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

Michigan State Police to begin testing Ford Mach-E Interceptors

The next time you get pulled over in Michigan, it could be by a cop in an electric SUV — at least if Ford has anything to say about it. The American automaker is stepping up its Police Interceptor program, which modifies existing models for use by law enforcement, typically with beefed up suspensions, brakes and added horsepower.

The company has pitched the idea to law enforcement agencies in the UK, while the city of Ann Arbor, MI already has two such vehicles on order. On Friday, Ford announced that it, in short order, will deliver one of its Mustang Mach-E Interceptor prototypes — which appears to be based on the Mach-E GT variant — to the Michigan State Police as well, where it will undergo real-world testing to see if the EV can handle the rigors of police work.

Ford hopes to “use the pilot program testing as a benchmark while it continues to explore purpose-built electric police vehicles in the future” as part of its $30 billion multi-year investment in EV technology.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

#column, #electric-vehicle, #ev, #ford, #mach-e, #mustang, #tc, #tceng

Ford boosts spending to increase production capacity of its F-150 Lightning electric truck

Ford said Thursday it will 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, Ford said.

The announcement was made during an event at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, a 500,000-square-foot facility expansion that was part of Ford’s $700 million investment in its Rouge Complex. Gas-powered F-Series trucks are also assembled at the Rouge Complex.

Ford also announced that has started pre-production of the Lightning trucks. These prototypes will be used for real-world testing. The truck will be available to customers in spring 2022.

The all-electric pickup truck is a critical piece of the company’s $30 billion investment into electrification and one of a trifecta of Ford EV debuts and launches in the 18 months, including the Mustang Mach-E. The Lightning may be the most meaningful in terms of the bottom line. The Ford F-150 Lightning follows the introduction of the all-electric Mustang Mach-E and the E-Transit, a configurable all-electric cargo van focused on commercial customers.

The F-150 Lightning will be offered in four trims, which includes the base, XLT, Lariat and Platinum series, and two battery options. The truck, which has an aluminum alloy body, is powered by two in-board electric motors, comes standard with four-wheel drive and has an independent rear suspension. The base version will be priced at $39,974 before any federal or state tax credits, while the midseries XLT model will start at $52,974. All of these prices exclude the destination fees and taxes.

#electric-vehicles, #f-150-lightning, #ford, #tc

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

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

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

Apple has reportedly appointed wearable chief Kevin Lynch to lead its car division

Apple has reportedly appointed a new executive to lead the development of its secretive self-driving car division. According to Bloomberg, the company has tapped Kevin Lynch to oversee Project Titan following the departure of executive Doug Field, who left the iPhone maker for Ford earlier this week.

The name may not be familiar, but if you’ve watched any Apple event in recent years, you’ve seen Lynch on stage. After a stint at Adobe, he joined Apple in 2013 to oversee the company’s wearable and health unit and has frequently been the one to present whatever new features Apple is working on for watchOS.

Bloomberg reports Lynch joined the division earlier in the year but is now overseeing the entire unit. The outlet notes Lynch’s appointment suggests Apple is likely focusing on underlying software that a self-driving car would need to navigate the road, instead of a vehicle that we could see the company release anytime soon.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

#apple, #apple-car, #ford, #tc, #tceng

Ford builds leadership team of commercial vehicle unit ahead of E-Transit launch

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.

Ford pulled from within its ranks and outside the company to fill out the leadership team for the new business unit, Ford Pro. Among the new hires is Muffi Ghadiali, the CEO of Electriphi, the battery management and fleet monitoring software startup that Ford acquired in June. Ghadiali will continue to serve in his role with Electriphi and head up Ford Pro’s charging department.

Ford also hired Tim Baughman, Ford’s former controller for U.S. marketing, sales and service, to be the general manager of Ford Pro North America. Ford Pro’s new CFO will be Navin Kumar, who was previously at Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC.

Tracey Pass, who comes from The Walt Disney Company, has been hired as the chief human resources officer, and Rahul Singh, who was head of software development for Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC, is the unit’s CTO. Wanda Young, chief marketing officer of Samsung Electronics America, has taken a similar position at Ford Pro.

Ford previously announced that Hans Schep will be the general manager of Ford Pro Europe.

Ford Pro is focused on more than just commercial vans. The division, led by Ted Cannis, aims to sell fleet management, maintenance and charging services to commercial clients as well. Ford Pro has said it expects to generate $45 billion in revenue from hardware and adjacent and new services by 2025 — up from $27 billion in 2019.

That’s a hefty hike in revenue and a target that Ford plans to meet by selling a mix of combustion-engine, hybrid, and soon all-electric versions of its vans and full-size pickup trucks; and offering depot and home charging for the EVs, digital services for customers to manage and maintain their fleets, a network of service centers, and, of course, financing.

Ford’s commercial vehicle business has a head start in Europe, where it has been the leading commercial vehicle brand for six consecutive years. In North America, Ford’s share of Class 1 through Class 7 full-size commercial trucks and vans exceeds 40%, according to the company.

A new opportunity to grab more market share has opened up as governments, particularly in Europe, place stricter emissions regulations in urban areas. The E-Transit cargo van, which is expected to ship to customers later this year, and the commercial variant of the F-150 Lightning Pro play a critical role in Ford Pro’s plans. The Lightning pickup truck is expected to come to market in spring 2022.

#automotive, #e-transit, #electric-vehicles, #ev-charging, #ford, #ford-motor, #tc, #transportation

Solid Power expands production capacity to deliver test batteries to BMW, Ford in 2022

Solid Power, a battery developer backed by Ford and BMW, is expanding its Colorado-based factory footprint as it prepares pilot production of its solid state batteries early next year.

The new production facility will be dedicated to manufacturing one of the company’s flagship products, a sulfide-based solid electrolyte material, by up to 25 times its current output. The new facility will also make room for the first pilot production line 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, with the aim of getting them into driver-ready vehicles by the latter half of the decade.

Solid state batteries have long been considered the next breakthrough in battery technology. They lack a liquid electrolyte, the material that moves ions between the cathode and anode in traditional lithium-ion batteries, as TechCrunch writer Mark Harris has explained. The gains from such technology, SSB developers say, include increased energy density, reduced costs and a superior battery life expectancy.

Developers also say they’re safer – an important consideration in light of incidents like GM’s three-times recall of Chevrolet Bolt vehicles due to fire risk. It’s the liquid electrolyte that serves as “the spark that leads to thermal runaway,” Solid Power CEO Doug Campbell told TechCrunch. “We believe very strongly that these issues that both Hyundai and GM are now facing would be addressed with a solid-state battery.”

While the startup will be building out a new battery cell pilot production line, Solid Power’s ultimate plan is to eventually only produce the electrolyte material and license out the cell to OEMs and battery manufacturers.

“Long term, we’re a materials company,” Campbell said. “We want to be the industry leader in solid electrolyte materials.” To that end, this current expansion to cell production will likely be the company’s last, he said. The forthcoming pilot production line will produce enough to supply multiple OEMs with cells for automotive qualification testing, with the intent of larger production scales being undertaken by automakers and battery cell producers.

The decision to license the battery cells to partners, rather than produce them all in-house, is an asset-light model born from commonsense, he added.

“Let’s face it, what’s the probability that little Solid Power is going to grow up and displace the likes of Panasonic, LG, CATL?” While some companies are attempting it, like Sweden’s Northvolt, Campbell added that the material business margins are higher and don’t include direct competitors that are all but behemoths. “It’s capital-light, but it’s also realistic.”

The startup said in June it would go public via a $1.2 billion reverse merger with blank-check firm Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp. III. The transaction, which is anticipated to generate around $600 million in cash, should give the company enough funds through 2026 or 2027, Campbell said.

The company will need plenty of capital to take it through the rest of the decade, especially as it aims to produce enough electrolyte material to support 10 gigawatt-hour annual cell capacity by 2207. For that, it’ll need “orders of magnitude” more electrolyte production capacity than was even announced today (which is itself an order of magnitude increase), Campbell said.

Solid Power doesn’t even plan on stopping at electrolyte production. Campbell hinted that the company is also at work developing a low-cost cathode material – one that contains no nickel or cobalt, two of the costliest raw battery materials.

“[The industry] is going to be dominated by the cost of materials and the cost of materials is going to be dominated by the cost of that nickel- and cobalt-containing cathode material,” he said. “This particular chemistry that we’ll be disclosing later this year is extremely low cost, we’re talking 1/20th, 1/30th the cost of today’s [nickel manganese cobalt cathodes].”

#automotive, #bmw, #electric-vehicle-batteries, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #solid-power, #solid-state-batteries, #transportation

Rivian’s electric R1T pickup truck, R1S SUV get their official EPA ranges

Rivian announced Friday that the first edition version of its all-electric R1T pickup truck has an official EPA range of 314 miles, while its R1T SUV comes in a skosh higher at 316 miles.

The official range and fuel economy values have been posted on the U.S. EPA website. The official numbers align with Rivian’s own previous estimates, which it has advertised as 300 miles.

While EPA estimates can’t account for different driving styles, the test cycle is robust enough to provide an accurate benchmark for customers shopping for an electric vehicle.

In this case, 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.

The R1T and R1S vehicles will be offered in two trims, both of which are offered with the same 135-kWh-pack size. The Adventure variant of the R1T, which has a premium interior, starts at $73,000. The R1T Explore trim starts at $67,500.

The Adventure trim in the R1S SUV starts at $75,500, while the Explore package has a base price of $70,000.

Rivian intends to begin deliveries of the Adventure and Explore packages in January 2022.

