Thomas Group expands into the Midlands

Following on from Thomas Auto Injections recent exciting re-brand as Thomas Group Ltd., they are pleased to announce the opening of their new Midlands office in Loughborough.

The Ashford operation (TGA) will remain as the HQ and home for their Diesel Injection reman workshops and distribution warehouse, along with the admin/telesales, e-commerce and MarComs.

Thomas Group Midland (TGM) will be a central operation focusing on procurement, additive manufacturing and their EMEA sales business.

Kevin O’Sullivan, Sales Director of Thomas Group, commented, “We operate in a changing and challenging Aftermarket. Thomas Group are looking to stay at the forefront of specialising in fuel quality, be it diesel injection, OE filtration or GDi and diesel additive manufacturing. To do this we need to expand and attract quality people and at the same time be close in partnership with customers and suppliers and also logistically – our new Midlands office will deliver this.”

The new address is: Limehurst House, Bridge Street, Loughborough LE11 1NH. Tel. 01509 631646/631645

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WAI & Marathon celebrate historic distribution agreement one year on

WAIglobal UK and Marathon are celebrating growth one year after signing an exclusive distribution agreement.

The agreement, signed at Automechanika Birmingham 2018, saw Marathon Warehouse Distribution become a same-day supplier of WAI branded products to motor factors through Marathon’s expanding distribution network.

Since last year’s event, Marathon has taken on more WAI product ranges including rotating electrics, ignition coils, wiper motors and MAF sensors. As a result, the WAI brand has experienced unprecedented growth.

Richard Welland, WAI managing director said: “With the distribution automotive aftermarket undergoing considerable change, we needed to demonstrate to our customers and the wider market that we could respond to an evolving marketplace.

“The aftermarket – motor factors and garages – has fully embraced our new partnership with Marathon, which ensures an almost instant parts supply to more than 85 percent of the UK population. The agreement has been a real catalyst for growth of the WAI brand and allowed for significant reinvestment in computer systems, cataloguing, expanded ranges and, the appointment of Steve Martin as Business Development Director.

Colin Fisher, Marathon Warehouse Distribution sales and marketing director, said: “The agreement with WAI set the blueprint on how to integrate a new brand into a growing Marathon Warehouse Distribution and we’ve been delighted at the success so far. The agreement has seen two hugely respected businesses come together and work tirelessly to ensure the distribution aftermarket benefits from unrivalled access to the widest range of parts.”

Marathon branches are strategically located to cover most key UK conurbations and offer a service to motor factors of up to 8 times a day. The expanding distribution centre network is supported by a national distribution centre situated in Redditch, West Midlands.

WAIglobal UK will occupy its largest ever presence at Automechanika Birmingham 2019, as part of the Marathon Warehouse Distribution Village on stand H120.

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Fiat merger with Renault proposed to save technology costs

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has proposed a merger with Renault, which would save €5 billion (£4.4bn) a year by sharing development costs on technology such as electric vehicles and self-driving cars.

The combined business would be 50% owned by Fiat shareholders and 50% by Renault. Combined vehicle sales would be 8.7 million units.

Renault’s Board of Directors met yesterday (Monday, May 27) to examine the proposal.

After reviewing the terms, the Board agreed to study the offer, which it said would create additional value for the Alliance.

It said: “A further communication will be issued in due course to inform the market of the results of these discussions, in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”

Shares in both companies rose strongly following the announcement.

Carmakers have faced pressure to consolidate amid major industry shifts, including towards electric vehicles.

In a statement, FCA said that the planned merger would create a “world leader in the rapidly changing automotive industry with a strong position in transforming technologies, including electrification and autonomous driving”.

Fiat said that if the firms’ 2018 financial results were totted up, the combined company’s annual revenues would be nearly €170bn (£149.6bn), with operating profit of more than €10bn (£8.8bn) and net profit of more than €8bn (£7bn).

No plant closures would be caused as a result of the tie-up, it said.

If the plan goes ahead, Nissan and the French government will own about 7.5% apiece of the new, merged company.

Renault already has an alliance with Japan’s Nissan, in which research costs and parts are shared. The companies own shares in each other, too. Renault owns 43.4% of Nissan’s shares and Nissan owns 15% of Renault.

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IAAF Leeds the way

The Independent Automotive Aftermarket Federation (IAAF) will be holding its second Industry Briefing of 2019 at Involution’s new company premises in Leeds on Thursday 20 June, where more aftermarket businesses are expected to gather and glean the latest industry insight.

