Is Musky blinding admirers with duds?…Dyson join rush to build EVs…Land Rover cook up a storm for Jamie…SA company looks in rear mirror as car production end…and lots more….

Elon Musk is something of a global hero. Wherever he goes, the public love him and consequently is fated by politicians of every slant. But ausauto contributor and superblogger Thomas the Think Engine, is not amongst such distinguished company. In fact, he’s quite the opposite. Elon Musk really gets on his nerves…here’s why…

I agree with all his goals. I love the idea of clean energy. I want better batteries. I’m excited by colonising the universe and digging cheaper tunnels. So why does his every pronouncement get me upset?

I’ve been dwelling on this recently, and can only conclude it’s because of the lack of public skepticism he encounters. Fly to most places on Earth in under 30 mins and anywhere in under 60. Cost per seat should be… — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 29, 2017

Whenever I think about the future, I like to consider it in probabilistic terms. So when I hear Elon Musk talk about using rockets to travel from New York to Sydney in an hour, I naturally try to imagine what the likelihood of this happening is. I generally come up with numbers awfully close to zero.

Apparently other people’s thinking goes off in different directions, wondering about comfort during take off:

I don’t find myself thinking about g-forces. I’m too busy puzzling over why he should be able to make a roof including solar panels for less than the price of a roof. What does he think roof manufacturers have been doing for all this time?

Musk is not short of ambition, or afraid to make his life more complex. For example, the original Telsa plan had nothing in it about automation or self-driving. He just bolted that onto the plan, presumably expecting it would be doable if the engineers just tried hard enough. I remain skeptical.

When people think about the progress of science, they have an awful tendency to be swayed by survivor bias. They think especially about progress in personal electronics – because that’s where the progress is. They infer that technology can utterly transform itself within a decade or two.

But when you take a broader sample, you see something different. For every iPhone that did get invented, a flying car failed to be. While we beat back AIDS, cures for dementia and multiple sclerosis languished. And not for want of effort. You can’t tell in advance which fields will yield to effort.

I was a big fan of an old website called Paleo Future, which goes back and looks at old predictions of the future. They’re mostly silly. In fifty years most Musk plans will seem as silly. But they’re being repeated across all forms of media. That credulity, and the adulation that goes with it, really rustles my jimmies.


There’s a well-characterised cognitive bias where we think that a person who has success in one field will be able to translate it to another. It’s why former Olympic swimmers get hired by big financial institutions, say. It explains why we think Elon Musk can set up a dozen companies including in busy fields like automotive and tunnelling, and come out a winner.

The other relevant cognitive bias is the base rate fallacy. People ignore the fact that in a given domain (colonising space, say) background probabilities of success are very low. They prefer instead to focus on some other seemingly salient factor, such as whether the person making the plan to do so is a genius. (And I’m perfectly willing to admit Musk is.)

Now, the charm of having so many cognitive biases running in your favour, is you can attract a lot of capital and hire a lot of good employees. You get to make a lot of bets at once. Take one five per cent chance, you’re set to fail. But take ten and you have a 40% chance of one of them coming good.

So I’d be surprised if everything Musk tries from hereon turns to poop. He can probably go down in history as a genius inventor. But at the moment he’s getting way ahead of himself.

Musk’s strategic thinking has worked well so far for Tesla, but past performance is no guarantee of future performance. You only need to look back on his Tesla ‘Master plan Part Deux’ from 2016 to get a sense of how iffy it can be. It contained a very peculiar section on taking the aisles out of buses to make room for more seats.

Ignore for a moment that aisles are important to buses, the point is that that kind of fine detail has no place in a strategic plan. Shortly afterward, he walked back the whole section on buses anyway. The whole thing made me wonder if his success came because of, or despite, his strategic vision. It is possible that long before he has a chance to be proven wrong on intercontinental travel, Mr Musk will have a reversal of fortune.

Tesla’s plan to ramp up production of Model 3s in a new facility looked risky to me from the start. Manufacturing is hard and Tesla is new to doing it at scale. Today we learned initial production of the smaller more affordable car has fallen short.

The company has identified ‘a handful’ of bottlenecks in its production systems and produced way fewer Model 3s than it planned (260 vs an expected 1500). I fear that for a company doing its first ever mass-production, solving that handful will only reveal another handful. Complex systems are interlinked and problems can cascade throughout.

Expecting to move smoothly to mass production was pure hubris. Big new projects regularly have huge cost overruns and delays.  (I used to work on Defence projects so I’ve seen cost overruns and delays.)

Furthermore, in making its new factory, Tesla skipped a step most manufacturers use, getting all its tooling made before they’d had a dry run. That will save time and cost only if all the systems fit together neatly and as expected.

