Tesla could widen release of ‘self-driving’ software in two weeks

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said there will probably be a wider roll out of a new “Full Self Driving” software update in two weeks.

In October, Tesla released a beta, or test version, of what it calls a “Full Self Driving” software upgrade to an undisclosed number of “expert, careful” drivers.

“Probably going to a wider beta in 2 weeks,” Musk said on Twitter on Friday, in a reply to a user asking if the software would be available in Minnesota.

Musk had said earlier it was planned that the latest upgrade would be widely released by the end of this year, with the system becoming more robust as it collected more data.

GM plans to seek banking charter for auto-lending business, report says

General Motors Co is planning to apply for a banking charter that would allow its lending unit to hold deposits and expand its auto-finance business, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The automaker’s finance arm, General Motors Financial Company Inc, has been talking to federal and state banking regulators for months about forming an industrial loan company and could file its applications as early as December, the report said.

“Industrial Loan Company” charters allow non-banks to originate loans and collect insured deposits.

GM did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

NHTSA opens probe into 115,000 Tesla vehicles over suspension issue

WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Friday said it had opened an investigation into about 115,0000 Tesla vehicles over front suspension safety issues.

The agency said it was opening a preliminary evaluation into 2015-2017 Model S and 2016-2017 Model X vehicles after receiving 43 complaints alleging failure of the left or right front suspension fore links.

Tesla in February 2017 issued a service bulletin describing a manufacturing condition that may result in front suspension fore link failures, NHTSA said.

Huawei warns managers against push to build connected vehicles

Huawei Technologies, a major global supplier of communications equipment and smart phones, admonished managers this week who are pressing the company to build connected vehicles rather than only supply technology. 

The warning was included in a notice, signed off by Huawei’s founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, and posted in a section of the company’s website created for managers and employees.

Huawei reaffirmed its core business and position as a supplier of information and communications technology infrastructure and smart devices. 

“Despite the constant changes in the external environment in the past two years, we must be clear that building ICT infrastructure is the historical mission of Huawei,” the notice said.

The letter also directly addresses the company’s role and ties to the auto industry: “Huawei will not build complete cars, but will focus on ICT technology to help automakers build good cars and become a provider of incremental components for intelligent connected cars.” 

“Next time, whoever proposes building cars and interferes with [the strategic direction of] the company will be transferred from his post,” the notice warned. 

Citing national security concerns, the U.S, U.K. and Sweden have barred Huawei from participating in the construction of local 5G communication networks. The Trump administration has also blocked Huawei from obtaining chips developed with technologies originated in the U.S.

Huawei remains a clear leader in China as a 5G equipment supplier and smart-phone maker. 

In recent years, the company has signed agreements to help major Chinese automakers FAW Group Corp., Dongfeng Motor Corp., GAC Motor Co., Changan Automobile Co. and others develop intelligent and connected vehicles.  

FedEx, UPS see delivery van shortage amid e-commerce rush

FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. are running into a shortage of delivery vans during a record surge in package volumes.

Urged by the couriers to purchase any vans they can scrounge up, leasing companies are dipping into the used market.

Added demand “is creating shortages” in the rental market, UPS in an email while emphasizing that the company’s own operations haven’t been hurt. FedEx is paying a stipend to its contractors to offset the extra cost of renting.

“If there’s a cargo van out there, we’re trying to buy it,” said Brendan Keegan, CEO of Merchants Fleet, which provides vehicles to package delivery companies. It expects to have 15,000 vans out for lease at year-end, up from 6,000 a year earlier.

Delivery vans are a lucrative business for the Detroit 3 automakers and other key industry players.

The van drought sprang from pandemic-induced shutdowns at factories that build the high-ceiling and box-like vehicles — just as soaring e-commerce ratcheted up demand for home deliveries. FedEx and UPS don’t expect the scarcity will hobble delivery capacity. But it adds to the rising costs of doing business as COVID-19 rages on, which have prompted couriers to add surcharges for the holiday season.

“UPS and others have implemented peak surcharges to help offset the added expense during peak,” the Atlanta-based company said in an email. “Rental vehicles are included within those expenses.”

Rising costs from efforts to speed deliveries have been a source of concern for Wall Street analysts, even as investors have rushed to buy shares in both couriers amid the virus-fueled delivery boom. UPS has jumped 48 percent this year through Tuesday while FedEx has surged 93 percent.

Total vehicle output is nearing pre-pandemic levels, yet inventories are still thin. The number of all new vehicles available in the U.S. was almost one million units lower in October than a year earlier, according to researcher LMC Automotive.

FedEx is offering to compensate some of its independent delivery contractors for the costs of having to rent more vehicles this year than is typical during the holidays, said Steve Myers, senior vice president of operations for the company’s Ground unit.

“Many of our service providers, especially for the peak season, have pivoted more to the rental market,” he said. “So, we work with them on that.” Myers declined to estimate the added costs or effect on profit margins, as did UPS.

Amazon.com Inc. said it hasn’t seen signs of a shortage. And leasing companies face the risk that demand could be short-lived for vehicles that would stay in their fleets for years, said Joel Eigege, vice president of rental products for Ryder System Inc. But there’s no doubt that there’s plenty of appetite for vehicles now, he said.

“There is definitely a shortage of units in the market, specifically raised roof cargo vans for delivery,” Eigege said.

Some of the bottleneck lies with manufacturers of custom truck bodies for step vans, which were affected by the auto plant closures.

Shyft Group Inc.’s backlog for its customized vehicles quintupled to $282 million in October from a year earlier, CEO Daryl Adams said this month on an earnings conference call.

Orders from parcel delivery companies are rising sharply, “and customers have been asking us to fill them with urgency,” he said.

Keegan, of leasing company Merchants, typically buys vans directly from the automakers but has had to call dealers around the country and turned to purchasing used vehicles. While he expects that production will catch up, growth will remain robust.

“Cargo vans will continue to be our fastest growing asset class,” he said.

Tesla discloses plan to produce EV chargers in China

BEIJING — Tesla Inc. plans to start manufacturing EV chargers in China in 2021, according to a document submitted to the Shanghai authorities by the U.S. automaker that is seeking to expand sales in the world’s biggest car market.

Tesla, which now sells its Model 3 sedan in China and expects to deliver its Model Y crossovers in 2021, plans to invest 42 million yuan ($6.4 million) in a new factory to make the chargers, also known as charging piles, near its car plant in Shanghai, the document seen by Reuters said.

China, which offers hefty subsidies for electric vehicles as it seeks to cut down on pollution from gasoline or diesel cars, has been expanding its nationwide network of charging points, one of the biggest challenges to encouraging adoption of EVs.

The factory, which Tesla expects to complete in February, will have capacity to make 10,000 chargers a year, according to the document submitted by Tesla.

It now imports the chargers, usually installed in charging stations or car parks, from the U.S.

Tesla, which sold over 13,000 vehicles in China last month, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Shanghai car factory, central to Tesla’s global growth strategy, aims to produce 150,000 Model 3 sedans this year and has started exporting some vehicles to Europe.

Executives at Tesla said this year that the firm would expand its charging network to provide better service.