Volkswagen’s electric ID.4 was already good—does AWD change that?

CHATTANOOGA, TENN.—Volkswagen in 2021 seems like a rather different company than Volkswagen circa 2015. The company has transformed itself in the wake of dieselgate, and it’s found forgiveness in the arms of American consumers as evidenced by skyrocketing SUV sales. VW has also thrown itself wholeheartedly into electrification, applying the approach of a highly modular platform that can be used to build a range of battery electric vehicles including hatchbacks considered too small for the US and that electric bus everyone loves so much.

In North America, the ID.4 is the tip of the electric spear, an electric crossover that’s pitched perfectly at our automotive mode du jour. We’ve already driven the ID.4 a couple of times: briefly as a pre-production prototype, then for a couple of days on home turf. It wasn’t particularly flashy, and there were a couple of things that needed tweaking. Yet, overall, we were impressed. (And we weren’t alone.)

At launch, the ID.4 was only available in a single configuration: an 82 kWh (gross, 77 kWh useable) lithium-ion battery powering a 201 hp (150 kW), 229 lb-ft (310 Nm) permanent magnet synchronous electric motor at the rear axle. But American car buyers like power, and they love all-wheel drive (for potentially misguided reasons about traction and grip, but that’s neither here nor there).

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#battery-electric-vehicle, #bev, #cars, #chattanooga, #dieselgate, #electric-crossover, #electric-vehicle, #features, #meb, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-id-4

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

The Station: Lyft, Uber take action in Texas, Van Moof charges up with capital, an eVTOL SPAC deal gets knocked

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.

Before you jump into the transportation news of the week, a bit of TechCrunch company news!

Private equity firm Apollo Global Management completed its acquisition of Yahoo (formerly known as Verizon Media Group, itself formerly known as Oath) from Verizon. The deal is worth $5 billion, with $4.25 billion in cash, plus preferred interests of $750 million. Verizon will be retaining 10% of the newly rebranded company. The group, aside from Yahoo properties like Mail, Sports and Finance, includes TechCrunch, AOL, Engadget and interactive media brand, RYOT. All told, the umbrella brand encompasses around 900 million monthly active users globally and is currently the third-largest internet property, per Apollo’s figures.

Looking ahead: be on the lookout for automotive and tech news coming out of IAA Mobility in Munich this week. A bit of news that broke Sunday included Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and autonomous vehicle technology company Argo AI unveiling the first version of the ID Buzz AD. Mercedes also had a busy day in the world of EVs.

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’

You might have noticed that the micromobbin’ section wasn’t featured in last week’s newsletter. Well, Rebecca Bellan is making up for that with an extra long write up this week. Take it away Rebecca.

Since Auckland, New Zealand is back in a massive lockdown, the highlight of my week has been getting to write about and, and thus relive, my test of the electric utility bike built by Kiwi company Ubco. If any other electric micro-vehicle companies want to send me a tester and brighten my day, I’m always open.

Tl;dr: the Ubco bike looks like a dirt bike and rides like a moped and absolutely shreds. Pros: Smooth ride, good battery life and can carry a lot of weight and accessories. Cons: A bit on the pricey side, regenerative brakes think they know what’s best for me when I’m speeding downhill and a touchy keyfob.

Last-mile deliveries

If you’re one of those smart lazy people who orders meal kits through the likes of HelloFresh or Blue Apron, you’ve probably interacted with AxleHire without knowing it. That’s about to change.

The last-mile logistics provider announced this week that it would be expanding two pilot programs to bring cool tech to the delivery scene. Over the past year or so, the company’s been partnering with URB-E and using its network of collapsible containers strapped onto e-bikes to make deliveries in NYC, as well as Tortoise’s remotely controlled adorable delivery bots in LA. Now, those programs, which helped AxleHire reduce emissions and beat traffic, are going national.

An Indian empire arises

Ola Electric, the electric scooter manufacturing arm of ride-hailing giant Ola, is in talks to raise between $250 million to $500 million in new financing as it looks to scale its business in the South Asian market.

Falcon Edge Capital, which is potentially leading the round, values the company between $2.75 billion and $3.5 billion, which is up $1 billion from its previous 2019 raise. Side note: Ola, the initial parent firm of Ola Electric, is currently looking to file for an initial public offering.

Big box bike sales

Best Buy has a fresh lineup of electric vehicles that are available online now and coming to select stores in October, including many we’ve written about here, like the Unagi scooter and the new Bird bike. Other top names include Segway-Ninebot, SUPER73 and SWFT.

Speaking of new swag, VAAST Bikes has just revealed the E/1, the latest in the company’s sustainable bike range. The urban e-bike boasts a top notch suspension system that separates pedaling from suspension movement for a more comfortable ride, no matter how much cargo you’re packing. A step-through frame provides a low center of gravity, making it an easy enough bike to mount for riders of all ages and shapes and sizes. The E/1 will be available to purchase in the U.S., U.K. and European markets starting October, and it costs anywhere from $7,499 to $9,999.

Foldable e-bike maker Fiido has raised over $1 million on Indiegogo to fund the production and delivery of its new Fiido X. It’s got a sweet-looking minimalist design with a light and sturdy body, as well as improved pedal-assist and cycling control. Fiido says this bike is the world’s first folding e-bike with a built-in seat pole that transmits battery power. It’s got a 417.6Wh ternary lithium battery, which means when it’s in “moped mode” the range is over 130 kilometers, or around 81 miles. Not bad at all. Price is anywhere from $1,098 to $1,601 at the moment.

Swedish electric motorbike manufacturer Cake also recently released a new super lightweight e-moped that’s built for city utility riding, but can probably handle some off-road fun. The Makka weighs about 132 pounds and comes in two forms: The Makka Range, at $3,500, which is available only in Europe, has a lower maximum speed of 15 miles per hour and a range of up to 35 miles. The Makka Flex, which is available in Europe and the U.S., costs $3,800 and can hit top speeds of 28 miles per hour. The range of this vehicle is slightly less, at 30 miles.

National Drive Electric Week (sans cars)

This is the first National Drive Electric Week that has nothing to do with cars! Fabulous. At this free, two-part expert webinar, a range of experts will talk about how to get moving on two e-wheels and discuss whether or not cars are overrated (they are). Find out how policymakers and advocates are thinking about how we can get electric micromobility and public transit to dominate the roads, rather than cars, even electric ones. The event takes place Saturday, September 25 from 11am to 1pm PST on Zoom. You can register here.

Van Moof’s big raise

VanMoof, the Amsterdam-based startup, raised a $128 million Series C funding round, fund it plans to use in its bid to become the world’s leading e-bike brand. It’s tactic, scale faster than the rest.

Asia-based private equity firm Hillhouse Investment led the round, with Gillian Tans, the former CEO of Booking.com, also participating. Some existing investors also put some more money on the table, such as Norwest Venture Partners, Felix Capital, Balderton Capital and TriplePoint Capital.

The Series C represents a big jump compared to the company’s Series B. Last year, VanMoof raised a $40 million Series B. The startup has raised $182 million in total.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

This week, I want to focus on one deal that appears to be at risk.

Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., an influential shareholder adviser, issued a report this week recommending that investors in Ken Moelis’s Atlas Crest Investment Corp. should vote against a merger with Archer Aviation. The adviser said it would be better for investors if they redeemed their holdings in the blank-check company for cash.

If investors take that advice, it could derail the proposed merger between Atlas Crest and Archer, a startup that is developing vertical take-off and landing electric aircraft. ISS argues that Archer’s legal battle with Wisk Aero puts the company at risk. The firm also points to the falling valuation of the combined company.

As Bloomberg noted this week, ISS has targeted other SPAC deals involving eVTOL companies. ISS opposed the merger between Reinvent Technology Partners and Joby Aviation. Shareholders ignored ISS and vote to approve the merger. ISS also advised against investing in Qell Acquisition Corp.’s merger with Lililum GmbH. That deal is still pending.

While ISS seems to have a general distaste for eVTOL SPACs, the Archer deal is particularly sticky due to its current legal wrangling with Wisk Aero. For those who haven’t been following: Wisk Aero, the air mobility company born out of a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing, filed a lawsuit in April against Archer Aviation alleging patent infringement and trade secret misappropriation.

Archer didn’t scuttle into a corner. The company countersued in a lawsuit seeking $1 billion in damages from Wisk Aero.

Investors won’t be able to take the wait-and-see approach. The vote to approve the SPAC merger will be held long before this legal fight is resolved.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Carsome Group, the Malaysian-based online marketplace for buying and selling used cars, raised $170 million from investors, including from semiconductor maker MediaTek, investment company Catcha Group and Malaysian government fund Penjana Kapital, Forbes reported. The company’s post-funding valuation is $1.3 billion.

Cox Automotive acquired Oklahoma City-based Spiers New Technologies (SNT), a business that provides repair, remanufacturing, refurbishing and repurposing services for EV battery packs. The two companies did not disclose the terms of the deal.

Foretellix, a company that has developed a platform to verify and validate automated driving systems, raised $32 million in a Series B funding round led by MoreTech Ventures, with participation from several strategic investors, including Volvo Group, Nationwide, NI and Japan-Israel Ventures. Previous investors 83North Ventures, Jump Capital, OurCrowd and NextGear also participated. The company, founded in 2018, has raised more than $50 million to date.

Gatik AI, an autonomous vehicle startup focused on middle-mile logistics, announced it’s expanding into Texas — its fourth market — with a fresh bundle of capital. Gatik said it has raised $85 million in a Series B round led by new investor Koch Disruptive Technologies, the venture arm of Koch Industries. Existing investors Innovation Endeavours, Wittington Ventures, FM Capital, Dynamo Ventures, Trucks VC, Intact Ventures and others also participated. Gatik has raised $114.5 million to date.

HAAS Alert, a SaaS company that provides real-time automotive collision prevention for public safety and roadway fleets, raised $5 million in a seed funding round led by R^2 and Blu Ventures and joined by TechNexus, Stacked Capital, Urban Us, Techstars, Ride Ventures and Gramercy Fund. The company says it will use the funds to scale sales and outreach efforts and prioritize R&D with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) technology partnerships.

Ideanomics, a fintech and electric mobility firm based in New York, acquired commercial electric vehicle manufacturer Via Motors in an all-stock deal valued at $450 million.

Iconiq Motors, a Chinese electric vehicle firm, is considering going public in the U.S. through a merger with a blank-check company, Bloomberg reported. The startup is working with an adviser on a potential deal that could value the combined company at about $4 billion, according to one source cited by the media outlet.

Kevala, the startup that collects and analyzes energy grid infrastructure data for utility companies, renewable energy providers, EV charging companies, regulators and other energy industry stakeholders, raised $21 million in a Series A round. The company says it will use the funds to grow its team from 60 employees to around 100 by the end of 2021 and increase the deployment of its grid analytics tools.

Sunday, an insurtech startup based in Bangkok, raised a $45 million in a Series B round that included investment from Tencent, SCB 10X, Vertex Growth, Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia & India, Quona Capital, Aflac Ventures and Z Venture Capital. The company says the round was oversubscribed, and that it doubled its revenue growth in 2020.

Yandex, the Russian internet giant that also operates a ride-haling company, acquired Uber’s stake in its Self-Driving Group (SDG), as well as Uber’s indirect interest in Yandex.Eats, Yandex.Lavka and Yandex.Delivery. The total cost of the deal came to $1 billion, giving the Russian company 100% ownership over all four businesses.

Zeekr, the electric vehicle brand by Geely, raised $500 million in its first external funding from a list of investors, including Intel Capital, battery maker CATL and online entertainment firm Bilibili. The round puts Zeekr’s valuation at aboout $9 billion, Reuters reported.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Welcome back to policy corner! Let’s talk safety. ​​Traffic deaths spiked in the first quarter of this year, according to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. The agency estimated that there was a 10 percent increase in fatalities from previous projections, finding that 8,730 people died in motor traffic accidents, up from the 7,900 projected. Oddly, deaths spiked even though there was an overall decrease in the number of people on the road.

