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Voyage raises $31 million to bring driverless taxis to communities

By Kirsten Korosec

Voyage, the autonomous vehicle startup that spun out of Udacity, announced Thursday it has raised $31 million in a round led by Franklin Templeton.

Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures also participated in the round. The company, which operates a ride-hailing service in retirement communities using self-driving cars supported by human safety drivers, has raised a total of $52 million since launching in 2017. The new funding includes a $3 million convertible note.

Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron has big plans for the fresh injection of capital, including hiring and expanding its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which always have a human safety driver behind the wheel.

Ultimately, the expanded G2 fleet and staff are just the means toward Cameron’s grander mission to turn Voyage into a truly driverless and profitable ride-hailing company.

“It’s not just about solving self-driving technology,” Cameron told TechCrunch in a recent interview, explaining that a cost-effective vehicle designed to be driverless is the essential piece required to make this a profitable business.

The company is in the midst of a hiring campaign that Cameron hopes will take its 55-person staff to more than 150 over the next year. Voyage has had some success attracting high-profile people to fill executive-level positions, including CTO Drew Gray, who previously worked at Uber ATG, Otto, Cruise and Tesla, as well as former NIO and Tesla employee Davide Bacchet as director of autonomy.

Funds will also be used to increase its fleet of second-generation self-driving cars (called G2) that are currently being used in a 4,000-resident retirement community in San Jose, Calif., as well as The Villages, a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in Florida. Voyage’s G2 fleet has 12 vehicles. Cameron didn’t provide details on how many vehicles it will add to its G2 fleet, only describing it as a “nice jump that will allow us to serve consumers.”

Voyage used the G2 vehicles to create a template of sorts for its eventual driverless vehicle. This driverless product — a term Cameron has used in a previous post on Medium — will initially be limited to 25 miles per hour, which is the driving speed within the two retirement communities in which Voyage currently tests and operates. The vehicle might operate at a low speed, but they are capable of handling complex traffic interactions, he wrote.

“It won’t be the most cost-effective vehicle ever made because the industry still is in its infancy, but it will be a huge, huge, huge improvement over our G2 vehicle in terms of being be able to scale out a commercial service and make money on each ride,” Cameron said. 

Voyage initially used modified Ford Fusion vehicles to test its autonomous vehicle technology, then introduced in July 2018 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, its second generation of autonomous vehicles. But the end goal has always been a driverless product.

Voyage engineers Alan Mond and Trung Dung Vu

TechCrunch previously reported that the company has partnered with an automaker to provide this next-generation vehicle that has been designed specifically for autonomous driving. Cameron wouldn’t name the automaker. The vehicle will be electric and it won’t be a retrofit like the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid vehicles Voyage currently uses or its first-generation vehicle, a Ford Fusion.

Most importantly, and a detail Cameron did share with TechCrunch, is that the vehicle it uses for its driverless service will have redundancies and safety-critical applications built into it.

Voyage also has deals in place with Enterprise rental cars and Intact insurance company to help it scale.

“You can imagine leasing is much more optimal than purchasing and owning vehicles on your balance sheet,” Cameron said. “We have those deals in place that will allow us to not only get the vehicle costs down, but other aspects of the vehicle into the right place as well.”

Audi’s off-roading electric concept would be perfect for Tatooine

By Kirsten Korosec

Concept vehicles are a staple of the auto show circuit. And while most will never end up as a production vehicle, they can provide insight into an automaker and clues to where it’s headed.

Over at Audi, designers and engineers might have had a distant planet in mind. Or at least an expanse of wilderness.

The German automaker unveiled Tuesday at the Frankfurt Motor Show the Audi AI: TRAIL quattro, a concept electric vehicle designed for the “future of off roading.” The “Trail” off roader is one of four concept vehicles that Audi has presented at various auto shows since 2017. Other concepts included a sports car, luxury vehicle and one designed for megacities.

Audi argues that these concepts aren’t efforts of futility. Instead, the company says it these four vehicles show how Audi vehicles in the future will be designed for specific use cases.

“In the future, customers will be able to order any of these specialist Audi models from an Audi on-demand vehicle pool to suit their personal preferences and requirements and to lease them for a limited period,” the company said in its announcement.

Audi takes this idea of the on-demand subscription further by noting that vehicles will be configured to suit individual preferences of customers who use this still non-existent and totally conceptual on-demand product. All the essential customer information would be stored in the myAudi system and accompanying app, the company said.

In the video below, Audi’s head of design Marc Lichte explains the thinking behind these concepts.

 

In the case of the Audi AI: TRAIL, designers put an emphasis on exploration and seeing the surrounding environment. It even comes with five drones, which aside from replacing the headlights, can provide other tasks such as lighting up your camping area or picnic spot.

The all-electric concept, which has a range of up to 310 miles, is about 13.5 feet long and 7 feet wide and is outfitted with beefy 22-inch wheels. And because it’s a vehicle meant to off road, designers gave it ground clearance of 13.4 inches. This concept, if it really existed beyond the showroom floor, can ford through water more than half a meter deep. The range of the vehicle does drop on rough roads to about 155 miles, which would theoretically (if this vehicle actually existed) make wilderness travel more difficult.

[gallery ids="1880216,1880211,1880220,1880215,1880212,1880213,1880210,1880221,1880214,1880207"]

The battery unit is integrated into the floor providing a spacious interior that sits four people. Glass surrounds the cabin to provide unrivaled views of the environment, whether it’s an earthly vista or the binary sunset over the fictional Tatooine desert.

The remaining exterior body is made of a mixture of high-tech steel, aluminum and carbon fiber, giving it a total weight of 3,858 pounds.

The concept vehicle is equipped with four electric motors, systems for assisted and automated driving and all-wheel drive. What you won’t find are any screens for streaming video. This concept was designed for viewing the outside world.

The interior, which uses recycled materials, is scant. There are pedals, a yoke for a steering wheel, a few buttons, and a smartphone attached to the steering column as a display and control center for vehicle functions and navigation.

The second row features seats that are designed to function like hammocks — and can be removed and used as mobile outdoor chairs.

Drones as headlights!

Perhaps the most interesting feature is the inclusion of five rotorless electrically operated drones, which serve a variety of purposes. The drones, which have matrix LED lighting, can dock on the roof to get more power with the inductive charging elements.

Audi calls these drones Audi Light Pathfinders because of their ability to fly and illuminate the path ahead. These drones, Audi says replace headlights altogether. When the vehicle is parked, the drones can be used ti light up the surrounding area.

Occupants control the drones through their smartphones in this theoretical use case. The on-board cameras can generate a video image that can be transmitted to the display in front of the driver via Wi-Fi, turning the Pathfinders into “eyes in the sky,” Audi says.

Ford unveils lineup for Europe to outpace gas and diesel vehicle sales by 2022

By Kirsten Korosec

Ford unveiled a range of hybrid vehicles Tuesday at the Frankfurt Motor Show as part of its plan to reach sales of 1 million electrified vehicles in Europe by the end of 2022.

