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Today — August 21st 2019Your RSS feeds

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.”

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Porsche is integrating Apple Music into the all-electric Taycan

By Kirsten Korosec

Porsche said Monday it will integrate Apple Music into its upcoming all-electric Taycan sports car, the first time the music streaming service has been offered as a standalone app within a vehicle.

The announcement illustrates the latest efforts by Porsche to focus on digital entertainment in its vehicles as well as its further alignment with Apple.

The Apple Music integration will begin with the hotly anticipated Taycan. However, the relationship between Apple and Porsche won’t end at there, Porsche North America CEO Klaus Zellmer told TechCrunch.

Apple CarPlay, an app that brings the look and feel of an iPhone to the vehicle’s central screen, is already offered in new Porsche models, a list that will include the Taycan. And like the rollout of Apple CarPlay, a fully integrated Apple Music app will eventually make its way into the rest of the Porsche lineup.

The intention is to give all Porsche customers the “same bandwidth of services,” he said, adding that Apple Music will be introduced into new vehicles that have the technology to integrate the streaming services. It was a sentiment echoed in a statement by Porsche AG board member Detlev von Platen.

For now, the partnership between the two companies will give Taycan owners access to Apple Music — and its 50 million songs, Beats 1 live streamed radio station and curated playlists — through the vehicle’s touchscreen display or its voice assistant. Apple Music, which costs $9.99 for an individual membership, recently surpassed 60 million subscribers.

The integration means more than an Apple Music app icon popping up on the Taycan’s digital touchscreen. The company wanted the experience to be seamless, meaning no wonky sign-ins, phone pairing or separate accounts. Instead, Porsche is linking an owner’s Apple ID with their Porsche Taycan ID. Apple Music content in the Taycan will be identical to what’s on the user’s iPhone app.

Apple Music in the Taycan can also be accessed via Porsche’s voice assistant, which will let users request songs, albums, playlists, or radio stations.

New and existing Porsche owners will be given a free six-month subscription to Apple Music, another hint that the integration will eventually reach other vehicles in the German automaker’s portfolio.

Once that period expires, owners will have to pay for the streaming service. Although if Taycan owners reflect Porsche’s larger U.S. customer base, it’s possible that many already have a subscription. More than 80% of the U.S. Porsche customers also have iPhone, Zellmer told TechCrunch.

Porsche said it will also give Taycan owners three years of free in-car internet.

“None of our customers will have to worry about data consumption while streaming,” Lars Buchwald, director of sales and marketing at Porsche Connect for Porsche AG, said during an event Monday at Porsche’s North America headquarters in Atlanta.

Apple is a natural fit for Porsche, Zellmer said, noting that the brands of the two companies are closely aligned with their parallel focus on design, technology and innovation.

Both brands also share a closed system ethos. For instance, Porsche doesn’t support open source-based Android Auto, the competitor to Apple CarPlay. And while that doesn’t mean Apple Music will be the only app ever integrated into the Taycan or other Porsche vehicles, they will likely be few and far between.

“Generally speaking, we always want to be in control of that system for privacy reasons,” Zellmer said. “We don’t want our customers to be approached with marketing or advertising messages that are not relevant or adequate. We will always be very cautious about whom we grant access to our digital ecosystem in our cars. Another reason why Apple is our partner is because they have exactly the same attitude.”

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.

The Bugatti Centodieci is an $8.9 million homage to the early 90s EB110 supercar

By Kirsten Korosec

The Bugatti Centodieci is the French automaker’s most powerful supercar yet — coming in a skosh above the Chiron at 1,600 horsepower. But it’s not just the power — or the $8.9 million price tag — that makes the Centodieci stand out.

The angular supercar, still dotted with the signature Bugatti design elements, tips its hat to the mid-engine EB110 supercar that debuted in 1991 when the company was owned by Romano Artioli.