“We must address the tragic loss of life we saw on the roads in 2020 by taking a transformational and collaborative approach to safety,” NHTSA’s acting administrator, Steven Cliff, said in a statement. “Everyone — including those who design, operate, build and use the road system — shares responsibility for road safety.”

NHTSA is arguably starting to come up against some of the greatest challenges in the agency’s history, as technological development has brought about a greater degree of driving autonomy and driver assistance systems.

The forthcoming investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot could be a watershed moment for ADAS safety standards. If you aren’t caught up: NHTSA opened an investigation into 11 instances of a Tesla crashing into a parked emergency vehicle, and just added another crash to its investigation earlier this week. In an 11-page letter to the electric vehicle maker, NHTSA gave the company until October 22 to provide extensive data on any hardware and software related to Tesla’s Level 2 capabilities (including Autopilot).

The probe comes as more and more groups — including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, as well as the National Traffic Safety Board — call on NHTSA to exercise greater authority over regulating ADAS systems. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this investigation as it unfolds in the coming months.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Motional revealed the first images of its planned robotaxi, a Hyundai all-electric Ioniq 5 SUV that will be the centerpiece of a driverless ride-hailing service the company wants customers to be able to access starting in 2023 through the Lyft app.

The purpose-built vehicle, which will be assembled by Hyundai, is integrated with Motional’s autonomous vehicle technology, including a suite of more than 30 sensors including lidar, radar and cameras that can be seen throughout the interior and exterior. That sensing system provides 360 degrees of vision, and the ability to see up to 300 meters away, according to Motional.

Electric vehicles

ElectraMeccanica Vehicles Corp. unveiled a “cargo” version of its flagship three-wheeled, single-occupant, all-electric SOLO at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in California.

Power Global, a two-year-old startup, wants to disrupt the auto rickshaw market by offering a retrofit kit for diesel-powered vehicles and swappable battery pack to transition the more common lead-acid batteries to lithium-ion.

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

Siemens said it will expand its U.S. manufacturing operations to support electric vehicle infrastructure. Specifically, the company plans to open a third facility to its VersiCharge Level 2 AC series product line of commercial and residential EV chargers. The additional facility, which is expected to come online in early 2022, will allow Siemens to manufacture more than 1 million electric vehicle chargers for the United States over the next four years.

TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher digs into YASA, the British electric motor startup that Mercedes-Benz acquired back in July The company, founded in 2009 after spinning out of Oxford University, developed an ‘axial-flux’ motor. YASA will now develop ultra-high-performance electric motors for Mercedes-Benz’s AMG.EA electric-only platform.

Wallbox, an electric vehicle charging company, has selected Arlington, Texas as the location of its first U.S. manufacturing facility. Production at the 130,000-square-foot plant is expected to start as early as June 2022. Production lines for its AC chargers lines, DC bidirectional charger, and DC fast charger for public use, are anticipated to follow in the first half of 2023. Wallbox said it expects to manufacture a total of 290,000 units annually in this facility by 2027 and reach its full capacity of 500,000 units by 2030.

Gig economy

DoorDash workers in California protested outside of the home of DoorDash CEO Tony Xu in response to a recent California superior court judge ruling calling 2020’s Proposition 22 unconstitutional. Prop 22, which was passed last November in California, would allow app-based companies like DoorDash, Uber and Lyft to continue classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

The group of about 50 DoorDash workers who are affiliated with advocacy groups We Drive Progress and Gig Workers Rising  demanded that DoorDash provide transparency for tips and 120% of minimum wage or around $17 per hour, stop unfair deactivations and provide free personal protective equipment, as well as adequate pay for car and equipment sanitizing.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey gave a coalition of app-based service providers that includes Uber and Lyft the go-ahead to start collecting signatures needed to put a proposed ballot measure before voters that would define drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. Backers of the initiative, which is essentially a MA version of Proposition 22, would need to gather tens of thousands of signatures for the measure to make it to the November 2022 ballot.

Uber and Lyft separately announced plans to cover the legal fees of drivers using their ride-hailing apps who are sued under Texas’s new abortion law.

The new law bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is typically around six weeks, and gives any individual the right to sue anyone who aids or abets an abortion. That means ride-hailing app drivers, who might transport a woman to a clinic, can be sued.

Uber CEO Dara Khoswarshari and Lyft CEO Logan Green both took to Twitter express their opposition to the new law and announce their support to drivers.

“TX SB8 threatens to punish drivers for getting people where they need to go– especially women exercising their right to choose,” Green wrote on Twitter. “@Lyft has created a Driver Legal Defense Fund to cover 100% of legal fees for drivers sued under SB8 while driving on our platform.

Khosrowshahi retweeted Green’s tweet and made the same commitment. “Right on @logangreen – drivers shouldn’t be put at risk for getting people where they want to go. Team @Uber is in too and will cover legal fees in the same way. Thanks for the push.”

Green and Khosrowshahi are among the few CEOs (a list that includes Austin-based Bumble and Dallas-based Match Group) with operations in Texas that have come out in strong opposition to law.

In-car tech

GM announced it will idle nearly all its assembly plants in North America due to the ongoing semiconductor chip shortage. The automaker is making a few strategic exceptions. Production of its profitable full-size SUVs will continue this week at its Arlington Assembly plant in Texas. The Flint Assembly facility, where it makes heavy-duty GMC and Chevy pickup trucks and Bowling Green Assembly in Kentucky, where it makes the Corvette, will also continue.

Misc. stuff

BMW Group has committed to a 50% reduction from 2019 levels in global carbon dioxide emissions during the use-phase of its vehicles by 2030, as well as a 40% reduction in emissions during the life cycle of the vehicle. These goals, including a plan to focus on the principles of a circular economy to achieve a more sustainable vehicle life cycle, will manifest in the company’s Neue Klasse platform, which should be available by 2025.

Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and husband, Chasten, announced they are parents to twins.

Buttigieg tweeted: “Chasten and I are beyond thankful for all the kind wishes since first sharing the news that we’re becoming parents. We are delighted to welcome Penelope Rose and Joseph August Buttigieg to our family.”

Nikola Corp. reached a new agreement with Bosch for its hydrogen fuel cell modules. The modules will be used to power two of Nikola’s hydrogen-fueled semi-trucks, the short-haul Nikola Tre and Nikola Two sleeper. Bosch invested at least $100 million in the hydrogen truck startup in 2019 but reduced its shares in the company the following year. Bosch also said last year it would supply fuel cells for Nikola’s European operations.

#automotive, #bmw-group, #dara-khoswarshari, #ebikes, #electric-vehicles, #gm, #lyft, #mercedes-benz, #nikola-corp, #pete-buttigieg, #ride-hailing, #rivian, #the-station, #transportation, #uber, #volkswagen, #vw-group, #yandex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The road to 2030

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China’s monopoly on LFP

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

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

Hence, China cornered the LFP market.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VW Group’s 10-year plan: A single EV platform across all its brands

VW Group CEO Herbert Diess presents VW's strategy for the next decade.

Enlarge / VW Group CEO Herbert Diess presents VW’s strategy for the next decade. (credit: Volkswagen Group)

On Tuesday, Volkswagen Group revealed its new strategy for the coming decade. Under the tagline “New Auto,” VW Group CEO Herbert Diess laid out how the company plans to increase profitability and streamline its operations by introducing a single battery electric vehicle (BEV) platform across all the group’s brands.

By 2030, VW says that it will make more money selling EVs than vehicles with internal combustion engines, and it expects mobility services and software to make significant contributions to the bottomline by then.

One platform to rule them all

VW Group has been one of the most successful pioneers of using flexible architectures across multiple brands to build a diverse array of vehicles. Currently, there are four internal combustion platforms (MQB, MLB, MSB, and MMB) and one BEV platform (MEB), with a second BEV platform called PPE coming online next year. MEB is for the volume brands VW, Seat, and Skoda, and PPE will be used by Audi and Porsche (and probably Bentley).

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#audi, #battery-electric-vehicles, #bentley, #bevs, #cars, #electric-vehicles, #porsche, #seat, #skoda, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-group

Electrify America to double number of EV chargers as wave of electric vehicles come to market

Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal, said it will double the number of its electric vehicle fast charging stations in the United States and Canada by the end of 2025.

The commitment, if successful, means 1,800 fast charging stations — or 10,000 individual chargers — will be installed and operational by that time. The vast majority (some 1,700 stations) will be installed in the United States with the remainder in Canada. This will build off of EA’s plans to have about 800 charging stations and about 3,500 individual chargers in the U.S. by the end of 2021.  As of today, Electrify America has installed 635 charging stations in the United States.

The plan is part of parent company VW Group’s announcement Monday to increase public charging infrastructure in North America, Asia and Europe. The expansion aims to increase the number of 150 and 350 kilowatt chargers, or fast chargers. VW nor EA disclosed how much money would be spent to meet this new plan. However, an EA spokesperson did confirm that the company would be spending more than the $2 billion it previously committed to invest into clean energy infrastructure over a 10-year period that kicked off in 2017.

The decision to double its charging infrastructure in North America was prompted by the rapid growth expected of electric vehicles by virtually all the auto manufacturers, according to a statement by Electrify America president and CEO Giovanni Palazzo.

The EV market was once the primary domain of Tesla, the Nissan Leaf and GM’s Chevrolet Bolt EV. And while the majority of vehicles on the road today are gas and diesel-powered, an increasing number of other EV models have, or are about, to come to market, including the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Porsche Taycan and the Cross Turismo variant, Hyundai Kona Electric, Jaguar I-Pace, Rivian R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV and the VW ID. 4.

Electrify America’s initial plan was to invest more than $2 billion over a 10-year period into clean energy infrastructure and education. Of that funding, some $800 million was earmarked for California, the largest EV market in North America. This latest boost will be used to increase chargers in established EV regions in the U.S. such as California as well as push into new states, including Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming and Vermont.

The company is also adding chargers to a stretch of highway in the upper Midwest, following similar efforts to promote cross-country travel. The subsidiary Electrify Canada will expand its network to nine provinces, including Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Electrify Canada will also add more stations to British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, the four provinces where it already has a presence.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #electrify-america, #ford-mustang-mach-e, #rivian, #tc, #tesla, #volkswagen, #vw-id-4

Volkswagen’s new business strategy puts software and autonomous driving front and center

Volkswagen will ramp up its software, mobility as a service and battery tech to stay competitive in the coming decades, as it and other automakers prepare for the largest transition in personal mobility since the invention of the car.

Laying out the company strategy Tuesday, Chief Executive Officer Herbert Diess emphasized a top-to-bottom transformation in everything from manufacturing to revenue streams. If revenue was historically driven by sales of internal combustion engine vehicles, Volkswagen CFO Arno Antlitz said the rest of the decade bring income derived not only from electric vehicle sales, but also software, autonomous driving and even ridesharing.

To that end, the company has been busy, planning six battery Gigafactories in Europe and an €800 million ($944 million) hardware platform research and development facility in West Berlin. The company’s also beefing up its in-house automotive software arm Cariad, which VW said could generate as much as €1.2 trillion ($1.4 trillion) in revenue by 2030, via subscriptions and other sales.

Volkswagen also has big plans for autonomous driving. The company wants to take a chunk of the market share from ridesharing and car rental, and it sees an integrated AV platform as the way to do it. Executives painted a vivid picture of customers being able to request a Volkswagen electric AV taxi or shuttle by the end of the decade, one that may not even include a steering wheel or driver’s seat, according to renderings shown during the presentation.