The event, which is sponsored by Involution, will be kicked off by Head of Membership Development, Mike Smallbone, who will bring attendees up to speed with the latest industry developments, before they hear from some of the industry’s top guest speakers.

Invited to speak at the session will be Ben Stockton from new IAAF member Our Virtual Academy, who will be talking about upskilling vehicle technicians using video technology to enhance their knowledge and expertise. Seasoned speaker, GiPA’s Quentin Le Hetet, will also be addressing what the next 5 years might hold for the independent aftermarket, covering a host of topics such as mobility development and the changing dynamics for diesel cars.

The main thrust of Smallbone’s update will be on the Your Car Your Choice campaign, which recently launched its pilot project in Chesterfield involving participation between main suppliers, motor factors and garages from across the region. He will be giving members an update on progress, as the campaign sets to highlight further awareness of consumer rights under Block Exemption to have their car serviced or repaired at any garage or outlet without invalidating the warranty.

There will be networking and coffee available from 9.00 am, with the session promptly starting at 10.00 am before finishing at 1.00 pm with lunch. Venue details are: Involution Ltd, Park House Business Centre, Clayton Wood Close, Leeds, LS16 6QE.

A further two meetings will be held and announced throughout the year, with details of the next meeting to follow in due course.

Places are limited are being filled fast, so IAAF is advising members to book quickly to avoid disappointment by emailing Ann Silvester at [email protected].

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Urgent input required from SMEs on automotive skills

The European Commission has launched a project to assess the future needs of automotive SMEs in terms of skills and Ernst & Young have been engaged to conduct a study for this project.

The first workshop to be held has raised some concerns on the approach:

  • All sectors of the automotive industry are contributing to the process, including vehicle manufacturers and parts manufacturers, to spread the message that the need for high-qualified, high-skilled workers are key for the manufacturing part of the automotive sector;
  • While the focus should be on SMEs, it appears that there is a confusion with start-ups in the “Silicon Valley” sense.

FIGIEFA has emphasised that:

  • Most automotive SMEs are actually in the aftermarket sector
  • Most automotive SMEs are not “Silicon Valley” start-ups
  • Start-ups in the manufacturing sector are often backed/supported by much larger companies
  • Aftermarket SMEs also need a well-trained, well-qualified workforce.

The European Commission and Ernst & Young have agreed that FIGIEFA has made valid points, and that the representations and needs of the aftermarket should be better taken into consideration. As the most immediate consequence, Ernst & Young has opened and extended the deadline for FIGIEFA’s member associations to participate in such an important survey which will shape the final outcome of the project. FIGIEFA has asked the IAAF to disseminate this survey amongst its members and to encourage them to take part. You will find the link to the short questionnaire below. An interim report will be presented on the 12th of June, therefore participants willing to answer the questions should do so as soon as possible in order to set Ernst & Young on the right track.

Project to assess future needs of automotive SMEs

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Ricardo report supports zero emission vision for UK heavy goods vehicle

A new Ricardo study – commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change as part of research for its ‘Net Zero’ report – outlines the costs and requirements of infrastructure to support a zero-emission heavy goods vehicle fleet in the UK by 2050.

To meet the UK Government’s proposed decarbonisation targets, heavy goods vehicles need to become net zero emission by 2050. With electric and hydrogen vehicles emerging as viable alternatives to diesel in the passenger car fleet, the most cost-effective route to decarbonising the heavy-duty vehicle sector is not straight forward. Policy makers need a full understanding of the entire eco-system that will enable net zero emission heavy goods vehicle transport to become a reality. The new study from Ricardo provides the much-needed insight into the infrastructure required to enable the shift to net zero emission transport for heavy goods vehicles.

A range of infrastructure types were considered in the study, including refuelling stations for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles; depot-based chargers and ultra-rapid charge points at strategic locations for battery electric vehicles; electric road system infrastructure – specifically overhead catenaries for battery electric or battery hybrid vehicles; and hybrid solutions combining elements of the above.

The outputs of the study have led the Committee on Climate Change to recommend the Government to make decisions on how heavy goods vehicles will be decarbonised by the second half of the 2020s, due to lead times on infrastructure and turnover of vehicle stocks. Following the results of this infrastructure study, further work is required to investigate vehicle costs and electricity network upgrade costs to formulate a full understanding of the most cost-effective route for the shift to zero emission heavy goods vehicles.