Rivian also plans to offer an even larger pack, dubbed the “Max pack,” for the R1T. That larger pack costs an additional $10,000 and is expected to push the range of the R1T past 400 miles. The EPA has not posted an official range for the max pack or other editions, including a planned smaller battery pack option.

#automotive, #electric-pickup-trucks, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #ford-f-150, #ford-f-150-lightning, #r1s, #r1t, #rivian, #tc, #transportation

65 mpg without hypermiling in the Lincoln Aviator hybrid

Temptation comes in different forms, especially behind the wheel. With a plug-in hybrid SUV, there are two competing urges. Sometimes, the move is to put it in sport mode and scream down the highway to take full advantage of the hybrid powertrain. In the case of the Lincoln Aviator, the urge was to ignore the engine altogether, instead relying on electrons rather than hydrocarbons for propulsion. To Lincoln’s credit, the Aviator made that an easy choice.

In revamping its SUV lineup, Lincoln has gone hard for big grilles and classic styling, both of which the Aviator has. It sports classic SUV contours, but the slope of the windshield and the tapering top, paired with the Aviator nameplate on the front quarter panels, give it a light art deco vibe. The mid-size, three-row Aviator plugs into Lincoln’s lineup between the full-size Navigator and the compact Nautilus.

Unfortunately the Aviator’s comfortable interior doesn’t show the same level of design elegance. The materials all feel high-quality—there are scads of leather and wood trim—but it’s busy. A massive center console makes what should be a spacious front row feel slightly cramped. But the seats are excellent, and both front row occupants can sink into the Aviator’s 30-way (!) adjustable seats. The second-row captain’s chairs are roomy and comfortable, but the third row is difficult to get into and is best suited for kids.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#cars, #ford, #hybrids, #lincoln, #lincoln-aviator, #phevs, #suv

Spin’s electric scooters and bikes are now on Google Maps

Ford-owned micromobility company Spin has announced an integration with Google Maps. Now, users planning their trips in 84 cities, towns and campuses across the U.S., Canada, Germany and Spain will be able to view Spin’s electric scooters and bikes on the app while planning their trip.

Spin joins its top competition on the popular mapping app, Lime, which also recently announced an integration with transit planning app Moovit. We can expect to see further integrations of micromobility operators with mapping apps as shared mobility becomes part of the broader transit ecosystem.

A recent report from the North American Bikeshare & Scootershare Association on the state of the micromobility industry found that 50% of riders reported using shared mobility to connect to transit, and 16% of all micromobility trips were for the purpose of connecting to transit.

Similar to Lime, the Spin icon will now show up under Google Map’s bike section when planning a journey — only in the mobile app, not on the desktop. A user will see the nearest available Spin vehicle, how long it will take to walk to it, what the estimated battery range is and the expected arrival time if using the vehicle. Choosing that option will direct users to the Spin app to pay for and unlock the vehicle.

“With this integration, Spin is making it easier for millions of Google Maps users to easily incorporate shared bikes and scooters into their daily trips,” Ben Bear, CEO of Spin, said in a statement. “Our goal is to make it as low friction as possible for consumers to plan multi-modal journeys. It needs to be just as easy, and even more convenient to get around with bikes, buses, trains and scooters as it is with a personal car.”

Bear also said this collaboration with Google is Spin’s largest yet, and he teased “many more in the pipeline.” Spin is already integrated into platforms like Citymapper, Moovit, Transit and Kölner Verkehrs-Betriebe. This news comes not long after Spin announced it would be adding e-bikes to the mix and trying to capture market share with exclusive or semi-exclusive city partnerships. A major app integration such as this one could be a vote of confidence for Spin looking to partner with more cities in the future.

#ben-bear, #ford, #google, #lime, #micromobility, #moovit, #public-transport, #scooter-sharing, #spin, #transportation

Ford F-150 hybrid: The 2021 rumble before the Lightning EV strikes

Full-size pickup trucks are the meat of the U.S. automotive business; it’s a red-hot category with the Ford F-150 leading the pack in sales and the Chevrolet Silverado and Ram pickups fast followers.

But the air is thin at the top. What’s often lost in truck coverage is how fiercely automakers compete to woo discerning customers with packaged bundles of optional and standard features. And now, more than ever, those packaged bundles rely heavily on in-car tech.

Ford, as the top seller, must add bells and whistles without alienating its most discerning clientele. The 2021 F-150 — as I was reminded during a recent test drive — epitomizes this effort and hints at what is to come with the upcoming all-electric Lightning pickup truck.

I tested the 2021 4×4 SuperCrew Lariat equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 PowerBoost Full Hybrid engine in its native suburban Detroit, 20 miles from where it was developed and manufactured.

Getting the details right on pickup trucks is an art of custom packaging for car companies. It’s one of the reasons that options packages are dizzying; the F-150 I tested was no exception. The F-150 offers six different powertrains, three bed lengths and three cab options, and then there’s eight trim levels, two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive options.

This options-heavy strategy has paid off for automakers like Ford. However, as these companies add more tech and software, there is a risk of causing confusion among its most loyal customers.

Screensavers

2021 Ford F-150 interior

2021 Ford F-150 interior. Image Credits: Ford Motor Company

What sets the F-150 apart from other vehicles in its lineup is how much functional tech matters to its core customers. On the new model I tested, a 12-inch display that houses the standard Sync4 infotainment system is the center of the dashboard — and the customer experience.

Sync4 was introduced on the Mustang Mach-E and on the new Ford Bronco. Sync has been steadily improving for a simpler user experience since its 2007 introduction. Sync4 doubles computational power and introduced over-the-air software updates.

The system sources data from INRIX on traffic, construction (always in a Michigan summer), weather and parking space availability from data in 20,000 cities and 150 countries.

Natural language processing used in the system provided more accurate responses to my voice-based queries and incoming SMS messages. One caveat worth noting: It was difficult to judge the machine learning algorithm because my test vehicle had been used by multiple drivers in recent weeks.

For infotainment, I generally defer to Apple CarPlay, which along with Android Auto, is easy to call up, because it connects wirelessly in the F-150 and minimizes distracted driving. Ever since they debuted in production vehicles — 2014 for CarPlay and 2015 for Android Auto — it seemed inevitable that Apple and Google were going to dominate the middleware infotainment system game.

Sync also tees up supported apps Waze and Ford+Alexa.

Driving tech

Driving a full-size truck for the first time can be intimidating, and Ford uses camera tech to make the big rig easier to maneuver. The split screen helps a timid driver feel confident navigating through tight spaces.

Five onboard cameras act as guides that assist with steering and parking. The vivid graphics incorporated into the 360-degree view from above helps to establish bearings where mirrors won’t suffice.

Behind the steering wheel is a 12-inch digital cluster. There’s part of me that misses the old-fashioned gauges of a classic pickup, but that’s not the direction Ford is heading. Ford is striving for future-forward vibes, encapsulated by Mustang Mach-E’s Apple-design-inspired aesthetic.

Through its in-car design, Ford is trying to make the case it’s a tech company first, and a 120-year-old automaker second. These earnest aesthetic cues may be a bit too on the nose as products age over time.

Ford is due to introduce Blue Cruise, an advanced driver assistance system it once called Active Drive Assist, on vehicles later this year by an automatic software update, which was not yet active on the model I drove in June, though the hardware was included.

The company claims the system allows for hands-free driving in zones that span 100,000 miles of North American road and will be standard on the F-150 Limited vehicles in the Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep Package. It will be sold as an option on Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum models. The system uses a driver-facing camera to track eye gaze and head position to monitor concentration as an answer to GM’s Super Cruise.

The doodads that matter most

2021 Ford F-150

2021 Ford F-150’s interior work surface. Image Credits: Ford Motor Company

Under the foot-long screen are the old-school knobs and switches that show Ford knows its customers still favor a manual cue here and there. Below that is a shift lever that folds down and flat into a 15-inch workstation, which I used for some in-car laptop time.

There are ample charging stations and wireless charging throughout the cabin. While the F-150 interior is spacious, every inch of real estate is carefully thought through. Seats fold to 180-degrees for proper roadside naps or to add extra cargo space.

The dark grey leather seats felt more utilitarian than luxurious, especially for a fully loaded vehicle. (Crosstown competitor Ram tends to outdo Ford on driving joy and interior design aesthetics.) The exterior and interior design emphasizes functionality, pure and simple. I hauled two kayaks in the back and found thoughtful hooks to connect to my bungee cords in the truck bed.

A bevy of 240-volt outlets are in the rear of the truck bed and two more are onboard in the cabin. The truck bed also has a convenient ruler built in on the tailgate with both metric and imperial calculations. A 2.4 kilowatt generator is standard on the hybrid model, while the optional 7.2 kW generator functions for 32 hours on a full tank of gas.

I didn’t test out the F-150’s towing capacity, but for truck folks these numbers are essential. It has a payload of 2,120 pounds and can tow up 12,700 pounds (those numbers vary a bit depending on bed length and drivetrain). It also offers a backup towing assist function, which helps align the connection to a trailer. The model I drove was priced at $68,095, a significant leap from the $50,980 base price. In contrast, Ford produces an even higher-end F-150 trim called the Limited, which starts at $73,000.

Function in form

Before it goes all electric, the hybrid powertrain gives Ford a much needed boost to compete with Ram and Chevrolet, which already sell hybrid variants. The hybrid option is a logical compromise for customers who aren’t ready for the full Lightning EV that will go on sale in 2022, a launch that’s already generated buzz and 120,000 pre-orders. I clocked about 24 miles per gallon, an improvement over all-gasoline and best in its class for non-diesel. It’s still not enough to get Ford anywhere close to a stellar emissions report card, which is why the Lightning matters so much.