“Imagine that your grandmother or your eight-year-old son can hop in a Volkswagen cab to visit one another, whenever they want, without mom or dad behind the wheel,” Diess suggested. “You can use one of our mobility apps, and an ID Bus will pick you up and your friends.”

Personal vehicles will be powered by Cariad, which the OEM said will have “level 4 readiness” by 2025. Shared mobility vehicles, like shuttles or taxis, will also be VW-owned and operated, and run on tech developed by AV company Argo AI. Volkswagen closed a $2.6 billion investment in the startup last June.

Europe’s largest automaker anticipates its investments in MaaS will pay off: the company expects annual revenues of over $70 billion in the five largest European markets alone by 2030, Christian Senger, CTO of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said. The autonomous rideshare ID Bus, which is being tested in a pilot project in Munich, will be rolled out as a commercial service in Hamburg in 2025, followed shortly by the U.S.

In line with these estimates, the automaker anticipates BEV sales will account for 25% of sales by 2025 and 50% by 2030. ICE margins will likely come under increased pressure due to declining demand, tighter emissions regulations and comparative tax disadvantages, so Volkswagen plans to decrease its number of ICE models by 60% in Europe by 2030. Cost parity between ICE and BEV should be achieved within two to three years, Antlitz said, thanks to economies of scale and lower factory costs.

It’s an optimistic future, but one in which Volkswagen is fully confident: the company upped its profit target for 2025 to 8-9%, from 7-8%.

“Until 2030, the world of mobility will have seen the greatest transformation since the transition from horses to cars at the beginning of the 20th century,” Diess said. “The future of cars, the future of individual mobility will be bright.”

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-driving, #electric-vehicles, #transportation, #volkswagen, #vw

EU fines BMW, VW $1B for running emissions cartel since the 90s

As environmental issues really came of age in the 1990s, certain German automakers were meeting in secret groups to make sure their cars would continue to industriously contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the European Union, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, BMW and Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler have been illegally colluding to restrict competition in emission cleaning for new diesel passenger cars, essentially slowing the deployment of cleaner emissions tech. On Thursday, the EU issued fines of $1 billion (€875 million) to Volkswagen and BMW for their involvement in the emissions cartel.

“The five car manufacturers Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche possessed the technology to reduce harmful emissions beyond what was legally required under EU emission standards,” said executive VP of the EU Commission Margrethe Vestager in a statement. “But they avoided to compete on using this technology’s full potential to clean better than what is required by law. So today’s decision is about how legitimate technical cooperation went wrong. And we do not tolerate it when companies collude. It is illegal under EU Antitrust rules. Competition and innovation on managing car pollution are essential for Europe to meet our ambitious Green Deal objectives. And this decision shows that we will not hesitate to take action against all forms of cartel conduct putting in jeopardy this goal.”

All parties acknowledged their involvement and agreed to settle. Volkswagen, which owns Audi and Porsche, will have to pay around $595 million, and BMW will pay $442 million. Daimler would have had to pay around $861 million, but the company is evading fines by being the whistleblower. So we guess Daimler just gets off scot-free?

BMW made a net profit of $4.62 billion last year, and VW made about $12.2 billion and nearly $23 billion in 2019, so this fine sort of feels like a slap on the wrist. And let us remember, this is not the first time VW has gotten into an emissions scandal.

In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act to VW for intentionally adding software into its diesel engines to make it look like it was following emissions controls, when in reality its cars were actually producing far more than the legal amount.

In its action against the companies, the EU specifically homed in on the agreement reached by the companies on the sizes of tanks used for AdBlue, a solution that mixes with diesel car exhaust to neutralize harmful pollutants. The companies agreed not to compete on making cars cleaner even though they had the tech to do so.

Der Spiegel first broke the news about the cartel in 2017, and the companies set to work greenwashing. In the same year, all of the involved parties, as well as Ford Motor Company, joined forces to create a high-power charging network for EVs called Ionity. The plan was to build and operate around 400 charging stations across Europe by 2020, but it looks like Ionity only managed to install 300 across Europe, and it even significantly increased the price of a charge by 500% last year.

Earlier this week, VW’s heavy-truck business, the Traton Group, Daimler Truck and Volvo group joined up to invest nearly $593 million in a network of public charging stations for electric heavy-duty long-haul trucks and buses around Europe.

 

 

#audi, #automotive, #bmw, #daimler, #porsche, #transportation, #volkswagen

VW offloads Bugatti to Rimac to form new EV company Bugatti-Rimac

Croatian electric supercar startup Rimac Automobili is taking over Bugatti. Rimac will own a controlling 55% share in the new company, Bugatti-Rimac, with VW’s Porsche owning the remaining 45%, according to reports by the Financial Times.

“Rimac and Bugatti are a perfect match in terms of what we each bring to the table,” said founder and CEO of Rimac, Mate Rimac, in a statement. “As a young, agile and fast-paced automotive and technology company, we have established ourselves as an industry pioneer in electric technologies. With the Nevera, we have also proven that we can develop and manufacture outstanding hypercars, that are not only fast but also exciting and high-quality. Bugatti, with over a century of experience in engineering excellence, also possesses one of the most exceptional heritage of any car company in history.”

The company recently unveiled the Nevera, a hypercar powered by a 120kWh battery pack and four motors to achieve a staggering 1.4MW of power, which is about 1,914 horsepower. It can go from 0 to 60 mph in 1.85 seconds and has a top speed of 258 mph. The Nevera is expected to be the fastest sports car, a spot previously held by the Bugatti Chiron’s.

Rimac’s meteoric rise from bootstrapping in a garage in 2009 to building supercars with one of the most desirable and well-known car brands demonstrates how electric vehicles are beginning to take over the luxury and sports car market. It’s not just about doing what’s right for the environment – it’s about pioneering speed in the future of automobiles.

Along with this announcement, Rimac said it would separate the development, production and supply of battery systems, drivetrains and other EV components into a new entity owned by Rimac Group called Rimac Technology, which will work independently with other global car manufacturers.

The formation of Bugatti-Rimac doesn’t affect the shareholder structure within Rimac Group. Mate Rimac will continue to hold his 37% share in Rimac Group, with Hyundai Motor Group holding the same 12% and other investors at 27%, according to a statement from the company. Porsche recently upped its stake in Rimac from 15% to 24%, but its total ownership doesn’t give It a controlling interest in the new EV company, the companies told FT.

Mate Rimac will lead Bugatti-Rimac, which will be headquartered in Zagreb, Croatia. Bugatti’s manufacturing will remain in Molsheim, France.

#automotive, #bugatti, #bugatti-rimac, #electric-vehicles, #hypercar, #mate-rimac, #porsche, #rimac-automobili, #supercar, #transportation, #volkswagen

Apple and Snap partner JigSpace, the ‘Canva for 3D,’ raises a $4.7M Series A

When former Art Director Zac Duff started teaching a game development course online in 2015, he faced the same challenges that teachers around the globe have become all too familiar with after a pandemic-induced lockdown. So, he used his experience in 3D design to build a virtual reality classroom to make remote learning more engaging for his students. Instead of entering yet another Zoom lecture, the school gave students VR headsets to transport themselves to the Ancient Greek-inspired classroom that Duff built.

Still, Duff knew that this learning model couldn’t be easily scaled — most schools don’t have VR headsets to send out, and most teachers don’t have over a decade of game design experience to whip up a classroom with green fields and butterflies (yes, Duff made that). But he saw that there was potential for a user-friendly program that lets anyone create 3D presentations and share information in AR.

“Right at the center of it is knowledge transfer. It’s about one person giving knowledge to another person in a really effective way,” Duff told TechCrunch. He referenced products like Microsoft Powerpoint and Canva, which make it easy for the average user to create presentations and graphics that communicate their ideas. “We have those systems in 2D, but in 3D, we just didn’t have it, and it was a really complex, expensive technical process that you had to go through to build anything, and that stuck with me.”

Image Credits: JigSpace

Soon after, Duff took a Friday off from work to outline the company that would become JigSpace, which is poised to set the standard for knowledge-sharing in 3D. After launching in 2017, the JigSpace platform now has over 4 million users with a 4.8 average rating on the App Store. When you download the JigSpace app, you can interact in AR with 3D models that show how to fix a leaky sink, repair a dry wall, or even build a Lego Star Wars spacecraft. There are also educational models, or Jigs, that show how a piano works, the anatomy of the human eye, and even how the coronavirus spreads. The potential use cases for JigSpace are expansive — Duff says he hopes to work with manufacturing companies to have them make Jigs of their products. That way, let’s say you want to replace your AC filter, you can look at a 3D model in AR, rather than a black and white 2D drawing in an instruction booklet.

Today, JigSpace announced that it raised $4.7 million in Series A funding led by Rampersand, with Investible and new investors including Vulpes, and Roger Allen AM, also participating. The JigSpace app is free to use, and anyone can combine presets and templates of 3D modeled objects to create their own Jigs — the more tech savvy among us can upload up to 30 MB of files to make more customized Jigs on the free version. But the money-maker for Jigspace is its Jig Pro platform, which is designed for commercial businesses and manufacturers. Jig Pro‘s subscription for individuals is $49 per month, while the price of the enterprise offering isn’t listed online.

Image Credits: JigSpace

“The best area for us has been in durable manufacturing, because almost all manufacturing products have CAD files, so the 3D already exists,” said Duff. “Then, we’re able to work with those companies to give them the tools to create knowledge material around their products.”

Right after JigSpace launched its Pro version, it was featured in Apple’s iPhone 12 Keynote, demonstrating how the iPhone 12’s LiDAR scanner and 5G capabilities could be used to save time and money in manufacturing. JigSpace also partnered with Snapchat to create a Lens that allows you to scan kitchen items to reveal 3D Jigs that show how stuff works, from your microwave to your coffee maker.

Jig Pro’s customer base has grown 40% month-on-month since it launched in mid-2020, with the average user logging into the app at least once per day. Companies like Verizon, Volkswagen, Medtronic, and Thermo Fisher Scientific use JigSpace to develop 3D models to present to stakeholders, customers, and remote colleagues. Especially as products like Apple’s Capture emerge, it will become even easier for people to import their own 3D models into JigSpace.

Despite its commercial potential, it’s important to Duff that JigSpace always retains a free version that makes learning through AR easy.

“We want to make sure that all of the people with information they want to share, those are the people we serve, not just the technical people at the top,” Duff says. “From the beginning, my co-founder Numa Bertron and I always wanted to have a free version. Knowledge should be accessible to people in the best way possible, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.”

#3d-imaging, #3d-modeling, #app-store, #apple-inc, #apps, #arkansas, #augmented-reality, #cad, #canva, #co-founder, #coffee-maker, #computing, #director, #funding, #iphone, #itunes, #jig, #manufacturing, #medtronic, #microwave, #smartphones, #snapchat, #technology, #thermo-fisher-scientific, #tools, #verizon, #virtual-reality, #volkswagen

Volkswagen says a vendor’s security lapse exposed 3.3 million drivers’ details

Volkswagen says more than 3.3 million customers had their information exposed after one of its vendors left a cache of customer data unsecured on the internet.

The car maker said in a letter that the vendor, used by Volkswagen, its subsidiary Audi, and authorized dealers in the U.S. and Canada, left the customer data spanning 2014 to 2019 unprotected over a two-year window between August 2019 and May 2021.

The data, which Volkswagen said was gathered for sales and marketing, contained personal information about customers and prospective buyers, including their name, postal and email addresses, and phone number.

But more than 90,000 customers across the U.S. and Canada also had more sensitive data exposed, including information relating to loan eligibility. The letter said most of the sensitive data was driver’s license numbers, but that a “small” number of records also included a customer’s date of birth and Social Security numbers.

Volkswagen did not name the vendor, and a company spokesperson did not immediately comment.

