If Europe and Japan can have small, cheap EVs, why can’t America?

This EV is called the Nissan Sakura, and it goes on sale in Japan this year for about $14,000, proving that automakers can make small and affordable EVs.

Enlarge / This EV is called the Nissan Sakura, and it goes on sale in Japan this year for about $14,000, proving that automakers can make small and affordable EVs. (credit: Nissan)

You don’t have to dig far into the comments of just about any article we write about new cars to find complaints about the ever-growing size and cost of those new cars. Automakers are convinced that size sells in the US market, particularly when it comes to new electric vehicles. But there is a different way, as both Europe and Japan have shown.

For example, Autocar reported on Tuesday that Volkswagen will build a small EV called the ID.1 that will sell for around $18,000 (€17,000). Due to reach the market in 2025, this diminutive EV will use a cut-down version of VW’s MEB platform (as used in the US-market ID.4 crossover, among others) and is expected to have a WLTP range of about 250 miles (400 km) thanks to a 57 kWh battery pack.

In fact, Europeans will be somewhat spoiled for choice since the same factory in Spain will also produce versions of the ID.1 for the Cupra and Seat brands.

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#cars, #electric-vehicle, #kei-cars, #nissan, #small-cars, #volkswagen

Nissan, NASA aim to ditch rare, pricey metals in solid-state batteries

Nissan is hoping that it can use computational materials science to find new battery materials faster.

Enlarge / Nissan is hoping that it can use computational materials science to find new battery materials faster. (credit: Nissan)

Nissan is partnering with NASA on a computational approach to developing all-solid-state batteries that don’t rely on rare or expensive metals, the AP has reported.

The automaker, which was the first to market with an affordable, mass-produced electric vehicle in the Leaf, is clearly hoping to make up for lost time. Nissan has floundered of late with its electrification strategy. Its second EV, the Ariya, is scheduled to arrive this fall, some 12 years after the first Leaf was sold. The company hopes that its in-house solid-state batteries will debut in passenger vehicles by 2028.

To get there, the company said it’s opening a pilot solid-state battery plant in 2024. The small-scale factory will be a key step in rolling out solid-state technology; many of the concepts that underpin the batteries have been demonstrated in laboratories time and again, but making the leap to manufacturing often reveals unexpected problems that can take years to solve.

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#cars, #computational-materials-science, #computational-modeling, #lithium-ion-battery, #materials-science, #nasa, #nissan, #solid-state-battery

Nissan is ending engine development, except for US-bound vehicles

A composite photo showing a V6 under the hood of a Nissan truck

Enlarge / America loves pickup trucks too much to give up burning gasoline, Nissan thinks. (credit: Nissan)

Nissan is the latest automaker to pull the plug on its internal combustion engine development. Well, mostly.

According to Nikkei Asia, the Japanese automaker has looked at the likely next set of European emissions rules and has decided it would be too expensive to design a new generation of engines that comply. Nissan is also not planning on any new internal combustion engines for Japan or China, although it will apparently keep refining existing engines and continue to work on hybrid powertrains.

However, this new policy isn’t a global one—it doesn’t apply to the US. That’s because here, the automaker expects continuing demand for internal combustion engines, particularly in pickup trucks.

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#cars, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicle-adoption, #internal-combustion-engine, #nissan

Nissan announces halfhearted EV strategy after fumbling its lead

Yes, that's a pickup with a tailgate that displays pixelated emoji. Nissan introduced this and three other concepts alongside its EV strategy. While they may hint at some future designs, they're so full of the usual concept-car fare (suicide doors, swiveling seats) and absent any interesting features that they're not worth discussing here.

Enlarge / Yes, that’s a pickup with a tailgate that displays pixelated emoji. Nissan introduced this and three other concepts alongside its EV strategy. While they may hint at some future designs, they’re so full of the usual concept-car fare (suicide doors, swiveling seats) and absent any interesting features that they’re not worth discussing here. (credit: Nissan)

As more and more automakers turned their attention to EVs, one-time leader Nissan finds itself playing a game of catch-up. In an attempt to make up for lost time, today it announced that it will invest $17.6 billion over the next five years “to accelerate the electrification of its vehicle lineup and rate of technology innovation.”

The plan, called “Nissan Ambition 2030,” is notable for its lack of ambition.

The company says it will introduce 15 new EVs, though it gave itself a generous deadline of 2030. It also said that, by the end of the decade, 50 percent of Nissan and Infiniti sales will be “electrified,” which is industry-speak for adding electric motors, not necessarily supplanting internal combustion engines. Much of Nissan’s strategy relies on series hybrids, where a range-extending gas engine will recharge a small battery. It’s a strategy that looks good on paper but has largely been abandoned by other automakers either because of mediocre sales (Chevy Volt) or looming government regulations.

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#cars, #electrification, #ev, #nissan

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

Chinese robotaxi unicorn WeRide bags over $600M in 5 months

It’s hard to keep up with the fundraising spree in China’s autonomous driving industry these days. Guangzhou- and California-based robotaxi company WeRide, which counts Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance as one of its strategic investors, has raised over $600 million in just under five months from its Series B and C financing rounds.

The four-year-old upstart said in May that its valuation leaped to $3.3 billion in its Series C fundraising. WeRide has kept details of the backing privy until today when it disclosed the investment was a lofty sum of $310 million from Alliance Ventures, a strategic venture capital fund operated by Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, China Structural Reform Fund, a Chinese state-owned private equity fund, and Pro Capital, which manages China’s CDB Equipment Manufacturing Funds.

It’s unclear how much WeRide has raised since its inception as some of its investments were undisclosed. It pulled in “tens of millions of dollars” from a Series A round.

This is the second time Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi has shelled out money for WeRide following its initial strategic investment back in 2018. The follow-on funding came as the two companies strengthen ties to develop Level 4 driving vehicles for the Chinese market. Electric cars from the Dongfeng-Nissan joint venture, automated by WeRide software, have been providing robotaxi service in Guangzhou for 18 months. WeRide uses Nissan vehicles in California for research and development.