In order to court new EV customers, Ford must appease its current buyers who buy all those trucks we see on the road today. There’s two kinds of pickup truck customers: Those who rely on the functionality for their daily vocation or the weekend warriors and those who seek out the capability in case they might need it in a disaster scenario. The truck that I drove does the job of appealing to both.

The F-150 has always been suited to buyers who use it for home improvement projects, outdoorsy hobbies and towing. Pickup trucks also support laborers that require a rugged, functional vehicle. When Ford introduces anything new to this model, it creates hype and high stakes on how these customers feel about tweaks.

2021 F-150 Lariat interior in black. Image Credits: Ford Motor Company

The buyer who seeks security came to mind while I had the F-150 on loan in late June, which is why I’ve saved the part about how it drives for last. My test drive period coincided with a summer storm that pummeled Michigan and shut down major highways and left vehicles stranded for days.

Before the storm, I zoomed around town, adjusting to the big loose steering and wide turns and the rhythm of stillness that occurs as the hybrid engine regenerates.

Once the storm came, I eased off the throttle and into a steady and sure pace, hands at 10 and two. Passenger cars and lesser capable crossover SUVs floated by me in two feet of water on the Lodge Freeway. The F-150 plowed through the muck, unbothered. I didn’t experience any skidding or stalling, in contrast to one friend who was forced to walk home because her Uber driver got stuck. The F-150 feels like a test case for a survivalist in an environmental catastrophe. The backup generator is the added security blanket.

Full-size trucks have an innate quality to make a driver feel invincible, which at the end of day is why people love their F-150s, and why the company has gotten so much mileage off that “Ford tough” tagline. It’s a delicate balance, keeping an unfussy truck at a price point that delivers power, substance and peace of mind.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #ford-f-150, #ford-f-150-lightning, #tc, #transportation, #trucks

The cost of Velodyne’s internal drama is starting to add up

Velodyne Lidar, the sensor company that went public a year ago when it merged with special purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., reported its second quarter earnings Thursday, results that show a company spending more to find new customers for its products while grappling with an increasingly expensive internal drama.

Just a few weeks ago, Velodyne’s CEO Anand Gopalan resigned, taking $8 million in equity compensation with him, according to the company’s second-quarter report. At the time of Gopalan’s resignation, the company restated its business outlook for 2021 revenue, noting that its guidance of between $77 million and $94 million remained unchanged.

Earlier in the year, founder David Hall was removed as chairman of the board and his wife, Marta Thoma Hall, lost her role of chief marketing officer following an investigation by the board into the couple for “inappropriate behavior.” The legal fees involved in this debacle set the company back $1.4 million this quarter, and $3.7 million for the first half of 2021, according to Velodyne CFO Drew Hamer.

The board’s fight with the Halls has escalated. In a May letter, David Hall blamed the SPAC, specifically the SPAC-appointed members of the combined company’s board, for its poor financial performance, and called for the resignation of Gopalan and two board members.

During a call with investors Thursday, Hamer also said general and administrative expenses are expected to increase by about 35% in 2021 due to increased public company and legal expenses, meaning the struggle is not over. From the first quarter to the second, there was already a 21% increase, from $17 million to $20.6 million.

The “general and administrative expenses” category falls under the company’s broader operating expenses, which were $84.8 million this quarter, about double last quarter’s spend. 

Rising legal costs at the company are only part of its accelerating cost profile. The company is also investing heavily in growth, namely in sales and marketing.

A large majority of operating expenses were spent on sales and marketing. Velodyne spent $47.2 million in the second quarter, which is up massively from $7.1 million in the first quarter.

On average, companies spend about 11.3% of their total revenue on marketing budgets, according to a 2020 CMO survey, though that is a broad metric. It’s important to note that the full impact of sales and marketing spend is never fully realized in the quarter in which that capital is put to work. In other words, we don’t know if Velodyne’s expanded Q2 sales and marketing spend has brought in more business.

The company’s revenue eased between the first and second quarters, falling from $17.7 million to $13.6 million. For a company investing so heavily in sales to see revenue decline is not encouraging, even if the bulk of results stemming from Q2 spend may not show up until the company’s third-quarter earnings report.

Velodyne is betting that its efforts will lead to accelerating sales in coming quarters. 

The company said it expects to make an additional $46 to $62 million revenue in the second half of the year due to an increase in demand for lidar products. While Q2’s total revenue was actually less than Q1’s, the company’s product-based revenue rose around 30%, which Hamer attributed to “renewed demand for lidar sensors from customers with delayed purchases due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Our pipeline continues to grow,” said Hamer. “We had 213 projects on August 1, up from 198 projects at May 1…Included in the signed and awarded pipeline are new ADAS multiyear agreements, which we expect will begin to ramp starting in 2026.”

Hamer estimated that through 2025, Velodyne has the opportunity for more than $1 billion in revenue from signed and awarded projects, plus a pipeline of projects that are not yet signed and awarded that could bring the company to $4.5 billion in potential revenue. 

At the end of April, Velodyne was selected by EV company Faraday Future as an exclusive lidar supplier for its flagship luxury electric car FF 91, which is due to be launched next year. Faraday’s cars would use the Velarray H800 lidar sensors to power their autonomous driving system. 

Velodyne has some other existing partnerships, but it faces steep competition in the automotive space.

Luminar, for example, has deals with major OEMs like Volvo and Toyota, and it recently bought one of its chip suppliers so that it wouldn’t have to be held up like everyone else in the industry, including Velodyne, by the semiconductor shortage. Hesai is also seeing some traction with customers like Lyft, Nuro, Bosch, Navya and Chinese robotaxi operators Baidu, WeRide and AutoX. 

Velodyne, which has long been the dominant supplier in the industry, has lost some customers more recently.

For instance, Ford, which had originally backed Velodyne, divested its stake in the company and placed its bets on Argo AI, which is supplying the automaker with its the autonomous vehicle technology. Argo had upped its game by drastically improving its in-house lidar sensor, meaning it would no longer need to rely on Velodyne. That had a ripple effect and impacted Veoneer, which had partnered with Velodyne to produce the lidar for Ford.

#adas, #argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-driving, #earnings, #ford, #lidar, #q2-earnings, #transportation, #velodyne

Drunk-driving provision could fuel demand for driver detection technology

Companies developing driver detection technology could get a boost from a provision tucked inside the 2,702-page $1 trillion infrastructure bill that would require automakers to build into new cars technology that can tell if drivers have had a few cold ones.

The provision in the bill, which is actually a piece of bipartisan legislation called the Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone Act that was introduced in April 2021, would direct the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a technology safety standard for automakers within three years. Automakers would then have another two years to comply and implement tech that detects and prevents drunk driving. Reuters was the first to notice the language

While the provision doesn’t dictate what type of tech has to be in these vehicles, industry experts believe that companies developing camera-based driver monitoring systems (DMS) stand to benefit the most. DMS systems are already mature in the auto industry, representing a technological byproduct of autonomous driving developments. While the auto industry explores self-driving cars as a way to drastically reduce road deaths in the future, advocates and regulators say there’s room to use some of this tech to solve problems that exist now, like drunk or distracted driving. 

“What’s happening in the U.S. Senate this week potentially opens the door to a camera-based real-time solution, which will be the first time that the U.S. automakers will have the ability and the requirement to look at real-time physiological changes in your body that occur when you are inebriated,” Dr. Mike Lenné, chief science and innovation officer at Seeing Machines told TechCrunch. “There are distinct reliable changes to the way you scan the environment, to the way your eyes respond to stimuli, which is why the police use that ‘follow the finger’ test.”

The system would have to monitor the performance of a driver to detect impairment and prevent or limit vehicle operation if impairment is detected; detect whether BAC (blood alcohol concentration) is equal to or greater than the legal limit, potentially preventing operation of the vehicle at all; or a combination of both systems. 

Cameras aren’t the only solution that has been trotted out in recent years.

The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program, a technology that’s been developed in partnership between the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has advocated using a breath or touch-based approach to determine BAC levels. The touch-based approach involves measuring BAC through the skin’s surface by shining an infrared light through the driver’s fingertip. According to DADSS, the current timeline for bringing the breath-based approach to vehicles is by 2024, and the touch-based approach by 2025. 

Lenné argues that a camera-based approach would be far more successful than a breath or touch-based approach because BAC levels can rise within minutes. Someone could theoretically down a bunch of shots immediately before getting behind the wheel and it wouldn’t show up on a reading for several minutes. Or they could get wasted while driving. And BAC detection doesn’t help at all when it comes to drug-impaired driving. 

Europe versus U.S.

Moves are already being made in Europe to encourage automakers to include drunk driving detection technology, specifically through camera-based DMS approaches, whereas most of the discussion on this type of tech in the U.S. has been, until recently, focused on DMS for assisted driving and Level 2 autonomous driving and above. (According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, Level 2 autonomy means the vehicle has combined functions like steering and acceleration but requires the driver to remain engaged.)

The U.S. provision could propel an industry that has already seen growth in recent years as automakers like GM and Ford implement hands-free advanced driver assistance systems.

“From an integration viewpoint, it’s actually not a step change at all from what the OEMs are doing right now for distracted driving and drowsy driving with camera-based DMS. It’s just another feature to offer, another algorithm on the chip, if you like,” Lenné said. 

