At first glance, the grandsphere is recognizably an Audi fastback sedan. But it upends the usual luxury car way of doing things. [credit: Audi ]
Audi’s design team is in the midst of what might be called its “sphere trilogy,” exploring how autonomous driving might alter the luxury car experience. At Monterey Car Week in August, the team showed off the skysphere, which morphs from stubby sports car to autonomous cruiser, extending its wheelbase as the driver’s controls fold out of sight. Soon, we’ll see the (presumably compact) urbansphere, but today, it’s the grandsphere sedan’s turn. And no, none of the names are capitalized.
The grandsphere doesn’t need morphing bodywork; the vehicle is long enough that there’s always more than enough room inside, regardless of who’s driving. At first glance, the car looks like a grand tourer, but there’s a visual trick at work. The base of the windshield is way out ahead of the A-pillar, curving out almost as far as the front axle.
At the front, Audi’s distinctive grille (actually called the Singleframe) is no longer an actual grille; it’s there so the grandsphere is recognizably an Audi. Even in our video briefing, the Singleframe appeared as if it—and therefore the rest of the car—was a render, thanks to the way it was lit from within. (Save the CGI conspiracies for Ted Lasso; the car is a real, full-size, physical concept.)
It’s been almost two years since I first met the Porsche Taycan, the stylish and swift electric vehicle that ticks all the right boxes. Since then, withdrawal has set in. I’ve been desperate for another fix of this EV that still feels like the happy result of a transporter accident involving a Porsche 928 and an iPhone. My initial impressions were formed driving through Denmark and northern Germany, and I wanted to know if those held up on domestic roads and surrounded by our domestic EV infrastructure.
The introduction of the more affordable Taycan 4S seemed like a good reason to revisit the car, but Porsche wanted us to stretch the car’s legs on a proper road trip. There was one trip in particular that I had in mind: DC to Watkins Glen, NY, a trek to coincide with the annual six hour IMSA race. The pandemic dashed any hopes of attempting that trip in 2020, but this year the stars aligned, and so it is I recently spent a week with the sleek white four-door electric sports car you see above.
For a detailed technical look at the Taycan, please refer to our previous coverage here and here. Briefly, the 4S has a pair of electric motors (one for each axle) that output a combined 360 kW (482 hp) and 650 Nm (479 lb-ft) (or 420 kW/562 hp when using launch control), fed by a 93.4 kWh (net) battery. Our test car was equipped with the larger Performance Battery Plus option, which bumps the starting price from $103,800 to $109,370 before tax credits.
Mate Rimac’s founder story has the makings of automotive folklore. He started Rimac Automobili in his garage in 2009 as a literal one-person operation that has grown to a company with more than 1,000 employees, supply contracts with automakers like Porsche and a new electric hypercar moving into production.
What might not be known is how close the company came to failing. “It has been such a wild ride,” Mate Rimac said during an interview at at the virtual TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event. “The first seven years, we were like out of money and technically bankrupt all the time.”
The founder and CEO of Croatian electric hypercar and components developer Rimac Automobili joined TechCrunch on our virtual stage to talk about the company’s new Nevera vehicle, his interest in electric robotaxis and the prospect of an acquisition of Bugatti. Throughout the interview, he gave a candid account of some of the company’s lowest points, how he and the company survived and what other founders can learn from his experience.
“It was quite a ride.”
Today, Rimac Automobili is a household name in Croatia with plans to grow even larger. Rimac is currently building a headquarters and technology campus on a 49-acre site that is slated to be completed in 2023. It was a far more solitary experience the first few years of Rimac Automobili’s existence. Even when it gained recognition, the company came close to failing numerous times, Rimac said in the interview.
It has been such a wild ride. And like the first seven years, we were like out of money and technically bankrupt all the time.
We had situations where I can’t even start to explain what we survived. I set out this company 12 years ago, I was alone for two years. The first employee joined me in 2011. So it was really built from a garage.
This is the battery electric 2022 BMW i4 eDrive40, which goes into production in early 2022. [credit: Jonathan Gitlin ]
Remember when the BMW 3 Series was the byword for a sporty-slash-luxurious sedan? With an image bolstered by halo cars like the M3, the small BMW four-door was the car to have, particularly if you enjoyed driving. But for the last few years, it has felt like BMW has been missing some of its mojo. The German company built up early expertise in electrification but failed to capitalize on it, ceding a lot of ground to Tesla’s Model 3 electric sedan as BMW instead built a bewildering array of crossovers with ever-larger kidney grilles.
BMW got a new CEO and an order to amp up the electrification effort in 2019, and now the results of that project are right around the corner. Obviously, a lot will depend on how the car drives, but BMW just brought one of its new electric i4s to Washington, DC, and after having a good poke around, I can say that Bavarian Motor Works has its groove back.
My thesis can be boiled down pretty simply: the car looks good, the specs look good, and the price looks good.
On June 10, a team of UK veterans, a military spouse, and a hypermiling expert set a new world record for EV efficiency. [credit: Mission Motorsport ]
I’m a little out of step with the mainstream when it comes to electric vehicle efficiency. I believe that as long as your electricity is clean and your battery has enough range to get you where you’re going (with the occasional DC fast-charge for a longer trip), even the least efficient EV will beat anything with an internal combustion engine—particularly if that EV replaces something inefficient like a sports car or a big SUV. Most people think this idea isn’t enough, though, and whoever can go the farthest on the fewest kWh wins.
As of Thursday, there’s a new winner. A British veterans nonprofit called Mission Motorsport spent 24 hours driving a pair of Renault Zoes (with 52 kWh battery packs) around the Thruxton racetrack in England. The 2.4-mile (3.8-km) circuit is one of the UK’s fastest, but the record-setting Zoe averaged around 19 mph (30.5 km/h). That was good for 475.4 miles (765 km) on a single charge, which works out to be 9.14 miles/kWh (14.71 km/kWh).
The winning Zoe was entirely standard, except for a set of tires developed by a company called Enso. The second Zoe ran on its factory-fitted rubber and still managed 424.7 miles. That’s a lot better than the car’s WLTP range of 245 miles (394 km) and works out to an efficiency of 8.16 miles/kWh (13.13 km/kWh).
At first, Hyundai will not sell the Ioniq 5 nationwide. The company will prioritize states with zero-emissions regulations—California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont—but also Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas. If you don’t live in one of those 16 states and you want an Ioniq 5, you’ll have to wait until sometime in 2022 to buy one.