I understand why they’re rushing. There’s two reasons Tesla must sprint to survive.

First, so much debt has been brought on that they need a lot of sales to pay the interest (with the share price so high I don’t understand why they wouldn’t just issue shares, which don’t need to be periodically refinanced).

So far Tesla burns cash just to stay running. Having big debt and negative cashflow is not sustainable. There’s not many times corporate finance is heart-in-your-mouth terrifying, but Tesla is making it like watching one of those guys in a wingsuit.

Second, the longer they delay the more competitors with proven manufacturing ability can catch up and steal the market. The Chevy Bolt is a proven success and we heard last week that even vacuum manufacturer Dyson is entering the electric car market.

A Bloomberg article published recently had a huge list of Tesla competitors. Fifty new electric vehicles are going to hit the market in the next five years, from companies with a strong history of making quality products.

I think the Tesla corporate structure needs careful steering to not end up on the rocks. The technology and brand could well be for sale within five years, and gleefully bought up by someone like General Motors, or Google. That’d be awful for Tesla investors and employees, but mostly fine for society, as the losses incurred in creating all this technological progress would be internalised by all the investors who’ve done their dough.

So am I justified in being so cross at Elon Musk and all the people who believe in him?

In some ways, I am not. To the extent that he is making great progress, I should shut up, and to the extent that he is selling risky bets, his main victims are private investors who are welcome to include in their portfolios a few risky bets.

While money will be wasted, technology will also be created. If it has value, that technology will presumably be up for grabs if Tesla (or SpaceX, or Hyperloop) ever needs to make their creditors whole and society will still be able to benefit from them.

From this perspective, the cult of Elon Musk is just a big scheme to get private investors to take the risks of moving science forward. And it’d be awfully pig-headed to be mad at that. From another perspective, investor money is finite, and we should be careful to steer it toward those schemes with the highest chance of success.


Dyson the latest to join the rush to build electric vehicles

It’s one of those companies you either love or hate, in this case usually based on whether that expensive vacuum cleaner you purchased lived up to all the hype.

We’re talking about Dyson, of course, the British manufacturer of those dust collectors that don’t look a bit like traditional dust collectors and the news that the company is now planning to move into producing electric cars.

Here’s what professor of innovation Jeremy Howells of the University of Kent has to say about the idea. We’ve no idea whether, or not, Jeremy has any vested interest other than promoting the university, but it looks like a fair description of Dyson and fits well with Thomas the Think Engine’s story on Elon Musk.

The announcement that Dyson intends to develop an all-electric car by 2020 marks a further watershed for the company led by the exuberant entrepreneur and founder, Sir James Dyson.

The company, which grew in the early 1990s out of its radical, new vacuum cleaner based on cyclonic separation, has recently moved into other consumer electrical products, such as its air blade hand dryers, fans and ‘supersonic’ hair dryers, LED lamps and, even briefly, the discontinued contra rotator washing machines.

However, the move into car production is much more radical in nature for the company, emerging as a major UK based disruptor in the car industry; together with Elon Musk’s Tesla US based car company, in the (now) fast changing global motor industry.

Some observers may say this is a step too far for Dyson, but the key technologies in this disruption, electric motors and batteries, is something which the company has long established core technical capabilities which will stand it in good stead.

Moreover, together with its wider design flair and engineering capability and that the fact it is a private company (with ‘patient capital’) has meant that Dyson has the confidence and long term resources to develop the car using in-house expertise.

Some £1 billion already been invested in the project (with a further £1 billion on related battery technology), with some 400 engineers working on the new electric car at its HQ and main research and development (R&D) site at Malmersbury, Wiltshire.

Undoubtedly Dyson will, at some stage, need specialist technical and engineering from outside, but the UK has a rich base of specialist engineering companies in the motor and F1 business from which to call upon for this.

The project has therefore a very good chance of success, with the only other disruptive trend in the industry, driverless technology, posing a potential threat to Dyson’s ambitions here.

Interestingly, in this respect, the company notes it is working on a partially driverless capability for the car, but long term it will need to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) to support its long-term objectives in the car industry.

What the good professor failed to mention is that the vehicles will be made overseas despite the fact that the UK has been investing in the project. As Thomas the Think Engine says in a previous article, if you’re surrounded by enough hype you can usually get away any amount of trough snouting.

Last year. Dyson bought Satki3, a battery technology company spun out of the University of Michigan which hopes to double the life of batteries, for $90m It specialises in solid state batteries, which have the potential to hold more charge than the current lithium-ion batteries but are more unstable.

