Mercedes-Benz prices its flagship EQS electric vehicle below the S Class

The Mercedes-Benz has priced the flagship EQS electric vehicle more than $8,700 below its gas-powered S-Class counterpart, a strategic move by the German automaker aiming to ensure a successful rollout of the luxury EV in North America.

The EQS, which will arrive in U.S. dealerships in fall 2021, will start at $103,360, including the $1,050 destination charge. The federal tax credit will provide another $7,500 off of the sticker price.

Mercedes-Benz will start with two models: the EQS 450+ and the EQS 580 4MATIC, which has a higher base price of $120,160. These two variants will be offered in three trims — the top is appropriately called Pinnacle — pushing that price point as high as 126,360, including the $1,050 destination charge.

Mercedes’s decision to price the EQS below the S Class, which starts at $$112,150 (including destination charge), illustrates the stakes at play here. The S-Class has long been the company’s storied and luxurious flagship sedan. Mercedes, which earlier this year outlined a €40 billion ($47 billion) plan to become an electric-only automaker by the end of the decade, needs to either convert old S Class owners to the EQS or bring in a new slate of buyers.

The 2022 Mercedes-Benz exudes ultra-luxury, as expected. But it’s also loaded with tech, including a 56-inch hyperscreen, monster HEPA air filter and the software that intuitively learns the driver’s wants and needs. There is even a new fragrance called No.6 MOOD Linen and is described as “carried by the green note of a fig and linen.”

Mercedes is betting that the tech, coupled with performance, design and the price will attract buyers. As TechCrunch has noted before, this is a high-stakes game for Mercedes. The German automaker is banking on a successful rollout of the EQS in North America that will erase any memory of its troubled — and now nixed — launch of the EQC crossover in the United States.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #mercedes-benz, #transportation

Audi launches its newest EV, the 2022 Q4 e-tron SUV

Audi has launched the Q4 e-tron, the fifth electric vehicle in its growing portfolio, as part of the German automaker’s plan to bring more than 30 EVs and plug-in hybrids to market by 2025.

The Q4 e-tron is Audi’s entry electric SUV model and the price reflects that. The vehicle, which was first revealed as a concept at the 2019 Geneva International Motor Show, has a starting price of $44,995, including the $1,095 destination charge. It’s worth noting that the Q4 electric vehicle is about $1,000 cheaper than the gas-powered 2022 Q5 SUV.

The Q4 e-tron is more like a family of vehicles with three members. There is the Q4 50 e-tron and a Q4 Sportback 50 quattro, a variation that is all-wheel drive and powered by dual asynchronous motors. Both of these vehicles have an estimated EPA range of 241 miles.

Then there’s the Q4 40 e-tron, which is rear-wheel drive and powered by a single asynchronous electric motor. The EPA estimates for the Q4 40 e-tron has not been released.  Here’s a breakdown of some of the basic specs below.

Audi Q4 e-tron

Image Credits: Screenshot/Audi

The new Q4, as TechCrunch noted earlier this year, is packed with tech in its stout-looking package, notably the option to add an AR-enabled windshield.

The Q4 is a larger compact SUV with a short overhang and wheelbase of 9.1 feet. This makes the Q4 look compact from the outside. Inside though, there is combination there’s an interior of 6 feet in length, the kind of space found in a large full-size class SUV. The Q4 40 e-tron and Q4 50 e-tron models come standard with 19′-inch wheels equipped with all-season tires. The Sportback variant of the Q4 50 e-tron quattro receives larger standard 20-inch wheels with all-season tires, according to Audi.

Importantly, the Q4 also shares the same architecture with parent company VW’s modular electric drive toolkit chassis, or MEB platform. This flexible modular system, which was first introduced by VW in 2016, was developed to make it more efficient and cost-effective to produce a variety of EVs.

 

 

#audi, #automotive, #electric-vehicles, #tc, #transportation, #venture-capital

Uber adjusts third-quarter forecast in light of increased gross bookings

Uber said Tuesday that it could hit one measure of profitability in the third quarter, earlier than expected as the ride-hailing company saw gains in its delivery and mobility businesses. The ride-hailing service told regulators in a filing this morning that it anticipated an increase in gross bookings and stronger adjusted EBITDA in the quarter than it had forecasted for shareholders in its last investor presentation.

The company now anticipates gross bookings for the current quarter to land between $22.8 billion and $23.2 billion, up from an initially-promised $22 billion to $24 billion range. The company’s forecasted adjusted EBITDA, an accommodating method of calculating profit, was also raised to between -$25 million and $25 million in the quarter ending Sept. 30, and improvement from the company’s previous anticipation of a result merely “better than a loss of $100 million.”

“They say that crisis breeds opportunity and that’s certainly been true of Uber during the last 18 months,” CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement.

Uber is now on track to adjusted EBITDA breakeven in quarter three, CFO Nelson Chai said – an achievement that may seem odd to those unfamiliar with the economics of ride-hailing, which is characterized by perilous unprofitability.

As TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm explains for ExtraCrunch, “adjusted EBITDA” is a way of calculating profit before interest, taxes, depreciation and other costs. Consider, for example, that Uber lost $6.77 billion in 2020 (admittedly an improvement from its previous yearly loss of $8.51 billion). But under adjusted EBIDTA accounting, those numbers dropped to losses of $2.73 billion and $2.53 billion, respectively.

Uber did not provide a full picture of its financials for the third quarter in its recent 8-K filing – that will come when the company reports its performance after the conclusion of Q3. However, it looks like the company may reach positive adjusted EBITDA by the fourth quarter, meeting a long-held promise to investors.

The ride-hailing giant further noted that its fourth quarter adjusted EBITDA is projected to land between $0 and $100 million, compared to the previously anticipated, and more generic expectation of merely “adjusted EBITDA profitability.” Uber cautioned that “significant forecasting uncertainty” may cause it to provide an updated forecast.

Still, for Uber the long march to adjusted profitability appears to finally be in sight. All it took was a global pandemic, layoffs, and far-higher prices for the achievement to be managed.

#automotive, #ride-hailing, #transportation, #uber

Battery Resourcers raises $70M to grow closed-loop battery supply chain

Battery Resourcers, a startup that’s developing a closed-loop approach to lithium-ion battery materials, has closed $70 million in mid-round funding to scale its commercial operations across two continents.

The company, which is based in Worcester, Massachusetts, doesn’t just recycle batteries. It’s also engineered a process to turn that recycled material back into critical battery materials – specifically, nickel-manganese-cobalt cathodes and purified graphite, a material used in anodes. It intends to sell those materials right back to the battery manufacturer.

This latest round saw participation from new investor Hitachi Ventures, as well as existing investors Orbia Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures, Doral Energy, At One Ventures, TDK Ventures and Trumpf Ventures.

Battery Resources secured a $20 million Series B a little over five months ago. That funding was to accelerate the launch of the startup’s first commercial-scale facility, which will be able to process 10,000 tons of batteries per year. CEO Michael O’Kronley told TechCrunch in a recent interview that that plant will open in the first quarter of 2022, though the company has not yet announced where it will be located in the U.S.

With this new funding, the company will be opening two additional commercial-scale sites in Europe, which will be operational by the end of 2022. In all, Battery Resourcers aims to have 30,000 tons of recycling capacity by the end of next year across its three commercial-scale locations. Cathode material production will be added to these sites in the following year.

There are a number of reasons to look abroad, O’Kronley said, not least because Battery Resourcers anticipates Europe being an even larger market than the U.S.

“Europe has the same concerns the U.S. does about retaining critical battery materials in the supply chain,” he said, adding that European lawmakers currently mandate battery recycling on the part of OEMs, and will likely mandate the use of recycled materials in batteries. “Couple that with the amount and the number of gigafactories that have been announced in Europe, relative to the US, most people believe, including Battery Resourcers, we believe the European market will be larger than the North American market.”

CEO Michael O’Kronley Image Credits: Battery Resourcers (opens in a new window)

The lion’s share of critical battery materials are currently produced in Asia, but O’Kronley said the industry is shifting from being highly concentrated in specific locations to a more global operation.

“Whether it’s the Asian company that is moving to Europe or North America, or new entrants that are coming in and supplying Europe and North America – we’re a new entrant coming in supplying these regions – the battery material supply chain will absolutely have to be localized,” he said. “We’re part of that.”

O’Kronley added that the company has been in talks with a number of OEMs and consumer electronics companies, but declined to specify any details. However, he did say that vehicle OEMs and battery manufacturers have already taken the company’s cathode material and built it into batteries for testing and to compare it to “virgin” cathodes.

“It’s Battery Resourcers’ belief that long term, you need a vertically integrated supply chain, and to be able to extract the highest amount of value out of these spent batteries,” O’Kronley said. “We’re moving upstream in making these engineering materials that go right back into a new battery.”

#automotive, #battery-recycling, #battery-resourcers, #electric-vehicle-batteries, #tc, #transportation

MIT study finds Tesla drivers become inattentive when Autopilot is activated

By the end of this week, potentially thousands of Tesla owners will be testing out the automaker’s newest version of its “Full Self-Driving” beta software, version 10.0.1, on public roads, even as regulators and federal officials investigate the safety of the system after a few high-profile crashes.

A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lends credence to the idea that the FSD system, which despite its name is not actually an autonomous system but rather an advanced driver assist system (ADAS), may not actually be that safe. Researchers studying glance data from 290 human-initiated Autopilot disengagement epochs found drivers may become inattentive when using partially automated driving systems.

“Visual behavior patterns change before and after [Autopilot] disengagement,” the study reads. “Before disengagement, drivers looked less on road and focused more on non-driving related areas compared to after the transition to manual driving. The higher proportion of off-road glances before disengagement to manual driving were not compensated by longer glances ahead.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that not everyone who has paid for the FSD software will be able to access the beta version, which promises more automated driving functions. First, Tesla will use telemetry data to capture personal driving metrics over a seven-day period in order to ensure drivers are still remaining attentive enough. The data may also be used to implement a new safety rating page that tracks the owner’s vehicle, which is linked to their insurance.

The MIT study provides evidence that drivers may not be using Tesla’s Autopilot (AP) as recommended. Because AP includes safety features like traffic-aware cruise control and autosteering, drivers become less attentive and take their hands off the wheel more. The researchers found this type of behavior may be the result of misunderstanding what the AP features can do and what its limitations are, which is reinforced when it performs well. Drivers whose tasks are automated for them may naturally become bored after attempting to sustain visual and physical alertness, which researchers say only creates further inattentiveness.

The report, titled “A model for naturalistic glance behavior around Tesla Autopilot disengagements,” has been following Tesla Model S and X owners during their daily routine for periods of a year or more throughout the greater Boston area. The vehicles were equipped with the Real-time Intelligent Driving Environment Recording data acquisition system1, which continuously collects data from the CAN bus, a GPS and three 720p video cameras. These sensors provide information like vehicle kinematics, driver interaction with the vehicle controllers, mileage, location and driver’s posture, face and the view in front of the vehicle. MIT collected nearly 500,000 miles’ worth of data. 

The point of this study is not to shame Tesla, but rather to advocate for driver attention management systems that can give drivers feedback in real time or adapt automation functionality to suit a driver’s level of attention. Currently, Autopilot uses a hands-on-wheel sensing system to monitor driver engagement, but it doesn’t monitor driver attention via eye or head-tracking.

The researchers behind the study have developed a model for glance behavior, “based on naturalistic data, that can help understand the characteristics of shifts in driver attention under automation and support the development of solutions to ensure that drivers remain sufficiently engaged in the driving tasks.” This would not only assist driver monitoring systems in addressing “atypical” glances, but it can also be used as a benchmark to study the safety effects of automation on a driver’s behavior.

Companies like Seeing Machines and Smart Eye already work with automakers like General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and reportedly Ford to bring camera-based driver monitoring systems to cars with ADAS, but also to address problems caused by drunk or impaired driving. The technology exists. The question is, will Tesla use it?

#automotive, #tc, #tesla-autopilot, #transportation

GM to replace battery modules in recalled Chevy Bolt EVs starting next month

General Motors said Monday it will replace battery modules in recalled Chevrolet Bolt EV and Bolt EUV vehicles as soon as next month now that supplier LG Chem has restarted production of cells at two Michigan factories.

Replacement modules, which are made up of lithium-ion battery cells, will begin shipping to dealers as soon as mid-October, the company said. Chevy Bolt EV owners will be able to bring their vehicles to the dealership, where the old modules will be swapped out for new ones.

GM halted production of Chevy Bolt EV and EUVs in August due to a battery pack shortage related to the widespread safety recall of the two electric vehicles. The production downtime has been extended twice since then. Battery packs in EVs are comprised of modules.

The recall, which includes all Chevy Bolt EV and EUV models made since 2017, was issued after the automaker discovered two manufacturing defects in the battery cell — a torn anode tab and folded separator — that could increase the risk of fire. The fire risk prompted GM to recommend Bolt owners set the vehicle to a 90% state of charge limitation, avoid depleting the battery below 70 miles of range and charge the vehicle more frequently. GM still recommends owners park their Bolt EV and EUVs outside immediately after charging and to not leave vehicles charging indoors overnight.

LG has new manufacturing processes in place and has worked with GM to improve its quality assurance programs to provide confidence in its batteries moving forward. GM said the battery supplier will institute these new processes in other facilities that supply cells to the automaker.

Doug Parks, GM’s executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain, noted in a statement that resuming battery module production is a first step. However, GM’s Chevy Bolt EV problem is not entirely solved. The company must complete the replacement process for all recalled Bolts and assuage owners that the vehicles are safe to charge and park.

GM is counting on new advanced diagnostic software package to help. The company said it will launch the software package, which will need to be installed by dealers, in the next 60 days. The diagnostic software is designed to detect specific abnormalities that might indicate a damaged battery in Bolt EVs and EUVs by monitoring the battery performance.

The software will alert customers of any anomalies, according to GM, which said customers will be able to return to a 100 percent state of charge once all diagnostic processes are complete.

GM, which aims to add 30 new EVs to its global lineup by 2030, also must secure the battery cells it needs to power these vehicles. LG is its primary and longtime partner in this endeavor. Parks said GM will “continue to work aggressively with LG to obtain additional battery supply.

#automotive, #chevy-bolt-ev, #general-motors, #gm, #recall

The Station: Gogoro scoots into a SPAC, a Rivian milestone and Tesla prepares to unleash FSD beta software

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hello readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.