We still don’t have pricing information—expect that information closer to release. More details are also coming for a subscription option that sounds a lot like Volvo’s Care by Volvo program, which includes insurance and maintenance in its monthly fee.
Google has been fined just over €100 million (~$123M) by Italy’s antitrust watchdog for abuse of a dominant market position.
The case relates to Android Auto, a modified version of Google’s mobile OS intended for in-car use, and specifically to how Google restricted access to the platform to an electric car charging app, called JuicePass, made by energy company Enel X Italia.
Android Auto lets motorists directly access a selection of relevant apps (like maps and music streaming services) via a dash-mounted screen. But Enel X Italia’s JuicePass app was not one of the third party apps Google granted access to.
The app is accessible via the smartphone version of the Android platform — but of course a driver shouldn’t be reaching for their phone when at the wheel. So barring access through Android Auto puts a significant blocker on relevant usage.
Google’s market restriction of JuicePass has drawn the attention — and now the ire — of Italy’s competition watchdog.
The AGCM said today that Google has violated Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union — and has ordered it to make the JuicePass available via the platform.
It also says Google must to provide the same interoperability with Android Auto to other third party app developers.
The authority points out that the Google Maps app, which offers some basic services for electric vehicle charging (such as finding and getting directions to charging points), is available via Android Auto — and could, in future, incorporate directly competitive features like payments.
“According to the Authority’s findings, Google did not allow Enel X Italia to develop a version of its JuicePass app compatible with Android Auto, a specific Android feature that allows apps to be used while the user is driving in compliance with safety, as well as distraction reduction, requirements,” the AGCM writes in a press release announcing the sanction [translated to English using Google Translate]. “JuicePass enables a wide range of services for recharging electric vehicles, ranging from finding a charging station to managing the charging session and reserving a place at the station; this latter function guarantees the actual availability of the infrastructure once the user reaches it.
“By refusing Enel X Italia interoperability with Android Auto, Google has unfairly limited the possibilities for end users to avail themselves of the Enel X Italia app when driving and recharging an electric vehicle. Google has consequently favored its own Google Maps app, which runs on Android Auto and enables functional services for electric vehicle charging, currently limited to finding and getting directions to reach charging points, but which in the future could include other functionalities such as reservation and payment.”
Google denies any wrongdoing and says it disagrees with the order. But it did not confirm whether or not it intends to appeal.
The tech giant claims the restrictions it places on apps’ access to Android Auto are necessary to ensure drivers are not distracted. It also told us that it has been opening up the platform to more apps over time — with “thousands” now compatible.
It added that its intention is to keep expanding availability.
Google did not comment on why Enel X Italia’s app for recharging electric vehicles was not among the “thousands” it has already granted access to, however.
Per the AGCM, Enel X Italia’s app has been excluded from Android Auto for more than two years.
Here’s Google’s statement:
“The number one priority for Android Auto is to ensure apps can be used safely while driving. That’s why we have strict guidelines on the types of apps which are currently supported and these are based on driver-distraction tests and regulatory and industry standards. Thousands of applications are already compatible with Android Auto, and our goal is to allow even more developers to make their apps available over time. For example, we haveintroduced templatesfor navigation, charging, and parking apps, open for any developer to use. We disagree with the Authority’s decision and we will review our options.”
Google has a dominant position in the market via the Android smartphone platform, with a marketshare in Italy of around three-quarters according to the competition watchdog.
Under European Union law, a finding of market dominance in one market puts a responsibility on a company not to restrict competition in any other markets where it operates — and the EU already found Google to be a dominant company in general Internet search in every market in the European Economic Area back in 2017.
The AGCM said it’s concerned about the impact of Google’s restrictions on app access to Android Auto on the growth of the electric mobility market.
“If it were to continue, [it] could permanently jeopardise Enel X Italia’s chances of building a solid user base at a time of significant growth in sales of electric vehicles,” it wrote, adding that Google’s action in excluding the JuicePass app meant it did not appear in the list of applications used by users — thereby reducing consumer choice and creating a barrier to innovation.
The authority suggests Google’s conduct could influence the development of electric mobility during a crucial phase — as recharging infrastructures for electric cars are being built out and can help fuel growth and demand for recharging services.
“Consequently, possible negative effects could occur to the diffusion of electric vehicles, to the use of ‘clean’ energy and to the transition towards a more environmentally sustainable mobility,” it warned, linking anti-competitive behavior to negative consequences for the environment.
The AGCM added that it will monitor Google’s compliance with its order to ensure it effectively and correctly implements the obligations to provide third party app developers with access to Android Auto.
The authority’s action could be a taster of what’s coming down the pipe for gatekeeper players like Google in Europe under the incoming Digital Markets Act (DMA).
The flagship legislative proposal is intended to supplement ex post competition law enforcement with ex ante rules on how dominant platforms which intermediate others’ market access can behave — including by imposing up front requirements that they support interoperability.
The idea with the DMA is to supplement the slow and painstaking work needed to bring competition investigations to fruition with proactive measures slapped on tech giants to prevent certain types of known market abuse in the first place. Although the regulation is likely years out from being adopted and applied across the EU.
In the meanwhile competition probes of big tech continue.
Italy’s AGCM opened one into Google’s ad display business last October, for example.
Tesla is working on vehicles tailored to Chinese consumers as complaints about the quality of its electric vehicles send shock waves through the internet in the country.
The American EV giant is mulling new products that will be designed from the ground up for China, Grace Tao, a vice president at Tesla, told 21st Century Business Herald, a Chinese business news outlet, during the Shanghai auto show this week. The vehicles developed in China will also be sold globally, she added.
At the same auto event on Monday, a woman showed up at Tesla’s booth, climbing atop a Tesla car and shouting allegations of faulty brakes made by the company. The person was later detained for damaging the vehicle, and Tesla said on microblogging platform Weibo that her car had crashed due to exceeding the speed limit, not quality issues.
Nonetheless, the protestor won widespread sympathy when videos of her spread online. Many users joined in to vent about their Tesla problems. Posts with the hashtag “Tesla stand turned into a stage for defending rights” garnered over 220 million views on Weibo within two days.
“We have since the start been willing to work with national and authoritative third-party organizations to thoroughly inspect the issues raised by the public. By doing this, we wish to win assurance and understanding from consumers,” Tesla China said in a statement posted on Weibo in response to the incident.
“But we still haven’t fulfilled this wish, mainly because our ways of communicating with customers may be problematic. Secondly, we indeed can’t decide for our customers how they want to resolve these issues.”
