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Telco complaints ‘turning the corner’: TIO

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While complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) were up marginally for the year, they began dropping in the final quarter including across the National Broadband Network (NBN), the 2018 annual report has revealed.

Complaints increased by 6.2 percent year on year, but dropped by 17.8 percent quarter on quarter in Q4.

“I am pleased to report that the number of complaints about telecommunications services in Australia appear to be turning the corner, with complaints trending down in the latter part of the year,” Ombudsman Judi Jones said on Wednesday.

The decrease in complaints follows government action after NBN complaints previously tripled, Jones added, pointing to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)’s speed monitoring reports and repercussions for retailers not delivering on their speed promises, with Telstra, Optus, TPG, iiNet, Internode, Dodo, iPrimus, and Commander all having been forced to compensate tens of thousands of customers.

The TIO also attributed the complaints drop to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield’s roundtable with NBN and retailers; the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)’s new migration rules; NBN’s wholesale pricing changes; and the TIO’s own complaints-handling changes.

“I have consistently said the increase in complaints to my office over the last two years has not solely been driven by the rollout of the National Broadband Network,” Jones added.

“Complaints had increased in all service types, and it is pleasing to see complaints have started to decline across the board. Our new Responsive Complaints Service (commencing on 1 July 2018) is more flexible, is designed to get to the heart of each complaint more quickly, and focuses on resolution.”

For the year to June 30, the TIO received 167,831 complaints in total, with 146,958 from consumers and 20,433 from small business.

Mobile phone services made up 51,328 complaints; multiple services accounted for 49,875 complaints; internet services caused 46,703 complaints; landline phone services 18,736 complaints; and property 1,189 complaints.

For complaint types, customer service made up the most complaints, at 40 percent overall, followed by payment for a service at 36 percent; service delivery at 31 percent; establishing a service at 20.5 percent; and property at 1 percent.

Of all complaints about service quality, 47 percent were about services being delivered over the NBN, at 27,008 complaints; and of all connection and changing provider complaints, 58 percent were about NBN services, at 14,589.

However, these both dropped during the second half of the financial year despite more premises being activated, the TIO said.

Connection or changing provider complaints numbered 8,711 in July to December 2017, or 9.2 per thousand premises added to the NBN, and numbered 5,878 or nine per thousand premises added to the NBN for January to June 2018.

Service quality complaints dropped from 14,000 or 4.1 per thousand premises on the network from July to December 2017 down to 13,008 or 3.2 per thousand premises on the network from January to June 2018.

MyRepublic saw the steepest rise in complaints, up 102 percent from last year to 1,816 complaints to the Ombudsman during FY18. It was followed by Optus including Virgin Mobile, which saw complaints jump by 35 percent to 40,665; and Telstra, up by 7.7 percent during the year for a total of 82,528 complaints.

Southern Phone experienced the biggest decrease in complaints, down 28 percent to 1,484, followed by iiNet, which was down 24 percent to 7,719; TPG, down 11 percent to 6,248; Vodafone Australia, down 8.7 percent to 9,752; M2 Commander, down 8.2 percent to 1,565; and Dodo, down 5.7 percent to 3,120 complaints to the Ombudsman during FY18.

Primus remained relatively stagnant, up 0.1 percent to 1,918 complaints for the financial year.

Across the states, New South Wales clocked the most complaints, up 5 percent from last year to 52,989 complaints; Victoria was up 9 percent to 47,620 complaints; Queensland was up 13 percent to 32,820 complaints; Western Australia was up 11 percent to 15,075 complaints; South Australia was up 1 percent to 12,667 complaints; Tasmania was up 0.7 percent to 2,986 complaints; the Australian Capital Territory was down 5.6 percent to 2,466 complaints; and the Northern Territory was down 0.1 percent to 1,042 complaints.

