TTAC News Round-up: Toyota Brings on Brains, Sergio Leaves the Cake in the Oven, and GM Takes the Stand

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

The brain trust of yet another artificial intelligence technology startup has been snapped up as automakers prepare for our terrifying, dystopian future.

That, Sergio Marchionne has a sure-fire recipe, jury selection begins in ignition trial, Tesla doesn’t need no stinkin’ successful low-priced car, and GM goes big on commercial sales … after the break!

Toyota goes shopping for talent

Toyota isn’t about to let rivals get ahead in the self-driving car game.

Jaybridge Robotics, an AI software firm in Massachusetts, has been singled out by Toyota to help the automaker further develop their autonomous driving technology, Fortune reports:

The carmaker has enlisted Jaybridge’s 16-person team for its Toyota Research Institute, the company’s $1 billion advanced projects lab based in Silicon Valley. The institute is led by Gill Pratt, a former program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and is tasked with developing self-driving cars.

Jaybridge CEO Jeremy Brown said in a statement that his team is looking forward to “going after the big one: helping to reduce the nearly 1.25 million traffic fatalities each year, worldwide.” His firm spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology seven years ago, and previously had focused on industrial applications for artificial intelligence software in fields such as agriculture and mining, he said.

Last week, General Motors spent a rumored $1 billion to acquire a San Francisco-based startup to bolster its self-driving vehicle initiative.

Someone left the Giulia out in the rain

Potential customers won’t get their hands on an Alfa Romeo Giulia until the end of the year, but that’s the way quality aficionado Sergio Marchionne wants it.

The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO said the Giulia started out half-baked, and that the delay in getting the much-hyped Italian sedan to U.S. shores has everything to do with matching German rivals, according to Automotive News:

U.S. sales of the Quadrifoglio version will begin in the third quarter, with the 2.0-liter version arriving in U.S. showrooms by year end. The Giulia Quadrifoglio will start at about $70,000 in the U.S., Alfa said.

“The brand has historically failed to meet its technical ambitions. If we get that wrong we might as well go back home,” Marchionne said. “If the Giulia doesn’t give the best possible performance we’ve wasted our time, and a pot of money.”

The Giulia was to be on sale by now, but had to be re-engineered after failing front, side and rear impact crash tests.

GM gets its day in court, and then some

Jury selection is due to begin in a new trial concerning a crash possible related to the General Motors ignition scandal, while a second trial could reverse decisions made in bankruptcy court last year, Reuters reports:

As the first trial never reached a verdict, the one starting on Monday may be the first time a jury weighs in on whether GM is liable for its years-long failure to conduct a recall. A GM spokesman said the company will argue that the crash at issue was not caused by the switch.

At the 2nd Circuit, plaintiffs will argue that GM should face their claims because the company’s deception deprived them of a chance to participate in the bankruptcy proceedings.

To date, GM has paid $2 billion in penalties and settlements related to the ignition issue, though the recuperation being sought in the bankruptcy-related lawsuit is in the area of $10 billion.

Musk’s battery safety net cushions all

The lower-cost Tesla Model 3 stands to lose money, despite the intentions of company founder Elon Musk, but it won’t come as a death blow to the electric automaker, according to Business Insider:

Tesla is still generating impressive gross profit margins on the cars it currently sells, which are bought mainly by affluent consumers. We’re talking 18% in the most recent quarter.

So with the Model X, the Model S, and a revamped Roadster, which should arrive before 2020, Tesla could continue to dominate the market for luxury electric vehicles, cool it on the change-the-world thing, and simply be an exceptionally profitable niche carmaker.

On top of that, Tesla’s plan to market car-less battery packs as energy storage “Powerwalls” — without the overhead that goes into car production — could see that initiative become a huge money-maker.

The General rallies the fleet

After reducing the amount of vehicles it offers to low-revenue rental agencies, General Motors has seen a surge in sales from commercial vehicle operators, Automotive News reports:

Commercial sales to businesses tend to be the most profitable of the three sectors that make up the fleet market, which also includes sales to rental agencies and government buyers. GM executives in recent years have committed to expanding the commercial and government segments while reducing the company’s reliance on rental, which can harm resale values and brand image when done in heavy doses.

GM’s commercial sales last year totaled 213,358 vehicles, up 38 percent from 2013, according to estimates from Automotive Fleet, a trade magazine published by Bobit Business Media. That compares with FCA’s 18 percent gain over that period (to 72,705) and a 3 percent dip for Ford (to 308,916).

Diverse product offerings, plentiful “box-delete” options and internet connectivity are listed as GM’s main selling points, with an imminent feature that allows companies to spy on drivers poised to further the appeal.

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Rday Rday on Mar 14, 2016

    I don't think that any Italian cars have ever met CR's recommended list. So why spend much time pushing these poorly designed/built products. Their failure to pass the collision tests is just proof of how poorly engineered these cars are. As far as GM goes, they built the cars with the problems and should not be protected in bankruptcy from the consequences of their actions. Bad things should happen to BAD CAR COMPANIES.

    • Heavy handle Heavy handle on Mar 14, 2016

      "Their failure to pass the collision tests is just proof of how poorly engineered these cars are." That's exactly the point. Is there any substance/proof to the statement? I've read it a couple of times, each time it gets worse (first time it was just offset collisions that caused problems), there's never any source stated, and the by-lined author consistently inserts FCA jabs in almost every story. In other words, it meets the criteria for internet BS. I can make up my own stories, no need to read them here. If there's substance, that's great. If not, why repeat schoolyard rumors? Isn't TTAC supposed to be different from TBSAC? Edit: if this thing does turn out to be true, why isn't it run as a separate story? Seems weird to bury it in a new update.

  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Mar 14, 2016

    Targeting commercial fleets makes the most sense. Trucks tend to get run hard and because of that require more maintenance. That hard life also means they are too worn out to compete against other used trucks. That helps residual values across the board.

  • Theflyersfan Given so many standard nav systems aren't the best and updating could mean a dealer trip, and I stream all music, Android Auto is an absolute must. Wireless isn't necessary and some wireless chargers overheat the phone. And there are some hacks that let YouTube stream on the screen - excellent for listening to concerts.
  • Jeff I going to guess by the condition of the body and interior that there is little to no rust on the frame. Appears to be a very well maintained car.
  • MaintenanceCosts Would not buy a new daily car without it.
  • Namesakeone I hate the thought, and I hope I'm wrong. Mazda. They're a small fish in a really big pond, and they made their reputation on sports cars--a market segment that nobody seems to want to buy new anymore.
  • Cprescott One of the last Mercedes worth buying.