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Tesla focuses on service with 25 new service centers in Q2, rate of new openings to ‘increase’

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla is set to aggressively ramp up the rate at which it opens new service facilities, according to CEO Elon Musk’s guidance on the company’s Q2 2019 earnings call. In total, Tesla opened 25 new service centers during the quarter, and added 100 new service vehicles to its existing fleet — which is in contrast to an earlier statement made by Musk that they’d look to close most of their physical stores in an effort to reduce costs.

Notably, Musk referred to the locations only as “service centers” during his comments on the subject on Wednesday’s earnings call, and never as stores — asked about “retail locations,” he corrected the analyst asking and again said that what Tesla opened were “service centers” specifically. He also emphasized the importance of ensuring that service scales in line with the size of Tesla’s overall fleet of vehicles in active use. Musk mentioned that the number of Tesla cars on the road doubled in the last year alone, meaning it’s seeing exponential growth in terms of the total size of the fleet it needs to service.

“Service scales not just with new production, but as the whole fleet sales,” Musk said, adding that they want to grow their service capabilities in a way that’s responsible when it comes to cost, but that that is “quite difficult” when it comes to the rate at which the company’s sales and shipments are increasing.

Even so, Tesla is taking on still more of its service work itself, rather than outsourcing to external vendors.

“We’ve in-sourced a great deal of the collision repair activities, which I think had quite a good impact on customer happiness,” Musk said. “This will continue in the months to come.” Musk also noted that the company is working hard to reset its processes in order to ensure that parts are available on-hand when and where needed for service, which is a gap that has prompted customer complaints in the past.

The Tesla CEO said that he meets with the Tesla service team “multiple times a week” to “get updates on the reliability of the vehicle,” noting the best service possible is “no service” because that would represent maximum reliability (and of course, lowest possible ongoing costs for Tesla). He also said that they’ve seen “fewer and fewer service visits for the most recent cars that we’re building, so we’re on a good trend there.”

Jerome Guillen, President of Automotive at Tesla also noted that the number one reason for service visits is actually people looking to learn how to use Autopilot, and in general education represents a high percentage of visits.

Tesla CFO Zach Kirkhorn addressed a question about the service center expansion later in the call, adding that the company is pursuing a path of systematic “focus on service and supercharging, as opposed to a retail presence.” He also noted that he believes efforts to improve their parts distribution, with a focus on ensuring that parts are available on-hand in inventory at the service centers where they’re needed will actually help bring down costs overall versus housing them centrally or ordering on-demand from suppliers and Tesla’s own fabrication facilities.

Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel stepping down

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel is stepping down from his day-to-day role as an executive at the automaker, CEO Elon Musk announced during a conference call with analysts Wednesday.

Drew Baglino, vice president of technology, will take over his duties, Musk said. Straubel will stay on in a senior advisor role.

“I want to thank JB for his fundamental role in creating and building Tesla,” Musk said during the call. “If we hadn’t had lunch in 2003, Tesla wouldn’t exist, basically,” Musk added.

Straubel described his time at Tesla as an adventurous 16 years.

“I’m not disappearing, and I just wanted to make sure that people understand that this was not some, you know, lack of confidence in the company or the team or anything like that,” Straubel said, adding that he loves the company.

Straubel’s role at Tesla cannot be understated. The executive was responsible for some of the company’s most important technology, notably around batteries. His understated yet steady presence along with his technological acumen gave provided stability even when its CEO became embroiled in controversy.

His departure is the latest in a long string of high-profile executives to leave Tesla in the past year, most recently Steve McManus, a vice president in charge of engineering for car interiors and exteriors at Tesla, who joined Apple. Two other former Tesla executives, Michael Schwekutsch, and chief engineer Doug Field, have also left to join Apple.

Straubel is involved in another company called Redwood Materials, which emerged in 2017. An SEC filing in 2017 a $2 million initial investment in the Redwood City, Calif.-based company that describes itself at its site as focused on “advanced technology and process development for materials recycling, remanufacturing, and reuse.”

The filing lists Straubel and Andrew Stevenson, the former head of special projects at Tesla, as executive officers. Stevenson is now CFO at Redwood Materials. 

Tesla has begun preparations for Model Y production at its Fremont factory

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla has already started the preparations required to get production started on its forthcoming Model Y compact all-electric SUV, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk . During his introductory comments on the automaker’s Q2 2019 earnings call, Musk noted that prep had started at its facility in Fremont, confirming a report from CNBC from March.

In Tesla’s first earnings call for 2019, Musk said that it was in the process of deciding between Fremont and its Gigafactory in Nevada for production of the Model Y, which is going to be based on the Model 3 platform and will share some of its componentry, something that Musk noted will help reduce its cost of production.

The Model Y, revealed in March, looks quite similar at first glance to the Model 3. It has a slightly higher profile, however, putting it in this compact SUV range. It has similar interior features to the Model 3, including the horizontal 15-inch touchscreen, and also features a panoramic roof more like its larger Model X premium all-electric SUV sibling. Pricing for the Model Y will begin at $39,000, and that version will have a 230-mile range. It’s currently planned to ship sometime in the fall of 2020.

Tesla should be able to get to around 7,500 to 8,000 Model Ys produced at Fremont by the end of the year, Musk confirmed in response to a question from an analyst on the call.

Tesla ‘on track’ to begin Model 3 production at China factory by end of year

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla said Wednesday that Model 3 production is on track to begin at its Shanghai factory by the end of the year — a critical milestone for the automaker if it hopes to continue to increase sales and avoid the high cost of shipping and tariffs.

