GM, Palantir-backed Wejo to go public via SPAC

Wejo, the connected vehicle data startup backed by GM and Palantir, plans to go public through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Virtuoso Acquisition Corp. The agreement, announced in a regulator filing Friday, will give the combined company an enterprise valuation of $800 million, which includes debt.

The deal raises $330 million in proceeds for Wejo, including a $230 million cash contribution from Virtuoso and a $100 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE. Previous strategic investors Palantir and GM anchored the transaction, according to Wejo. The company did not disclose the amounts of those investments. Current shareholders will retain 64% ownership of the company, according to its investor deck.

Once the transaction closes, which is expected to occur in the third quarter, Wejo will be listed on the Nasdaq public exchange.

Wejo works with automakers and tier 1 suppliers to collect data in real-time from sensors integrated in vehicles. The company’s cloud platform aggregates and normalizes data, and then shares those insights customers. By 2030, Wejo estimates a connected vehicle data market of $500 billion and a serviceable addressable market of $61 billion driven by projections of more than 600 million connected vehicles worldwide.

Wejo said the cash proceeds will fully  from the transaction will fully fund its five-year plan and help it achieve several growth goals such as onboarding automakers and other OEMs more quickly, continuing to rollout services and expanding into new markets.

#automotive, #connected-cars, #gm, #palantir, #tc

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GM to leverage driver data as it jumps back into the insurance business

General Motors is launching an insurance service, returning to a business that it abandoned more than a decade ago, but this time more in step with the connected-car era.

The service, called OnStar Insurance, will offer bundled auto, home and renters’ insurance, starting this year with GM employees in Arizona. GM’s new insurance agency, OnStar Insurance Services, will be the exclusive agent for OnStar Insurance. Homesite Insurance Group, an affiliate of American Family Insurance, will underwrite the program.

The services will be available to the public nationwide by the end of 2022, including people who drive vehicles outside of GM’s portfolio of Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC branded cars, trucks and SUVs. The aim, however, is to leverage the vast amounts of data captured through its OnStar connected car service, which today has more than 16 million members in the United States.

GM’s pitch is that this data can be an asset to drivers and help them cash in on lower insurance rates based on safe driving habits.

“Our goal is really to create greater transparency and greater control for our customers in influencing what they pay for insurance and their total cost of ownership on the vehicles,” Russell Page, GM’s head of business intelligence said in a recent interview.

The data play is substantial. The company has logged more than 121 million GB of data usage across the Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC brands since the launch of 4G LTE in 2014.

The increase in internet-connected vehicles has in turn, produced loads of data. GM has been one of the data collection leaders, thanks to its long-established OnStar platform that launched in 1996. But GM is not the first, nor certainly the last automaker, to seek out ways to use that data to provide services such as insurance. Tesla, for instance, launched an insurance service in 2019 that promised to deliver rates 20% and even as high as 30% lower than other insurance providers. Earlier this year, TechCrunch reported that Rivian was hiring an insurance agency data manager, a job posting that suggested the all-electric automaker is planning to offer its own insurance to customers.

GM faces competition from the bevy of smartphone apps and dongle devices that plug into a vehicle’s OBD-II port that track a vehicle’s performance as well as driver data and are tied to discounts on insurance.

GM does have experience in the industry dating back to 1925. The automaker spun off its insurance business in 2008. GM contends that its telematics data coupled with its knowledge of the vehicle and its features will allow it to offer deep discounts to drivers.

“And we’re going to then leverage that as we learn and move forward in order to bring novel products to bear, over the next few years,” Page said. “Think of it as an iterative development process.”

#connected-cars, #gm, #rivian, #tc, #tesla

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Connected cars must be open to third parties, say Massachusetts voters

A man operates a notebook computer over the open engine of a car.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images / Aurich Lawson)

On Tuesday, voters in Massachusetts chose, by an overwhelming majority, to extend the state’s automotive “right to repair” law to cover connected-car platforms and telematics services. As a result, the state will require that from 2022, all new telematics-equipped vehicles be accessible via a standardized open-data platform that allows owners and third-party repair shops to access vehicle data from mobile devices.

Massachusetts’ automotive “right to repair” law was the first in the nation when originally passed in 2013. The aim was to fight the growing problem of automakers restricting their proprietary diagnostics tools to anyone other than official franchised dealer networks. When the law came into effect in 2018, it required that every vehicle sold in the state has a “non-proprietary vehicle interface device” for accessing mechanical data.

But the automotive industry is rapidly going wireless when it comes to getting data out of cars. Almost every new car sold in the United States in 2020 is fitted with an onboard cellular modem, and every OEM has invested in cloud infrastructure, promising benefits like vehicles that know when to ask for preventative maintenance servicing. Those cloud platforms have been guarded by the automakers, some of whom smell dollars in all that data.

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#cars, #connected-cars, #massachusetts, #policy, #right-to-repair, #telematics

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Mercedes opts for more screens and fewer buttons in the 2021 S-Class

Teaser images and leaked photos of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class suggested the automaker was moving towards a more digital-centric interior. That might have been an understatement.

Mercedes-Benz revealed Monday its second-generation MBUX infotainment system and it is loaded with new technology, including touchscreens, augmented reality head-up display as well as improved voice and facial recognition. Gone are many of the physical switches found in the older version of the S-Class. Mercedes said it removed 27 mechanical switches for the 2021 model.

The upshot: Mercedes’ is linking technology with luxury. And while the entire interior of the new S-Class has yet to be revealed, it appears the company is transitioning away from a rather crowded dash and center console area that in previous models included every kind of analog button and switch as well as newer digital displays.