At the time of the acquisition Sir James said Satki3 had “developed a breakthrough in battery technology”. The company received a £16m grant from the UK government towards battery research.

In addition to Tesla’s assault on both the domestic and automotive battery market, Dyson will face significant competition from the likes of Bosch and Toshiba whose super charge ion battery (SCiB) has been around for some time.

This particular model claimed to recharge 90% of its capacity within five minutes with a life span of around a decade. Now the company says that its new SCiB will take things to a new level.

The next-generation SCiB uses a new material for the anode called titanium niobium oxide, which Toshiba was able to arrange into a crystal structure that can store lithium ions more efficiently. And if the claims are anywhere near correct, then the energy density has been doubled.

Toshiba has tested out a 50Ah version of the new battery and reckon that it too boasts excellent safety and a long life cycle, retaining more than 90% of its capacity after 5000 charge cycles.

If incorporated into a compact EV such as Mitsubishi’s i MiEV or Honda’s Fit EV, it would allow for a range of 320km after just a six minutes of ultra-rapid charging, which is around three times the range offered by a standard, similarly charged lithium-ion battery.

Naturally enough, Osamu Hori, director of corporate research & development, is very excited by the potential of the new titanium niobium oxide anode: “Rather than an incremental improvement, this is a game changing advance that will make a significant difference to the range and performance of EV.”


Land Rover cook up a super set of wheels for Jamie Oliver

With the SEMA Show on the horizon some of the more crazy ideas that will be on display are starting to come out of the woodwork. And so far, it looks like Land Rover and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver are well ahead of the pack.

Jamie and Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations deny that the ‘rolling kitchen’ Discovery has nothing to do with the world’s biggest display of aftermarket products.

But when you get a special vehicle that slow-cooks under the hood, churns butter and makes ice cream in special wheel drums, slow-turns a rotisserie out front, makes toast in the centre console and has numerous other culinary tricks up its sleeve, it all sounds a bit suss.

Jamie is one in a legion of celebrity chefs cooking up fine food in restaurants and teaching TV viewers and book and magazine readers how to do the same at home. So, why the collaboration with Land Rover? Well, according to the company he’s been a lifelong custom of the brand and a particular fan of the work turned out by the SVO.

No doubt the idea took hold when some of the Land Rover guys were over for a curry at Jamie and Jools’ UK pile, and although it’s not a genuine one-off commission, it’s still a pretty cool promo.

According to the script, Jamie penciled out an outrageous list of requests with no idea of the engineering realities and Land Rover did the rest, loading the Discovery with food-prep innovations from bumper to bumper.

Possibly the simplest part of the build was the slide-out kitchen in the back of the vehicle, a feature quite familiar from the worlds of camping trailers, camper vans and the like.

Land Rover’s version is a bit larger and fancier than average, featuring a wide prep area/dining table and leather-wrapped cladding, along with the usual dual-burner stove and sink. There’s also a spice drawer and what looks like another storage drawer or two.

The kitchen area is complemented by a unique retractable olive oil and vinegar dispenser built out of Land Rover indicator controls, a spice rack integrated into the left rear window, and a living herb garden in the right rear window.

It’s difficult to pick out the most unexpected feature of the build, but a slow cooker mounted under the hood next to the engine, offering a 4.7-L capacity has to be way up there.

Or perhaps, a five-litre, machined-aluminum, butter churn at the centers of three wheels, a matching ice cream maker on the last wheel, or the chance to roast a turkey, or leg of lamb, over an open flame on a 1.6 metre long rotisserie driven by a power take-off.

The biggest meals are meant to be prepared outside, but it is also easy to make and dress a snack in the cabin. A two-slice toaster sits in the centre console, and if the chef doesn’t want to pull over for some hubcap butter, a slide-out jar holder provides quick access to the jelly and jam.

Standalone tools like the bespoke piston and mortar, folding jerry can charcoal/wood grill with LR-inspired grates and selector-knob salt and pepper grinder further bridge the automotive and culinary worlds.

A foldout 40ins flat-screen TV on the end of the tabletop allows guests to watch Jamie’s most popular ‘cook-offs’ whilst enjoying a five-star meal.

“I gave Land Rover a massive challenge to create the ultimate kitchen on wheels. I dreamt big and asked for a lot, and what they did has blown my mind. I didn’t think they’d actually be able to put a slow cooker next to the engine and an olive oil dispenser in the boot, but they did. The result is an amazing Discovery, tailored perfectly for me and the family.”

