Friday, February 3, 2017

Qantas Opens Maintenance Facility at Los Angeles Airport

Qantas debuted its new engineering facility at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, which is designed to accommodate the Airbus A380 aircraft.

The $30-million hangar—one of the largest in North America—has two aircraft parking pads, a spare parts facility, “mega doors” made of translucent material to let light in, sky lights in the roof, electric vehicle charging stations, and aircraft access docking.

Qantas, an airline based in Australia, is going to use the facility to do maintenance checks on its A380 and Boeing 747 aircraft during ground time in Los Angeles.

“We can have up to four aircraft on the ground at LAX at once and some are here for around 14 hours, so it makes sense to have a facility where we can make good use of that time by doing scheduled maintenance,” Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said in a statement. “Australia will always be where we do the majority of our maintenance, and we’ve invested heavily in our onshore facilities in recent years, but LAX is our next biggest transit point so we’re pleased to now have a facility that reflects that.”

Qantas plans to use the facility to maintain its new B787-9 Dreamliner as well, when it enters service in late 2017, according to the airline.
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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Apple shatters records with blockbuster Q1 2017 earnings

Apple sold more iPhone units than ever before last quarter, a spasm of sales that finally returned the company to growth, as revealed today in Cupertino’s first earnings report of 2017.

With total revenues of $78.4 billion bringing in a profit of $17.9 billion, Apple CEO Tim Cook said he is “thrilled” with the results. Wall Street is happy, too: AAPL shares are trading up significantly in after-hours trading.

“We’re thrilled to report that our holiday quarter results generated Apple’s highest quarterly revenue ever, and broke multiple records along the way. We sold more iPhones than ever before and set all-time revenue records for iPhone, Services, Mac and Apple Watch,” said Cook in a press release. “Revenue from Services grew strongly over last year, led by record customer activity on the App Store, and we are very excited about the products in our pipeline.”

Apple growth is back
Looking at the numbers, it’s not hard to see why Cook is so stoked after four straight quarters of declines. Apple only expected to sell between 76 million and 78 million iPhones in the quarter, but it managed to move 78.3 million.

That’s a significant jump over the 74.8 million iPhones sold in Q1 2016 and the 74.5 million sold in Q1 2015. Revenue was expected to be below $78 billion, too, so Apple just scored a yuuuuge beat for the Street.

Other products also did fairly well. The Mac line sold 5.4 million units, thanks to the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar that was the most pre-ordered MacBook ever.

The iPad lineup sold 13.1 million units, down 19 percent from the year-ago quarter. Apple’s earnings per share came in at $3.36, which was also above Wall Street’s expectations. During the quarter, Apple set all-time revenue records for iPhone, Services, Mac and Apple Watch.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, 2017 Autoblog Tech of the Year Finalist

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class has a duality to it, which is one of the reasons we were drawn to it for the Tech of the Year competition. On one hand, it's a great conventional automobile – it has great lines, with better proportions than the bigger S-Class, and an exceptionally upscale interior with (optional) large dual 12.3-inch TFT screens that pack a visual punch. It's also smooth and capable, with powerful engine options and a buttery-smooth nine-speed automatic. On the other hand, it is one of the most technologically advanced autos on the road today, with an impressively long list of safety and convenience technology features – especially the semi-autonomous functionality called Drive Pilot.

Drive Pilot allows for the E-Class to safely follow a car in front of it at up to 130 miles per hour, and to safely stay within its lane. Even when traffic markings are obscured, it can follow the vehicle in front of it at up to 80 mph. It'll also change lanes with a two-second hold of the turn signal stalk. We'd driven the E-Class several times before the TOTY competition, and we know this system works almost seamlessly in practice. Our experience with this system on our first drive of the car, and the even more autonomous future it provides a glimpse of, is a major reason why we evaluated it in this competition.

In a more granular sense, Drive Pilot consists of several subsystems that work together to allow the E-Class to drive for long distances largely on its own. A system called Distance Pilot Distronic utilizes the radar sensors in the font bumper, which will read both the distance of the car ahead and also detect if a driver is cutting you off. If the E-Class is cut off, Distance Pilot Distronic can automatically apply the brakes at up to 50 percent of maximum power, bringing the car to a complete stop if necessary. If the system decides more intervention is needed, it'll give visual and acoustic warnings to ask the driver for sufficient braking input. If the car comes to a stop, a touch of the accelerator will resume the following feature. The various Dynamic Select drive modes affect the behavior of the system; Sport will provide more aggressive acceleration up to the set speed after an automated lane change than the Comfort setting, for example.