It’s the latest security incident involving driver’s license numbers in recent months. Insurance giants Metromile and Geico admitted earlier this year that their quote forms had been abused by scammers trying to obtain driver’s license numbers. Several other car insurance companies have also reported similar incidents involving the theft of driver’s license numbers. Geico said it was likely an effort by scammers to file and cash fraudulent unemployment benefits in another person’s name.

Volkswagen’s letter, however, did not say if the company had evidence that the data exposed by the vendor was misused.

 

#articles, #audi, #automotive, #berkshire-hathaway, #canada, #car-insurance, #driver, #geico, #metromile, #security, #united-states, #volkswagen

What would you pay for autonomous driving? Volkswagen hopes $8.50 per hour

A yellow VW bus concept car drives past the beach, with surfboards on its roof

Enlarge / This one is destined to go on sale in 2023. You can watch a short video we made about it back in 2017. (credit: Volkswagen)

The future of driving may cost you $8.50 per hour if Volkswagen follows through on its boardroom musings.

The German automaker is considering charging an hourly fee for access to autonomous driving features once those features are ready. The company is also exploring a range of subscription features for its electric vehicles, including “range or performance” increases that can be purchased on an hourly or daily basis, said Thomas Ulbrich, a Volkswagen board member, to the German newspaper Die Welt. Ulbrich said the first subscription features will appear in the second quarter of 2022 in vehicles based on Volkswagen’s MEB platform, which underpins the company’s new ID.3 compact car and ID.4 crossover.

The executive said that Volkswagen will also offer video games in cars, similar to Tesla’s arcade. “In the charging breaks, even if they only last 15 minutes, we want to offer customers something,” Ulbrich said. He said the automaker wouldn’t be developing the games themselves, and it’s not clear whether they’ll come preinstalled or be available for purchase through an app store.

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#autonomous-driving, #cariad, #cars, #subscriptions, #volkswagen

Swedish company Northvolt raises $2.75B to accelerate European battery production

Swedish battery developer and manufacturer Northvolt AB has raised $2.75 billion in capital as it prepares to ramp up to an annual production capacity of 150 GWh in Europe by 2030.

The funding round – Northvolt’s largest thus far – was co-led by existing investors Goldman Sachs and Volkswagen, and new investors including the Swedish pension funds AP1-4, and OMERS, one of Canada’s largest pension plans. AMF, ATP, Baillie Gifford, Baron Capital Group, Bridford Investments Limited, Compagnia di San Paolo through Fondaco Growth, Cristina Stenbeck, Daniel Ek, IMAS Foundation, EIT InnoEnergy, Norrsken VC, PCS Holding, Scania and Stena Metall Finans also participated in the raise.

Volkswagen’s investment came to €500 million ($620 million), the OEM said Wednesday, maintaining its 20% stake in the battery manufacturer.

CNBC reported that Northvolt’s valuation now stands at $11.75 billion. The company declined to comment on the specific valuation figure to TechCrunch.

Northvolt has already scored major deals with automakers like Volkswagen and BMW. In July 2020, the company inked a $2.3 billion contract with BMW for batteries; more recently in March, Volkswagen put in a $14 billion order over a ten-year period. The two deals bring Northvolt’s total contracts to $27 billion. Other notable customers include Swedish heavy duty truck manufacturer Scania and energy storage company Fluence.

This brings Northvolt’s total raised to more than $6.5 billion since the company was founded in 2016. The manufacturer’s first gigafactory in Skellefteå, Sweden, will be expanded from 40 GWh to 60 GWh, in part due to increased demand from the Volkswagon order, the company said in a statement. That facility will commence production later in 2021.

Northvolt’s overarching plan is to ramp up to at least 150 GWh of annual battery production across Europe by 2030. To meet this massive target, the company is considering at least two additional gigafactories, including one in Germany.

Northvolt is one of Europe’s largest battery manufacturers. Company shareholder EIT InnoEnergy said in a statement Wednesday that the funding is key to Europe achieving its Green Deal objectives, which includes creating a European battery value chain.

The Swedish company aims to distinguish itself from other battery manufacturers by producing batteries using renewable energy for the manufacturing process. Northvolt says its batteries have an 80% lower carbon footprint than those made with coal power. It also recycles batteries in-house and reuses the raw materials in its production process.

#automotive, #bmw-group, #ev-batteries, #northvolt, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #tc, #transportation, #volkswagen

The Station: Rivian rolls towards an IPO and Quantumscape makes a big battery hire

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 and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

For my American readers, you might be traveling — perhaps for the first time in more than a year — because of the Memorial Day holiday. While Memorial Day is meant to honor members of the U.S. military who died while serving, the three-day weekend has become the unofficial kick off to summer. This year, those traveling by car, truck or SUV will be met by the most expensive Memorial Day weekend gas prices since 2014, according to AAA. The organization also estimates that 37 million Americans will travel by plane and automobile over the holiday — a 60% increase over the same period last year.

Be safe out on these busy roads, frens.

One story to highlight: Mark Harris dug into the contracts for the Las Vegas Loop System. He found that restrictions put in place by Nevada regulators are making it difficult for The Boring Company to meet contractual targets for its LVCC Loop, Elon Musk’s first underground transportation system. Shortly after publication, Steve Hill, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), tweeted that a Loop test this week, with a few hundred participants, had demonstrated its planned 4,400 passenger per hour capacity, which could release $13 million in construction funds currently being held back. While this bodes well for TBC, the story lays out a number of other issues that could pose a challenge for the company. We will continue to dig into this story of tunnels and transport.


Now a request, dear reader. We’re a bit more than a week away from TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event scheduled for June 9 that is bringing together some of the best and brightest minds in transportation, including Mate Rimac of Rimac Automobili, Pam Fletcher of vp of global innovation at GM, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, and investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital.

I’d love for you to join, and you can do that by clicking here and buying a ticket, which will also give you a months-free subscription to Extra Crunch and access to all the videos of the conference. But, if you can’t come, please reach out anyway and let me know if you have any questions or topics that you want addressed. I will be interviewing many of the folks coming to our virtual stage.

We just announced three more participants from automakers Hyundai, Ford and Toyota who will talk about their respective companies’ increasing interest and investment in robotics. Our three guests are: Max Bajracharya, formerly from Alphabet’s X and now vp of robotics at Toyota Research Institute, Ernestine Fu, director at Hyundai Motor Group who heads development at the new  New Horizons Studio and Mario Santillo, a technical expert at Ford who has been charged with helping lead the company’s efforts at a recently announced $75 million research facility at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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

Micromobbin’

Micromobility rivals Bird and Lime have come out with news this week that they’re both marketing as sustainability initiatives. Let’s start with Bird.

Bird has unveiled its next-generation scooter, the Bird Three, that it will unveil in New York and Berlin this summer. It’s got a longer-range battery with 1kWh capacity and an improved diagnostic monitoring system to keep the battery lasting as long as possible. Bird says its better, smarter battery means it’s ultimately a more sustainable scooter because it has a longer life and needs to be charged a lot less.

Ideally, a better battery and better software will also help produce a longer-lasting vehicle so that Bird can cut down on depreciation and maintenance costs, which have really not helped the company in its push for profitability. Last week, Bird announced a SPAC merger with Switchback II. The regulatory filings that accompanied the announcement demonstrate just how difficult it is to turn a profit given the unit economics of shared scooters.

Lime is similarly positioning its updated subscription service, Lime Prime, as a sustainable initiative. With each new Prime member sign up, Lime promises to plant a tree through One Tree Planted. But more importantly, the subscription service helps the regular Lime rider perhaps save a bit of money. Members have access to waived unlock fees on any vehicle, and in markets with no start fees, the benefit will be 25% off the ride price. Additionally, riders can get free 30 minute reservations on any vehicle.

Two-wheel swag news

Zaiser Motors announced the launch of its Wefunder campaign to raise funds for development and production of its Electrocycle. It’s a good-lookin’ vehicle, charcoal-black with a design that breaks away from a super traditional gasoline-era style and looks more like something a small Batman might ride. All of the components are designed to be recyclable within the first 10 years of production, the company says. The Electrocycle has 300 miles of range, swappable batteries and is less than $25,000.

Meanwhile in scooter world, the Scotsman, a Silicon Valley-based electric scooter brand, has unveiled a scooter that’s 3D printed entirely in carbon fiber composite. And I don’t just mean some parts are composite. The whole frame, the handlebars, the stem and the baseboard are all made of this strong, sustainable, lightweight material. It also means the scooters are highly customizable, each frame printed depending on the owner’s height, weight, arm and leg lengths and riding position. At a starting price of $2,999, it’s not cheap, but that might be a signal from the industry that scooters are increasingly become viable transport options and not just toys. You can pre-order here.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

The march of IPOs appears to picking up pace. For instance, Full Truck Alliance, the Chinese digital freight platform known as Manbang Group, filed for an IPO. The filing didn’t specify the exact amount it was aiming to raise. Reuters, citing unnamed sources, reported that the company wants to raise up to $1.5 billion, which would give it a valuation of $20 billion.

Full Truck Alliance’s S-1 provides a number of interesting details, including the how much money can be captured by effectively connecting truckers with shippers. The company reported that about 20% of all China’s heavy-duty and medium-duty truckers fulfilled shipping orders on our platform in 2020. (More than 2.8 million truckers fulfilled shipping orders on its platform last year.) Full Truck Alliance said last year it facilitated 71.7 million fulfilled orders with a gross transaction value of RMB173.8 billion (US$26.6 billion).  The first quarter number show it is growing. In the first quarter, the company had  22.1 million fulfilled orders, a 170.2% increase from the same period.

Full Truck Alliance raised $3.6 billion in private funding, most recently last fall at an $11.7 billion valuation, from firms like SoftBank Vision Fund (22.2% pre-IPO stake), Sequoia Capital China (7.2%), Permira, Tencent, Hillhouse Capital, GGV Capital, Lightspeed China Partners and Baillie Gifford.

The IPO about six months since the company raised $1.7 billion in a funding round that included backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Sequoia Capital China, Permira, Fidelity, Hillhouse Capital, GGV Capital, Lightspeed China Partners, Tencent and Jack Ma’s YF Capital. A look at the S-1 shows that the principal shareholders are Softbank with a 22.2% stake, followed by 8.9% held by Full Load Logistics, a limited liability company owned by Full Truck Alliance CEO Hui Zhang. Sequoia has a 7.2% stake and Master Quality Group Limited, another organization controlled by Zhang, hold 6.6% of shares.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

E2open Parent Holdings Inc. said it will acquire logistics execution platform BluJay Solution, Freightwaves reported. The deal could be valued at $1.7 billion, consisting of $760 million in cash and 72.4 million shares.

First Move Capital, the Boulder-based venture firm that has invested in used car marketplaces Frontier Auto Group and Vroom as well as mobility-as-a-service startup Via, has closed a new $150 million fund that will focus on the automotive and transportation sectors. Proceeds from the round will be exclusively allocated to new investments; seven have already been made, including into autonomous vehicle startup Gatik, cloud-based automotive retail platform Tekion and e-commerce startup Revolution Parts.

Hydra Energy received CAD$15 million ($12 million) from Just Business to expand beyond pilots and deliver hydrogen-powered trucking, the company announced. This funding is to support the further development of Hydra’s initial waste hydrogen capture plant in British Columbia, its fueling infrastructure and conversion kits. The Canadian company has raised CAD $22 million (USD $17.2 million) to date. One other update worth sharing, Hydra’s flagship hydrogen-as-a-service project, is scheduled to break ground later this year.

Miles, the German car-sharing service has received investment from Delivery Hero CFO Emmanuel Thomassin, HelloFresh CFO Christian Gärtner, Chargepoint CFO Rex Jackson as well as Norwegian top manager Stine Rolstad Brenna. Thomassin has joined the company’s advisory board. The company disclosed to TechCrunch that it generated 20 million euros ($24.39 million) of revenue in 2020, quadruple the amount from the previous year. The results helped the company achieve profitability in October 2020. Miles is now focused on expansion. In the first four months in 2021, the company launched electric vehicles and expanded its car fleet to Munich. Miles intends to grow beyond Germany and is currently examining the best markets to launch in.

