‘Self-Driving’ Cars Begin to Emerge from a Cloud of Hype

Developers try to overcome a multitude of technical challenges before vehicles drive on their own

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#automobiles, #technology, #transportation

Ferries in Alaska. Rail in Oregon. States Dream Big on Infrastructure Funds.

The infrastructure bill could reshape priorities across the country, jump-starting critical projects that stalled over funding. These are some of the possibilities.

#area-planning-and-renewal, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #bridges-and-tunnels, #infrastructure-public-works, #roads-and-traffic, #states-us, #transit-systems, #transportation, #transportation-department-us, #united-states-politics-and-government

GM details the motors that will power its electric Hummer and other EVs

General Motors has spent a lot of time recently talking up the capabilities of its upcoming Ultium battery technology but has said significantly less so about the motors those cells will power. That changed on Tuesday when the company detailed its new Ultium Drive motors. With today’s announcement, the series consists of three different models: a 180 kW front-drive model, a 255 kW rear- and front-drive variant and a 62 kW all-wheel drive assist motor. The first two models are permanent magnet motors GM designed in such a way so as to try and reduce its dependence on heavy rare metals.

The company didn’t speak to the specific torque and power density characters of each motor but claimed they should deliver “excellent” performance on those fronts. It also revealed the 2022 Hummer EV will feature three of the 255 kW models. GM claims they will enable the vehicle to produce a combined 11,500 ft/lb of torque and accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in approximately three seconds.

GM says its engineers designed the motors with scalability in mind. Each one can be made using similar tools and manufacturing techniques. It also found a way to integrate components like the power inverter directly into the motors, a feat the company said should reduce costs and simplify manufacturing.

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

#column, #electric-vehicle, #ev, #gm, #hummer, #tc, #tceng, #transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audi Q4 e-tron

Image Credits: Screenshot/Audi

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

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

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

 

 

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

Just raises $8M in its effort to beat Root at the car insurance game

Just Insure, a pay-per-mile insurance technology company, has raised $8 million in a funding round. 

CrossCut Ventures, ManchesterStory and Western Technology Investments co-led the investment, which brings its total raised to $15.3 million since its January 2019 inception.

Los Angeles-based Just says it uses telematics “to reward safe drivers and reduce insurer bias” by looking at factors such as how, when and where customers drive, rather than factors such as ZIP code or marital status as most traditional insurers do. Or put more simply, it charges customers only for miles driven and its rates vary based on driving behavior. This way, Just says it’s able to offer lower rates for “safer drivers,” and it claims to save its customers around 40% from their “previous auto insurance company.” For now, it’s only available in Arizona, although the company plans to expand to other markets such as Texas, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Georgia.

Image Credits: Just Insure

Of course, Just is not the first company to offer personalized auto insurance. There’s Metromile, which launched its personalized pay-per-mile auto insurance in 2012. And there’s also Root Insurance, an Ohio-based car insurance startup that uses smartphone technology to understand individual driver behavior. Although there are similarities between Root and Just, there are also distinct differences, according to founder and CEO Robert Smithson.

Root charges customers a monthly fee, and when policies are renewed, the rate is subject to change based on driving behavior. Just has a similar model. If its drivers exhibits safe driving behavior, their rates can fall. On the other hand, if they exhibit dangerous behavior, their rates can rise. But unlike Root, Smithson said, Just only charges its “liability only” customers for miles driven. There is no monthly fee. For “full cover” customers, Just also includes a “small daily charge” to reflect the risk that someone could steal their car. For its part, MetroMile charges customers a base rate plus a per mile rate. Neither rate are affected by how a person drives, notes Smithson.

“The [Just] per mile price that a customer gets can change every month. This means we’re able to rapidly reward safe drivers with lower rates, and to increase them for those who drive less well,” Smithson said. “This rapid feedback loop encourages people to make smarter driving decisions. And it means that our customers have fewer accidents, and we do better. ”

In 2020, Root had a direct loss ratio of 82%. Just’s direct loss ratio is 65.8% year to date so far. But of course, it has far fewer customers and is only serving one market. Still, the company says that it has already achieved underwriting profitability in terms of what portion of premium to it pays out in claims.

Also, with so many people shifting to working from home over the last year, Just says it has seen increased demand this year. It issued over 1,000 new policies in the second quarter, up “tenfold” compared to the same period in 2020. The startup said during that same time, its revenue climbed 1,400% compared to the second quarter of 2020

“People are simply driving less as a result of increased work-from-home rates, and this isn’t changing anytime soon,” Smithson said. “Our approach enables us to offer customers rates that are truly reflective of their driving.”

