Ford failure up before the beak….AV guidance in the eye of the dragonfly…plus lots, lots more

Ford is to face court over allegations it misled customers who had purchased faulty vehicles and on-sold surrendered vehicles without disclosing their mechanical faults.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has launched proceedings against the company, alleging it had engaged in unconscionable and misleading or deceptive conduct, and made false or misleading representations in its response to customer complaints.

The complaints related to the Ford Focus, Fiesta and EcoSport, fitted with Powershift transmissions, which experienced excessive shuddering and jerking when accelerating, loss of gear selection, sudden loss of power and excessive noisiness.

All complaints related to models sold between 2011 and 2016. It is alleged that about half of the 70,000 vehicles sold had at least one repair relating to the transmission, while some vehicles were returned up to seven times.

Court documents state that affected customers were told by Ford Australia “there were no problems with their vehicles and, or, that the issues were caused by the drivers of the vehicles or driving style.”

It is alleged Ford refused to provide a refund or replacement to consumers, even after multiple repairs failed fix the issue. Those customers who did receive a replacement vehicle only did so after they paid out around $7000 under the company’s PowerShift Ownership Loyalty Program.

One of the most serious allegations is that the carmaker proceeded to on-sell vehicles surrendered through the loyalty program to wholesalers and customers, without disclosing the systemic mechanical issues.

The ACCC alleges that Ford’s conduct towards customers who had complained of issues with their vehicles was unconscionable and according to its chairman Rod Sims, is indicative of broader problems in the industry.

“We think the allegations we are making here are both extremely serious and…how many times does a consumer have to take their car back before it is judged not fit for service?”

Returnig serve in a press release, Ford’s ‎president and CEO Graeme Whickman, said the manufacturer strongly rejected the allegations and would challenge them.
“We acknowledge that some customers had a poor experience when the clutch shudder issues on the PowerShift transmission first came to light and we are sorry for this. We will work with [the ACCC] wherever needed to help provide certainty about the application of Australian Consumer Law for our industry.”

Graeme reckons that Ford had contacted affected customers to provide them with the latest specification clutch free of charge, and that more than 12,000 vehicles had already been upgraded.

Rod, however, remains unimpressed and said that his organisation was alarmed by the rate of non-compliance with the Australian Consumer Law in the new car industry.

“Cars are the second-most expensive purchase most consumers will ever make and if they fail to meet a consumer guarantee, people are automatically entitled to a remedy. Manufacturers still largely dealt with consumers on the basis of their warranty, despite the introduction of consumer guarantees in 2011.

“We are not surprised by Ford’s press release. They have been taking this position all along, which I guess, in part, is why we are where we are.”

The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, consumer redress orders, corrective advertising, and compliance program obligations.

Any affected customers are encouraged to call their dealer or Ford Australia directly on 133 673.

AV guidance in the eye of the dragonfly

Inspired by the microscopic scales on sharkskin, NASA scientists developed a drag reducing coating for ships based on the microscopic scales of the skin and the design of the Shinkansen bullet train was based on the kingfisher beak. Now a dragonfly’s ability to predict the movement of its prey is being harnessed to improve the way driverless cars get around in traffic.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide and Lund University, Sweden, have replicated in a small robot the neuron in a dragonfly brain that anticipates movement. The robot will be used to test the potential for artificial vision systems used in driverless vehicles.

The study of the neuron, known as CSTMD1, was published recently in the journal eLife in which research supervisor Steven Wiederman claimed that the new discovery would have an impact on driverless cars and other robotic vision systems.

“It is one thing for artificial systems to be able to see moving targets, but tracing movement so it can move out of the way of those things is a really important aspect to self-steering vehicles. What we found was the neuron in dragonflies not only predicted where a target would reappear; it also traced movement from one eye to the other, even across the brain hemispheres.

The research team also found that target-detecting neurons increased dragonfly responses in a small ‘focus’ area just in front of the location of the moving object being tracked. If the object then disappears from the field of vision, the ‘focus’ spreads forward allowing the brain to predict where the target was most likely to reappear.

The neuronal prediction was based on the previous path along which the prey had flown.

Dr Wiederman said this phenomenon was not only evident when dragonflies hunted small prey, but also when they chased after a mate. The process is similar to when humans judge the trajectory of a ball as it is thrown to them, even when it is moving against the backdrop of a cheering crowd.

The research project is the first time a target-tracking model inspired by insect neurophysiology has been implemented on an autonomous robot and tested under real world conditions

South Australia has a history of involvement with autonomous car research and in 2015 held the first driverless car trials in the southern hemisphere. The state hosts a number of autonomous car companies including Cohda Wireless and its innovative V2X (vehicle to everything) technology and RDM Group, which opened its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Adelaide earlier this year.