The future of transportation beat was flooded with news this week as per ushe. There are two stories that I want to highlight here. First up, is that the first Rivian R1T electric pickup truck in “Rivian blue” rolled off the assembly line at the company’s factory in Normal, Illinois. The R1T and the upcoming R1S SUV are also now certified to be sold in all 50 states (at least online).

This marks a milestone more than a decade in the making for the automaker and its founder and CEO, RJ Scaringe, who started the company in 2009 as Mainstream Motors before adopting the Rivian name two years later. Rivian has undergone explosive growth in terms of people, backers and partners in the past few years. If the company has a successful IPO, which it confidentially filed for recently, it could grow even faster.

Next up, is Tesla and its “Full Self-Driving” beta software, which is about to become accessible to a lot more owners.

The FSD Beta v10.0.1 software update, which has already been pushed out to a group of select owners, will become more widely available starting September 24. Tesla CEO Elon Musk issued a caveat that personal driving metrics captured over a seven-day period via telemetry data will determine whether owners who have paid for its FSD software can access the latest beta version that promises more automated driving functions.

A Reddit post from several months ago provides hints on what data will be used. The poster, who has reversed engineered the Tesla app, found that the company was getting ready to implement insurance directly into the app. There will be a new safety rating page that will track an owner’s vehicle and is linked to their insurance. It’s possible that this is what Musk was referring to when he tweeted “beta button will request permission to assess driving behavior using Tesla insurance calculator. If driving behavior is good for 7 days, beta access will be granted.”

According to the Redditor, the app will track the number of times the ABS is activated, average number of hours driven daily, number of times Autopilot is disabled because alert is ignored, forward collision warnings, amount of time spent at an unsafe following distance and intensity of acceleration and braking.

This release on September 24, which will mean potentially thousands of Tesla owners trying out beta software on public roads, is going to test the will of regulators. Jennifer Homendy, the new head of the National Transportation Safety Board, told the WSJ that Tesla shouldn’t roll out this latest software update until it can address “basic safety issues.” NTSB is not a regulator; it investigates crashes and issues safety recommendations. So while her voice matters and is listened to, the NTSB cannot prevent Tesla from pushing this software update, or any other one, to owners.

Finally, TechCrunch Disrupt is here! The event kicks off Tuesday and I hope to see you all there. There’s even a photo booth (virtual) and I want you to share your photos if you use it.

As always, you can email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

Lane detection, pedestrian detection, advanced braking systems. These sound like driver assistance features you might find in a new SUV, sedan or truck. These days, this tech is creeping into electric scooters.

The pressure on operators to build scooters that are robust, safe and combat issues like sidewalk clutter has prompted companies to develop and equip their vehicles with advanced driver assistance features. Operators like Voi, Spin, Superpedestrian, Zipp and Bird have all started to integrate tech that can detect when someone is riding on the sidewalk or parking a scooter where it shouldn’t be. Whether through camera-based computer vision or through really accurate geopositioning software, these scooters not only know exactly where a rider is, but they can also put the brakes on or slow them down if they’re breaking the rules.

The question is, is it necessary? My view is that this wouldn’t be necessary if cities stopped offloading the cost of safety onto operators and instead invested in protected bike lanes.

Check out my ExtraCrunch story that looks deeper into the tech, which I’ve dubbed scooter ADAS.

Bird launches its shared e-bike in San Diego

Bird has an exclusive micromobility contract with San Diego State University. Bird’s bike share operation, which was officially launched in June, will be available to the 34,000 students on campus.

Brooklyn Bridge gets a dedicated bike lane

Bikers these days don’t know how good they’ve got it. I remember when I had to ring my bike bell like a mad woman trying to get pedestrians to part for me as I attempted to ride over the busy Brooklyn Bridge. Now, the iconic bridge has its own dedicated two-way bike lane. This is huge news. HUGE. I only wish I were back home to see it. And the best part is that the lane was taken from cars and given back to the people!

Compact, foldable and made in Japan

A company called Shaero just launched in Tokyo with a docked shared tiny moped that can be folded and stored inside lockers between trips. Forget scooter ADAS — more of this please!

Tax break for e-bikes

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee proposed creating a 15 percent tax credit for e-bike purchases if you earn less than $75,000 per year. This is down from a 30 percent rebate with no income limits in the last version of the bill, which would have been way better, but I guess baby steps?

The latest e-bikes

This week a lot of new e-bikes launched. Here’s a bit of a roundup:

The Crown Cruiser is a retro-futuristic looking e-bike with inbuilt smart technologies like anti-theft tech and a gyro and accelerometer sensor that detects impact. The lightweight frame is made out of carbon fiber, it’s got long-range swappable 36V or 48V batteries with a range of 100 miles or more and its DC hub motor is so powerful the bike can hit top speeds of 31 mph. The Cruiser is currently fundraising on Indiegogo, and has received a £139,000 Sustainable Innovation grant from the UK government.

Daymak has announced the release of their Terra e-bike, part of the company’s Avvenire series. The bike comes in the Terra Deluxe (targeted MSRP of $3,495) and Terra Ultimate (targeted MSRP of $7,999). With two 15W solar panels that trickle life into the battery and multi-level pedal assist, it can get up to 60miles of range and a max speed of 20 mph. The Terra comes with built-in Bluetooth speakers and a drink holder. It also has launched with RidePoints and Daymak Drive X capabilities, which according to Daymak mean that riders can collect redeemable points via the company’s EV reward program for just riding around, and that the bike is blockchain-enabled.

Harley-Davidson is going to offer limited sales through its ebike spinoff Serial 1, of vintage-inspired electric bike model known as the limited edition S1 Series ebike.

Zaiser Motors announced that it reached its Wefunder campaign goals and has released the specs for its platform redesign, which includes the addition of a second sportier electric motorcycle, the Arrow. Its first “Electrocycle” is called the Silhouette and and has 300 miles of range with a 120 mph top speed. Both designs look like something you might make Yoshi drive on Mario Kart, complete with a shiny and bubbly red chassis. The Arrow is designed for city riders, is priced at $8,500 and has an expected range of 160 miles with a 100 mph top speed.

Active lifestyle brand Retrospec has released the Valen Rev, a moto-style electric bike that makes me want to cruise alongside a boardwalk on a California beach. Honestly, it’s a really cute-looking bike, with a retro vibe to it, a tan leather saddle and a choice between fog blue, olive green or black — all matte. It’s got a 48V motor, 6 levels of pedal assist and a 50-mile range, all for the reasonable price of $1,799.99.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

It seemed as if the number of mobility-related SPAC deals had slowed. That brief pause was broken by Gogoro, the 10-year-old Taiwanese company best known for its electric scooters and swappable battery infrastructure.

The company has agreed to merge with Poema Global, a SPAC affiliated with Princeville Capital, in a deal that sets its enterprise valuation at $2.35 billion. If approved by shareholders. the company will trade on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol GGR.

Gogoro stands to make $550 million in proceeds, assuming as TechCrunch Catherine Shu reports, there are no redemptions. (A growing trend I really need to address in this newsletter). Those funds include an oversubscribed private investment in public equity of more than $250 million and $345 million held in trust by Poema Global. Investors in the PIPE include strategic partners like Hon Hai (Foxconn) Technology Group and GoTo, the Indonesian tech giant created through the merger of Gojek and Tokopedia, and new and existing investors like Generation Investment Management, Taiwan’s National Development Fund, Temasek and Dr. Samuel Yin of Ruentex Group, Gogoro’s founding investor.

So why now? Founder and CEO Horace Luke provided a curious answer that I know will cause a few of my institutional investor friends to raise an eyebrow or two. Luke first explained that with fresh partnerships in place — Yadea and DCJ in China to build a battery-swapping network and Hero MotoCorp in India to launch scooters — it was time to take the company to the next level.

And he added that Gogoro decided to go the SPAC route because “you can talk a lot deeper about what the business opportunity is, what the structure is, what the partnerships are, so you can properly value a company rather than a quick roadshow. Given our business plans, it gives us a great opportunity to focus on the expansion.”

Huh. Anyone ever heard of a “quick roadshow?” Comments from some founders who have taken the traditional IPO path would suggest the contrary.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

BridgeLinx, the Lahore-based startup that operates a digital freight marketplace, raised $10 million in what is the largest seed financing round in Pakistan. Harry Stebbings’ 20 VC, Josh Buckley’s Buckley Ventures and Indus Valley Capital co-led the startup’s financing round, which Salman Gul, co-founder and chief executive of BridgeLinx, told TechCrunch completed within weeks.

Chaldal, the Bangladeshi grocery delivery startups that picks up orders from its own warehouses instead of retail stores, closed a $10 million Series C round led by Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder of Wise, Topia chief product officer Sten Tamkivi and Xploration Capital, with participation from Mir Group. The company plans to use the funds to expand into 15 new cities.

EnerVenue, a battery startup that says it has developed technology to revolutionize stationary energy storage, raised $100 million from strategic investors including Schlumberger, Saudi Aramco’s VC arm and Stanford University. The investment comes around a year after EnerVenue raised a $12 million seed. The company is planning on using the funds to scale its nickel-hydrogen battery production, including a factory in the U.S., and has entered a manufacturing and distribution agreement with Schlumberger for international markets.

GPB Capital Holdings LLC, the private-equity firm being investigated by the SEC on fraud allegations, is selling its car dealership company Prime Automotive Group for about $880 million, WSJ reports.

General Motors has invested in Oculii, a software startup that aims to improve the spatial resolution of radar sensors by up to 100-fold. The new funding, which the two companies say is in the millions, comes just months after Oculii closed a $55 million Series B.

Glovo, the Spanish on-demand delivery platform that operates a network of dark stores focused on urban convenience shopping, announced the acquisition of two regional “Instacart-style” grocery picking and delivery startups, Madrid-based Lola Market and Portugal’s Mercadão. Terms of the acquisitions are not being disclosed.

Muver, a mobile app that lets drivers earn more by managing their interactions with ride-sharing and delivery services, raised $1.2 million in a seed round led by Xploration Capital joined by Baring Vostok, Angelsdeck and Rapid Ladder Capital.

Rolls-Royce Holdings and Babcock International Group sold their combined 39% stake in air-to-air refueling company AirTanker Holdings Ltd. for 315 million pounds ($435 million) to Equitix Investment Management, Reuters reported.

Siemens wants to sell its logistics unit for roughly 500 million euro ($591 million) as part of the German industrial conglomerate’s plan to exit non-core businesses and focus on its industrial operations, Reuters reported.

UPS agreed to acquire Roadie, a platform that uses gig workers to provide local same-day delivery in the United States. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. The acquisition signals shipping giant’s move into same-day delivery, particularly perishable and other goods that are not compatible with the UPS network.

Volta Trucks, the EV startup, raised €37 million ($44 million) to accelerate its plans to produce and sell large cargo vehicles. The round was led by New York-based Luxor Capital Group and returning investor Byggmästare Anders J Ahlström Holding of Stockholm. New investors included U.S. electric truck and battery manufacturer Proterra and supply chain management company Agility. Volta Trucksy said it plans to pilot a fleet of vehicles in London and Paris early next year.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Hello everyone! Welcome back to policy corner. Remember the safety probe the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration opened into Tesla Autopilot in August? In case your memory needs refreshing: NHTSA opened a preliminary investigation into 12 (originally eleven) incidents of Tesla cars crashing into parked emergency vehicles. The regulator ordered Tesla to hand over detailed data on the ADAS by October 22 or risk facing a fine of up to $115 million.

Earlier this week, NHTSA sent letters to 12 automakers — including Ford, VW, and General Motors — requesting data on their Level 2 ADAS to aid it in its investigation. The letter to Ford says the information request is “to gather information in support of [the agency’s] comparative analysis amongst production vehicles equipped with the ability to control both steering and braking/accelerating simultaneously under some circumstances.”

Among the data NHTSA is interested in obtaining: the number of vehicles equipped with ADAS the automaker has manufactured; how the company approaches the enforcement of driver attentiveness; other details about the system, like the conditions that would require driver take-over; as well as any consumer complaints, lawsuits, or crash reports related to the system.

Why is this news in policy corner? Well, similar to how each Supreme Court adjudication creates the law, the results of NHTSA’s investigations could also set a precedent for how ADAS is regulated writ large. The agency leveraging its broad authority to gather information could result in new standards or rules for how automakers develop and deploy ADAS in millions of cars now and into the future.

It’s important to remember that NHTSA really is empowered with a huge amount of authority — they could issue a recall of every Tesla on the road, if they so deemed that its Autopilot was sufficiently unsafe.

Speaking of Tesla and GM … it looks likely that the per-manufacturer cap disqualifying the two automakers’ vehicles from the so-called “30D” $7,500 tax credit may be removed soon. They’re disqualified because each automaker has sold more than 200,000 EVs. Anyway, there are two separate proposals being debated in Congress, one in the House and one in the Senate, as part of a larger effort to overhaul and potentially dramatically expand the 30D credit (I wrote about it here). While the proposals have a few significant differences, removing the manufacturer cap isn’t one of them. What that means is a Tesla Model 3 or a new Cadillac EV would once again qualify.

One more note … Evidently, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities halted the approval of new applications for its grant program for purchasing an electric vehicle — because the $30 million earmarked to cover the program is already nearly out of money! Under the Charge Up New Jersey program, people can apply for grants of up to $5,000 for an EV. But demand is so high that that money is already nearly gone.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

Let’s dig into the news of the week …

Autonomous vehicles

Walmart has tapped Argo AI and Ford to launch an autonomous vehicle delivery service in Austin, Miami and Washington, D.C. The service will allow customers to place online orders for groceries and other items using Walmart’s ordering platform. Argo’s cloud-based infrastructure will be integrated with Walmart’s online platform, routing the orders and scheduling package deliveries to customers’ homes. Initially, the commercial service will be limited to specific geographic areas in each city and will expand over time. The companies will begin testing later this year.

Batteries

Redwood Materials, the company started by former Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel that aims to create a circular supply chain for batteries, is expanding beyond recycling. Redwood announced plans to simplify the supply chain by producing critical battery materials and is currently scouting a location for a new million-square-foot factory, at a cost of over $1 billion.