Like in the West, Tesla has fostered a cult-like following in China. And along with Apple, it’s one of the few American tech giants that have gained a firm foothold in China. Last year, Tesla shipped nearly 500,000 vehicles globally and China contributed 20% to its revenues.
But the company also faces mounting competition from Chinese homegrown challengers. Xpeng, Nio, and Li Auto, the well-funded startups, as well as old-school carmakers, with help from high-tech firms like Huawei, are ready to take a slice of Tesla’s market. The designed-in-China vehicles are already finding a spot among the more patriotic crowds.
It doesn’t help that the Chinese government is placing more scrutiny over Tesla. In January, the firm was summoned by local regulators over quality concerns, shortly after it recalled several tens of thousands of vehicles in the country. The government restricted the use of Tesla by military facilities over national security concerns, The Wall Street Journal reported in March. Elon Musk later said his company would be shut down if its cars were used to spy.
Elon Musk famously said any company relying on lidar is “doomed.” Tesla instead believes automated driving functions are built on visual recognition and is even working to remove the radar. China’s Xpeng begs to differ.
Founded in 2014, Xpeng is one of China’s most celebrated electric vehicle startups and went public when it was just six years old. Like Tesla, Xpeng sees automation as an integral part of its strategy; unlike the American giant, Xpeng uses a combination of radar, cameras, high-precision maps powered by Alibaba, localization systems developed in-house, and most recently, lidar to detect and predict road conditions.
“Lidar will provide the 3D drivable space and precise depth estimation to small moving obstacles even like kids and pets, and obviously, other pedestrians and the motorbikes which are a nightmare for anybody who’s working on driving,” Xinzhou Wu, who oversees Xpeng’s autonomous driving R&D center, said in an interview with TechCrunch.
“On top of that, we have the usual radar which gives you location and speed. Then you have the camera which has very rich, basic semantic information.”
Xpeng is adding lidar to its mass-produced EV model P5, which will begin delivering in the second half of this year. The car, a family sedan, will later be able to drive from point A to B based on a navigation route set by the driver on highways and certain urban roads in China that are covered by Alibaba’s maps. An older model without lidar already enables assisted driving on highways.
The system, called Navigation Guided Pilot, is benchmarked against Tesla’s Navigate On Autopilot, said Wu. It can, for example, automatically change lanes, enter or exit ramps, overtake other vehicles, and maneuver another car’s sudden cut-in, a common sight in China’s complex road conditions.
“The city is super hard compared to the highway but with lidar and precise perception capability, we will have essentially three layers of redundancy for sensing,” said Wu.
By definition, NGP is an advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) as drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and take control at any time (Chinese laws don’t allow drivers to be hands-off on the road). The carmaker’s ambition is to remove the driver, that is, reach Level 4 autonomy two to four years from now, but real-life implementation will hinge on regulations, said Wu.
“But I’m not worried about that too much. I understand the Chinese government is actually the most flexible in terms of technology regulation.”
The lidar camp
Musk’s disdain for lidar stems from the high costs of the remote sensing method that uses lasers. In the early days, a lidar unit spinning on top of a robotaxi could cost as much as $100,000, said Wu.
“Right now, [the cost] is at least two orders low,” said Wu. After 13 years with Qualcomm in the U.S., Wu joined Xpeng in late 2018 to work on automating the company’s electric cars. He currently leads a core autonomous driving R&D team of 500 staff and said the force will double in headcount by the end of this year.
“Our next vehicle is targeting the economy class. I would say it’s mid-range in terms of price,” he said, referring to the firm’s new lidar-powered sedan.
The lidar sensors powering Xpeng come from Livox, a firm touting more affordable lidar and an affiliate of DJI, the Shenzhen-based drone giant. Xpeng’s headquarters is in the adjacent city of Guangzhou about 1.5 hours’ drive away.
Xpeng isn’t the only one embracing lidar. Nio, a Chinese rival to Xpeng targeting a more premium market, unveiled a lidar-powered car in January but the model won’t start production until 2022. Arcfox, a new EV brand of Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC, recently said it would be launching an electric car equipped with Huawei’s lidar.
Musk recently hinted that Tesla may remove radar from production outright as it inches closer to pure vision based on camera and machine learning. The billionaire founder isn’t particularly a fan of Xpeng, which he alleged owned a copy of Tesla’s old source code.
In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Cao Guangzhi alleging that the former Tesla engineer stole trade secrets and brought them to Xpeng. XPeng has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Cao no longer works at Xpeng.
While Livox claims to be an independent entity “incubated” by DJI, a source told TechCrunch previously that it is just a “team within DJI” positioned as a separate company. The intention to distance from DJI comes as no one’s surprise as the drone maker is on the U.S. government’s Entity List, which has cut key suppliers off from a multitude of Chinese tech firms including Huawei.
Other critical parts that Xpeng uses include NVIDIA’s Xavier system-on-the-chip computing platform and Bosch’s iBooster brake system. Globally, the ongoing semiconductor shortage is pushing auto executives to ponder over future scenarios where self-driving cars become even more dependent on chips.
Xpeng is well aware of supply chain risks. “Basically, safety is very important,” said Wu. “It’s more than the tension between countries around the world right now. Covid-19 is also creating a lot of issues for some of the suppliers, so having redundancy in the suppliers is some strategy we are looking very closely at.”
Xpeng could have easily tapped the flurry of autonomous driving solution providers in China, including Pony.ai and WeRide in its backyard Guangzhou. Instead, Xpeng becomes their competitor, working on automation in-house and pledges to outrival the artificial intelligence startups.
“The availability of massive computing for cars at affordable costs and the fast dropping price of lidar is making the two camps really the same,” Wu said of the dynamics between EV makers and robotaxi startups.
“[The robotaxi companies] have to work very hard to find a path to a mass-production vehicle. If they don’t do that, two years from now, they will find the technology is already available in mass production and their value become will become much less than today’s,” he added.
“We know how to mass-produce a technology up to the safety requirement and the quarantine required of the auto industry. This is a super high bar for anybody wanting to survive.”
Xpeng has no plans of going visual-only. Options of automotive technologies like lidar are becoming cheaper and more abundant, so “why do we have to bind our hands right now and say camera only?” Wu asked.
“We have a lot of respect for Elon and his company. We wish them all the best. But we will, as Xiaopeng [founder of Xpeng] said in one of his famous speeches, compete in China and hopefully in the rest of the world as well with different technologies.”