Ricardo’s approach involved the development of a complex model to assess the infrastructure costs and requirements for zero emission heavy goods vehicle deployment for several technology-focused scenarios. Ricardo was uniquely positioned to develop this model by drawing on extensive experience and expertise from across the Ricardo group, including from the energy and environment, strategic consulting, automotive engineering and commercial vehicle teams. The model also utilised prior research on alternative fuels for light-duty vehicles and engagement with industry stakeholders, including infrastructure suppliers and manufacturers, road operators, road freight trade associations and current infrastructure operators. The scenarios, developed in conjunction with the Committee on Climate Change, were constructed to assess the infrastructure requirements for a fully zero emission heavy goods vehicle fleet in the UK by 2050, or as soon as practical thereafter.

In addition to estimating the infrastructure costs for net zero emission heavy goods vehicles, the project also considered issues around build rates and other infrastructure changes needed to deliver these scenarios. Identification of these challenges will help policy makers consider the broader implications of the deployment of various types of infrastructure, facilitating well-informed decision-making.

The study highlighted that implementing infrastructure that would support zero emission heavy-duty vehicles is achievable, but consideration needs to be made for a number of key challenges including: planning, co-ordination, supply chains, resource and materials, a skilled workforce and requiring a strong government policy to enable the market to deliver.

Denis Naberezhnykh, Ricardo’s technical director for sustainable transport said, “Transitioning to zero emission heavy goods vehicles will be necessary for the UK to meet its challenging decarbonisation targets, in line with the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. Ricardo used its extensive technical and analytical capability, and ability to engage with the different industry sectors, in carrying out this complex and market-leading research. Our analysis of the infrastructure requirements and costs for the different technology options to support such transition has shown that annualised costs of infrastructure and fuel for all scenarios are lower than the diesel-baseline. This study identifies that as well as a significant environmental benefit, there is also an economic opportunity from decarbonising the heavy goods vehicle sector.”

The full Ricardo report Zero Emission HGV Infrastructure Requirements is available on the Committee on Climate Change’s website.

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Meet Digit: A smart little robot that could change the way self-driving cars make deliveries

People like online shopping. It’s easy to see why. One-click shopping and perks like two-day delivery are extremely convenient, but they are taking a toll on cities and neighbourhoods. The US Postal Service alone delivered more than 6 billion packages in 2018, or double the volume it was handling about 10 years ago.

To help address this issue, Ford is teaming up with Agility Robotics to explore a brand-new frontier in the world of autonomy – and a new way of thinking about how we make deliveries. Together, they will be working toward making sure self-driving vehicles are uniquely outfitted to accomplish something that’s proven surprisingly difficult to do: Carry out that final step of getting your delivery from the car to your door.

Since self-driving vehicles can potentially move people and goods simultaneously, they hold great potential to make deliveries even more convenient and efficient. A ride-hailing trip could double as a delivery service, dropping off packages in between transporting passengers. As Ford has learned in its pilot programs, it’s not always convenient for people to leave their homes to retrieve packages or for businesses to run their own delivery services. If people’s time can be freed up to focus less on the logistics of making deliveries, they can turn their time and effort to things that really need their attention.

Enter Digit, a two-legged robot designed and built by Agility Robotics to not only approximate the look of a human, but to walk like one, too. Built out of lightweight material and capable of lifting packages that weigh up to 40 pounds, Digit can go up and down stairs, walk naturally through uneven terrain, and even react to things like being bumped without losing its balance and falling over.

As humans, we take these abilities for granted, but they become extremely important when engineering a robot to navigate the nuances of various environments. Gaining access to a customer’s door often requires walking through obstacles, including going up stairs and dealing with other challenges, which can be hard for robots with wheels to do since only about 1 percent of homes in the United States are wheelchair-accessible, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Digit has been designed to walk upright without wasting energy, so it has no issue traversing the same types of environments most people do every day.

Digit’s unique design also allows it to tightly fold itself up for easy storage in the back of a self-driving vehicle until it’s called into action. Once a self-driving car arrives at its destination, Digit can be deployed to grab a package from the vehicle and carry out the final step in the delivery process.

But Digit isn’t just capable of traversing obstacles – it has a hidden advantage. While Digit needs to function on its own, the desire to keep it lightweight and capable of dynamic movement led to an innovative idea: Letting it tap the resources of another robot – one that’s equipped with advanced sensors and heavy computing hardware – for additional support and analytical skills when needed.

A self-driving vehicle is capable of creating a detailed map of the surrounding environment, so why not share that data with Digit instead of having it recreate the same type of information? After all, both Digit and the self-driving car need to know where they are in the world, where they need to go and how to get there. When a self-driving vehicle brings Digit to its final destination, the vehicle can wirelessly deliver all the information it needs, including the best pathway to the front door. Through this data exchange, Digit can work collaboratively with a vehicle to situate itself and begin making its delivery.