The company likens its user experience to that of a prepaid phone card. Just customers can “load up” their account for $30 for minimum liability-only coverage and $75 for full coverage to start driving. The company’s insurance policy is for 30 days. So as customers drive, their balance declines. Every 30 days, the company changes each customer’s price as it gathers more data about their driving habits.

It’s an approach that Matt Kinley, co-founder and managing partner at ManchesterStory, had never before seen.

“It is more fair, affordable and customized across the board, and unique because the company offers customers rates that are actually reflective of their driving, which rewards safe drivers with lower insurance premiums,” he said.

The company plans to use its new capital in part to do some hiring — it currently has a staff of 35 — and scale its product offering. It is also planning to launch beyond Arizona into neighboring states. In particular, Smithson said the startup is “keen” to launch in Texas.

#apps, #crosscut-ventures, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #insurance-technology, #insurtech, #just, #los-angeles, #manchesterstory, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #transportation, #venture-capital, #western-technology-investments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Bear Capital raises $150M to fund climate, energy and infrastructure tech

Blue Bear Capital has raised a new $150 million fund that will be used to find and invest in startups developing technology aimed at speeding up the adoption and industrialization of renewable energy.

This is the venture firm’s second fund, which it says is oversubscribed. Blue Bear has already backed nine new companies since 2020. The firm said the fresh cash will be used to fund digital technologies “making an outsized impact” in markets including wind, solar, the electric grid, EV infrastructure, transportation and energy-intensive industries.

“Trillions of dollars will be spent to scale renewable energy, modernize infrastructure and secure sustainable supply chains,” Blue Bear partner Ernst Sack said in a statement. “Meanwhile, artificial intelligence is redefining how data is captured, decisions are mad and relationships are built all around us. Where these two forces converge — applying the power of AI-enabled technologies to the immense challenges of the energy transition — is where Blue Bear sees the greatest investment and impact opportunity of our lifetimes.”

Blue Bear has a two-fold investment strategy. The firm’s investors look for those that “nail a vertical,” which is code for startups that have developed Software as a Service solutions that help industries address operational bottlenecks and handle niche use cases. Blue Bear also looks for startups that have developed software that can scale horizontally across many markets.

The portfolio companies in Blue Bear’s “nail a vertical” bucket include FreeWire Technologies, which developed a suite of mobile EV charging products and Omnidian, a distributed solar asset management company. Horizontal scale companies that BlueBear has backed include Urbint, which is focused on infrastructure safety and Demex, a climate and weather risk management company.

As with Blue Bear’s first fund, this one is aimed at helping early-stage companies scale — and not just by investing capital. The VC touts the expertise of its partners, who have decades of experience in sustainable investments and hands-on work in climate, policy, corporate venture, cloud computing and other related technologies.

“As specialists we believe in a high conviction and relatively concentrated approach to portfolio construction,” said Blue Bear partner Vaughn Blake in a statement, adding that the firm select companies with long-term partnership in mind. Blake also said the firm avoids the high-volume approach to venture, where a handful of companies are expected to make up a fund’s returns while the bulk are left to fall away.”

Investors in Blue Bear’s fund include AIMS Imprint of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the McKnight Foundation, as well as leadership from other private equity firms and energy companies. Advisory Board members include First Reserve President Alex Krueger, former NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, and former BP Chairman and CEO Lord John Browne.  

#artificial-intelligence, #blue-bear-capital, #climate-tech, #greentech, #tc, #transportation, #venture-capital

MIT study finds Tesla drivers become inattentive when Autopilot is activated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micromobbin’

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

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

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

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

Bird launches its shared e-bike in San Diego

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

Brooklyn Bridge gets a dedicated bike lane

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

Compact, foldable and made in Japan

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

Tax break for e-bikes

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

The latest e-bikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other deals that got my attention this week …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

Let’s dig into the news of the week …

Autonomous vehicles

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

Batteries

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

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

Electric vehicles

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

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

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

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

People news

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

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

Misc. bits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#asia, #automotive, #tc, #transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stakeholder collaboration

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

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

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

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

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

An opportunity to fully engage technologies we already have

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

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

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

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

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

Behavior change

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

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

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

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

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

Elon Musk praises Chinese automakers amidst regulatory scrutiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryder to build logistics network with autonomous trucking company Embark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryder to build logistics network with autonomous trucking company Embark

Image Credits: Embark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM extends Chevy Bolt EV production shutdown through mid-October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucid Air snags the longest range EV title, surpassing Tesla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gogoro will go public on Nasdaq after $2.35B SPAC deal

Gogoro is going public. The company, which is best known for its electric Smartscooters and swappable battery infrastructure, announced today it will list on Nasdaq through a merger with Poema Global, a SPAC affiliated with Princeville Capital. The deal sets Gogoro’s enterprise valuation at $2.35 billion and is targeted to close in the first quarter of 2022. The combined company will be known as Gogoro Inc and trade under the symbol GGR.