5G, coupled with cloud computing and cabin intelligence, will accelerate Xpeng’s path to achieve full automation, though Wu couldn’t share much detail on how 5G is used. When unmanned driving is viable, Xpeng will explore “a lot of exciting features” that go into a car when the driver’s hands are freed. Xpeng’s electric SUV is already available in Norway, and the company is looking to further expand globally.
President Joe Biden has earmarked $174 billion from his ambitious infrastructure plan to build out domestic supply chains for electric vehicles, noting the imperative for United States automakers to “compete globally” to win a larger share of the EV market.
The funds are just one part of Biden’s plan, which calls for an ambitious $2 trillion infrastructure investment across multiple sectors. The Fact Sheet for the plan includes six references to China – one of these in reference to the size of the Chinese EV market, which is two-thirds larger than the domestic U.S. market. Chinese manufacturer Foxconn, Apple’s main supplier, said in February it was considering producing EVs at its Wisconsin plants – just weeks after tentatively agreeing to manufacture an EV for startup-turned-SPAC Fisker.
To ensure Americans actually purchase these domestically manufactured EVs, Biden also plans to establish sales rebates and tax incentives for the purchase of American-made EVs, though the size of the credit has not been released. Customers can already cash in a $7,500 federal tax credit for EVs, but it is not available to automakers that have sold more than 200,000 electric cars – people looking to purchase a Tesla, for instance, would not qualify for the credit. It’s unclear whether the new tax credit would raise or abolish the sales limit for automakers.
The plan also proposes using some of the funds to build a national EV charging network of 500,000 stations by 2030. A recent survey from Consumer Reports found that the availability of public charging stations was a major concern deterring people from looking into an EV for their next vehicle purchase.
On the transit side, Biden’s administration said the funds will also go towards replacing 50,000 diesel transit vehicles and electrifying at least 20 percent of school busses, through a new program administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The plan places a huge emphasis on providing good-paying jobs to American workers, but it still has a long way to go. It must be approved by Congress before becoming law.
Automaker Volkswagen wants you to know it’s serious about electric vehicles — so serious, in fact, that it’s officially rebranding around a pun in the U.S. The company revealed in a press release that it’s changing its name from “Volkswagen of America” to “Voltswagen of America” in a press release today. News this could happen leaked late Monday, but many speculated it might be an April Fool’s joke that got out a bit early, but the automaker seems serious about switching the official brand from May 2021 onwards given the official release on its newsroom.
Voltswagen (neé Volkswagen) says that the reason behind the change is to firmly demonstrate its commitment “future-forward investment in e-mobility,” which said more simply, implies that it’s super serious about its electric drivetrain plans. In a more literal sense, ‘Volkswagen’ is actually from the German for ‘the people’s car,’ which suggests that Voltswagen is a car for… volts?
Sort of, but not really, says VW (hey that still works!):
“We have said, from the beginning of our shift to an electric future, that we will build EVs for the millions, not just millionaires,” explained VW CEO and President Scott Keogh in the release announcing the swap. “This name change signifies a nod to our past as the peoples’ car and our firm belief that our future is in being the peoples’ electric car.”
This announcement comes just as Volkswagen has begun shipping its all-electric SUV, the ID.4, in the U.S. It ha a price tag of $33,995, before either federal and tax incentives, so that is indeed on the more affordable side of the existing U.S. electric vehicle market, with even more options set to come for cost-conscious consumers in future as the company spurs uses its commitments of lowering emissions by achieving one million global EV sales by 2025, and playing host to a lineup of mover 70 models across VW and its subrands worldwide by 2029.
Voltswagen branding will include use of a higher blue tone on the VW logo for all-electric vehicles, while gas cars will retain the more traditional dark blue look. The actual word ‘Voltswagen’ will be used on EVs in addition to the initials logo, with the icon graphic itself will be the sole branding on gas cars in the U.S. going forward.
Volkswagen says the ID.4 is as important to its future as the Beetle was to its past. [credit: Jonathan Gitlin ]
The Volkswagen ID.4 is a big deal for its manufacturer. After getting busted six years ago for fibbing about diesel emissions, VW underwent a corporate transformation, throwing all its chips into electrification. As a big believer in modular architectures that it can use to build a wide range of vehicles from a common set of parts, it got to work on a new architecture just for battery electric vehicles, called MEB (Modularer E-Antriebs-Baukasten or Modular Electrification Toolkit).
Volumetrically, it’s about the same size as a Toyota RAV4 or VW Tiguan: 181 inches (4,585mm) long, 73 inches wide (1,852mm), and 64 inches tall (1,637mm), with a 109-inch (2,766mm) wheelbase. Depending on the angle it can be quite a handsome shape. That’s helped by the way the 1st Edition’s aerodynamic 20-inch alloy wheels fill their arches helps convince the brain that the car is smaller than it actually is, as well as the designer’s trick of making bits disappear by cladding them in glossy black panels.
Volta Energy Technologies, the energy investment and advisory services firm backed by some of the biggest names in energy and energy storage materials, has closed on nearly $90 million of a targeted $150 million investment fund, according to people familiar with the group’s plans.
The venture investment vehicle compliments an $180 million existing commitment from Volta’s four corporate backers — Equinor, Albermarle, Epsilon, and Hanon Systems — and comes at a time when interest in energy storage technologies couldn’t be stronger.
As the transition away from internal combustion engines and hydrocarbon fuels begins in earnest companies are scrambling to drive down costs and improve performance of battery technologies that will be necessary to power millions of electric cars and store massive amounts of renewable energy that still needs to be developed.
“Capital markets have noticed the enormity of the opportunity in transitioning away from carbon,” said Jeff Chamberlain, Volta’s founder and chief executive.
Born of an idea that that began in 2012 when Chamberlain began talking with the head of the Department of Energy under the Obama Administration back in 2014. What began when Chamberlain was at Argonne National Lab leading the development of JCESR, the lead lab in the US government’s battery research consortium, evolved into Volta Energy as Chamberlain pitched a private sector investment partner that could leverage the best research from National Laboratories and the work being done by private industry to find the best technology.
Support for the Volta project remained strong through both public and private institutions, according to Chamberlain. Even under the Trump Administration, Volta’s initiative was able to thrive and wrangle some of the biggest names in the chemicals, utility, oil and gas and industrial thermal management to invest in a $180 million fund that could be evergreen, Chamberlain said.
According to people with knowledge of the organizations plans, the new investment fund which is targeting $150 million but has hard cap of $225 million would compliment the existing investment vehicle to give the firm more firepower as additional capital floods into the battery industry.
