‘They’re coming:’ Flying cars may appear in urban skies by 2023

The flying cars depicted in science fiction classics such as “Blade Runner” and “The Fifth Element” have long been seen as flights of fancy, but their arrival is closer than you think.

At least a dozen companies are prototyping or testing flying cars or passenger drones, according to a Deloitte report from January.

Air taxis will number 15,000 and become a global market worth $32 billion by 2035, with aerial delivery and inspection services adding on another $42 billion, a study by Porsche Consulting predicts.

Vertical takeoff and landing craft (VTOLs) carry the promise of delivering people and goods across congested urban and suburban areas in a fraction of the time a driver would need, taking cars off the road in the process. But technological and regulatory hurdles remain. And whether aerial vehicles can substantially change commuter behaviour and emissions _ or overcome questions of safety and public perception _ is still up in the air.

Most VTOLs _ or eVTOLs if they are electric-powered _ resemble an oversize drone, sporting a halo of small rotors around a passenger pod and taking off and touching down like a helicopter. But they will be quieter, cheaper and greener than their heli-cousins, experts say.

“Instead of this deep, guttural, penetrating-through-walls sound, you have a much more acceptable sound, similar to a ceiling fan,” said Nikhil Goel, head of product at Uber Technology Inc.’s aviation team, dubbed Uber Elevate.

Uber hopes to start hauling passengers in five-seat, hybrid VTOLs above Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and a third city outside of the U.S. by 2023.

“The vehicles are real. They’re coming. I think it’s going to be faster than anybody thinks is possible,” Goel said.

He sees the first wave of aerial taxis providing a shuttle service between major airports and downtown vertiports that integrate into the mass transportation system, rather than leapfrogging from block to block _ a hub-to-hub travel option akin to a monorail.

“We are not building this product for the elite,” Goel said.

A few years after the launch of Uber Air, as it’s dubbed, the cost of an aerial trip will be the same as one on the asphalt, he said.

He calculates that an aerial taxi would cut a 90-kilometre commute between the downtowns of San Francisco and San Jose to 15 minutes, down from an hour and 40 minutes.

Uber is not alone in setting its sights on VTOLs. Chinese drone manufacturer Ehang carried out flight tests with a single-passenger drone earlier this year, according to the company’s website. German startup Volocopter has produced an air taxi prototype, taking to the skies above Dubai in 2017. And Kitty Hawk, a California-based company funded by Google founder Larry Page, produced a sleek, one-seat VTOL prototype this year.

Bell (formerly Bell Helicopter), is one of five companies Uber has teamed up with, along with Karem, Pipistrel and aerospace rivals Embraer and Boeing’s Aurora Flight Sciences.

Scott Drennan, Bell’s vice-president of innovation, sees 2025 as a more realistic commercial launch target than Uber’s goal of 2023.

Battery life is one area that needs to advance, with lithium-ion packs today lasting for between 50 and 100 kilometres on a multi-rotor electric propulsion system, he said.

Regulations are another obstacle. To avoid crowding urban skies, VTOLs could trace existing airplane takeoff and landing routes, but at a lower altitude, buzzing along at between 150 and 330 km/h.

Western aviation regulators bar out-of-sight drone operations for the most part. Discussions are ongoing with the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency, said Drennan, who said he has also met three times with Transport Canada regarding VTOLs.

Mark Cousin, chief executive of Airbus’s A3 unit, stressed the traffic management hurdles on the horizon.

“The vehicle is the easy bit,” he said. “The real challenge lies in integrating thousands of these vehicles into an urban air mobility system within cities.”

A3 has put out an electric-powered VTOL dubbed Vahana. The autonomous prototype launched its first vertical flight in February.

Drones would typically beat other modes of transportation, such as taxis, at distances of 20 kilometres or more in congested areas, according to the Porsche study.

The report notes the technology’s limited potential, stating that it can relieve some pressure from congested urban hot spots _ “but only some.”

“If one tried to solve all traffic problems on the ground by moving into the air, the myriad take-off and landing spots would become the new choke points.”

A city with more than five million inhabitants will likely have no more than 1,000 passenger drones in operation by 2035, the study predicts. That would make a relatively small dent in ground traffic.

Uber cited Los Angeles as an appealing launch city in part because of the abundance of flat roofs there _ a long-standing fire safety regulation required helicopter landing pads atop tall buildings.

“But they’re actually not that well suited, because it’s not just a pickup and drop-off point,” said Robin Lineberger, head of aerospace and defence at Deloitte.

“It has to be a place where people come, get ready to get on the aircraft…the vehicle has to land, recharge, refuel, maybe light maintenance and inspection going on. If you think about it, it really needs to be a small, multi-function airport service area.”