Ashwani Gupta, COO of Nissan, gave an assuring statement about the partnership: “As China stands at the forefront of helping define the future of mobility, we are delighted to partner with WeRide to bring even more innovative technologies and services to enrich people’s lives in China.”

WeRide similarly sounded rosy about the alliance with Nissan. “Throughout the past three years, they have been playing a critical role in supporting WeRide’s autonomous driving platform, hence, enabling us to establish a leading fleet of robotaxis,” said Tony Han, WeRide founder and CEO .

“With the continued support of Nissan, we will accelerate the commercial use of our driverless robotaxis in China.”

#alliance-ventures, #asia, #cars, #china, #funding, #mitsubishi, #nissan, #renault, #robotaxi, #robotics, #transportation, #weride

From the ashes of nearly a billion dollars, Ample resurrects Better Place’s battery swapping business model

A little over thirteen years ago, Shai Agassi, a promising software executive who was in line to succeed the chief executive at SAP, then one of the world’s mightiest software companies, left the company he’d devoted the bulk of his professional career to and started a business called Better Place.

That startup promised to revolutionize the nascent electric vehicle market and make range anxiety a thing of the past. The company’s pitch? A network of automated battery swapping stations that would replace spent batteries with freshly charged ones.

Agassi’s company would go on to raise nearly $1 billion (back when that was considered a large sum of money) from some of the world’s top venture capital and growth equity firms. By 2013 it would be bankrupt and one of the many casualties of the first wave of cleantech investing.

Now serial entrepreneurs John de Souza and Khaled Hassounah are reviving the battery swapping business model with a startup called Ample and an approach that they say solves some of the problems that Better Place could never address at a time when the adoption of electric vehicles is creating a far larger addressable market.

In 2013, there were 220,000 vehicles on roads, according to data from Statista, a number which has grown to 4.8 million by 2019.

Ample has actually raised approximately $70 million from investors including Shell Ventures, the Spanish energy company Repsol, and the venture capital arm of the $10 billion money manager, Moore Capital Management. That includes a $34 million investment first reported back in 2018, and a later round from investors including Japan’s energy and metals company, Eneos Holdings that closed recently.

“We had a lot of people that either said, I somehow was involved in that and was suffering from PTSD,” said de Souza, of the similarities between his business and Better Place. “The people who weren’t involved read up about it and then ran away.”

For Ample, the difference is in the modularization of the battery pack and how that changes the relationship with the automakers that would use the technology.

“The approach we’ve taken… is to modularize the battery and then we have an adapter plate that is the structural element of the battery that has the same shape of the battery, same bolt pattern and same software interface. Even though we provide the same battery system.. .it’s same as replacing the tire,” said Hassounah, Ample’s co-founder and chief executive. “Effectively we’re giving them the plate. We don’t modify the car whatsoever. You either put a fixed battery system or an Ample battery plate. We’re able to work with the OEMS where you can make the battery swappable for the use cases where this makes a lot of sense. Without really changing the same vehicle.”

Ample’s currently working with five different OEMs and has validated its approach to battery swapping with nine different car models. One of those OEMs also brings back memories of Better Place.

It’s clear that the company has a deal with Nissan for the Leaf thanks to the other partnership that Ample has announced with Uber. Ample’s founders declined to comment on any OEM relationships.

It’s clear that Ample is working with Nissan because Nissan is the company that inked a deal with Uber earlier this year on zero-emission mobility. And Uber is the first company to use Ample’s robotic charging stations at a few locations in the Bay Area, the company said. This work with Nissan echoes Better Place’s one partnership with Renault, another arm of the automaker, which proved to be the biggest deal for the older, doomed, battery swapping startup.

Ample says it only takes weeks to set up one of its charging pods at a facility and that the company’s charging drivers on energy delivered per mile. “We achieve economics that are 10% to 20% cheaper than gas. We are profitable on day one,” said Hassounah.

Uber is the first step. Ample is focused on fleets first and is in talks with multiple, undisclosed municipalities to get their cars added to the system. So far, Ample has done thousands of swaps, according to Hassounah with just Uber drivers alone.

The cars can also be charged at traditional charging facilities, Hassounah said, and the company’s billing system knows the split between the amount of energy it delivers versus another charging outlet, Hassounah said.

“So far, in the use cases that we have, for ride sharing it’s individual drivers who pay,” said de Souza. With the five fleets that Ample expects to deploy with later this year the company expects to have the fleet managers and owners pay for. charging.

Some of the inspiration for Ample came from Hassounah’s earlier experience working at One laptop per child, where he was forced to rethink assumptions about how the laptops would be used, the founder said.

“Initially i worked on the keyboard display and then quickly realized the challenge was in the field and developed a framework for creating infrastructure,” Hassounah said.

The problem was the initial design of the system did not take into account lack of access to power for laptops at children’s homes. So the initiative developed a charging unit for swapping batteries. Children would use their laptops over the course of the day and take them home, and when they needed a fresh charge, they would swap out the batteries.

“There are fleets that need this exact solution,” said de Souza. But there are advantages for individual car owners as well, he said. “The experience for the owner of a vehicle is after time the battery degrades. With ours as we put new batteries in the car can go further and further over time.” 

Right now, OEMs are sending cars without batteries and Ample is just installing their charging system, said Hassounah, but as the number of vehicles using the system rises above 1,000, the company expects to send their plates to manufacturers, who can then have Ample install their own packs.

Currently, Ample only supports level one and level two charging, but won’t offer fast charging options for the car makers it works with — likely because that option would cannibalize the company’s business and potentially obviate the need for its swapping technology.

At issue is the time it takes to charge a car. Fast chargers still take between 20 and 30 minutes to charge up, but advances in technologies should drive that figure down. Even if fast charging ultimately becomes a better option, Ample’s founders say they view their business as an additive step to faster electric vehicle adoption.

“When you’re moving 1 billion cars, you need everything… We have so many cars we need to put on the road,” Hassounah said. “We think we need all solutions to solve the problem. As you think of fleet applications you need a solution that can match gas in charge and not speed. Fast charging is not available in mass. The challenge will not be can the battery be charged in 5 minutes. The cost of building  charges that can deliver that amount of power is prohibitive.”