Ford introduced hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the Mondeo wagon, Puma compact crossover, Kuga (shown below) and Explorer SUVs as well as the new Tourneo “people mover” at the show.

FORD KUGA SIDE CHARGING

But more are coming. Ford said earlier this year it plans to bring eight electrified vehicles to market this year and another nine that will be produced by 2024. One of those, an all-electric Mustang-inspired SUV, will come to market in 2020. The electric SUV with Mustang styling has a targeted range of 600 km (more than 370 miles) calculated using the World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), and fast-charging capability.

Ford expects that electrified vehicles will account for more than 50% of its car sales in Europe by 2022, surpassing combined sales of conventional petrol and diesel models.

Ford’s upcoming portfolio is part of its broader plan to make its Europe division leaner and more profitable. The company said in June it will cut 12,000 jobs and consolidate its manufacturing footprint to a proposed 18 facilities by the end of 2020. Most of the job cuts, 2,000 of which are salaried position, will occur through voluntary separation programs.

The automaker also announced Tuesday partnerships with six energy suppliers in Europe, including Centrica in the U.K. and Ireland, to install home charging wall boxes and provide green energy tariffs. A partnership with NewMotion aims to help drivers locate and pay for charging more easily at more than 118,000 charging points in 30 countries.

“With electrification fast becoming the mainstream, we are substantially increasing the number of electrified models and powertrain options for our customers to choose from to suit their needs,” Ford of Europe President Stuart Rowley said in a statement.

Electrified doesn’t mean every vehicle will be solely powered by electricity. The term means the vehicles can use hybrid, plug-in hybrid or battery-electric technology. The showcase Tuesday supports the automaker’s earlier commitment that every new Ford passenger vehicle will include an electrified option.

Ford Europe plans

While some automakers have stuck to an all-electric strategy, Ford plans to produce a range of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to electrification – every customer’s circumstances and travel needs are different,” said Joerg Beyer, executive director of engineering at Ford of Europe. “Our strategy is to pair the right electrified powertrain option to the right vehicle, helping our customers make their electrified vehicle experience easy and enjoyable.”

Ford isn’t doing this alone. The automaker announced in July a partnership with Volkswagen Group that covers collaboration on electric vehicles and development of autonomous technology via a $2.6 billion investment by VW into Argo AI.

Under the EV part of the tie-up, Ford will use VW’s MEB platform, the underlying architecture for its upcoming line of passenger electric vehicles, to develop at least one fully electric car for Europe. VW debuted Monday the ID.3, the first model with MEB platform.

Volta Charging raises another $20 million to expand ad-supported EV charging network

By Kirsten Korosec

Volta Charging, the San Francisco-based company that combines outdoor digital advertising with charging stations to give electric vehicle owners free power, has added another $20 million in a follow-on to its Series C round.

The company’s Series C round is now closed at $100 million. Schneider Electric Ventures, SK Innovation, Energize Ventures and a number of existing partners participated in the follow-on Series C round. Volta Charging also borrowed $44 million from Energy Impact Partners and CION.

Volta raised $35 million in 2018 in a round led by the Invenergy Future Fund, the technology investment arm of renewable energy project developer Invenergy, and Activate Capital.

Volta, which launched in 2010, partners with businesses and real estate owners to install EV chargers in high-traffic areas such as grocery stores, entertainment venues and shopping centers. Instead of charging EV owners, the power is provided for free. Volta makes money on the outdoor advertising that is a centerpiece of the charger design.

More than 45 million free electric miles have been given to EV drivers to date, the company said.

The company’s first charging stations popped up in Hawaii. Since then, Volta has expanded to San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Silicon Valley in California as well as Chicago and its suburbs, Phoenix, and Dallas and Houston.

The funds will be used to expand the company’s network of free, advertiser sponsored charging stations. Volta is focused on adding more chargers to cities where it already has a presence as well as moving into new markets.

“As the electric vehicle industry continues to grow, Volta is well-positioned to build out an economically viable charging network needed to facilitate the shift from gas to electric,” Volta CEO and founder said Scott Mercer said in a statement. “We continue to rapidly scale our business to meet the growing demands of drivers, real estate partners and sponsors. This capital injection will accelerate our mission of mainstreaming electric vehicles.”

Volkswagen reveals its mass-market ID.3, an electric car with up to 341 miles of range

By Kirsten Korosec

Volkswagen introduced Monday the ID.3, the first model in its new all-electric ID brand and the beginning of the automaker’s ambitious plan to sell 1 million EVs annually by 2025.

The ID.3 debut, which is ahead of the IAA International Motor Show in Frankfurt, is an important milestone for Volkswagen. The company upended its entire business strategy in the wake of the diesel emissions cheating scandal that erupted in September 2015. Now, four years later, VW is starting to show more than just concept vehicles for its newly imagined electric, connected and carbon-neutral brand.

Information about the ID.3, which was unveiled alongside a new VW logo and brand design, has trickled out for months now. Monday’s reveal finally fills in some much-needed details on the interior, battery, infotainment and driver assistance systems.

Screen Shot 2019 09 09 at 11.35.06 AM

The upshot: Everything about the ID.3, from its size and styling to its battery range and pricing, is aiming for the mass-market category.

The electric hatchback is similar in size to the VW Golf. But this is no VW Golf. The aim here, and one Volkswagen just might have achieved, was to signal the beginning of a new brand.

Numerous details in the special edition version of the ID.3, including a panorama tilting glass roof edged in black and interactive LED headlights that have “eyelids” that flutter when the driver approaches the parked vehicle, help drive the future-is-here point home.

The ID.3 will only be sold in Europe and have a starting price under €30,000 (about $33,000). North America’s first chance at an all-electric VW will be the ID Crozz, which is coming to the U.S. at the end of 2020.

ID.3 details

The four-door, five-seater hatchback is as long as a Golf, but thanks to its shorter overhangs, its wheelbase is larger than that of any other vehicle in its category, according to the company. This gives the ID.3 a roomier interior.

The company is starting with the ID.3 1ST, a special edition version that will come with a 58 kWh-battery pack with a range of up to 420 kilometers, or about 260 miles, and come with three equipment variants. The ID.3 1ST will start under €40,000 ($44,200).

Screen Shot 2019 09 09 at 11.32.00 AM

The ID.3 1ST will have fast-charging capability that will allow it (when using a DC fast charger) to add 180 miles to its battery in 30 minutes, a longer range than had previously been possible in the compact vehicle segment, VW said Monday.

Buyers of the special edition will be offered free charging for one year up to 2,000 kWh. This free-charging deal only applies to stations linked to WeCharge, which includes the Ionity network of more than 100,000 charging points throughout Europe.

Volkswagen, which owns a stake in the joint venture Ionity, aims by 2020 to install along main European routes 400 ultra-fast charging stations that use 100% renewable energy.