That factory will be dedicated to the production of cathodes and anode foils, the two essential building blocks of a lithium-ion battery structure — up to a projected volume of 100 gigawatt-hour per year’s worth of materials, enough for one million electric vehicles, by 2025.

Electric vehicles

Ford Motor announced plans to invest another $250 million and add 450 jobs to increase production capacity of its upcoming F-150 Lightning to 80,000 all-electric trucks annually. The announcement comes after receiving more than 150,000 pre-orders for the all-electric pickup truck. The additional funds and jobs will be spread out across its new Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Michigan, Van Dyke Electric Powertrain Center and Rawsonville Components Plant.

Lucid Group, the all-electric automaker slated to go public this year, said one variant of its upcoming luxury Air sedan has an EPA range of more than 520 miles. The official rating of the Lucid Air Dream Edition Range variant pushes Lucid past Tesla, a company that has long dominated in this category. This announcement not only gives Lucid bragging rights, it reveals a bit about the company’s strategy to offer a variety of versions of the Air sedan with prices ranging between $169,000 and $77,400.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced via Twitter it will investigate a Tesla vehicle crash that killed two people in Coral Gables, Florida. It is not clear if the company’s advanced driver assistance system Autopilot was engaged at the time.

Polestar has shared a few more details of its future electric SUV, including that it will have only two rows of seats, offer single-motor and dual-motor versions and have a powertrain that goes beyond EV versions of the Volvo XC90, Car and Driver reported.

People news

Clive Sinclair, the British entrepreneur and inventor behind the ZX personal computer, pocket calculator and numerous other consumer electronics, died at age 81. Sinclair was also interested in electric vehicles. He invented the infamous Sinclair C5 electric trike, which would spectacularly fail in 1982 only to gain a cult following many years later. Sinclair would invent other electric vehicles, including the electric bike called Sinclair Zike in 1992. He actually spent much of his time in the past 12 years working on personal transportation vehicles like the foldable A bike.

Ford Motor has hired Mike Amend as its chief digital and information officer as the automaker seeks to expand into software, subscriptions and in-vehicle connectivity. Amend, who was president of Lowe’s Online for three years, will focus on Ford’s “use of data, software and technology” — all areas central to Ford’s new Ford+ strategy.

Misc. bits

CNBC writes about headlights and how they’re undergoing a technological revolution that has regulators trying to catch up.

Hyundai, which owns a controlling interest in Boston Dynamics, announced the arrival of the “Factory Safety Service Robot,” essentially a modded up version of Spot designed for safety inspections at factories. Naturally, Hyundai is starting close to home, rolling out its first pilot at a Seoul plant for subsidiary, Kia.

Fair Financial Corp., the car subscription startup, is considering bankruptcy to eliminate debt, reported Automotive News. The company now wants to start a vehicle retailing platform called Fair Technologies.

Reilly Brennan of Trucks VC has launched a jobs board called Mobility Jobs that is focused on the future of transportation. Reilly, who has his own well regarded newsletter, is also fan of TechCrunch and so he’s giving us this code: THESTATION, which gives you dear reader 100% off if you post a job using that special code. Cheers!

#automotive, #electric-pickup-trucks, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #gogoro, #hyundai, #polestar, #reilly-brennan, #rivian, #scooters, #tesla, #the-station, #transportation, #venture-capital

Eli EVs begins production, European rollout of Eli ZERO, a compact two-seater

Eli Electric Vehicles, an early stage compact EV manufacturer, announced the start of production on its flagship Eli Zero, a micro “neighborhood electric vehicle” that is built for city commuting. The company plans to roll out small batches of the two-seater EV to distributors across 13 European countries over the next few months with a starting price of $11,999.

Micro-electric vehicles are on the rise with other compact quadricycles coming to market recently, including the Renault Twizy, the Citroën Ami, the tilting Triggo EV and the Squad Mobility solar-assisted car. In terms of pricing, the Eli is at the higher end of the spectrum along with the Twizy at a starting price of around $16,000. For comparison, the Ami costs around $6,000 and the Squad car costs $6,790.

While Eli is based in Los Angeles, its manufacturing partner is in China, and ongoing geopolitical tensions are part of  the reason the company is pursuing a European strategy initially. The varied laws per state on what maketh a street legal vehicle also make it difficult to go to market in the U.S. first, according to Marcus Li, CEO and founder of Eli. In Europe, the Zeros are street legal and there is already a culture around smaller, compact cars that don’t go too fast.

“In a lot of European cities, for example in Paris, they now have very strict legal speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour (19 mph), and I think we see that being a trend in European cities like Vienna and Amsterdam,” Li told TechCrunch.

The Zero, which is built of recyclable polypropylene and high-strength aluminium, has a top speed of 25 miles per hour. It’s about 7 feet long, 4.5 feet wide and 5 feet high with a storage capacity of 160 liters. The batteries have a 5.8 kWh capacity, a range of 50 miles and can charge from 0 to 100 percent in 2.5 hours at 220 volts.

The micro-vehicle also has power-assisted braking and steering, a rear camera, a parking sensor and other internal features like a USB charging port, cup holders, heat and cooling, a tiltable sunroof and a 7 inch dashboard display. The basic colors are pearl white and silver, and the premium colors available are graphite and baby blue.

Eli also recently announced its equity crowdfunding campaign via StartEngine platform. At the time of publishing this article, the company had raised $224,705 that it will use to fund further production. Li said the company has more reservations than it does vehicles at the moment, which he reckons is a good problem to have.

Eli had previously raised around $1.4 million on StartEngine’s platform and to date, has raised over $6.5 million. Li said the company had attempted to seek VC funding last year, but VCs only wanted to invest if Eli would use its vehicle for car sharing.

“At some point, to be honest, we did think about pivoting to car sharing because that’s just the feedback from most institutional investors,” said Li. “Their business model is a little different from conventional hardware companies in terms of return on investment, and they would have preferred that we go more into a car sharing and high valuation model to see a return three years down the road.”

Li said one investment group was ready to invest if Eli agreed to do the operations of a car sharing platform themselves, but this was just before the pandemic and ultimately, he’s glad the company didn’t pivot in that direction.

“We’re taking a very traditional approach to sales,” said Li. “We’re not doing B2C. We’re selling through an established distributor called KSR Group and they have their launch strategy first to Austria, Germany and Switzerland and then to more countries in Europe.”

Using a distributor helps Eli as an early stage startup so they can outsource things like servicing, deliveries and test drives, says Li.

“Our goal is to revolutionize urban trips, connect cities and communities in a new way that reduces congestion and pollution.,” said Li in a statement. “As urban areas continue to grow along with a rapidly changing climate, opening up a space for micro-EVs like Eli ZERO that is energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable.”

#automotive, #electric-vehicle, #quadricycle, #tc, #transportation

India’s Cars24, a used-vehicle marketplace, raises $450M at a $1.84B valuation

The used car market is getting another major infusion of venture capital today, with one of the faster scaling startups out of India picking up a major round of financing to double down on growth: Cars24 — a site and app that sells users cars and used two-wheeled motorbikes — has raised $450 million, a Series F of $340 million and $110 million in debt. The investment values Cars24 at $1.84 billion post-money, the company said, making it one of the more valuable privately-held used car startups globally.

DST Global, Falcon Edge and SoftBank Vision Fund 2 co-led the Series F, with Tencent and existing investors Moore Strategic Ventures and Exor Seeds also participating. The debt round came from a mix of financial institutions. This fundraise, now confirmed and official, was rumored in past weeks, although at a smaller amount: it didn’t include the debt portion, and some reports were based on regulatory filings for less than the sum ultimately raised.

Vikram Chopra, the CEO who co-founded the company in Gurugram with Mehul Agrawal, Ruchit Agarwal and Gajendra Jangid, said that the plan will be to use the funds across a range of areas.

They include national and international expansion (it’s already operating in India, Australia and UAE, and has its eyes on more markets); technology (specifically areas like further expanding its virtual appraisal process, as well as more data science around pricing and other details related to sales and after-sales); and financing both to buy in vehicles, as well as to help consumers make purchasing a vehicle a viable economic option.

Cars24 is active in 130 cities in India, and it has sold 400,000 vehicles to date (both cars and motorbikes) with upwards of 13 million monthly visitors on its site. All this gives it claim to being the largest platform of its kind in India. But its ambition is to improve the inefficiencies of selling a car, or buying a used car, in many parts of the globe, not just its home market.

“Buying or selling a car is hard anywhere in the world,” Chopra said in an interview. “It’s just a broken experience everywhere, so we are trying to solve for this.”

This is also where the financing and technology figure significantly. When Cars24 first started out in 2015 in India, Chopra said, it faced the added issue (or opportunity?) of a tricky economic landscape with very low car ownership penetration overall — just 2%, or 2 cars per 100 people, compared to typically between 50 and 80 cars per 100 people in Europe.

“But buying a used car in India is a way for a person to own any car,” Chopra said. In a country like India, “we want to take the penetration to 10 or 15.” He added that the car resale market today in India is around $25 billion, but is on track to soon get to $100 billion.

Cars24 has been built around a “buying-in, fixing up, and then reselling” model similar to that of the real-estate juggernaut Opendoor: it appraises vehicles from individuals looking to sell them; buys them up if an agreed price can be reached; reconditions them; and then re-sells and delivers them to new owners. This model, Chopra said, gives Cars24 an edge over some of the shortcomings that exist with traditional players (both on and offline).

First, it provides a centralized platform, cars24.com and its corresponding app, where users can browse a one-stop-shop inventory that goes beyond their local areas (and local dealers). That inventory is curated and made discoverable using a number of algorithms, and pricing is also determined by Cars24’s technology.

“CARS24 is building a data-enabled tech platform that is organizing the fragmented used car market in India,” said Munish Varma, managing partner, SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We have been closely tracking its approach and efforts that have disrupted the used car retailing in India.”

“We believe CARS24 is enhancing the customer experience in the used car industry with its sharp focus on technology,” said Sumer Juneja, partner, SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We will continue to support this growth given our expertise in e-commerce businesses across markets”.

Second, when consumers do make a purchase, they can keep and try out a vehicle for up to seven days “and return it if you don’t like it.”

This, Chopra continued, is in contrast to other used-car sales sites, as well as physical dealers: either they don’t offer trial runs, or (in the case of physical dealers or individual offline sellers), they might give a driver 10 or 15 minutes tops, with someone attending you as you drive the vehicle around: not a great way to discover what you like or don’t like about a vehicle.

It’s also a model that investors believe will give Cars24 an edge over competitors.

“We have studied used car platforms globally and are struck by the similarities we see between CARS24 and analogous businesses that have scaled successfully,” said Navroz D. Udwadia, co-founder of Falcon Edge Capital, in a statement. “CARS24 has cemented its first-mover advantage by building wide-ranging supply side moats, which in turn drive demand liquidity on the platform. In positioning itself as a buying and selling solution for consumers, CARS24 drives immense top-of-mind recall. It is rare to find a business as focused on the consumer experience and as driven to ensure it is outstanding via the use of data science and technology. Finally, we are deeply impressed by the founders’ leadership, and are thrilled to back them as they transform the used car industry in India and scale internationally across MENA and SE Asia.”

A used-vehicle marketplace raising a huge amount of money is somewhat ironic given some of the bigger trends in the world of transportation.

Some have theorized that a wave of factors — they include the rise of ubiquitous e-hailing apps like Uber; on-demand car-sharing services like Getaround or Zipcar; a push in urban centers encouraging people to use a wider array of transportation options to offset traffic; and bigger environmental trends that are leading some to eschew gas guzzling autos — would push the world away from car ownership. Yet essentially, Cars24 (and others like it) are extending the life of a lot of older models to keep more vehicles in circulation and private hands.

But using Uber can get pricey and is not the same as having your own wheels, and the desire to have your own vehicle is perhaps at a high-point right now because of Covid-19 and people concerned about spreading or catching the virus, Chopra said.

“It’s definitely not the case in India that less people want to own cars,” he said. “During the pandemic, we have seen a lot of demand, in India specifically.” On new, greener vehicle technology, this is also interesting and will simply present another class of vehicles on Cars24 as adoption of electric vehicles increases, he added. But it’s not all quite there, yet.

The strength of the current opportunity is partly why it seems that we’ve found ourselves crowded with startups and scale-ups hoping to define the new generation of used-car-sale platforms.

Others in the same space that have recently raised money include close competitors like Spinny, also out of India; Cazoo in the UK, which has now gone public; InstaCarro out of Brazil; Kavak out of Mexico; and Carsome from Malaysia, among many others. Carvana, one of the biggest used-car platforms, is also publicly listed and is now valued at nearly $28 billion.

What has been interesting is that each of these big players have up to now carved out very strong markets for themselves in their home countries, and they are only more recently moving to expand internationally. Cars24 has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in funding (it also raised $200 million less than a year ago) in part because its investors think it has what it takes to export, and thus scale, its model beyond the huge market of India.

“CARS24 is at the forefront of transforming the way consumers buy and sell cars by providing a unique end-to-end digital shopping and transaction experience,” said Rahul Mehta, managing partner at DST Global, in a statement. “They have emerged as the undisputed leader in the used car space in India and early traction in international markets is exceeding expectations. We love backing founders who are bold and ambitious thinkers and couldn’t be more excited to enter the second innings of our long-lasting partnership with CARS24.”

#asia, #automotive, #tc, #transportation

How to meet the demand of EV infrastructure and maintain a stable grid

As electric vehicles (EVs) become the new standard, charging infrastructure will become a commonplace detail blending into the landscape, available in a host of places from a range of providers: privately run charging stations, the office parking lot, home garages and government-provided locations to fill in the gaps. We need a new energy blueprint for the United States in order to maintain a stable grid to support this national move to EV charging.

The Biden administration announced 500,000 charging stations to be installed nationally and additional energy storage to facilitate the shift to EVs. Integrating all of this new infrastructure and transitioning requires balancing the traffic on the grid and managing increased energy demand that stretches beyond power lines and storage itself.

The majority of EV infrastructure pulls its power from the grid, which will add significant demand when it reaches scale. In an ideal situation, EV charging stations will have their own renewable power generation co-located with storage, but new programs and solutions are needed in order to make it available everywhere. A range of scenarios for how renewables can be used to power EV charging have been piloted in the U.S. in recent years. Eventually, EVs will likely even provide power to the grid.