Looking beyond charging, Ample sees opportunities in the grid power market as well, the two founders said.

“Time shift is built into our economics… that’s another way we can help,” said de Souza. “We use that as grid storage… we can do demand charge and now that the federal mandate is there to feed into the grid we can help stabilize the grid by feeding back energy.. We don’t have a lot of stations to make a significant impact. As we scale up this year we will.”

Currently the company is operating at a storage capacity of tens of megawatts per hour, according to Hassounah.

“We can use the side storage to accelerate the development of swapping stations,” de Souza said. “You don’t have to invest an insane amount of money to put them in. We can finance the batteries in multiple ways as well as utilize other sources of financing.” 

Ample co-founders John de Souza and Khaled Hassounah. Image Credit: Ample

#ample, #better-place, #cars, #charging-station, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #energy, #inductive-charging, #japan, #lithium-ion-battery, #nissan, #nissan-leaf, #one-laptop-per-child, #range-anxiety, #renault, #repsol, #sap, #shai-agassi, #shell-ventures, #tc, #transport, #uber, #venture-capital

Symbio is working with Toyota and Nissan to increase robotic assembly efficiency

Bay Area-based AI startup Symbio today announced its “official launch.” Backed by a total of $30 million in funding, the company has struck deals with both Nissan and Toyota to implement its software in U.S.-based factories.

The company says its SymbioDCS technology is capable of dramatically increasing automation with factory robots on the assembly line.

“To the end customer, the proposition is pretty straightforward,” CEO and co-founder Max Reynolds tells TechCrunch. “We’re improving the efficiency of their automation. The high-level goal is to increase the capacity of the factory and enable them to build more product, more quickly, more flexibly. “

The company closed a $15 million Series B in December of last year. That adds to a $12 million Series A in 2018, $2.5 million seed two years prior and a $500,000 pre-seed. This latest round was led by ACME Capital, joining existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Eclipse Ventures and The House Fund.

Image Credits: Symbio

“Instead of exclusively providing automation solutions, Symbio is also designing the tools that enable the developers and domain experts working in manufacturing to create their own automation solutions and easily adapt them to new tasks,” UC Berkeley professor Anca Dragan said in a statement tied to the news. “To do this, they are building products that leverage AI strengths and human insight in a symbiotic way.”

Founded in 2014, the company employs around 40, mostly engineers, largely based in California. Reynolds explains that the current level of automated manufacturing in automotive is actually far lower than one might expect. “Assembly is less than 5% automated, across the board,” he says. “Even in this core vertical, there’s a ton of headroom and opportunity for growth.”

#automotive, #funding, #manufacturing, #nissan, #robotics, #startups, #symbio, #toyota

Report: Nissan shot down Apple deal to avoid becoming Foxconn of cars

Report: Nissan shot down Apple deal to avoid becoming Foxconn of cars

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

A potential partnership between Apple and Nissan foundered due to disagreements over branding, the Financial Times reported on Sunday. Apple wanted Nissan to build Apple-branded cars, while Nissan preferred to keep its own brand on the vehicles.

In recent months, Apple has reportedly been looking for a partner to build an Apple-branded electric car. Last week, Bloomberg reported that negotiations with Kia (and its parent company, Hyundai) had ended without a deal. The Financial Times says that Apple has also “sounded out” BMW as a potential partner.

Apple reportedly held preliminary talks with Nissan, though the talks didn’t reach the most senior levels at either company:

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#apple, #apple-car, #cars, #nissan

Committing to a fully zero-emission fleet by 2040, Uber is dedicating $800 million to electrifying its drivers

Ride hailing giant Uber is committing to become a fully zero-emission platform by 2040 and setting aside $800 million to help get its drivers using electric vehicles by 2025.

The company said that it would invest further in its micro-mobility options as well with the goal of having 100 percent of its rides take place on electric vehicles in the US, Canada, and European cities in which the company operates. Uber also said it would commit to reaching net-zero emissions from its own corporate operations by 2030.

If the company can hit its timeline, Uber would achieve necessary milestones in its operations a decade ahead of the Paris Climate Agreement targets set for 2050.

The keys to the company’s efforts are four new and expanding initiatives, according to a statement.

The first is the launch of Uber Green in 15 US and Canadian cities. For customers willing to spend an extra dollar, they can request an EV or hybrid electric vehicle to pick them up. By the end of the year, Uber Green will be available in over 65 cities around the world. Riders who choose the green option will also receive three times the Uber Rewards points they would have received for a typical UberX ride, the company said.

Uber’s second step toward making the world a greener place is to commit $800 million to transition its fleet to electric vehicles. Part of that transition is being subsidized by the $1 surcharge for riders who choose to go green and from fees that the company collects under its London and French Clean Air Plans. Those are 15 cent (or pence) surcharges that Uber has been collecting since January of last year to pay for the electrification of its drivers’ cars in European cities.

Dara Kowsrowshahi, chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., speaks during an event in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. During his Japan trip, Khosrowshahi has made it clear the ride-hailing company isnt scaling back its ambitions in certain Asian markets, despite speculation of a retreat. Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

To incentivize drivers to go green, Uber’s doling out an extra 50 cents per trip in the US and Canada for every “Uber Green” trip completed to be paid out by riders. Drivers using EVs will also get another dollar from Uber itself, amounting to $1.50 more per trip for each EV ride completed.

Other enticements include partnerships with GM in the US and Canada and Renault -Nissan in Europe to offer discounts on electric vehicles to Uber drivers. Working with Avis, Uber is planning to offer more electric vehicles for rental to US drivers. Meanwhile, the company said it would also expand electric vehicle charging by working to develop new charging stations in conjunction with companies like BP, EVgo, Enel X, Izivia by EDF, and Power Dot.

Uber’s also working to revive the vision of robotic battery swapping to enable customers to forget about their concerns when it comes to charging a new vehicle. It’s working with the San Francisco-based startup, Ample, as the young company develops its battery-swapping tech — and Lithium Urban Technologies, an electric fleet operator out of India.