All 30,000 special edition ID.3 vehicles have been reserved. The first ID.3 vehicles will be delivered to customers in Germany in spring 2020.

Series production

The series production version of the ID.3 will have two additional battery options, including a 45 kWh-pack that has a range of 205 miles and a 77 kWh-pack that can travel 341 miles on a single charge, in accordance with WLTP. The WLTP, or Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, is the European standard to measure energy consumption and emissions, and tends to be more generous than the U.S. EPA estimates.

The ID.3 will come with an advanced driver assistance system-supported multifunction camera mounted on the windshield. This camera will be able to identify road signs.

Volkswagen ID.3 Large 10139

The ADAS will include an emergency braking system, pedestrian monitoring, multi-collision brake feature, lane-keeping and lane change systems, and a parking assist that uses a rearview camera. There also will be a keyless access system featuring illuminated door handles.

A park distance control feature is designed to prevent impending collisions or to reduce the severity of collisions by triggering an emergency braking maneuver at the latest possible point.

Inside the ID.3, customers will find a 10-inch touch display. A feature called ID. Light will display an LED strip during navigation that can signal drivers to take actions, such as prompting them to brake.

VW is also offering an optional augmented reality head-up display that will project relevant information directly onto the windshield. All controls are operated using touch functions featuring touch-sensitive buttons. Only the electric windows and hazard warning lights are still operated using tactile switches, the company said.

The ID.3 comes equipped with intelligent natural voice control. Drivers or front passengers can speak to the ID.3, simply by saying “hello ID.” Visually, ID. Light signals to whom the ID.3 is currently responding.

More to come

The ID.3 along with others that will join its eventual portfolio of more than 20 full-electric models are built on VW’s flexible MEB platform.

The MEB, which was introduced in 2016, is a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.

The first vehicles to use this MEB platform will be under the ID brand, although this platform can and will be used for electric vehicles under other VW Group brands such as Skoda and Seat. (The MEB won’t be used by VW brands Audi or Porsche, which are developing their own platform for electric vehicles.)

UPS introduces hybrid, long-range trucks that change modes based on where they are

By Darrell Etherington

UPS is introducing fifteen new vehicles to its fleet that offer extended driving range vs. traditional EVs, but that are also capable of operating in fully electric mode when required to do so, as in emission-free zones and dense city cores. The trucks, developed in partnership with commercial electric vehicle tech startup TEVVA, can switch between hybrid and fully electric modes for a total range of up to 400km (~250 miles), with the same cargo carrying capacity of same-sized diesel-powered trucks.

The trucks can operate at a much longer range than fully electric delivery trucks, which typically top out at around 60 miles of range and can also switch between modes to stay fair of local transportation bylaws. This is especially helpful where they’re rolling out in Birmingham and Southampton in the UK, since Birmingham will introduce a clean air zone to block non-electric commercial vehicles in its city center by sometime next year.

UPS has already made use of electric delivery vehicles, but the range of its existing trucks meant they couldn’t make the trip from central depots to in-city drop-off points in every case. Plus, this hybridized solution will also be able to carry a lot more packages than the fully electric trucks, which should lead to fewer cars on the road overall and less congestion, according to UPS.

The crucial difference between these trucks and standard hybrid vehicles is that they’re capable of fully autonomously switching between purely electric motors and their diesel hybrid powertrains – and can do so with geofencing whenever they cross into and out of a clean air or reduced emissions regulated zone.

UPS has taken delivery of 15 fo these vans already, and they’re serving customers in both Tamworth and Southampton in the UK. They’re just one part of UPS’ overall effort to decrease their emissions footprint and environmental impact.

Meet Olli 2.0, a 3D-printed autonomous shuttle

By Kirsten Korosec

From afar, Olli resembles many of the “future is now!” electric autonomous shuttles that have popped up in recent years.

The tall rectangular pod, with its wide-set headlights and expansive windows nestled between a rounded frame, gives the shuttle a friendly countenance that screams, ever so gently, “come along, take a ride.”

But Olli is different in almost every way, from how it’s produced to its origin story. And now, its maker, Local Motors, has given Olli an upgrade in hopes of accelerating the adoption of its autonomous shuttles.

Meet Olli 2.0, a 3D-printed connected electric autonomous shuttle that Rogers says will hasten its ubiquity.

“The future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed,” Local Motors co-founder and CEO John B. Rogers Jr. said in a recent interview. “That’s something I say a lot. Because people often ask me, ‘Hey, when will I see this vehicle? 2023? What do you think?’ My response: It’s here now, it’s just not everywhere.”

Whether individuals will adopt Rogers’ vision of the future is another matter. But he argues that Olli 1.0 has already been a persuasive ambassador.

Olli 2.0 Left Door

Olli 1.0 made its debut in 2016 when it launched in National Harbor, Md., at a planned mixed-use development a few miles south of Washington, D.C. In the two years since, Olli has shown up at events such as LA Automobility, and been featured by various media outlets, including this one.  Heck, even James Cordon rode in it.

Local Motors, which was founded in 2007, and its Olli 1.0 shuttle are familiar figures in the fledgling autonomous vehicle industry. But they’re often overshadowed by the likes of Argo AI, Cruise, Uber and Waymo — bigger companies that are all pursuing robotaxis designed for cities.

Olli, meanwhile, is designed for campuses, low-speed environments that include hospitals, military bases and universities.

“The public isn’t going to see New York City with autonomous vehicles running around all the time (any time soon),” Rogers said. Campuses, on the other hand, are a sweet spot for companies like Local Motors that want to deploy now. These are places where mobility is needed and people are able to get up close and personal with a “friendly robot” like Olli, Rogers said. 

Olli 2.0

Olli and Olli 2.0 are clearly siblings. The low-speed vehicle has the same general shape, and a top speed of 25 miles per hour. And both have been crash tested by Local Motors and come with Level 4 autonomous capability, a designation by the SAE that means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention.

Olli 2.0 has a lot more range — up to 100 miles on a single charge, according to its spec sheet. The manufacturing process has been improved, and Olli 2.0 is now 80% 3D-printed and has hub motors versus the axle wheel motors in its predecessor. In addition, there are two more seats in Olli 2.0 and new programmable lighting.

But where Olli 2.0 really stands out is in the improved user interface and more choices for customers looking to customize the shuttle to suit specific needs. As Rogers recently put it, “We can pretty much make anything they ask for with the right partners.”

Local-Motors-Olli -2.0

The outside of Olli 2.0 is outfitted with a PA system and screens on the front and back to address pedestrians. The screen in the front can be shown as eyes, making Olli 2.0 more approachable and anthropomorphic.

Inside the shuttle, riders will find better speakers and microphones and touchscreens. Local Motors has an open API, which allows for an endless number of UI interfaces. For instance, LG is customizing media content for Olli based on the “5G future,” according to Rogers, who said he couldn’t provide more details just yet.