One look at the Bugatti Centodieci, which had its world debut at the Quail Gathering during Monterey Car Week, and it’s clear that the early 1990s supercar was an inspiration.

bugatti front

The Bugatti Centodieci

But the Centodieci isn’t a copycat of the wedge-shaped, seemingly two-dimensional EB110. Instead, Bugatti designers aimed to bring the EB110 into the modern era.

“Transporting this classic look into the new millennium without copying it was technically complex, to say the least,” Bugatti head designer Achim Anscheidt said in a statement. “We had to create a new way of combining the complex aerothermal requirements of the underlying Chiron technology with a completely different aesthetic appearance.” 

The Centodieci, which means 110 in Italian to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the company’s founding, has a newly developed, deep-seated front spoiler along with three-section air intakes. The iconic Bugatti horseshoe is smaller than its counterparts — a decision made to fit in with the car’s the low-dropping front. The Centodieci also has new, very narrow headlamps with integrated LED daytime running lights and five round air inserts to ensure sufficient air intake for its 16-cylinder engine.

bugatti centodieci

The nod to the 1990s ends inside the Centodieci. In here, it’s all modern-day engineering. The 8.0-liter W16 engine produces 1,600 horsepower and can accelerate from 0 to 62 miles per hour in 2.4 seconds. The top speed has been electronically limited to 236 mph.

Here’s a 360-degree view of the vehicle.

Bugatti will only produce 10 of the Centodieci and they’re already sold, Pierre Rommelfanger, Bugatti’s head of exterior and structure development confirmed to TechCrunch. Typically, supercars such as these can be highly customized to meet the desires of their owners.

And the Bugatti Centodieci will be no different — to a point. “There are limits in order to reduce complexity,” Rommelfanger said.

Deliveries to the first Centodieci customers will begin in 2022. Bugatti has other orders to fill besides the Centodieci. The company is also producing 40 of the Bugatti Divo and just one La Voiture Noire, which is the world’s most expensive new car ever sold at $18.68 million. The company also plans to produce 500 Bugatti Chiron cars.

If president Stephan Winkelmann sticks to his plan to introduce two new products each year, more Bugatti models will soon join the Centodieci, Chiron, Divo and La Voiture Noire.

Elon Musk: Spotify is ‘coming’ to Tesla vehicles in North America

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla owners in the U.S. and Canada may finally get that free Spotify Premium integration they’ve been requesting.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted late Wednesday night that Spotify premium integration is “coming.” Musk, who has talked about bringing Spotify to owners in North America before, did not provide a timeline. In other words, the music streaming service could be integrated next week or six months from now.

Coming

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 15, 2019

But still, it’s a moment of celebration for many Tesla owners who have complained about Slacker Radio, the streaming music service integrated into all vehicles in the U.S. and Canada. Owners in Europe, Australia and Hong Kong have had Spotify Premium in their vehicles since late 2015.

Slacker Radio, which launched in 2007, has customizable radio stations based on the listener’s personal music tastes. The free and subscription-based service also tried to differentiate itself from the likes of Spotify and Pandora by using DJs to curate programs and, at one time, even sold a portable music player. Despite its efforts, Slacker has been overshadowed by Spotify, which had 232 million monthly active users and 108 million paying subscribers at the end of June 2019.

Slacker was acquired in 2017 for $50 million in cash and stock by LiveXLive, an entertainment and streaming service that focused on live music performances.

Last year, LiveXLive announced a partnership with Dash Radio, a digital radio broadcasting platform with more than 80 original live stations. Under the deal, Dash channels will be available across Slacker Radio, a move meant to bring more live radio to the streaming service.

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).

Audi e-tron becomes the first all-electric vehicle to earn IIHS top safety rating

By Kirsten Korosec

The 2019 Audi e-tron has become the first battery-electric vehicle to earn a top safety rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an achievement that Tesla and other electric models like the Chevy Bolt have not been able to capture.

Scoring an IIHS top safety award isn’t easy. A vehicle has to earn good ratings in six crashworthiness evaluations, as well as an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and a good headlight rating.