The Gigfactory Shanghai “continues to take shape,” Tesla wrote in its quarterly earnings letter to shareholders. Machinery was moved into the factory during the second quarter in preparation for the first phase of production.

“Depending on the timing of the Gigafactory Shanghai ramp, we continue to target production of over 500,000 vehicles globally in the 12-month period ending June 30, 2020,” the company wrote.

That is a rosier outlook than the company provided just three months ago when it said that goal didn’t appear very likely. At the time, Tesla noted that it was “targeting” as many as 500,000 vehicles globally based on reaching volume production early in the fourth quarter. “However, based on what we know today, being able to produce over 500,000 vehicles globally in the 12-month period ending June 30, 2020 does appear very likely,” the company wrote in its first-quarter earnings letter posted April 24.

The production line at the factory in China will have a capacity of 150,000 units annually and will be a simplified, more cost-effective version of the Model 3 line at its Fremont, Calif. factory. Tesla previously said this second-generation Model 3 line will be at least 50% cheaper per unit of capacity than its Model 3-related lines in Fremont and at its Gigafactory in Sparks, Nev.

Tesla is counting on sales in China to continue its sales momentum.

“Given Chinese customers bought well over a half million mid-sized premium sedans last year, this market poses a strong long-term opportunity for Tesla,” the company said Wednesday.

Producing the Model 3 locally would reduce the costs of shipping and tariffs. However, that doesn’t remove every obstacle there.

Automotive sales in China have taken a hit over the past year. The first signs of a recovery were reported earlier this month when preliminary numbers from the China Passenger Car Association showed vehicle sales rose 4.9% to 1.8 million units in June from a year earlier. That’s the first increase since May 2018 for the world’s biggest market.

Postmates’ self-driving delivery rover will see with Ouster’s lidar

By Kirsten Korosec

Postmates’ cooler-inspired autonomous delivery robot, which will roll out commercially in Los Angeles later this year, will rely on lidar sensors from Ouster, a burgeoning two-year-old startup that recently raised $60 million in equity and debt funding.

Postmates unveiled the first generation of its self-described “autonomous rover” — known as Serve — late last year. The vehicle uses cameras and light detection and ranging sensors called lidar to navigate sidewalks, as well as a backup human who remotely monitors the rover and can take control if needed.

A new second-generation version made its debut onstage earlier this month at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech event. This newer version looks identical to the original version except a few minor details, including a change in lidar sensors. The previous version was outfitted with sensors from Velodyne, a company that has long dominated the lidar industry.

The supplier contract is notable for Ouster, a startup trying to carve out market share from the giant Velodyne and stand out from a global pack of lidar companies that now numbers close to 70. And it could prove substantial for the company if Postmates takes Serve to other cities as planned.

Lidar measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. It’s considered by most in the self-driving car industry a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles.

Ouster’s strategy has been to cast a wider net for customers by selling its lidar sensors to other industries, including robotics, drones, mapping, defense, building security, mining and agriculture companies. It’s an approach that Waymo is also pursuing for its custom lidar sensors, which will be sold to companies outside of self-driving cars. Waymo will initially target robotics, security and agricultural technology.

Ouster’s business model, along with its tech, has helped it land 437 customers to date and raise a total of $90 million.

The contract with Postmates is its first major customer announcement. COAST Autonomous announced earlier this week that it was using Ouster sensors for its a low-speed autonomous shuttles. Self-driving truck companies Kodiak and Ike Robotics have also been using the sensors this year.

Ouster, which has 125 employees, uses complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology in its OS1 sensors, the same tech found in consumer digital cameras and smartphones. The company has announced four lidar sensors to date, with resolutions from 16 to 128 channels, and two product lines, the OS-1 and OS-2.

The future of autonomous vehicles runs off roads and on to farms, construction sites and mines

By David Riggs
Jeff Peters Contributor
Jeff Peters, PhD is a principal at Autotech Ventures, investing in transportation startups. He has published academic and media articles on transportation, optimization, autonomous driving and AI.

Fully self-driving passenger cars are not “just around the corner.” While the well-capitalized leaders — funded by corporations, multibillion-dollar VC funds or advertising revenue — are on more stable financial ground, many other full-stack autonomous vehicle startups may be looking for the off-ramp.

With no clear path to funds outside of venture capital, full-stack startups face two options: 1) get acquired for the talent and technology or 2) close shop. Cruise and Argo AI were big startup exits. Daimler Trucks acquired Torc Robotics (which did not follow the VC-startup model). And nuTonomy was marketed as a $450 million acquisition by Delphi/Aptiv.

But the most recent VC-backed valuations for some AV startups have stagnated at or below the $450 million mark, which doesn’t give much upside from their previous valuations in the height of the AV fervor. Without much further upside, it is more likely that many passenger car AV companies will close shop.

Full-stack autonomous passenger vehicle startups are dead.

But wait…

Passenger car autonomy projects attracted a lot of capital and top talent in the past decade and produced tremendous technological advances in autonomous perception, path planning and control. What happens to the talent and technology when the passenger AV bubble bursts?

Well, there are more vehicles than just passenger cars. The DARPA Grand Challenge held over a decade ago is cited as the catalyst behind the GoogleX self-driving car project and the explosion of passenger car AVs. The advances made during the challenges also spilled over to off-highway vehicles. Since then, autonomous vehicles have been developed and deployed in defense as well as commercially in large-scale agriculture and mining.