Building on its existing micro-mobility network, the company is going to integrate bikes and scooters from Lime even closer into its networks and expanding its shared ride programs as soon as its safe to do it. The company is also intent on expanding its Journey Planning feature to enable users to see pricing options, schedules, and directions to and from transit stations. Uber also now offers in-app ticketing in more than ten cities, so people can buy public transit passes in the app itself. As a coup de grace, Uber’s also unveiling a new feature that allows users to plan their trips in Chicago and Sydney using cars and public transit to get where they need to go.

Finally, the company has released its first Climate Assessment and Performance Report analyzing emissions from the company’s operations in the United States and Canada from 2017 through 2019. Unsurprisingly, Uber found that it was more efficient than single-occupant driving, but the company did reveal that its carbon intensity is higher than that of average-occupancy personal cars. Meaning when there’re two people using a personal car, their footprint is lower than that of an Uber driver looking for passengers.

Although arguably, Uber shouldn’t be having its customers foot so much of the bill for its electric transition, these are all positive steps from a company that still has a long road ahead of it if it’s looking to reduce its carbon footprint.

#bp, #canada, #charging-station, #chicago, #chief-executive-officer, #driver, #electric-vehicle, #enel, #europe, #evgo, #garrett-camp, #gett, #getty, #gm, #india, #japan, #london, #new-delhi, #nissan, #paris, #photographer, #renault, #san-francisco, #sydney, #tc, #transport, #uber, #united-states

The Station: Summer of the SPAC, Adam Neumann returns and the Nissan Ariya debuts

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

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

The dog days of summer are almost upon us. Technically, we won’t enter this period until July 22. In normal times, vacation season would be well underway and the hit song of the summer would be established and a regular guest at every beach party, barbecue and dance club. That’s not exactly what’s going down this summer. However, we do have ourselves a hit financial instrument of the season. The SPAC, or Special Purpose Acquisition Company, is this summer’s “Seniorita.” Everywhere you turn, there it is.

More on the SPACs and other fun stuff below. Vamos!

Reach out and email me anytime 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’

the station scooter1a

We know that COVID-19 has changed the way we work and move around cities when we do leave our homes. Public transit ridership has dropped in many dense urban areas. And so did shared scooter and bike ridership, although there is evidence that these two modes of transportation are rebounding.

Micromobility company Lime looked at its ridership data the month before the lockdown began  and compared it with the month after. Lime CEO Wayne Ting noted in a blog post this week a few emerging trends. People are riding scooters 34% longer and 18% farther; and they’re using them for recreation and to run errands. Lime also discovered that travel is starting in neighborhoods more often than in pre-COVID times.

And bikes, as we’ve noted here before, are back and more popular than ever. Lime said its e-bike rental service has seen record usage, with users taking longer journeys and the bikes being used more frequently. In London, Lime recorded its highest-ever usage in a single day last month, with over 4,000 new users, the company said.

While the survey by Lime might seem self serving, the data has been compelling enough to change how, and more specifically where, it operates. The company has taken the bikes and scooters out of areas typically dominated by tourists and moved them into neighborhoods. It’s also rolled out new flex passes and is finally bringing some of those Jump bikes back to cities.

In other micromobility news …

In the mopeds arena, TechCrunch’s Catherine Shu examines Taiwan-based WeMo and its plans to expand internationally.

Meanwhile, shared electric moped startup Revel received a permit that will allow it to operate in San Francisco, beginning in August. Revel will start with a fleet of 432 mopeds featuring a new paint scheme and a more powerful engine to help riders get up and over the city’s infamously steep hills.

Over in the bikes world, a new brand has emerged called Superstrata that hopes to standout with its 3D printed carbon fiber unibody that is based on precise measurements of each customer. Superstrata told TechCrunch that this translates into more than 250,000 unique combinations

But Superstrata is not just some new bike startup. It’s a new brand under Arevo, the Bay Area-based additive manufacturing startup. Superstrata is meant to demonstrate Arevo’s push into manufacturing as a service and composite additive manufacturing.

The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition will hold its two-day summit virtually next month. Registration is $50. While many of the discussions will have a local focus, these are universal issues that cities around the U.S. and beyond face. Expect discussions on slow streets movement, equity, bikeway designs and safety.

Deal of the week

money the station

Remember way back in January when it looked like direct listings were the going to be the favored method to bringing a company public? Welp, direct listings are out and SPACs are in.

Electric car maker Fisker has become the latest example of this trend. The company, which just raised $50 million from investors, said it reached an agreement to merge with Spartan Energy Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company sponsored by an affiliate of Apollo Global Management Inc. As a result, Fisker will become a public company with a valuation of $2.9 billion. The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

Fisker said this will provide the funding it needs to bring its first product, the all-electric Fisker Ocean SUV, to production in late 2022.

The agreement marks the latest company to turn to SPACs in lieu of a traditional IPO process. Online used car marketplace startup Shift Technologies, Velodyne Lidar and Nikola Motor have all gone public by merging with a special-purpose acquisition company.

SPACs are not new, even if you’re learning about them for the first time. Would a SPAC by any other name smell as sweet? Why yes, yes it would. These have been around for decades and have gone by different names, including “blind pools” and “clean shell companies.” These blank-check companies — see another name — is a corporation that has no defined business plan or purpose other than to raise money from public markets to acquire a private company.

Other deals that got our attention this week …

WeWork CEO Adam Neumann Visits Shanghai

Adam Neumann, the controversial co-founder and former CEO of WeWork, is back and investing in the shared economy. This time with a focus on mobility.

Neumann’s family office, 166 2nd Financial Services, invested $10 million into GoTo Global as part of a $19 million Series B round. GoTo Global is a shared mobility company that operates in Israel and Malta and aims to expand into Europe later this year. The company is aiming to cover the entire range of shared vehicles from cars and mopeds to bicycles and electric scooters.

Neumann has a 33% stake in GoTo Global and can appoint one board member on his behalf. Existing shareholder Shagrir Group Vehicle Services, a publicly traded Israeli company, also participated in the round.