Large parking lots downtown are ripe for conversion into vertiports, complete with conveyor belts, charging stations and hangars, he said.

Insurance would function in ways similar to a helicopter manufacturer or transport service, Lineberger said, with premiums hinging on the probability and severity of accidents.

However, public perception will be an issue for the foreseeable future. Fewer than half of respondents in a Deloitte global survey of 10,000 people this year were convinced that aerial passenger vehicles would be safe, with one-third undecided and one in five disagreeing.

Car thefts on rise in Canada as thieves target trucks, SUVs: insurance board

A new report says thieves are setting their sights on older-model Ford trucks and high-end SUVs as the number of automotive thefts rose again last year.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada said Tuesday, December 11, 2018 in its annual list of the most frequently stolen vehicles that the Ford F250 and F350 trucks dominated the list of most stolen vehicles in 2017.

In Ontario, Chevrolet dominated the list, including older model Tahoes and Silverados. In Quebec, the most stolen vehicle was the 2017 Acura MDX, while in Atlantic Canada the Nissan Maxima was the top pick.

Henry Tso, the board’s vice-president of investigative services, said thieves are going after older model trucks because they have less sophisticated security measures.

“Usually you need the card key information to get the diagnostic to start the car. A lot of the older vehicles, it doesn’t have that, so once you have a key cut you can start the vehicle.”

Thieves are, however, targeting newer vehicles that have key fobs through a technique known as a relay attack, where they use a device to remotely pick up the radio signal coming from the fob to unlock and start the car.

“Right now it’s just trending up right now, it’s fairly new,” said Tso.

To prevent the relay attack, vehicle owners should consider keeping their fob in what’s known as a Faraday sleeve or pouch, which blocks the radio signals, he said.

Many drivers, however, would do well to simply not leave their keys in their vehicles. In Alberta, about 25 per cent of thefts occurred when the keys were in the car, often to keep the vehicle warm, said Tso.

“It’s easily preventable, the 25 per cent, all they have to do is be a little colder in their vehicle.”

Alberta also saw the most thefts, making up about 25,000 of the 85,000 vehicles stolen in 2017 for a nationwide increase of about six per cent.

New Brunswick saw the sharpest rise in thefts with a 28 per cent jump, with Ontario seeing a 15 per cent increase.

The board says New Year’s Day is the most common time for vehicles to be stolen.

But, it says vehicles are often smuggled outside the country, sold to unsuspecting consumers, scrapped for parts or used to commit another crime with organized crime rings usually involved.

The Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada says crime groups involved in auto thefts operate primarily out of Montreal and Toronto.

ICBC Not Allowed to Withdraw Admission of Fault Late in Litigation

BC Injury Law and ICBC Claims Blog

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, considering a request to withdraw a formal admission of fault for a vehicle collision in the deep stages of litigation.

In today’s case (Bodnar v. Sobolik) the Plaintiff was involved in a 2014 collision.  He sued alleging the Defendants were at fault.  ICBC, the Defendant’s insurer, admitted fault in the course of the lawsuit.  As the trial progressed the Defendants retained an engineer who viewed video of the crash and concluded “the speed of the plaintiff vehicle as 74 km/hr in a 50 zone“.  Based on this the Defendants sought to withdraw the admission of fault.  In refusing the request the Court noted the litigation was mature and it would not be in the interests of justice to allow it.  In dismissing the application Mr. Justice McEwan provided the following reasons:

[13]         The Notice of Civil Claim was filed October 11, 2016. The Response to Civil Claim was filed January 12, 2017, formally admitting liability. On May 30, 2017, Mr. Bo Baharloo assumed conduct of the file.

[14]         ICBC clearly understood the material contained on the video footage. The admission was not made hastily, inadvertently and without knowledge of the facts. Successive adjusters worked on the file and gave instructions to admit liability with full knowledge of the video footage. At the time liability was admitted ICBC had the video footage. The defendants had been aware of the existence of video footage when they were provided with a copy. The preparation of a report on September 28, 2018 was well after ICBC and defence counsel had both received a copy of the video footage.

[15]         At this late stage both cars have been written off and are no longer available for inspection.

[16]         It is not in the interests of justice to allow a withdrawal of the admission of liability because there is now a difference of opinion about the cause of the accident.

[17]         The application is dismissed. In saying that I say nothing about contributory negligence or whether it is possible to plead or amend the pleadings to raise the issue.

[18]         I should say that I have considered the cases Boyd v. Brais, 2000 BCSC 404 and Miller v. Norris, 2013 BCSC 552 as nearest to the present situation.

[19]         The application is dismissed with costs to the plaintiff.