It is widely observed that industrial, agriculture, construction and mining applications are better suited for near-term autonomy. There are defined automation tasks with clear ROI, there are fewer human-machine interactions and there are geo-fenced areas that bound the operational and safety requirements. These are simply more controlled environments than on city streets. Automation also can help offset critical labor shortages. It is difficult to attract a workforce at remote mines in the middle of vast deserts. Labor shortages for agriculture add tremendous uncertainty for growers who don’t know if they will be able to prepare and harvest their crops during short time windows.

With the help of those DARPA participants, Caterpillar developed semi- and fully autonomous haulage trucks and announced they have hauled more than 1 billion tons of material. Komatsu followed a day later by announcing that they reached the 2 billion ton milestone. These haulage trucks are the size of a house. John Deere, Case IH, New Holland and others have developed semi- and fully autonomous tractors on their own, and with the help of R&D companies. Most of these programs have been around for more than a decade now, but the rate of technological progress pales to that of the recent startup efforts.

What’s next?

From our vantage point as investors, we believe that we will see a similar spillover from the passenger car AV bubble into industrial, agriculture, construction and mining sectors. This will enhance existing autonomous programs, open up new ROI use cases in those sectors and reshape the autonomous vehicle business model in some of the sectors as smaller players gain access to top talent and technology.

The most significant technologies that will spill over into the off-highway vehicle market are machine perception, reinforcement learning for more complex robotic motion planning and functionally safe, mission-critical engineering requirements.

Perception systems deployed on mining and agricultural vehicles are not as cost-constrained as passenger cars. The price tags for some 700-series CAT haulage trucks exceed $5,000,000. These vehicles are equipped with ruggedized lidar, radar, cameras, etc., mostly for safety awareness. Costs of these systems will decline thanks to the cost-constrained designs for sensors driven by the automotive market.

Camera-based inference will allow these vehicles to further understand elements in their environment — allowing them to perform more complex navigational tasks and operations. Sensor fusion may allow agricultural vehicles to deploy optimal inputs to fields or mining vehicles to understand ore characteristics to increase productivity per scoop.

Reinforcement learning allows operators to “teach” algorithms to perform complex tasks and will create new use cases requiring complex robotic actuation. These use cases could be harvesting more than just broad-acre crops, moving dirt on-site, picking-and-placing of construction equipment for staging and much more. These robotic applications can be integrated on top of existing autonomous mobility platforms.

The most important criterion for these startups is an uncompromising approach to robustness and safety. Autonomy only achieves its full potential if the solution works with minimal downtime and improves safety (which is also tied to equipment replacement costs, worker compensation and insurance).

Recognizing these trends, we’ve made an investment into an AV startup that is deploying autonomous systems on Bobcat skid-steer and excavator vehicles in construction and working with large mining operations to automate all vehicles on the mine site.

We’ve also invested in an early-stage agriculture robotics company automating on-field applications that have been, thus far, untouched by automation.

This is only the start. There are many more opportunities in off-highway autonomy, and we’re continuing our search for companies in other off-highway applications.

Bosch launches cloud-connected battery management to extend the life of EV batteries

By Jonathan Shieber

Bosch is bringing to market a new cloud-connected software service to manage and monitor the battery life of electric vehicles.

“Bosch is connecting electric-vehicle batteries with the cloud. Its data-based services mean we can substantially improve batteries’ performance and extend their service life,” said Dr. Markus Heyn, member of the board of management of Robert Bosch GmbH, in a statement.

The new connectivity will enable companies to remotely monitor and manage battery status to reduce wear and tear on the batteries by up to 20%, according to Bosch .

By gathering real-time data from batteries on the speed at which they’re charging; the number of charge cycles they’ve undergone; stress from rapid acceleration and deceleration; and ambient temperature, Bosch can optimize recharging and prompt drivers with updates on how to extend their battery life, according to the company.

The first customer for this new cloud-connected service is the Chinese ride-hailing giant, DiDi, which will deploy a fleet of Bosch’s software-enabled electric vehicles in Xiamen.

The tools are not only prescriptive, but predictive, allowing fleet operators to determine when a battery might wear out and provide optimal information on when to replace aging batteries to ensure the best performance from a vehicle, Bosch said in a statement.

“Powerful batteries with long service live will make electromobility more viable,” said Heyn, in a statement.

Bosch sees three advantages in these insights. They’re able to reduce the aging of batteries, improve maintenance and repair times and, by managing the recharging process, can ensure that batteries don’t permanently lose performance and capacity.

BMW is making it easier to charge electric vehicles near America’s national parks

By Kirsten Korosec

BMW has finished a nearly two-year project to bring 100 electric vehicle charging stations to America’s national parks.

The automaker partnered in 2017 with several U.S. agencies, including the National Park Foundation, National Park Service, and Department of Energy, to donate 100 electric vehicle charging stations in and near to national parks throughout the United States.

More than 90 of the charging stations have been installed. The remaining few will open this month, the company said.

The effort is small compared to some of the broader infrastructure campaigns in the U.S. But it has the potential to ease the EV charging desert that exists on the open road and at national parks. And as more electric vehicles come on the market, the demand for these chargers will only increase.

The charging stations, which include Level 2 and DC fast chargers, are concentrated in popular areas where there’s a strong electric vehicle market. The agencies and BMW also considered the distance from nearby charging locations.

BMW’s charging stations can be found in Everglades and Grand Canyon, two of the most visited U.S. national parks, as well Death Valley in California, Rainier and Olympic National parks in Washington and Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts.

BMW worked with the National Park Service and National Park Foundation to identify sites, address technical considerations and coordinate with state and local authorities.

