German competitors unveil own electric cars in catch-up race against Tesla

The German government hopes to see one million fully electric and hybrid vehicles, such as the EQ from Mercedes, above, on the road by 2022. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2018
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German competitors unveil own electric cars in catch-up race against Tesla

  • Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen’s Audi and Porsche subsidiaries between them control some 80 percent of the worldwide premium car market
  • German carmakers have vowed a total of almost €40 billion of investment in battery-powered vehicles in the coming three years

FRANKFURT: After years watching Tesla’s electric cars speed ahead while they have been on the defensive over an industry-wide diesel emissions scandal, German high-end manufacturers have finally unveiled their first challengers to the Californian upstart.
Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen’s Audi and Porsche subsidiaries between them control some 80 percent of the worldwide premium car market.
But until recently they offered little battery-powered, zero-emission competition to Tesla and its bombastic chief executive Elon Musk.
That changed this month, with all three groups unveiling their first all-electric SUVs slated for release over the next two years.
Audi rolled out its “E-Tron,” BMW its “iNext” and Mercedes its “EQC,” while Porsche presented an electric coupe, the “Mission E.”
In total, German carmakers have vowed a total of almost €40 billion ($46.7 billion) of investment in battery-powered vehicles in the coming three years, industry association VDA says.
With a market share of around eight percent in Germany — compared with Tesla’s 0.1 percent — Audi hopes electric cars will account for around one in three sales by 2025.
“Finally, it’s getting started!” auto industry expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer said.
Time is pressing, as sales of engines powered by automakers’ longtime growth driver diesel have plummeted in the face of plans by many large cities to ban them to bring down air pollution.
The entrance of the three German behemoths into the electric race is far more consequential for Tesla than smaller fish like Britain’s Jaguar, whose “I-PACE” is already on sale in the UK.
And the US tech firm faces major hurdles of its own, struggling to stem losses that have been going on for years while trying to reassure investors and customers of its chief executive’s mental health.
Musk was filmed drinking whisky and smoking cannabis (which is legal in California) with radio host Joe Rogan earlier this month, and in August revealed he was suffering from intense stress and fatigue in an interview with the New York Times.
On Tuesday, Tesla confirmed that the US Department of Justice was investigating the company over Musk’s tweet announcing a plan to remove its shares from the stock market.
Also, on Twitter, the South African entrepreneur admitted Tuesday that after months spent overcoming “production hell” on the firm’s mass-market Model 3, it was now in “delivery logistics hell” struggling to get cars to buyers — while promising “rapid progress.”
For expert Dudenhoeffer, “Tesla is the market leader and has great strength in innovation, but the coming six to nine months will be a decisive test” for its chief executive.
“If he doesn’t manage to stabilize the Model 3 and make the firm profitable, it will get very complicated for him, including with regard to his investors.”
The German government hopes to see one million fully electric and hybrid vehicles on the road by 2022, up from fewer than 100,000 at the start of this year.
But the spread of the technology is constrained by a number of factors, including a limited range of models for sale, slow expansion of charging infrastructure and limited capacity for building new batteries.
A government commission on electric mobility recently found Germany would need to increase the number of charging points available more than five-fold to serve a million drivers.
And while they are perfecting electric motors and other electric-drive components, German carmakers have so far balked at direct investment in costly battery production, aware that they would have to catch up on a head start enjoyed by Asian industry leaders and unwilling to gamble on an adventure in the unfamiliar territory of cell chemistry.
European Commissioner Maros Sefcovic said recently that the EU should be open to state aid for a long-hoped-for “Airbus of batteries,” while business daily Handelsblatt reported the German economy ministry is cobbling together a consortium of companies and research institutes.
For now, the most conspicuous progress comes from China’s CATL.
The challenger for global battery leadership against the alliance of Japanese Panasonic and Tesla announced in July a mammoth new factory in central Germany to supply European customers.


American Airlines ‘unaware’ of some Boeing 737 MAX functions until last week

Updated 6 min 22 sec ago
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American Airlines ‘unaware’ of some Boeing 737 MAX functions until last week

  • The FAA and Boeing are evaluating the need for software or design changes to 737 MAX jets
  • ‘Safety remains our top priority and is a core value for everyone at Boeing’
WASHINGTON: American Airlines Group Inc. said on Wednesday it was “unaware” of some functions of an anti-stall system on Boeing Co’s 737 MAX until last week.
Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued guidance on the system last week after a Lion Air jet crashed in Indonesia on Oct. 29, killing all 189 people on board.
The FAA warned airlines last week that erroneous inputs from the system’s sensors could lead the jet to automatically pitch its nose down even when autopilot is turned off, making it difficult for pilots to control.
The system was designed to prevent the jet from stalling, according to information provided by Boeing to airlines.
“We value our partnership with Boeing, but were unaware of some of the functionality of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) installed on the MAX 8,” an American Airlines spokesman said.
“We must ensure that our pilots are fully trained on procedures and understand key systems on the aircraft they fly.”
Indonesian investigators said on Monday the situation the crew of a doomed Lion Air jet was believed to have faced was not contained in the aircraft’s flight manual. US pilot unions were also not aware of potential risks, pilot unions said.
The FAA and Boeing are evaluating the need for software or design changes to 737 MAX jets in the wake of the Lion Air crash, the regulator said on Tuesday.
The American Airlines spokesman said his airline was continuing to work with Boeing and the FAA and would keep pilots informed of any updates.
A Boeing spokeswoman said the manufacturer could not discuss specifics of an ongoing investigation but it had provided two updates for operators around the world that re-emphasize existing procedures to deal with situations relating to MCAS.
“We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX,” she said. “Safety remains our top priority and is a core value for everyone at Boeing.”