Chamberlain declined to comment specifically on the fund, given restrictions, but did say that his firm had a mandate to invest in technology that is battery and storage related and that “enables the ubiquitous adoption of electric vehicles and the ubiquitous adoption of solar and wind.”
Back during the first cleantech boom the brains behind Volta witnessed a lot of good money getting poured into bad ideas and vaporware that would never amount to commercial success, said Chamberlain. Volta was formed to educate investors on the real opportunities that scientists were tracking in energy storage and back those companies with dollars.
“We knew that investors were throwing money into a dumpster fire. We knew it could have a negative impact on this transition to carbon,” Chamberlain said. “Our whole objective was to help guide individuals deploying massive amounts of their personal wealth and move it from putting money into an ongoing dumpster fire.”
That mission has become even more important as more money floods into the battery market, Chamberlain said.
The SPAC craze set off by Nikola’s public offering in electric vehicles and continuing through QuantumScape’s battery SPAC through a slew of other electric vehicle offerings and into EV charging and battery companies has made the stakes higher for everyone, he said.
Chamberlain thinks of Volta’s mission as finding the best emerging technologies that are coming to market across the battery and power management supply chain and ensure that as manufacturing capacity comes online, the technology is ready to meet growing demand.
“Investors who do not truly understand the energy storage ecosystem and its underlying technology challenges are at a distinct disadvantage,” said Goldman Sachs veteran and early Volta investor Randy Rochman, in a statement. “It has become abundantly clear to me that nothing happens in the world of energy storage without Volta’s knowledge. I can think of no better team to identify energy storage investment opportunities and avoid pitfalls.”
The new fund from Volta has already backed a number of new energy storage and enabling technologies including: Natron, which develops high-power, fire-safe Sodium-ion batteries using Prussian blue chemistry for applications that demand a quick discharge of power; Smart Wires, which develops hardware that acts as a router for electricity to travel across underutilized power lines to optimize the integration of renewable power and energy storage on the grid; and Ionic Materials, which makes solid lithium batteries for both transportation and grid applications. Ionic Materials’ platform technology also enables breakthrough advancements in other growing markets, such as 5G mobile, and rechargeable alkaline batteries.
At its (virtual) NextGen 2020 event, BMW today announced that the BMW iX, its new all-electric flagship previously known as the iNext, will launch at the end of 2021. Based on BMW’s fifth-generation eDrive technology, the iX will get a new look — and new kidney grille design — but its dimensions will be similar to the existing X5 or X6 SUVs. The company promises about 300 miles of range and 0-60 mph times of just under five seconds.
BMW has not released any pricing for the iX yet. Rumors earlier this year pegged it at close to $100,000.
The company says it will have more than a million electrified cars on roads by the end of 2021. Right now, about 13% of all BMW and MINI models registered in Europe are either all-electric or plug-in hybrids, and the expectation is that by 2030, that number will increase to 50%.
Image Credits: BMW
Coming next year, that lineup will include a number of new additions to the company’s electrified fleet, but the iX is clearly the focus here, though the next-generation eDrive system will also feature in the 2021 i4, for example, and BMW is experimenting with a 5-Series model that features three of these new motors for a maximum power output of 720 hp (we’re still talking about a company that made its name by combining performance and luxury, after all).
Image Credits: BMW
With DC fast charging at up to 200 kW, the iX should be able to charge from 10 to 80% in about 40 minutes. A 10-minute top-off at a fast-charging station should be enough for about 75 miles. For the most part, that’s in line with comparable electric cars, though Tesla’s V3 Supercharging promises somewhat faster recharge times and others can charge at more than 200 kW.
In addition to being BMW’s electric flagship, the iNext/iX unsurprisingly also showcases the company’s latest technology innovations. That’s obviously no surprise, given that BMW has used various iterations of its iNext concept car to think about how to best integrate new technologies into its next-generation of vehicles.
Image Credits: BMW
For the iX, these include all the standard driver assistance systems you’d expect today (though details there are scarce), a head-up display and large screens with a 12.3-inch instrument cluster and a 14.9-inch control display. But what’s maybe even more interesting here is the company’s over philosophy which the company describes as “shy tech.”
“Shy tech refers to technology that remains largely in the background and only reveals its functions when they are being used,” the company says in today’s announcement. “On entry into the car, the function in question is the electrically powered door locks. The interior welcomes the occupants of all five seats with a luxurious lounge-style ambience, and provides the space required to explore new ways of using time spent inside the car.”
For the most part, the user interface also strips away all distractions to allow the driver to focus on the road.
Image Credits: BMW
It’s no secret that BMW would like to — at some point — allow drivers to lounge in their self-driving cars. BMW hasn’t talked about the car’s driver assistant features yet, so that future hasn’t quite arrived just yet, but the company argues that by leaving out the usual center tunnel, it can provide a more “airy and specious feel” that “accentuates the lounge-style ambience and long-distance comfort provided by the interior.”
Image Credits: BMW
In many ways, the iX is the current apotheosis of BMW’s electric ambitions, and it is worth noting that, unlike others, the company is keeping a lot of the development in-house. That includes its Dingolfing plant, but as the company noted today, it is also developing its own battery cells and a new pilot plant for building its batteries near Munich should open in 2022. “This pilot plant will make BMW the first carmaker to cover the entire process chain for electric driving in-house,” BMW argues.
Image Credits: BMW
This wouldn’t be a major tech launch if it didn’t also feature a 5G aspect and indeed, the iX will feature built-in 5G connectivity, which should make it among the first — if not the first — 5G-enabled production car. Ideally, that means higher bandwidth and lower latency when the car needs to connect to the BMW cloud. But as we’ve all learned from recent phone launches, 5G is currently more of a buzzword than game-changing technology. What’s maybe more important here is that it may enable new C-V2X (Cellular Vehicle to Everything) solutions that will allow vehicles to communicate with each other and nearby smartphones — even without a mobile network.
If you bought a Tesla Model 3 instead of a BMW 3 Series or Audi A4, you’d probably save $15,000 over the total lifetime of the vehicle. That’s according to a new analysis from Consumer Reports, which examines the total cost of ownership for electric vehicles—both battery EVs and plug-in hybrid EVs—versus comparable internal combustion engine vehicles.
CR found that much lower maintenance costs and the lower price of electricity compared to gasoline more than offsets the higher purchase price of a new BEV compared to an ICE.