“The automobile has long been central to the great American vacation in national parks,” said National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith. “While our treasured landscapes offer familiar vistas time after time, the automobile has changed greatly, and parks want to meet the needs of our visitors who electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.”

Watch Rivian’s camp kitchen in action

By Kirsten Korosec

Rivian doesn’t want to build just another electric vehicle. It’s not aiming to be a Tesla killer either. No, this 10-year-old company that kept a low profile until November, when it unveiled an electric pickup truck and SUV, is aiming to be an adventure brand.

Or, as Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe told TechCrunch recently, the company’s technology and products are all meant to “enable people to be adventurous, whether it’s carrying their kids or their pets or their gear.”

The world got a glimpse of what Rivian might have in mind earlier this year at the Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Ariz., when the company showed off a prototype of a camp kitchen that pulls out of the electric pickup’s gear tunnel.

TechCrunch got an “up-close and yeah let’s tinker around with it” kind of look at the camp kitchen. We discovered a thoughtful product that Scaringe has confirmed will be available when the electric pickup truck comes to market. Here’s the Rivian camp kitchen in action.

Smart scooter company Gogoro launches GoShare, an end-to-end vehicle-sharing platform

By Catherine Shu

Founded in 2011, Gogoro now makes the best-selling electric scooters in Taiwan, where it is headquartered. The startup has always seen itself as an end-to-end platform developer, however, and today it marked a major milestone with the announcement of a new vehicle sharing system. Called GoShare, the program will start operating with a pilot fleet of about 1,000 Gogoro smart scooters next month in Taoyuan City, Taiwan, before becoming available as a turnkey solution for partners.

Gogoro, which develops everything from their scooters and batteries to software, telematics control units and back-end servers, describes GoShare as “first fully integrated mobility sharing platform and solution.” Co-founder and CEO Horace Luke tells TechCrunch that Gogoro wants to work with partners to expand GoShare into international markets in Europe, Australia and Asia next year. He adds that building the entire platform, including its unique swappable battery system, gives Gogoro an advantage over vehicle-sharing programs from companies like Uber, Lyft, Lime, Bird and Coup because it can constantly track vehicle performance, fine-tune the system and incorporate feedback into new designs.

One of Gogoro scooters’ main advantages is their batteries, which are about the size of shoeboxes and slide in and out of scooters and charging kiosks. In Taiwan, batteries can be swapped at kiosks found at gas stations and more offbeat locations, including retail stores and cafes. GoShare scooters can use the same kiosks as privately owned Gogoro vehicles. This means that users can keep riding the same vehicle all day, swapping batteries whenever necessary (on average, Gogoro scooters can travel about 80 km on one charge). Once they are done using them, they can leave them wherever it is legal to park scooters.

Battery 20150616 02 0617

“We’re a platform, we create hardware, software and server technology to serve the transportation of the future and if we can make cities cleaner and healthier, we will do it anyway possible, whether through ownership and charging batteries at home or buying scooters and swapping batteries in the system we provide or, in this case, not even buying a vehicle, but sharing it,” says Luke.

To sign up, users download an iOS or Android app and upload a photo of their driver’s license. Gogoro then uses AI-based face scanning software to check if they match the license’s photo before asking for payment information. Once enrolled, drivers can use the app to locate and reserve scooters. GoShare’s pricing has not been announced yet, but Luke says it will be competitive with public transportation. Gogoro is working with Taoyuan City’s government to offer incentives like free parking in an effort to reduce pollution and traffic.

In a press statement, Taoyuan City Mayor Wen-Tsan Cheng said, “We are confident this Gogoro partnership will continue producing remarkable reductions in air pollution caused by vehicle emissions and will accelerate the transformation of Taoyuan into a smart, livable city.”

With other vehicle-sharing systems, “it has always been the dream to have the vehicles be free-floating and autonomous in management. But they are not autonomous,” says Luke. “Most are used once or twice a day because they run out of power, or the battery is low and people are worried about them running out of energy. That is where Gogoro comes in, because we have a network that enables people to ride vehicles for as long as they want.”

There are currently about 1,200 charging kiosks in Taiwan, with about 200 in Taoyuan City, delivering power to about 200,000 scooters. Eight years after it launched, Luke says Gogoro now holds a 97% share of electric scooters sold each month in the country. When counted as part of the larger vehicle market in Taiwan, including gas vehicles, Gogoro now holds a 17% share.

Luke says the company sees Taiwan, where scooters are very popular but also a major contributor to air pollution, as Gogoro’s pilot market. It recently launched the Gogoro 3, and announced partnerships with Yamaha, Aeon and PGO to develop scooters that will run on its batteries.

The ultimate goal of Gogoro’s end-to-end system is to package it as a turnkey solution for partners around the world, says Luke. “You don’t need to shop around anymore. You can come to us with your vehicle-sharing program and say you want to turn it on.”

Startups at the speed of light: Lidar CEOs put their industry in perspective

By Devin Coldewey

As autonomous cars and robots loom over the landscapes of cities and jobs alike, the technologies that empower them are forming sub-industries of their own. One of those is lidar, which has become an indispensable tool to autonomy, spawning dozens of companies and attracting hundreds of millions in venture funding.

But like all industries built on top of fast-moving technologies, lidar and the sensing business is by definition built somewhat upon a foundation of shifting sands. New research appears weekly advancing the art, and no less frequently are new partnerships minted, as car manufacturers like Audi and BMW scramble to keep ahead of their peers in the emerging autonomy economy.

