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Automotive

Liberals give BlackBerry $40M to support futuristic car development

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OTTAWA — BlackBerry is getting $40 million in federal funding to help develop technologies that make cars safer, more connected to cyberspace and, eventually, capable of driving themselves.

The company is putting $310 million of its own money into the initiative, expected to create 800 jobs over the next decade at BlackBerry’s campus in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata, as well as support 300 existing jobs there.

The one-time smartphone leader is now working on advanced systems for vehicles and will put the federal money toward software development for the next generation of autonomous vehicles as well as skills training for workers.

BlackBerry says its QNX software is already in 120 million cars, guiding systems related to driver assistance features (such as automatic braking to avoid collisions), hands-free commands, and entertainment.

BlackBerry QNX plans to develop new automated-control systems, upgrade and secure communications in vehicles, and improve car safety by expanding its driver-assistance system.

The company says these are milestones along the road to truly driverless cars, which are still years away from becoming widely available to consumers.

The federal money is coming from the government’s Strategic Innovation Fund, a program intended to stimulate development of innovative products.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference Friday the federal money for BlackBerry QNX software is a sign the government supports Canadian technology companies that want to lead in a new economy.

“Think of this new platform as the central nervous system of your car. It will consolidate things like lane assistance and blind-spot detection, so that the cars of the future are safer and more reliable,” he said.

“For a global leader like QNX, this represents an unprecedented opportunity for growth. Of course, the competition is fierce.”

According to the government, Canada’s expertise in emerging technologies is attracting significant investments in autonomous and connected-vehicle research from global firms such as General Motors and Ford and tech players like Uber, Google and Nvidia.

The QNX technology being developed for cars also has applications for medicine, the military, drones, industrial automation, nuclear power plants and high-speed rail, said senior BlackBerry executive John Wall.

More immediately, the developments will make cars safer, he said.

“I think in 2025 your car’s not going to be very different than it is today, except it’ll have more safety features, and that will trickle down to even the less-expensive vehicles,” Wall said. “What I would like to see out of all of this is less accidents and less fatalities related to cars.”

While BlackBerry is working toward fully self-driving cars, they are not expected to be commercially available in a big way before 2035 or 2040, he said.

The pace of technological development aside, consumers also have to be psychologically ready for the advent of autonomous vehicles, something that might take time.  

In addition, there are myriad regulatory issues to be worked out in jurisdictions around the world to ensure the new applications have government approval and meet common standards, Wall said.

“The technology may be moving faster than the regulatory bodies are moving.”

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Automotive

Electric car sales climb in wake of new $5,000 federal rebate program

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electric car

OTTAWA — Transport Canada data shows more than 14,000 electric vehicles were purchased nationwide during the first three months of the federal government’s new rebate program.

On May 1, Ottawa began offering rebates of up to $5,000 on the purchase of some electric vehicles.

The rebate is intended to bring the price of zero-emission vehicles closer to their gas-powered cousins.

Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada, says the rebate is the only thing he can point to as a reason why electric car sales jumped 30 per cent since January.

The increase happened despite a drastic drop in electric car purchases in Ontario in the first three months of the year after the province cancelled its rebate in 2018.

The federal government wants 10 per cent of all cars sold to be zero-emission by 2025, 30 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent of sales by 2040.

The Canadian Press

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Automotive

From Nazis to hippies: End of the road for Volkswagen Beetle

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FRANKFURT — Volkswagen is halting production of the last version of its Beetle model this week at its plant in Puebla, Mexico. It’s the end of the road for a vehicle that has symbolized many things over a history spanning eight decades since 1938.

It has been: a part of Germany’s darkest hours as a never-realized Nazi prestige project. A symbol of Germany’s postwar economic renaissance and rising middle-class prosperity. An example of globalization, sold and recognized all over the world. An emblem of the 1960s counterculture in the United States. Above all, the car remains a landmark in design, as recognizable as the Coca-Cola bottle.

The car’s original design — a rounded silhouette with seating for four or five, nearly vertical windshield and the air-cooled engine in the rear — can be traced back to Austrian engineer Ferdinand Porsche, who was hired to fulfil Adolf Hitler’s project for a “people’s car” that would spread auto ownership the way the Ford Model T had in the U.S.

Aspects of the car bore similarities to the Tatra T97, made in Czechoslovakia in 1937, and to sketches by Hungarian engineer Bela Barenyi published in 1934. Mass production of what was called the KdF-Wagen, based on the acronym of the Nazi labour organization under whose auspices it was to be sold, was cancelled due to World War II. Instead, the massive new plant in what was then countryside east of Hanover turned out military vehicles, using forced labourers from all over Europe under miserable conditions.

Re-launched as a civilian carmaker under supervision of the British occupation authorities, the Volkswagen factory was transferred in 1949 to the Germany government and the state of Lower Saxony, which still owns part of the company. By 1955, the millionth Beetle — officially called the Type 1 — had rolled off the assembly line in what was now the town of Wolfsburg.

The United States became Volkswagen’s most important foreign market, peaking at 563,522 cars in 1968, or 40% of production. Unconventional, sometimes humorous advertising from agency Doyle Dane Bernbach urged car buyers to “Think small.”

“Unlike in West Germany, where its low price, quality and durability stood for a new postwar normality, in the United States the Beetle’s characteristics lent it a profoundly unconventional air in a car culture dominated by size and showmanship,” wrote Bernhard Rieger in his 2013 history, “The People’s Car.”

Production at Wolfsburg ended in 1978 as newer front drive models like the Golf took over. But the Beetle wasn’t dead yet. Production went on in Mexico from 1967 until 2003 — longer than the car had been made in Germany. Nicknamed the “vochito,” the car made itself at home as a rugged, Mexican-made “carro del pueblo.”

The New Beetle — a completely retro version build on a modified Golf platform — resurrected some of the old Beetle’s cute, unconventional aura in 1998 under CEO Ferdinand Piech, Ferdinand Porsche’s grandson. In 2012, the Beetle’s design was made a bit sleeker.

The end of the Beetle comes at a turning point for Volkswagen as it rebounds from a scandal over cars rigged to cheat on diesel emissions tests. The company is gearing up for mass production of the battery-driven compact ID.3, a car that the company predicts will have an impact like that of the Beetle and the Golf by bringing electric mobility to a mass market.

The last of 5,961 Final Edition versions of the Beetle is headed for a museum after ceremonies in Puebla on July 10 to mark the end of production.

___

AP photo blog about the last Volkswagen Beetle: https://bit.ly/32bXuMx

David McHugh, The Associated Press






















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