Before diving into the tech that stands out in the newest version of MBUX, here’s a handy graphic that provides an overview.

mercedes benz s class mbux

Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

The first-generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience or MBUX system was unveiled in January 2018 at the CES tech trade show and debuted in the automaker’s A Class hatchback. That was a departure for Mercedes, which has historically reserved its best tech for its flagship model the S-Class. Mercedes is returning to that strategy with the new version of MBUX heading to the 2021 S-Class.

Here are the highlights.

5 touchscreens

You read that correctly. The 2021 Mercedes S Class will have up to five touchscreens, which includes displays for passengers. The S-Class will come standardly equipped with 12.8-inch OLED screens that include haptic feedback.

The user can control or access features on the displays by touching or swiping the actual screen or by using voice control, natural hand gestures and now gaze control.  Mercedes did hold back on keep some functions like lights and windshield wipers off of the touchscreen. The climate control panel is permanently at the lower edge of the display.

The system will provide the kind of customization an S-Class owner would expect. Preferences can be stored in the vehicle’s personal “Mercedes me” profile. Up to seven different profiles are possible in the vehicle.

The appearance of the screens can also be individualized with a choice of four display styles — discreet, sporty, exclusive and classic. The are three users modes as well to cover navigation, assistance and service. Screen content can also be shared with other passengers.

In the backseat, where up to three screens are optionally available, passengers can share select and amend navigation destinations.

3D display

Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes has adopted 3D technology into the vehicle, specifically for the driver display. The three-dimensional effect is possible without having to wear 3D glasses, the automaker said.

The company was able to achieve this effect by combining a conventional LCD display with a special pixel structure and a controllable LCD aperture grill. A barrier mask is placed a few millimeters in front of the LCD. The result is that the left and right eye see different pixels of the LCD, creating the illusion of depth.

The 3D display feature can be adjusted to a 2D or flatter graphic.

Voice

Mercedes-Benz put an early emphasis on voice in the first-generation of MBUX. The automaker said it has improved its voice assistant further. For instance, certain actions can be triggered without the ‘Hey Mercedes’ activation keyword to accept a phone call or display the navigation map. “Hey Mercedes” can now explain further in-car questions such as, where the first-aid kit is located or how to connect a smartphone via Bluetooth.

The voice assistant now understands commands and questions relating to infotainment sector and vehicle operation in 27 languages. It has also become far more natural and continues to learn — two areas we hope to test. For instance, the voice assistant understands indirect language such as if a user says “I am cold” instead of the clear command “Set temperature in footwell to 72 degrees.”

There’s also a new “Chit-Chat” feature that supplies the right answer to many questions — even questions about animal noises or general knowledge can be answered, Mercedes claims.

Security

Mercedes is all in on the security of this vehicle. The classic PIN entry is still on the S-Class. The automaker has added a new authentication method ensure a high level of security.

The system now combines fingerprint, face and voice recognition. This allows access to individual settings. That extra layer of security isn’t there to protect your seating preference, although perhaps that’s worth protecting. It’s also there to allow users to make payments digitally from within the vehicle.

Safety functions and assistants

Besides the voice assistant, the infotainment system is equipped with other tools to assist the driver.

For instance, there’s a special blind spot warning designed for drivers leaving their vehicle. Sensors and cameras can detect the driver’s intention to leave and will issue warning if there are road users and obstacles alongside the car. Another warning will alert of an unattached child seat on the front passenger seat.

The vehicle will also listen for cues to gauge the alertness level of the driver. If the driver says “I’m tired,” an activation program of energizing comfort control is started. The same sentence from the rear starts a well-being program.

#automotive, #connected-cars, #mercedes-benz, #tc, #transportation

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Mercedes-Benz 2021 S-Class jumps on the giant touchscreen bandwagon

Mercedes-Benz sent out a teaser image and video Monday of its upcoming 2021 S-Class that hints at a sleeker interior that forgoes the bevy of physical knobs and toggles found in previous models in favor of a digital-centric design.

The teasers illustrate a movement in the automotive industry popularized by Tesla to incorporate large touchscreens in new models.

Little is known about Mercedes’ next-generation MBUX infotainment system, which will debut in the 2021 S-Class. It appears, based on Mercedes’ teaser image and latest video as well as leaked photos that a large portrait-style touchscreen will be the centerpiece of the new MBUX system. Mercedes didn’t reveal the size of the screen or what functions will be incorporated into it. However, it appears that the climate control functions are headed to the central touchscreen.

Mercedes S-Class interior

Image Credits: Screenshot/Mercedes

More information about the system and the S-Class is coming in just a couple of days. Mercedes-Benz will unveil the next-gen MBUX system at 5:30 a.m. EDT July 8 as part of a series of digital reveals that will give snippets of information on the 2021 S-Class. The other videos are set for July 29 and August 12. The world premiere of the S-Class is expected to be held in September.

The first-generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience or MBUX system was unveiled in January 2018 at the CES tech trade show and debuted in the automaker’s A Class hatchback. That was a departure for Mercedes, which has historically reserved its best tech for its highest-class models — the S-Class being the first vehicle to typically get the latest and greatest tech. Mercedes appears to be returning to that strategy with the new version of MBUX heading to the 2021 S-Class.

Mercedes S-Class interior screen

Image Credits: Screenshot/Mercedes

The next-gen MBUX will likely continue its emphasis on voice, if the video with Daimler board member Markus Schäfer is any indication. The 2021 Mercedes S-Class will also have a head-up display, according to the video.

#automotive, #connected-cars, #mercedes-benz

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