To compete in the lidar industry means not just to create and follow through on difficult research and engineering, but to be prepared to react with agility as the market shifts in response to trends, regulations, and disasters.

I talked with several CEOs and investors in the lidar space to find out how the industry is changing, how they plan to compete, and what the next few years have in store.

Their opinions and predictions sometimes synced up and at other times diverged completely. For some, the future lies manifestly in partnerships they have already established and hope to nurture, while others feel that it’s too early for automakers to commit, and they’re stringing startups along one non-exclusive contract at a time.

All agreed that the technology itself is obviously important, but not so important that investors will wait forever for engineers to get it out of the lab.

And while some felt a sensor company has no business building a full-stack autonomy solution, others suggested that’s the only way to attract customers navigating a strange new market.

It’s a flourishing market but one, they all agreed, that will experience a major consolidation in the next year. In short, it’s a wild west of ideas, plentiful money, and a bright future — for some.

The evolution of lidar

I’ve previously written an introduction to lidar, but in short, lidar units project lasers out into the world and measure how they are reflected, producing a 3D picture of the environment around them.

Check out the breakout sessions at TC Sessions: Mobility

By Emma Comeau

TC Sessions: Mobility on July 10 in San Jose is fast approaching. Get ready for a superb lineup of speakers like Dmitri Dolgov (Waymo), Eric Allison (Uber) and Summer Craze Fowler (Argo AI). See the full agenda here.

In addition to the outstanding main stage content, TechCrunch is proud to partner with today’s leading mobility players for a full day of breakout sessions. These breakout sessions will give attendees deeper insights into overcoming some of mobility’s biggest challenges and answering questions directly from today’s industry leaders.

Breakout Session Lineup


How much data is needed to make Autonomous Driving a Reality?
Presented by: Scale AI

We are in the early days of autonomous vehicles, and what’s necessary to go into production is still very much undecided. Simply to prove that these vehicles are safer than driving with humans will require more than 1 billion miles driven. Data is a key ingredient for any AI problem, and autonomy is the mother of all AI problems. How much data is really needed to make autonomy safe, reliable, and widespread, and how will our understanding of data change as that becomes a closer reality? Sponsored by Scale AI.


Think Big by Starting Small: Micromobility Implications to the Future of Mobility

Presented by: Deloitte

A host of new micromobility services have emerged to address a broader range of transportation needs – bikesharing, electric scooters and beyond. The urban emergence of micromobility offers powerful lessons on finding the right balance between fostering innovations that will ultimately benefit consumers and broader transportation systems, while safeguarding public interests. Sponsored by Deloitte.


If You Build It, Will They Buy? – The Role of the FleetTech Partner in the Future Mobility Ecosystem with Brendan P. Keegan
Presented by: Merchants Fleet

The future will bring a convergence of new technologies, services, and connectivity to the mobility space – but who will manage and connect it all? Explore how FleetTech is creating the mobility ecosystem to help organizations embrace technologies – adopting your innovations through trials and pilots and bringing them to market. Sponsored by Merchants Fleet.


The Economics of Going Electric: Constructing NextGen EV Business Models
Presented by: ABB

How do we make the rapidly growing EV industry operational and scalable? Join ABB, HPE and Microsoft for a discussion on how government, industry, providers and suppliers are addressing market shifts and identifying solutions to build successful business models that support the future of mobility. Moderated and sponsored by ABB.


Bringing Efficiency to Closed-Course AV Testing with Atul Acharya
Presented by: AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah

Looking to jump-start or accelerate your automated vehicle test operations? AAA has built its expertise by operating GoMentum Stations and performing safety assessments on multiple AVs and proving grounds. Join AAA as it shares its collective technical and operational learnings and testing results that will bring efficiency to your testing efforts. Sponsored by AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah.


Friction-Free Urban Mobility
Presented by: Arrive

What does the future of seamless, urban mobility look like? How do mobility-as-a-service providers and connected vehicles work together to power transportation in a smart city? And which platform will aggregate all of the providers? In what promises to be a thought-provoking discussion, Arrive’s COO Dan Roarty will lay the foundation for what a city’s connected future will look like and outline key steps needed to achieve it. Sponsored by Arrive.


Michigan’s Mobility Ecosystem
Presented by: PlanetM

Revolutionary things can happen when some of the brightest minds in technology come together in one room. This Breakout Session will offer key insights into Michigan’s mobility ecosystem: the people, places and resources dedicated to the evolution of transportation mobility. Following a brief discussion, attendees will have the opportunity to connect with the people and companies moving the world forward through technology innovation and collaboration. Sponsored by PlanetM.


We hope to see you at TC Sessions: Mobility on July 10. Tickets are still on sale but selling fast. Book your $395 general admission ticket here. Students, grab a $45 here.

Tesla’s in-dash sketchpad gets a boost in next update, music tools coming later

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla owners will be better able to express themselves artistically using their in-vehicle infotainment touchscreen with the next update of their vehicle’s in-car software. Tesla revealed via Twitter today that the forthcoming software update will bring improved Sketchpad features, providing essential upgrades to an Easter Egg it first debuted over two years ago that lets Tesla owners doodle in their cars.

In response to a request from a fan asking for Tesla’s in-car drawing software (this is a weird phrase to be writing) to add a color picker, saturation controls and an undo history, Tesla noted that new features are coming in the next big update planned for Tesla vehicle software. It sounds like all of those could be on the menu, based on this tweet, and that might not be the end of the improvements in store.

Wish granted 💫. New Sketchpad features are rolling out in our next software update.