Drover, a UK startup that provides access to flexible car subscriptions for private users, raised  £20.5 million ($25.7 million) in a round of funding co-led by Target Global, RTP Global (the Russian company formerly known as ru-Net) and Autotech Ventures. New investors Channel 4 Ventures and Rider Global, as well as previous backers Cherry Ventures, BP Ventures, Partech, Version One and Forward Partners also participated. Drover did not disclose its valuation. The company has raised £27.5 million to date.

Chinese electric automaker Li Auto filed for a $100 million IPO and plans to list on the Nasdaq. (missed this filing last Friday). The company recently raised $550 million.

Navistar and self-driving trucks startup TuSimple deepened their two-year relationship and  announced plans to develop and begin producing autonomous semi trucks by 2024. Navistar also took an undisclosed stake in TuSimple. The plan is to move away from retrofitting the Navistar International commercial trucks that TuSimple currently uses and instead develop semi trucks specifically designed for autonomous operations.

Self-driving trucks startup Plus.ai is in talks to raise $60 million, The Information reported. The fundraising for the company that is based in China and the U.S., is still under negotiation. Hong Kong-based investment and securities firm Guotai Junan International is expected to lead the round that could value Plus.ai between $600 million to $1 billion.

Skydio raised $100 million in a Series C funding round led by Next47. New investors Levitate Capital and NTT DOCOMO Ventures joined the round with existing backers a16z, IVP and Playground. The funding will be used to accelerate product development efforts, expand its go-to-market strategy beyond consumer applications to enterprise and public sector drone technology.

Uber acquired Routematch, an Atlanta-based company that provides software to transit agencies as the ride-hailing company looks to offer more SaaS-related services to cities. Expect more public transit SaaS deals.

Uber did not share terms of the deal. This doesn’t appear to be a minor “acqui-hire,” in which a company is purchased to land a few talented employees. Instead, Uber is making a strategic acquisition for a company that has developed software used by more than 500 transit agencies. The operations of the 170-person company will continue and CEO Pepper Harward will remain.

More Uber news. This time the company is reportedly talking with investors about taking a stake in its Uber Freight division, Bloomberg reported. Discussions are underway to raise $500 million, a round that would give the freight business a standalone valuation of about $4 billion after the deal.

Startup spotlight

The startup spotlight is like a mini version of my “startup editions” newsletter that was sent out earlier this month. I’m not using a scientific method to pick these startups and when I do, it might not even be tied to a particular announcement. Basically, if I see something interesting I will put it here.

Which brings me to Onfleet, a SaaS company that created a platform for last-mile delivery services across a wide array of industries. The software platform handles the logistics of delivery such as route planning, dispatch, real-time tracking, analytics and communications for companies like Imperfect Foods, MedMen and Total Wine & More. As you might suspect, deliveries are hot right now. But that doesn’t mean Onfleet hasn’t had to adjust.

Onfleet UI Full

Image Credits: Onfleet

Co-founder and CEO Khaled Naim and I spoke awhile back about how the company has had to change in response to COVID-19. For instance, the company created a contactless signature feature that it rolled out in early May. Now its corporate customers can include a special URL in the SMS notifications that go out to recipients when a driver gets close to their destination. The user, say a person waiting for that wine or beer delivery, is then prompted to sign for the package on their phone. It has been a critical addition for regulated industries such as alcohol, cannabis and pharmaceuticals, where a signature is legally required, Naim said, noting these are significant segments for the company.

Onfleet has seen deliveries explode since March and is now averaging more than one delivery per second throughout the week, with peaks of more than three deliveries per second, Naim said.

Global delivery volume is up with notable spikes in alcohol, cannabis, grocery, pharmacy, prepared meals, meal kits and restaurants. He added that a handful of sectors like catering, laundry and dry cleaning have been hit pretty hard by COVID-19.

There are new segments emerging as well. For instance, seafood distributors and breweries, which once were delivering to restaurants, have shifted to business-to-consumer operations. Pet food deliveries are also up as local pet stores find new opportunities to generate revenue.

“A lot of our customers have been stretched and are trying to serve an increase in demand, while at the same time struggling with a shortage of drivers,” Naim said.

In response, Onfleet created a delivery driver job board to connect drivers with delivery gigs globally. And as global demand has surged, Onfleet had to add four languages to its driver app, including Italian, German, Dutch, and Arabic. French and Spanish have been available for awhile now.

If you have a mobility startup that has adjusted its business model due to COVID-19 or have some interesting data to share, email me. As always, I never promise coverage but I will take a look. 

Notable reads and other tidbits

More transportation news! Let’s get to it.

Autonomous vehicles

the station autonomous vehicles1

AutoX, autonomous vehicle startup backed by Alibaba, has been granted a permit in California to begin driverless testing on public roads in a limited area in San Jose.

German lawmakers are preparing legislation that could commercialize driverless vehicle technology by next summer. The landmark legislation, if passed, would provide a long overdue framework that would cover both homologation and road traffic requirements for robotaxis in which the computer controls the vehicle at all times, Automotive News Europe reported.

Nuro posted a blog in Medium about food deserts and the role that autonomous delivery bots will play in providing more healthy options to underserved communities. The company calculated how many homes could theoretically be reached within 30 minutes from all major supermarkets with a self-driving delivery vehicle operating at speeds up to 45 mph. Nuro compared that data to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) data on food desert locations. The startup said it could reach 14 million low-income households in food deserts nationwide, or 70% of the total low-income population in food deserts. (Again, this is all theoretical at this point. I noted here to illustrate potential scale and the company’s ambitions.)

SAFE published a report called Fostering Economic Opportunity through Autonomous Vehicle Technology that aimed to better understand the transportation challenges in low-income communities. The study concluded that about two-thirds of Americans live in neighborhoods that are beyond their means because of largely unseen transportation costs. SAFE, of course, sees autonomous vehicles as a way out. The hypothesizes that AV transportation could reduce household costs by as much as $5,600 per household.

Cities

Berkeley is taking police officers out of traffic enforcement and replacing them with unarmed employees of a newly formed Department of Transportation, per Streetsblog.