Overall, the TIO commenced 17,236 conciliations during the year, with 88 percent of online complaints processed the same day; 52 possible systemic issues notified to providers; and 30 systemic matters resulting in the retailer agreeing to or making changes to their systems and processes.

While acknowledging the slight improvement in Q4, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said it is “frustrated” with the TIO complaints increase.

“Although the last quarter has shown improvement, this is the third year in a row that the complaint numbers have climbed,” ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said.

“It is time to draw a line in the sand — consumers deserve better from their telco providers.”

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2022 Ford F-150 Lightning gives new electric pickup its EV name

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The all-electric Ford F-150 may still be a ways out from hitting dealership forecourts, but we now know what it’ll be called: the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning. The plug-in pickup will be unveiled officially on May 19, though Ford hasn’t been able to resist confirming the badge that the new EV will wear.

It’s not the first time that a Ford truck has borne the Lightning name, mind. Back in 1993 the automaker launched the SVT F-150 Lightning, a performance pickup intended to take on Chevrolet’s 454SS.

That, though, had a V8 under its hood, whereas the new F-150 Lightning will take a very different approach. It’ll be fully electric, with Ford promising more horsepower and torque than any other F-150 currently on sale. It’ll also have sky-high towing and payload ratings, the automaker says, and accelerate faster than even the speediest current F-150.

“Every so often, a new vehicle comes along that disrupts the status quo and changes the game … Model T, Mustang, Prius, Model 3. Now comes the F-150 Lightning,” Jim Farley, Ford President and CEO, said today. “America’s favorite vehicle for nearly half a century is going digital and fully electric. F-150 Lightning can power your home during an outage; it’s even quicker than the original F-150 Lightning performance truck; and it will constantly improve through over-the-air updates.”

This isn’t the first time Ford has opted to use a familiar name with a new, electric twist, of course. The automaker risked frustrating fans when it opted to brand the its all-electric crossover, the Mustang Mach-E, with a name more commonly associated with gas-burning two door coupes and convertibles. Even now, years after that announcement, arguments about whether the Mach-E is a “real” Mustang continue.

Meanwhile, GMC took a similar strategy with its high-profile electric SUV. It resurrected the Hummer brand – probably best known for its profligate gas engines – for the all-electric reboot, keeping the burly styling but pairing it with up to three electric motors.

Ford hasn’t said exactly what configuration it has planned for the 2022 F-150 Lightning. The expectation, however, is that there’ll be a dual-motor arrangement for the electric pickup, for all-wheel drive. Battery size and range haven’t been discussed publicly, either, though given electric truck rivals are talking 300+ miles on a charge – and Chevrolet is promising 400+ miles from its upcoming electric Silverado – it seems likely that Ford will aim for something similar.

Part of the F-150 Lightning’s charm, however, will be how functional it is when it’s standing still. Though the current F-150 can act as a generator for worksite equipment, camping, and other situations, the electric pickup will be able to do that without a gas engine running.

Ford plans to begin production of the 2022 F-150 Lightning in spring 2022, at the new Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center. Deliveries are expected in mid-2022.

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Harley-Davidson sparks LiveWire as a standalone electric motorcycle brand

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Harley-Davidson will spin out its LiveWire electric motorcycle into a standalone brand, with a whole range of EVs planned. Announced in production form back in 2018 – though dating all the way back to a 2014 concept – the original Harley-Davidson LiveWire bypassed the clutch and the familiar rumble in favor of a battery and zero emissions, though when preorders opened the following year it was with an eye-watering price tag.

0-60 mph in under 3.5 seconds and instantaneous torque – plus around 110 miles of range – would set you back about $30k, the iconic bike company conceded. The LiveWire was to be the first of a series of Harley-Davidson electric models, as it tried to expand its footprint beyond its traditional audience.

Now, it’s shaking that strategy up a little. LiveWire won’t just be a bike, but a whole brand of its own, initially focused on urban use. It’ll have dedicated showrooms in select markets – initially in California – but also support digital from the outset. Select existing dealers from the Harley-Davidson network will be involved, but you won’t necessarily be able to go into any current dealership and find LiveWire product there.

