Mercedes is spending $1 billion to go electric in Alabama

Mercedes-Benz will spend $1 billion to upgrade its production capabilities in Alabama and jump-start its electric vehicle program in the U.S.

Mercedes, which is owned by Daimler, said the investment will create 600 new jobs in communities near its plant in Tuscaloosa.

The automaker plans to make new electric SUV models at the existing factory, and construct a battery plant nearby.

The investment will put the German firm in direct competition with Tesla on its home turf.

“With production locations for electric vehicles and batteries in Europe, China and, now, the U.S., our global network is ready for the era of electric vehicles,” said Markus Schäfer, the automaker’s head of production planning.

The move to electric follows a global backlash against diesel cars that is motivated by concerns over climate change and pollution caused by dirty engines.

Countries including India, France, Britain, Norway and China have pledged to ditch gas and diesel cars in favor of cleaner vehicles.

Mercedes says it is responding to increased demand for hybrids and electrics. It unveiled the electric car concept, the Mercedes-EQ, at the Paris auto show last year.

It says that by 2022 it will offer customers at least one electrified alternative in all vehicle segments.

The Alabama investment is likely to please President Trump, who has criticized foreign companies in general, and German car makers in particular, for not manufacturing more products in the U.S.

Earlier this year, Mercedes announced a push to increase the number of American parts used at the Tuscaloosa factory.

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DOT secretary makes self-driving car privacy a footnote

Consumer privacy has taken a back seat as the Trump administration takes it first steps in writing the guidelines for autonomous vehicles.

Cars and trucks that will use technology to drive themselves promise to change transportation. But they raise countless new privacy issues: How will the data they collect be used?

Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao last week released updated autonomous driving guidelines that turn privacy issues into footnotes. Literally.

In a footnote in the guidelines, Chao’s department writes that privacy isn’t its turf — and should be left to the Federal Trade Commission.

The initial guidelines, released by the Obama administration in September 2016, highlighted privacy as one of 15 important areas for automakers to address.

The shift has drawn the criticism of consumer and privacy advocates, who say Chao’s approach is insufficient and leaves consumers at risk.

“The DOT is going in the wrong direction,” William Wallace, a policy analyst for Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, told CNN Tech. “People have to right to expect that these vehicles aren’t just safe for travel, but that their information is safe.”

Consumers’ privacy concerns have been downgraded, but not those of businesses. The guidelines add a paragraph noting that companies should make sure not to include confidential business information while detailing their programs to the public.

“It’s a head-scratcher; why they chose to delete (consumer) privacy,” O’Melveny attorney Melody Drummond Hansen said.

Tech and car companies are wary of releasing any data that may hurt them as they race toward riches in an industry that is forecast to be worth trillions.

Self-driving vehicles are expected to reduce the rate of car crashes and save many of 1.25 million people killed on roads every year. They navigate with cameras and sensors. These vehicles will collect gobs of data, some of which will be sensitive information about passengers and pedestrians outside the vehicles.

“If you’re in an autonomous vehicle, any place you go is now known,” John McNelis, an attorney with Fenwick & West told CNN Tech. “I expect there will be cameras in these vehicles, what happens with that data?”

For Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, it’s problematic if autonomous vehicle data will become available for commercial use, insurance decisions, or used against consumers.

“From a privacy perspective, driving data looks very much like telephone records data,” said Rotenberg. “We’ve always had strong protections for telephone record data.”

Nearly 20 years of bringing privacy cases to the FTC has convinced him that the organization won’t have a forceful role in the auto industry on behalf of consumers, he added.

“Historically, the automobile has been part of the American concept of freedom and individuality. You hit the open road and the adventure lies ahead,” Rotenberg said. “It’s very odd to think you’d be suspect to all this surveillance and monitoring in this new future.”

Others caution that too many privacy precautions today could hamper the development of a promising industry.

“This to me is our space race,” said Kelley Blue Book analyst Rebecca Lindland. “Let’s support the people who are working on this with that mentality of ‘let’s just get the job done.’ “

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Gas supply is getting better in Florida

Florida drivers are having a much easier time finding fuel in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

In fact the biggest problem today isn’t gas stations without gas. It’s gas stations without power.