What will you draw? 🎨https://t.co/eXUm4k24qH

— Tesla (@Tesla) June 28, 2019

In May, Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded to another Twitter fan who was requesting animation support. Musk replied just a simple ‘Ok’ but given his general meme love, I would not at all be surprised if the next version of Sketchpad supports GIF output.

Musk also noted at around the same time that “Every Tesla should have good art & music creation software” which does not actually seem like an essential accoutrement for a vehicle at all, but then again Musk is a billionaire and I am not.

The CEO also followed up with some more details on what he has in mind for music curation: A ‘little music tool’ to be released later, and even in-car karaoke.

Fun, little music tool coming later

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 28, 2019

Nio recalls nearly 5,000 ES8 electric SUVs over fire risk

By Kirsten Korosec

Chinese automotive startup Nio is recalling nearly 5,000 of its ES8 high-performance electric SUVs after a series of battery fires in China and a subsequent investigation revealed a vulnerability that created a safety risk.

The recall affects a quarter of the ES8 vehicles it has sold since they went on sale in June 2018.

A Nio-led team of experts that included the supplier of the battery pack module, investigated a reported fire involving an ES8 in Shanghai. The team concluded there was a vulnerability in the design of the battery pack that could cause a short circuit.

The battery packs in the vehicles involved were equipped with a module specification NEV-P50. These packs were pressing up against voltage sampling cable harness due to improper positioning, Nio said. The insulation on the cable may wear out due to this repeated contact and cause a short circuit, Nio determined.

Nio said other ES8 vehicles that have experienced issues had the same battery pack.

The recall affects 4,803 models produced from April 02, 2018 to October 19, 2018 that are equipped with NEV-P50 batteries. The company will be replace the battery packs, a process that could take up to two months.

All NEV-P50 batteries in the battery swap network will also be replaced to ensure, Nio said. 

Vehicles with 70kWh battery packs produced after October 20, 2018 are equipped with the NEV-P102 modules and have different internal structural designs. These packs don’t have the same risk, Nio said.

The recall comes at an inauspicious time for Nio. Nio began deliveries of the ES8 in China in June 2018. And while deliveries initially surpassed expectations, they have since slowed in 2019. The company reported loss of $390.9 million in the first quarter.

Nio said it would shift its vehicle production plans, reduce in R&D spending and cut to its workforce by 4.5% in response to the weak quarter.

Other automakers with electric vehicles have issued recalls over fire risk. Earlier this month, Audi issued a voluntary recall in the U.S. for the E-Tron SUV due to the risk of battery fire. No fires had been reported in the 1,644 E-Trons that Audi has sold. The company issued the recall after it found that moisture can seep into the battery cell through a wiring harness. There have been five cases worldwide where this has caused a battery fault warning.

In May, Tesla started pushing out a software update that will change battery charge and thermal management settings in Model S sedans and Model X SUVs following a fire in a parked vehicle in Hong Kong. The software update, which Tesla said at the time was being done out of “an abundance of caution,” is supposed to “protect the battery and improve its longevity.” The over-the-air software update will not be made to Model 3 vehicles.

Former Anki engineers will steer Waymo’s self-driving trucks effort

By Kirsten Korosec

More than a dozen engineers, who lost their jobs after consumer robotics startup Anki shut down in April, have found a new home.

The 13 robotics experts, a group that includes Anki’s co-founder and former CEO Boris Sofman, are heading over to self-driving vehicle company Waymo, to lead engineering in the autonomous trucking division, according to a LinkedIn post. Sofman will report to CTO Dmitri Dolgov.

The group of engineers comprises nearly the entire technical team at Anki, many of whom have roots at Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics program, and includes its former behavior lead Brad Neuman and perception lead Andrew Stein. Anki’s head of hardware Nathan Monson and its former program manager Charlie Hite have also joined Waymo.

Axios was the first to report the move.

Anki built several popular products, starting with Anki Drive in 2013 and later the popular Cozmo robot. The Bay Area-startup had shipped more than 3.5 million devices with annual revenues approaching $100 million, Sofman wrote Thursday in a LinkedIn post.

Anki had raised more than $180 million, according to Crunchbase. The company was apparently prepared to take its robots business beyond entertainment, but it ran out of runway before it was able to activate that plan. “In the end we couldn’t overcome recent hurdles and the complexities of consumer hardware,” Sofman wrote.

Anki was a consumer robots company, which would seem like a bit of a leap over to Waymo. However, Sofman noted that it was autonomous driving that “first sparked” his attraction to the field and was the focus of his thesis at Carnegie Mellon.

“Throughout the last decade, I would look over at what was happening at Waymo and be inspired by the progress they were making, and the inevitable impact their technology would have on everyone’s lives in the years to come,” Sofman wrote.

The trucking team will work out of Waymo’s San Francisco office, a newer development within the company’s structure.

Much of the attention on Waymo has been on its robotaxi ambitions and its Waymo One ride-hailing service in the Phoenix area. However, the company has intentions to apply its full self-driving stack to other commercial applications, including trucks and deliveries.

“The nice thing about all those properties is that while the specialization layer are very different, the core technology, and the hardest problems that you’re trying to solve on research and engineering are exactly the same,” Dolgov said during an interview in March at MIT Tech Review’s EmTech Digital conference.

Volkswagen launches WeShare all-electric car sharing service

By Darrell Etherington

Making good on plans revealed last year to debut an EV-exclusive car sharing service, Volkswagen is actually launching its fleet for customers – debuting WeShare, a new shared service similar to Car2Go or GM’s Maven, but featuring only all-electric vehicles. Initially, WeShare will be available only in Berlin, where it’s launching today with 1,500 Volkswagen e-Golf cars making up the on-demand rental fleet.