MotoRefi raised another $45 million in a round led by Goldman Sachs just five months after investors poured $10 million into the fintech startup to help turbocharge its auto refinancing business. While the company didn’t give me specifics on its revenue — CEO Kevin Bennett cited a 7x growth year-over-year but didn’t provide the baseline — it did disclose it’s on track to issue $1 billion in loans by the end of the year. That’s a fivefold increase from the same period last year.

Smart Eye, the publicly traded Swedish company that supplies driver monitoring systems for a dozen automakers, acquired emotion-detection software startup Affectiva for $73.5 million in a cash-and-stock deal. The startup, which says it developed software that can detect and understand human emotion, spun out of MIT Media Lab in 2009. Since then, it has landed a number of development and proof of concept deals as well as raised capital, but it never quite reached the mass-scale production contracts.

That’s where Smart Eye comes in. Smart Eye, which has won 84 production contracts with 13 OEMs, including BMW and GM, is keen to combine with its own AI-based eye-tracking technology. The companies’ founders see an opportunity to expand beyond driver monitoring systems — tech that is often used in conjunction with advanced driver assistance systems to track and measure awareness — and into the rest of the vehicle. Together, the technology could help them break into the emerging “interior sensing” market, which can be used to monitor the entire cabin of a vehicle and deliver services in response to the occupant’s emotional state.

Tritium, a Brisbane-based developer and producer of direct current fast EV chargers, announced a merger agreement with a special purpose acquisition company Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp. II. The deal is expected to value the company at $1.2 billion. The transaction is expected to generate gross proceeds of up to $403 million. Tritium will be listed under the ticker “DCFC.”

This particular SPAC deal is unusual in that it does not include private investment in public equity, or PIPE — a fundraising round that typically occurs at the time of the merger and injects more capital into the company. Tritium CEO Jane Hunter told us that the company didn’t need a PIPE because DCRN is a more than $400 million SPAC and its shareholder group agreed to a minimum cash closing of just $200 million, which significantly reduces redemption risk. “Also, our revenue has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 56% since 2016 as we expand our presence in major markets where we have a significant market share, such as the U.S. and Europe,” Hunter said. “This revenue growth helps to reduce our reliance upon new funds to implement our growth strategy.”

Wejo, the connected vehicle data startup backed by GM and Palantir, plans to go public through a merger with special purpose acquisition company Virtuoso Acquisition Corp. The agreement, announced in a regulator filing, will give the combined company an enterprise valuation of $800 million, which includes debt. There were earlier reports that the SPAC deal was imminent. The filing confirms the news and provides more detail.

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

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Senate Republicans released their response to Joe Biden’s sweeping $2 trillion investment plan, which would earmark $174 billion for electric vehicle investments. Their proposal would shrink it down to $928 billion. And that $174B for EVs? That would be reduced to just $4 billion, under the GOP plan.

It seems that the main point of contention between the President and his GOP colleagues is the definition of the word ‘infrastructure.’ Republicans are sticking to a more traditional definition, so their counterproposal still contains plenty of money for things like roads, the water system, bridges and broadband.

Biden’s plan aimed to provide consumer tax incentives and incentives for EV chargers, incentives to boost domestic manufacturing and enough funds to install at least 500,000 public charging stations across the country by 2030. A memo obtained by The Hill suggests Biden intends to hold firm to his proposal, so expect further negotiations in the coming weeks.

The Senate Finance Committee on May 26 marked up the Clean Energy for America Act, an important step before it hits the Senate floor for a vote. Among other things, the bill would remove 200,000 unit cap on tax credits for consumers buying EVs — that means the tax credit could be used toward buying a Tesla, a manufacturer that hasn’t been eligible for the credit because they’ve sold over 200,000 cars in the United States.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) added an amendment to the bill that would create an additional $2,500 consumer credit for vehicles assembled in the U.S. and another $2,500 for vehicles assembled in a unionized facility. If it passes, the additions would bring the maximum consumer tax credit for EVs to $12,500 — no small sum! The credits would expire in 2025. “Electric vehicles are part of our transportation future,” Sen. Stabenow said. “The question is not when they will be built, it’s where they will be built: in Asia or America?”

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm sold her holdings in electric bus manufacturer Proterra after Republicans criticized her for a potential conflict of interest. The GOP’s complaint arose after Biden made a virtual visit to a Proterra factory in April. The sale provided Granholm with a net gain of $1.6 million, DOE told reporters.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

I hear and see things, but we’re not selfish. Let me share.

This week, “a little bird” is all about big employment moves and departures and how one hire is connected to a potentially massive IPO.

Let’s kick things off with Celina Mikolajczak, the now former vice president of battery technology at Panasonic Energy of North America. You might recall that Mikolajczak recently took a board seat at solid state battery company QuantumScape. Welp, she is now taking a job at the company as vice president of manufacturing engineering, beginning in July. She has resigned from the board in connection with accepting the offer. In her new role, Ms. Mikolajczak will lead the transition of the Company’s tools and manufacturing processes from research and development to production, QuantumScape said in a regularly filing.

Mikolajczak has a long history researching and developing better lithium-ion batteries. Her technical consulting practice at Exponent focused on lithium-ion cell and battery safety and quality. She then took a senior management position at Tesla that was focused on cell quality and materials engineering. During her time at Tesla, Mikolajczak developed the battery cells and packs for Tesla’s Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Roadster Refresh.

After leaving Tesla, Mikolajczak went on to serve as director of engineering focused on battery development for rideshare vehicles at Uber Technologies. And in 2019, she joined Panasonic Energy of North America, where she is vice president of battery technology. While at Panasonic, Mikolajczak led a team of more than 200 engineers and other technical staff to improve lithium-ion cell manufacturing and to bring the latest cell technologies to mass production for Tesla at the Gigafactory facility in Sparks, Nevada.

Speaking of Tesla … it looks like Scott Sims, director of engineering, left the company this month. His title doesn’t quite capture his role. Sims was the person leading the design and engineering for vehicle user interfaces, streaming, video games and mobile applications. Importantly, he was responsible for cloud computing as it related to the Tesla mobile app, a critical tool for any owner.

Finally, the big news on Friday (via Bloomberg) is that Rivian has selected underwriters for an initial public offering. The company could seek an eye-popping value of $70 billion. I have confirmed some (but not all) of Bloomberg’s reporting. Obviously big news that I’ll be watching and digging into. I had heard rumbling about a potential Rivian IPO, but Bloomberg put together the critical deets.

To me, the biggest indication that Rivian was getting ready to make a move was Ger Dwyer taking the vp of business finance position at the company, which he posted about on LinkedIn. You might recall, that I scooped the news a couple of weeks ago that Dwyer was leaving his post as CFO at Waymo. I noted at the time that Dwyer’s departure comes at a time when the demand for CFOs has rocketed alongside the continuous string of public offerings, including those done via mergers with special purpose acquisition companies.

Got tips? Send them my way by email or DM me over at Twitter.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Loads and loads of news. Let’s get to it.

Autonomous vehicles

Aurora published a blog post that gives a few new details on its testing and self-driving trucks strategy in Texas. The autonomous vehicle company said its first commercial pilots will move goods on several “middle-mile” routes in Texas. A safety driver will be behind the wheel of these self-driving trucks, which will drive autonomously between hubs. The terminal or hub system is one that other AV companies have adopted — at least for now. The idea is that loads can be consolidated, which would theoretically make operations more efficient. Aurora did add, that “for shippers and carriers with existing hubs and large volumes of freight, we expect to ultimately drive the complete route with no need for an intermediate consolidation point.”

One other item that jumped out to me: the company is expanding into a second office in Texas, suggesting that they’re scaling up, at least in terms of people.

Germany’s lower house of parliament adopted legislation that will allow driverless vehicles on public roads by 2022, laying out a path for companies to deploy robotaxis and delivery services in the country at scale. While autonomous testing is currently permitted in Germany, this would allow operations of driverless vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel. The bill still needs to pass through the upper chamber of parliament, or the Bundesrat. Included in the bill are possible initial applications for self-driving cars on German roads, such as public passenger transport, business and supply trips, logistics, company shuttles that handle employee traffic and trips between medical centers and retirement homes.

PAVE, which stands for Partners for Autonomous Vehicle Education, piloted a workshop with local governments earlier this month throughout Ohio. The educational workshop, which was done in partnership with Drive Ohio, wasn’t open to the public. But my Autonocast podcast co-host Ed Niedermeyer, who also happens to be director of communications for PAVE, gave me the inside scoop on what went down.

PAVE says it doesn’t do any kind of policy advocacy; instead the aim is to arm public policymakers with the facts they need to make good policy. This pilot helped PAVE lay a foundation for a curriculum that can be used elsewhere; that might seem trivial, but the complexity of issues around AVs makes these workshops with elected officials potentially powerful tool.

Ed told me that one of the main challenges was educating on potentially controversial topics, like policy and regulation, “where we have to get facts across without imparting biases.” He noted that the organization’s public sector and academic advisory councils were both helpful as neutral authorities. Finally, he said that one of the most practical education PAVE did was around the best practices that its members and advisors have developed in early AV deployments.

Kodiak Robotics, the U.S.-based self-driving truck startup, is partnering with South Korean conglomerate SK Inc. to explore the possibility of deploying its autonomous vehicle technology in Asia. While Kodiak co-founder and CEO Don Burnette couched the initial agreement as a first step toward a commercial enterprise in Asia, the reach of SK shouldn’t be discounted. SK Inc., a holding company of SK Group, has more than 120 operating companies, including ones connected to the logistics industry.

The ultimate aim of the partnership is to sell and distribute Kodiak’s self-driving technology in the region. Kodiak will examine how it can use SK’s products, components and technology for its autonomous system, including artificial intelligence microprocessors and advanced emergency braking systems. Both companies have also agreed to work together to provide fleet management services for customers in Asia.

Electric vehicles

Ford Motor, fresh off its splashy F-150 Lightning electric truck reveal, announced it is pushing its investment in EVs up to $30 billion by 2025, up from a previous spend of $22 billion by 2023. The company announced the fresh cashflow into its EV and battery development strategy, dubbed Ford+, during its investor day.

The company said it expects 40% of its global vehicle volume to be fully electric by 2030. Ford sold 6,614 Mustang Mach-Es in the U.S. in Q1, and since it unveiled its F-150 Lightning last week, the company says it has already amassed 70,000 customer reservations.

Hyundai held the North American reveal of the upcoming all-electric Ioniq 5 crossover. One new detail that I found interesting: Hyundai developed an in-car payment system that will debut in the Ioniq 5. The feature will offer drivers the ability to find and pay for EV charging, food and parking. When the vehicle comes to North America in fall 2021, the payments system will launch with Dominoes, ParkWhiz and Chargehub.

Lordstown Motors’ cash-rich SPAC dreams have turned out to be nothin’ more than wishes, as Alex Wilhelm and Aria Alamalhodaei reported. The upshot: a disappointing first-quarter earnings that was a pile-up of red-ink-stained negativity. The lowlights include higher-than-expected forecasted expenses, a need to raise more capital and lower-than-anticipated production of its Endurance vehicle this year — from around 2,200 vehicles to just 1,000. In short, the company is set to consume more cash than the street expected and is further from mass production of its first vehicle than promised.

Lucid Motors revealed the in-cabin tech of its upcoming electric luxury Air sedan. I spoke to Derek Jenkins, who heads up design at Lucid, and he provided a detailed tour of all the tech in the vehicle. It goes far beyond the curved 34-inch display and second touchscreen, which received much of the attention. The user experience, particularly the underlying software, matters in all cars. But it can be the death of an electric vehicle model if not done properly.