The video shows the Discovery’s cooking equipment in action. It’s the last in a three-part Land Rover-sponsored series that you can find on Oliver’s YouTube channel. Otherwise it’s an onion to a pinch of mint that you’ll be able to see the whole thing in person at SEMA Show, October 31-November 3, at the Las Vegas Convention Centre. Source: Land Rover


SA company looks to the rear mirror as manufacturing ceases

Technology used to develop the world’s first fully plastic automotive mirror is being adapted in South Australia to make solar energy generation more efficient. Adelaide-based car parts manufacturer Precision Components has partnered with the University of South Australia to launch a heliostat test bed north of Adelaide.

The trial field includes 25 heliostats each measuring 7.2 square metres and a 16-metre tall concentrated solar photovoltaic (PV) receiver, which can generate about 30kW of electricity per hour.

Heliostats concentrate sunlight onto the tower, and depending on the type of receiver unit, either heat molten salt to generate steam to power turbines that generate electricity, or convert sunlight directly into electricity using a high efficiency solar cell receiver.

The heliostat innovations hope to deliver more reliable and efficient energy production. It is not the first time the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute has partnered with industry to commercialise its world-leading thin film coating technology.

The group of researchers partnered with SMR Technologies, a car mirror manufacturer in Adelaide’s southern suburbs, to commercialise the world’s first fully plastic auto mirror in 2012. About four million of the mirrors that are much lighter and do not shatter in a crash, have since been sold around the world.

Lead researcher and Industry professor Peter Murphy said the design challenges in developing a heliostat surface that could stand up to a range of environmental factors echoed some of the challenges in designing the car mirror.

“Heliostats need to withstand heat, cold, rain, UV light exposure and abrasion by sand, often in harsh, arid environments. To be really effective they must have a lifetime of 25 to 30 years and that presents a huge set of challenges at a macro and nano scale.

“Our long term research goal is to develop tough, ultra-high reflectivity mirror coatings on polycarbonate to underpin lighter, more efficient heliostats that stay cleaner for longer.”

The Edinburgh trial field, about 30km north of Adelaide, is the result of three years of research, development and manufacturing of the heliostats following the formation of Heliostat-SA.

The launch comes at an important time for the company, which is transforming its business following the decline of Australia’s car manufacturing industry. Automotive manufacturing officially ends next week with the closure of Holden’s Elizabeth plant just a few kilometres from the solar field.

Precision Components has also partnered with Bustech to form Precision Buses. That joint venture last year secured $2 million in South Australian government funding to manufacture advanced diesel and electric buses on the same site as the heliostat field.


The history of an icon and a concept of the future!

“Along with impeccable provenance and competition history, it’s gorgeous, an absolute work of art, a sculpture on wheels, one of the most beautiful cars ever made. It’s the most valuable car to ever go to public auction in Australia, and no doubt will set a new record on auction night”.

Wow! Is there any sort of precious metal that could possible live up to such a wrap even bearing in mind that it is the words of an auctioneer?

How about an immaculate, British Racing Green, 1955 Jaguar D-type?

Well, now you’re talking my language Mr Mossgreen.

Billed as the highest-value car to go to public auction in Australia, the D-Type will cross the block with Mossgreen at the annual Motorclassica Auction in Melbourne.

Owned in Europe by the renowned former Le Mans 24-Hour winner Duncan Hamilton, chassis XKD510 enjoyed many successes in the UK and French West Africa before going to Singapore and eventually ending up down under.

Noted Jaguar collector Ian Cummins owned it for a time before motor racing legend and former president of Lear Jet, Bib Stillwell forked out a world record stack of cash and took the car to the USA.

Bib being Bib, and not Bob, it enjoyed a fabulous run of success on the historic racing scene, a stint at the famous Donington Museum in the UK, before returning to become the only genuine D-Type Jaguar in Australia.

And to finish where we began with Mossgreen’s Paul Sumner: “The Jaguar D-type is one of the world’s most significant and collectible marques, and we are thrilled and excited to have this exceptional and historic car consigned to our inaugural Motorclassica Auction.”

So, how can we follow that? Well, how about: “And now for something completely different”?

Toyota is set to unveil what it says is a dramatic open-top sports-car concept inspired by the company’s involvement in endurance racing and its legendary Supra and Toyota Sports 800. The world premiere of the matte-black GR HV Sports Concept is being billed as one of the highlights of the Tokyo Motor Show late this month.

Breaking into autospeak, the company say that the vehicle is designed to promote the fun of driving by combining the thrill of a sports car, a wind-in-the-hair ‘targa top’ opening and Toyota’s latest motorsport-developed hybrid technologies.

Its swoopy design and racing-inspired hybrid powertrain are reminiscent of the Toyota GAZOO Racing TS050 Hybrid that competes in the World Endurance Championship (WEC).

