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Electric is to vehicles what digital is to business

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The launch of the second generation Nissan Leaf electric vehicle signals the auto equivalent of digitalising business, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Businesses are besieged with warnings that they will not survive if they do not become digital organisations. That means ripping out traditional structures, styles and processes of business, and preparing for a world in which information flow is at the heart of operational activity.

The same thing is about to happen in the automobile industry, but replacing the word “digital” with “electric”. One after another, governments are beginning to set target dates for reduced or even zero emissions from new vehicles. Car brands have to change, or vanish.

However, merely replacing a petrol-driven vehicle with an electric version is the business equivalent of making digital versions of company documents and little more. By not adapting the way the business operates, this “digitisation” creates greater inefficiency by duplicating rather than replacing processes.

So it is with the electric vehicle (EV): merely putting these on the road without changing the ecosystem within which they operate, they have little impact on the environment, or on lifestyles. For this reason, numerous EVs that have taken to the road over the past 70 years have vanished not only from the roads, but also from our memories.

Suddenly, that is changing. The success of two brands – the Tesla and the Nissan Leaf – has acted as an On button for an EV revolution.

Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf

Tesla is still primarily an American brand, with a network of charging stations focused on California but beginning to spread across the country. Nissan has it heartland in Japan, where charging stations are almost as common as petrol stations. In South Africa, only a few dozen charging stations dot the country.

Globally, however, Nissan is leading the charge. The Leaf is the world’s best-selling EV, with around 300 000 sold in six years of production. That doesn’t sound like much, given that Nissan sold 5.63-million vehicles in total last year. However, it is becoming clear that the first generation Leaf was as much a proof of concept as a pioneering vehicle.

It’s by no means the first EV in production. That legacy belongs to the 1947 Tama, built in a post-war era when oil was scarce and electricity plentiful in Japan. With a top speed of 35km/h and a range of 96km, it was used mainly as a taxi for the next three years. The 1950 Korean war brought with it an oil boom, and electric vehicles became little more than a fanciful notion. Tama’s manufacturer, Tokyo Electro Automobile, became Prince Motors, and then merged with Nissan in 1966.

It was only in the 1990s that the conceot became viable again, when Nissan and Sony jointly developed the first Lithium-ion battery that could be used in a car. In 1997, it debuted in the Prairie Joy EV, which is famed for having been used for Japan’s Arctic Envoronment Research Centre at the North Pole for six years without a mechanical hitch.

An advanced version of that battery was built into the 2000 Hypermini, used for the world’s first vehicle-sharing trials in Yokohama and Ebina. The trials proved the utility of electric vehicles in urban areas, and persuaded Nissan to proceed with development of the Leaf.

Last week, the second generation Leaf was unveiled in Tokyo, highlighting both the evolution of EVs and of the thinking behind their role in urban environment.

Nissan Leaf charging

Nissan Leaf charging

The specs are, of course, the key selling point of the vehicle, and no spec is more important, at this stage in EV history, than range.  The limited range of many EVs has even resulted in a new phrase – “range anxiety” – to describe the stress people feel when they think their vehicle will run out of power before they reach a charging station.

That term may soon be considered quaint. Nissan has more than doubled the range of the Leaf, to 400km from less than 200km. This has required a more dense battery, which takes a little longer to charge than the previous version: 14 hours when plugged into a normal power outlet at home or work, compared to 12 hours before, and 40 minutes at a fast-charge station, compared to 30 minutes before. The trade-off for longer range will be welcomed.

At last week’s world premiere of the new Leaf, however, such improvements had equal billing to Nissans EV philosophy. Its thinking is framed in the concept of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, which rests on three pillars: Intelligent Power, Intelligent Driving and Intelligent Integration.

Daniele Schillaci, executive vice president for global marketing and sales at Nissan, summed up the pillars at the premiere:

“The first pillar is Nissan Intelligent Driving, which gives our customers more confidence through safety, control and comfort. This includes our development of autonomous drive technologies and advanced driving systems.

“The second pillar is Nissan Intelligent Power, which makes the drive more exciting but also cleaner and more efficient. This includes zero-emission and electrification technologies.

“The third pillar is Nissan Intelligent Integration, which connects our vehicles to our wider society.”

The Leaf’s autonomous technology, ProPILOT, is likely to capture headlines for bringing the self-driving vehicle closer to reality.

ProPILOT Assist technology, will be available to customers later this year. ProPILOT Assist reduces the hassle of stop-and-go driving by helping control acceleration, braking and steering during single-lane highway driving.

ProPILOT Assist technology, will be available to customers later this year. ProPILOT Assist reduces the hassle of stop-and-go driving by helping control acceleration, braking and steering during single-lane highway driving.

“Once activated, ProPILOT can  automatically control the steering, acceleration, and brakes using a speed preset by the driver,” said Hideyuki Sakamoto, executive vice president for product engineering. “It is a single-lane autonomous driving technology that you can use on highways.

“The ProPILOT park controls every operation required for parking including acceleration, braking, shifting, turning the steering wheel and applying the parking brake.

“The combination of the world’s first four omnidirectional cameras and 12 ultrasonic sensors enables you to park precisely wherever you wish in just three steps, at a press of your finger.”

However, it is Intelligent Integration which truly sets the Leaf apart from its growing roster of competitors.

N1216_LEAF_infographic2000px

It incorporates vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-home systems that allow the car to feed power back into the electricity grid, or to keep a home’s lights and appliances on during a power outage. In Nissan’s hometown of Yokohama, near Tokyo, it is being integrated into city planning.

The future potential is for smart buildings, smart homes and smart cars not only to talk to each other, but also to coordinate resources between them, automatically. Because it extends beyond the car and can have a massive impact on the urban environment at large, intelligent mobility may well represent an even bigger lifestyle shift than self-driving cars. The EV represents the beginning of that shift.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

2017 Nissan LEAF specifications (Japan model)

Specifications for other regions will be announced at the start of sales.

Exterior 
Overall length (mm) 4,480
Overall width (mm) 1,790
Overall height (mm) 1,540
Wheelbase (mm) 2,700
Track width front/rear (mm) 1,530-1,540/1,545-1,555
Minimum ground clearance (mm) 150
Coefficient of drag (Cd) 0.28
Tires 205/55R16 or 215/50R17
Cargo area (VDA) 435 L
Weight/capacity (kg)
Curb weight 1,490-1,520
Capacity 5 passenger
Gross vehicle weight 1,765-1,795
Battery
Type Li-ion battery
Capacity 40 kWh
Electric motor
Name EM57
Maximum output 110 kW (150 ps)/3283~9795 rpm
Maximum torque 320 N・m (32.6 kgf・m)/0~3283 rpm
Performance
Cruising range 400 km (JC08)
Charging time (normal charging) 16 hours (3 kW)
8 hours (6 kW)
Charging time from alert to 80% (quick charging) 40 minutes

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read about Netflix’s international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement,” he adds. “To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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