Operating and maintenance costs were calculated using data from annual reliability surveys conducted by CR in 2019 and 2020. Among other data collected, the survey asked CR members to estimate their automotive maintenance and repair costs and driven mileage over the previous 12 months, as well as total mileage of their vehicle. (CR filtered out outliers who drove fewer than 2,000 miles (3,200km) or more than 60,000 miles (96,560km) in 12 months, as well as vehicles with more than $20,000 in maintenance costs or vehicles with more than 200,000 miles (322,000km) on the odometer.)
On Tuesday, Ars took a look at how Houston handles hurricanes, particularly in light of the city’s botched response to Hurricane Rita in 2005. Back then, millions of Houstonians poured onto the roads to escape the storm’s grasp only to find impenetrable traffic. Senior Technology Editor Lee Hutchinson was one of them, describing a “stupid fucking shambolic evacuation” that crept along at an average of 6.7mph (10.8km/h) for nearly an entire day and night in brutal Texan heat and humidity. Many just ran out of fuel on the road, a consequence of idling bumper to bumper for hours and hours with the AC running.
In the comments, a reader asked a question that provoked a long discussion in the Ars office that morning—what does this mean for electric vehicles?
Don’t sweat it
As it happens, sitting in stationary or walking-pace traffic for 20 hours is the kind of thing at which an EV excels. Unlike a car with an idling engine, an EV’s battery only has to energize the electric motor when motion is actually called for. Add in regenerative braking that recovers some of that energy instead of wasting it as heat, as friction brakes do, and it’s advantage EV.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk noted on Twitter on Tuesday night that the automaker would be “open to licensing software and supplying powertrains & batteries” to other automakers. Musk added that that would even include Autopilot, the advanced driver assistance software that Tesla offers to provide intelligent cruise control in a number of different driving scenarios.
Musk was addressing a Teslerati article about how German automakers are looking to close the technology gap between themselves and Tesla when it comes to producing EVs. Volkswagen Chairman Herbert Diess has in past comments expressed admiration for Musk and Tesla’s accomplishments on multiple occasions.
VW has created its own EV platform, which it intends to use as the base for a number of different electric cars, ranging from sport sedans to SUVs. The company is also openly pursuing licensing its MEB platform to other automakers, and struck such a deal with Ford last July for the American automaker’s European business.
Musk says that Tesla’s interest in licensing stems from its underlying goal, which is “to accelerate sustainable energy, not crush competitors” according to his tweet. This isn’t the first time the automaker has indicated a willingness to be more open in pursuit of that goal, either: In 2014, Musk penned a blog post announcing that Tesla would be making its intellectual property freely available to “anyone who, in good faith, wants to use [its] technology.”
A platform licensing or supplier relationship would be an entirely different arrangement, of course, and one with plenty of precedent in the automaker industry. Nor would it necessarily negatively impact Tesla’s own auto sales, since the company offers a number of other selling points above and beyond its underlying powertrain and battery tech.
At the time of Volkswagen’s announcement, the German automaker said it expects it could make up to $20 billion in revenue through the MEB deal with Ford, with a significant chunk of that coming from MEB parts and components supply. Tesla could realize similar gains but perhaps amplified globally, especially if it can ramp powertrain and battery production beyond the capacity needs of its own vehicle demand capacity.
Speed sells. When Tesla launches a new vehicle or updates an existing vehicle, the car company often leads with 0-60mph time. These numbers often outclass those from gasoline cars thanks to how electric motors deliver power. These 0-60 times are often irrelevant to daily driving, and yet, Tesla, like most automakers, sees them as a critical marketable statistic.
Ford today unveiled a special edition of its forthcoming four-door electric Mustang. It’s fast because, as mentioned above, speed sells. Seven electric motors produce a total of 1,400 HP, which to put into layman’s terms, is a shit-ton of power.
Ford doesn’t intend to sell this example. The car company says this vehicle was built to explore the limits of electric vehicle technology — and, clearly, to show it off to the public.
The upcoming Ford Mustang Mach-E will come in a performance trim called the GT. While it will only have two electric motors instead of seven, it won’t be a slouch. The two motors will produce 459 HP, which is plenty of power to thrill.
This is Ford’s second special edition Mustang Mach-E. The Mustang Cobra Jet was unveiled earlier this year, and sports 1,400 HP, but does so in a different configuration that’s primarily designed to go fast in a straight line.
These concept Mustangs build excitement from key demographics, much like how Tesla’s Insane and Ludicrous modes make excitement around its vehicles. Ford is in a tight spot with the Mustang Mach-E, and it needs to show buyers that this four-door electric vehicle is worth of the Mustang nameplate. And what are Mustangs known for? Affordable excitement.
The Mustang Mach-E is set to be Ford’s first modern electric vehicle, and so far, Ford is following a different path than General Motors when it launched its first electric vehicle, the Chevy Bolt. By all accounts, the Chevy Bolt is an excellent electric vehicle with a low price tag, decent range, and quick speed. But Chevy positioned it as a boring people mover. The Mustang Mach-E has similar people moving capacity, but Ford upped the excitement with the Mustang name and marketing the performance.
There’s an old automative adage that says says winning in races produces sales. “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” spoke of a time when NASCAR vehicles were similar to their road-worthy counterparts. That’s no longer the case. NASCAR vehicles rarely share any parts with what’s available on a dealer’s lot, but the adage is still relevant. Instead of NASCAR, automakers are looking at winning in the world of YouTube, where views are as critical as a checkered flag.
Tesla’s first vehicle was a reworked Lotus coupe. At the time, most electric cars were designed for moving people and goods. They were utilitarian. The Tesla Roadster had little utility but had a lot of excitement. From there, Tesla moved onto the Model S and quickly built out its performance capability by adding duel motors and tuning them to beat a Porsche to 60 miles per hour. When launching Tesla’s Model X SUV, the automaker often showed it beating supercars in drag races, because, once again, speed sells even if owners rarely use the power.
Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. This week, we have several heavy-hitting rumors swirling around, from Huawei’s chips for cars to Tencent’s potential buyout of its video rival iQiyi.
China tech at home
Huawei’s foray into autos
Huawei might be bringing the technology behind its Kirin smartphone processor into cars. According to Chinese tech publication 36Kr, Huawei has signed a strategic deal with domestic electric car giant BYD, which would be using the Kirin chips to digitize the “cockpits” (generally refer to the drivers’ cabins) in its cars.