Outfitted with a LiDAR and a few stereo cameras, Digit itself has just enough sensory power to navigate through basic scenarios. If it encounters an unexpected obstacle, it can send an image back to the vehicle and have the vehicle configure a solution. The car could even send that information into the cloud and request help from other systems to enable Digit to navigate, providing multiple levels of assistance that help keep the robot light and nimble. Digit’s light weight also helps ensure it has a long run time, which is essential for a self-driving delivery business that will be operating most of the day.

Whether we are working side-by-side with robots in our numerous factories around the world or living with them as they help push packages to our door, our primary goal is to ensure they are safe, reliable and capable of working alongside people in intelligent ways. Through our collaboration with Agility, we are striving to determine the best way for our self-driving vehicles to cooperate with Digit and understand how this new delivery method can be taken advantage of in the future.

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Self-driving truck trial evaluated following A14 trial

Highways England and Blackwell, the earthworks contractor, have completed work on a short trial involving an autonomous dump truck (ADT) on the A14.

The month-long project, which ended on May 1, was paid for with £150,000 from the Government’s Road Investment Strategy (RIS) innovation designation fund and took place on a section of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon.

Blackwell is currently undertaking a large proportion of the earthworks on the A14 widening and improvement scheme near Cambridge.

The ADT was used to move large amounts of earth around the clock and if rolled out would help reduce the length of time roadworks are on the ground. And by being autonomous, they reduce the risk of road workers being involved in incidents on site.

A spokesman for Highways England told Commercial Fleet: “The project brought together organisations, personnel and equipment from South Africa and USA.

“The funding was used to secure use of the equipment, people, time, freight and transport costs.”

The trial put a secure wireless local area network in place to let the self-driving truck run on WiFi. This was used in conjunction with a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS).

Automated path planning and its execution were carried out by software running on standard computer equipment. The truck was fitted with LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and radar to feed-back data to inform the self-driving software.

Cameras were also fitted to the truck for the remote operators to be able to view the area in front of the vehicle if an obstacle is detected.

It is the same technology used in the mining industry. The trucks are physically controlled by hydraulic and electronic modifications to the steering, throttle, brake, transmission and hoist systems.

The spokesman for Highways England said using automated technology means the ADTs are able to work 24 hours a day, they keep to correct speed limits and they do not need breaks (a caveat to this would be any environmental constraints around permitted working hours, noise and vibration).

Highways England said it was difficult to put a specific number on the amount of time ADTs could save verses trucks manned by an operator.

The spokesman explained: “ADTs will not move any quicker than an ADT that has an operator. However, the introduction of ADTs will increase capacity, and together with an environment that allowed extended working hours, it would therefore see the duration of activity reduced.

“There would also be a cost saving through the reduction of plant operator costs. It should be stressed once again that this is not replacing jobs, but provides much needed capacity increase for bulk earth-moving plus an opportunity to up-skill some of the existing workforce.”

Highways England said the results of the trial are currently being evaluated and reiterated that if the technology was rolled out on a wider basis, it would not mean a reduction in headcounts for those working in the industry.

The spokesman said: “The ADTs will be used to integrate with a human team and help to ensure that there is enough resource/capacity to do the work that is needed.”

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Commercial vehicle registration figures

Total new commercial vehicles
In April 2019, the EU market for commercial vehicles expanded for the fourth month in a row, boosted by gains in both the van and truck segments. 215,497 units were registered across the region, up 7.8% compared to one year ago. The EU’s five largest markets all saw strong gains, with France (+12.7%), Italy (+11.6%) and Germany (+10.1%) posting double-digit growth.

From January to April 2019, commercial vehicle registrations grew by 5.8%, counting 871,100 new vehicles in the European Union. Germany drove the growth with a 12.1% increase, followed by the United Kingdom (+8.3%), France (+6.5%), Spain (+3.8%) and Italy (+3.4%).

New light commercial vehicles (LCV) up to 3.5t
In April 2019, the van segment – making up nearly 82% of EU commercial vehicle demand – posted the strongest gains (+8.4%). Each of the five major markets recorded solid growth last month, with Italy (+15.6%), Germany (+13.2%) and France (+12.4%) showing the highest increases, followed by Spain (+7.8%) and the UK (+4.7%).