Assuming no redemptions, Gogoro anticipates making $550 million in proceeds, including an oversubscribed PIPE (private investment in public equity) of over $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.

The capital will be used on Gogoro’s expansion in China, India and Southeast Asia and further development of its tech ecosystem.

Founded ten years ago in Taiwan, Gogoro’s technology includes smart swappable batteries and their charging infrastructure and cloud software that monitors the condition and performance of vehicles and batteries. Apart from its own brands, including Smartscooters and Eeyo electric bikes, Gogoro also makes its platform available through its Powered by Gogoro Network (PBGN) program, which enables partners to create vehicles that use Gogoro’s batteries and swapping stations.

Gogoro’s SPAC deal comes a few months after it announced major partnerships in China and India. In China, it is working with Yadea and DCJ to build a battery-swapping network, and in India, Hero MotoCorp, one of the world’s largest two-wheel vehicle makers, will launch scooters based on Gogoro’s tech. It also has deals with manufacturers like Yamaha, Suzuki, AeonMotor, PGO and CMC eMOVING.

With these partnerships in place, “we really now need to take our company to the next level,” founder and chief executive officer Horace Luke told TechCrunch. 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,” he said.

One of the reasons Gogoro decided to work with Poema is because “their thesis is quite aligned with ours,” said Bruce Aitken, Gogoro’s chief financial officer. “They have, for example, a sustainability fund, so our passion for green and sustainability merges well with that.”

Gogoro says that in less than five years, it has accumulated more than $1 billion in revenue and more than 400,000 subscribers for its battery swapping infrastructure. The company will launch its China pilot program in Hangzhou in the fourth-quarter of this year, followed by about six more cities next year. In India, Hero MotoCorp is currently developing its first Gogoro-powered vehicle and will begin deploying its battery-swapping infrastructure in New Delhi in 2022.

“We see the demand in China as a lot bigger than we first anticipated, so that’s all good news for us, and that’s one of the fundamental reasons why we need to go public because we need to raise the capital and resources needed for us to actually contribute in a big way to these markets,” said Luke.

When asked if Gogoro is planning to strike a similar partnership with GoTo to expand into Southeast Asia, Luke said the “important thing is to recognize that Southeast Asia is the third-largest market outside of China and India for two-wheelers. Gogoro has always had the vision to go after these big markets. GoTo, being a great success in Indonesia, their investment in Gogoro will start conversations, but there isn’t anything to announce at this point other than that they’re joining the PIPE.”

In a press statement, Poema Global CEO Homer Sun said, “We believe the technology differentiation Gogoro has developed in combination with the world-class partnerships it has forged will drive significant growth opportunities in the two largest two-wheeler markets in the world. We are committed with working alongside Gogoro’s outstanding management team to support its geographic expansion plans and its transition to a Nasdaq-listed company.”

 

#asia, #batteries, #china, #fundings-exits, #gogoro, #india, #indonesia, #mobility, #poema-global, #scooters, #southeast-asia, #spac, #startups, #taiwan, #tc, #transportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walmart to launch autonomous delivery service with Ford and Argo AI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skype alumni head to court in a battle over Starship Technologies and Wire

A new lawsuit threatens a decades-long collaboration that brought Skype, robot delivery startup Starship Technologies and encrypted enterprise messaging service Wire into the world.

TechCrunch has learned that Mark Dyne, one of Skype’s founding investors, is suing billionaire Skype co-founder Janus Friis in California’s Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles for unlawful conspiracy in his business dealings.

The lawsuit is complex, with plenty of twists, turns and allegations. The heart of the dispute is whether Dyne and his partners, who had managed some of Friis’s investments, were working for — or simply with — the Skype co-founder when they organized a rescue package for Wire in 2019.

At stake is who gets to control Wire and the financial return each side gets from Starship.