It appears Lucid is on the right track. I won’t really know until I’m able to test the Air. Let’s hope that is soon.

Rivian has delayed deliveries of the R1T Launch Edition, the limited edition release of its first series of “electric adventure vehicles,” by a month. Customers who preordered can now expect to start receiving their pickup trucks in July instead of June, with Launch Edition deliveries to be completed by spring 2022. The one-month delay was due to a combination of small issues, including delays on shipping containers, the ongoing chip shortage as well as ensuring the servicing piece is properly set up. It’s worth noting that Rivian told me that it has been largely unaffected by the chip shortage compared to the rest of the industry because its products don’t require as many as other vehicles on the market today.

Tesla had a number of news items this week, so I’ll just point to the most notable ones. Tesla has established a data center in China to carry out the “localization of data storage,” with plans to add more data facilities in the future, the company announced through its account on microblogging platform Weibo. All data generated by Tesla vehicles sold in mainland China will be kept domestically. The move was in response to new requirements drafted by the Chinese government to regulate how cameras- and sensors-enabled carmakers collect and utilize data. One of the requirements states that “personal or important data should be stored within the [Chinese] territory.”

Finally, two safety-related pieces of Tesla news that seem in opposition to each other.

First, Tesla started delivering Model 3 and Model Y vehicles without radar, fulfilling a vision of CEO Elon Musk to only use cameras combined with machine learning to support its advanced driver assistance system and other active safety features. The decision has prompted blowback though from the National Traffic Highway and Safety Administration, Consumer Reports and IIHS over safety concerns.

Meanwhile, Tesla finally — and after loud and frequent urging from industry and safety advocates, activated the in-cabin camera in new Model Y and Model 3 vehicles. The camera will be used as a driver monitoring system. Tesla has been criticized for not activating the driver monitoring system within its vehicles even as evidence mounted that owners were misusing the system. Owners have posted dozens of videos on YouTube and TikTok abusing its advanced driver assistance system known as Autopilot — some of whom have filmed themselves sitting in the backseat as the vehicle drives along the highway.

Other nugs (no not that kind)

Apex.AI hired Paul Balciunas as its CFO. Balciunas was the former CFO of Canoo. He also was an executive at Deutsche Bank, where he acted as a lead underwriter of the initial public offering for Tesla in 2010, and has since focused on auto tech and new mobility players.

Blyncsy, a Utah-based startup movement and data intelligence company launched an AI-powered technology called Payver, that will use crowdsourced video data to give transport agencies up-to-date information on which roads require maintenance and improvements. Blyncsy is offering this service to governments at a reduced cost and with no long-term commitment. Utah’s DOT will be the first to pilot the program beginning June 1, deploying Payver in the Salt Lake County region, which covers more than 350 road miles. Blyncsy will be announcing other pilots in different states over the next few weeks.

Scale AI hired Mark Valentine to head up its federal-focused division. Valentine comes with experience and connections. He was  a commander in the U.S. Air Force, senior military advisor to FEMA and most recently, GM of national security for Microsoft. He will lead Scale’s government partnership efforts.

Scale has also hired Michael Kratsios, the former CTO of the White House, as managing director and head of strategy. The company said he is focused on accelerating the development of AI across industries. Michael joined at the end of Q1.

#aurora, #automotive, #bird, #chris-urmson, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #gm, #hyundai, #joby-aviation, #karl-iagnemma, #lime, #lucid-motors, #mate-rimac, #micromobility, #panasonic, #quantumscape, #reid-hoffman, #rimac, #rivian, #scooters, #tesla, #transportation, #volkswagen

Lidar startup Innovusion closes $64M round led by Temasek

More investors are joining the wave to bet on lidar, the remote sensing method that uses laser light to measure distances and has garnered ample interest from automakers in recent times. But it’s also a technology that has long been scorned by Elon Musk partly due to its once exorbitant costs.

Innovusion, a five-year-old lidar company and a supplier to Chinese electric car upstart Nio, just landed a Series B funding round of $64 million. The new proceeds boost its total investment to over $100 million, not a small amount but the startup is in a race crowded with much bigger players that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, like Velodyne and Luminar.

Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, led Innovusion’s latest financing round. Other investors included Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, Joy Capital, Nio Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, and F-Prime Capital.

Innovusion runs core development teams out of Sunnyvale, California and Suzhou, an eastern Chinese city near Shanghai that the robotaxi unicorn Momenta also calls home.

Junwei Bao, Innovusion’s co-founder and CEO, is not deterred by the industry’s existing giants. Back at Baidu where Bao oversaw sensors and onboarded computing systems for autonomous driving, he also worked on the Chinese search engine leader’s investment in Velodyne.

“They were designing things more like a college student designing in their labs,” Bao said of Velodyne.

Lidar was a niche market up until about five years ago, the founder explained, for the technology was mostly used by a small community of amateurs and areas such as military, surveying and mapping. These were relatively small markets in terms of shipping volume and Velodyne filled the demand.

“They were not thinking about industrialization, volume manufacturing, or roadmap extensibility. They were a pioneer and we [Baidu] recognized their value… but we also knew their weakness.”

In fairness, Silicon Valley-based Velodyne today is a $2.2 billion company supplying to some of the world’s largest automakers, including Toyota and Volkswagen. It also pocketed a hefty sum of cash after going public via a SPAC merger last year. Innovusion’s strategy is to make sensors for automakers that are “good enough for the next five years,” according to Bao. The startup chooses “mature components” so it can quickly ramp up production to 100,000 units a year.

Its biggest customer at the moment is Nio, a Chinese challenger to Tesla which has backed Innovusion through its corporate venture fund Nio Capital. For mass production of its auto-grade lidar, Innovusion is partnering with Joynext, a smart vehicle arm of the Chinese auto component supplier, Joyson Electronics.

For now, China is the largest market for Innovusion. The startup is scheduled to ship a few thousand units this year, mainly for smart transportation and industrial use. Next year, it has a target to deliver several tens of thousands of units to Nio’s luxury sedan, ET7, which is said to have a scanning range of up to 500 meters, an ambitious number, and a standard 120-degree field of view.

Similar alliances between carmakers and lidar suppliers have played out in China as the former race to fulfill their “autonomous driving” promises with the aid of lidar. Xpeng, a competitor to Nio, recently rolled out a sedan powered by Livox, a lidar maker affiliated with DJI that markets its consumer-grade affordability.

Price is similarly important to Innovusion, which sells lidars to automakers for about $1,000 apiece at the volume of 100,000 per year.

“Adding a $1,000 upfront cost plus another couple thousand dollars for a car that’s selling for $30,000 or $50,000 is affordable,” Bao suggested.

With the fresh capital, Innovusion plans to increase the production volume of its auto-grade lidar and put more R&D efforts into smart cities and vehicles. The company has over 100 employees and plans to expand its headcount to over 200 this year.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automotive, #baidu, #china, #eight-roads-ventures, #f-prime-capital, #joy-capital, #laser, #lidar, #livox, #momenta, #nio, #self-driving-cars, #shanghai, #tc, #temasek, #tesla, #toyota, #transportation, #velodyne, #volkswagen, #xpeng

Argo’s new lidar sensor could help Ford, VW deploy self-driving vehicles at scale

Four years ago, Argo AI made its first acquisition as a young, newly backed self-driving vehicle startup. Now, Argo says its acquisition of lidar company Princeton Lightwave is paying off and is poised to help it deliver autonomous vehicles that can operate commercially on highways and in dense urban areas starting next year.

Argo AI unveiled Tuesday details on a long-range lidar sensor that it claims has the ability to see 400 meters away with high-resolution photorealistic quality and the ability to detect dark and distant objects with low reflectivity. The first batch of these lidar sensors are already on some of Argo’s test vehicles, which today is comprised of Ford Fusion Hybrid sedans and Ford Escape Hybrid SUVs. By the end of the year, Argo’s test fleet will transition to about 150 Ford Escape Hybrid vehicles, all of which will be equipped with the in-house lidar sensor. Ford, an investor in and customer of Argo, plans to deploy autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing and delivery in 2022. Argo’s other investor and customer, Volkswagen, said it will launch commercial operations in 2025.

It’s not just the technical capabilities of the lidar sensor that matter, Argo CEO and co-founder Bryan Salesky told TechCrunch in a recent interview. The lidar sensor was developed to be cost-effective and manufactured at scale, two factors that matter for any company trying to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology.

“When we first started, I knew that the market did not have an adequate long-range lidar,” Salesky said, who noted that while Waymo had developed its own lidar sensors with long-range capabilities it was not available for other developers to buy. “We decided to make an acquisition focused on plugging the hole for that long-range need. It has really been a game-changer for our self-driving system and has enabled us to be able to move really fast, to the point now where we’re starting to equip cars with the sensor, and it’s opening up testing in urban and highway environments.”

Lidar, the light detection and ranging radar that measures distance using laser light to generate a highly accurate 3D map of the world, is considered by most in the industry a critical sensor required to safely deploy autonomous vehicles at a commercial scale. More than 70 companies, some of which have recently gone public via mergers with special purpose acquisition companies, are developing lidar — all claiming technical breakthroughs and cost benefits. And then there are the AV developers such as Cruise and Aurora, which just like Argo have acquired lidar companies in hopes of developing an in-house solution that will give them an edge over the competition and free them from working with an outside supplier like Velodyne.

Ford, which invested $1 billion into Argo, had also backed lidar maker Velodyne, the dominant supplier in the market. But progress within Argo has changed Ford’s stance. Veoneer, which announced in 2019 that it was leveraging Velodyne’s technology for a contract to supply the sensor to an unnamed AV customer, reported in February that it had lost its contract. It wasn’t clear exactly who the customer was, although many speculated it was Ford or Argo. That same month, Ford reported in a regulatory filing that it had dissolved its 7.6% stake in Velodyne, cementing its bet on Argo’s in-house lidar.

“Assuming the sensor lives up to the claims, it should provide a substantial performance advantage over Velodyne and give them the flexibility to operate more safely at highway speeds,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst with researcher Guidehouse Insights. Abuelsamid points to a few factors, including its wavelength and sensitivity, that could give Argo an edge.

Low-speed urban areas to high-speed boulevards

Argo AI self-driving vehicle

Argo AI in the Strip District on Monday April 26, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/for Argo AI)

Lidar sensors send out millions of beams or pulses every second to detect surrounding objects and then measure the return to create a point cloud or 3D image. That point cloud shows the objects and calculates their range.

The Argo sensor is based on what it describes as Geiger-mode time of flight lidar, which it says uses beam detectors that can detect the smallest particle of light. Argo says its single-photon sensors are able to build up images of low-reflectivity objects like a black-painted car at a much greater distance than can a traditional linear time of flight lidar. Argo also said its lidar sensor operates at a wavelength above 1400 nanometers, which theoretically enables more power to help the range.

Abuelsamid noted that more common 905 nm lidars are largely limited to vehicles traveling about 40 mph to 45 mph, which suggests that Argo’s sensor could be used at highway speeds.

“Argo lidar’s use of the Geiger-mode photodiode and binning of pixels also contributes to the increased sensitivity,” he said. “The ability to detect a single photon and then using the software to do statistical analysis to aggregate them and reject noise seems like it should help as well. Being able to pick up low reflectivity objects like truck tire treads or very black vehicles is important.”

He also noted that the Argo sensor is a mechanical spinning lidar, which is a common design based on the original Velodyne HDL-64. However, Argo’s lidar rotates the outer surface, a design decision to help throw off water from the sensor to help keep it clean.

Combining all of this will allow Argo to develop a self-driving system for a variety of use cases such as low-speed dense urban sectors, higher-speed boulevards that have a mix of pedestrian, cyclists and cars to contend with as well as highways.