Four months into the year, registrations of new light commercial vehicles grew by 5.9% to reach 721,303 vans. Demand was sustained by the major EU markets, and Germany (+12.4%) in particular, but the Central European markets (+10.9%) also made a significant contribution.

New heavy commercial vehicles (HCV) of 16t and over
During the fourth month of the year, demand for new heavy trucks saw a robust increase (+5.6%) compared to April 2018. Growth was driven by strong gains in France (+18.4%) and the United Kingdom (+14.3%), although demand declined in Spain (-15.9%) and Italy (-12.2%).

From January to April 2019, 111,230 heavy trucks were registered in the European Union, or 4.9% more than during the same period in 2018. The UK (+18.1%) and Germany (+12.2%) led the growth, both posting double-digit increases, while the Italian (-11.4%) and Spanish markets (-5.6%) showed a drop in heavy-truck registrations.

New medium and heavy commercial vehicles (MHCV) over 3.5t
April 2019 results show that demand for new trucks went up by 5.8% last month. The performance of the five major EU markets differed greatly, with France (+17.7%), the UK (+10.3%) and Germany (+4.7%) posting solid growth, but new-truck registrations showing a significant drop in Spain (-15.0%) and Italy (-7.4%).

So far in 2019, the EU truck market expanded by 6.1% to reach 136,575 units in total. The United Kingdom (+15.7%) and Germany (+13.0%) saw the highest uplifts. By contrast, new truck registrations decreased in Spain and Italy (down 5.7% and 10.4% respectively) four months into the year.

New medium and heavy buses & coaches (MHBC) over 3.5t
In April 2019, bus and coach registrations in the EU continued the decline recorded in March, falling by 4.4%. With the exception of Spain (+23.6%), all major markets posted declines. Last month saw double-digit drops in the UK (-28.4%), Germany (-24.1%) and France (-16.7%).

Four months into the year, demand for new buses and coaches showed a slight decrease (-0.9%). The Central European markets (+23.0%) provided solid support to the bus segment, given that three of the five largest EU markets posted negative results so far this year.

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New EV fast chargers capable of boosting batteries in just 10 minutes

Tritium, an Australian company specialising in electric vehicle (EV) DC fast charging technology, has signed a new deal with IONITY to supply its Veefil-PK 350kW DC high power electric vehicle (EV) chargers for 120 new IONITY charging sites across Europe.

The contract with IONITY is Tritium’s largest-ever deal for its flagship Veefil-PKs and will see an average of four to six chargers installed per site across 23 countries in Europe, giving IONITY the largest and fastest DC high power charging network in the world.

IONITY, which is based in Munich, was founded in 2017. It is a joint venture between the BMW Group, Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company and the Volkswagen Group including Audi and Porsche.

The deal ensures that Tritium is now the largest supplier to the IONITY network; of the planned 400 sites across Europe, Tritium will supply its Veefil-PKs for at least 220 sites.

“IONITY has a vision for electric vehicle charging which mirrors ours; it’s not just about the speed of the charge but the experience for customers,” said David Finn, CEO and co-founder, Tritium. “These chargers will soon be ubiquitous along the highways of Europe and ensure that the increasing number of EV owners across the continent will be able to drive whenever and wherever they want.

“The sheer number of these chargers will all but eliminate range anxiety while enabling energy freedom and announces to the world that EVs are here to stay.”

Each Tritium high-power charger (HPC) can deliver 350kW of power for fast charging of modern EVs, which can add 350 kilometres of 220 miles of range in 10 minutes of charging. All will be equipped with the Combined Charging System (CCS) used by a wide range of vehicle manufacturers.

The 350kW units are the fastest electric car chargers available, although no EV at present on sale can handle the boost in power. Currently, the Nissan Leaf – Britain’s most popular electric car – can take 50kW from a rapid charger (e.g. those used at motorway service stations), taking it to 80 per cent in around 40 minutes. Most home chargers are rated at just 3 or 7kW.

Porsche’s upcoming Taycan is expected to be the first EV on sale capable of charging at 350kW when it arrives in early 2020, closely followed by the Audi e-tron GT and Aston Martin Rapide-E.

The fast chargers will also be able to slow down to a rate current electric cars can accept. Jaguar claims its i-Pace can charge at a rate of 100kW, for example, while the Audi e-tron can take 150kW, charging to 80 per cent in less than half an hour, and 100 per cent in around 50 minutes.

The upcoming Volkswagen ID.3 will be able to charge at a rate of up to 125kW, giving around 160 miles of range in half an hour.

Currently, EV drivers have to pay an 8 Euro session fee when they want to charge at an IONITY station.

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