Near-term tech

“Billions of dollars have gone into developing the technology to make AVs a reality but they are really far off,” Stephanie Manning, chief government affairs officer at Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), told TechCrunch. “In the process, automakers have developed a lot of technology that can help us right now in terms of saving lives. If this passes, it’s going to be the biggest safety rulemaking that NHTSA has ever done in terms of lives saved, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. But the more we wait, the more we delay, the more people die.”

The technology is not at all far from market, said Lenné, and he would know. Seeing Machines provides the DMS that is used in Super Cruise, GM’s hands-free advanced driver assistance system. Super Cruise, once relegated to just one Cadillac model, has expanded in capability and GM’s portfolio and is now in the Cadillac CT6, CT4, CT5, Escalade and Chevrolet Bolt. Seeing Machine’s tech is also used in the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQS sedans.

“Once it’s regulated, we can expect to see more entrants to the market because what this does is it creates a top-down demand,” said Lenné. “It takes it out of the consumers’ hands and tells vehicles they must have these safety features, so the market size will increase dramatically, and so will the market opportunity.”

The global DMS market is estimated to surpass $2.1 billion by 2026, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 9.8% from this year, according to IndustryARC. Top-down demand due to regulations like the infrastructure bill will certainly increase demand, but it won’t make the problem easier to solve.

“We’re trying to assess what’s going on in someone’s head, and that’s really different from having a forward-facing radar that’s trying to look at what’s 30 meters in front of you,” he said. “You’re trying to interpret whether or not this person is safe to drive. So it’s a really difficult technical problem to solve. Our company is 21 years old. Smart Eye has been around for over 10 years. Whilst the market size has increased dramatically, it’s a hard problem to solve as a new entrant.”

Newcomers will face competition from established and large Tier 1 suppliers like Seeing Machines and Smart Eye, a Swedish computer vision company that people familiar with the industry say works with Ford (Ford did not confirm or deny this). IndustryARC also names major players as Faurecia, Aptiv PLC, Bosch, Denso, Continental AG and others. But new players are finding their way into the scene, like Israel-based Cipia, formerly Eyesight Technology, and Sweden-based Tobii Tech.

Room for growth in the market

More entrants to market means more advancements to the technology. Smart Eye’s recent acquisition of emotion-detection startup Affectiva for $73.5 million hints at the potential future applications of DMS in passenger vehicles. Today it might be distracted, drowsy or drunk driving, but in a few years DMS could detect other types of drug impairment, cognitive impairments or even road rage.

Tobii, an eye-tracker technology company, just announced its entrance into the DMS market, a space it’s been exploring for the past few years as it has watched the legislative changes happening first in Europe and now in the U.S.

While a new entrant to the automotive space, Tobii has been in the eye tracking space since 2001, working in industries like marketing, scientific research, virtual reality, gaming and more. Anand Srivatsa, Tobii’s division CEO, told TechCrunch he thinks one of the biggest challenges will be scaling across different populations, given the different eye shapes of different ethnicities, which he says puts Tobii at an advantage, even with its limited automotive experience.

“Because of this long history, we have what it takes to deliver a full solution from a component level all the way to end software because we’ve done it in other parts of our business,” Srivatsa told TechCrunch. “Some of our automotive partners see that as a unique capability from Tobii where we can talk about the compute that is needed for eye tracking because we build our own asix, we’ve built our own sensor. We have end user software in some aspects of our business, so we understand the implications and the constraints of each of these parts of the stack, and we can work with them to create a more disruptive solution. And that’s something that I think is going to be quite important in this space. How do you reduce the total cost of the solution to allow it to scale efficiently across all cars?”

Srivatsa also said there’s room to extend into other spaces the biometrics or physiological signals that eye tracking yields, reconfiguring information based on outside road conditions or what else is going on in the car in a way that optimizes the tech to ensure drivers are spending the bulk of their time looking at the road.

“What I am hoping and dreaming for is technologies like forward collision warning, or blind spot warning or even the lane swerving warnings help me out when I need it most by understanding if I’m becoming complacent or tired, perhaps distracted, and then adjust how the systems perform, the warning timing and things like that, based on what I need in the moment,” Kelly Funkhouser, program manager of vehicle interface testing and head of connected and automated vehicles at Consumer Reports, told TechCrunch. “Counter to that is I would like it to not bother me and nag and annoy me when I am fully paying attention. I’m like ‘Yeah I know exactly what I’m doing, I am purposely driving over this line so that I don’t hit the mom and kids.’ ”

Lenné said there’s a potential for driver monitoring systems that capture what is really going on inside of a car to become more personalized in order to provide a better driving experience. 

“I think in all of this, writing a better driving experience is absolutely pivotal,” said Lenné. “If it doesn’t do that, it risks not being accepted by the consumers.”

Advancing existing ADAS tech

Automakers have been a part of the conversation regarding drunk driving technology for years. Back in 2007, Nissan revealed a drunk driving concept car that would use alcohol odor sensors, facial monitoring and vehicle operational behavior to detect driver impairment.

In the same year, Toyota announced a similar system that it said would be in cars by 2009. More recently, Volvo announced in 2019 that it would install cameras and sensors in cars to monitor drivers for signs of being drunk or distracted and then signal the vehicle to intervene, but that tech is designed for Volvo’s SPA2 architecture for hands-free driving, which hasn’t been released yet. The bottom line is without legislation mandating drunk driving prevention and detection, automakers haven’t really moved forward on implementing the tech, despite much of the building blocks being in place already. 

Manning thinks that’s because automakers want to be able to upcharge for safety features. 

“Automakers want to test their supercomputers on the open road, but they don’t want to put the money and time and energy into solving drunk driving, because they don’t feel it’s their responsibility, and they don’t want this rule-making,” she said. “We fully expect that they’re going to fight us tooth and nail throughout the rule-making process.”

Representatives from GM and Ford could not be reached for comment, but John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which worked with NHTSA on the DADSS program, told TechCrunch that the auto industry is committed to supporting public and private efforts to address this threat to road safety.  

“We appreciate the efforts of congressional leaders and other stakeholders to advance a legislative approach that provides NHTSA the ability to review all potential technologies as options for federal regulation and, consistent with the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, to make a well-informed decision as to whether any specific technologies meet the standard for consumer vehicles,” he said.

#automotive, #ford, #general-motors, #government, #nhtsa, #nissan, #policy, #toyota, #transportation, #volvo

Automakers urge greater government investment to meet Biden’s EV sales target

President Joe Biden is expected to set an ambitious new target for half of all new auto sales in the U.S. to be low- or zero-emission by 2030, a plan that has received tentative support from the Big Three automakers pending what they say will require hefty government support.

General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) issued a joint statement Thursday that they had “shared aspiration[s]” to achieve a 40% to 50% share of electric in new vehicle sales by the end of the decade, with the caveat that such a target “can be achieved only with the timely deployment of the full suite of electrification policies committed to by the Administration in the Build Back Better Plan.”

Some of the investments they list include consumer incentives, a national EV charging network “of sufficient density,” funding for R&D and manufacturing and supply chain incentives.

Biden’s target, which will come in the form of an executive order on Thursday, will be nonbinding and entirely voluntary. The target includes vehicles powered by batteries, hydrogen fuel cells or plug-in hybrids.

Executives from the three OEMs, as well as representatives from the United Automobile Workers union, are expected to attend an event on the new target at the White House Thursday. Tesla, it seems, was not invited, according to a tweet from CEO Elon Musk.

Biden will also be calling for new fuel economy standards for passenger and medium- and heavy-duty vehicles through model year 2026, which were rolled back under President Trump’s tenure, according to a White House factsheet released Thursday. The new standards, which will be crafted under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, should come as no surprise to automakers: They were included in Biden’s so-called “Day One Agenda” and mark a cornerstone of his strategy to combat climate change.

The new standards will likely borrow from those passed by California last year, which were finalized in concert with a coalition of five automakers: BMW AG, Ford, Honda Motor Co., Volkswagen AG, and Volvo AB. Those automakers, in a separate statement Thursday, said they supported the White House’s plan to reduce emissions. However, like the Big Three, they said that “bold action” from the federal government will be needed to achieve emission reductions targets.

The road to 2030

While Biden’s nonbinding order is more of a symbolic one, the targets are likely achievable, Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights said in a statement. She added that automotive industry leaders “have seen the writing on the wall for some time now” regarding electrification, regardless of who has been in the White House.

Thanks to the relatively long product development lead time, many of the major automakers have already announced multibillion-dollar investments in EVs and AVs at least through the middle of the decade. That includes a $35 billion investment through 2025 from GM and $30 billion through the same year from Ford — not to mention similar announcements from Stellantis and many billions earmarked for battery R&D from Volkswagen, and even Volvo Cars’ shift to all-electric by 2030.

These massive numbers follow the automakers’ own sales targets, which are for the most part in line with Biden’s goal.

Fuel economy rules, however, have historically garnered slightly more mixed reactions from automakers. GM, Fiat Chrysler (now Stellantis) and Toyota had previously supported a Trump-era lawsuit that sought to strip California’s authority to set its own emissions standards — but each company eventually made an about-face, leaving the road open for Biden to introduce his own standards this year.

In a very real sense, Biden’s announcement is as much about geopolitics as it is about climate change. He, too, has seen the writing on the wall regarding EVs. His administration notes in the factsheet that “China is increasingly cornering the global supply chain” for EVs and EV battery materials. “By setting clear targets for electric vehicle sale trajectories, these countries are becoming magnets for private investment into their manufacturing sectors — from parts and materials to final assembly.”