Of course, though it may be its own entity, LiveWire will get to piggy-back on a lot of Harley’s existing setup. “With a dedicated focus on EV, LiveWire plans to develop the technology of the future and to invest in the capabilities needed to lead the transformation of motorcycling,” the company said today. “LiveWire expects to benefit from Harley-Davidson’s engineering expertise, manufacturing footprint, supply chain infrastructure, and global logistics capabilities.”

Developments by, and for, LiveWire may well find there way into future Harley-Davidson models, for example. Indeed, it sounds like there’ll even be electric Harleys in the future, as LiveWire tech goes full circle to help bring its originator up to speed.

Harley-Davidson has faced challenges in recent years, as it tries to modernize and embrace things like electrification while keeping a grip on its traditional audience and branding. The company launched its “Rewire” plan for restructuring in 2020, trimming select models in some regions, and generally aiming to cut costs. Key, though, is attracting a new, younger audience of riders with Harley conceding a few years back that its appeal among millennials was lagging significantly behind.

We’d already seen the first fruits of that expansion strategy late last year. In November 2020, the company unveiled its Series 1 Cycle e-bike line-up, the first models from its new brand for electric bicycles. Come July 8, meanwhile, we’ll see the first LiveWire branded motorcycle revealed. There, the big question will be whether Harley’s hewn-off nameplate can compete with existing electric bikes on factors like range and price.

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Sleeker Pony.ai self-driving SUV hints at more road-ready autonomous cars

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Autonomous car headgear keeps getting smaller, with Pony.ai revealing its latest self-driving car design and its much sleeker, Luminar-powered scanning hub. Far from the “upturned trashcan” aesthetic many still associate with the bulky LIDAR sensors atop driverless vehicles, the new version adds less than 4-inches of height to Pony.ai’s modified Lexus SUVs.

That’s a considerable difference from the vehicles the company has been using so far. The existing SUVs have a large, roof-rack style block on top, and then a sensor turret rises from that. It’s for good reason, mind: that allows the LIDAR sensors to have a full, 360-degree field of vision around the car.

For effective volume production, though, not to mention aesthetics and practicality, the system needed to be smaller. That’s just what Pony.ai says it has achieved now, tapping Luminar’s slimline Iris LIDAR sensor along with other tech for a much reduced profile roofline. It’ll be just 10 cm high, though still deliver 360-degrees of visibility for the various sensors inside.

The new design will be used in the company’s “automotive-grade production autonomous fleets,” it says, from 2023. Currently, it operates robotaxi services in three cities in China – Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing – and two in California, Irvine and Fremont. Its fleet of 200+ vehicles have collectively provided more than 220,000 robotaxi rides, Pony.ai says, with over 3.1 million miles of driving across a total operational coverage area almost 330 square miles in size.

Luminar is gaining a higher profile in LIDAR circles, including attention from not only autonomous vehicle startups like Pony.ai but established automakers too. Volvo invested in the company back in 2018, then two years later confirmed that Luminar LIDAR would be a key component in its upcoming SPA 2 platform. Expected to go into production from 2022, it’ll be used initially not for full autonomous driving, but for advanced driver assistance.

Indeed, that’s one of the key aspects of Luminar’s tech, and LIDAR in general: exactly what can be achieved with it depends on the software, the legislative environment, and the ambitions – and risk profile – of the company using it. Volvo’s system, dubbed Highway Pilot, will be a Level 3 system designed to take over on select highways and operate without human supervision. However it’ll hand control back over to the human driver outside of that domain.

Pony.ai’s approach, in contrast, is to relegate the driver to passenger status at all times. The company has been working with backer Toyota – which most recently invested $400 million in February 2020 – and the two developed the AV pilots in China together.

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