Argo has spent much of its time testing in urban environments, specifically in Austin, Detroit, Miami, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. But Volkswagen, the company’s newest backer and customer, is also interested in autonomous driving on highways. Argo plans to begin testing in additional cities this year, including Munich.

Manufacturing partner and future applications

Argo has been working for more than a year with a contract manufacturer that has experience in assembling optoelectronics. Hundreds of sensors will be manufactured by the end of the year and ramp up from there. Argo declined to name the contract manufacturer.

Argo’s self-driving system is designed to be agnostic, meaning it could be used in multiple business models. Argo’s customers Ford and VW will of course dictate what those business applications will be, and for now it is robotaxis and middle-mile delivery. However, Salesky noted that the sensors could be applied to trucking.

“We’re kind of focused on goods movement and people movement, but I think trucking is something that we’re taking a hard look at,” Salesky said. “This isn’t something that we’ve prioritized yet, but we’re definitely keeping trucking open and I think it’s absolutely an interesting place for our technology.”

Argo also has aspirations beyond manufacturing a long-range lidar for its own needs. Salesky told TechCrunch that the underlying technology can be packaged in other ways to create different types of sensors. “It is a really interesting potential license opportunity,” he said, cautioning that the priority is on autonomous vehicle applications.

“I think it’s a little too soon to start selling within the automotive realm, but it’s an opportunity that’s there,” Salesky said. “I do think that this underlying technology can be packaged in a bunch of ways to service other industries such as mining, agriculture, oil and gas.”

#argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #ford, #lidar, #princeton-lightwave, #transportation, #volkswagen, #vw-group

All the electric vehicles that stood out at the Shanghai Auto Show

The 19th annual Shanghai Auto Show delivered a bevy of electric and tech-centric vehicles this year. Chinese, European and U.S. automakers showed off their latest offerings in every price segment, from the budget-minded ​​Wuling Hong Guang Mini via a joint venture between SAIC Motor Corp., General Motors Co. and Liuzhou Wuling Motors Co. to the luxury Mercedes EQS  — and everything in between.

Several automakers touted the capabilities of their driver assistance systems, using terminology that suggested they could be autonomous if only regulators allowed it. Let’s be clear, these systems are not autonomous. Other automakers stopped short of those claims, but did publicize the software capabilities of their vehicles — a movement that has been underway since Tesla rose in popularity.

Here’s what caught our eye at the show. Don’t miss TechCrunch’s Rita Liao’s Chinese automotive coverage that also came out of the auto show, including how Tesla is working on vehicles tailored to Chinese consumers as complaints increase about the quality of its electric vehicles.

Audi

Audi shared the spotlight with its Chinese partner companies FAW and SAIC this year. The companies showed four world premieres, including the Audi A6 e-tron concept vehicle, an updated Audi Q5L, the Audi A7L and an SUV study, which is still under wraps, named Audi concept Shanghai.

The Audi Q5L SUV will continue to be manufactured in the Changchun plant in the FAW-VW joint venture. Meanwhile, the Audi A7L limousine, which will go into production in 2021, will be manufactured by the SAIC Audi joint venture. The Audi A7L is in Shanghai and reserved for the Chinese market and includes features such as adaptive air suspension, rear-wheel steering and four-wheel drive.

A6 etron

audi a6 etron

An Audi A6 e-tron on display. Image Credits: Wu Kai/VCG via Getty Images

The A6 etron concept is not the A6 with which you might be familiar. This all-electric vehicle is built off of Audi’s “Premium Platform Electric,” or PPE platform, which will be the underlying architecture for its C- and B-segment production cars beginning in late 2022.

The Audi A6 e-tron concept shares the same dimensions as the A6 and that’s about it. The A6 etron is designed as a sportback with a wide coupe roof arch and short overhangs. The large 22-inch wheels complete the look. The A6 e-tron concept is outfitted with two electric motors that can deliver a total output of 350 kW and a torque of 590 pound-feet. The vehicle has 800-volt charging architecture — the same as its Porsche Taycan cousin — with an estimated range of 434 miles based on the WLTP measurement.

BYD

Warren Buffet-backed BYD has competed for high sales with Tesla, with units sold increasing steadily on the “Han” series since its launch last year. 

BYD Han

A BYD Han car is on display. Image Credits: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

BYD’s Han flagship series includes three electric vehicles and one hybrid vehicle. Named after China’s Han dynasty, the luxury electric sedan series launched sales last year. BYD’s long-range EV can go for about 375 miles, and the company claims its vehicle’s “blade” battery pack is safer than traditional battery packs.  

Geely Holdings Inc.

The Chinese automotive conglomerate took up a lot of the Shanghai Auto Show floor this year with several of its brands — including a brand new one — on display. Polestar, Volvo Cars, Lynk & Co, Geometry and the new Zeekr brand all brought EVs to the show.

Geometry Pro

Geely Geometry ev

The 几何A-Pro revealed at the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show. Image Credits: Geometry/Geely Holdings

Geely’s mass market brand launched the new extended-range version of its Geometry A vehicle. The so-called Geometry A Pro comes with a 150kW battery and can travel 600 km (372 miles) on a single charge. The brand launched in 2019 and unveiled three models to date. The A and C models are on sale in the Chinese market. The brand has plans to export the Geometry C later this year to select global partners.

Lynk & Co. 05

lynk-and-co-shanghai electric

Image Credits: Geely holdings/Lynk & Co.

The company unveiled their newest plug-in hybrid variant of the Lynk & Co. 05. The company also showcased the Scalable Product Architecture for the first time that will be used by a future Lynk & Co. products to be unveiled later this year with an electrified powertrain.

Polestar 1 Special Edition

polestar lineup shanghai auto show

The lineup of Polestar vehicles at the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show. Image Credits: Polestar/Geely Holdings

The EV performance brand of Volvo, which is owned by Geely, displayed the Polestar 1 hybrid electric and the all-electric Polestar 2. It was the 2021 Special Edition in matte gold that got our attention. Granted this is not an all-electric vehicle, just a hybrid, but this special version is worth noting.

This special edition has a lightweight body made from carbon fiber reinforced polymer, twin rear electric motors with genuine torque vectoring and high-performance components like Akebono brakes and adjustable Öhlins dampers. The vehicle’s powertrain produced 619 hp and 738 lb.-ft. of torque, and a purely electric driving range of 60 miles based on the WLTP standard. The vehicle also features a bespoke matte gold exterior paint job with matching calipers and black wheels

Volvo XC40 Recharge

A Volvo XC40 car is seen during the Shanghai Auto Show on April 20, 2021. Image Credits: Hector RETAMAL / AFP via Getty

The Swedish brand, which plans to only sell pure battery-electric models beginning in 2030, brought its first all-electric vehicle to the show: the XC40 Recharge. The company’s next EV will be the C40, the company announced.

Zeekr 001

Zeekr-electric-shanghai auto

Zeekr revealed its first electric vehicle at the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show. Image Credits: Zeekr/Geely Holdings

And finally, Zeekr brought its flagship (and first) EV called the Zeekr 001. What is a Zeekr? It’s the combination of Z as in Generation Z and “geek,” and its aim is to put software at the forefront.

Zeekr said its cars will also be sold online and through experience centers across China, with plans also to eventually expand to Europe and North America. The Zeekr 001 comes with a dual motor, which sends power to all four wheels — delivering 566 lb-ft. of torque and allowing it to accelerate from 0 to 60mph in less than 4 seconds. The car has a claimed estimated range of more than 700 km (434 miles) on a single charge.

The Zeekr brand said it plans to bring five cars to market in the next five years, all of which will be based on Geely Holdings’ pure electric SEA architecture.

Mercedes

The German automaker showed off several vehicles at the Shanghai Auto Show, notably the EQB and EQS. Both of these all-electric vehicles are part of the company’s growing EQ brand.

EQB

Mercedes-Benz's new EQB Shanghai auto show2021

Mercedes-Benz’s new EQB. Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

The German automaker revealed the compact mass-market all-electric SUV at the show. The vehicle, which looks a lot like the GLB, especially the interior, will launch in China this year. A global variant will be produced in Hungary for Europe followed, by the U.S. market launch in 2022.

While there are some obvious links to the internal combustion engine GLB, the EQB does have some differences in the exterior design, including the continuous light strip at front and rear that is consistent with other models in the electric EQ brand. The EQB also has light-alloy wheels in a bi- or tri-color design that come in up to 20 inches in size. Some even have rosé gold-colored or blue decorative trim. Mercedes has not yet revealed details on the powertrain, range or price.

EQS

Mercedes-EQS

Mercedes EQS 580 4MATIC. Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz held its own world premiere of its EQ brand flagship ahead of the Shanghai Auto Show. The EQS is the first all-electric luxury sedan under the automaker’s new EQ brand. The first models being introduced to the U.S. market will be the EQS 450+ with 329 hp and the EQS 580 4MATIC with 516 hp. This will be an important vehicle for the Chinese market as well.

This all-electric counterpart to the S-Class is loaded with tech. For instance, there are 350 sensors in the vehicle that are used to record distances, speeds and acceleration, lighting conditions, precipitation and temperatures, the occupancy of seats as well as the driver’s blink of an eye or the passengers’ speech. TechCrunch also had a chance to take the EQS for a spin. Here’s what we thought.

NIO

Nio revealed the interior of its flagship sedan at the auto show, giving us more details on the ET7 which was initially revealed in January. It also announced it will deploy a total of 100 of its branded power swap stations as well as other infrastructure, including 500 charging stations and more than 10,000 destination chargers in eight provinces in China. 

Nio ET7 shanghai auto show

The Nio ET7 electric sedan at the 2021 Auto Shanghai on Monday, April 19, 2021. Image Credits: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Nio ET7

The ET7 is Nio’s electric flagship sedan. The company officially debuted the interior of the vehicle, which it described as a second living space. The interior comes in three earth-tone color schemes: Storm Gray, Sand Brown and Edelweiss White. The company dropped some hints about possible exterior colors, as well, such as Sunrise Beige, Luminous Orange and Arctic Green, in addition to the established Cloud White, Star Gray, Deep Black and Southern Star.

The ET7’s 150kWh battery gives the car a whopping range of 621 miles under China’s NEDC testing protocol. The NEDC testing is notorious for providing optimistic estimates and will likely be much less than that under Europe’s WLTP testing.

Nio also boasted about its so-called NIO Autonomous Driving technology, which it claims will  “gradually deliver the relaxing and safe point-to-point autonomous driving experience in scenarios like an expressway, urban, parking, and battery swap.” That phrasing suggests that this is aspirational and is still squarely under the driver assistance system category. Plus, China regulations require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and be able to take control at any time.

Nio is expected to begin production of the ET7 in the coming months, with a launch scheduled for Q1 2022. 

SAIC-GM

SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co., a joint venture between SAIC Motor Corp., General Motors and Liuzhou Wuling Motors Co. showed off their latest vehicle: the budget-friendly Hong Guang Mini EV that costs less than $5,000.

Hong Guang Mini EV

Wuling Hong Guang Mini electric vehicles, manufactured by SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co. Image Credits: Zhe Ji/Getty Images

The Wuling Hong Guang Mini EV, which is also the main photo in this article, is one of the most popular EVs in China this year, with more than 57,000 units sold in February alone, and at $4,230, it’s not hard to see why. The featherweight EV is produced with max efficiency and few parts. A new car is made every minute at the Lizhou, Guangxi factory, and it only takes about four hours to make one from start to finish. The most basic models are truly made for that A to B utility. Both the interior and what’s under the hood make for a very simple, yet functional, vehicle. 

The smooth ride of this adorable mini won’t go faster than 62 miles per hour, and a cap of around 75 to 110 miles of range per charge makes it the perfect car for short trips around urban environments. Upgrading to the $5,600 model includes air conditioning and power windows, which really points to the near Spartan nature of the standard model, which comes with an HVAC ventilation system and a simple radio.