The LED headlights, five-bolt wheels and rear diffuser evoke the components used on the hybrid-powered WEC racer. GR are the initials of Toyota’s motorsport arm Gazoo Racing while HV stands for hybrid vehicle with the concept using a racing version of hybrid technology refined by the TS050.

Oh, give us a break! In real language the rest includes a front-engine, rear-drive layout with centrally located hybrid battery, push-button ignition on automatic gear lever and a press button operated six-speed with H-pattern gearshift.

IT MAY NOT HAVE the savior faire of the Jamie Oliver/Land Rover portable kitchen, but Holden’s effort to produce a pick up truck for pro surfer Matt ‘Wilko’ Wilkinson should be a hit with the endless summer mob.

Built off the back of the Colorado Z71, the Wilko model is an automatic crew cab in phantom black with safari bar, bash plate protection, LED light bar, off-road tyres, tow bar, tubular side steps, rear steel steps and bonnet bulge.

If sales are as successful as Matt’s past 18 months that include wins at Snapper Rocks, Bells Beach and Fiji, then Holden will certainly be ‘dropping in’ on the competition.

Wilko apparently visited Holden’s Port Melbourne design studio and built his car alongside design director, Richard Ferlazzo, using the company’s state-of-the-art virtual reality studio before seeing the vehicle being assembled in the garages.

Meanwhile, the company has announced that the GM OnStar connect system will begin operating in Australia in 2019, twenty years after the systems launch in the US. Canada, China, Mexico, Europe and South America all have the system that’s taken all of twenty years just to cross the Pacific.

Much like a lot of other systems that have been available from other manufacturers for some time, OnStar offers Holden customers a range of standard, subscription and a la carte services such as the MyBrand mobile app, advanced diagnostics, automatic crash response, stolen vehicle assistance, and 4G LTE wi-fi.

HYUNDAI HAS ADDED the ‘mini-sized’ Kona its best selling Tucson and Santa Fe range of SUVs. Featuring a naturally aspirated and turbocharged petrol engines and six-speed auto (or seven-speed dual-clutch) transmission, the new arrival offers buyers a range of nine body and two roof colours. In the cabin there’s the usual range of techno gadgets such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection and all for the driveaway price of $27,000.

VICTORIAN TRAILER BUILDER Vawdrey Australia has launched its long awaited Auto Lock Deck system that optimises deck handling safety and efficiency and according to the company, can save up to 10 minutes for every deck movement.

To lower the deck, an operator simply selects the unlock function, disengage the locks by lifting the deck then lowers it to the desired position. The deck ratchets through each of the locking positions on the mezzanine deck posts to provide a fast and simple method of lifting the deck by forklift.

The system also significantly improves Occupational Health & Safety practices by doing away with the need for vehicle operators to work beneath a deck, or to remove the deck from the vehicle to adjust the deck height.

Supported by a pneumatic cylinder and two springs, the Auto Lock Deck will default to a locked position, critical for safety and reliability. To assist forklift operators, there are simple, colour-coded indicators on the outside and inside of each deck, as well as full-width forklift tyne pockets to accommodate double pallet width tynes for better forklift engagement.

The Auto Lock Deck also features heavy-duty bolt on guides and quick release airlines that allow the deck to be removed from the trailer with ease.

IF YOU’RE LOOKING TO TURN that ordinary old number plate into something special, then look no further than the Sydney-based myPlates that has just added a range of colour carbon fibre to its ever-expanding list of unique number plates. Expanding on one of the company’s best-selling ranges, myPlates has re-imagined the carbon BRE plate by blending carbon with three bold new colours for an ‘unique edgy look’ that breathes life into a rather mundane item. More @


A REAR SUSPENSION FAILURE has forced the UNSW’s Sunswift Violet, to withdraw from the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. The failure caused the rear left wheel to buckle and the car to swerve while travelling a speed, bringing it to a halt about 70km north of Tennant Creek. Despite a back up team of engineering students fixing the problem, there was an underlying suspension issue that couldn’t be addressed roadside and had the potential to cause a serious accident, resulting in the vehicle being withdrawn from the race.

DELHI-BASED AUTOMAKER TATA MOTORS could soon become Tah Tah Motors unless the company chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran’s plan to stop losing money on every car built is successful. Cost structures are way out of whack with volumes not high enough to ensure profitability. Natarajan wants to improve market share of commercial vehicles whilst reducing the losses on its passenger car business. No easy task especially as a platform sharing agreement with VW is set to cease later this year. Sales of Jaguar Land Rover vehicles contribute more than 80% of total revenue.










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