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January 03, 2020

Happy New Year! Welcome back! Please share this newsletter and tell your friends they can subscribe here. If you have tips or feedback, just hit reply or send an email to [email protected].

I'm headed to CES next week. If you're in Las Vegas, too, please come to the panel I'm moderating on autonomous public transportation Thursday morning at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Today's newsletter is 1,409 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Ride-sharing of the future

Illustration of tire split like a pie, with hands reaching to grab slices

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Auto companies, counterintuitively, are trying to get people to give up their cars — by making shared transportation more appealing with vehicles that recognize you, anticipate your needs and customize your ride.

Why it matters: Ride-hailing apps are making urban congestion steadily worse. In San Francisco, people spent 62% more time sitting in traffic in 2016 than in 2010. Uber and Lyft admitted they're part of the problem.

Driving the news: Next week at CES, the world's largest tech show, carmakers and other suppliers will offer the most advanced look yet at their plans for ride-sharing of the future.

  • Continental, a big auto tech supplier, will showcase technology that builds trust by updating passengers on their ride status while providing tailored messages and information on points of interest, upcoming events or connecting transportation.
  • Valeo will demonstrate acoustic technology that uses active noise cancellation to create a personalized media and communication zone so passengers can select who in a shared vehicle can hear them speak, and when.

What they're saying: "We need to move beyond the car," argued Cruise CEO Dan Ammann in a recent blog post, a remarkable statement for a former president of General Motors, one of the world's largest carmakers.

  • Cruise, he wrote, plans to reduce congestion by making shared rides "more compelling by providing an awesome experience at a radically lower cost."
  • "If our roadways are not getting any bigger, we need to use them more effectively, which means shifting some people into higher-volume forms of transit," May Mobility CEO Alisyn Malek tells Axios.
  • "We don't pretend that self-driving cars as a technology platform can solve the larger-scale issues around congestion and efficiency," Argo AI CEO Bryan Salesky said in an interview. But, he said, shared AVs can help by plugging gaps in existing transportation systems.

Yes, but: Convincing more people to use shared transportation is a hard sell, as Ford learned with its defunct Chariot private shuttle bus service.

  • Mass transit accounts for just 1% of all U.S. passenger miles traveled, and just 2% of total trips, according to the University of California-Davis.

The bottom line: With the right combination of incentives — something more than a comfortable seat and a robust internet connection — people might be persuaded to leave their cars at home.

  • The most important carrot could be convenience: In New York, bus ridership soared after a car ban on 14th Street cleared the way for buses, shortening travel time by 30%.

What to watch: Cruise says more details are coming at an event later this month. My guess is the company will take the wraps off an AV it's been developing with Honda specifically for ride-sharing.

2. Wanted: Fugitive CEO

Image of former Nissan and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn

Carlos Ghosn was under house arrest in Japan before fleeing to Lebanon last weekend. Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images

When Carlos Ghosn simultaneously ran both Nissan and Renault, he skipped freely across the globe, racking up 150,000 flying miles a year.

  • But he probably never made a trip like the one he took the night before New Year's Eve.

Catch up fast: The former CEO of Nissan and Renault somehow eluded 24-hour surveillance in Japan, where he is facing trial on financial misconduct charges, and turned up in Lebanon, saying he had escaped the "rigged Japanese justice system."

  • "I have not fled justice. I have escaped injustice and political persecution," Ghosn said in a statement.

Everything about this story is incredible, but perhaps no detail more intriguing than his alleged getaway vehicle: a large musical instrument case.

  • Citing TV news reports in Lebanon, the New York Post reported that a group of mercenaries posing as musicians entered Ghosn's Tokyo home, purportedly for a holiday concert, and then later departed with the five-foot-six-inch Ghosn hiding inside a box, perhaps a six-foot-tall double-base case.
  • Worthy of a movie scene, those reports haven't been corroborated by Axios or other media, and the circumstances of his arrival in Lebanon remain shrouded in mystery.
  • Investigations are underway in Japan and Turkey, where the private plane he took from Tokyo stopped before he arrived in Beirut.
  • Seven airport staff and pilots were being questioned in Istanbul, per the FT, and Interpol issued a red notice — a Wanted poster, essentially — seeking Ghosn's arrest in Lebanon.

Ghosn's escape followed months of planning by associates, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

  • But Ghosn, countering rumors, insisted his wife, Carole, was not involved.
  • "I alone organized my departure," the 65-year-old said. "My family had no role whatsoever."