Steering Pilot utilizes a pair of cameras that provide a stereo view of the road ahead to determine lane markings. The system can apply torque to the wheels through the electrically assisted steering rack, for both partially autonomous driving and to assist the functions of the Active Lane Change Assist system, which also uses the radar system to check the adjacent lanes for other vehicles. Cross a line you shouldn't, and the system will provide both haptic feedback and steering intervention. Of course, you can't leave the steering wheel (or the steering wheel controls) unattended for too long before it warns you to return your hands to the wheel. Neglect the warnings and the E Class will slowly, almost gracefully come to a complete stop, as you can see demonstrated in the video above.

In practice, we've found a few limitations of the Drive Pilot system. There are some roads that are too curved for the system to handle properly, so it'll prompt for driver intervention in those cases. You can't sit back and play Sudoku; these systems are supplemental to the driver, rather than replacing him or her. Even so, it's one of the best systems we've used in practice, and that made it a must-have for our TOTY evaluations.

At this point, the Drive Pilot suite of systems is bundled exclusively with the Premium 3 package, an $11,250 option – roughly 17 percent of the total cost of a car so equipped. Whether the cost of Drive Pilot is worth the admittedly impressive functionality will be up to the buyer, but it's worth noting that it's currently not available as a stand-alone feature. With no other options selected, an E300 with the Premium 3 package retails for $65,250.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2017 BMW 5-Series Gets Major Updates

The BMW 5-Series is considered one of the best sports sedans for quite some time and it does not appear like this is going to change any time soon. The 2017 BMW 5-Series has just received major updates that make it better than any of its previous models. Here are the updates in the 2017 BMW 5-Series.

2017 BMW 5-Series: Losing The Extra Weight
According to report, the previous BMW 5-Series felt somewhat heavy for many consumers. Now, the 2017 BMW 5-Series has been made lighter as it shed 137 pounds of weight. Given the fact that lighter cars are usually faster cars, the 2017 BMW 5-Series is expected to be even faster than the previous version.

2017 BMW 5-Series: The Powertrain
Reports state that the 2017 BMW 5-Series starts with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 248 horsepower for the 530i. The 540i will be powered by a 3.0-liter straight-six engine that delivers 355 horsepower and the M550i xDrive will draw 456 horsepower from a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 engine that allows it to go from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than four seconds as reported.

2017 BMW 5-Series: Technology Updates
Apparently, the biggest changes in the 2017 BMW 5-Series are found in the technology aspect. It was reported that the 2017 BMW 5-Series now features the latest generation head-up display along with optional gesture control and remote 3D viewing. The latter allows the driver to have a bird's eye view of the surroundings of the 2017 BMW 5-Series as reported. In addition, the 2017 BMW 5-Series' touchpad controller paired with a 10.25-inch screen has also been updated along with added advanced driver assistance systems as reported.

2017 BMW 5-Series: Price And Availability
Reports state that the 2017 BMW 5-Series will have a starting price of $51,200. It was also mentioned that the 2017 BMW 5-Series are expected to be delivered to dealerships next month. With that being said, interested buyers will simply have to wait for its arrival.

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

United Airlines Can't Get Rid of the Boeing 747 Fast Enough

United Airlines has been flying one version or another of Boeing's iconic jumbo jet since 1970. However, United's management recently decided to accelerate the retirement of the carrier's remaining 747s for the second time in less than a year. As a result, the last 747 will depart United's fleet by the end of 2017.

Less than two years ago, United Continental planned to keep most of its roughly two dozen Boeing 747s until at least 2020. That made sense insofar as many of United's 747s were delivered in the late 1990s and the typical lifespan of a commercial jet is 25 years.

However, the Boeing 747-400 uses far more fuel than modern aircraft. To make matters worse, United's 747s haven't been very reliable in the past few years.

Furthermore, United's 747s don't have the same kind of amenities as the airline's newer aircraft types. As a result, United Airlines would need to invest heavily to refurbish these planes if it wanted to keep them in its fleet for several more years.

Instead, the company has concluded that it makes more sense to retire its Boeing 747 fleet as soon as possible. Last year, United decided to retire all of its 747s by the end of 2018. It accelerated that timeline this week. In a blog post, company president Scott Kirby announced that United will retire all of its 20 remaining 747s by year-end.

Cost efficiency, reliability, and customer experience all played a part in United's recent decision to accelerate the retirement of the 747s. However, this decision also indicates that United is backing away from growth for the time being.

For the past few years, United Airlines has been steadily expanding its international route network. In 2016 alone, it started new routes from its San Francisco hub to Auckland, New Zealand; Hangzhou, China; Singapore; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Xi'an, China. United has used most of its Dreamliner deliveries to start these and other new long-haul routes.