While three times as many EVs were registered in the U.S. in 2020 versus 2016, America still lags behind both Europe and China in terms of EV market share, according to the International Energy Agency.

The news has garnered a slew of mixed reactions, with some environmental groups urging more decisive action on the part of the administration. Carol Lee Rawn, senior director of transportation at Ceres, said in a statement that future standards should target a 60% reduction in emissions and a “clear trajectory” to 100% vehicle sales by 2035.

Although the UAW will be joining Biden at the White House on Thursday, President Ray Curry said in a statement that the group is “not focused on hard deadlines or percentages, but on preserving the wages and benefits that have been the heart and soul of the American middle class.”

#automotive, #bmw, #donald-trump, #electric-vehicles, #fiat-chrysler, #ford, #general-motors, #joe-biden, #policy, #stellantis, #transportation, #volkswagen, #volvo-cars

The Station: The script for Elon Musk’s Loop drivers, Redwood snags $700M and a chat with Kodiak Robotics’ co-founder

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.

In case you missed it, our scoop machine Mark Harris was at it again. This time, he found some interesting and entertaining documents related to Elon Musk’s underground Loop system in Las Vegas received via a Freedom of Information Act. Among the treasure is a “ride script” that instructs drivers for the Loop system to bypass passengers’ questions about how long they have been driving for the company, declare ignorance about crashes, and shut down conversations about Musk himself.

The takeaway: the script shows just how serious The Boring Company, which built and operates the system, is about controlling the public image of the new system, its technology and especially Musk.

Importantly, the documents confirm that Autopilot, the advanced driver assistance system in the Tesla vehicles used in the Loop system, must be disabled.

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

Micromobbin’

This is a step outside the norm of what I usually think of when I think of micromobility (you’ll see what I did there in a second), but this week I wrote about a new in-shoe navigation system that helps the visually impaired walk around town.

Ashirase, as both the system and the name of the company is called, involves attaching a three-dimensional vibration device, including a motion sensor, inside a pair of shoes. This bit of hardware is connected to a smartphone app that someone with low vision can use to enter their destination. Vibrations in the front part of the shoe give the cue to walk straight, and vibrations on the left and right cue the user to make a left or right turn. The aim is to free up the hands while walking to use a cane and allow the walker to put more of their full attention on audio signals in the environment, thus making their commutes a bit more intuitive and their lives more independent.

It’s a really interesting bit of tech because it uses a similar stack to what we’re seeing in autonomous driving and advanced driver assistance systems. Which makes sense because that’s the founder’s background. Wataru Chino worked in Honda’s EV motor control and automated driving systems departments since 2009. His startup is a product of Honda’s incubator, Ignition, that features original technology, ideas, and designs of Honda associates with the goal of solving social issues and going beyond the existing Honda business.

Accessibility: We love to see it

Cabify recently announced a new feature that makes its rideshare service more accessible to the elderly, people with partial visual impairment and people with cognitive disabilities. The feature provides voice notifications to alert the user when a driver is on their way or has just arrived, when the ride starts, when a stop has been reached, when a message has come into the app’s chat, etc.

The notification makes use of a text-to-speech functionality that Android and iOS phones have.

“Apple and Google operating systems allow us to pronounce sentences with the system’s voice but we have developed the text and established the situations where we inform and draw the user’s attention,” a Cabify spokesperson told me.

Lime’s push for world domination

And we’re back with the latest on Lime’s plans to take over the world, one electric scooter at a time. The micromobility goliath has announced an integration with the Moovit transit planning app. From Monday onwards, Moovit users in 117 cities across 20 countries will see Lime’s electric scooters, bikes and mopeds show up as an option for travel, either as the whole journey or as part of a multi-modal journey. This news follows a trend we’re seeing as cities start to see micromobility companies as less of a public nuisance and more of a public solution, particularly for first- and last-mile travel. Integrating with Moovit, an app that’s solely focused on public transportation, is a move that helps in the long run creating a broader transportation ecosystem.

New whips

Espin released its limited edition fixie style e-bike called the Aero. It’s just the thing for Seattle hipsters, particularly ones with a stick-and-poke bike tattoo. The bike frame is just as sleek as you’d expect from a single gear bike, all clean lines and comes in either a forest green or a smoke gray. The Aero can reach top speeds of 20 mph and can hit 30 miles on a single charge. Best of all, it doesn’t break the bank at $1,399.

Splach, which normally makes e-scooters and e-bikes, has come out with something it’s calling the Transformer. I truly don’t know how to categorize it but it looks like a lot of fun to ride. The company is calling the light-duty e-vehicle a “mini-moto Robust scooter specialized for rugged terrains.” It looks like a dirt bike has been sized way down and given a long neck so you can stand on it and still steer it. It also looks like it would indeed do well on rugged terrains, based on videos of people shredding down dirt paths. Splach used Indiegogo to fund the thing, and said it reached its goal within an hour.

Deal of the week

money the station

Get ready to hear a lot more about supply chain constraints around batteries with virtually every automaker shouting out pledges to shift their entire portfolio away from internal combustion engines and towards electric powertrains.

Cell producers need access to the raw materials like nickel that are needed to make batteries. Mining those materials is the most common means, but that isn’t sustainable (and I’m not just talking about the environmental toll). JB Straubel, who is best known as the former Tesla co-founder and longtime CTO, is tackling the supply chain issue through his startup Redwood Materials. The battery recycling company is aiming to create a circular supply chain. This closed-loop system, Straubel says, will be essential if the world’s battery cell producers hope to have the supply needed for consumer electronics and the coming wave of electric vehicles.

High-profile investors like Amazon, funds managed by T. Rowe and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Ventures fund recognize the opportunity and have injected $700M in fresh capital into Redwood Materials. This is comically large compared to the startup’s last raise of $40 million. And sources tell me that this pushes Redwood Material’s valuation to $3.7 billion.

I interviewed Straubel about the raise and what struck me was how aggressively he wants to scale; he is treating this issue as if there is no time to lose — and he’s not wrong.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Clarios, the maker of low-voltage vehicle batteries, postponed its IPO, citing market volatility, Bloomberg reported. the Milwaukee area-based company backed by Brookfield Asset Management had filed to raise $1.7 billion by offering 88.1 million shares at a price range of $17 to $21.

Fisker, the electric vehicle startup turned publicly traded company via a SPAC, has turned investor to support EV charging company Allego. Fisker said it is investing $10 million in private-investment-in-public equity (PIPE) funding for the merger of Allego and special purpose acquisition company Spartan Acquisition Corp III. The merger puts Allego at a pro forma equity value of $3.14 billion.

Flock, which went from providing drone insurance to commercial vehicle insurance, raised $17 million in a Series A funding led by Social Capital, the investment vehicle run by Chamath Palihapitiya, best known as a SPAC investor and chairman of Virgin Galactic. Flock’s existing investors Anthemis and Dig Ventures also participated. This round brings Flock’s total funding to $22 million. Justin Saslaw (Social Capital’s fintech partner) joins Flock’s board of directors, as does Ross Mason (founder of Dig Ventures and MuleSoft).

HappyFresh, the on-demand grocery app based in Indonesia, raised $65 million in a Series D round led by Naver Financial Corporation and Gafina B.V., with participation from STIC, LB and Mirae Asset Indonesia and Singapore. It also included returning investors Mirae-Asset Naver Asia Growth Fund and Z Venture Capital. The company’s previous round of funding was a $20 million Series C announced in April 2019.

Lordstown Motors got a lifeline from a hedge fund managed by investment firm Yorkville Advisors about five weeks after the automaker issued a warning that it might not have enough funds to bring its electric pickup truck to market. The hedge fund agreed to buy $400 million worth of shares over a three-year period, according to a regulatory filing.

Merqueo, the on-demand delivery service that operates in Latin America, raised $50 million in a Series C round of funding co-led by IDC Ventures, Digital Bridge and IDB Invest. MGM Innova Group, Celtic House Venture Partners, Palm Drive Capital and previous shareholders also participated. The financing brings the Bogota, Colombia-based startup’s total raised to $85 million since its 2017 inception.

Niron Magnetics, a company developing permanent magnets free of rare earths, raised $21.3 million in new financing from the Volvo Cars Tech Fund and Volta Energy Technologies, which joined existing investors Anzu Partners and the University of Minnesota. Niron will use the funding to build its pilot production facility in Minnesota.

Onto, the EV car subscription company raised $175 million in a combined equity and debt Series B round. The equity piece was led by Swedish VC Alfvén & Didrikson. British investment company Pollen Street Capital provided the senior-secured asset-backed debt facility. The company, which has raised a total of $245 million, says it plans to double its fleet size every three to six months and that any new vehicles will be used as collateral. Onto did not disclose how much of the round came from equity versus debt.

Zūm, a student transportation startup, was awarded a five-year $150 million contract to modernize San Francisco Unified School District transport service throughout the district. Zūm, which already operates its rideshare-meets-bus service in Oakland, much of Southern California, Seattle, Chicago and Dallas, will be responsible for handling day-to-day operations, transporting 3,500 students across 150 school campuses starting this fall semester.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

I hear things. But I’m not selfish. Let me share!

You might have missed my article late Friday about Argo AI landing a permit in California that will allow the company to give people free rides in its self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads.

Tl;dr: The California Public Utilities Commission issued Argo the so-called Drivered AV pilot permit, which is part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot. This puts Argo in a small and growing group of companies seeking to expand beyond traditional AV testing — a signal that the industry, or at least some companies, are preparing for commercial operations.