The plan is to add 500 more cars to the available population by early next year, specifically the e-up! electric city company car, and then it’ll also play host to the brand new ID.3 fully electric car when that’s officially launched. VW is still targeting the middle of next year for a street date for that vehicle, which is part of its all-new ID line of vehicles designed from the ground-up based on its next-generation electric vehicle platform. In terms of new geographies, WeShare will look to launch In Prague (in partnership with VW Group sub-brand Skoda) and also in Hamburg, both some time in 2020.

WeShare has a coverage area that includes the Berlin city centre and a little bit beyond the Ringbahn train line that encircles it. The cars are available in a “free-floating” arrangement, meaning they’ll be free to pickup and park wherever public parking is available. This one-way model, which is the one used by competitor Car2go, is distinct from the round-trip style rentals preferred by Zipcar, for instance. It’s more convenient for customers, but more of a headache for operators, who have to worry about ensuring cars remain in the rental zone and are parked appropriately and legally.

WeShare will also take responsibility for recharging the vehicles as needed, and will do so using the public charging network that’s available in Berlin, but later on it will seek to incentive actual users of the system to charge up when vehicles need it.

Car sharing, especially one-way, has had a hit-and-miss track record to date. Car2go shuttered operations in Toronto and Chicago, for instance, due to incompatibility with city operations regarding parking in the case of Toronto, and rampant cases of fraud in Chicago that resulted in cars being used to commit crimes. VW notes in a release that in Berlin, however, the number of car sharing users has grown from 180,000 people in 2010 to 2.46 million in early 2019.

Volkswagen also owns and operates a fully-electric ridesharing service called MOIA, which has built its own fit-for-purpose vehicle and which currently operates in Hamburg and Hanover. Last year, VW said the two mobility service operations, which offer very different service models, will work together in future.

Tesla reportedly working on its own battery cell manufacturing capability

By Darrell Etherington

Automaker Tesla is looking into how it might own another key part of its supply chain, through research being done at a secret lab near its Fremont, CA HQ, CNBC reports. The company currently relies on Panasonic to build the battery pack and cells it uses for its vehicles, which is one of, if not the most significant component in terms of its overall bill of materials.

Tesla is no stranger to owning components of its own supply chain rather than farming them out to vendors as is more common among automakers – it builds its own seats at a facility down the road from its Fremont car factory, for instance, and it recently started building its own chip for its autonomous features, taking over those duties from Nvidia.

Eliminating links in the chain where possible is a move emulated from Tesla CEO Elon Musk inspiration Apple, which under Steve Jobs adopted an aggressive strategy of taking control of key parts of its own supply mix and continues to do so where it can eke out improvements to component cost. Musk has repeatedly pointed out that batteries are a primary constraint when it comes to Tesla’s ability to produce not only is cars, but also its home power products like the Powerwall consumer domestic battery for solar energy systems.

Per the CNBC report, Tesla is doing its battery research at an experimental lab near its factory in Fremont, at a property it maintains on Kato road. Tesla would need lots more time and effort to turn its battery ambitions into production at the scale it requires, however, so don’t expect it to replace Panasonic anytime soon. And in fact, it could add LG as a supplier in addition to Panasonic once its Shanghai factory starts producing Model 3s, per the report.

Why eVTOLs could be providing regional air service sooner than you think

By Darrell Etherington

At Uber’s Elevate summit in Washington, DC earlier this month, researchers, industry leaders and engineers gathered to celebrate the approaching advent of on-demand air service. For Dr. Anita Sengupta, co-founder and Chief Product Office at Detroit’s Airspace Experience Technologies (abbreviated ASX), it was an event full of validation of her company’s specific approach to making electric vertical take-off and landing craft a working, commercially viable reality.

ASX’s eVTOL design is a tilt-wing design, which is distinct from the tilt-rotor design you might see on some of the splashier concept vehicles in the category. As you might’ve inferred from the name of each type of aircraft, with tilt-wing designs the entire wing of the aircraft can change orientation, while on tilt-rotor, just the rotor itself adjust independent of the wing structure.

The benefits of ASX’s tilt-wing choice, according to Sengupta, is speed to market and compatibility with existing regulatory and pilot licensing frameworks – and that’s why ASX could be providing cargo transport service relatively quickly for paying customers, with passenger travel to follow once regulators and the public get comfortable with the idea.

ASX founding team Jon Rimanelli and Dr. Anita Sengupta. Credit: ASX

“Depending upon the aircraft configuration you selected, like us, for example, we’re basically a fixed wing aircraft,” Sengupta explained. “So we would not be classified as a rotorcraft, we’d be classified as a fixed wing aircraft with multi-engine, just with obviously special certification features for the VTOL capability. And of course, special check out for the pilots, but the pilots also would be fixed wing aircraft, pilots, they wouldn’t be helicopter pilots.”

ASX’s vehicle design means that it can either take off vertically when space is tight, or do a more traditional short horizontal take off like the airplanes we use every day. That not only makes it easier to use for pilots with more conventional training and experience, but it also means it can slot into existing infrastructure relatively easily and make use of underused regional airports that already dot the U.S.