These technological advances will happen as we progress through the energy transition; regardless, EV infrastructure will heavily rely on the U.S. grid. That makes coordination across a range of stakeholders and behavior change among the general public essential for keeping the grid stable while meeting energy demand.

The White House’s fact sheet for EV charging infrastructure points to a technical blueprint that the Department of Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute will be working on together. It is critical that utilities, energy management and storage stakeholders, and the general public be included in planning — here’s why.

Stakeholder collaboration

Charging infrastructure is currently fragmented in the U.S. Much of it is privatized and there are complaints that unless you drive a Tesla, it is hard to find charging while on the road. Some EV owners have even returned to driving gas-powered vehicles. There’s reason to be hopeful that this will rapidly change.

ChargePoint and EVgo are two companies that will likely become household names as their EV networks expand. A coalition made up of some of the largest U.S. utilities — including American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy, Southern Company and the Tennessee Valley Authority — called the Electric Highway Coalition, announced plans for a regional network of charging stations spanning their utility territories.

Networks that swap out private gas stations for EV charging is one piece of the puzzle. We also need to ensure that everyone has affordable access and that charging times are staggered — this is one of the core concerns on every stakeholder’s mind. Having charging available in a range of places spreads out demand, helping keep power available and the grid balanced.

Varying consumer needs including location and housing, work schedules and economic situations require considerations and new solutions that make EVs and charging accessible to everyone. What works in the suburbs won’t suit rural or urban areas, and just imagine someone who works the night shift in a dense urban area.

Biden’s plan includes, “$4 million to encourage strong partnerships and new programs to increase workplace charging regionally or nationally, which will help increase the feasibility of [plug-in electric vehicle] ownership for consumers in underserved communities.” Partnerships and creative solutions will equally be needed.

An opportunity to fully engage technologies we already have

“Fifty percent of the reductions we have to make to get to net-zero by 2050 or 2045 are going to come from technologies that we don’t yet have,” John Kerry said recently, causing a stir. He later clarified that we also have technologies now that we need to put to work, which received less air time. In reality, we are just getting started in utilizing existing renewable and energy transition technologies; we have yet to realize their full potential.

Currently, utility-scale and distributed energy storage are used for their most simplistic capabilities, that is, jumping in when energy demand reaches its peak and helping keep the grid stable through services referred to as balancing and frequency regulation. But as renewable energy penetration increases and loads such as EVs are electrified, peak demand will be exacerbated.

The role that storage plays for EV charging stations seems well understood. On-site storage is used daily to provide power for charging cars at any given time. Utility-scale storage has the same capabilities and can be used to store and then supply renewable power to the grid in large quantities every day to help balance the demand of EVs.

A stable power system for EVs combines utilities and utility-scale storage with a network of subsystems where energy storage is co-located with EV charging. All of the systems are coordinated and synchronized to gather and dispatch energy at different times of the day based on all the factors that affect grid stability and the availability of renewable power. That synchronization is handled by intelligent energy management software that relies on sophisticated algorithms to forecast and respond to changes within fractions of a second.

This model also makes it possible to manage the cost of electricity and EV demand on the grid. Those subsystems could be municipal-owned locations in lower-income areas. Such a subsystem would collect power in its storage asset and set the price locally on its own terms. These systems could incentivize residents to power up there at certain times of the day in order to make charging more affordable by providing an alternative to the real-time cost of electricity during peak demand when using a home outlet, for example.

Behavior change

The greatest challenge for utilities will be how to manage EV loads and motivate people to stagger charging their vehicles, rather than everyone waiting until they are home in the evening during off-peak renewable generation periods. If everyone plugged in at the same time, we’d end up cooking dinner in the dark.

While there’s been talk of incentivizing the public to charge at different times and spread out demand, motivators vary among demographics. With the ability to charge at home and skip a trip to the “gas station” — or “power station,” as it may be referred to in the future — many people will choose convenience over cost.

The way we currently operate, individual energy usage seems like an independent, isolated event to consumers and households. EVs will require everyone — from utilities and private charging stations to consumers — to be more aware of demand on the grid and act more as communities sharing energy.

Thus, a diverse charging network alone won’t solve the issue of overtaxing the grid. A combination of a new blueprint for managing energy on the grid plus behavior change is needed.

#automotive, #charging-station, #column, #electric-vehicles, #energy, #energy-management, #energy-storage, #opinion, #tc, #transportation, #vehicle-to-grid

Elon Musk praises Chinese automakers amidst regulatory scrutiny

An unusually scripted Elon Musk issued conciliatory and complimentary comments to Chinese automakers during a pre-recorded appearance at China’s World New Energy Vehicle Congress, striking a pose that is worlds away from his commentary style in the United States.

“I have a great deal of respect for the many Chinese automakers for driving these [EV and AV] technologies,” he said, the reflection of a ring light just visible in the window over his left shoulder. The entire tableau was enough to make one suspect that there was a crisis communications expert just out of frame, urging him to continue with his prepared remarks.

Then again, perhaps Musk doesn’t need any external coaxing; China is one of the most lucrative markets for electric vehicles in the entire world, accounting for around one-fifth – or $6.66 billion – of Tesla’s overall sales last year, according to regulatory filings.

While the United States continues to be one Tesla’s largest market, the company has aggressively pursued expansion in China, including opening Gigafactory Shanghai in 2019 to manufacture the Model 3 and Model Y. Tesla faces competition from Chinese automakers, including electric car startup Xpeng and the search giant company Baidu.

“My frank observation is that Chinese automobile companies are the most competitive in the world, especially because some are very good at software, and it is software that will most shape the future of the automobile industry, from design to manufacturing and especially autonomous driving,” Musk said in the message.

The company’s entrance into the EV market of the world’s most populous nation was bumpy at first, but Tesla managed to turn it around. Last year, the Tesla Model 3 was the best-selling EV in China. Tesla has also received unprecedented autonomy in the region, especially as it is the only non-Chinese automaker allowed to wholly own its local subsidiary. It’s a fact that Musk’s noted in past public appearances.

“I think something that’s really quite noteworthy here is, Tesla’s the only foreign manufacturer to have a hundred percent owned factory in China,” Musk said during the company’s Battery Day event last year. “This is often not well understood or not appreciated, but to have the only hundred percent owned foreign factory in China is a really big deal, and it’s paying huge dividends.”

But it hasn’t all been roses: the company has faced a flurry of negative media from both consumers and regulators this year, beginning in February when Chinese government officials summoned company executives for a meeting over vehicle safety concerns.  (To which Tesla said, “We sincerely accepted the guidance of government departments and deeply reflected on shortcomings in our business operations.”)

Then, in April, a woman who said she was a Tesla owner protested the company at the Shanghai auto show in April. Bloomberg reported a few months later that Tesla was attempting to build relationships with Chinese social media influencers and auto-industry publications to combat all the bad PR.

In his pre-recorded remarks, Musk also responded to a question on self-driving vehicles and data security, calling it “not only the responsibility of a single company but also the cornerstone of the whole industry development.” This issue is especially sensitive after news emerged that the Chinese military banned drivers from parking their Tesla’s at its facilities. Last month, China released new regulations aimed at bolstering data security in connected automobiles, Tech Wire Asia reported. Tesla and other automakers, including Ford and BMW, moved to establish local data storage centers in China.

“Tesla will work with national authorities in all countries to ensure data security of intelligent and connected vehicles,” he added.

#automotive, #china, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #tesla, #transportation, #xpeng

Tesla will open controversial FSD beta software to owners with a good driving record

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company will use personal driving data to determine whether owners who have paid for its controversial “Full Self-Driving” software can access the latest beta version that promises more automated driving functions.

Musk tweeted late Thursday night that the FSD Beta v10.0.1 software update, which has already been pushed out to a group of select owners, will become more widely available starting September 24.

Owners who have paid for FSD, which currently costs $10,000, will be offered access to the beta software through a “beta request button.” Drivers who select the beta software will be asked for permission to access their driving behavior using Tesla’s insurance calculator, Musk wrote in a tweet.

“If driving behavior is good for seven days, beta access will be granted,” Musk wrote.

Tesla vehicles come standard with a driver assistance system branded as Autopilot. For an additional $10,000, owners can buy “full self-driving,” or FSD — software that Musk has repeatedly promised will one day deliver full autonomous driving capabilities.

FSD, which has steadily increased in price and has added new functions, has been available as an option for years. However, Tesla vehicles are not self-driving. FSD includes the parking feature Summon as well as Navigate on Autopilot, an active guidance system that navigates a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and making lane changes.

The latest FSD Beta is supposed to automate driving on highways and city streets. However, this is still a Level 2 driver assistance system that requires the driver to pay attention, have their hands on the wheel and take control at all times. Recent videos posted showing owners’ experiences with this beta software provide a mixed picture of its capability. In some videos, the vehicles handle city driving; in many others, drivers are seen taking control due to missed turns, being too close to the curb, failure to creep forward and, in one case, veering off suddenly toward pedestrians.

#automotive, #autopilot, #elon-musk, #fsd, #insurance, #tesla

Boston Dynamics owner Hyundai deploys Spot for factory safety monitoring

Back in June, Hyundai completed a deal for controlling interest in Boston Dynamics. The Korean automotive giant no doubt has some grand plans for integrating the Massachusetts-based firm’s technology into a lot of their forward-looking concept mobility vehicles – for now, however, it’s more about putting existing robots to work.

Hyundai today announced the arrival of the drably-named “Factory Safety Service Robot.” It immediately began referring to the unit as “the Robot” for reasons of brevity in the announcement release, and I’m inclined to do the same, because who has the time to type out “Factory Safety Service Robot” a dozen times?

The Robot (see?) is essentially a modded up version of Spot designed for safety inspections at factories. Naturally, Hyundai is starting close to home, rolling out its first pilot at a Seoul plant for subsidiary, Kia.

The Spot, er, Robot, comes equipped for LiDAR and a thermal camera, which scan the space for high-temperatures, fire hazards and open doors. If it senses something off, it will send an alert through a secure site. It shares images and data in real-time, and like Spot, can either operate autonomously or be controlled remotely.


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“The Factory Safety Service Robot is the first collaboration project with Boston Dynamics. The Robot will help detect risks and secure people’s safety in industrial sites,” said Hyundai’s Dong Jin Hyun said in a release. “We will also continue to create smart services that detect dangers at industrial sites and help support a safe work environment through continuous collaborations with Boston Dynamics.”

On the whole, if you know what Spot can do, you pretty much get the gist with Robot here, albeit with additional mounted sensors. Earlier this week, Boston Dynamics announced additional data collecting features for the robot.

#automotive, #robotics

Ryder to build logistics network with autonomous trucking company Embark

Supply chain and fleet management solutions company Ryder is partnering with yet another autonomous trucking company. On Thursday, Ryder announced its plans to help Embark launch a nationwide network of up to 100 transfer points that will be owned and operated by the autonomous trucking developer. 

This is Ryder’s third public partnership with autonomous trucking companies. It recently announced plans that are currently underway to help Waymo Via scale its autonomous trucking business by helping with standardized fleet maintenance and management. Ryder is also working with TuSimple to leverage its own facilities as terminals for the startup

“We’re on the cutting edge and really beginning to understand that AV could have a pretty significant role in the future of transportation logistics, so we want to get in as early as possible and start working with these companies that seem to be dominating the market with their technologies,” Karen Jones, Ryder’s EVP for new product innovation, told TechCrunch.

While Ryder has been in talks with other AV companies like Kodiak, Aurora and Plus, Jones said no other deals are in the pipeline. Jones says Ryder is hoping to learn and grow through the different use cases its existing partnerships provide, as well as come up with a replicable transfer hub model that will help the company go to market faster.

“I think as we move this technology forward there’s still a lot of unknowns about how to maintain, how to service and how to operate,” said Jones. “Ryder is a natural fit to partner with because we have huge facilities for maintenance, and then we also have our supply chain and logistics business. We are a real operator that knows how these facilities and the complexities of getting vehicles in and out for delivery to larger facilities work.”

As part of its partnership with Embark, Ryder will provide yard operations, maintenance and fleet management. It will also play an advisory role on Embark’s network of strategically located transfer points where freight is moved from driverless long-haul trucks to driver-controlled trucks for first- and last-mile delivery. 

Ryder is helping Embark to understand what’s required at the facilities and cooperating with Embark’s third-party partners who will either be constructing or locating sites for these facilities, says Jones. At the start, the companies will select sites in key freight markets in California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida through which Embark will be able to begin operations early next year in preparation for a larger commercial launch in 2024. 

Ryder to build logistics network with autonomous trucking company Embark

Image Credits: Embark

Autonomous companies often choose Sun Belt regions to begin operations because it’s rare to have to account for inclement weather patterns like snow and sleet, making the environment optimal for testing. But over the next five years, Embark and Ryder aim to work with a network of real estate operators to open 100 Embark transfer points across the country. 

Currently, Embark, which recently announced plans to go public via a SPAC deal, moves freight for companies like HP and Budweiser makers AB inBev, as well as Knight Swift Transportation, Werner Enterprises and other “top 25 U.S. truckload carriers,” according to CEO Alex Rodrigues. 

Rodrigues says Embark’s current freight partnerships are either pilots or smaller scale versions of what the company plans to launch in the future. The company has a fleet of 16 trucks today that operate exclusively on highways with a human safety operator in the front seat just in case, but usually, the driver does not have to take over, even if the AV encounters a new scenario. 

Operating only on highways means building out a network of off-highway transfer hubs, which is actually pretty essential, even though it will require a lot of capital and time to scale. TuSimple, by comparison, operates on both highways and surface streets, or streets that are not part of a freeway and have at-grade intersections with other surface streets. The startup’s AVs don’t go into residential areas, and thus don’t perform last-mile delivery, but they are able to access distribution centers and warehouse facilities more easily, according to TuSimple. This capability allows the startup to use existing Ryder locations and retrofit them to serve as TuSimple terminals, rather than building out new terminals, like what Embark is doing. 

Waymo Via is also building its own hubs, and Ryder’s fleet maintenance, inspections and roadside assistance will help the autonomous trucking arm of Waymo scale those sites as well as maximize vehicle uptime and reliability. 

As Ryder lends its varied capabilities to all of these different use cases, it is able to consider its own potential in the AV space, and not just in the logistics of it all. Jones said the company is open to operating an autonomous fleet one day if it makes sense to do so on behalf of a customer, and is also very entrenched in its first- and last-mile delivery services. 