AR and VR can also be added, if a customer desires. The interior can be changed to suit different needs as well. For instance, a hospital might want fewer seats and more room to transport patients on beds. It’s this kind of customization that Rogers believes will give Local Motors an edge over autonomous shuttle competitors.

Local-Motors-Olli-2.0-Interior

Even the way Olli 2.0 communicates has been improved.

Olli 1.0 used IBM Watson, the AI platform from IBM, for its natural language and speech to text functions. Olli 2.0 has more options. Natural language voice can use Amazon’s deep learning chatbot service Lex and IBM Watson. Customers can choose one or even combine them. Both can be altered to make the system addressable to “Olli.”

The many people behind Olli

In the so-called race to deploy autonomous vehicles, Local Motors is a participant that is difficult to categorize or label largely due to how it makes its shuttles.

It’s not just that Local Motors’ two micro factories — at its Chandler, Ariz. headquarters and in Knoxville, Tenn. — are a diminutive 10,000 square feet. Or that these micro factories lack the tool and die and stamping equipment found in a traditional automaker’s factory. Or even that Olli is 3D-printed.

A striking and perhaps less obvious difference is how Olli and other creations from Local Motors, and its parent company Local Motors Industries, come to life. LMI has a co-creation and low-volume local production business model. The parent company’s Launch Forth unit manages a digital design community of tens of thousands of engineers and designers that co-creates products for customers. Some of those mobility creations go to Local Motors, which uses its low-volume 3D-printed micro factories to build Olli and Olli 2.0, as well as other products like the Rally Fighter.

This ability to tap into its community and its partnerships with research labs, combined with direct digital manufacturing and its micro factories, is what Rogers says allows it to go from design to mobile prototype in weeks, not months — or even years.

The company issues challenges to the community. The winner of a challenge gets a cash prize and is awarded royalties as the product is commercialized. In 2016, a Bogota, Colombia man named Edgar Sarmiento won the Local Motors challenge to design an urban public transportation system. His design eventually became Olli.

(Local Motors uses the challenges model to determine where Olli will be deployed, as well.)

New design challenges are constantly being launched to improve the UI and services of Olli, as well as other products. But even that doesn’t quite capture the scope of the co-creation. Local Motors partners with dozens of companies and research organizations. Its 3D-printing technology comes from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Olli itself involves a who’s who in the sensor, AV and supplier communities.

Startup Affectiva provides Olli’s cognition system, such as facial and mood tracking of its passengers and dynamic route optimization, while Velodyne, Delphi, Robotic Research and Axis Communications handle the perception stack of the self-driving shuttle, according to Local Motors. Nvidia and Sierra Wireless provide much of the Human Machine Interface. Other companies that supply the bits and pieces to Olli include Bosch, Goodyear, Protean and Eastman, to name just a few.

Where in the world is Olli?

Today, Olli 1.0 is deployed on nine campuses, the most recent ones at the Joint Base Myer – Henderson Hall, a joint base of the U.S. military located around Arlington, Va., which is made up of Fort Myer, Fort McNair and Henderson Hall. Olli was also introduced recently in Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento, Calif.

Production of Olli 2.0 began in July and deliveries will begin in the fourth quarter of this year. In the meantime, three more Olli shuttle deployments are coming up in the next six weeks or so, according to Local Motors, which didn’t provide further details.

Production of Olli 1.0 will phase out in the coming months as customer orders are completed. Olli will soon head to Europe, as well, with Local Motors planning to build its third micro factory in the region.

VW Group to pay $96.5M to settle inflated fuel economy lawsuit

By Kirsten Korosec

VW Group of America said Friday it has reached an agreement with thousands of U.S. customers over alleged inflated fuel economy information on about 98,000 gas-powered vehicles from its four brands, Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Volkswagen.

The agreement involves alleged misinformation about fuel economy on 98,000 vehicles, or about 3.5% of the model year 2013-2017 VW Group vehicles sold or leased in the United States. The fuel economy will be restated to reflect a discrepancy of one mile per gallon, when rounded according to the U.S.-specific “Monroney” label requirements, according to the EPA.

Most of the vehicles affected by the overstatement of fuel economy were from Audi, Bentley and Porsche, including the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Audi A8L, RS7 and S8 vehicles. Other affected models include variants of the Porsche Cayenne such as the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo.

Volkswagen does not admit wrongdoing under the terms of the settlement.

Eligible customers will receive payments ranging from $5.40 to $24.30 for each month the vehicle is owned or leased. The total value of the settlement, which is subject to court approval, is $96.5 million, according to VW.

Volkswagen Group of America will also adjust its Greenhouse Gas credits to account for any excess credits associated with the fuel economy discrepancy.

Potential claimants will have to submit a claim to receive compensation. However, owners do not need to take any action at this time. Individual class members will receive information about their rights and options (including the option to “opt out” of the settlement agreement) if the court grants preliminary approval of the proposed agreement, according to VW.

Ford says its autonomous cars will last just four years

By Connie Loizos

The automotive industry has embraced — and advertised — self-driving cars as a kind of panacea that will solve numerous problems that modern society is grappling with right now, from congestion to safety to productivity (you can work while riding!).

Unfortunately, a very big question that has been almost entirely overlooked is: how long will these cars last?

The answer might surprise you. In an interview with The Telegraph in London, John Rich, who is the operations chief of Ford Autonomous Vehicles, revealed today that the “thing that worries me least in this world is decreasing demand for cars,” because “we will exhaust and crush a car every four years in this business.”

Four years! That’s not a very long lifespan, even compared with cars that undergo a lot of wear-and-tear, like New York City cabs, which were an average of 3.8 years old in 2017, meaning some were brand new and others had been in service for more than seven years.

It’s more surprising compared with the nearly 12 years that the average U.S. car owner hangs on to a vehicle. In fact, Americans are maintaining their cars longer in part because the technology used to make and operate them has advanced meaningfully. In 2002, according to the London-based research firm IHS Markit, the average age of a car in operation was 9.6 years.

So what’s the story with autonomous cars, into which many billions of investment capital is being poured? We first turned to Argo AI, a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based startup that raised $1 billion investment in funding from Ford three years ago and refueled this summer with $2.6 billion in capital and assets from Volkswagen as part of a broader alliance between VW Group and Ford. Argo is developing cars for Ford that it’s testing right now in five cities.

Since Ford will be operating the cars, Argo pointed us back to Ford’s Rich, who, while on the run, answered some our questions via email.

Asked how many miles Ford anticipates that the cars will travel each year — we wondered if this number would be more or less than a taxi or full-time Uber driver might traverse — he declined to say, telling us instead that while Ford isn’t sharing miles targets, the “vehicles are being designed for maximum utilization.

“Today’s vehicles spend most of the day parked. To develop a profitable, viable business model for [autonomous vehicles], they need to be running almost the entire day.”