According to researcher Zahra Bagheri, there is growing interest in the use of robots for in industry, health, medical services and entertainment.

“However, our robots are still far behind the accuracy, efficiency and adaptability of the algorithms that exist in biological systems. Nature provides a proof of concept that practical real-world solutions exist and with millions of years of evolution behind them, these solutions are highly efficient.”

Jag’s smallest SUV’s barrel rolls into the headlines

One of the better things about being involved in the motor industry is that at anytime it can go from the mundane to the marvelous. Take, for instance, Jag’s launch of it all-important E-Pace.

Not for them the usual boring ideas involving some ‘personality’ carping on about something he, or she, has no idea about. Not for them a sterile old unveiling at one or other of the international motor shows. Not for them a press conference in some stately home, shopping mall, etc.

No, this time around the company broke the mold with a ‘record breaking barrel role’.

Yes, you read it right. Jag’s smallest SUV was announced to the world literally standing on its head. There must be something in the water around Castle Bromwich, where Jaguar has its factory that prompts such dangerous feats. Almost just across the road

used to be Vickers Armstrong aircraft factory, from where, during WWII chief test pilot Alex Henshaw performed a barrel roll in a Lancaster bomber!

At the time this was thought to be impossible and to some extent the task facing Jaguar’s engineers was of a similar nature.

A lightly modified E-Pace was subjected to 33 test jumps, during which it spent lots of time on its roof, side and rear-end. However, once the engineers got the approach speeds and angles right, the company’s stunt driver Terry Grant took over.

During the 1.5-second practice jumps he was subjected to forces of 5.5G and after a whopping 756 hours of engineering simulation time, had just a 10mm margin for error.

“As far as I am aware no production car has ever cleanly completed a bona-fide barrel roll and therefore it has always been an ambition of mine to perform one ever since I was a boy,” said a delighted Terry Grant.

As we said, the motor industry can be full of surprises, especially when a staid old lady like Jag does something equivalent to grandma bungee jumping in her wheelchair.

Selling cars (and houses) right on your smartphone

The pace with which new digital platforms for shifting new and used cars seems to be accelerating exponentially with the latest product to hit the market providing information through text messages.

According to the designers, MMSme has been implemented in more than a dozen brands in Queensland including Toyota, Mercedes Benz and Subaru. The system is also being used by a number of South Australian real estate companies.

“MMSme enables businesses to save a lot of money when compared to QR codes and other customer interfaces,” says the company’s MD Jason Williams. “Other programs make people manually visit various sites and have to look up information themselves. This just gets done straight away through text.”

So, how does it work?

Subscribing businesses register a phone number and enter in product information. Other than the cost of the text, the service is free for customers and can be used ‘after hours’.

Utilising a stock number found on each vehicle, customers text the single-word code to the dealership and receive information on model type, mileage, engine, build year, price and a photo.

According to Blackgate, the South Australia-based company that developed the system, dealerships can expect a 50% increase in month-to-month growth, with popular dealerships receiving up to 80 leads per month.

“MMSme has about a 50% conversion-to-sale rate, where almost 90 per cent of leads are received from customers when a dealership is closed.

Our payment structure also means a dealership, with at least 50 leads, only pays about $100 per month, including a subscription fee, whereas online providers can charge up to $1750 for the same service,” said Jason.

Blackgate is doing similar things with houses in Adelaide where it sends floor plans and building information can be sent by text.

“The other side of the coin is that the business gets an email notification when a code is used and are able to deliver more personalised service.

“We are seeing continued growth and usage every month here in Australia, but we have always viewed this as something that could be used anywhere in the world,” Jason added.

Five out of five puts Ryan and Rhianon on the rostrum

Five wins in five starts should be enough to win anything. And it has been for Toyota’s Rally RAV4’s Ryan Millen and Rhianon Gelsomino who’ve just clinched the American Rally Association 2WD championship.

The Anzac drivers dominated the New England Forest Rally’s gravel logging roads, winning 10 of the 13 stages. Naturally, Ryan, son of Kiwi and Pike’s Peak legend Rod Millen, was absolutely stoked.

“We’ve overcome cars that are faster than us, so it’s very, very sweet. It’s hard to make a car finish these rallies, let alone win them, so to be finishing and winning them consistently like this is huge.

Equally happy, but a little more subdued the vastly experience Rhianon thought that the Rally RAV4 had been absolutely incredible.

“I honestly couldn’t believe what we could do it in a stock car, but see times we put down and all the spectators supporting us was pretty incredible.”

The car features a standard four-cylinder engine and six-speed transmission and has excelled in the rough and tricky terrain throughout the 2017 series due to its ride height, stability and durability.

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