“There’s a number of spaces for Ryder to play as the whole AV initiative evolves, but our first foray into this is really servicing and beginning to understand the technology, as well as the requirements for operating hubs,” said Jones. 

#automotive, #autonomous-trucking, #embark, #ryder, #transportation, #tusimple, #waymo-via

GM extends Chevy Bolt EV production shutdown through mid-October

General Motors is extending the shutdown of its Orion Assembly Plant until at least mid-October as a result of a battery pack shortage related to the recently announced Chevy Bolt EV and EUV safety recall. Bloomberg first reported that the company intends to idle its plant through the week of October 11.

“These most recent scheduling adjustments are being driven by the continued parts shortages caused by semiconductor supply constraints from international markets experiencing COVID-related restrictions,” the company said in a statement. “We remain confident in our team’s ability to continue finding creative solutions to minimize the impact on our highest-demand and capacity constrained vehicles. Although the situation remains complex and very fluid, GM continues to prioritize full-size truck production which remains in high demand.”

Last week, GM announced the shutdown of the Michigan assembly plant, which began on August 23, would extend to September 20, but it’s clear that the company has not yet found a solution to the causes of delay. In the meantime, GM said it would continue to work with its battery supplier, LG Chem, to update its manufacturing processes and production schedules.

In July, the company began recalls for its Chevy Bolts due to fire risks, and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has recommended customers park their vehicles away from homes and other vehicles as a precaution.

Last week, GM said production on its full-size trucks and full-size SUVs would begin by this week, but chip shortages have also caused GM to announce slowing production at five other assembly plants in North America. Some, like the Fort Wayne Assembly and Silao Assembly plants, which produce the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 models, have already ramped up to full capacity as of September 13 after being briefly impacted by the global semiconductor shortage, GM said.

The Lansing Delta Township Assembly plant in Michigan, which builds the Chevrolet Traverse and the Buick Enclave, will add an additional week of downtime the week of September 27 and is expected to resume production the week of October 4. The plant has been shut down since July 19. Downtime for the Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac Black Wing have also been extended through the week of the 27th, as well as previously announced downtime for Cadillac CT4 and CT5 production. Production on the Camaro has been down since September 13, and on the CT4 and CT5 since May 10.

Production of the Equinox, Blazer and GMC Terrain have been pushed out through the week of October 11, as well, which are produced at the CAMI Assembly plant in Canada and San Luis Potosi Assembly and Ramos Assembly in Mexico. Production of the Blazer and Equinox have been down since August 23 and August 16, respectively.

Cadillac XT4 production, which has been down since February 8, will resume at Fairfax Assembly in Kansas next week. GM said production of the Chevrolet Malibu, which is also at Fairfax and has been down since February 8, will remain down through the week of October 25.

#automotive, #chevy-bolt, #evs, #general-motors, #transportation

Lucid Air snags the longest range EV title, surpassing Tesla

Lucid Group, the all-electric automaker slated to go public this year, said Thursday that one variant of its upcoming luxury Air sedan has an EPA range of more than 520 miles. The official rating of the Lucid Air Dream Edition Range variant pushes Lucid past Tesla, a company that has long dominated in this category.

The official EPA range of the Lucid Air — and its many editions — have been expected to be as high or higher than some of Tesla’s models. This announcement not only gives Lucid bragging rights, it reveals a bit about the company’s strategy to offer a variety of versions of the Air sedan with prices ranging between $169,000 and $77,400.

Lucid initially planned to sell one version of Lucid Air Dream Edition, essentially its first and flagship model of the sedan. There are now two versions: the Lucid AirDream Edition Range, which has 520 miles of range when equipped with 19-inch tires and 933 horsepower, and the Lucid Air Dream Edition Performance, a more powerful version with 1,111 horsepower that can travel 471 miles on a single charge when equipped with 19-inch tires. The range on the Dream Edition Range drops to 481 and the Dream Edition Performance to 451 miles when the vehicles have 21 inch tires.

Lucid Group CTO and CEO Peter Rawlinson credits the range figure on a combination of its 900V battery and battery management system, smaller drive units and its electric drive train technology. Rawlinson noted that he believed this is a new record for any EV.

Lucid plans to produce and sell other variants of the Air, including a Grand Touring version that received a 516-mile EPA range rating. The Grand Touring variant has a starting price of $139,000, while the longest range Dream Edition has a base price of $169,000. The automaker plans to sell two other, less expensive versions: the Air Touring that starts at $95,000 and the Air Pure with a $77,400 base price.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #lucid-air, #lucid-group, #tesla, #transportation

Volta Trucks raises €37 million to bring electric delivery trucks to the streets of London and Paris

Trucking tends to be associated with highways, but it’s not uncommon to find large delivery vehicles trundling down the tightly packed streets of the world’s most populated cities. According to EV startup Volta Trucks, that’s far from ideal: in London, large commercial vehicles cause around 26% of pedestrian fatalities and around 80% of cyclist fatalities, and account for an outsized portion of carbon emissions.

Volta’s solution is to electrify and redesign the large cargo vehicle — called Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) in Europe — for middle- and last-mile delivery in urban centers. “The traditional design of trucks and city centers really don’t work together, but you can’t just ban trucks from city centers,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Volta Trucks has raised a €37 million ($44 million) funding round to accelerate its plans, starting with a fleet of pilot vehicles in London and Paris.

The round was led by New York-based Luxor Capital Group and returning investor Byggmästare Anders J Ahlström Holding of Stockholm. New investors included U.S. electric truck and battery manufacturer Proterra and supply chain management company Agility.

The idea for the company came to Volta co-founder and Swedish serial entrepreneur Carl-Magnus Norden when Elon Musk revealed the Tesla Model 3. Norden realized that there was very little equivalent movement to electrify the world of commercial vehicles, despite the fact that they produce a large share of carbon emissions.

Four years later, Volta (not to be confused with Volta Charging, the European EV charging station company) has come up with a truck that gives the driver a 220-degree view, similar to what one might see on a city bus. The driver’s seat is also in the center of the cab. On the inside of the 16-ton truck, called Volta Zero, will sit a single unit containing an electric motor, transmission and rear axle supplied by OEM supplier Meritor. This unit, called an eAxle, leaves more space between the chassis rails for the battery.

Those batteries will have a 95- to 120-mile range and will be designed by Proterra, a supplier (and now investor) that Volta says will be able to furnish batteries into the longer term and at higher production levels. Volta is imagining that it will produce up to 5,000 trucks by the end of 2023, 14,000 to 15,000 by 2024, and 27,000 trucks by 2025.

Volta plans to also offer a “truck as a service” model, which is a leasing agreement including insurance, charging infrastructure, service repair and maintenance. While Volta also plans on selling trucks outright, the spokesperson said the company anticipates the leasing model will make up 50%, and as high as 80%, of its business.

Volta is gearing up to launch a fleet of six R&D vehicles in London and Paris at the beginning of the year. These trucks will be used for internal validation. The company plans to start about a 33-vehicle pilot program with customers in two major European cities by the middle of next year.

The plan is that this will allow Volta to start full-scale production by the end of 2022. All of the vehicles, with the exception of the six beta trucks, will be manufactured by Steyr Automotive in Austria. The two announced the manufacturing agreement last week.

Volta says it has letters of intent for 2,500 trucks. The goal is to convert these to binding deposit-led orders as Volta moves closer to series production. This round now brings its total funding to date to around €60 million ($71 million).

#automotive, #electric-trucks, #europe, #proterra, #recent-funding, #startups, #transportation, #volta-trucks

Gravity is launching an indoor charging hub in NYC with plans to scale

Electric vehicle fleet and infrastructure startup Gravity thinks it has cracked the code for urban EV charging infrastructure. 

The company, which was founded in February this year, announced its construction project to convert an indoor parking garage in the middle of Manhattan into a public EV fast charging hub. When the 29-space garage on 42nd Street, which Gravity is leasing from real estate firm Related Companies, opens in within a few weeks, it will be the island’s first dedicated EV charging space. Based on Gravity’s plans to scale, it won’t be the last. 

“We’ll probably see five to ten fast charging sites of different capacity in Manhattan over the next six months or so,” Moshe Cohen, Gravity’s CEO and founder told TechCrunch. “We’ve gone with Con Ed to dozens of sites in the five boroughs. We’ve surveyed the power grid and have plans to scale because it doesn’t work as a one-off. It works with scale, with coverage areas.”

Finding a place to park your car in New York City is a nightmare in and of itself. Finding a park and a charge for your EV is like finding a unicorn, and probably an expensive unicorn at that. Most of NYC’s EV charge points are behind the literal paywalls of parking garages, where you might find one or two Blink or EV Connect chargers nestled into a sea of ICE vehicle parking spaces. With Gravity’s hub, parking is free while cars are being charged. The only cost is that of electricity.

Gravity is not the first to recognize the problem of charging electric vehicles in an urban core. Electric mobility company Revel, first known for its shared e-mopeds around New York City, opened the city’s first public fast charging hub in an outdoor lot in Brooklyn this past June. Con Edison, New York’s electric utility company, has supported both initiatives with its electric vehicle charging incentives and rewards.

For Gravity’s site at Manhattan Plaza, the company worked with Con Ed to pull spare capacity power from two separate utility rooms on 42nd Street and Ninth Avenue, bringing in around 2,400 amps of power, which Cohen says is extremely rare to have condensed in one place in any city, let alone New York.

Cohen said he spent a long time location-scouting before choosing this as Gravity’s first spot, and proximity to power wasn’t the only game changer here. The site has its own dedicated entrance off 42nd Street and falls right between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, which is not only close to Times Square and the heart of the city, but also to the Lincoln Tunnel which provides access to and from New Jersey.

“Our vision is we are bringing infrastructure to all the places that cars are right now, so if you’re in our coverage area, you should never have to worry about charging your vehicle, because it’ll get charged where it’s parked,” said Cohen. “So if you think about dense urban areas like Manhattan or downtown Chicago, where are cars parked? They’re either on a curb or they’re inside parking garages, and they’re very space constrained. And so you have to design different equipment that deals with the space and power constraints in order to have charging happen in all those places.”

Design is a big part of Gravity’s business model, from the design of the space itself to the charging equipment. The company says it’s collaborating with Jasmit Rangr, an architect who is known for integrating his buildings with the landscape, climate and environment, in order to transform garages into attractive and welcoming spaces that house clean electric vehicles. 

“The whole area is for EVs only, so it’s really a chance to showcase an experience around what the world would look like if parking areas for cars had no pollution or oil spills,” said Cohen.

Indeed, the renderings do look pretty flash – not at all the dark, creepy, petrol-smelling caverns that one associates with city parking garages. Gravity says Rangr also integrated interactive touchscreens into the designs of the various spaces the company is building out around NYC. The touchscreens are designed by Gravity to help users adjust and monitor their vehicle’s charging as they wait amongst the light-filled wooden car cubbies and try to decide if the plant decor is real or fake. 

Providing standardized and simplified equipment was a big concern for Cohen, as well. He says the current model for public charging equipment in most cases includes an amalgamation of software, hardware and payment processing that are not very well integrated. Gravity has worked with an unnamed manufacturing partner to consolidate those segments and create a more seamless user experience, and that includes what’s happening on the back end of the charge, according to the company. 

Gravity’s first site will accommodate about 22 fast chargers, three intermediate chargers and a few slow chargers. All of the fast chargers are up to 180kW, which means that even when two vehicles are plugged into one installation, each plug can do 90 kW of energy. Cohen says anything below 80 kW isn’t truly fast charging, and many of the companies that claim they offer fast charging are really only able to put out around 62.5 kW. Cohen also says by sending that current through 400 amp charging cables, even smaller volt batteries like those in Teslas can receive more than 80 kW. 

The intermediate chargers use about 24kW to 30 kW equipment and charge cars within one to three hours. The slow chargers charge overnight or within six to eight hours using 11 kW equipment. 

Many of the parking spots will be taken up by Gravity’s fleet of Tesla Model Y yellow cabs, which will charge overnight, says Cohen. Bringing a fleet of electric taxis to NYC was actually the impetus behind building charging infrastructure. Cohen has a soft spot for the yellow cab as an institution and wanted to come up with a way to give it a Renaissance. He got the greenlight from Tesla to lease the vehicles for this use case and worked with the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to change the rules so a Tesla could be seen as a taxi before setting out on the harder task of how to charge the fleet. 

“I talked to all the major charging equipment companies, and I quickly realized that there’s no charging equipment that is set up for charging fleets, and I realized the extent of the problem,” said Cohen. “We started thinking about infrastructure because the model just does not work without infrastructure and a yellow taxi using a model Y requires high levels of utilization and scale.”

In May, the TLC approved Gravity’s pilot program, and Cohen said the agency is going to release an MOU to continue the program within the next few weeks. In the meantime, Gravity wants to ramp up installing equipment at scale so that it can then grow its fleet.

“People think of mobility as this drain of cash and nobody has figured it out,” said Cohen. “I actually think that mobility and infrastructure are going to get solved together, and you’ll be able to make margins off utilization that are generous.”

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #ev-charging, #gravity, #nyc, #tesla-model-y, #transportation

Walmart to launch autonomous delivery service with Ford and Argo AI

Walmart has tapped Argo AI and Ford to launch an autonomous vehicle delivery service in Austin, Miami and Washington D.C., the companies said Wednesday.

The service will allow customers to place online orders for groceries and other items using Walmart’s ordering platform. Argo’s cloud-based infrastructure will be integrated with Walmart’s online platform, routing the orders and scheduling package deliveries to customers homes. Initially, the commercial service will be limited to specific geogrpahic areas in each city and expand over time. The companies will begin testing later this year.

Walmart and Ford have partnered before in a limited test with Postmates in fall 2018. In that pilot program, which focused on Miami-Dade County, they used simulated self-driving vehicles to study the user experience of delivering groceries. Argo was not involved in that study.

This latest collaboration will use Ford vehicles integrated with Argo AI’s self-driving technology. The aim is to show the potential for for autonomous vehicle delivery services at scale, according to Argo AI CEO and co-founder Bryan Salesky.