What to watch: Ghosn, who maintains his innocence, is planning a news conference for Wednesday. He's unlikely to reveal details behind his escape, but he will most certainly unleash pent-up anger against Japanese prosecutors and his corporate rivals at Nissan and Renault. Talk about must-see TV.

3. New Year's resolutions for self-driving cars

A sedan with thinking dots

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In honor of the New Year and for the sake of safety, let's make some resolutions for how we communicate about assisted-driving technology and self-driving cars.

1. Don't call something self-driving if human supervision is required.

2. Don't refer to driver-assistance technology as partially self-driving.

3. Avoid gimmicky names for advanced safety systems; instead use clear language to describe what these features do.

Why it matters: Cars are more advanced than ever, with many potentially life-saving technologies like automatic emergency braking systems. But people need to know what they're buying and they need to understand the limits of these technologies, too.

  • AAA research shows that consumers may encounter as many as 20 names for a single driver-assistance feature, which can cause confusion.

My New Year's resolutions will be easy to keep if we follow the recommendations of four organizations — Consumer Reports, AAA, the National Safety Council and J.D. Power — which developed standardized names for 19 different advanced safety systems.

  • "It's important that we all start calling them the same thing," says Kelly Funkhouser, head of connected and automated vehicles at Consumer Reports.
  • "It will help automakers advertise their features, dealerships communicate to consumers, and for drivers to have a cohesive understanding of each feature."

In plain English: The standard names and descriptions are simple, specific and based on their function. For example, each of these is a little different:

  • Blind spot warning: Detects vehicles to the rear in adjacent lanes while in motion and alerts the driver to their presence.
  • Lane departure warning: Monitors vehicle position within driving lane and alerts driver as the vehicle approaches or crosses lane markers.
  • Lane keeping assistance: Assists with steering to maintain vehicle within driving lane.

Read the full list here.

4. Driving the conversation

Contradiction: EPA advisers chide Trump's plan to ease auto emissions rules (Ryan Beene — Bloomberg)

  • Why it matters: The agency's Scientific Advisory Board says Obama's stricter fuel economy rules may have better outcomes than Trump's plan to replace them. It's the latest scientific pushback to the Trump administration's fuel efficiency requirements of a roughly 37-mile-per-gallon fleet average after 2020, instead of rising to closer to 50 mpg by 2025.

Uphill climb: Starsky Robotics seeks potential buyers as autonomous startup struggles to raise funds (Clarissa Hawes — Freight Waves)

  • Why it matters: Starsky wants to turn truck driving into a desk job by combining highway automation with teleoperation around distribution centers. But its $21.7 million in equity pales in comparison to Embark, which has raised $117 million, and TuSimple, which has raised $298 million.

Send money fast: NIO's new SUV can't save the company from its current problems (Sean O'Kane —The Verge)

  • Why it matters: The Chinese EV company is another startup in trouble. Ending the third quarter of 2018 with just $274 million in cash, NIO told shareholders it doesn't have enough working capital to keep operating for the next 12 months. It's working to raise money quickly.

5. What I'm driving

Image of white BMW X5 M50i sport utility vehicle

BMW X5 M50i. Photo courtesy of BMW

Over the holiday break, we drove the 2020 BMW X5 M50i to Michigan's snowy Upper Peninsula for a brief family getaway.

The big picture: The M50i is a souped-up version of BMW's midsize luxury SUV, delivering a faster, sportier ride than the standard X5.

  • Its 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 delivers 523 horsepower, and dashes from 0 to 60 in just 4.1 seconds.
  • Unfortunately for us, we encountered heavy fog and a driving rain on the trip, so testing that claim seemed unwise.

With BMW's iDrive cockpit infotainment system, you can control features with the large iDrive controller knob mounted on the center console, or through the large touchscreen center display, cloud-based voice controls or simple hand gestures.

  • While BMW's hand gesture controls are novel, I think it's easier just to reach for a knob to turn up the volume.

Driver assistance: The M50i comes with a full list of assisted-driving features, all with fancy names under BMW's "Driving Assistance Professional" package.

  • But I'm trying to stick to my New Year's resolution, so I'll describe the nuances between a few.
  • Extended Traffic Jam Assistance helps with vehicle acceleration, braking and steering in slow-moving highway traffic.
  • Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go will brake and accelerate to maintain a prescribed distance behind a vehicle in front, even if it comes to a complete stop.

The bottom line: The BMW X5 M50i starts at $83,145, which is what you'd expect for a high-performance luxury SUV.