Indeed, Ford right now plans to use the cars in autonomous fleets that will be used as a service by other companies, including as delivery vehicles. Asked if Ford also plans to sell the cars to individuals, Rich suggests it’s not in the plans right not, saying merely that Ford sees the “initial commercialization of AVs to be fleet-centric.”

We also wondered if Rich’s prediction for the lifespan of full self-driving cars ties to his expectation that Ford’s autonomous vehicles will be powered by internal combustion engines. Most carmakers appear to be investing in new combustible engine architectures that promise greater fuel efficiency and fewer emissions but that still require more parts than electric cars. (The more parts that are being stressed, the higher the likelihood that something will break.)

Rich says the idea is to transition to battery-electric vehicles (BEV) eventually, but that Ford also needs to “find the right balance that will help develop a profitable, viable business model. This means launching with hybrids first.”

In his words, the challenges with BEVs as autonomous vehicles right now: includes a “lack of charging infrastructure where we need to operate an AV fleet. Charging stations and infrastructure needs to be built that will add to the already capital-intensive nature of developing the AV technology and operations.”

Another challenge is the “depletion of range from on-board tech. Testing shows that upwards of 50 percent of BEV range will be used up due to the computing power of an AV system, plus the A/C and entertainment systems that are likely required during a ride hailing service or passenger comfort.”

Ford also worries about utilization, writes Rich, “The whole key to running a profitable AV business is utilization – if cars are sitting on chargers, they aren’t making money.”

And it’s worried about battery degradation, given that while “fast charging is needed daily to run an AV fleet, it degrades the battery if used often,” he says.

Of course, the world would be far better off without any combustion engine exhaust emissions, full stop. On the brighter side, while Ford’s cars may not be long for this world, between 80 and 86 percent of a car’s material can be recycled and reused. According to a trade group called the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), the U.S. recycles 150 million metric tons of scrap materials every year altogether.

Fully 85 million tons of that is iron and steel; the ISRI says the U.S. recycles another 5.5 million tons of aluminum, a lighter but more expensive alternative to steel that carmakers also use.

Porsche Taycan sets fastest 4-door electric car record at Nürburgring Nordschleife

By Kirsten Korosec

Porsche’s upcoming all-electric Taycan has set a narrow, yet notable record lap time at the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife test track in Germany.

The company said Monday the Porsche Taycan, which will debut September 4, completed the 12.8-mile course in 7 minutes and 42 seconds. This is the fastest lap for a four-door electric vehicle. The record time was set in a pre-series Taycan driven by Lars Kern.

But it’s not the fastest lap for any electric vehicle. That honor goes to Volkswagen’s ID R electric race car, which completed the course in 6:05.336 minutes. The previous record was set in 2017 by Peter Dumbreck, who was driving a Nio electric vehicle.

Still, it’s a zippy time for any vehicle. Porsche has set out to show the speed and endurance of its first electric vehicle ahead of its debut. Porsche says its record run at Nürburgring Nordschleife and an endurance test at the Nardò high-speed track show the Taycan can do both.

Earlier this year, Porsche tested the Taycan’s ability to do successive acceleration runs from zero to 62 miles per hour. A video shows 26 successive starts without losses in performance. The average acceleration figure from the timed runs was less than 10 seconds, according to Porsche. The difference between the fastest and slowest acceleration runs was 0.8 seconds, the company said.

The German automaker also drove 2,128 miles at speeds between 128 and 133 mph within 24 hours, only stopping to charge the battery and change drivers, at the Nardò track in Italy.

At Nürburgring Nordschleife, development engineers started driving a Taycan around in a simulator to test and evaluate its performance on a virtual race track. Porsche said one of the main goals was determining electric energy with thermal management, which form an important contribution to achieving the lap time.

Porsche is aiming to prove to its existing customers, many of whom have never driven or owned an electric vehicle, that the Taycan will meet the same performance standards as its gas-powered cars and SUVs. It also hopes to attract new customers to the Porsche brand.

It appears the company is on the right track, if the thousands of reservations for the Taycan convert into actual purchases.

Driving Volkswagen’s all-electric ID Buggy concept

By Kirsten Korosec

The VW electric ID Buggy concept is delightful and bright, stout and smiling. It’s a vehicle fit for the sunshine and sand dunes, or perhaps a less committing slow roll along the beach.

And so my first drive in a prototype of the all-electric buggy — along the coast near Spanish Bay in Monterey, Calif., — was tinged with sadness. After all, the ID Buggy is just a concept. It’s not meant for this world. At least not right now.

There is still a chance that the ID Buggy will make it to production. VW is already in talks with “at least one company” to bring the buggy into production, TechCrunch confirmed.

The global debut of the ID Buggy concept at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show in March was meant to showcase VW’s electric future and demonstrate the versatility of its modular electric drive toolkit chassis, or MEB. The MEB, which was introduced in 2016, is a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.

The first vehicles to use this MEB platform will be under the ID brand, although this platform can and will be used for electric vehicles under other VW Group brands such as Skoda and Seat. (The MEB won’t be used by VW brands Audi or Porsche, which are developing their own platform for electric vehicles.)

VW has shown off several ID concepts. Some of these, like the ID Crozz and ID Buzz are going into production. A production version of the Crozz is coming to the U.S. at the end of 2020. Others, like this buggy, are not currently on the production track.

kirstenbuggy

Driving the ID Buggy Drive

The ID Buggy is simple, and that’s exactly what it should be. No clutter or whiz-bang creature comforts. Instead, this leisure vehicle inspired by the 1960s era Meyers Manx has no roof or doors — although a tarpaulin can be stretched between the windscreen frame and the Targa bar as a sun sail or light weather protection. Without doors, the driver climbs in, and with relative ease, depending on one’s general fitness and flexibility.

The ID Buggy towers over its inspiration — the iconic Meyers Manx buggy that became popular among the California beach-and-surf culture of the 1960s.

The ID Buggy was also a quieter, smoother ride than the Meyers Manx. I also spent some time in a classic bright red buggy with a four-speed manual transmission and gas engine that might have been a touch carbureted. While the Manx roared as I shifted into first and peeled away, the electric ID Buggy was silent and smooth as it rolled out of the sandy parking lot.

vw id buggy wheel

The main detail inside the ID Buggy is the lack of features and do-dads. The hexagonal steering wheel, shown above, isn’t littered with toggles; there are just a couple of controls on the crossbar. A small integrated stock to the right side of the steering wheel allows the driver to move the vehicle into drive, reverse and park. A digital instrument cluster provides the basic information like speed.

Even the brake and accelerator pedals continue this stripped-down design story. 

The dashboard and the passenger area are just as void of features. This lack of “stuff” is more about function than form, although the matte green and textured grey blue at the bottom does make a visual statement. The ID Buggy is meant to be driven in the elements, rain or shine. And so designers made the interior waterproof.

vw buggy dash

Under the ID Buggy’s body is where the good stuff lives.