GM fights government to retain tax credit for electric cars

General Motors is fighting to retain a valuable tax credit for electric vehicles as the nation’s largest automaker tries to deal with the political fallout triggered by its plans to shutter several U.S. factories and shed thousands of workers.

Preserving the $7,500 tax incentive for buyers is crucial for GM as the company pivots from internal combustion engines in favour of building cars powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. Yet the layoffs and plant closings could imperil GM’s push to keep the incentive. It helps make plug-ins such as the $36,000 Chevy Bolt more affordable at a time when competition from other electric vehicle makers is heating up.

GM faces opposition from President Donald Trump and other Republicans who consider the credit a waste of taxpayer money and want it eliminated. Trump, who has pledged a manufacturing rebirth in the Midwest, reacted angrily to GM’s “transformation ” announcement late last month, declaring that his administration was “looking at cutting all GM subsidies, including for electric cars.”

The company already is on the verge of being phased out of the tax credit program unless Congress changes a law that caps the break at 200,000 vehicles per manufacturer. Without the incentive, GM may be forced to cut the price of its electric cars to keep prospective customers from taking their business elsewhere, according to automotive industry experts.

As evidence of the credit’s importance to GM’s future, the automaker has expanded its lobbying footprint in Washington and even joined forces with two rivals, Tesla and Nissan, to call for 200,000-vehicle limit to be scrapped.

Standing in the way of that goal is Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Barrasso introduced legislation in October to abolish the tax credit, a move he said would save about $20 billion over the next 10 years. He has argued the market for electric vehicles is already established and “no longer needs the crutch of government assistance.”

“The idea of the subsidies had to do with trying to make sure that electric vehicles would be a viable technology,” Barrasso said. “Well, that’s clearly there.”

The tax credit came up briefly during a private meeting on Wednesday between Ohio’s senators, Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, and GM chief executive Mary Barra, according to a congressional aide familiar with the conversation. As part of the restructuring, GM said it will stop making the Chevy Cruze at its Lordstown, Ohio, plant by March and is considering closing the plant for good.

Portman told Barra that it’s difficult to help with priorities such as the electric vehicle credit when GM is moving production out of Ohio, according to the aide, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the private conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

One of the lobbyists working to salvage the credit for GM is Kent Hance, a former chancellor of Texas Tech University who is well connected in GOP circles, according to his online profile . Hance lists his role as a fundraiser for the campaigns of outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and others. He has known Rick Perry, the energy secretary and former Texas governor, for nearly 30 years.

GM in early August named a former Trump White House official, Everett Eissenstat, its senior vice-president for global public policy, a post that oversees the company’s lobbying operations. Eissenstat, however, is not registered as a lobbyist, according to disclosure records filed with Congress. Before coming to GM, he was Trump’s deputy assistant for international economic affairs.

Under federal law, the $7,500 credit for buyers begins to phase out after a manufacturer has sold 200,000 qualifying electric vehicles. GM has estimated it will hit that threshold by the end of December, just as the Bolt will be facing new and potentially stiff competition.

Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst at Navigant Research, said Hyundai and Kia each will be selling compact SUVs in the U.S. beginning early next year that can travel 240 miles on a single battery charge, about the same as the Bolt. Ford will be launching a number of new plug-in hybrid models in 2019, including the Lincoln Aviator, Explorer and Escape.

“With the intensifying market shift away from cars to utility vehicles all of these are expected to be more popular than the Bolt,” Abuelsamid said. To remain competitive against the new entries, “GM will likely have to cut the (retail price) of the Bolt as well as any additional EVs they launch next year by the corresponding reduction in the tax credits,” he said.

Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, said the credit is “hugely important” to electric vehicle manufacturers. Lowering the up-front cost of the vehicle typically plays a significant role in sales, he said, citing surveys that show more consumers would buy electric vehicles if the cars were affordably priced.

GM joined forces with Tesla and Nissan as well as several consumer and environmental groups to broaden its lobbying push even further. The EV Drive Coalition, which was launched in November, urged lawmakers in an open letter last week to put a provision in the must-pass government spending bill that does away with the 200,000-car limit.

“Eliminating the per-manufacturer cap will level the playing field for all EV manufacturers and spur innovation among domestic manufacturers, ensuring America’s leadership in the hyper-competitive, global auto market,” the coalition said.

Jeannine Ginivan, a GM spokeswoman, said the tax credit should be modified but declined to say whether the automaker backs a specific piece of legislation that would remove the cap.

“We believe an important part of reaching a zero emissions future and establishing the U.S. as the leader in electrification is to continue to provide a federal tax credit to help make electric vehicles more affordable for all customers,” Ginivan said in an email.

