The iPhone of cars? Apple enters self-driving car race

The Apple logo above a store location entrance in Dallas, Texas, is shown this file photo. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)
Updated 15 April 2017

The iPhone of cars? Apple enters self-driving car race

SAN FRANCISCO: Apple is joining the fiercely competitive race to design self-driving cars, raising the possibility that a company that has already re-shaped culture with its iPhone may try to transform transportation, too.
Ending years of speculation, Apple’s late entry into a crowded field was made official Friday with the disclosure that the California Department of Motor Vehicles had awarded a permit for the company to start testing its self-driving car technology on public roads in the state.
The permit covers three vehicles — all 2015 Lexus RX 450h hybrid SUVs — and six individual drivers. California law requires people to be in a self-driving car who can take control if something goes wrong.

Apple goes mobile ... in a new way
Apple confirmed its arrival in the self-driving car market, but wouldn’t discuss its intentions. Its interest in autonomous vehicle technology, however, has long been clear.
The Cupertino, California, company pointed to a statement that it issued in December. “
Apple is investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems,” the company said then. “There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation.”
Apple released that statement after Steve Kenner, a former Ford Motor executive who is now Apple’s director of product integrity, notified federal regulators of the company’s interest in self-driving cars in a letter.
Like others, Apple believes self-driving cars could ease congestion, prevent millions of crashes and save thousands of lives annually in traffic accidents often caused by drunk or distracted motorists.
Self-driving cars could also be a lucrative new market. And Apple has been searching for its next act for a while, one that will take it beyond its mainstay phones, tablets and personal computers.

A next big thing
Although iPhone’s ongoing popularity has helped Apple remain the world’s most valuable company, the company hasn’t had a breakthrough product since the 2010 debut of the iPad, currently in the throes of a three-year sales slump. The dry spell has raised doubts as to whether Apple lost some of its trend-setting magic with the death of co-founder Steve Jobs in 2011.
Apple will be vying against 29 other companies that already have California permits to test self-driving cars. The list includes major automakers, including Ford, General Motors, BMW, Volkswagen and Tesla, as well as one of its biggest rivals in technology, Google, whose testing of self-driving cars has been spun off into an affiliate called Waymo.
Since Google began its work on self-driving vehicles eight years ago, Waymo’s fleet of self-driving cars has logged more than 2 million miles on the road.
That means Apple has a long way to catch up in self-driving technology. But it has often been a follower in markets that it eventually revolutionized. It wasn’t the first to introduce a digital music player, smartphone, or tablet before its iPod, iPhone and iPad came out.

Deep pockets
With $246 billion in cash, Apple also could easily afford to buy technology that accelerates its development of self-driving cars. There has been recurring speculation that Apple might eventually acquire Tesla, which has a market value of about $50 billion. Neither Apple nor Tesla has given any inkling that they’re interested in joining forces, though.
Speculation about Apple’s interest in expanding into automobiles began swirling in 2015 amid media reports that the company had begun secretly working on building its own electric car under the name project “Titan.” Apple never confirmed the existence of Titan, which is now believed to be dead.


Japan lower house passes US trade deal but auto tariffs still in limbo

Updated 19 November 2019

Japan lower house passes US trade deal but auto tariffs still in limbo

  • There is uncertainty over how much progress Japan can make in negotiating the elimination of US tariffs on its cars and car parts
  • Japan has estimated the initial deal will boost its economy by about 0.8 percent over the next 10-20 years

TOKYO: Japan’s lower house of parliament approved on Tuesday a limited trade deal Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed with the United States, clearing the way for tariff cuts next year on items including US farm goods and Japanese machine tools.
But there is uncertainty over how much progress Japan can make in negotiating the elimination of US tariffs on its cars and car parts, casting doubt on Abe’s assurances the deal he signed with US President Donald Trump was “win-win.”
Japan and the United States last month formally signed the limited trade deal to cut tariffs on US farm goods, Japanese machine tools and other products while staving off the threat of higher US car duties.
The government’s proposal to ratify the trade deal will next be brought to the upper house for a vote but its passage in the powerful lower house increases the chances it will come into force in January.
The deal will give Trump a success he can trumpet to voters but Abe has said it will bring as much benefit to Japan as to the United States.
Japan has estimated the initial deal will boost its economy by about 0.8 percent over the next 10-20 years, when the benefits fully kick in. It also estimated ¥212.8 billion of overall tariffs on Japan’s exports to the United States will be reduced.
But the figures were based on the assumption the United States would eliminate its tariffs on Japanese autos and auto parts — a major sticking point.
Without those tariff cuts, the reduction in overall US tariffs on Japanese goods would be a little over 10 percent of the government’s projection, according to an estimate by Japan’s Asahi newspaper and Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting.
After the deal is ratified, Japan and the United States have four months to consult on further talks, and Trump has said he wants more trade talks with Japan after the initial deal.
But Japanese government sources familiar with the talks say the momentum to negotiate a deeper deal appears to have waned for now with Washington preoccupied with talks with Beijing.
“It’s unclear whether Washington seriously wants to continue trade talks,” one of the sources said.
“The question is how much time the United States can allocate for talks with Japan, even if we start negotiations. There’s limited time to conclude talks before the presidential elections.”
Japan and the United States already appear to have different interpretations of what was agreed on car tariffs.
Japan has said it has received US assurance that it would scrap tariffs on Japanese cars and car parts, and that the only remaining issue was the timing.
But Washington has not confirmed that.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said cars were not included in the agreement, and that it was only Japan’s ambition to discuss car tariffs in the future.
A US document only said customs duties on autos and auto parts “will be subject to further negotiations with respect to the elimination of customs duties.”
“The deal was left vague on the issue of tariff cuts on Japanese auto and auto parts. Otherwise, we couldn’t have reached the agreement,” another source said.
There is also uncertainty on whether Trump will drop threats to impose steep tariffs on Japanese car imports under “Section 232” that gives him authority to do so on national security grounds.
Abe said he had got an assurance from Trump that he would not do that, though analysts say the president could always change his mind, or at least keep Japan guessing.
Opposition parties have attacked Abe for a deal they say is unfair. Critics say Trump could drag his feet on further negotiations unless he is sure he can win more concessions.
“There’s a chance Trump will put pressure on Japan on trade to appeal to his voters,” said Junichi Sugawara, senior research officer at Mizuho Research Institute. “There’s a possibility he could renew his threat over auto tariffs.”