‘Car nation’ Germany distrustful of driverless vehicles

Visitors are seen at the stand of German car manufacturer Audi at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany September 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski
Updated 19 September 2017

‘Car nation’ Germany distrustful of driverless vehicles

FRANKFURT AM MAIN: German carmakers are showing off their self-driving cars at the IAA international auto show in Frankfurt, but most people in the car-mad country have yet to be convinced by the technology.
Curious visitors to the biennial trade fair, which lasts until September 24, can entrust their lives to a computer on a specially created car at a test track overlooked by Daimler and Volkswagen’s giant stands.
An expert is behind the wheel, if not grasping it firmly, to demonstrate how a car studded with sensors and cameras can perform an emergency stop, react to a sudden lane change or park itself — even while hauling a horse trailer.
“This is crazy!” one passenger laughed as their vehicle raced toward an obstacle at 50 kilometers per hour (30 mph) before braking sharply without the driver touching the controls.
Rival carmakers and parts suppliers — Daimler, Volkswagen, Audi, Bosch, Continental and ZF — came together for the scheme, part of a broader push for acceptance as high-tech US firms like Google and Tesla appear to be streaking ahead.
At present, just 26 percent of Germans say they would ride in an autonomous car, while even fewer — 18 percent — would own one, a recent survey from consultancy firm Ernst & Young found.
“The braking was great fun,” Lena Dickeduisberg, a student, said after stepping out of the demonstration car, her hair slightly tousled from the ride.
Beyond the thrill of the test track, cars will need to perform such maneuvers reliably in all kinds of situations if carmakers are ever to attain the highest level of autonomy, known as “level five” — meaning a car that can do without a driver altogether.
“It will take time, but it’s the future,” Dickeduisberg smiled confidently. “I believe in the technology.”
“What a dream it would be, a car that takes me from A to B while I read the paper or my clients’ documents. But maybe I’m just saying that because of my age,” said salesman Randolf Mayer, 61.
The two are far from typical among the German public, long wedded to the idea that driving should be pleasurable.
Volkswagen adverts in the 1990s introduced the United States to its self-minted German portmanteau “Fahrvergnuegen” — or “driving enjoyment.”
“Driving isn’t just functional, it’s got to be enjoyable,” said Georg Pfennig, an Austrian attendee.
Automation “makes sense for young people or for the elderly who might have trouble with some maneuvers,” he grudgingly allowed.
Self-driving cars “could drive as a convoy on motorways where everything is automated, but not to go shopping in town,” judged Lars Heider, an engineering student.
“Unless everyone is using one, but then you have to be able to afford a self-driving car,” he added.
The auto industry is all too aware of the cost of automation, which remains “very high,” said Patrick Koller, chief executive of parts supplier Faurecia.
Joint investments in research and development have become the rule in the field, such as the German carmaker BMW’s alliance with US-based chipmaker Intel, Israeli smart-camera firm Mobileye and Italian-American FiatChrysler.
Elsewhere, the Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler has joined forces with the parts supplier Bosch, while Volkswagen is drawing on its luxury subsidiary Audi.
And Audi, BMW and Daimler pooled their cash to buy Here, a company specializing in the hyper-detailed maps that are vital for autonomous driving.
But ordinary drivers must be convinced that autonomous driving is safe before their reticence can be overcome, according to the Center of Automotive Management (CAM), a research institute near Cologne in western Germany.
Self-driving cars “will save lives,” Rolf Bulander, the head of Bosch’s mobility division, told AFP, adding that he believed “people will get used” to the increasing power and adaptability of driving-assistance systems.
Enormous sums are at stake for companies like Bosch, which expects revenue from such systems to double by 2019, reaching 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion).


Saudi Aramco seeks to overhaul engines and fuel amid electric vehicle hype

Updated 06 March 2019

Saudi Aramco seeks to overhaul engines and fuel amid electric vehicle hype

  • Diesel has proven a key cause of health-threatening nitrogen oxide pollution
  • Saudi Aramco is working on gasoline compression ignition which mixes fuel and air more effectively prior to combustion

GENEVA: More efficient fuels and more sophisticated combustion engines are needed to bring down carbon dioxide pollution and to secure the long-term future of Saudi Aramco’s business, the company’s chief technology officer said on Wednesday.
“The growth of transport is greater than the growth of alternative drivetrains,” Ahmad Al-Khowaiter, Chief Technology Officer at Saudi Aramco told journalists at the Geneva car show.
The spike in electric car production in Europe will not offset an overall increase in global greenhouse gas emissions as emerging economies industrialize and buy cars with petrol and diesel engines, Al-Khowaiter said.
“Improving combustion engines is key to sustaining our business in the long term,” he said.
While carmakers have rolled out advances in combustion engine technology, the availability of sophisticated fuels has not kept pace, Al-Khowaiter said.
Diesel became an industry standard more than 100 years ago and has remained popular mainly because it did not evaporate quickly, making it safer to handle during storage and refueling.
“Rudolf Diesel did not consider fuels which evaporated easily. That was an accident of history,” Al-Khowaiter said, referring to the German founder of the diesel engine technology.
But diesel has proven a key cause of health-threatening nitrogen oxide pollution, which is blamed for respiratory diseases, forcing the industry to explore ways to cut emissions.
“We can now optimize the fuel and the engine at the same time. And we can bring it to market by adding another fuel pump at the gas station, just like it is done with higher octane fuels,” Al-Khowaiter said.
“We do the patents on the fuel development to enable the engines to be efficient,” the executive said.
Saudi Aramco is working on gasoline compression ignition which mixes fuel and air more effectively prior to combustion, resulting in lower nitrogen oxide and soot emissions and a 30 percent improvement in fuel economy.
The petrochemicals giant is also helping to develop mobile carbon capture technologies which could be built into next generation passenger cars for around $1,400 per vehicle, and help to cut carbon dioxide emissions.