The announcement illustrates Ford’s two-track system to launch a commercial service that uses autonomous vehicles to shuttle people and possibly packages. The automaker has been testing the business side of of how a dedicated fleet of autonomous vehicles might operate in the real world. It backed Argo AI in 2016 and tapped the company to develop and test the self-driving system.

It also shows how Austin and Miami have become central to their initials commercialization plans.

Earlier this summer, Argo AI and Ford announced plans to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in a number of cities over the next five years, starting with Miami and Austin. The first Ford self-driving vehicles equipped with Argo’s autonomous vehicle technology are expected to become available on Lyft’s app in Miami later this year.

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #delivery, #transportation, #volkswagen, #vw, #walmart

Rivian vehicles are now ready for sale in all 50 states, following key certifications

Rivian vehicles have received certifications from three agencies, the final hurdle that allows the electric automaker to sell and deliver its R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV in all 50 U.S. states.

Rivian confirmed to TechCrunch in an email that the vehicles are fully certified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. Bloomberg also reported that Rivian has received regulatory approval to deliver vehicles to customers.

Rivian has a direct sales model, in which customers can order its vehicles online. Dealer protection laws in many states prohibit companies like Rivian from having its own stores, where customers can take test drives and learn about financing options. However, there are no restrictions from customers ordering online from those states.

Today, 22 states allow for all vehicle manufacturers to sell vehicles to customers, according to the NRDC. In those states, Rivian can set up stores, display vehicles, offer test rides and importantly discuss financing. Another 11 states allow for only Tesla, which also has a direct sales model, to sell vehicles, often in a limited number of locations throughout the state.

Rivian plans to begin deliveries of the R1T launch edition this month. Deliveries of the R1S SUV are expected to follow this year.

Confirmation of the certifications from the state and two federal agencies followed a trio of announcements in the past several weeks that , including the first production Rivian R1T electric pickup truck in “Rivian blue” rolling off the assembly line Tuesday morning at the company’s factory in Normal, Illinois. The company’s two vehicles also received official EPA ranges of 314 miles for the first edition version of its all-electric R1T pickup truck and 316 miles for the R1T SUV.

All of this follows Rivian confidentially filing paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to go public. The company, backed by a host of institutional and strategic investors including Ford and Amazon, has not size and price range for the proposed offering.

Sources familiar with Rivian’s IPO plans said the company has not yet started the “roadshow,” a process in which an underwriting firm and company management make a series of presentations to potential investors before going public.

 

#automotive, #electric-trucks, #electric-vehicles, #ipo, #rivian, #transportation

Rivian’s first-production R1T electric pickup truck rolls off the line

The first-production Rivian R1T electric pickup truck in “Rivian blue” rolled off the assembly line Tuesday morning at the company’s factory in Normal, Illinois, marking a milestone more than a decade in the making for the automaker and its founder and CEO, RJ Scaringe.

The company, which started in 2009 as Mainstream Motors before adopting the Rivian name two years later, has undergone explosive growth in terms of people, backers and partners in the past few years.

Rivian operated in relative obscurity, aka stealth mode, for years before it revealed prototypes of its all-electric R1T truck and R1S SUV at the LA Auto Show in late 2018.

Since then, Rivian has raised billions of dollars ($10.5 billion in all); expanded its Normal, Illinois, factory; hired thousands of employees; landed Amazon as a commercial customer; and, most recently, filed confidentially for an IPO. Today, in addition to its Illinois factory, Rivian has facilities in Palo Alto and Irvine, California; and Plymouth, Michigan; and an office in the U.K.

When it first revealed the two electric vehicles in 2018, Rivian had about 600 employees. Today, it has more than 7,000.

Rivian’s announcement Tuesday, which marks the official beginning of R1T production for customers, comes after at least two delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and global chip shortage. Earlier this summer, Scaringe wrote in a letter to customers that R1T deliveries would begin in September, with the R1S to follow “shortly.”

Rivian has been juggling the dueling priorities of prepping and eventually producing the R1T and R1S for consumers and commercial delivery vans for Amazon. The Illinois factory has two separate production lines producing vehicles. One is dedicated to the R1 vehicles and the other line is for its commercial vans.

Amazon ordered 100,000 of these vans, with deliveries starting in 2021. Earlier this year, Amazon began testing the electric delivery van in several cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Earlier this month, Rivian announced that the first edition version of the R1T pickup truck has an official EPA range of 314 miles, while its R1T SUV comes in at 316 miles.

The official range and fuel economy values posted on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website align with Rivian’s previous estimates, which it advertised as 300 miles.

The moment is also important because it means Rivian has the benefit of being the first electric truck on the market. Ford’s F-150 Lightning, which isn’t expected to come on the market until spring 2022, has a targeted range of 230 miles in the standard and up to 300 miles in the extended version. The EPA has not issued official ranges for the Ford Lightning.

Rivian’s “Launch edition” R1T truck and R1S SUV come equipped with a 135-kWh battery pack that is branded as the “large pack.” Deliveries of the Launch Edition vehicles are slated to begin this month.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #r1t, #rivian, #rj-scaringe, #transportation

JB Straubel’s Redwood Materials is expanding into the battery materials business

Redwood Materials, the company started by former Tesla co-founder JB Straubel that aims to create a circular supply chain for batteries, is expanding its business. While it has been known primarily as a recycling firm, Redwood plans to simplify the supply chain by producing critical battery materials right here in the U.S.

To get there, the company is currently scouting a location for a new million-square-foot factory, at a cost of over $1 billion, Bloomberg reported. That factory would be dedicated to the production of cathodes and anode foils, the two essential building blocks of a lithium-ion battery structure – up to a projected volume of 100 gigawatt-hour per year’s worth of materials, enough for one million electric vehicles, by 2025.

But that’s not all. By 2030, the company expects to increase its annual battery materials production to 500 GWh, enough to power five million electric vehicles.

These numbers are incredibly ambitious. If Redwood can pull it off, it would be putting itself squarely among the ranks of the largest materials giants in the world, many of which are located in Asia. BloombergNEF estimated that consolidating the cathode supply chain to the United States, and using a certain percentage of recycled materials, could cut emissions from battery-pack production by 41%.

Recycling alone won’t take the company to these kinds of production numbers, though Redwood is also planning on expanding its recycling operations. Instead, the company said in a statement that it would produce the anodes and cathodes from both recycled batteries and “sustainably mined material.” For now, the company is staying mum on its partners for this new endeavor, but it will likely mean more announcements of partnerships and expansions in the future.

This is just the latest bold move from the company, which has been making moves to aggressively expand its footprint for months. Earlier this summer, Redwood said it would triple the size of its 150,000-square-foot recycling facility in Carson City, Nevada, and it also purchased 100 acres of land near Tesla and Panasonic’s Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. The news also comes fresh off the heels of a $700 million Series C funding round, from major investors including Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Baillie Gifford and Goldman Sachs Asset Management. The capital launched Redwood’s valuation to $3.7 billion.

The company has recycling deals with Tesla, Amazon, electric bus maker Proterra, and electric bike maker Specialized Bicycle Components. Redwood says it can recover between 95-95% of critical materials from recycled batteries, such as lithium, copper, nickel and cobalt.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #jb-straubel, #lithium-ion-batteries, #supply-chains, #tesla, #transportation

Toyota, Honda urge Congress to reject expanded tax incentive that would benefit Ford, GM, Stellantis

Toyota Motor and Honda are urging legislators to reject a bill that would expand tax incentives for union-made electric vehicles that are built in the United States.

The proposal – which Toyota blasted as “blatantly biased” and “exorbitant” in a letter to Congress – would expand the federal tax incentives from $7,500 to as much as $12,500 for union- and domestically manufactured cars. Vehicles with batteries manufactured in the U.S. would be eligible for an additional $500. If the legislation passes, vehicles from automakers like Toyota, Honda and Tesla would be excluded from the expanded credit, while the “Big Three” manufacturers in Detroit would all qualify.

“The current [bill] draft makes the objective of accelerating the deployment of electrified vehicles secondary by discriminating against American autoworkers based on their choice not to unionize,” Toyota said in a letter to lawmakers. “This is unfair, it is wrong, and we ask you to reject this blatantly biased proposal.”

The automaker further said that the bill favors the wealthy – people that may not need public funds to purchase an electric vehicle. There is a means testing provision in the bill, that would limit access to the credit to individuals making an adjusted income of up to $400,000, or households that make up to $800,000. Whether to set an income cap – and what that income cap should be – has been a major point of contention between Congressional Democrats and Republicans.

The bill also received criticism from Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who said on Twitter that it was “written by Ford/UAW lobbyists, as they make their electric car in Mexico. Not obvious how this serves American taxpayers.”

This would be the first such increase to the up to $7,500 tax credit for EVs since it was put into effect over a decade ago. The bill would also do away with a stipulation that exempts vehicles made by OEMs that have sold over 200,000 EVs from the credit, meaning that General Motor and Tesla cars would once again be eligible.

The bill did receive praise from GM, Ford Motor and Stellantis, three major automakers with workforces represented by the United Auto Workers union. The UAW also supports the proposal.

It’s being considered Tuesday by the House Ways and Means Committee. The expanded credit just one part of a massive $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that’s currently being debated by Congress and that includes a whole slew of socially progressive proposals meant to target education, healthcare, and climate change.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #general-motor, #gm, #policy, #tesla, #toyota, #transportation

Chinese tech giant Baidu begins publicly testing Apollo Go robotaxis in Shanghai

Chinese search engine giant Baidu has begun publicly testing its Apollo Go robotaxi mobile platform in Shanghai, marking the company’s continued expansion of its footprint in China. 

While Baidu says its robotaxis have achieved Level 4 capabilities, a human safety operator will be present during all rides, which are open to the public as of Sunday, in order to comply with local regulations. The Society of Automotive Engineers defines an L4 autonomous car as one that doesn’t require human interaction in most cases and can only operate in limited areas. Companies like Waymo, Cruise, Motional, Pony.AI and Yandex are all using a similar combination of lidar, radar, cameras and GPS to build a vehicle brain that’s capable of L4 autonomy. 

Shanghai’s fleet will be made up of Baidu’s electric Hongqi EVs, its fourth generation autonomous vehicles produced with FAW. The company did not disclose how many vehicles it has initially launched, but a Baidu spokesperson told TechCrunch that the goal is to make it to around 200 vehicles in Shanghai. In total, Baidu says it is either testing or publicly deploying about 500 AVs across 30 cities. 

While Baidu does have a permit to test its driverless tech in California, it hasn’t yet deployed any service and is instead putting most of its resources towards scaling up in China. There’s a huge increase in demand for robotaxi services at home, says a company spokesperson, so Baidu is focusing on improving its technology, building lots of vehicles and ensuring a good user experience. Shanghai marks the fifth city where the Apollo Go robotaxi service is open to the public, including Changsha, Cangzhou, Beijing and Guangzhou. 

Just a few weeks ago, Baidu expanded its Apollo Go services in Beijing into the Tongzhou District, which is considered to be the eastern gateway into the city, adding 22 new stations over 31 miles. In April, the company launched 10 fully driverless robotaxis in the capital city’s Shougang Park, a 1.2 square mile area that has become the testing ground for China’s first commercialized robotaxi operations. No human safety operator sits behind the wheel of these cars, only a safety member in the passenger seat to provide riders with reassurance. Each ride costs 30 yuan ($4.60) and is open to passengers aged 18 to 60. Everywhere else, including Shanghai, rides are free because the service is still in its trial phase.

Riders in Shanghai can use the Apollo Go app to call a robotaxi from 9:30am to 11pm and be picked up or dropped off at one of 150 stations across the Jianding District, which is home to Shanghai University, the Shanghai International Circuit and many tourist attractions. 

Shanghai is also the location of Baidu’s Apollo Park, an autonomous vehicle facility for operation, testing and R&D. The 10,000 square meter space will house the 200 AVs Baidu hopes to bring to the city, which would make it the site of the largest self-driving fleet in East China. 

Baidu’s long game is to deploy 3,000 AVs in the next two to three years across 30 cities in China. Considering the company has been investing in R&D for AV tech since 2013 and has been running the Apollo project since 2017, Baidu is poised to do just that. In June, Baidu and BAIC Group unveiled plans for the Apollo Moon, which is set to be mass-produced with a per unit manufacturing price of 480,000 yuan, or about $75,000, which is actually pretty cheap, all things considered. Baidu says it will produce 1,000 of these vehicles over the next couple of years, as well as different models yet to be announced, in order to supply its growing fleet. 

Infrastructure is a big part of Baidu’s goals to expand Apollo Go. A spokesperson from Baidu said the company is also investing in building 5G-powered, V2X infrastructure in hundreds of intersections throughout major Chinese cities. Baidu is already installing sensors like cameras and lidar, coupled with edge compute systems that can transfer road information to autonomous systems, in order to reduce traffic congestion. In the long term, smart infrastructure will help AVs perform more robustly and serve to offset some of the huge costs associated with onboard sensors and computing power, according to the company. 

While Baidu says its robotaxis currently still rely on onboard capabilities to achieve L4 autonomy, the company sees V2X as the future of large scale deployment.

#asia, #automotive, #autonomous-driving, #baidu, #robotaxi, #tc, #transportation

Ford hires new chief digital information officer as it seeks to expand into software and services

Ford Motor has hired Mike Amend as its chief digital and information officer as the automaker seeks to expand into software, subscriptions and in-vehicle connectivity. Amend, who was president of Lowe’s Online for three years, will focus on Ford’s “use of data, software and technology” — all areas central to Ford’s new Ford+ strategy, the OEM said.

The hire is just the latest sign that Ford is serious about beefing up its digital offerings for customers, as the company seeks to pivot toward high-tech segments. The company calls this plan “Ford+,” which it unveiled earlier this year. Central to this plan is electric vehicles, which Ford wants to comprise around half of its global sales by 2030, as well as expanding into new sources of revenue via subscriptions and digital services.

To that end, Amend will oversee a number of teams, including Ford’s technology and software platform function and its global data insight and analytics section.

Amend isn’t Ford’s only recent hire of note. The automaker also recently poached Doug Field — the tech executive who was leading Apple’s special projects team, and who also led the development of the Model 3 at Tesla — as chief advanced technology and embedded systems officer. The two will work closely, along with chief of product Hau Thai-Tang, Ford said.

