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Buying a car now? 5 tips for December

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The famous Mariah Carey song – “All I Want For Christmas Is You” – is hitting the airwaves, as it always does at this time of the year. But what if all you want for Christmas is a car? Here are the five most important things that you need to know when shopping for wheels over the festive season:

  1. Buy on auction right now

According to Darryl Jacobson, managing director of True Price, auction houses close mid-December. “Dealers attend vehicle auctions to source stock. However these auctions are not closed to the public. Members of the public are welcome to bid against the dealers, thereby saving the dealer margin. But, if you want to do this and grab a great deal, don’t delay,” he points out.

  1. Avoid shopping for student or entry-level cars

If you’re looking to buy an inexpensive (sub-R150 000) car, don’t shop now. “This is probably the worst time of the year to be shopping for one of these cars. The market is flooded with buyers – especially parents who are buying a car for their children, who are about to enter university. Thanks to this demand, you will pay top dollar,” Jacobson warns.

January is a better time to buy one of these cars, as Johan Olivier, head of marketing and sales at Auction Finance (True Price’s financing arm), reveals. “We attend all the vehicle auctions and January is traditionally the quietest month. Sellers will be hungry to make a sale, meaning you will get a better deal,” he says.

  1. Go for an expensive car

December is the very best time to buy a more expensive car. “The dealers will be looking to liquidate their stock before year-end. The last thing that they want is a high-end car sitting on their showroom floor,” explains Jacobson.

In November 2018, the new car market in South Africa registered a decline of 1 764 cars (or 5.4%) versus the 32 818 new cars sold in November last year. “The dealers will be looking to bounce back in December. There are typically lots of specials on high-end new cars at this time of the year and, given a November market that was off the boil, this will be even more so the case this year. This means that used car dealers have to offer really great deals – otherwise they will lose out to their new car colleagues.”

  1. Buy a “fixer-upper”

Are you willing to buy a car that needs to be repaired? December is a great time to buy a “fixer-upper”. “This is because all the panelbeaters close. Accordingly dealers will not buy these vehicles and, if they have one in stock, they will be very keen to dispose of it. They cannot fix it up in order to sell it, and they don’t want a vehicle like this one sitting on their books,” explains Jacobson.

  1. Shop on 29 December

Want that once-in-a-lifetime deal? Saturday, December 29, is the best day to shop. “This is the last trading day for most dealers, because they will close on Sunday the 30th and Monday the 31st. They will be exceptionally keen to liquidate their stock before year-end … so you’re likely to bag a bargain,” Jacobson predicts.

Before going shopping, Jacobson points out that it would be a good idea to visit trueprice.co.za and enquire about the car of your dreams. “We will provide a free and accurate indication of what you should be paying for that vehicle. Should you be trading in a vehicle, we can also provide you with a highly accurate vehicle evaluation – so you will know exactly what to ask for. Remember, when it comes to buying or selling a car, knowledge is power. Happy shopping!” he concludes.

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Project Bloodhound saved

The British project to break the world landspeed record at a site in the Northern Cape has been saved by a new backer, after it went into bankruptcy proceedings in October.

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Two weeks ago,  and two months after entering voluntary administration, the Bloodhound Programme Limited announced it was shutting down. This week it announced that its assets, including the Bloodhound Supersonic Car (SSC), had been acquired by an enthusiastic – and wealthy – supporter.

“We are absolutely delighted that on Monday 17th December, the business and assets were bought, allowing the Project to continue,” the team said in a statement.

“The acquisition was made by Yorkshire-based entrepreneur Ian Warhurst. Ian is a mechanical engineer by training, with a strong background in managing a highly successful business in the automotive engineering sector, so he will bring a lot of expertise to the Project.”

Warhurst and his family, says the team, have been enthusiastic Bloodhound supporters for many years, and this inspired his new involvement with the Project.

“I am delighted to have been able to safeguard the business and assets preventing the project breakup,” he said. “I know how important it is to inspire young people about science, technology, engineering and maths, and I want to ensure Bloodhound can continue doing that into the future.

“It’s clear how much this unique British project means to people and I have been overwhelmed by the messages of thanks I have received in the last few days.”