Silicon Valley cities San Jose, Cupertino and Santa Clara have been mulling a transit system that would connect its growing airport with major employers and other high-profile destinations along the Stevens Creek Boulevard corridor, an area that includes Apple headquarters. The group asked companies to submit proposals for innovative transit modes. A consultant, who hired to evaluate the proposals from companies that included The Boring Company, BYD and Bombardier, has released its findings. San Jose Mercury News has the breakdown of the top proposals, which included personal pod cars, hyperloop and driverless shuttles.

It’s electric

the station electric vehicles1

Dan Brouillette, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, announced $139 million in federal funding for 55 projects that will support advanced vehicle technologies. Six of these innovative projects will be led by teams in Michigan.

BMW struck a long-term deal with Swedish-based Northvolt for $2.3 billion worth of battery cells.  The battery cells will be produced in Europe at the Northvolt factory that is under construction in northern Sweden.

Nissan is moving on from the Leaf. The automaker unveiled the Nissan Ariya, an all-electric SUV with an estimated 300 miles of range and a starting price tag of $40,000 that marks the beginning of a four-year plan aiming for growth and profitability. The Nissan Ariya will first be sold in Japan in mid-2021, before heading to dealerships in the U.S. and Canada later in the year, the company said in digital event in Yokohama, Japan.

Nissan electric Ariya

Image Credits: Nissan

Tesla has secured more than $61 million of tax incentives if it builds a $1.1 billion factory near Austin, Texas. Commissioners in Travis County, home to Austin and the possible next Tesla factory, approved Tuesday property tax breaks worth at least $14.7 million — and potentially more — over 10 years. The incentives are on top of $46.6 million in property tax abatement that the Del Valle School District Board approved earlier this month. 

Elon Musk disputed a German court ruling that bans the company from using on its website or other advertising terms like Autopilot or “full potential for autonomous driving.”

Future Cars!

Automakers are rethinking the interior of vehicles, the WSJ reports.

Ford relaunched Bronco after a 24-year hiatus. There was an abundance of coverage on the Bronco 2, Bronco 4 and Bronco Sport — including my story that looked at how the automaker leaned heavily on nostalgia, customization, functional design and technology.

Ford Bronco

Image credits: Ford

And finally, as autonomous vehicle technology companies continue the slog towards commercially deployed Level 4 trucks and robotaxis, automakers have turned to advanced driver assistance systems. It’s a trend that I first noticed back in late 2018 and into early 2019. Now, it’s at full tilt as automakers race to offer hands-free — but driver engaged — systems. Reuters examines the ramifications and challenges to this pursuit.

See ya’ll next week.

#adam-neumann, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #bmw, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #ford-bronco, #lime, #nissan, #onfleet, #tesla, #transportation, #uber, #waymo

Nissan stakes its EV future on the 300-mile range Ariya crossover

Nissan unveiled today the Ariya, an all-electric SUV with an estimated 300 miles of range and a starting price tag of $40,000 that marks the beginning of a four-year plan aiming for growth and profitability.

The Nissan Ariya will first be sold in Japan in mid-2021, before heading to dealerships in the U.S. and Canada later in the year, the company said in digital event in Yokohama, Japan.

The unveiling is a milestone for a company that has been embroiled in controversy for more than year, following the arrest and subsequent escape of Carlos Ghosn, the former chairman of the Nissan Group and the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance.

Nissan Ariya

Image Credits: Nissan

It’s also the first all-electric to come out of Nissan since the early EV pioneer introduced the Leaf hatchback a decade ago. Nissan was an early EV pioneer and has sold nearly 500,000 Leaf vehicles since 2010. But any early dominance in the industry has been overshadowed by the rise of Tesla as well as other electric models from established OEMs. Now Nissan aiming to get back in a leading position.

The Ariya is no Leaf. This is a more mature, refined crossover with a sleek and simple design and an interior featuring thin profile “Zero Gravity” seats that are meant to give off an upscale vibe. It also puts tech front and center with an emphasis on natural voice controls, Amazon Alexa and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to let drivers integrate their smartphones with the infotainment system.

Nissan hasn’t followed Tesla into the giant center touchscreen gambit. Instead, it has two displays, a 12.3-inch instrument monitor in the driver’s line of sight and a 12.3-inch center display along a single horizon.

The upshot: Nissan is counting on the Ariya to help drive its turnaround.

“The company expects sales of its EVs and e-POWER electrified models to be more than 1 million units a year by the end of fiscal 2023. The Ariya will play a significant role in attaining that goal,” COO Ashwani Gupta said during the digital event unveiling the new SUV.

Nissan electric ARIYA

Image Credits: Nissan

The vehicle will feature Nissan’s next-generation driver assistance system called ProPILOT, which uses driver attention monitoring to enable hands-off single-lane highway operation. There is an array of other driver assist features, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and high beam assist. The Ariya will also include a monitor that provides a full 360 view and a forward collision warning.

The Ariya will be available in all-wheel or two-wheel drive versions; that 300 miles of range is Nissan’s estimate based on the 2WD version. Both versions come with a 63 kWh or or 87 kWh battery pack.

Importantly, Nissan is ditching the CHAdeMO DC fast charging standard in Europe and the U.S. and is instead opting for the competing Combined Charging System (CCS) standard for these markets.

 

#automotive, #carlos-ghosn, #nissan, #nissan-leaf, #tc

Volkswagen sinks another $200 million into solid-state battery company QuantumScape

Volkswagen said Tuesday it has invested another $200 million into QuantumScape, a Stanford University spinout developing solid-state batteries as the automaker bets on a next-generation technology that will unlock longer ranges and faster charging times in electric vehicles.

Volkswagen’s relationship with QuantumScape, which had early backing from Kleiner Perkins and Khosla Ventures, actually stretches back to 2012. The two companies formed a joint venture in 2018 to accelerate the development solid-state battery technology and then produce them at commercial scale.

Volkswagen made an initial $100 million investment into QuantumScape in September 2018. The additional $200 million aims to accelerate that joint development work, according to Thomas Schmall, chairman of the board of management of Volkswagen Group components, which has end-to-end responsibility for batteries.

The companies have plans to set up a pilot plant for the industrial-level production of the solid-state batteries. Volkswagen said plans for this pilot factory will be “firmed up” sometime this year.