Toyota

The Japanese automakers said it will introduce 15 all-electric vehicles, including seven Toyota bZ branded models, globally by 2025. The new bZ brand debuted at the Shanghai Auto Show.

Toyota bZ46

The Toyota bZ4X on display during the 19th Shanghai Auto Show on April 20, 2021. Image Credits: (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP via Getty Images)

The Toyota bZ4X is technically just a concept, but its importance shouldn’t be disregarded. The concept, which was revealed at the Shanghai Auto Show, kicks off a new all-electric lineup for Toyota.

Toyota’s new bZ brand — which stands for beyond zero — will have a dedicated underlying platform that can be used with multiple variations in terms of size and design. The company said that since it is difficult to prepare such a wide range of choices by itself, it is jointly developing the series with partners who boast expertise in various fields. Toyota tapped Subaru to develop the bZ4X. BYD, Daihaitsu and Suzuki are other partners in the bZ line.

Toyota plans to produce the Toyota bZ4X in Japan and China said it hopes to begin worldwide sales of the model by the middle of 2022.

Volkswagen

The German automaker used the Shanghai Auto Show to reveal its third electric vehicle in its ID brand. And this one is designed specifically for the Chinese market.

VW ID 6

Volkswagen ID 6 world premiere

Volkswagen debuted the all-electric ID.6 CROZZ and ID.6 X at the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show. Image Credits: Volkswagen

The VW ID.6 will be available in two versions: The ID.6 CROZZ, which will be manufactured in the north of China and the ID.6 X in the southern part of the country. The ID.6 is VW’s most spacious ID branded model, with room for up to seven people. The vehicle, which is available in four configurations, has a range of up to 588 km (China NEDC).

Xpeng

Xpeng revealed its third vehicle at the Shanghai auto show, one that intends to use lidar in an effort to boost the capabilities of its advanced driver assistance system.

Xpeng P5

Xpeng P5 electric vehicle

The XPeng Inc. P5 electric vehicle at the 2021Shanghai Auto Show. Image Credits: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Xpeng P5 is the Chinese automaker’s third vehicle, but it’s among the first to be produced with a built-in lidar sensor. The company says the two sensors, which are built into both sides of the sedan’s front, can detect and identify pedestrians, other cars, cyclists, scooters and more, no matter the weather or darkness.

Xpeng’s chairman and CEO He Xiaopeng called the P5 is its most advanced and technically ambitious model yet.

The lidar sensors combined with software deliver an advanced driver assistance system that the automaker says pushes it toward full automation. While the sensor and software system is robust, the vehicle is not self driving. As TechCrunch’s Liao reported, Xpeng’s Navigation Guided Pilot system is benchmarked against Tesla’s Navigate On Autopilot and can automatically change lanes, enter or exit ramps, overtake other vehicles and maneuver another car’s sudden cut-in, a common sight in China’s complex road conditions. However, drivers’ hands must remain on the wheel. The carmaker’s ambition is to remove the driver, that is, reach Level 4 autonomy two to four years from now, but real-life implementation will hinge on regulations.

#audi, #automotive, #electric-vehicles, #mercedes-eqs, #mercedes-benz, #shanghai-auto-show, #tc, #transportation, #volkswagen, #vw-group

General Motors leads $139 million investment into lithium-metal battery developer, SES

General Motors is joining the list of big automakers picking their horses in the race to develop better batteries for electric vehicles with its lead of a $139 million investment into the lithium-metal battery developer, SES.

Volkswagen has QuantumScape; Ford has invested in SolidPower (along with Hyundai and BMW); and now with SES’ big backing from General Motors most of the big American and European automakers have placed their bets.

“We are beyond R&D development,” said SES chief executive Hu Qichao in an interview with TechCrunch. “The main purposes of this funding is to, one, mprove the key material, this lithium metal electrolyte on the anode side and the cathode side, and, two, to improve the scale of the current cell from the iPhone battery size to the size that can be used in cars.”

There’s a third component to the financing as well, Hu said, which is to increase the company’s algorithmic capabilities to monitor and manage cell performance. “It’s something that we and our OEM partners care about,” said Hu.

The investment from GM s the culmination of nearly six years of work with the big automaker, said Hu. “We started working with them in 2015. For the next three years we will go through the standard automation approval processes. Going from ‘A’ sample to ‘B’ sample all the way through ‘D’ sample,” which is the final testing phase before commercial availability of SES’ batteries in cars.

While Tesla, the current leader in electric vehicle sales in America, is looking to improve the form factors of its batteries to make them more powerful and more efficient, Hu said that the chemistry isn’t that different. Solid state batteries represent a step change in battery technology that makes batteries more powerful, easier to recycle, and potentially more stable.

As Mark Harris wrote in TechCrunch earlier earlier this year:

There are many different kinds of SSB but they all lack a liquid electrolyte for moving electrons (electricity) between the battery’s positive (cathode) and negative (anode) electrodes. The liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries limit the materials the electrodes can be made from, and the shape and size of the battery. Because liquid electrolytes are usually flammable, lithium-ion batteries are also prone to runaway heating and even explosion. SSBs are much less flammable and can use metal electrodes or complex internal designs to store more energy and move it faster — giving higher power and faster charging.

What SES is doing has brought the company attention not just from General Motors, but from previous investors including the battery giant SK Innovation; the Singapore-based, government-backed investment firm, Temasek; the venture capital arm of semiconductor manufacturer, Applied Materials, Applied Ventures; the Chinese automaking giant, Shanghai Auto; and investment firm, Vertex.

“GM has been rapidly driving down battery cell costs and improving energy density, and our work with SES technology has incredible potential to deliver even better EV performance for customers who want more range at a lower cost,” said Matt Tsien, GM executive vice president and chief technology officer and president, GM Ventures. “This investment by GM and others will allow SES to accelerate their work and scale up their business.”

  

#america, #applied-materials, #applied-ventures, #battery-technology, #electricity, #energy, #ford, #general-motors, #gm-ventures, #hyundai, #iphone, #lithium, #lithium-ion-batteries, #ontology, #semiconductor, #ses, #solid-state-batteries, #tc, #temasek, #tesla, #volkswagen

Giving EV batteries a second life for sustainability and profit

Electric cars and trucks seem to have everything going for them: They don’t produce tailpipe emissions, they’re quieter than their fossil fuel-powered counterparts and the underlying architecture allows for roomier and often sleeker designs. But the humble lithium-ion battery powering these cars and trucks leads a difficult life. Irregular charging and discharge rates, intense temperatures and many partial charge cycles cause these batteries to degrade in the first five to eight years of use, and eventually, they end up in a recycling facility.

Instead of sending batteries straight to recycling for raw material recovery — and leaving unrealized value on the table — startups and automakers are finding ways to reuse batteries as part of a small and growing market.

That’s because the average electric vehicle lithium-ion battery can retain up to 70% of their charging capacity after being removed. The business proposition for second-life batteries is therefore intuitive: before sending the battery to a recycler, automakers can potentially generate additional revenue by putting it to use in another application or selling it to a third-party.

Low consumer uptake and the relatively recent introduction of EVs to the market has kept the supply of used batteries low, but automakers are already pursuing a number of second-life projects.

To name only a few such projects that have popped up in recent years, Nissan is using old batteries to power small robots; French carmaker Groupe Renault, with partners, is launching stationary energy storage systems made with old EV batteries; and Audi Environmental Foundation, the daughter organization of Audi AG, worked with Indian startup Nunam to build solar nanogrids out of used e-tron battery modules.

Other OEMs, like Lucid Motors, BMW and Proterra, are incorporating reuse principles into their battery design. In fact, Lucid has built its batteries to work across its electric vehicle and energy storage products, including in second-life uses, Chief Engineer Eric Bach told TechCrunch. And BMW has used a ‘plug-and-play’ concept with the batteries in its i3 model so that they can be easily removed and inserted into second-life applications, BMW spokesperson Weiland Bruch said in an interview with TechCrunch. “We believe that battery second-life will become its own self-standing business field,” he added.

A new lease on battery life

Automakers are increasingly bullish on second-life uses, though the size of their role in this budding market is still unclear. Matthew Lumsden, CEO of UK-based Connected Energy, told TechCrunch that he has noticed a shift in the past two years where some OEMs have begun viewing batteries as an asset rather than a liability.

#audi-ag, #automotive, #ec-mobility-hardware, #electric-vehicles, #lithium-ion-batteries, #lucid-motors, #proterra, #rivian, #tesla, #transportation, #volkswagen, #vw-group

Volkswagen really is becoming ‘Voltswagen’ in the U.S.

Automaker Volkswagen wants you to know it’s serious about electric vehicles — so serious, in fact, that it’s officially rebranding around a pun in the U.S. The company revealed in a press release that it’s changing its name from “Volkswagen of America” to “Voltswagen of America” in a press release today. News this could happen leaked late Monday, but many speculated it might be an April Fool’s joke that got out a bit early, but the automaker seems serious about switching the official brand from May 2021 onwards given the official release on its newsroom.

Voltswagen (neé Volkswagen) says that the reason behind the change is to firmly demonstrate its commitment “future-forward investment in e-mobility,” which said more simply, implies that it’s super serious about its electric drivetrain plans. In a more literal sense, ‘Volkswagen’ is actually from the German for ‘the people’s car,’ which suggests that Voltswagen is a car for… volts?

Sort of, but not really, says VW (hey that still works!):

“We have said, from the beginning of our shift to an electric future, that we will build EVs for the millions, not just millionaires,” explained VW CEO and President Scott Keogh in the release announcing the swap. “This name change signifies a nod to our past as the peoples’ car and our firm belief that our future is in being the peoples’ electric car.”

This announcement comes just as Volkswagen has begun shipping its all-electric SUV, the ID.4, in the U.S. It ha a price tag of $33,995, before either federal and tax incentives, so that is indeed on the more affordable side of the existing U.S. electric vehicle market, with even more options set to come for cost-conscious consumers in future as the company spurs uses its commitments of lowering emissions by achieving one million global EV sales by 2025, and playing host to a lineup of mover 70 models across VW and its subrands worldwide by 2029.

Voltswagen branding will include use of a higher blue tone on the VW logo for all-electric vehicles, while gas cars will retain the more traditional dark blue look. The actual word ‘Voltswagen’ will be used on EVs in addition to the initials logo, with the icon graphic itself will be the sole branding on gas cars in the U.S. going forward.

#america, #cars, #electric-car, #electric-vehicle, #evs, #tc, #transport, #united-states, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-group, #voltswagen, #vw

VW changing to Voltswagen—early April fool or corporate rebranding? [Updated]

Update, 8:11am: Apparently it’s real. “We might be changing out our K for a T, but what we aren’t changing is this brand’s commitment to making best-in-class vehicles for drivers and people everywhere,” said Scott Keogh, president and CEO of Voltswagen of America in a press release. “The idea of a ‘people’s car’ is the very fabric of our being. We have said, from the beginning of our shift to an electric future, that we will build EVs for the millions, not just millionaires. This name change signifies a nod to our past as the peoples’ car and our firm belief that our future is in being the peoples’ electric car,” Keogh said.

Original story, 7:53 am:On Monday, automotive journalist twitter was roiled by the news that Volkswagen—literally the people’s car in German—was going to change its name in the US. According to CBNC, a press release published on VW’s US media site on March 29, but dated April 29 and since deleted, said that from this May, VW will now stand for Voltswagen.

Yes, volt, with a T, as in the measure of electric potential named for Italian scientist Alessandro Volta, and not volks, which is German for people. The release apparently explained the rebranding as a “public declaration of the company’s future-forward investment in e-mobility.”

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#cars, #electric-vehicles, #rebranding, #volkswagen, #voltswagen, #vw