Dyne and his investor partners accuse Friis of illegally replacing one of them as a director of a general partnership that manages Wire, and conspiring to reduce their interest in Starship Technologies. Dyne and his partners also allege (and dismiss) accusations by Friis that they had fiduciary duties to him when they found funding for and restructured Wire.

“[Friis] unfortunately believes he is always entitled to have what he wants, can force others to do what he wants, and can re-write history (and agreements) whenever it suits his present purpose,” reads the complaint, filed in July, but not previously reported.

Founding stories

Dyne was a key player in the history of Skype, as one of its original investors and its first board member. He remained on the board through its sale to eBay for more than $2.6 billion in 2005, and was part of the group that bought Skype from eBay in 2009. He was still on the board when it was eventually sold to Microsoft in 2011.

Dyne and Friis worked together extensively in the years after Skype. Dyne was an investor and board member of Friis’s ill-fated music streaming service Rdio, which filed for bankruptcy in 2015. Like Friis, he also served as a director of the general partners of the Iconical investment funds that funded Wire to the tune of more than $64.5 million between 2013 and 2018, according to the lawsuit.

Wire, launched by ex-Skype and Microsoft engineers, offers secure end-to-end encrypted messaging, file sharing, voice and video calls. Friis hoped Wire would become “the new Skype,” according to the lawsuit, but became disenchanted after it failed to scale quickly, and then pivoted to enterprise. Five years after its launch, Wire had acquired only about 150,000 users, all of whom were non-revenue generating, the lawsuit notes, and was burning through $8 to $10 million a year.

“Friis has a history of abandoning companies when they did not achieve their early objectives in his sole opinion,” the lawsuit reads. In addition, it states, Friis himself was highly involved with the design of the robots, the logo and the software app at Starship Technologies.

A turning point

At this point, the men were apparently still friends. They were working on a new venture referred to in the lawsuit only as “Project X,” and in 2017, Friis even donated $500,000 to Dyne’s charitable foundation.

In late 2018, the lawsuit says that Friis cut off the flow of cash from Wire’s loan facility and sent a text message to Dyne, reading: “Want to make sure we are ready to put everything into a Foundation if all else fails.” Wire would become free open source software, with the foundation responsible for setting terms for open source licenses. Friis envisioned himself, Wire’s CTO Alan Duric and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales sitting on its board.

But Dyne and his partners had a different idea. In early 2019, when Wire was only days away from shutting down, according to the lawsuit, Dyne and his partners quickly pulled together an $8 million Series A including them, Marbruck Investments and Wire’s own executive management team.

Friis told others that Dyne had “pulled off a miracle” in finding this financing, states the lawsuit. Although the Iconical funds would remain Wire’s single-largest shareholder, the transaction would, apparently, remove the company from Friis’s direct control.

The lawsuit says that following the round, Friis called Duric “a completely f**king disaster” and hastened to sever all ties with the company. It alleges he missed board meetings and did not speak to Morten Brøgger, Wire’s CEO, for nearly a year and a half.

That seems to have changed this year, following Wire’s $21 million Series B round. In May, Friis insisted that Wire be redomiciled in Germany, the lawsuit states: “In hindsight, this was clearly part of Friis’s undisclosed plan to reacquire control of Wire.”

In a Zoom (not Skype or Wire) call in October, says the lawsuit, Friis alleged that if the terms of the Wire transaction had been made clear to him and he had been properly advised, he would have never agreed to it, blaming Dyne and his partners. He also replaced one of them as a director and stalled meetings, it says.

The fight over Starship

Nor are Friis’s actions limited to Wire, according to the lawsuit. It says that Friis was always vexed that he did not have a controlling interest in the sidewalk robot delivery startup Starship, which was structured as a 50/50 deal with another Skype alumnus, Ahti Heinla. The lawsuit includes a screengrab of a text from Friis to Dyne suggesting if that structure could be remedied “in a way that was set in stone, one would easily pay [$]10-15 million for it.”

The lawsuit alleges that Friis conspired with one of his companies to inaccurately claim Starship as a “controlled portfolio company” of one of the Iconical funds. This would inflate his own interest in it at the expense of Dyne and his partners “to the point where [our] interest is no longer a financeable asset in the secondary markets,” it says. “Friis will say or do anything in order to suit his present fiction, no matter the cost to others.”

Dyne did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Friis’ legal team filed a motion to quash the lawsuit on Friday, on the grounds that Friis — a Danish citizen living in London — is not subject to the court’s jurisdiction.