Two years ago, Volkswagen set a target to establish a production line for these batteries by 2025.

Today’s electric vehicles used lithium-ion batteries. A battery contains two electrodes. There’s an anode (negative) on one side and a cathode (positive) on the other. An electrolyte sits in the middle and acts as the courier that moves ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging. Solid-state batteries use a solid electrolyte, and not a liquid of gel-based electrolyte found in lithium-ion batteries.

Developers claim that solid electrolytes have greater energy density, which translates into squeezing more range out of smaller and lighter battery. Solid electrolytes also are supposed to be better at thermal management, reducing the risk of fire and the reliance on the kinds of cooling systems found in today’s EVs.

The cost of solid-state batteries has been a difficult hurdle to overcome. And yet the promise of this technology at commercial scale has prompted a number of automakers to pursue it. BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota are just a handful of automakers investing in the research and development of solid-state battery technology.

#automotive, #battery-technology, #bmw, #energy-storage, #flexible-electronics, #honda, #hyundai, #khosla-ventures, #kleiner-perkins, #lithium-ion-batteries, #nissan, #rechargeable-batteries, #stanford-university, #toyota, #volkswagen-group

Africa Roundup: DHL invests in MallforAfrica, Zipline launches in US, Novastar raises $200M

Events in May offered support to the thesis that Africa can incubate tech with global application.

Two startups that developed their business models on the continent — MallforAfrica and Zipline — were tapped by international interests.

DHL acquired a minority stake in Link Commerce, a turn-key e-commerce company that grew out of MallforAfrica.com — a Nigerian digital-retail startup.

Link Commerce offers a white-label solution for doing online-sales in emerging markets.

Retailers can plug into the company’s platform to create a web-based storefront that manages payments and logistics.

Nigerian Chris Folayan founded MallforAfrica in 2011 to bridge a gap in supply and demand for the continent’s consumer markets. While living in the U.S., Folayan noted a common practice among Africans — that of giving lists of goods to family members abroad to buy and bring home.

With MallforAfrica Folayan aimed to allow people on the continent to purchase goods from global retailers directly online.

The e-commerce site went on to onboard over 250 global retailers and now employs 30 people at order processing facilities in Oregon and the UK.

Folayan has elevated Link Commerce now as the lead company above MallforAfrica.com. He and DHL plan to extend the platform to emerging markets around the world and offer it to companies who want to wrap an online stores, payments and logistics solution around their core business

“Right now the focus is on Africa…but we’re taking this global,” Folayan said.

Another startup developed in Africa, Zipline, was tapped by U.S. healthcare provider Novant for drone delivery of critical medical supplies in the fight against COVID-19.

The two announced a partnership whereby Zipline’s drones will make 32-mile flights on two routes between Novant Health’s North Carolina emergency drone fulfillment center and the non-profit’s medical center in Huntersville — where frontline healthcare workers are treating coronavirus patients.

Zipline and Novant are touting the arrangement as the first authorized long-range drone logistics delivery flight program in the U.S. The activity has gained approvals by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina’s Department of Transportation.

The story behind the Novant, Zipline UAV collaboration has a twist: the capabilities for the U.S. operation were developed primarily in Africa. Zipline has a test facility in the San Francisco area, but spent several years configuring its drone delivery model in Rwanda and Ghana.

Image Credits: Novant Health

Co-founded in 2014 by Americans Keller Rinaudo,  Keenan Wyrobek and Will Hetzler, Zipline designs its own UAVs, launch systems and logistics software for distribution of critical medical supplies.

The company turned to East Africa in 2016, entering a partnership with the government of Rwanda to test and deploy its drone service in that country. Zipline went live with UAV distribution of life-saving medical supplies in Rwanda in late 2016, claiming the first national drone-delivery program at scale in the world.

The company expanded to Ghana in 2016, where in addition to delivering blood and vaccines by drone, it now distributes COVID-19-related medication and lab samples.

In addition to partner Novant Health, Zipline has caught the attention of big logistics providers, such as UPS — which has supported (and studied) the startup’s African operations back to 2016.

The presidents of Rwanda and Ghana  — Paul Kagame and Nana Akufo-Addo — were instrumental in supporting Zipline’s partnerships in their countries. Other nations on the continent, such as Kenya,  South Africa and Zambia, continue to advance commercial drone testing and novel approaches to regulating the sector.

African startups have another $100 million in VC to pitch for after Novastar Ventures’ latest raise.

The Nairobi and Lagos-based investment group announced it has closed $108 million in new commitments to launch its Africa Fund II, which brings Novastar’s total capital to $200 million.

With the additional resources, the firm plans to make 12 to 14 investments across the continent, according to Managing Director Steve Beck .

On demand mobility powered by electric and solar is coming to Africa.

Vaya Africa, a ride-hail mobility venture founded by Zimbabwean mogul Strive Masiyiwa, launched an electric taxi service and charging network in Zimbabwe this week with plans to expand across the continent.

The South Africa-headquartered company is using Nissan Leaf EVs and has developed its own solar-powered charging stations. Vaya is finalizing partnerships to take its electric taxi services on the road to countries that could include Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, Vaya Mobility CEO Dorothy Zimuto told TechCrunch.

The initiative comes as Africa’s on-demand mobility market has been in full swing for several years, with startups, investors and the larger ride-hail players aiming to bring movement of people and goods to digital platforms.

Uber and Bolt have been operating in Africa’s major economies since 2015, where there are also a number of local app-based taxi startups. Over the last year, there’s been some movement on the continent toward developing EVs for ride-hail and delivery use, primarily around motorcycles.

Beyond environmental benefits, Vaya highlights economic gains for passengers and drivers of shifting to electric in Africa’s taxi markets, where fuel costs compared to personal income is generally high for drivers.

Using solar panels to power the charging station network also helps Vaya’s new EV program overcome some of challenges in Africa’s electricity grid.

Vaya is exploring EV options for other on-demand transit applications — from min-buses to Tuk Tuk taxis.

In more downbeat news in May, Africa-focused tech talent accelerator Andela had layoffs and salary reductions as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, CEO Jeremy Johnson confirmed to TechCrunch.