Regulatory hurdles remain and don’t expect Argo to be offering and charging for “driverless” rides anytime soon. But progress is being made and I would expect the company to secure the next permit — in a long line of them — later this year.

Argo has never officially indicated what city it is targeting for a robotaxi service in California. The company has been testing its autonomous vehicle technology in Ford vehicles around Palo Alto since 2019. Today, the company’s test fleet in California is about one dozen self-driving test vehicles. It also has autonomous test vehicles in Miami, Austin, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh and Detroit. (In July, Argo 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.)

I’m hearing from some sources familiar with Argo’s strategy for California that we should look south of the Bay Area. Way south.

The city that jumps to mind is San Diego. Some AV companies are already playing around the Irvine area and Los Angeles seems too unwieldy. Plus, Ford already has a footprint in San Diego. The automaker partnered way back in 2017 with AT&T, Nokia and Qualcomm Technologies to test Cellular vehicle-to-everything (CV2X) at the San Diego Regional Proving Ground with the support of the San Diego Association of Governments, Caltrans, the city of Chula Vista, and intelligent transportation solutions provider McCain. The upshot of these trials? To improve traffic efficiency, vehicle safety and “support a path towards autonomous vehicles.”

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Hi everyone. Let’s dive into two key pieces of proposed legislation this week: the infrastructure bill and the tailpipe emissions standards.

After months of negotiations, U.S. senators have finally settled on a $550 billion infrastructure package that includes investments in roads, bridges, broadband and more. The bill would provide $7.5 billion to electrify buses and ferries, including school buses, and $7.5 billion to build out a national network of public EV charging stations. Subsequent statements on the bill from the White House say directly that the EV investments are intended to keep the U.S. competitive on the world stage: “U.S. market share of plug-in electric vehicle (EV) sales is only one-third the size of the Chinese EV market. The President believes that must change.”

The budget is just a fraction of the $2.25 trillion bill President Joe Biden originally introduced in March. That version of the bill earmarked billions more for transportation electrification, especially in rebates and incentives to get consumers buying more EVs. The bill is still with the Senate for final approval. Then it will head to the House before finally ending up on Biden’s desk.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation have proposed rules that would beef up tailpipe emissions standards, which had been rolled back under President Donald Trump. The rules would be identical to the agreement the state of California reached with Ford, VW, Honda, BMW and Volvo in 2019, the AP reported. If approved, the rules would apply starting with model year 2023 vehicles.

The aim is to cut carbon emissions from transportation and encourage more people to buy hybrid and electric. But many environmental groups like the Sierra Club — plus some EV automakers — don’t think they go far enough.

“This draft proposal would drive us in the right direction after several years in reverse–but slowly getting back on track is not enough,” Chris Nevers, senior director of environmental policy at Rivian, told TechCrunch. EPA and NHTSA must maximize the stringency of the program beyond the voluntary deal and account for current and future developments in vehicle electrification.

One more thing that caught my eye this week…The Washington Post reported that Biden and a group of automakers are negotiating for the latter group to make a “formal pledge” to have at least 40% of all vehicles sold in 2030 to be electric. The article doesn’t specify which OEMs are part of the talks. However, it’s hard to imagine automakers signing onto anything — even a “voluntary pledge” — without some hefty federal spending to go along with it. We’ll have to see if the provisions in the infrastructure bill are enough.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable reads and other tidbits

As per ushe, there was a ton of transportation news this week. Let’s dig in.

ADAS

Yep, ADAS gets its own section now in an effort to make it abundantly clear that advanced driver assistance systems are not self-driving cars. Never. Never ever.

New York Times’ Greg Bensinger weighs in on beta testing and Tesla in this opinion column.

Autonomous vehicles

Aurora co-founder and chief product officer Sterling Anderson put out a blog and a bunch of tweets to layout a blueprint for an autonomous ride-hailing business that will launch in late 2024 with partners Toyota and Uber. Aurora has spent the past year or so pushing its messaging on self-driving trucks, which the company says is its best and most viable first commercial product. Aurora never entirely ditched the robotaxi idea, but it was pretty quiet on the topic. Until now.

The blog comes about a week after competitor Argo AI and Ford announced a partnership with Lyft. While the timing might not be related, it does show that competition is heating up in both areas — robotaxis and self-driving trucks — with every AV company keen to show progress and deep partnerships.

TuSimple, the self-driving truck company that went public earlier this year, has partnered with Ryder as part of its plan to build out a freight network that will support its autonomous trucking operations. Ryder’s fleet maintenance facilities will act as terminals for TuSimple’s so-called AFN, or autonomous freight network.

Electric vehicles

Ford released Wednesday its second quarter earnings for 2021, which besides containing a surprise profit despite the ongoing chip shortage, revealed that its F-150 Lightning electric pickup has generated 120,000 preorders since its unveiling in May. Ford reported revenue of $26.8 billion, slightly below expectations, and net income of $561 million in the second quarter.

Lucid Group (formerly Lucid Motors) will be expanding its factory in Casa Grande, Arizona, by 2.7 million square feet, CEO Pete Rawlinson said just hours after the company officially went public with a $4.5 billion injection of capital. The company also said it has 11,000 paid reservations for its flagship luxury electric sedan, the Lucid Air.

Polestar said it plans to launch in nine more markets this year, doubling its global presence as it seeks to sell more of its electric sedans. The company, which is the electric performance vehicle brand under Volvo Car Group, also wants to double the number of retail stores to 100 locations and add more service centers by the end of the year. The Swedish automaker has more than 650 so-called “service points” in Polestar markets and wants to exceed 780 by the end of 2021.

REE Automotive has picked Austin for its U.S. headquarters. The company said the headquarters will help it address the growing U.S. market demand for mission-specific EVs from delivery and logistics companies, Mobility-as-a-Service and new technology players.

Tesla reported its second-quarter earnings and it was packed with news, including that the company generated $1.14 billion in net income, marking the first time the company’s quarterly profit (on a GAAP basis) has passed the three-comma threshold. And they hit that profitability metric without completely relying on the sale of zero-emissions credits to other automakers.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk weighed in on the company’s battery strategy and disclosed that the company is pushing the launch of its electric Semi truck program to 2022 due to supply chain challenges and the limited availability of battery cells. And everything is pointing to the Cybertruck also being delayed until next year.

And finally, Tesla’s latest quarterly earnings report showed growth in its energy storage and solar business. The company reported $801 million in revenue from its energy generation and storage business — which includes three main products: solar, its Powerwall storage device for homes and businesses, and its utility storage unit Megapack. More importantly, the cost of revenue for its solar and energy storage business was $781 million, meaning that for the first time the total cost of producing and distributing these energy storage products was lower than the revenue it generated. That’s good news.

eVTOLs and other flying things

Joby Aviation completed the longest test flight of an eVTOL to date: Its unnamed full-sized prototype aircraft concluded a trip of over 150 miles on a single charge. The test was completed at Joby’s Electric Flight Base in Big Sur, California, earlier this month. It’s the latest in a succession of secretive tests the company’s been conducting, all part of its goal to achieve certification with the Federal Aviation Administration and start commercial operations.

Lilium, the electric air taxi startup, has tapped German manufacturer Customcells to supply batteries for its flagship seven-seater Lilium Jet.

People stuff

AEye, a lidar company, has been adding to its executive team in the past few months. The most recent is the hiring of automotive veteran and former Valeo executive Bernd Reichert as senior vice president of ADAS. the company has also hired Velodyne’s former COO Rick Tewell, Bob Brown from Cepton and Hod Finkelstein as chief research and design officer from Sense Photonics.

Cruise is also on a bit of an executive and engineering hiring spree. The company sent me a list of recent folks who have joined including former Southwest Airlines employee Anthony Gregory as VP of market development, Phil Maher, the former Virgin Atlantic COO, as VP of central operations and Bhavini Soneji as VP of product engineering. Soneji was most recently VP of engineering at Headspace, and was at Microsoft and Snapchat before that.

Cruise also hired Vinoj Kumar, who oversaw Google’s cloud infrastructure and software systems, as VP of Infrastructure and Yuning Chai, former lead perception researcher at Waymo, as head of AI Research. In all, Cruise now employs more than 1,900 people.

Don Burnette, the co-founder and CEO of self-driving trucks company Kodiak Robotics, sat down with TechCrunch as part of our ongoing Q&A series with the founders of transportation startups. The interview covers a lot of ground, including Burnette’s views on the company’s strategy, current funding conditions in the industry and what he learned at Otto. the self-driving trucks startup he co-founded and that was acquired by Uber.

Trevor Milton, the fast-talking showman founder of Nikola and the electric truck startup’s former CEO and executive chairman, was charged with three counts of fraud. He is free on $100 million bail.

Milton “engaged in a fraudulent scheme to deceive retail investors” for his own personal benefit, according to the federal indictment unsealed by U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Milton was charged with two counts of securities fraud and wire fraud by a federal grand jury.

 

#argo-ai, #aurora-innovation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #kodiak-robotics, #redwood-materials, #tesla, #the-station, #transportation

America’s favorite truck goes hybrid: The Ford F-150, reviewed

 

Ford’s F-series pickup trucks have been the best-selling vehicles in the United States for what seems like forever, so there’s probably a powerful temptation not to mess with something that has worked so well. But the times, they are a-changin’, and so must pickup trucks.

Ford revealed its new ideas in the form of the all-electric 2022 F-150 Lightning this past spring, but there’s another new option for those who want to go green(er) but aren’t willing to give up burning hydrocarbons to get around: the F-150 PowerBoost hybrid. While the hybrid is not a game-changer, it offers better mileage and the ability to use it as a 7.2 kW generator—even while the vehicle is in motion.