“Power is by far the biggest issue there. There’s plenty of fuel there now,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst with the Oil Price Information Service.

About 30% of more than 7,000 stations for which data is available were not selling gas as of midday Friday, according to crowdsourcing platform GasBuddy. That’s a big improvement from the 72% of reported stations that weren’t selling gas early Tuesday.

The bigger problem now appears to be stations that still are without power. About 21% of the reported stations in the state do not currently have power, according to GasBuddy. Power outages hit Florida hard as Irma drove up the state. As of Friday, 1.9 million utility customers were still without power.

Kloza said stations with power but without gas likely are having problems hiring trucks to bring gas from the various terminals to the stations. Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, agrees.

“There’s still a lot of temporary disruptions,” he said. “There’s a lot of stations that still need to be refueled, and there’s limited manpower for delivering fuel.”

Kloza said most stations with power should have gas by early next week, at which point he thinks the panic buying which has been part of the problem will ease.

“There have been runs on stations. People are tank topping because they’re worried they won’t find gas when they need it,” he said. Social media has been adding to the problem, he said. A report that a station has just gotten a delivery causes people in the area to rush there to buy.

One of the big reasons for the improvement in the supply of gasoline: Ships have finally been able to bring gasoline to Florida ports. Because the state has few refineries of its own, it needs to rely on tankers and barges to deliver virtually all of its fuel.

Port Everglades, Port Canaveral and Port of Tampa are all open and “actively prioritizing fuel tanker ships,” according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

“There’s been an armada of ships and barges bringing gasoline down to Florida,” said Kloza.

Florida officials also said that highway patrol troopers were escorting fuel resupply trucks to places that needed them.

The federal government has offered assistance as well. It waived restrictions on what types of ships can deliver fuel and on the types of fuel that can be used.

–CNNMoney’s Matt Egan contributed to this story.

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Gas supply is getting better in Florida

Florida drivers are having a much easier time finding fuel in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

In fact the biggest problem today isn’t gas stations without gas. It’s gas stations without power.

“Power is by far the biggest issue there. There’s plenty of fuel there now,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst with the Oil Price Information Service.

About 30% of more than 7,000 stations for which data is available were not selling gas as of midday Friday, according to crowdsourcing platform GasBuddy. That’s a big improvement from the 72% of reported stations that weren’t selling gas early Tuesday.

The bigger problem now appears to be stations that still are without power. About 21% of the reported stations in the state do not currently have power, according to GasBuddy. Power outages hit Florida hard as Irma drove up the state. As of Friday, 1.9 million utility customers were still without power.

Kloza said stations with power but without gas likely are having problems hiring trucks to bring gas from the various terminals to the stations. Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, agrees.

“There’s still a lot of temporary disruptions,” he said. “There’s a lot of stations that still need to be refueled, and there’s limited manpower for delivering fuel.”

Kloza said most stations with power should have gas by early next week, at which point he thinks the panic buying which has been part of the problem will ease.

“There have been runs on stations. People are tank topping because they’re worried they won’t find gas when they need it,” he said. Social media has been adding to the problem, he said. A report that a station has just gotten a delivery causes people in the area to rush there to buy.

One of the big reasons for the improvement in the supply of gasoline: Ships have finally been able to bring gasoline to Florida ports. Because the state has few refineries of its own, it needs to rely on tankers and barges to deliver virtually all of its fuel.

Port Everglades, Port Canaveral and Port of Tampa are all open and “actively prioritizing fuel tanker ships,” according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

“There’s been an armada of ships and barges bringing gasoline down to Florida,” said Kloza.

Florida officials also said that highway patrol troopers were escorting fuel resupply trucks to places that needed them.

The federal government has offered assistance as well. It waived restrictions on what types of ships can deliver fuel and on the types of fuel that can be used.

–CNNMoney’s Matt Egan contributed to this story.

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Federal probe finds Tesla’s Autopilot contributed to fatal crash

A federal investigation has found that Tesla’s Autopilot is partly to blame in the fatal crash of a Model S last year.