The compensation and staff reductions of 135 bring Andela’s headcount down to 1,199 employees. None of Andela’s engineers were included in the layoffs.

Backed by $181 million in VC from investors that include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the startup’s client-base is comprised of more than 200 global companies that pay for the African developers Andela selects to work on projects.

There’s been a drop in the demand for Andela’s services, according to Johnson.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch  

African tech around the ‘net

#africa, #andela, #articles, #auto-rickshaw, #ceo, #chris-folayan, #delivery-drone, #department-of-transportation, #dhl, #dorothy-zimuto, #east-africa, #electricity, #emerging-technologies, #ghana, #healthcare, #internet-service, #investment, #jeremy-johnson, #keenan-wyrobek, #keller-rinaudo, #kenya, #lagos, #link-commerce, #nairobi, #nigeria, #nissan, #north-carolina, #novant-health, #novastar-ventures, #online-sales, #online-stores, #oregon, #retail, #rwanda, #san-francisco, #south-africa, #steve-beck, #tc, #technology, #transport, #uber, #united-states, #ups, #zimbabwe, #zipline

Vaya Africa launches electric ride-hail taxi network

Vaya Africa, a ride-hail mobility venture founded by Zimbabwean mogul Strive Masiyiwa, has launched an electric taxi service and charging network in Zimbabwe with plans to expand across the continent.

The South Africa headquartered company has acquired a fleet of Nissan Leaf EVs and developed its own solar powered charging stations.

The program goes live in Zimbabwe this week, as Vaya finalizes partnerships to begin on-demand electric taxi and delivery services in markets that could include Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia.

“Zimbabwe is a sandbox really. We’ve moved on to doing pilots with other countries right across Africa,” Vaya Mobility CEO Dorothy Zimuto told TechCrunch on a call from Harare.

Vaya is a subsidiary of Strive Masiyiwa’s Econet Group, which includes one of Southern Africa’s largest mobile operators and Liquid Telecom, an internet infrastructure company.

Masiyiwa has become one of Africa’s Gates, Branson type figures, recognized globally as a business leader and philanthropist with connections and affiliations from President Obama to the Rockefeller Foundation.

Working with Zimuto on the Vaya EV product is Liquid Telecom’s innovation partnerships lead, Oswald Jumira.

The initiative comes as Africa’s on demand mobility market has been in full swing for several years, with startups, investors, and the larger ride-hail players aiming to bring movement of people and goods to digital product models.

Ethiopia has local ride-hail ventures Ride and Zayride. Uber’s been active in several markets on the continent since 2015 and like competitor Bolt, got into the motorcycle taxi business in Africa in 2018.

Over the last year, there’s been some movement on the continent toward developing EV’s for ride-hail and delivery use, primarily around two-wheeled transit.

In 2019, Nigerian mobility startup MAX.ng raised a $7 million Series A round backed by Yamaha, a portion of which was dedicated to pilot e-motorcycles powered by renewable energy.

Last year the Government of Rwanda established a national plan to phase out gas motorcycle taxis for e-motos, working in partnership with EV startup Ampersand.

Vaya Mobility CEO Dorothy Zimuto, Image Credits: Econet Group

The appeal of shifting to electric in Africa’s taxi markets — beyond environmental benefits — is the unit economics, given the cost of fuel compared to personal income is generally high for most of the continent’s drivers.

“Africa is excited, because we are riding on the green revolution: no emissions, no noise and big savings… in terms of running costs of their vehicles,” Zimuto said.

She estimates a cost savings of 40% on the fuel and maintenance costs for drivers on the ride-hail platform.

At the moment, with fuel prices in Vaya’s first market of Zimbabwe at around $1.20 a liter, the average trip distance is 22 kilometres for a price of $19, according to Econet Group’s Oswald Jumira.

With the Nissan Leaf vehicles on Vaya’s charging network, the cost to top up will be around $5 for a range of 150 to 200 kilometres.

Image Credits: Vaya Africa

“It’s the driver who benefits. They take more money home. And that also means we can reduce the tariff for ride hailing companies to make it more affordable for people,” Jumira told TechCrunch .

The company has adapted its business to the spread of COVID-19 in Africa. Vaya provides PPE to its drivers and sanitizes its cars four to five times a day, according to Zimuto.

Vaya is exploring EV options for other on-demand transit applications — from delivery to motorcycle and Tuk Tuk taxis.

On the question of competing with Uber in Africa, Vaya points to the reduced fares offered by its EV program as one advantage.

The CEO of Vaya Mobility, Dorothy Zimuto, also points to certain benefits of knowing local culture and preferences.

“We speak African. That’s the language we understand. We understand the people and what they want across our markets. That’s what makes the difference.” she said.

It will be something to watch if Vaya’s EV bet and local consumer knowledge translates into more passenger flow and revenue generation as it goes head to head with other ride-hail companies, such as Uber, across Africa.

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GM reveals an EV for (almost) every purse and purpose

General Motors’ EV day didn’t just mark the launch of a new flexible battery architecture and an ambitious plan to deploy this underlying foundation across all of the automaker’s brands, including Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.

It was a resurrection, albeit with a modern twist.

The company’s announcement this week gave new life to its brand ladder — a portfolio that ranges from the heights of luxury to the most basic utility — and tipped its hand about how it will bring EVs “across the chasm.

This game plan isn’t new. GM is bringing back a strategy that once defined its success and reshaped America’s automotive landscape. This strategy worked for GM until complacency crept in and the brand ladder collapsed. This time, GM is aiming to avoid these snares.

History lesson

Henry Ford’s moving assembly line birthed the early auto industry, but as American prosperity grew in the 1910s-20s, it was General Motors that laid the foundations of the modern car market. Under then-chairman Alfred Sloan, the amalgamation of once-independent automakers united under a strategy that would, in his words, create “a car for every purse and purpose.” From a value Chevrolet to a sporty Pontiac, from a discreetly plush Buick to a majestic Cadillac, and with countless brands in between, what became known as Sloanism birthed the idea that there should be a car to reflect every American’s self-image and social status.

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