Greetings from D.C., where I'm visiting the Axios Mothership this week. It's great to connect with colleagues and plan how we'll deliver more Smart Brevity™ about what matters in 2020! Stay tuned.
Situational awareness: NHTSA said today it will review a petition asking the agency to investigate 500,000 Tesla models over sudden unintended acceleration reports, per Reuters.
Today's newsletter is 1,553 words, a 6-minute read.
Computer image of Woven City. Photo: Courtesy of Toyota
In China and Japan, high-tech cities are being developed as living laboratories to test automated vehicles, robots and artificial intelligence.
Why it matters: The real-world incubators could help accelerate the development of infrastructure and related ecosystems needed to support self-driving cars, at a pace the U.S. potentially can't match.
Yes, but: It's a different story elsewhere in the world.
China's Xiongan New Area project, near Beijing, is part of the central government's ambitious drive to lead in new technologies like AI and 5G communication.
Woven City, near Japan's Mount Fuji, is a much smaller project — just 175 acres — that is being led not by the government, but by one of its leading industrial giants, Toyota Motor Corp.
If the U.S. were to build a similar prototype city, it would need to invest or direct billions of dollars in advanced technologies like 5G, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, electric charging infrastructure and vehicle automation in an area with a high population density.
My thought bubble: Why not San Juan, Puerto Rico?
Yes, but: Puerto Rican residents have to want to be test subjects, notes Michelle Avary, head of autonomous mobility at the World Economic Forum.
The bottom line: Chao says the federal government is "all in" on the development of safe, future transportation. But with the world racing ahead, the U.S. is going to have to think bigger.
Joby Aircraft's urban air taxi concept. Photo: Courtesy of Toyota
If you've been skeptical about flying taxis, consider this: Toyota and Hyundai, two of the biggest, most powerful automakers on the planet, seem to be taking them very seriously.
What's new: Toyota just invested $394 million as lead investor in a $590 million Series C financing round in Joby Aviation, a Santa Cruz, California-based developer of electric air taxis.
And Toyota plans to be an active investor.
Toyota's announcement comes barely a week after Hyundai made a splash at CES in Las Vegas with its own air taxi concept and a partnership with Uber to bring it to market.
The bottom line: Automakers are confronting serious challenges to their core business — congestion and climate change mean there's a limit to how many cars and trucks they can put on the road. As they experiment with new forms of future mobility, they might as well look to the skies.
Computer image of a potential hub for urban air taxis. Image: Hyundai
Speaking of Hyundai, the Korean carmaker has been making a string of bold moves in the future mobility space lately. In addition to the partnership with Uber on air taxis...
The big picture: Hyundai plans to transition to a "smart mobility solution provider" by 2025, focusing on both mobility "devices" and services.
The bottom line: Hyundai is putting big money behind its ambitions. The company plans to invest 61.1 trillion won ($52.7 billion) in R&D and future mobility by 2025.
Transportation is a top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, but the worst offenders aren't congested cities like New York and San Francisco. Instead, it's sprawling, car-dependent metros like Dallas and Houston, a new analysis finds.
Why it matters: Even dense, traffic-choked cities can offset their carbon outputs with better urban planning and other, cleaner forms of transportation, says StreetLight Data, which studied mobility behavior in 100 cities to create its new U.S. Transportation Climate Impact Index.
What they did: Using location-based data from mobile phones, StreetLight Data scored each metropolitan area, per capita, by six transportation factors to gain a fuller picture of their climate impact.
What they found: The New York metro area has the lowest climate impact.
Between the lines: Reducing transportation climate impact varies by city.
Braking: Auto parts maker Magna expects lower 2020 sales, scraps Lyft partnership (Ben Klayman and Shradha Singh — Reuters)
Joint venture: Foxconn and Fiat Chrysler partner to develop EVs and an "internet of vehicles" business (Kirsten Korosec — Techcrunch)
Outlook fuzzy: Quanergy CEO leaves after driverless tech unicorn stumbles (Joshua Brustein and Mark Bergen — Bloomberg)
2020 Ram 1500 black edition. Photo: Courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
This week I'm driving the hot-selling 2020 Ram 15oo pickup with a newly available 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 engine.
The big picture: Until electric and hybrid trucks arrive, diesel-powered versions like this are among the best bets for fuel economy .
The details: Rams start around $32,000, but my loaner is a Limited Crew Cab 4x4, which has a base price of $56,965.
Performance: It features 480 lb.-ft. of torque, and towing capability up to 12,560 lbs.
My impressions: The diesel is surprisingly smooth, and the Ram's air suspension almost makes you forget you're driving a truck.
The bottom line: I'm not a truck fan, but if I were in the market, the Ram would definitely be on my list.