The rear-wheel drive buggy is outfitted with an electric motor that produces 201 horsepower and a maximum torque of 228 pound-feet. It has a 62-kilowatt-hour battery that can travel 155 miles (under the WLTP standard) on a single charge. There is not an EPA estimate for the range. It can accelerate from a standstill to 62 miles per hour in 7.2 seconds.

Unfortunately, this prototype had a kill-the-thrill speed limiter on it, scuttling my plans for a zippy ride along the coast.

Still, the ID Buggy offered a fun and easy, breezy ride. It handled the curves of the roads with ease and its wide body and higher rear end provided a sense of security even while driving amid other much larger passenger cars.

vw buggy id front

Building the ID Buggy

It’s unclear what company, or companies, are in talks to produce the buggy. VW wouldn’t give names; not even the ocean breeze and cloudless sky or the endless supercar eye candy were enough to loosen the lips of VW employees during Monterey Car Week.

It’s possible that this unnamed company is e.Go Mobile. VW announced in March that e.Go Mobile would be its first external partner to use its MEB electric platform to launch other EVs in addition to Volkswagen’s model range. A dedicated vehicle project is already being planned, VW said at the time.

A VW spokesperson told TechCrunch there’s no decision about which car will be produced under this partnership with e.Go Mobile. It could be the buggy; it could also be some other vehicle.

And then there’s Ford. Earlier this year, the two automakers announced a partnership that includes Ford producing electric cars based on the MEB developed by Volkswagen.

The VW folks on the ground in Monterey did express hope that a third party does build the buggy, or a modified version of it. As one spokesperson later told TechCrunch, “As the drive in Monterey showed, the Buggy is a great ambassador for Volkswagen and for e-mobility. I am sure it would find a lot of customers.”

In the end, the ID Buggy is a sleek cruiser rather than a beach bomber like the 1960s original. It successfully demonstrates the versatility around VW’s electric platform. After all, Volkswagen foresees critical parts in the ID Buggy used to power multiple consumer electric vehicles in the near future. And it’s a fair assumption the ID Buggy’s production cousins will have a bit more gadgets, including silly things like doors.

Porsche invests in ‘low visibility’ sensor startup TriEye

By Kirsten Korosec

Porsche’s venture arm has acquired a minority stake in TriEye, an Israeli startup that’s working on a sensor technology to help vehicle driver-assistance and self-driving systems see better in poor weather conditions like dust, fog and rain.

The strategic investment is part of a Series A financing round that has been expanded to $19 million. The round was initially led by Intel Capital and Israeli venture fund Grove Ventures. Porsche has held shares in Grove Ventures since 2017.

TriEye has raised $22 million to date. Terms of Porsche’s investment were not disclosed.

The additional funding will be used for ongoing product development, operations and hiring talent, according to TriEye.

The advanced driver-assistance systems found in most new vehicles today typically rely on a combination of cameras and radar to “see.” Autonomous vehicle systems, which are being developed and tested by dozens of companies such as Argo AI, Aptiv, Aurora, Cruise and Waymo, have a more robust suite of sensors that include light detection and ranging radar (lidar) along with cameras and ultrasonic sensors.

For either of these systems to function properly, they need to be able to see in all conditions. This pursuit of sensor technology has sparked a boom in startups hoping to tap into demand from automakers and companies working on self-driving car systems.

TriEye is one of them. The premise of TriEye is to solve the low visibility problem created by poor weather conditions. The startup’s co-founders argue that fusing existing sensors such as radar, lidar and standard cameras don’t solve this problem.

TriEye, which was founded in 2017, believes the answer is through short-wave infrared (SWIR) sensors. The startup said it has developed an HD SWIR camera that is a smaller size, higher resolution and cheaper than other technologies. The camera is due to launch in 2020.

The technology is based on advanced nano-photonics research by Uriel Levy, a TriEye co-founder and CTO who is also a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The company says its secret sauce is its “unique” semiconductor design that will make it possible to manufacture SWIR HD cameras at a “fraction of their current cost.”

TriEye’s technology was apparently good enough to get Porsche’s attention.

Michael Steiner, a Porsche AG board member focused on R&D, said the technology was promising, as was the team, which is comprised of people with expertise in deep learning, nano-photonics and semiconductor components.

“We see great potential in this sensor technology that paves the way for the next generation of driver assistance systems and autonomous driving functions,” Steiner said in a statement. “SWIR can be a key element: it offers enhanced safety at a competitive price.”

Shell’s first Greenlots electric vehicle fast charger lands in Singapore

By Kirsten Korosec

Royal Dutch Shell, the energy giant known for its fossil fuel production and hundreds of Shell gas stations, is creeping into the electric vehicle-power business.

The company’s first DC fast charger from its newly acquired company Greenlots launched Monday at a Shell gas station in Singapore. Greenlots, an EV charging startup acquired by Shell in January, installed the charger. This is the first of 10 DC fast chargers that Greenlots plans to bring to Shell service stations in Singapore over the next several months.

The decision to target Singapore is part of Greenlots’ broader strategy to provide EV charging solutions across all applications throughout Asia and North America, the company said. Both Shell and Greenlots have a presence in Singapore. Greenlots, which is based in Los Angeles, was founded in Singapore; and Shell is one of Singapore’s largest foreign investors.

Singapore has been promoting the use of electric vehicles, particularly for car-sharing and ride-hailing platforms. The island city-state has been building up its EV infrastructure to meet anticipated demand as ride-hailing drivers and commercial fleets switch to electric vehicles.

Greenlots was backed by Energy Impact Partners, a cleantech investment firm, before it was acquired by Shell. The company, which combines its management software with the EV charging hardware, has landed some significant customers in recent years, notably Volkswagen. Greenlots is the sole software provider to Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal.

Clarification: Shell has other EV chargers. These are the first through its newly acquired company Greenlots.

UPS takes minority stake in self-driving truck startup TuSimple

By Kirsten Korosec

UPS said Thursday it has taken a minority stake in self-driving truck startup TuSimple just months after the two companies began testing the use of autonomous trucks in Arizona.

The size of minority investment, which was made by the company’s venture arm UPS Ventures, was not disclosed. The investment and the testing comes as UPS looks for new ways to remain competitive, cut costs and boost its bottom line.

TuSimple, which launched in 2015 and has operations in San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, believes it can deliver. The startup says it can cut average purchased transportation costs by 30%.

TuSimple, which is backed by Nvidia, ZP Capital and Sina Corp., is working on a “full-stack solution,” a wonky industry term that means developing and bringing together all of the technological pieces required for autonomous driving. TuSimple is developing a Level 4 system, a designation by the SAE that means the vehicle takes over all of the driving in certain conditions.

An important piece of TuSimple’s approach is its camera-centric perception solution. TuSimple’s camera-based system has a vision range of 1,000 meters, the company says.