In addition to GM’s in-house lobbyists, four lobbyists from Hance Scarborough, the Austin, Texas-based firm that Hance founded in 1994, are working on GM’s behalf, including Hance, according to disclosure records.

GM also contracted with two other lobbying firms earlier this year to focus on electric and automated vehicle issues: the Polaris-Hutton Group and the DS2 Group. A fourth firm, the S-3 Group, was hired by GM in 2014 and earlier this year added the tax credit to its portfolio of lobbying issues.

Father who lost son in Broncos crash wants graduated licensing in truck training

A father who lost his son in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash says mandatory training in Saskatchewan for commercial semi-truck drivers is a good first step, but he wants to see more.

Russ Herold, whose son Adam died in a collision between the junior hockey team’s bus and a semi last April, told CJME in Regina that he would like to see the rules adopted nationwide.

Herold is also calling for graduated licensing with limits on mileage and on what semi-trailer combinations drivers are allowed based on how much time they’ve spent behind the wheel.

Last week, the Saskatchewan government announced that, starting in March, drivers will have to take mandatory training of just over 120 hours for a Class 1 commercial licence.

Farmers driving for agricultural purposes will be exempt from the new rules, but will need to stay within the provincial boundary.

Herold, a farmer himself, doesn’t think there should be exemptions for anyone.

“There is no such thing as a border when you’re a truck driver nowadays,” he said. “Everybody sees that there’s lots of trucks. Truck traffic is just the way goods move these days and we need to ensure the roads are safe.”

He suggested experience has to be key in training.

“Experience behind the wheel is what’s going to make people better drivers. You’re not going on a thousand-mile trip your first trip out,” Herold said.

“We all share the road and an accident could happen in 50 miles as easy as it can in 500 miles.”

Sixteen people were killed and 13 players were injured as a result of the crash at a rural intersection in April as the Broncos were heading to a junior hockey playoff game.

The truck driver, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, is charged with numerous counts of dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Joe Hargrave, minister responsible for Saskatchewan Government Insurance, has called mandatory training overdue and said the government had been considering the measure even before the Broncos crash.

Herold said he gets frustrated to hear that from a government that has been in power for years.

“If people talk like that, obviously they know there was a concern. There was possibly a problem,” he said. “Why weren’t things done sooner? Why did it take a tragedy like this to bring it to the forefront?”

ICBC launches telematics pilot for new drivers

ICBC launches telematics pilot for new drivers

ICBC is taking the next step forward into telematics research with a new pilot—this time inviting as many as 7,000 drivers with less than five years of experience to see how telematics technology can improve their driving and make B.C. roads safer.

ICBC’s rates are under considerable pressure, in part from a significant increase in crashes. In fact, in B.C., new drivers are 5.6 times more at risk of getting into a crash and for that crash to be severe, than those with 20 years of driving experience*. This risk gradually decreases as new drivers gain more experience. Starting September 2019, inexperienced drivers will be paying more to better reflect this risk as part of the recent changes to rate fairness. This pilot is an opportunity to assess if telematics can measurably improve driver behaviour and help offset that impact in the future by decreasing this demographic’s risk of being in a crash.

Results from the first telematics pilot earlier this year that focused on the technology’s usability found that over 40 per cent of participants saw improvements in their driving by using the technology, and nearly three-quarters recommended that ICBC explore its use further—particularly for inexperienced drivers.

Now ICBC will look at telematics solutions that involve a small in-vehicle device that communicates with an app installed on the driver’s cellphone. For each trip, driving behaviours like speeding, braking patterns and level of distracted driving are recorded and an overall score is produced. The results from the pilot will help inform whether a longer-term telematics program should be implemented for more ICBC customers.

“From our first telematics pilot earlier this year, ICBC has developed a telematics strategy to identify how the technology can be used to improve road safety and drive behavioural change among higher-risk drivers in B.C.,” said Nicolas Jimenez, ICBC’s president and CEO. “We heard from those pilot participants that most believed the use of telematics would make the roads safer for everyone. This is our next step in a thoughtful examination of telematics technology and how it might help to keep these drivers safer.”

In early 2019, ICBC will confirm a vendor that will provide the technology for the pilot through a Negotiated Request for Proposal process, and participant sign-up will begin in the spring. The pilot will launch in the summer with incentives for drivers while collecting driver feedback and driving behaviour data for one year.

Anyone interested in participating in the pilot can sign up for updates at icbc.com/driverpilot. ICBC is looking for participants in the Novice stage of the graduated licensing program or with less than five years of experience as a fully licensed driver from all across B.C.

*New driver refers to someone with less than one year of experience as a fully licensed driver. Stats from 2018 Rate Design Application.

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