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#cars, #ecoboost, #f-150, #ford, #ford-f-150-hybrid, #hybrid, #pickup-trucks

What Tesla’s bet on iron-based batteries means for manufacturers

Elon Musk earlier this week made his most bullish statements yet on iron-based batteries, noting that Tesla is making a “long-term shift” toward older, cheaper lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) cells in its energy storage products and some entry-level EVs.

The Tesla CEO mused that the company’s batteries may eventually be roughly two-thirds iron-based and one-third nickel-based across its products. “And this is actually good because there’s plenty of iron in the world,” he added.

Musk’s comments reflect a change that is already underway within the automotive sector, mainly in China. Battery chemistries outside of China have been predominantly nickel-based — specifically nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) and nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA). These newer chemistries have become attractive to automakers due to their higher energy density, letting original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) improve the range of their batteries.

If Musk’s bullishness is heralding a genuine shift across the EV industry, the question is whether battery makers outside of China will be able to keep up.

Musk is not the only automotive executive to signal a return to the LFP formula. Earlier this year, Ford CEO Jim Farley said the company would use LFP batteries in some commercial vehicles. Meanwhile, Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess announced during the company’s inaugural battery day presentation that LFP would be used in some VW entry-level EVs.

On the energy storage front, Musk’s comments about using LFP-based chemistries in Powerwall and Megapack are in line with other stationary energy storage companies pushing for iron-based formulas. “The stationary storage industry wants to move to LFP because it’s cheaper,” Sam Jaffe, who heads the battery research firm Cairn Energy Research Advisors, told TechCrunch.

LFP battery cells are attractive for a few different reasons. For one, they’re not dependent on ultra-scarce and price-volatile raw materials like cobalt and nickel. (Cobalt, which is predominantly sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has undergone additional scrutiny due to inhumane mining conditions.) And while they are less energy-dense than nickel-based chemistries, LFP batteries are much cheaper. This is good news for those looking to spur the shift to electric vehicles because lowering the cost per vehicle will likely be key to greater EV adoption.

Musk clearly sees a major future for iron-based chemistries at Tesla, and his comments have helped thrust LFP back into the spotlight. But there’s one place where they’ve remained the star of the show: China.

China’s monopoly on LFP

“LFP is pretty much only produced in China,” Caspar Rawles, head of price and data assessments at the research firm Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, explained in a recent interview with TechCrunch.

China’s dominance in LFP battery production in part relates to a series of key LFP patents, which are managed by a consortium of universities and research institutions. This consortium came to an agreement with Chinese battery makers a decade ago under which the manufacturers would not be charged a licensing fee providing that the LFP batteries were used only in Chinese markets.

Hence, China cornered the LFP market.

Battery makers in China may benefit most from a potential tectonic shift toward LFP — specifically BYD and CATL, the latter of which already manufactures LFP batteries for Tesla vehicles built and sold in China. (Volkswagen, meanwhile, has a substantial stake in Chinese LFP maker Gotion High-Tech.) These battery makers aren’t slowing down: In January, CATL and Shenzhen Dynanonic signed an agreement with a local Chinese province to build an LFP cathode plant at a cost of $280 million over three years.

The LFP patents are due to expire in 2022, industry analyst Roskill explains, which could give battery manufacturers outside China time to start shifting some of their production toward iron-based formulas. However, all of the planned battery factories in Europe and North America, many of which are joint ventures with South Korean industry giants like LG Chem or SK Innovation, are still focused on nickel-based chemistries.

“For the U.S. to take advantage of LFP’s strengths, North American manufacturing will be necessary,” Jaffe explained. “Everyone building a gigafactory in the U.S. today is planning on making high nickel chemistries. There’s an enormous unmet need for locally manufactured LFP batteries.”

Rawles said he expects some LFP capacity in North America and Europe in the coming years, particularly after the patents expire. He pointed out that both CATL and SVOLT, another battery maker, have been making moves in Germany — but both of these companies are Chinese, which leaves open the question of whether other Asian or Western companies can compete in the LFP market. (Stellantis chose SVOLT as one of its battery suppliers from 2025 onwards.)

On the energy storage front, Jaffe said he thinks “it’s inevitable that most stationary storage systems will eventually be LFP.”

However, not all is lost for domestic manufacturing in the United States. “The good news for building local LFP manufacturing is that the supply chain is simple: Outside of lithium, it’s iron and phosphoric acid, two cheap materials already made [in the U.S.] in large quantities,” Jaffe added.

In the end, it is not a question of one battery chemistry versus another. What’s more likely is what we’ve already started to see from automakers, including Tesla: Iron-based batteries will be used predominately in entry-level and cheaper vehicles, while nickel-based cells will be used for higher-end and performance cars. Many consumers will likely be content with a 200- to 250-mile-range vehicle that’s thousands of dollars cheaper than one with a range of 300 to 350 miles.

Automakers have also begun making moves to take control of the battery supply, whether through vertical manufacturing or joint ventures with established battery companies. That means that growing LFP capacity in North America and Europe is not only likely, but inevitable.

#automotive, #catl, #china, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicle-batteries, #elon-musk, #ford, #tesla, #transportation, #volkswagen

Automakers have battery anxiety, so they’re taking control of the supply

Battery joint ventures have become the hot must-have deal for automakers that have set ambitious targets to deliver millions of electric vehicles in the next few years.

It’s no longer just about securing a supply of cells. The string of partnerships and joint ventures show that automakers are taking a more active role in the development and even production of battery cells, .

Automakers are taking a more active role in the development and even production of battery cells.

And the deals don’t appear to be slowing down. Just this week, Mercedes-Benz announced its $47 billion plan to become an electric-only automaker by 2030. Securing its battery supply chain by expanding existing partnerships or locking in new ones to jointly develop and produce battery cells and modules is a critical piece of its plan.

Mercedes, like other automakers, is also focused on developing and deploying advanced battery technology. In addition to setting up eight new battery plants to supply its future EVs, the German automaker said it was partnering with Sila Nano, the Silicon Valley battery chemistry startup that it has previously invested in, to increase energy density, which should in turn improve range and allow for shorter charging times.

“This follows a trend that we’ve seen of automakers realizing how critical the battery is and taking more control of the production of the cells in order to ensure their own supply,” Sila Nano CEO Gene Berdichevsky said in a recent interview. “Like if you’re VW, and you say, ‘We’re going to go 50% electric by whatever year,’ but then the batteries don’t show up, you’re bankrupt, you’re dead. Their scale is so big that even if their cell partners have promised them to deliver, automakers are scared that they won’t.”

Tesla, BMW and Volkswagen were early adopters of the battery joint-venture strategy. In 2014,Tesla and Panasonic signed an agreement to build a large battery manufacturing plant, or a gigafactory as everyone is now calling it, in the U.S. and have worked together since. BMW began working with Solid Power in 2017 to create solid-state batteries for high-performance EVs that could potentially lower costs by requiring less safety features than lithium-ion batteries.

In addition to its partnership with Northvolt, VW is also in talks with suppliers to secure more direct access to supplies like semiconductors and lithium so it can keep its existing plants running at full speed.

Now the rest of the industry is moving to work with battery companies, to share knowledge and resources and essentially become the manufacturer.

#automotive, #basf, #bmw, #ec-mobility-hardware, #electric-vehicle, #ford, #general-motors, #greentech, #hyundai, #lg-chem, #lithium-ion-battery, #panasonic, #porsche, #renault, #sk-innovation, #solidenergy-systems, #tc, #tesla, #toyota, #transportation, #volkswagen

Lyft ditches Google Maps for Here, partners with Argo AI

A woman in an umbrella walks to her Lyft.

Enlarge / Lyft will switch its map provider from Google to Here. (credit: Lyft)

The ride hailing company Lyft is changing up its maps, which until now have been powered by Google. Lyft will now use Here instead. Lyft says the switch means a better search database for places and addresses as well as more accurate predicted arrival times—two important things for a ride hailing company to get right.

“Over the past six months, we have worked in collaboration with Lyft to implement and test our robust destination catalog that helps riders get to more destinations in cities across North America. Our services are now enriching the Lyft network, spearheading innovation in the rideshare industry,” said Here CEO Edzard Overbeek.

There may be other motivations for the switch. According to Lyft’s head of rideshare, Ashwin Raj, the switch will “improve the efficiency of our marketplace,” but the press release also explicitly mentions keeping user data private.

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#argo-ai, #autonomous-vehicles, #biz-it, #cars, #ford, #here, #lyft, #mapping, #ridehailing

Argo, Ford to launch self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing app

Autonomous vehicle technology startup Argo AI and its backer and customer Ford plan to launch up to 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, which are equipped with Argo’s autonomous vehicle technology, will become available on Lyft’s app in Miami later this year. Ford and Argo have had a presence in Miami for years now and have an active fleet of test vehicles.

Austin will follow in next year with the remaining U.S. cities being added to the Lyft app in 2023 and beyond, according to Jody Kelman, who heads up Lyft’s Autonomous, the company self-driving deployment business unit. Argo currently tests in Detroit, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.

“It’s the biggest deployment certainly that we’re doing and that I think anyone else is doing,” Kelman said. “One thousand cars across six markets is a  big leap forward in terms of scaled commercialization.”

This isn’t just about Argo and Ford jumping on the Lyft network. Lyft will also provide access to driving data from its entire network in exchange for a 2.5% stake in Argo AI, under terms of the agreement announced Wednesday. Lyft already captures driving data, which includes telemetry information such as hard-braking events and even collisions. Argo is most interested in two areas of data: safety information around human drivers on its app and more generally what trip movements look like across a city, Argo CEO Bryan Salesky told TechCrunch.