The Kirin chips are developed by Huawei’s semiconductor subsidiary HiSilicon to hedge against U.S. sanctions and become self-sufficient in core smartphone technologies. What’s noticeable is that BYD, backed by Warren Buffet, had previously announced to adopt Qualcomm’s Snapdragon automotive chips in its electric vehicles, a partnership that was set to begin in 2019. Could the potential collaboration with Huawei be part of BYD’s move to decrease reliance on imported technologies?
BYD said it “does not have information to disclose at the moment,” while Huawei declines to comment on the rumor.
The potential alliance would not be all that surprising given the duo has already been working together closely. In March 2019, the companies, both Shenzhen-based, unveiled a strategic partnership to apply Huawei’s AI and 5G technologies in BYD’s alternative energy vehicles and monorails.
More big moves from BYD — the automaker is rushing to become self-sufficient in the production of electric vehicles. After raising a 1.9 billion yuan ($270 million) Series A in late May, its chipmaking subsidiary BYD Semiconductor completed another 800 million yuan ($113 million) Series A+ round this week, apparently due to investors’ immense interest in getting involved in the only Chinese company capable of making the core chip part of electric cars called insulated gate bipolar transistors, or IGBTs.
ByteDance just paid 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million) for a big plot of land to build offices in the heart of Shenzhen’s Nanshan district, according to public information disclosed by the government. Shenzhen is home to multiple Chinese tech heavyweights, including Tencent, Huawei and DJI. It also houses the China offices of foreign retail giants such as Lazada and Shopify, given the city’s rich manufacturing and logistics resources.
That gives ByteDance, the parent of TikTok, a significant presence in Tencent’s backyard. ByteDance is known to have aggressively lured talents from the entrenched tech trio of Baidu, Alibaba and Baidu by offering lucrative packages. Being in Shenzhen will no doubt give the company more access to Tencent’s talent pool.
This may help it in its push into video gaming, an area that has long been dominated by Tencent, the world’s biggest games publisher. Meanwhile, the world’s second-largest games company — NetEase — is right next door in Guangzhou, an hour’s drive away from central Shenzhen.
Shakeup in video streaming
Reuters reported this week that Tencent has approached Baidu to become the biggest shareholder in iQiyi, the video streaming giant controlled by Baidu. Tencent’s video platform competes neck to neck with iQiyi to churn out variety shows and dramas that will convince Chinese audiences to pay for online content.
Both companies are bleeding money on video production. IQiyi, which shed from Baidu to list on Nasdaq, widened its net loss to 2.9 billion yuan ($406.0 million) in Q1 this year, up from 1.8 billion yuan the year before. Selling iQiyi to deep-pocketed Tencent may further ease the financial burden on Baidu, which is busy coping with ByteDance’s threat to its core advertising business. Both Tencent and iQiyi declined to comment on the report.
Robotics startup Geek+ raises $200 million
Geek+, a startup that specializes in making logistics robots that are analogous to those of Amazon’s Kiva machines, just closed a substantial Series C round. The company is one to watch as retail companies in China and North America are increasingly looking to automate their warehouses.
China tech abroad
China’s gay dating app Blued goes public on Nasdaq
JD’s long-awaited secondary listing is here. The online retailer’s shares rose 5.7% to HK$239 ($30.8) on its first day of trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Several U.S.-listed Chinese companies have filed to list in Hong Kong because of a new bill that will impose more scrutiny on Chinese firms trading on the U.S. stock markets.
Lucid Motors will begin producing its luxury electric vehicle for customers at its new Arizona factory in early 2021, about three months later than expected due to a slowdown caused by COVID-19.
The company, which plans to unveil a production version of the Lucid Air in an online event scheduled for September 9, said construction resumed several weeks ago at its factory Casa Grande, Arizona and is on target to complete phase one this year. Lucid Motors has also restarted vehicle development work, which was briefly delayed due to shelter-in-place orders, at its California facility.
Lucid Motors said Wednesday it will show off more than the vehicle’s final interior and exterior designs during the September 9 event. The company said new details on production specifications, available configurations, and pricing information will also be shared.
“Although we are experiencing an unprecedented time in our history, the determination of this company’s employees in developing a game-changing electric vehicle burns ever more brightly,” Lucid Motors CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson said in a statement.
With COVID-19 closures in the rearview mirror — at least for now — Lucid Motors is focused on expanding its workforce and wrapping up construction as it begins the big job of moving in and setting up production equipment. Major components and equipment for the paint and shell lines are being installed and are coming online in advance of the completion of construction, the company said in an update. Once complete, Lucid will begin producing prototypes at the factory. Those production prototypes, which will roll off the assembly line in 2020, won’t be sold. The first vehicles produced for customers will begin in early 2021, according to Lucid.
The company, which employs more than 1,000 people, has ramped up hiring ahead of the Air’s production debut. More than 160 new employees have been hired in the past three months. Lucid said it plans to add more than 700 employees to its roster by the end of the 2020.
Lucid motors factory in Casa Grande, Arizona.
The global reveal as well as the anticipated completion of the first phase of its Arizona factory will be a critical milestone for a company that was founded 11 years ago with a different name and mission. The company, called Atieva at the time, was focused on developing electric car battery technology. It then shifted to producing electric cars and changed its name in 2016 to Lucid Motors.
At the time, Lucid Motors appeared to be on a roll. It had successfully raised money, unveiled the Air, announced plans to build a $700 million factory in Arizona, signed a deal with Samsung SDI to supply it with lithium-ion batteries and moved into spacious new digs. The company suddenly fell silent for nearly a year as it worked to raise the remaining money required to take on the capitally intensive pursuit of building a car factory and producing the Air.
In 2018, Lucid Motors secured $1 billion in funding from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Lucid said at the time that the $1 billion in funding would be used to complete engineering development and testing of the Lucid Air, construct its factory in Arizona, begin the global rollout of its retail strategy starting in North America and enter production.
Audi has created a new business unit called Artemis to bring electric vehicles equipped with highly automated driving systems and other tech to market faster — the latest bid by the German automaker to become more agile and competitive.
The traditional automotive industry, where the design to start of production cycle might take five to seven years, has been grappling with how to bring new and innovative products to market more quickly to meet consumers’ fickle demands. The model is more akin to how Tesla or a consumer electronics company operates.
The first project under Artemis will be to “develop a pioneering model for Audi quickly and unbureaucratically,” Audi AG CEO Markus Duesmann said in a statement Friday. The unit is aiming to design and produce what Audi describes as a “highly efficient electric car” as early as 2024.
