Mobility

They lay strewn across sidewalks but Toyota sees e-scooters as a roadmap to vehicle safety

Toyota is working with a college in Indiana to study e-scooter interactions with vehicles.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

The Toyota Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC) is currently in the midst of a multi-year study aimed at using real-world e-scooter riding data to better understand e-scooter and vehicle interactions. Rini Sherony, a Senior Principal Engineer at CSRC, is leading the effort, which includes partnerships with universities, hospitals, research institutions, and federal agencies.

Toyota, as a company, is focused on a variety of mobility solutions from alternative fuel technology to fresh transport solutions to improving safety. Sherony sees e-scooters as a way to better understand the world of mobility in current times and use that gleaned knowledge to improve safety technology for the future.

e-scooter Toyota LIDAR Toyota is using LiDAR to capture interactions between scooters and cars on the road.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

She became interested in the possibility of studying e-scooters after visiting her daughter at the University of Michigan. "Walking around campus, I saw many students riding e-scooters without much concern for the other vehicles around them and not following any rules regarding direction or speed. Around the same time, data from many hospital ERs were also reporting an uptick of e-scooter related incidents."

The laissez faire attitude of many e-scooter operators is not news to many inside and outside the transportation community. Cities are grappling with how to regulate their use while balancing the need for alternative transportation solutions for their residents. Plus, there's the fun factor.

According to Sherony, there are currently more than 85,000 such scooters in service throughout the U.S., but in 2018, there were approximately 14,600 e-scooter accidents, up from just 4,500 four years earlier.

"I thought it would be fascinating to take a more in-depth look at how e-scooters interact with vehicles, with the thought that a deeper understanding of those interactions could help to develop safety systems in vehicles that might mitigate or avoid crashes with e-scooters," she shared.

To take that in-depth look, CSRC is partnering with the School of Engineering and Technology at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI). The collaborative effort involves collecting data from fully instrumented e-scooters and vehicles using LiDAR and front- and rearview cameras.

The study efforts may be the key to success to move the scooters move from burdensome transportation solution and recreation activity to a true mobility solution. "The ultimate goal is to use this research to potentially develop or modify advanced safety features that will help to prevent and/or mitigate crashes with e-scooters in the future," said Sherony.

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San Jose Hotel engineering manager Rocky Ontiveros, 60, wears a Texas mask on March 3, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott announced a new executive order that will end the statewide mask mandate and allow businesses to reopen at 100 percent capacity on March 10, 2021.

Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

Reporting by Automotive News indicates that despite Texas Governor Greg Abbott's executive order lifting the mask mandate statewide and allowing businesses to begin operating at 100-percent capacity again, automakers aren't changing their tune.

This executive order rescinds most of the Governor's earlier executive orders related to COVID-19. The original orders were put in place as a response to rising COVID-19 cases, and related hospitalizations and deaths, in 2020.

The new order removes state regulations and allows private businesses and individuals to decide on their mask wearing protocol and habits. There are currently mask mandates in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

There are fallbacks in place. A release from the Governor's office states, "If COVID-19 hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas get above 15% of the hospital bed capacity in that region for seven straight days, a County Judge in that region may use COVID-19 mitigation strategies. However, County Judges may not impose jail time for not following COVID-19 orders nor may any penalties be imposed for failing to wear a face mask. If restrictions are imposed at a County level, those restrictions may not include reducing capacity to less than 50% for any type of entity."

Toyota

Toyota, which has a factory in San Antonio, Texas told a reporter with Automotive News that they are looking into the move but don't anticipate any immediate changes to their mask-wearing protocol. Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, Inc. employs 2,542 people and makes the midsize Tacoma and full-size Tundra pickup trucks.

The automaker as has its North American headquarters in Plano, Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas. That facility employs around 4,400 people, most of whom have been working remotely for the better part of a year.

"The early read is – no change for us," said Scott Vazin, Group Vice President and Chief Communications Officer for Toyota Motor North America, when approached for comment by Automotive News.

Toyota assembly plants traditionally offers tours of its facility to the general public. Due to COVID-19, plant tours have been suspended at all Toyota manufacturing facilities including those in San Antonio; Jackson, Tennessee; Blue Spring, Mississippi; and Troy, Missouri.

General Motors

General Motors (GM) has a big footprint in Texas. The company employs 8,133 people in the Lone Star State and works with 297 suppliers in the state across 13 facilities. Additionally, as of 2020, there are 588 GM dealership franchises in Texas.

The company's Arlington Assembly plant is home to every new full-size SUV in GM's product lineup sold globally: the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, and the Cadillac Escalade. GM Financial is headquartered in Fort Worth and one of GM's IT Innovation Centers is located in Austin. Assembly plants get much of their power from wind energy harvested from Cactus Flats and Hidalgo wind farms.

There are GM Financial centers in San Antonio, Arlington, and Sugar Land; a customer service center in Austin; a parts distribution site in Fort Worth; GM Financial headquarters in Fort Worth; a commercial lending office and the South Central Regional Office are in Irving.

Patrick Morrissey, Director, Corporate News Relations at GM, told Automotive News, "We'll keep our COVID safety protocols in place to ensure we continue to protect our employees."

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Toyota is mobilizing, putting its money where its mouth is to help Texas affected by severe winter weather.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Winter Storm Uri impacted nearly every single one of Texas's 254 counties. North Texas-based Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) has pledged $1 million in relief for those affected by the storm. The aid is slated to serve both Toyota and Lexus customers and a variety of Texas-based non-profit organizations.

Over 60 Texas counties were part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) recent Texas Severe Winter Storms (DR-4586-TX). It is currently categorized as an active disaster.

"We take our role as community leaders seriously, so when winter storms affected millions right in our back yard, our top priority became helping Texas get back on its feet after this ordeal," said Sean Suggs, group vice president of Social Innovation, TMNA. "Texans have supported our company in myriad ways, and we want to help our neighbors emerge from this storm stronger than ever."

The $1 million relief effort includes:

North Texas/DFW Metroplex

  • United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, in support of North Texas Cares and West Dallas nonprofits to quickly distribute funds to grassroots organizations: $450,000
  • North Texas Food Bank: $100,000
  • The Family Place and Genesis Women's Shelter to fund hotel rooms, food, and transportation for their clients: $30,000
  • Toyota employees will be able to support the needs of four North Texas community partners significantly impacted by the storms by purchasing items from their Amazon Wish Lists.

San Antonio

  • SAWS Community Pipe Repair Fund, through the San Antonio Area Foundation to assist individuals and families stay in their homes safely with funds for plumbing repairs: $100,000
  • Let's Help SA Fund to provide food, water and shelter: $200,000

Houston

  • United Way of Greater Houston to support the Greater Houston 2021 Winter Storm Relief Fund that supports local home repairs: $50,000
  • Houston Food Bank: $50,000
  • CrowdSource Rescue to provide food, water and fuel: $20,000

Additionally, Toyota will match up to $10,000 in individual employee contributions to nonprofit organizations recovering from the storm.

Toyota and Lexus Financial Services customers who are looking for loan and lease payment relief, and were impacted by the storm, may be able to receive assistance under a new Toyota program that has a variety of options for clients.

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