IIHS said Wednesday that the e-tron fulfills the criteria to earn a top safety rating with standard equipment. The vehicle performed well in crashworthiness testing, earning good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, according to IIHS.

The SUV’s standard front crash prevention system rated superior in IIHS track tests. It avoided a collision in the 25 mph test and reduced its impact speed by an average of 11 mph in the 12 mph test. Its forward collision warning component meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria.

The award provides a much needed boost to the e-tron. There’s a lot riding on the e-tron, the German automaker’s first mass-produced electric vehicle. And while TechCrunch’s Matt Burns found it quick, comfortable and familiar, the vehicle has had a rocky start that included a voluntary recall in the U.S. due to the risk of battery fire.

Tesla has gotten close to the top safety pick designation. A Tesla Model S was tested in 2017 and performed well, but fell short of earning the top score due to poor headlights and an “acceptable” score in the small overlap crash test. The IIHS has never tested the Tesla Model X.

The electric automaker does have another chance. This time, it’s with the Tesla Model 3, which IIHS is currently testing, according to a recent tweet from the organization.

Tests of the 2019 Tesla Model 3 commence next week with the side crash test. pic.twitter.com/yXtbGDC9h9

— IIHS (@IIHS_autosafety) August 7, 2019

The Model 3 has already achieved an all-around five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Despite the high marks, NHTSA and Tesla have tussled over how the automaker has characterized the rating in an October 7 blog post when it said the Model 3 had achieved the lowest probability of injury of any vehicle the agency ever tested.

Earlier this month, Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel cell SUV, the Nexo, became the first fuel cell vehicle to be tested and to earn IIHS’s top safety award. 

Inside Voyage’s plan to deliver a driverless future

By Kirsten Korosec

In two years, Voyage has gone from a tiny self-driving car upstart spun out of Udacity to a company able to operate on 200 miles of roads in retirement communities.

Now, Voyage is on the verge of introducing a new vehicle that is critical to its mission of launching a truly driverless ride-hailing service. (Human safety drivers not included.)

This internal milestone, which Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron hinted at in a recent Medium post, went largely unnoticed. Voyage, after all, is just a 55-person speck of a startup in an industry, where the leading companies have amassed hundreds of engineers backed by war chests of $1 billion or more. Voyage has raised just $23.6 million from investors that include Khosla Ventures, CRV, Initialized Capital and the venture arm of Jaguar Land Rover.

Still, the die has yet to be cast in this burgeoning industry of autonomous vehicle technology. These are the middle-school years for autonomous vehicles — a time when size can be misinterpreted for maturity and change occurs in unpredictable bursts.

The upshot? It’s still unclear which companies will solve the technical and business puzzles of autonomous vehicles. There will be companies that successfully launch robotaxis and still fail to turn their service into a profitable commercial enterprise. And there will be operationally savvy companies that fail to develop and validate the technology to a point where human drivers can be removed.

Voyage wants to unlock both.

Crowded field

Tesla Model 3 owner implants RFID chip to turn her arm into a key

By Kirsten Korosec

Forget the keycard or phone app, one software engineer is trying out a new way to unlock and start her Tesla Model 3.

Amie DD, who has a background in game simulation and programming, recently released a video showing how she “biohacked” her body. The software engineer removed the RFID chip from the Tesla Model 3 valet card using acetone, then placed it into a biopolymer, which was injected through a hollow needle into her left arm. A professional who specializes in body modifications performed the injection.

You can watch the process below, although folks who don’t like blood should consider skipping it. Amie DD also has a page on Hackaday.io that explains the project and the process.

The video is missing one crucial detail. It doesn’t show whether the method works. TechCrunch will update the post once a new video delivering the news is released.

Amie is not new to biohacking. The original idea was to use the existing RFID implant chip that was already in her hand to be able to start the Model 3. That method, which would have involved taking the Java applet and writing it onto her own chip, didn’t work because of Tesla’s security. So, Amie DD opted for another implant.

Amie DD explains why and how she did this in another, longer video posted below. She also talks a bit about her original implant in her left hand, which she says is used for “access control.” She uses it to unlock the door of her home, for instance.