“Most people who don’t fly for fun don’t realize that there are general aviation airports all over the place, that are underutilized, because only people like me, who fly for fun [Sengupta is also a pilot], use them frequently,” she said. ” Like where we’re located at Detroit City Airport, on a given day, there could sometimes only be like three planes that go in and out of it. So this is infrastructure, which is already funded, paid for and operated by governments, but isn’t utilized. And you can use them in this new UAM [Urban Air Mobility] space, whether it’s for people or for cargo, it’s actually a really good thing, because the challenge of any new transportation system is the cost of infrastructure.”

ASX has also moved quickly to get aircraft up in the sky, which is better help in terms of its own path to commercialization. It’s built six scaled down demonstration and testing aircraft, including five one-fifth scale and one that’s one-third the size of the eventual production version. These testing aircraft can demonstrate all their modes of flight within easy view of the Detroit City Airport airspace control and monitoring.

“We believe, and when you’re really cash strapped your small company, getting a lot of work at the subscale just allows you to do a lot more iterating, prototyping, and learning, basically how to control the vehicle,” Sengupta told me. “From a software perspective, it’s only when you get to that point, when you’re comfortable with a configuration, that it’s really worth your while to go off and build the full scale one. So with this next round [of funding, ASX’s second after raising just over $1 million last year]we’re going to go off and build this out at scale.”

Ultimately, Sengupta and ASX want to help usher in an era of air travel that creates efficiencies by changing the economics of regional and electric flight, and its attracting interest from investors and industry partners alike, including global transportation service provider TPS Logistics, with which it just signed a new MOU to work together on sussing out the opportunities of the eVTOL logistics market.

“Right now you you see a lot of congestion in airports, within beings, you’re going to have congestion coming in, you’re going to have to build a different professional parking lots and runways and all kinds of huge expense, if you can use these general aviation airports as regional centers to do that travel, you can take it away from the commercial, so they actually solve a lot of other problems,” Sengupta said. “For routes of let’s say 300 miles, you probably would need to do a hybrid power solution first, just because the energy density better isn’t there yet. But that’s the whole nicer than having it be fully fueled. And then hopefully […] hydrogen fuel cells is obviously something where you can get the energy needed in each of those regional flights. So by kick-starting this electric aviation use case for the shorter range, urban flights, you kind of kickstart the industry to push it over to fully electric vehicles for regional travel.”

Lightyear One debuts as the first long-range solar-powered electric car

By Darrell Etherington

Electric cars are better for the environment than fossil fuel-burning vehicles, but they still rely on the grid, which can be variously dirty or clean depending on what sources it uses for its energy. The new Lightyear One is a prototype vehicle that would improve that by collecting the power it needs to run from the sun.

Lightyear, a startup from the Netherlands born as Stella, has come a long way since it won a Crunchie award in 2015, with a vehicle that now looks ready for the road. The Lightyear One prototype vehicle unveiled today has a sleek, driver-friendly design and also boasts a range of 450 miles on a single charge – definitely a first for a car powered by solar and intended for the actual consumer market.

© Twycer / www.twycer.nl

The startup says that it has already sold “over a hundred vehicles” even though this isn’t yet ready to hit the road, but Lightyear is aiming to begin production by 2021, with reservations available for 500 additional units for the initial release. You do have to pay €119,000 up front (around $136,000 USD) to secure a reservation, however.

Lightyear One isn’t just a plug-in electric with some solar sells on the roof: Instead it’s designed from the ground up to maximize performance from a smaller-than-typical battery that can directly grab sun from a roof and hood covered with 16 square feet of solar cells, embedded in safety glass designed with passenger wellbeing in mind. The car can also take power directly from regular outlets and existing charging stations for a quick top-up, and again because it’s optimized to be lightweight and power efficient, you can actually get around 250 miles on just one night of charging from a standard (European) 230V outlet.

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The car should supplement existing electric cars for buyers who are more conscious of range anxiety and nervous about having enough charge, the company says. It still have to actually enter production, however, and even when it does it’ll be a fairly expensive and small batch product, at least at first. But it’s an impressive feat nonetheless, and a potential new direction for EVs of the future.

BMW says its running ahead of its electrification goals

By Frederic Lardinois

At its NEXTGen event in Munich, BMW today announced that it is running ahead of schedule in its efforts to offer at least 25 electrified vehicles. Previously, the German luxury car manufacturer was shooting for 2025, but it now says that it will offer these 25 vehicles by 2023.

As BMW’s Klaus Fröhlich stressed at a press event ahead of today’s announcement, BMW will continue to offer a full range of vehicles that span from fully-electric to hybrids and standard combustion-engine powered cars for the foreseeable future. More than half of the 25 vehicles the company is talking about today, though, will be fully electric.

“We are moving up a gear in the transformation towards sustainable mobility, thereby making our company fit for the future: Over the past two years, we have consistently taken numerous decisions that we are now bringing to the roads,” said BMW CEO Harald Krüger. “By 2021, we will have doubled our sales of electrified vehicles compared with 2019.”

The company expects that its electrified car sales will continue to grow by more than 30 percent per year up to 2025. Indeed, it expects to have sold more than half a billion fully-electric or plug-in hybrids by the end of 2019. That’s a tough goal to achieve, Krüger admitted. He also noted that BMW plans to power all of its plants with renewable energy from next year onward.

Right now, that number is definitely driven by sales of the somewhat quirky i3, with 150,000 on the roads today. Then, over the course of the next few years, the i3 will be joined by a fully-electric Mini, iX3 and then the i4 and iNext.

By 2020, all of these plug-in hybrids will also feature a new tool that will make driving them in cities that ban combustion engines from their city centers: BMW eDrive Zones. This feature will automatically detect when you enter a zone where only electric vehicles are allowed and then switch to running on batteries until you leave.

 

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