Artemis will be led by Alex Hitzinger, who was in charge of Audi’s Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID), the self-driving subsidiary that was launched in 2017 to develop autonomous vehicle technology for the VW Group. AID was absorbed into the European headquarters of Argo AI, a move that was made after VW invested $2.6 billion in capital and assets into the self-driving startup.
Hitzinger, who takes the new position beginning June 1, will report directly to Duesmann. Artemis will be based at the company’s tech hub of its INCampus in Ingolstadt, Germany.
Artemis is under the Audi banner. However, the aim is for this group’s work to benefit brands under its parent company VW Group. Hitzinger and the rest of his team will have access to resources and technologies within the entire Volkswagen Group . For instance, Car.Software, an independent business unit under the VW Group, will provide digital services to Artemis. The upshot: to create a blueprint that will make VW Group a more agile automaker able to bring new and technologically advanced vehicles to market more quickly.
VW Group plans to produce and sell 75 electric vehicle models across its brands by 2029, a group that includes VW passenger cars and Audi. The creation of Artemis hasn’t changed Audi’s plans to produce 20 new all-electric vehicles and 10 new plug-in hybrids by 2025.
“The obvious question was how we could implement additional high-tech benchmarks without jeopardizing the manageability of existing projects, and at the same time utilize new opportunities in the markets,” Duesmann said.
Vander Lind is general manager for Heaviside at Kitty Hawk, a company whose mission is to free the world from traffic with eVTOL vehicles.
We are at the dawn of a new era in transportation.
At the turn of the 20th century, cars began to replace horses. Now, a century later, we would like to see mobility move to the sky. Kitty Hawk has built several prototype vehicles that are electrically powered, take off and land vertically and fly in between like a fixed-wing plane. Collectively, these are called eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft.
eVTOLs — such as the ones built by Project Heaviside — show great potential for everyday transportation. With that as an eventual use case, a common question that comes up is: can eVTOL vehicles be green? Specifically, can eVTOL vehicles be more energy-efficient than cars?
Our current Heaviside prototype uses about 120Wh per passenger mile, and does so at twice the speed of the Leaf: 100 miles per hour (of course, we can fly much faster, if we choose). We can save another 15% of energy because while roads are not straight, flight paths usually are. All together, Heaviside requires 61% as much energy to go a mile.
Why is Heaviside this efficient — doesn’t it take more energy to go faster? Yes, and it makes the high efficiency we’ve achieved even more dramatic. The answer is that Heaviside can take advantage of slim and low-drag aerodynamic forms that are just not practical on cars.
What is probably less obvious is that clean shapes like wings must make lift when they are put at an angle to the wind. This is not just observation, but can be mathematically proven.
Car manufacturers put tremendous effort into designing shapes that minimize drag, but will not make lift or side force in wind, which would result in poor and squirrelly handling — remember the last time you drove over a bridge in high winds, or in the opposite direction of a large truck on a narrow country road.
When a car drives by, it takes quite a bit of air along with it.
Image Credits: Kitty Hawk
Project Heaviside, in contrast, leaves a small disturbance in the air it passes through.
So, Heaviside is quite energy-efficient. But what if people choose to travel farther when this option exists? What I find personally surprising about the ranges we have been able to achieve is that Heaviside is a vehicle that, because of the extremely low power consumption, is more efficient than a car traveling for an equal amount of time.
This leaves out the most important element of eVTOL aircraft, which is that they are fully electric, and the cars we would like to see them replace are nearly all gas and diesel-powered. While it may be a hard sell to convince the average consumer to switch to an electric car simply because of emissions, it is likely to be much easier to convince them to use a device that gives them time back.
To put this another way, if your commute is the U.S. average of 16 miles, and if you commuted in a Heaviside-type vehicle, three standard rooftop solar panels would power your commute both ways.
While we have a significant road ahead of us in developing and fielding our aircraft commercially, and we cannot be sure the final products will be as efficient as our prototypes, we are still very excited to demonstrate that efficiency and personal flight need not be at odds.
The battery-powered Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 prototype is purpose-built and projected to deliver over 1,400 horsepower and over 1,100 ft.-lbs. of instant torque to demonstrate the capabilities of an electric powertrain in one of the most demanding race environments. [credit: Ford ]
If you want to go from a standstill to very fast as quickly as possible, there’s nothing quite like an electric motor. They’re compact, powerful, efficient, and they can make all their torque almost instantly, so they’re pretty darn good at drag racing. Which is convenient for automakers who still need to convince 98 percent of American car buyers that battery electrics are worth a look, given the emotional resonance of the quarter-mile among the nation’s car enthusiasts. That’s why Ford Performance has put together the Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 prototype.
“This project was a challenge for all of us at Ford Performance, but a challenge we loved jumping into. We saw the Cobra Jet 1400 project as an opportunity to start developing electric powertrains in a race car package that we already had a lot of experience with, so we had performance benchmarks we wanted to match and beat right now. This has been a fantastic project to work on, and we hope the first of many coming from our team,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports.
The specs make the Mustang Shelby GT500 we tested last year seem pretty tame. The Cobra Jet packs more than a megawatt of power (1,400hp) and 1500Nm (1,100lb-ft) of torque, with its electric motor and inverters supplied by Cascadia Motion, which also builds high-end electric motors and control hardware for race cars in F1, Formula E, Le Mans, and Pikes Peak. The powertrain software comes from well-known AEM, which recently added a new line of performance EV systems to its range of motorsport and tuning products.
General Motors’ EV day didn’t just mark the launch of a new flexible battery architecture and an ambitious plan to deploy this underlying foundation across all of the automaker’s brands, including Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.
It was a resurrection, albeit with a modern twist.
The company’s announcement this week gave new life to its brand ladder — a portfolio that ranges from the heights of luxury to the most basic utility — and tipped its hand about how it will bring EVs “across the chasm.”
This game plan isn’t new. GM is bringing back a strategy that once defined its success and reshaped America’s automotive landscape. This strategy worked for GM until complacency crept in and the brand ladder collapsed. This time, GM is aiming to avoid these snares.
Henry Ford’s moving assembly line birthed the early auto industry, but as American prosperity grew in the 1910s-20s, it was General Motors that laid the foundations of the modern car market. Under then-chairman Alfred Sloan, the amalgamation of once-independent automakers united under a strategy that would, in his words, create “a car for every purse and purpose.” From a value Chevrolet to a sporty Pontiac, from a discreetly plush Buick to a majestic Cadillac, and with countless brands in between, what became known as Sloanism birthed the idea that there should be a car to reflect every American’s self-image and social status.