Amend’s career includes growing the online businesses of major retailers, including Lowe’s, The Home Depot and JCPenney. Ford’s interim chief information officer, Sakis Kitsopanidis, will continue to serve as director of integrated enterprise resource planning.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #ford-motor, #hiring, #transportation

GM invests in radar software startup Oculii as demand for automated driving features rise

Oculii, a software startup that aims to improve the spatial resolution of radar sensors by up to 100-fold, has scored a new investment from General Motors. The new funding, which the two companies say is in the millions, comes just months after Oculii closed a $55 million Series B.

Oculii and GM have already been working together “for some time now,” CEO Steven Hong told TechCrunch in a recent interview. While he declined to specify exactly how GM plans to use Oculii’s software, it could be used to bolster the capabilities of the automaker’s hands-free advanced driver assistance system known as Super Cruise. Hong added that the company is also working with a few other OEMs, including one on the cap table.

“When a company like GM says, this is great technology and this is something that we potentially want to use down the line, it makes the entire supply chain take notice and effectively work more closely with you to adopt the solution, the technology, into what they’re selling to the OEMs,” he said.

The startup has no intention of building hardware. Instead, Oculii wants to license software to radar companies. The startup claims it can take low-cost, commercially available radar sensors – sensors that weren’t designed for autonomous driving, but rather for limited scenarios like emergency breaking or parking assist – and use its AI software to enable more autonomous maneuvering, Hong said.

“We really believe that the way to deliver something that’s scalable is through software, because software fundamentally improves with data,” he said. “Software fundamentally improves with better hardware in each generation that’s released. Software fundamentally over time gets cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, much faster than hardware, for example.”

The news is certainly bullish for radar, a sensor that is generally used for assistive capabilities because of its imaging limitations. But if Oculii can actually improve the performance of radar, which tend to be much cheaper than lidar, it could mean massive cost savings for automakers.

Tesla, the largest electric vehicle maker by sales volume in the world, recently nixed radar sensors from its advanced driver assistance system, in favor of a “pure vision” approach that uses cameras and a supercomputer-powered neural network. Hong said that the radar Tesla eliminated was very low resolution, and “wasn’t really adding anything to their existing pipeline.”

But he doesn’t think the company would always necessarily count out radar, should the technology improve. “Fundamentally, each of these sensors improves [the] safety case and gets you closer and closer to 99.99999% reliability. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing, is getting as many nines of reliability as you can.”

#automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #general-motors, #hardware, #lidar, #oculii, #radar, #recent-funding, #self-driving-cars, #startups, #transportation

The Station: Apple car shakeup, how Sept. 11 changed travel, and a pledge from airlines

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hi readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.

Twenty years and one week ago, I was riding the monorail system at the Newark airport and pointed to the twin skyscrapers looming in the distance. “I can’t believe you’ve never been to the top of the World Trade Center,” I said to my then fiancé and now husband. Days later, I would walk into a restaurant in a Slovenian town and see a report on the TV about a plane crashing into one of those towers. Like so many of us, we spent the rest of that day watching the news and wondering what would happen next.

In all, four aircraft were hijacked the morning of September 11, two of which crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and the fourth in a field in Pennsylvania. In all, 2,996 people were killed.

The September 11 terrorist attacks triggered a series of events that would change the world forever, including how we move about it. My September 6, 2001 flight to Newark and then onto to Europe was the last time I would experience what now seems unimaginable: getting to an airport less than 45 minutes before my plane took off.

My trip home from Europe provided a forecast of what air travel would look and feel like, although some measures like when we were separately interviewed two different times prior to boarding, ended up being temporary.

Within months of my arrival home, passenger screening and security at airports would be handled by a new federal agency called the Transportation Security Administration. Security wasn’t the only aspect of air travel that changed.

The airline industry experienced skyrocketing losses that sparked a wave of cost-cutting, new fees for travelers and consolidation. According to the GAO, the U.S. airline industry lost $23 billion between 2001 and 2003 and some of the nation’s biggest airlines including USAir and United Airlines filed for bankruptcy.

The airline industry would suffer financial losses during the Great Recession of 2008, causing more bankruptcies and consolidation. Today, most domestic flights are controlled by four airlines: American, Delta, Southwest and United.

After recovering and stringing together a few years of profitability, the airline industry (and how we travel) would get hit again: this time from the COVID-19 pandemic.

p.s. Thanks to co-worker and cybersecurity editor Zack Whittaker for the photo (featured as the main image for the post) he snapped yesterday.

As always, you can email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

We’ve talked before about the possibilities of shared micromobility to help cities create more equitable and accessible transit ecosystems. Shared operators have expanded this idea to support activism.

Agencies and operators provided free or discounted trips for demonstrators to get to events, according to the North American Bikeshare and Scootershare Association’s 2020 report on the state of the shared micromobility industry, Many even donated or fundraised for racial justice nonprofits.

Not only are they aiding the fight on the ground, the report also shows that nearly three-quarters of all operators stated that diversity was a part of every hiring decision, and 69 percent reported that women and POC are represented at all levels of the organization.

Operator update

Lime is back in Oakland with 500 scooters and plans to scale up to 1,000 over the coming weeks. The company pulled out of the city last year during the pandemic. This time, it’s focusing on “Communities of Concern” as designated by the city, and will deploy half its fleet to these neighborhoods that have been traditionally underserved by transportation.

Tier is hooking up with Irish computer vision startup Luna. Tier is adding Luna’s cameras and smart city technology to its shared e-scooter fleets across Europe and the Middle East. To handle the increase in work, Luna is hiring 15 new staffers to cover computer vision/AI, hardware, IoT and project management roles in Ireland. Interestingly, the partnership comes from an Ireland trade mission to Germany to better understand how the two countries could work together within the e-mobility and automotive industry. Luna just recently launched a pilot with Voi in England, and Ford-backed micromobility operator Spin is slowly pushing out Drover AI’s similar tech on scooters in the United States.

Speaking of Voi, the Swedish company is working with the UK government’s Kickstart Scheme to help create jobs for people ages 16 to 24 years old on Universal Credit who are at risk of long term unemployment. Voi is recruiting 25 young people across the country to work as Warehouse Operatives and Fleet Specialists. The young ones will be ensured a job for at least six months and will hopefully learn a thing or two about a growing transport industry.

Bird has tweaked its branding. It recently announced its scooters and bikes will now be made in “Electric Sky” blue, as opposed to its black, white and silver color scheme. The color evokes eco-friendly transportation, clear skies and cheerful days. It’s reminiscent of Revel’s blue mopeds and Swapfiets’ bikes.

Taking liberties with the term “micromobility”

Chinese EV maker Xpeng says it’s going to make a robot unicorn for children to ride. The quadruped will navigate multiple types of terrain, recognize objects and provide “emotional interaction.” The robot pulls from Xpeng’s experiences with AI and automated driving development. The rendering looks cute and soft, for a metal beast, but the horn could be a bit longer IMO. Bonus: it’s not creepy-looking like Xiaomi’s robot dog.

Dutch startup Squad Mobility has introduced details for its small, low-cost electric city car that’s equipped with solar panels which drip feed the battery throughout the day. The company hopes to come out with a prototype for the solar-assisted quadricycle by October this year and begin deliveries by the end of next year. While it would be a fun passenger vehicle for city folks, the end game is to get in good with one of the car-sharing or shared micromobility operators and sell fleets of the Squad car for shared use.

At the Munich Motor Show, BMW revealed a couple of electric bike concepts that look pretty wicked. The Motorrad Vision AMBY looks like a motorcycle, but is probably more along the class of off-road motorbike, complete with fat tires and a seat-to-footrest ratio that brings to mind all the shredding that can be had. The i Vision AMBY is more of a traditional road e-bike, but maybe one that’s inspired by Back to the Future, such is its retrofuturistic vibe and, I’ll say it, postal service-beige frame.

ADAS in scooters

The desire to keep shared electric scooters off sidewalks has driven the development of advanced technology in the micromobility industry. Once the province of geofencing, scooter companies are so eager to get a leg up on the competition that they’re now implementing technology similar to advanced driver assistance systems usually found in cars. Check out my story in Extra Crunch that digs into this trend.

Micromobility America event

The folks who write our other favorite micromobility newsletter are going to be hosting a micromobility event in the SF Bay Area. On September 23, a range of experts, founders, investors and builders will be sharing top insights about the world of lightweight electric vehicles and their potential to disrupt transportation, including:
Brazilian racing driver Lucas Di Grassi, American entrepreneur and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, senior writer at Wired Lauren Goode, analyst and founder of the term “micromobility” Horace Dediu

Register now, if you still can. Space is limited.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

Investors continue to sink money into ride-hailing companies. Cao Cao Mobility, the ride-hailing unit of Chinese automaker Geely Automobile Holdings, is the latest example.

The company raised $589 million (RMB 3.8 billion) in a Series B round led by Suzhou Xiangcheng Financial Holding Group, an investment company backed by the Xiangcheng district government of Suzhou. Suzhou High-Speed Rail New City Group and three other state-controlled enterprises also participated.

The raise brings the company’s total funding to around $773.2 million (RMB 5 billion).

As TechCrunch reporter Rebecca Bellan notes, Cao Cao is positioned for further growth and a larger market share, as long as the Chinese government believes the company is operating fairly. Its competitors Didi Global and Amap have come under increased government scrutiny that has hurt their business, while giving Cao Cao a boost.

A cybersecurity investigation prompted the Chinese government to temporarily remove Didi Global from Chinese app stores. As a result, Cao Cao, which is currently available in 62 cities in China, saw ride volume increase 32% in July.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Accure, the Aachen, Germany-based battery safety software company raised $8 million in a Series A round led by Blue Bear Capital. Capnamic Ventures and 42CAP also participated.

BP Ventures, the investing arm of oil and gas giant BP, made a €10 million ($11.9 million) investment in Ryd, a German in-car digital payments provider. The funds will be used to help Ryd expand its service into international markets and build out its offering.

Delhivery, the Indian logistics firm, courted Lee Fixel’s Addition as an investor before its expected IPO in the next two quarters: The Gurgaon-headquartered firm disclosed in a regulatory filing that Addition invested $76.4 million in the startup as part of a Series I round. Delihivery hasn’t disclosed the total raise or other investors.

Delimobil, the Russian car sharing company, has chosen banks to organize its IPO listing and is seeking to raise around $ 350 million, Reuters reported.

Skydweller Aero, the U.S.-Spanish aerospace startup, received an additional $8 million in oversubscribed funding led by Leonardo S.p.A, Marlinspike Capital and Advection Growth Capital. The funds were added to its Series A round, which had previously reached $32 million. The company said it has also partnered with Palantir Technologies to use its Foundry analytics platform to process information at-scale and onboard the aircraft designed for telecommunications, government operations and emergency services.

Tritium Holdings, the Australian developer of DC fast-charging technology for electric vehicles, raised A$40 million  ($29.4 million) from the investment arm of Cigna.

WattE, a company trying to develop a network of truck stops and run a fleet of 12,000 electric trucks to share, will receive a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission. The grant is for the construction of the state’s first electric truck stop. The company also recently closed a $6 million Series A round led by Canon Equity.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

I hear things. But I’m not selfish. Let me share what the little birds are telling me.

You likely spotted the widespread coverage, including by TechCrunch, that Ford Motor hired Doug Field, the engineering executive who was VP of Apple’s special projects team and its secret, not-very-secret car program.

Field, who also once worked as senior vice president of engineering at Tesla, was named as Ford’s chief advanced technology and embedded systems officer. Soon after the news broke, reports came out that Kevin Lynch, who led development on the Apple Watch, had taken over Field’s role on the car project.

All of this had TC readers wondering (at least according to my DMs and emails) whether Apple’s car program was at risk. I reached out to some folks and one source told me that Apple employees were in Korea meeting with battery manufacturers as early as last week, which suggests that the game is on. You might recall, The Korea Times reported back in early August a team from Apple was visiting battery manufacturers LG Chem, SK, and Hanwha as part of “early talks.”

It seems those talks are still happening.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Welcome back to policy corner! Big news out of the aviation industry this week, as major airlines pledged to make 3 billion gallons of “sustainable aviation fuel” available to aircraft carriers by 2030, in line with a federal goal of reducing aviation emissions by 20% by the start of the next decade.

The announcement was made by industry group Airlines for America (A4A), whose members include United Airlines, Delta, American Airlines and Southwest. The group had previously set a target of 2 billion gallons by 2030 back in March. (Also yesterday, United made a separate announcement that it would purchase 1.5 billion gallons of SAF from startup Alder Fuels, pending certain conditions are met. Check out my story on the deal here.

A4A stressed the importance of federal action to support the development of SAF, including a “blender” tax credit for SAF mixed with conventional fuel and public-private research partnerships into SAF tech.

But this would be just the beginning, if President Joe Biden has his say; his administration wants a “fully zero-carbon aviation sector by 2050,” according to a White House fact sheet released Thursday. Aviation accounts for 11% of the country’s transportation-related emissions, the fact sheet says. Plus, while 3 billion gallons of fuel certainly sounds like a lot, a United spokesperson told TechCrunch that the airline consumes around 4 billion annually, and the White House says demand overall could be as high as 35 billion gallons per year by 2050.

To meet that demand, Biden said he is seeking that SAF incentives be included in the $3.5 trillion spending bill currently being debated by Congress, including a tax credit and $4.3 billion earmarked for funding SAF projects.

It’s important to note two things: one, as it currently stands, SAF is more expensive than conventional jet fuel, itself a considerable cost for airlines. Two, the above goals on behalf of the airlines are non-binding, voluntary agreements. Taken together, that means (in my humble opinion) that a tax incentive or something like it will be necessary for SAF to achieve cost parity with conventional fuel — and for airlines to actually adopt it.


The other policy items that caught my eye this week come from the great state of New York. The first is out of New York City, which set a target to install 40,000 public Level 2 chargers and 6,000 DC fast chargers by 2030. This buildout, outlined in the Department of Transportation’s EV plan, will be necessary for the city to reach its target of being fully carbon neutral by 2050.

Finally, the New York State House signed a bill into law requiring all passenger vehicles sold in-state to be zero-emission by 2035, making it the second state (after California) to introduce a set deadline to phase out internal combustion engine cars. It’s hard to know whether this is the start of a sea change in state policy or whether NY and California are anomalies, but I can see this type of legislation becoming more popular in the coming years.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Anthony Levandowski, the controversial and presidentially pardoned autonomous vehicle technology engineer, sat down with The Information for an interview that included details about his company’s pivot from big rigs to dump trucks.