The record attempt was due to be made late next year at Hakskeen Pan in the Kalahari Desert, where retired pilot Andy Green planned to beat the 1228km/h land-speed record he set in the United States in 1997. The target is for Bloodhound to become the first car to reach 1000mph (1610km/h). A track 19km long and 500 metres wide has been prepared, with members of the local community hired to clear 16 000 tons of rock and stone to smooth the surface.

The team said in its announcement this week: “Although it has been a frustrating few months for Bloodhound, we are thrilled that Ian has saved Bloodhound SSC from closure for the country and the many supporters around the world who have been inspired by the Project. We now have a lot of planning to do for 2019 and beyond.”

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Motor Racing meets Machine Learning

The futuristic car technology of tomorrow is being built today in both racing cars and
toys, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The car of tomorrow, most of us imagine, is being built by the great automobile manufacturers of the world. More and more, however, we are seeing information technology companies joining the race to power the autonomous vehicle future.

Last year, chip-maker Intel paid $15.3-billion to acquire Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in computer vision for autonomous driving technology. Google’s autonomous taxi division, Waymo, has been valued at $45-billion.

Now there’s a new name to add to the roster of technology giants driving the future.

DeepRacer on the inside

Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud computing service and a subsidiary of Amazon.com,  last month unveiled a scale model autonomous racing car for developers to build new artificial intelligence applications. Almost in the same breath, at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, it showcased the work being done with machine learning in Formula 1 racing.

AWS DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale fully autonomous race car, designed to incorporate the features and behaviour of a full-sized vehicle. It boasts all-wheel drive, monster truck tires, an HD video camera, and on-board computing power. In short, everything a kid would want of a self-driving toy car.

But then, it also adds everything a developer would need to make the car autonomous in ways that, for now, can only be imagined. It uses a new form of machine learning (ML), the technology that allows computer systems to improve their functions progressively as they receive feedback from their activities. ML is at the heart of artificial intelligence (AI), and will be core to autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

AWS has taken ML a step further, with an approach called reinforcement learning. This allows for quicker development of ML models and applications, and DeepRacer is designed to allow developers to experiment with and hone their skill in this area. It is built on top of another AWS platform, called Amazon SageMaker, which enables developers and data scientists to build, train, and deploy machine learning quickly and easily.

Along with DeepRacer, AWS also announced the DeepRacer League, the world’s first global autonomous racing league, open to anyone who orders the scale model from AWS.

DeepRacer on the outside

As if to prove that DeepRacer is not just a quirky entry into the world of motor racing, AWS also showcased the work it is doing with the Formula One Group. Ross Brawn, Formula 1’s managing director of Motor Sports, joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy during the keynote address at the re:Invent conference, to demonstrate how motor racing meets machine learning.

“More than a million data points a second are transmitted between car and team during a Formula 1 race,” he said. “From this data, we can make predictions about what we expect to happen in a wheel-to-wheel situation, overtaking advantage, and pit stop advantage. ML can help us apply a proper analysis of a situation, and also bring it to fans.

“Formula 1 is a complete team contest. If you look at a video of tyre-changing in a pit stop – it takes 1.6 seconds to change four wheels and tyres – blink and you will miss it. Imagine the training that goes into it? It’s also a contest of innovative minds.”

AWS CEO Andy Jassy unveils DeepRacer

Formula 1 racing has more than 500 million global fans and generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2017. As a result, there are massive demands on performance, analysis and information. 

During a race, up to 120 sensors on each car generate up to 3GB of data and 1 500 data points – every second. It is impossible to analyse this data on the fly without an ML platform like Amazon SageMaker. It has a further advantage: the data scientists are able to incorporate 65 years of historical race data to compare performance, make predictions, and provide insights into the teams’ and drivers’ split-second decisions and strategies.

This means Formula 1 can pinpoint how a driver is performing and whether or not drivers have pushed themselves over the limit.

“By leveraging Amazon SageMaker and AWS’s machine-learning services, we are able to deliver these powerful insights and predictions to fans in real time,” said Pete Samara, director of innovation and digital technology at Formula 1.

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

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