The motion stated: “More than a decade ago, Dyne [and partner] recognized they could profit handsomely if they hitched their wagon to Friis. And over the ensuing years, while extracting millions of dollars’ worth of fees and profit interests, they pretended they were acting as Friis’s and his entities’ trusted fiduciaries overseeing and managing Friis’s various venture capital pursuits. But in reality… Plaintiffs had a single-minded focus of advancing their own commercial interests at the expense of Friis.”

Friis’s lawyers also provided TechCrunch with the following statement: “Dyne’s defective lawsuit is a defensive reaction to questions raised regarding his and his team’s conduct… Although we believe that the allegations in the complaint are irresponsible, incomplete, and without merit, they also effectively concede that Dyne and his team breached fiduciary duties over their decade-plus relationship as trusted advisers. We look forward to fully addressing these matters in litigation.”

The outcome of this lawsuit, which is still in its early days, is likely to have little immediate impact on the operations of either Starship, which has made over 1.5 million autonomous deliveries and recently snagged ex-Google Loon chief Alastair Westgarth as its CEO, or Wire, which completed its pivot to enterprise customers and enjoyed some success during the pandemic.

However, it does spell the end of a dream team that has created some of the most interesting and influential startups of the 21st century so far.

#finance, #janus-friis, #lawsuit, #mark-dyne, #microsoft, #robotics, #skype, #starship-technologies, #transportation, #venture-capital, #wire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dutch court finds Uber drivers are employees

Uber has lost another legal challenge in Europe over the employment status of drivers: The Court of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, has ruled that drivers for Uber are employed, rather than self employed contractors.

The court also found drivers are covered by an existing collective labor agreement in the country — which pertains to taxi drivers — meaning Uber faces increased costs to comply with the agreement which sets pay requirements and covers benefits like sick pay. (And it may be liable for paying driver back pay in some cases.)

The court also ordered Uber to pay €50,000 in costs.

The ride hailing giant has some 4,000 drivers working on its platform in the Dutch capital.

The Amsterdam court rejected Uber’s customary defence that it’s just a technology platform that connects passengers with taxi service providers — finding instead that drivers are only self employed ‘on paper’.

The judges highlighted the nature of the service being provided by drivers and the fact Uber exerts controls over how they can work and earn through its app and algorithms.

Europe’s top court already ruled back in 2017 that Uber is a transport provider and must comply with local transport laws — so you’d be forgiven for deja vu.

The Dutch lawsuit was filed by the national trade union center, FNV, last year — with the hearing kicking off at the end of June.

In a statement today, the FNV’s VP, Zakaria Boufangacha, said: “This statement shows what we have been saying for years: Uber is an employer and the drivers are employees, so Uber must adhere to the collective labor agreement for Taxi Transport. It is also a signal to The Hague that these types of constructions are illegal and that the law must therefore be enforced.”

Uber has been contacted for a response to the ruling.

At the time of writing the company had not responded — but, per Reuters, Uber said it intends to appeal and “has no plans to employ drivers in the Netherlands”.

In the UK, Uber lost a string of tribunal rulings over its employment classification over a number of years — going on to lose in front of the UK supreme court this February.

Following that Uber said it would treat drivers in the UK as workers, although disputes remain (such as over its definition of working time). In May, Uber also said it would recognize a UK trade union for the first time.

Elsewhere in Europe, however, the company continues to fight employment lawsuits — and to lobby European Union lawmakers to deregulate platform work…

The EU has said it wants to find a way to improve platform work. However it’s not yet clear what any pan-EU ‘reform’ may look like. 

The Commission has been contacted with questions on its platform work initiative.

“Digital labour platforms are clearly worried, evident through investing heavily on their lobbying power and throwing more resources on the EU level. These companies — including Uber of course — have also recently come together to create a new funding lobby group that specifically targeting to influence policies on platform work,” said Jill Toh, a PhD researcher in data rights at the University of Amsterdam, talking to TechCrunch after the Amsterdam ruling.

“We saw how Uber wielded and amended laws in their Prop 22 campaign in California, and together with other companies in Europe, they’re attempting to do so again. It’s disheartening to see that the Commission in its two consultations on platform worker regulation has only been talking to tech companies and has held no meetings with trade unions or other platform work representatives.”

“All of this is incredibly problematic and concerning especially if the EC consultations result in a directive on platform work. Overall, the wins in the courts are important for workers, but there remains the issue of corporate power and influence in Brussels, as well as the lack of public enforcement to these court decisions,” she added.

#amsterdam, #ec, #europe, #european-union, #gig-economy, #labor, #netherlands, #platform-worker-rights, #tc, #transportation, #uber