Joshua Brown was killed in May 2016 when his Tesla crashed into a tractor-trailer in Florida while the self-driving software was active. Brown had not tried to control the car in two minutes, and the Autopilot didn’t brake to avoid the collision.

The Tesla Autopilot wasn’t designed for the road Brown was driving on, and drivers are expected to watch the road and take control as needed. Tesla Autopilot is not designed to handle the entire job of driving.

The investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board criticized Tesla for allowing Autopilot to be activated on roads it can’t handle and for how it determines whether drivers are engaged. It monitors wheel torque, and a driver could have a hand on the wheel without paying attention to the road.

The NTSB researchers noted that decades of research has shown humans are bad at monitoring automation systems. They may be lulled into complacency and trust the Autopilot too much.

“We’ve found limitations with Tesla’s system, but we think we find limitations with other systems,” NTSB researcher Robert Molloy said Tuesday at a board meeting. “We think it’s an industry-wide problem.”

Tesla said in a statement that it will evaluate the NTSB’s findings.

“We will also continue to be extremely clear with current and potential customers that Autopilot is not a fully self-driving technology and drivers need to remain attentive at all times,” the company said.

The NTSB finding conflicts with a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which found in January that the crash was not the result of any defect. The report also found a nearly 40 percent reduction in crashes after Tesla autosteer installations.

But some safety experts have doubts about that finding. It’s not clear whether NHTSA accounted for a Tesla software update that added safety features, including emergency braking. NHTSA declined to comment.

“In no shape or form does the NHTSA document pass for a scientific assessment,” Missy Cummings, a Duke professor and director of its Humans and Autonomy Laboratory, told CNN.

Quality Control Systems, an organization specializing in data research, filed a lawsuit this summer to get the data from the NHTSA study.

Some 1.25 million people are killed on roads every year, and human error is overwhelmingly the reason. Fully autonomous vehicles are widely expected to save lives, but it will be dangerous if automakers rely on partial autonomous systems in the meantime.

“Until we get there, it’s going to be painful,” NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt told reporters afterwards. “But ultimately the utopia will be when everything is automated.”

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Renault car becomes part of your house

Someday, you might want to drive home from work and just hang out in your car once you get there. Not because you’re in trouble with your spouse, but because your car is actually designed to be part of the house.

In fact, you could lean back and relax before you even get home. Once you’re there, just keep on relaxing while the car takes you straight into your living room.

That’s the idea behind a concept car called the Symbioz, just revealed by French automaker Renault. The electric car provides both extra seating space and, if needed, feeds extra power from its batteries to the home at which it is parked.

The car and its house were both unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

Batteries in the Symbioz are stored flat in its floor, maximizing interior space in the generally boxy concept car. It would be capable of driving itself and the front seats can fully rotate. That way all the occupants can interact face-to-face even when the car is out on the road.

When it arrives at the owner’s home — in this case, a color-coordinated concept house — the car just drives right in, becoming part of the living room. It can then be lifted up in an elevator to become a second-floor lounge area with a view of the stars through its panoramic sunroof.

“No longer can we think of car design in isolation from the ecosystem surrounding us,” Renault’s lead designer Laurens van den Acker, said in a statement. “Renault Symbioz truly is a unique project that allowed us to work with planners, designers, engineers and architects. “

The car’s batteries can be charged by plugging into the house’s electrical system. During a blackout, or during times of peak electrical demand, the car can also act as a back-up battery, feeding electricity back into the home. That’s something that can be done with electric cars today.

For now, the Symbioz is just a concept car — and a concept house designed to work with it. But Renault promises that a drivable car, with many of the elements seen in the Symbioz, will be ready for testing before the end of this year.

The car represents Renault’s “mid-term vision” and includes various technology features that will be available to customers in the next few years, the automaker says. Those include an improved version of Renault’s Multi-Sense for customizable interior lighting and driving as well as new assisted driving features.

None of the planned production car features, at this point, seem to include a house, however. Renault is part of the Renault Nissan Alliance.

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