The days of when highways will be filled with autonomous trucks are years away. But UPS believes it’s worth jumping in at an early stage to take advantage of some of the automated driving such as advanced braking technology that TuSimple can offer today.

“UPS is committed to developing and deploying technologies that enable us to operate our global logistics network more efficiently,” Scott Price, chief strategy officer at UPS said in a statement. “While fully autonomous, driverless vehicles still have development and regulatory work ahead, we are excited by the advances in braking and other technologies that companies like TuSimple are mastering. All of these technologies offer significant safety and other benefits that will be realized long before the full vision of autonomous vehicles is brought to fruition — and UPS will be there, as a leader implementing these new technologies in our fleet.”

UPS initially tapped TuSimple to help it better understand how Level 4 autonomous trucking might function within its network. That relationship expanded in May when the companies began using self-driving tractor trailers to carry freight on a freight route between Tucson and Phoenix to test if service and efficiency in the UPS network can be improved. This testing is ongoing. All of TuSimple’s self-driving trucks operating in the U.S. have a safety driver and an engineer in the cab.

TuSimple and UPS monitor all aspects of these trips, including safety data, transport time and the distance and time the trucks travel autonomously, the companies said Thursday.

UPS isn’t the only company that TuSimple is hauling freight for as part of its testing. TuSimple has said its hauling loads for for several customers in Arizona.  The startup has a post-money valuation of $1.095 billion (aka unicorn status).

Auto supplier Continental shifts gears — and its capital — to an electric future

By Kirsten Korosec

Continental AG, a global auto-parts supplier, will no longer invest in parts used in internal combustion engines, the latest sign that the automotive industry is being forced to respond to increasingly strict emissions laws.

Instead, the company said it will put more focus and capital on the electric powertrain, which it believes is the “future of mobility.”

“Our customers are increasingly and consistently turning to the electrification of combustion engines through hybrid drives as well as to pure battery-powered vehicles,” said Andreas Wolf, head of Continental’s Powertrain division, which in the future will operate under the name Vitesco Technologies with Wolf as CEO.

This shift toward electrification is being driven by tighter regulations around the world. Cities are clamping down on the use of diesel- and gas-powered cars, trucks and SUVs in urban centers and states like California are tightening rules to meet air quality and emissions targets to combat climate change. China has placed restrictions on gas-powered vehicles and provides incentives to electric ones. France wants to end the sale of fossil fuel-powered cars by 2040.

And automakers are following. Volvo, VW and others have announced plans over the past two years to increase sales of electric vehicles and move toward more electrification throughout their portfolios of existing vehicles. Electrification can mean hybrid, plug-in or all-electric vehicles.

There has been plenty of speculation and attempts to predict exactly when — not so much if — a tectonic shift to electric powertrains would occur. Suppliers have grappled with the “when” part. Putting too much capital too soon toward developing automotive parts can saddle a supplier with inventory and mounting costs.

What’s happening at Continental is starting to play out within the rest of the industry. If companies like Continental want to survive and keep up with the demands of automakers, they have to act. But not wildly. Development costs for powertrains are, after all, no small matter.

Continental is making specific choices on what exactly it pursues. The company, for instance, will not consider producing solid-state battery cells in the future. Apparently the company was open to making an investment in battery cell production. But now the company believes the market no longer offers any attractive economic prospects for battery cell production for Continental, Wolf said.

What Continental is going to do is reduce investment in its hydraulic components business, which includes parts like injectors and pumps for gasoline and diesel engines.

“Investments in research and development and in production capacity for innovations are becoming less profitable,” says Wolf, explaining the reasoning behind this decision.

Continental will fulfill existing orders. New orders will “play an increasingly marginal role.”

This shift within Continental will likely extend over a number of years, as combustion engines essentially serve as the basic drivers for hybrid solutions, Wolf said. The company will also review its business in components for exhaust-gas after treatment and fuel delivery.

All of this translates into big changes within the company, including the technologies it decides to invest in, jobs and even locations of some of its operations. Continental said it will also consider partnerships.

US regulators take aim at Tesla over Model 3 safety claims

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla’s claims about the safety of its Model 3 electric vehicle prompted U.S. regulators to send a cease-and-desist letter and escalate the matter by asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate, according to documents released by the nonprofit legal transparency website PlainSite.

The documents show correspondence between the lawyers at National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Tesla that began after the automaker’s October 7 blog post that said the Model 3 had achieved the lowest probability of injury of any vehicle the agency ever tested. PlainSite received the 79 pages of communications since January 2018 between NHTSA and Tesla through a Freedom of Information Act request. There were 450 pages of communication that were withheld due to Tesla’s request for confidentiality on the basis of “trade secrets.”

NHTSA took issue with the blog post, arguing that Tesla’s claims were inconsistent with its advertising guidelines regarding crash ratings. The matter might have ended with that demand. But NHTSA took the issue further and informed Tesla it would ask the Federal Trade Commission to weigh in.

“This is not the first time that Tesla has disregarded the guidelines in a matter that may lead to consumer confusion and give Tesla an unfair market advantage,” the letter dated October 17 reads. “We have therefore also referred this matter to the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to investigate whether these statements constitute unfair or deceptive acts or practices.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

The automaker’s lawyers did, however, push back against NHTSA’s request, according to the correspondence released by PlainSite. Tesla lawyers argue in one letter that the company’s statements were neither “untrue nor misleading.”

“To the contrary, Tesla has provided consumers with fair and objective information to compare the relative safety of vehicles having 5-star overall ratings,” the letter from Tesla’s deputy general counsel.

The documents posted by PlainSite also showed NHTSA requested sales data on all Tesla vehicles produced since July 2016 with or without Autopilot, the automaker’s advanced driver assistance system. The agency also issued subpoenas to Tesla ordering it to produce information on several crashes, including a January 25, 2019 crash in San Ramon, Calif. The subpoenas requested information about the vehicle, its owner, history and videos and images related to the crash and were to be sent to NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigations.

Gogoro announces Yamaha, Aeon and PGO are the first manufacturers that will use its swappable batteries in their own scooters

By Catherine Shu

Gogoro, the Taiwanese electric vehicle company, has announced its first manufacturing partners. Yamaha, Aeon Motor and PGO will all launch new scooters this summer that run on Gogoro’s swappable batteries and charging infrastructure.

This means consumers who like Gogoro’s battery system will have a choice between buying Gogoro’s own scooters or scooters from its three partners. All scooters that use Gogoro’s energy network can exchange batteries at the 1,300 GoStations currently in Taiwan.

Beyond its own electric scooters, Gogoro sees its technology, most of which is developed in-house, as an open platform for electric vehicles, with the goal of reducing pollution in cities with heavy traffic. It recently launched a ridesharing platform that can be used as a white-label solution by companies that want to launch their own electric scooter-sharing program (Gogoro’s scooters are already use by Coup, the European ridesharing startup).

