more than 400 miles (644 kilometers) of battery range per charge when it goes on sale in late 2020. The five-seat pickup is aimed at a market Tesla is not yet in, an off-road capable truck with outdoorsy features.

Rivian, headquartered in Plymouth Township, Michigan, says the R1T can go fast on pavement, with one electric motor per wheel taking it from zero-to-60 mph (97 kilometers per hour) in three seconds. It also has a retractable bed cover, and storage space running across the width of the truck behind the rear seats that can carry surfboards, snowboards or skis. It has a unique white horizontal light bar across the front with oval headlamps.

CEO R.J. Scaringe, 35, who has a Ph.D in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said exact pricing will be announced later, but a basic truck with smaller 230-mile (370 kilometers) battery pack will start under $70,000. A truck with the longer-range battery will be around $90,000, he said.

The small startup still has a long way to go to sell vehicles, even though it says it has $500 million in funding. It has to develop a sales and service network, announce a battery cell supplier and start producing vehicles in a former Mitsubishi Motors plant it owns in Normal, Illinois.

IHS analyst Stephanie Brinley says Tesla may lose sales for a time as competitors bite into a slow-growing market. But eventually she thinks electric vehicle sales will take off and Tesla sales will rise.

At least publicly, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said many times the competition is good, fostering the company’s goal of sustainable transportation.

“It is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis,” Musk wrote in a 2014 blog. “Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.”

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Minnesota House backs hands-free cellphone rule for driving

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Assuming the bill becomes law, Minnesota would become one of 18 states plus the District of Columbia that require drivers to use hands-free devices while phoning. (FOTOSEARCH)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota motorists would be required to use hands-free devices when talking on the phone while driving under a bill that passed the state House on Monday night, after sponsors said the measure will cut down on distracted driving and save lives.

The House approved the bill 106-21 with bipartisan support, though a few critics said it doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t include tougher penalties for texting while driving, which is already illegal in Minnesota.

“There’s clear evidence from other states that these types of laws save lives,” Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman said at a news conference earlier in the day. “We’ve heard so many heart-wrenching stories from Minnesotans about family members they’ve lost because people are on their smartphones instead of focusing on the road.”

A similar bill working its way through the Senate exempts the manual use of GPS navigation systems. The House bill would limit GPS use while moving to one-touch, voice-activated apps such as Google Maps. The bill’s chief House sponsor, Rep. Frank Hornstein, said he’s confident the differences will get worked out in conference committee, adding that Gov. Tim Walz has indicated that will sign the bill.

Drivers would not need vehicles with built-in Bluetooth wireless systems, Hornstein said. For older cars, he said, hands-free mounts that comply are available online for as little as $9.

The Department of Public Safety says that at least 27 of Minnesota’s approximately 380 traffic deaths last year were related to distractions of all kinds. Experts testified during committee hearings that cellphone use is the fastest-growing distraction, causing a rising number of deaths and injuries.

Assuming the bill becomes law, Minnesota would become one of 18 states plus the District of Columbia that require drivers to use hands-free devices while phoning. A separate bill to toughen the state’s existing penalties for texting while driving is working its way through the committee process in the Senate. Hornstein said that bill may get heard in the House later.

Hornstein, a Minneapolis Democrat who chairs the House transportation committee, acknowledged that hands-free does not make phoning while driving completely distraction-free. But he said it would be a “major step forward.”

He sponsored a similar hands-free bill last year, but Hortman said Republican leaders who controlled the House back then would not allow a floor vote because it didn’t have enough GOP support. Democrats won control of the House with the November elections and Hortman became speaker in January.

Karin Ilg, of New Prague, recalled to reporters how her husband, Phil Ilg, was killed when he was struck on his bicycle from behind by a 16-year-old driver who was focused more on her phone than on the road. Ilg said she has been cutting up his bike and handing out small pieces — like one that she held up — to every 16-year-old she can “as a reminder not to text and drive. … The time is now for us to get this going and to have this as law.”

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Canada’s Lion Electric Co. introduces all-electric Class 8 urban truck

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The Lion Class 8 vehicle has a range of up to 250 miles on a single charge and boasts “zero emissions” as well as “no noise pollution.” (Photo: Lion)

MARIBEL, Quebec — Canada’s Lion Electric Co. March 11 presented its all-electric Class 8 urban truck, the Lion8, which will be delivered this fall.

The vehicle has a range of up to 250 miles on a single charge and boasts “zero emissions” as well as “no noise pollution.”

Lion also says the truck has an 80 percent energy cost reduction and a 60 percent reduction in operational costs.

Another cost-saving attribute, says the company, is “oil-free operation,” with few moving parts and brakes that last longer because of a regenerative braking system.

It’s also built to withstand Canadian winters and punishing road conditions.

According to Lion, the company has already taken orders for the truck from committed buyers.

Assisting in unveiling the new truck was Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a Kansas City Chiefs football player and Lion “ambassador.”

Lion is a manufacturer of zero emission vehicles, including all-electric school buses, paratransit minibuses and urban transportation and commercial trucks.

It’s first vehicle will be delivered to the Société des Alcools du Quebec later this year.

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Diesel Laptops launches virtual diesel technician program

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Clients that utilize this program have full, unlimited access to Diesel Laptops’ certified, in-house diesel technicians who are available via phone and live chat and can both remote access the client’s diagnostic tools, and video stream through the end user’s mobile device. (Courtesy: DIESEL LAPTOPS)

GILBERT, S.C. — Diesel Laptops, a distributor of commercial truck diesel diagnostic software, hardware and services, has launched a Virtual Diesel Technician Program.

This program is a first in the commercial truck and off highway industry and is a real solution to the current diesel technician shortage that exists, according to according to Tyler Robertson, CEO of Diesel Laptops.

Clients that utilize this program have full, unlimited access to Diesel Laptops’ certified, in-house diesel technicians who are available via phone and live chat and can both remote access the client’s diagnostic tools, and video stream through the end user’s mobile device.

The program also grants clients access to the wide array of repair information that Diesel Laptops has created.

This repair information includes VIN decoders, labor time guides, repair information on over 70,000 diagnostic fault codes, wiring diagrams, component locators, torque specifications, parts cross referencing, step-by-step repair information, and much more Robertson said.

These applications are provided through traditional desktop applications, along with websites and mobile applications.

“We all know that it is difficult to find qualified technicians,” Robertson said. “We also know it’s difficult for most shops to acquire the resources they need to properly diagnose and repair commercial trucks. The Virtual Diesel Technician Program gives repair shops access to both live, real world diesel technicians and repair information.”

Diesel Laptops is staffed with certified diesel technicians from a variety of industries, and currently handles more than 50,000 customer repair, software, and diagnostic questions every year, Robertson said.

“These are all documented and organized in the company’s database, allowing Diesel Laptops to build the world’s largest database of solutions for known symptoms and diagnostic codes,” he said.

To learn more about the Virtual Diesel Technician Program, including watching an explainer video, visit www.DieselLaptops.com

Diesel Laptops, founded in 2014, provides specialized diesel diagnostic equipment for the commercial truck, construction, automobile, agriculture, marine, and off-highway markets. Diesel Laptops is the industry leader in diesel diagnostic tools.

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