United Airlines has used its Dreamliners to launch numerous new routes. Image source: The Motley Fool.

However, overcapacity is rampant today on routes from the U.S. to Europe and Asia. Indeed, in 2016's third quarter, unit revenue fell 4.1% year over year on United's transpacific routes and plunged a ghastly 10.7% on transatlantic routes. With oil prices starting to rebound, United needs to get unit revenue rising again in these regions before trying to grow further.

United's expansion will likely pause in 2017 with the early retirement of the 747s. The company will add 14 Boeing 777-300ERs to its fleet this year (including two delivered in late 2016) as a direct replacement for its 747s. During 2017, United will also receive the last five 787-9s it has on order. These planes could be substituted for 747s on routes where United wants to cut capacity.

The early retirement of United's Boeing 747s could also have implications for domestic capacity. When United first ordered the 777-300ERs, its plan was to use them to replace smaller 777-200s on certain popular international routes while redeploying the 777-200s for domestic service.

Right now, there aren't many international routes for which it makes sense to add capacity. That's freeing up the 777-300ERs to replace United's departing 747s. This in turn means that some of the 777-200s will remain in the international network for the next year or two, which will hold down domestic capacity growth.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

GM's Chevrolet Bolt electric car wins North American Car of the Year

General Motors picked up the crown jewel in the trifecta of trophies Monday for its new long-range electric car, the Chevrolet Bolt.

The Bolt was named North American Car of the Year, beating two conventionally powered luxury sedans, the Genesis G90 and the Volvo S90, in an announcement delivered at the North American International Auto Show.

Several dozen auto journalists who regularly test-drive vehicles vote on the annual awards.

The Chrysler Pacifica minivan was named North American Utility of the Year, the first time the award has been distributed. The Pacifica has been hailed for shedding the traditionally stodgy image of minivans by embracing technology, sleek design and an alternative powertrain.

The Honda Ridgeline pickup was named North American Truck of the Year.

Bolt is the first U.S.-made, mass-market, fully-electric car, beating Tesla Motors' Model 3 to production. The vehicle has a range-per-charge of 238 miles, double most electric cars on the market except those from luxury automaker Tesla. Yet the Bolt, in many cases, is about half the price of Tesla's Model S or X. It just went on sale with a starting price of $37,495 before federal tax credits kick in.

The Bolt was previously named Motor Trend Car of the Year and at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Green Car of the Year. It is not to be confused with the Chevrolet Volt, a pioneering plug-in car with a backup gas engine. Bolt is a pure electric and has no gas engine.

Chevy has been unabashed about trying to get out the message that it's first with a mainstream-priced fully-electric long range car.

“There’s been a lot of talk about building an affordable electric car with a 200-mile range that brings electric vehicles to the mainstream, but only one manufacturer has done that, and it’s us,” Chevrolet marketing manager Steve Majoros said when Bolt won the Green Car award, given for environmentally friendly cars, in November.

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Disappointing iPhone Performance Forces Apple Into Drastic Action

Apple is cutting production of the iPhone by around ten percent in the first quarter of 2017, believes Nikkei Asian Review. Using data from analysts and examining supply chain orders, the daily Japanese publication believes slower than expected sales of Apple's latest smartphone will lead to a reduction of output during the next three months.

This isn't the first time that Apple has scaled back production on its flagship handsets. Last year saw the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus production scaled back in the first quarter of the year due to an abundance of units in the supply chain from over-estimated Q4 sales.

At that point the popularity of the iPhone SE was also in question so it made sense to keep the supply chain as lean as possible so any impressive SE sales would not result in stock lying around unsold - Apple continues to bias towards 'just in time' manufacturing to reduce the slack between manufacturing and selling a handset.

Apple also cut back on the production numbers of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus for the initial availability of the new handsets. In part this would be down to supply limitations for the dual-lens camera components for the iPhone 7 Plus, but demand for the iPhone 7 was sluggish at best.

While the sales of the new handsets remain strong, they are not as strong as in previous years. As smartphones iterate themselves closer to a standard feature set, as the hardware gains that can be made each year become less of a technological jump over previous handsets and as some changes look to be more in favour of a manufacturers bottom line compared to user accessibility (see the courageous dropping of the 3.5mm headphone jack not he iPhone 7), consumer momentum to keep upgrading to the new handset lessens.

Apple can still command the sort of sales that other smartphone manufacturers would adore. But Nikkei's analysis of the production lines suggest that the slowdown in iPhone sales that became evident last year is continuing. With iPhone sales continuing to be the financial engine that allows Apple to explore and innovate in other areas, any drop in iPhone sales will be keenly felt throughout all of Cupertino.

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