For a deeper look into the company’s origins and plans, Extra Crunch subscribers can read a recently published interview with Gogoro co-founder and CEO Horace Luke.

Nissan and EVgo to add 200 fast chargers as more electric vehicles hit US roads

By Kirsten Korosec

Nissan and EVgo said Tuesday they will install another 200 DC fast chargers in the United States to support the growing number of consumers who are buying electric vehicles, including the new Nissan Leaf e+ that came to market earlier this year.

The 100 kilowatt DC fast-charging stations will have both CHAdeMO and CCS connectors, making them accessible to more EV drivers. The inclusion of both charger connectors is logical; it’s also notable for Nissan, once the primary advocates for CHAdeMO chargers.

The announcement builds off of the companies’ six-year partnership, which included building out a corridor of EV chargers along Interstate 95 on the East Coast, as well as between Monterey, Calif., and Lake Tahoe.

Nissan says it has installed more than 2,000 quick-charge connectors across the country since 2010.

Plans to add another 200 fast chargers follows the launch of the 2019 Nissan Leaf e+. The Nissan Leaf e+, which came to the U.S. and Canada this spring, has a range of 226 miles and fast-charging capability.

This new version of the Leaf all-electric hatchback has 40% more range than other versions thanks to a 62 kilowatt-hour battery pack. That 226-mile range puts the Leaf e+ just under the Chevy Bolt EV, which has a 238-mile range, the Kia Niro EV with 239 miles and the Tesla Model 3 standard range plus with 240 miles.

“Given the tremendous driver response to the 2019 long-range all-electric LEAF, Nissan and EVgo will accelerate fast charging by committing to a multi-year charger construction program that will continue to expand fast-charging options for EV drivers across the country,” Aditya Jairaj, director, EV Sales and Marketing, Nissan North America said in a statement.

The companies also plan to partner on a marketing campaign to sell consumers on the benefits of EVs, and for Nissan, hopefully persuade more to buy its Nissan Leaf Plus. Nissan’s July sales figures were down compared to the same month last year, a slump that has affected the Leaf, as well.

Audi’s new scooter might actually solve a major problem with scooters

By Kirsten Korosec

Electric scooters are inundating cities, and for good reason. They’re relatively easy to use, accessible, cheap and even a fun means of traveling short distances. And yet, scooters aren’t infallible.

For one, it’s nearly impossible to use hand signals, a problem that jacks up the danger factor of these increasingly popular devices. Audi introduced an electric scooter Monday that could solve that problem.

The Audi e-tron scooter — a name that matches the German automaker’s all-electric SUV — combines a traditional electric scooter with the machinations of a skateboard. The scooter isn’t cheap; it’s priced at €2,000 ($2,244 on today’s exchange rate). And it sounds a bit more complicated to use. Users control the scooter like a skateboard with their feet by shifting their weight.

The scooter, which weighs 26 pounds and can be folded up or pulled like a trolley, has movable axles with four wheels for making tight turns.

Audi says using the scooter is like “surfing waves.” Setting this grandiloquent description aside, the scooter does allow for one-handed use, which should make it a lot safer. The one-handed design allows users to signal to cars, pedestrians and cyclists when they’re stopping or making a left or right turn.

This isn’t the only scooter that can be used with one hand. The Boosted scooter recently reviewed here at TechCrunch can be navigated with one hand. Still, the design feature is an exception, not the rule in scooterland.

The steering handle opens up this product to people whose skateboarding skills are lacking. The stem of the handle is also where the battery and electronics are stored and how riders accelerate and brake. A display at the base of the handle shows how much range is left in the battery.

audi etron scooter

The e-tron scooter might be easy to maneuver and safer to use, but with a top speed of 12.5 miles per hour, it could turn off potential customers.

The scooter has a range of 12.5 miles and uses regenerative braking, which can lengthen its range. It also comes with a hydraulic foot brake and LED lights, including a headlight, daytime running light, rear light and brake light.

Production and sales to private customers are planned for late 2020. Audi hinted that the scooter could be used in fleets or be provided to customers who buy its e-tron model electric vehicles. The e-scooter will be able to be charged in the car trunk through a dedicated socket.

An autonomous robot EV charger is coming to San Francisco

By Kirsten Korosec

Electric-vehicle chargers today are designed for human drivers. Electrify America and San Francisco-based startup Stable are preparing for the day when humans are no longer behind the wheel.

Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over the diesel emissions cheating scandal, is partnering with Stable to test a system that can charge electric vehicles without human intervention.

The autonomous electric-vehicle charging system will combine Electrify America’s 150 kilowatt DC fast charger with Stable’s software and robotics. A robotic arm, which is equipped with computer vision to see the electric vehicle’s charging port, is attached to the EV charger. The two companies plan to open the autonomous charging site in San Francisco by early 2020.

Stable render 2 final

A rendering of an autonomous electric vehicle charging station.

There’s more to this system than a nifty robotic arm. Stable’s software and modeling algorithms are critical components that have applications today, not just the yet-to-be-determined era of ubiquitous robotaxis.

While streets today aren’t flooded with autonomous vehicles, they are filled with thousands of vehicles used by corporate and government fleets, as well as ride-hailing platforms like Uber and Lyft . Those commercial-focused vehicles are increasingly electric, a shift driven by economics and regulations.

“For the first time these fleets are having to think about, ‘how are we going to charge these massive fleets of electric vehicles, whether they are autonomous or not?’ ” Stable co-founder and CEO Rohan Puri told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

Stable, a 10-person company with employees from Tesla, EVgo, Faraday Future, Google, Stanford and MIT universities, has developed data science algorithms to determine the best location for chargers and scheduling software for once the EV stations are deployed.

Its data science algorithms take into account installation costs, available power, real estate costs as well as travel time for the given vehicle to go to the site and then get back on the road to service customers. Stable has figured out that when it comes to commercial fleets, chargers in a distributed network within cities are used more and have a lower cost of operation than one giant centralized charging hub.

Once a site is deployed, Stable’s software directs when, how long and at what speed the electric vehicle should charge.

Stable, which launched in 2017, is backed by Trucks VC, Upside Partnership, MIT’s E14 Fund and a number of angel investors, including NerdWallet co-founder Jake Gibson and Sidecar co-founder and CEO Sunil Paul .

The pilot project in San Francisco is the start of what Puri hopes will lead to more fleet-focused sites with Electrify America, which has largely focused on consumer charging stations. Electrify America has said it will invest $2 billion over 10 years in clean energy infrastructure and education. The VW unit has more than 486 electric vehicle charging stations installed or under development. Of those, 262 charging stations have been commissioned and are now open to the public.

Meanwhile, Stable is keen to demonstrate its autonomous electric-vehicle chargers and lock in additional fleet customers.

“What we set out to do was to reinvent the gas station for this new era of transportation, which will be fleet-dominant and electric,” Puri said. “What’s clear is there just isn’t nearly enough of the right infrastructure installed in the right place.”

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