Aurora co-founder Sterling Anderson laid out the autonomous vehicle company’s development process in a blog post this week. Aurora collaborated with half a dozen OEMs and has integrated its self-driving system into eight distinct vehicle platforms. Anderson wrote that the outcome “is a highly refined Driver-vehicle interface and a structured process for the design, development, and launch of vehicles designed for it that we call the Aurora Driver Development Program.” Side note: Aurora has made its Pittsburgh office its official headquarters.

Intel subsidiary Mobileye and rental car giant Sixt SE announced plans to launch a robotaxi service in Munich next year. As I noted in my article, the robotaxi service will leverage all of Intel’s, and more specifically Mobileye’s, assets that have been in development or purchased in recent years, including the $900 million acquisition in 2020 of Moovit, an Israeli startup that analyzes urban traffic patterns and provides transportation recommendations with a focus on public transit.

Through the partnership, riders will be able to access the robotaxi service via the Moovit app. The service will also be offered through Sixt’s mobility ONE app, which gives customers the ability to hail a ride, rent, share or subscribe to vehicles. Caveat: this won’t be a large-scale service in the beginning; it will start small and operate similarly to other early rider programs first modeled by nuTonomy and Waymo.

WeRide, a Chinese autonomous vehicle technology company, unveiled its first cargo van. The company said it will work with Chinese automobile manufacturer Jiangling Motors and Chinese express delivery company ZTO Express to commercialize its first self-driving van at scale. The “robovans” will be based on JMC’s battery electric vehicle model with a fully redundant vehicle platform, combined with WeRide’s full-stack software and hardware autonomous driving (AD) solutions.

Electric vehicles (and batteries)

GM extended a shutdown at its Orion Assembly Plant by another two weeks due to a battery pack shortage related to the widespread Chevrolet Bolt EV and Bolt EUV safety recall. GM said the extended downtime at the Orion plant will last through September 20. Orion Assembly Plant in Michigan has been shut down since August 23.

Ford has hired six senior-level executives to its newly minted commercial vehicles and services business unit as the automaker prepares to bring to market the E-Transit cargo van and the F-150 Lightning Pro pickup truck — two electric vehicles it’s betting will become commercial customers’ new workhorses.

Sila Nanotechnologies’ next-generation battery technology made its commercial product debut in the new Whoop fitness tracker, a milestone that caps a decade of research and development by the Silicon Valley startup. This matters because Sila Nano has joint battery ventures with BMW and Daimler to produce batteries containing the company’s silicon-anode technology, with the goal of going to market in the automotive industry by 2025.

Solid Power, a battery developer backed by Ford and BMW, is preparing to start pilot production of its solid state batteries early next year. A new production facility will be dedicated to manufacturing a sulfide-based solid electrolyte material and pilot production of its commercial-grade, 100 ampere battery cells. Those pouch cells are expected to go to Ford and BMW for automotive testing in early 2022.

Meet Squad Mobility and learn about its vision of the perfect urban vehicle. Here’s a hint: it’s small, cheap, electric and includes solar.

Tesla set the official record for electric vehicles at Nürburgring with a Tesla “Model S Plaid,” that driven by Andreas Simonsen circumnavigated the 20.8-kilometre. (12.9-mile) Nordschleife loop in 7:35.579, according to a statement from the motorsports complex.

Toyota Motor said it will oppose a proposal by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to give union-made electric vehicles in the United States an additional $4,500 tax incentive, Reuters reported. The company said the proposal discriminates “against American autoworkers based on their choice not to unionize.”

Volta Trucks, a full-electric commercial vehicle manufacturer, said its first vehicles will be manufactured in Steyr, Austria, by Steyr Automotive, formerly MAN Truck and Bus Austria.

Delivery and sharing

DoorDash, Caviar, Grubhub, Seamless, Postmates and Uber Eats have sued the City of New York over a law that would permanently limit the amount of commissions the apps can charge restaurants to use their services. The companies are seeking an injunction that would prevent the city from enforcing the legislation, unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial.

Plentywaka co-founder and CEO Onyeka Akumah was interviewed by TechCrunch as part of its ongoing founders Q&A series.

Misc. stuff

Hyundai Motor Group laid out its hydrogen strategy, announcing it will provide hydrogen fuel cell versions for all its commercial vehicles by 2028. Hyundai’s goal is to achieve cost competitiveness comparable to that of EV batteries by 2030. The company also shared details about its high-performance, rear-wheel drive hydrogen sports car, the Vision FK, with a targeted range of 373 miles. Hyundai did not share when the vehicle would go into production.

GM unveiled the 2022 Chevrolet Silverado, a full-sized pickup truck that received a major technology upgrade, including its hands-free Super Cruise advanced driver assistance system and an infotainment system with embedded Google services, as well as an overhauled interior.

David Zipper wrote a piece for Slate examining the growing problem of infotainment systems.

#airlines, #anthony-levandowski, #apple, #apple-car, #automotive, #bmw, #cao-cao-mobility, #caviar, #delta-airlines, #doordash, #ford, #grubhub, #intel, #mobileye, #postmates, #seamless, #tesla, #transportation, #united-airlines

The 2022 Chevrolet Silverado gets a tech upgrade, hands-free trailering and a new ZR2 off-road flagship

GM unveiled Thursday the 2022 Chevrolet Silverado, a full-sized pickup truck that received a major technology upgrade, including its hands-free Super Cruise advanced driver assistance system and an infotainment system with embedded Google services as well as an overhauled interior. A new flagship trim, the off-road factory-installed lifted ZR2 truck, has also joined the Silverado lineup.

The Silverado refresh comes ahead of GM’s electric vehicle offensive, which will include Chevrolet and GMC pickup trucks. GM aims to deliver 30 new electric vehicles to the global market by 2025 and to transition to all-zero-emission by 2035. GM said the new Silverado trims will arrive to dealerships in spring 2022.

The exterior of the Chevy Silverado also received a refresh, including new front fascia and daytime running lights that animate when the driver walks up or away from the vehicle. But the real change can be found in the cabin — and the hardware and software guts — of the truck.

 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2

The 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 and new headlights. Image credit: GM

Chevy offers the Silverado in the LT, RST, LT Trail Boss, ZR2, LTZ and High Country trims, all of which come standard with a 2.7-liter turbocharged engine that improves the torque by 20 percent to 420-pound feet and has a maximum trailering rating of 9,500 pounds in a two-wheel drive configuration. GM also made changes to smooth out shifting and give drivers more power on demand.

The automaker also improved its 3.0L Duramax turbocharged diesel engine to enable a max tow rating of 13,300 pounds in a two-wheel drive configuration. Two other powertrains, the 5.3-liter V8 and the 6.2-liter V8 are also offered.

The interior cabin has been revamped to make it feel more spacious and includes 13.4-inch touchscreen and a new 12.3-inch configurable digital instrument cluster standard. Owners will also be able to add a rear camera mirror and a head up display.

Chevrolet Silverado

The First-Ever 2022 Chevrolet Silverado ZR2. Image credit: GM

Finally, the Silverado interior will be offered in new colors, seat designs and premium materials. For model trims with bucket seats, the new center console incorporates an electronic shift controller.

Alexandre Scartezini, Chevrolet Truck’s lead interior designer, has described it as more contemporary and refined “with a hint of Corvette influence in its design DNA.”

Everything Google

Moving in deeper inside the vehicle, aka the infotainment, users will find Google, or more specifically Android Automotive, at the heart of the operating system. This means that Google Assistant, Google Maps and Google Play are all integrated into the the infotainment screen.

Android Automotive OS shouldn’t be confused with Android Auto, which is a secondary interface that lies on top of an operating system. Android Auto is an app that runs on the user’s phone and wirelessly communicates with the vehicle’s infotainment system. Both Android Auto and its Apple CarPlay counterpart will be offered in the new Silverado. GM said the system also works with Amazon Alexa.

Meanwhile, Android Automotive OS is modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. But instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so automakers could use it in their cars. Google has offered an open-source version of this OS to automakers for sometime. In recent years, automakers have worked with the tech company to natively build in an Android OS that is embedded with all the Google apps and services.

Hands-free driving

All of the Silverado trims come standard with six active safety features, including automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and forward collision alerts, a warning if the vehicle leaves its lane, a following distance indicator, automatic high beams and front pedestrian braking.

The big change is the addition of the automaker’s Super Cruise hands-free driver-assistance technology, which will be an available option on the High Country trim. Importantly, the system can be used even while trailering. Certain features of Super Cruise like automatic lane changing and lane change on demand will be restricted if the truck is towing.

Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

While GM has steadily improved Super Cruise since its introduction in 2017, for years it was limited to its luxury Cadillac brand and restricted to certain divided highways. That began to change in 2019 when GM announced plans to expand it to more models and use cases. The system can be activated on more than 200,000 miles of roads in the United States and Canada.

The Silverado will offer other trailer assistance features including one that will alert drivers to vehicles in their blind spot.

#amazon-alexa, #android-auto, #apple-carplay, #automotive, #chevrolet, #chevrolet-silverado, #gm, #google, #tc, #transportation

Squad Mobility eyes shared platforms as target for its compact solar electric quadricycle

Squad Mobility’s vision of the perfect urban vehicle is a low-cost EV equipped with solar panels, swappable batteries and enough zip and range in its diminutive 6.5-foot package to meet the needs of city drivers.

The early stage Dutch startup, which recently revealed the final design of its quadricycle, is now assembling working prototypes in Breda, the Netherlands. Squad has said the vehicle will have a base price of €5,750 ($6,790), excluding taxes. That price goes up if buyers want to add features like removable doors, air conditioning, heating and extra batteries.

Squad plans to present the prototypes this fall, Robert Hoevers, CEO and co-founder of the company said in a recent interview. Pre-production is also expected to begin this year with a goal to start delivering the car at the end of 2022.

Squad, like so many other new entrants to the EV car scene, will need more funds to reach its target.

In June, the company raised an undisclosed amount from Bloomit Ventures. To reach its production goals, Hoevers estimates Squad will need an additional €3.5 million ($4.1 million) for its next round, and then another €8 million ($9.6 million) to be able to deliver the first Squads. The company has not yet announced a round publicly, but says it’s in talks with various interested parties.

Interested customers can go on Squad’s website and pay a €5 reserve fee, but where Squad really sees its path to market is with shared mobility companies. The startup says it is in talks with a range of micromobility and car sharing operators that might be interested in diversifying their fleets with a compact, smart vehicle.

The Squad, which is a combination of the words “solar” and “quadricycle,” seats two, punches up to 30 miles per hour and is fueled by two swappable batteries with a capacity of around 1.6 Kwh each and a collective range of about 62 miles. This is similar to the battery capacity and range of electric mopeds.

For the average European city driver, that should be enough range. Squad also installed a 250-watt solar panel to the vehicle, which the company says adds another 12 miles per day given the amount of sun Europe tends to get.

Rendering of a Squad charging station for swappable batteries that can be used by shared mobility operators

Squad is coming onto the scene at the intersection of new mobility categories and EV charging innovation, which could be appealing to shared mobility operators looking to solve more use cases.

Shared micromobility companies are beginning to add electric mopeds to their fleets of e-scooters and e-bikes. The Squad could appeal to operators that want to appeal to a broader demographic, and one specifically more comfortable in a four-wheeled vehicle.

The potential savings from harnessing the power of the sun could attract operators as well. In the micromobility world, the labor costs associated with swapping batteries or charging vehicles represent a roadblock to profitability. A vehicle that’s constantly on a bit of a charge, at least during the daylight hours, might help alleviate that pain point.

“The idea is not to drive directly on solar,” Hoevers told TechCrunch. “The idea is to buffer the batteries with solar and then drive on the batteries. The sun is more or less drip charging the battery throughout the day, which is actually a very healthy way of charging. You don’t want to top off your batteries to 100%. You want to keep them at around 50% to 60% all the time for a longer battery life.”

Hoevers said Squad has been in talks with shared micromobility providers to pitch the quadricycle, and has found that most dockless vehicles see about four to five rides per day and drive about 36 to 38 miles per day, numbers that TechCrunch confirmed with a few micromobility operators and that are well within the range of the Squad car.

Squad also intends to equip its vehicles with cameras, sensors and other smart features like remote diagnostics and maintenance, which will make the company more attractive to shared operators looking a fleet that can be integrated into its management platforms. Hoevers also says he and his co-founder, Chris Klok, have used their collective 40 years of experience in mobility and shared past at long range solar EV company Lightyear, to develop a a strong CAN bus and drivetrain upon which new features can be added.

Whether Squad ends up selling fleets to micromobility platforms or car-sharing platforms might depend on the category the vehicle ends up in. With its current speed and weight, the Squad car will be in the L6e category for light four-wheeled vehicles.

“There are interesting cost and tax benefits in this segment,” said Hoevers. “For example, there is no congestion charge, no road tax, no parking fees, low insurance fees and no car driving license needed in most markets.”

Hoevers said the company is also considering producing a more powerful L7 that can go top speeds of around 45 miles per hour, which might be better for cities with more hills.

The competition

Squad isn’t the only company that has added solar panels to its electric vehicles. Germany-based startup Sono Motors told TechCrunch that it’s on track to begin deliveries of its electric Sion vehicle by 2023. The vehicle’s exterior is composed of hundreds of solar cells that have been integrated into polymer instead of glass and can add up to nearly 22 miles of extra battery life per day.

Although the Sion has not yet been released, the Sono app is already inviting owners of the vehicle to engage in a sort of car-sharing that’s reminiscent of Airbnb for Sions in order to make use of vehicles that otherwise sit parked and useless for most of the day. As of Thursday, Sono is expanding this vision to allow any car to be shared via the Sono app.

Aptera Motors, a California company that has promised to roll out the “first mass-produced solar car” this year, raised $4 million in a Series A this February that it is using to pay for fiberglass, carbon fiber and batteries for its spaceship-looking tricycle. Aptera says its vehicle, which is available for pre-order and could cost anywhere between $25,900 and $46,900, will be built with 34 square feet of solar cells that can add an additional 40 miles of battery capacity on a clear day.

Each of the players in the solar-powered EV space have differences in tech, path to market and style, but they’re all potentially finding ways to ease the str