“This will really help us hone and figure out where the demand is and what peak demand looks like, which helps us figure out where we need to map, where we need to go, where we need to operate,” Salesky said.  “It helps us spend our test resources wisely.”

For instance, the Lyft data should help Argo spot areas where public transit is plentiful and other neighborhoods where it’s less available or entirely absent.

“We really want to take a holistic view of the demand picture using their data,” Salesky said. “That helps us really be precise about where to deploy in order to have the greater benefit.”

The Ford vehicles will be operated by Argo and include a human safety driver behind the wheel. Salesky did note that the vehicles will drive autonomously from pickup to drop-off point.

The agreement is an indication that Argo has made progress in its AV development and specifically its work with Ford. The automaker announced in February 2017 that it was investing $1 billion in Argo AI, which was not even six months old at the time. Since then, Argo has focused on developing the virtual driver system — all of the sensors, software and compute platform — as well as high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles.

In July 2019, VW Group announced it was investing $2.6 billion in Argo. That deal, which was finalized last summer, gives Ford and VW equal ownership stakes, which will be roughly 40% each over time. The remaining equity sits with Argo’s co-founders as well as employees. Argo’s board is comprised of two VW seats, two Ford seats and three Argo seats.

Lyft is also a beneficiary in the deal — and beyond that small equity stake. Lyft main goal is to become the go-to ride-hailing network and fleet management platform used by any and all commercial robotaxi services. Lyft already has partnerships with other AV developers, notably the $4 billion Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture known as Motional, as well as Waymo.

Motional vehicles are on the Lyft ride-hailing network in Las Vegas. All of the vehicles have human safety operators behind the wheel. The companies have an agreement deploy fully autonomous cars on the Lyft network in 2023.

Lyft’s intention was always to lock up the rest. Unclear with which companies might commercialize the tech first, Lyft also took on the expensive pursuit of developing autonomous vehicle technology internally through a division called Level 5. That self-driving division was acquired in April by Toyota’s Woven Planet Holdings subsidiary for $550 million.

As part of the acquisition agreement, Woven Planet signed commercial agreements to use the Lyft platform and fleet data.

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #ford, #lyft, #transportation

Velodyne Lidar CEO resigns in latest internal drama

Velodyne Lidar CEO Anand Gopalan is leaving the lidar company at the end of July as the sensor supplier continues to struggle with internal drama.

Gopalan, who was previously CTO, is leaving the top leadership position after about a year and a half on the job.

Velodyne said Monday in a statement that a team of top executives that includes COO Jim Barnhart, CFO Drew Hamer, Chief People Officer Kathy McBeath and Chief Commercial Officer Sinclair Vass will run the company as a search for a new chief executive is conducted. The company didn’t disclose why Gopalan was leaving.

Gopalan’s resignation comes after months of internal drama and business setbacks for a company that has been considered the leading supplier of lidar, the light detection and ranging radar sensor that is considered a critical component to commercially deploy autonomous vehicles.

The resignation is the latest in a series of issues that have cropped up since Velodyne Lidar struck a deal to merge with special purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp. At the time, it was reported that Velodyne’s founder David Hall, along with backers Ford, Chinese search engine Baidu, Hyundai Mobis and Nikon Corp. would keep an 80% stake in the combined company. Hall became executive chairman and Gopalan remained CEO position.

Hall and his wife Marta Thoma Hall clashed with the SPAC that acquired Velodyne. In February, David Hall was removed as chairman of the board and Marta Thoma Hall lost her chief marketing officer position following an investigation by the board of “inappropriate behavior.”

Meanwhile, Ford, which had held almost 13.1 million shares — a value of about $244 million — in Velodyne at the close of the third quarter of 2020, sold off its stake by the end of the year.

Velodyne sensors had been used by Ford in its autonomous vehicle testing. The intention was that those would be the go-to sensor for its autonomous vehicles once they were deployed commercially.

Veoneer had even announced in 2019 that it was leveraging Velodyne’s technology for a contract to supply the sensor to Ford (and by extension its autonomous vehicle technology supplier Argo AI). But Veoneer reported in February that it had lost its contract.

Argo, which had acquired lidar company Princeton Lightwave, unveiled in May details on a long-range lidar sensor that it claims has the ability to see 400 meters away with high-resolution photorealistic quality and the ability to detect dark and distant objects with low reflectivity. With so much progress internally, Argo and Ford staked their future plans on its own lidar.

In a May letter, David Hall blamed the SPAC, specifically the SPAC-appointed members of the combined company’s board, for its poor financial performance and called for the resignation of Gopalan and two board members.

As part of Velodyne’s announcement on Gopalan’s resignation, the company restated its business outlook for 2021 revenue, noting that its guidance of between $77 million and $94 million remains unchanged. Velodyne will report second quarter financial results August 5.

#argo-ai, #automotive, #ford, #lidar, #tc, #transportation

GM’s newest startup aims squarely at the commercial EV market

Ford and GM’s century-old battle for market share is no longer restricted to gas- and diesel-powered passenger car, truck and SUV sales. The hottest market in the next decade is commercial and electric.

In this new race, the two companies are taking different strategies as they square off against each other — along with a growing list of EV startups — to win over as many delivery and fleet-vehicle customers as possible.

GM’s weapon is BrightDrop, a new startup incubated and launched at CES 2021 by Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. The venture boasts an ecosystem of EV hardware and logistical software products aimed squarely at fleet and delivery companies. GM’s interest in the space is far from merely exploratory; it anticipates that the market for delivery, including food and parcels in the United States, will be more than $850 billion by 2025.

For fleet managers, it comes down to the numbers on a spreadsheet, and thanks to incentives and lower maintenance costs associated with EVs, vans that run on electrons instead of dead dinosaurs make financial sense.

“Folks on the commercial side don’t really care about the technology — they care about the economics,” Brett Smith, director of technology at research firm CAR, told TechCrunch.

Electric vehicles might be more ecologically sound than traditional gas- or diesel-powered vehicles, but for fleet managers, it comes down to the numbers on a spreadsheet, and thanks to incentives and lower maintenance costs associated with EVs, vans that run on electrons instead of dead dinosaurs make financial sense.

#automotive, #brightdrop, #ec-mobility-hardware, #ec-news-analysis, #electric-vehicles, #fedex, #ford, #general-motors, #gm, #transportation

You’re a carmaker, drink-taker, automator

The other week at TC Sessions: Mobility, I spoke to a trio of executives at top automotive companies about why they’re all so bullish about robotics. There are the obvious implications, of course. Automakers have long employed robotics for manufacturing – they were really ahead of the curve on those concerns about automating job loss. And then there’s the fact that self-driving cars are effectively robots.

Beyond that, however, it’s clear that car companies see robotics as a key investment in their future. What really struck me about the conversation, is how differently the three companies – Hyundai, Ford and Toyota – are approaching the space. If nothing else, it’s a sign that there’s plenty of opportunity here.

We wrote quite a bit about Ford’s ambitions in the category several roundups ago, including an interview with Mario Santillo, who joined us for the recent panel. As evidenced by the company’s recent investment in University of Michigan, Ford’s approach is largely research-based. The company wants to be in on the ground floor both in terms of technology and talent. Though when I pressed Santillo about acquisitions, however, (specifically as it pertains to Digit-maker, Agility), he told me, “that’s always something we’re looking at.” So don’t rule it of, especially as other car companies begin to lockdown big names in the category.

atlas gymnastics boston dynamics

Hyundai, of course, made one of the biggest robotics acquisitions in recent memory, picking up Boston Dynamics after its short stint in the Softbank portfolio (the investment firm remains a shareholder). Of course, that post-Google time has been important for the company, seeing the commercialization of Spot and the upcoming sale of Stretch. Hyundai’s Ernestine Fu shed some more light for us on the deal, which officially closed this week,

With New Horizon Studios, the mandate is reimagining what you can do when you combine robotics with traditional wheeled locomotion, like walking robots and walking vehicles. Obviously the technology that [Boston Dynamics] has put together plays a key role in enabling those sorts of concepts to come to life.

Hyundai Tiger walking robot

Image Credits: Screenshot/Hyundai

As we discussed, the driving force in the Toyota Research Institute’s interest in the category Japan’s aging population. Eldercare forms the basis of much of what the company does in robotics, including some home robotics research that it showed off this week – specifically how its imaging can handle reflective and transparent surfaces. Both have traditionally been tricky for robotic systems.

As TRI’s Max Bajracharya told me,

[I]n Japan, in 20-30 years, the number of people who are over 65 will roughly be the same as the number of people who are under 65. That’s going to have a really interesting socioeconomic impact, in terms of the workforce. It’s probably going to be much older and we at Toyota are looking at how these people can keep doing their jobs, so they can get the fulfillment from doing their jobs or staying at home longer. We don’t want to just replace the people. We really think about how we stay human-centered and amplify people.

Image Credits: NVIDIA

We’ve been following NVIDIA’s Isaac software for a while now, and the robotic simulation software is available as an open beta. Built on top of Omniverse, the software is designed to test a wide range of different camera and sensor capabilities for robotics. It’s a fascinate project and potentially a big deal for early-stage robotics startups.

Quick follow up to some funding last week from a robots landscaping company, I asked iRobot what’s going on with their Terra mower, which was delayed amid pandemic-related cuts. The company tells me there’s still no clear timeline for the indefinitely de