 

 

Car2go hikes hourly rental rates by as much as a third

By Devin Coldewey

By-the-minute car rental service Car2go is raising its rates for short trips under the guise of variable pricing, the company announced to its users today. As we’ve seen with other variably priced services like delivery and ride hailing, in practice this means you never really know what it will cost but will have little choice but to pay.

In an email to users of its service, Car2go said that as a result of “constantly evaluating our product, packages, and pricing strategies” it had arrived at the new system, under which price will depend on time, location and day. The new cost structure takes effect next month.

For Car2go users, this will generally mean paying more. The company highlighted a new cheaper possible per-minute rate of 35 cents, significantly lower than the current $0.45 rate. But it’s easy to guess when that lower rate will be available: “times, locations and days” that no one is using the service. Meanwhile, it’s also possible to encounter a new higher per-minute rate of up to 49 cents when cars are in demand or in a high-use location.

Blocks of time from half an hour to four hours are all increasing in price: The current flat rates are now floor rates, with the possibility you’ll be paying as much as a third more than before. For example, a two-hour block currently costs $29; soon it will cost somewhere between $30 and $39. Again, you won’t know until you open the app to check it out, at which point you’re probably already committed.

Day-length packages are actually cheaper under the new system, but no longer include miles, so while a 24-hour pass used to be $79, now it’s $70 — but at 19 cents per mile, you’ll be in the red after less than 50 miles. And the price only goes up from there. Still, it’s conceivable you’ll pay less for a two or three-day rental if you’re not actually going anywhere distant, but just need a car for the weekend.

A newly instituted zone-based charge and refund system punishes drivers for leaving the city center and rewards those at the periphery for driving back toward heavy usage areas. There’s a $5 charge if you leave the central zone, and $5 refund — or the price of the trip, if less — if you bring a car in from the outer one. (Consult your local Car2go to see what the zones are in your city.)

Count the cards here and you can see the house always wins. If you’re going out, the full $5 fee always applies. If you’re coming in, it will be very difficult to nail that $5 ride — go under and Car2go is reimbursing less than the $5 (and thus comes out ahead), go over and you end up paying money anyway. It’s just one of those clever little traps businesses set up.

You can see the full changes in the chart below:

car2go ratesOh, and your first 200 trips this calendar year have an additional $1 fee. You’re welcome!

In case you can’t tell, this is bad news for consumers, though it would be too much to expect that these prices would stay stable for years. But variable pricing is fundamentally anti-consumer because of a lack of transparency under which the companies controlling it can pull all kinds of shenanigans. Sadly, that makes it a great choice for the bottom line.

These unwelcome changes come six months after Car2go joined the BMW-Daimler joint venture Share Now, which has a variety of car-share services around the world it intends to unify under a single brand soon (it already killed ReachNow, rather abruptly). Apparently larger scale and reduced competition don’t actually lead to lower prices — unfortunate for their customers. But overall the floating car-share services are an important one. Just not as cheap as they used to be.

Proterra, the Tesla of electric buses, closes in on $1 billion valuation

By Kirsten Korosec

Proterra has authorized shares to raise $75 million, a new round of funding that would push the electric bus maker’s valuation past $1 billion, TechCrunch has learned.

The company authorized the sale of 10,857,762 shares at a price of $6.91 in a Series 8 round, according to a securities filing that was obtained by the Prime Unicorn Index, a company that tracks the performance of private U.S. companies, and reviewed by TechCrunch. If all of the shares are issued, the company’s total valuation would be $1.04 billion, pushing it into “unicorn” territory, according to Prime Unicorn Index.

Proterra declined to comment.

Efforts to raise capital come as the company explores an IPO, according to a report last month by Reuters that said Proterra had hired underwriters from Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.

Prior to this August 2 filing, Proterra had raised a total of $551.77 million in funding from investors that include G2VP, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Constellation Ventures, Mitsui & Co. as well as BMW i Ventures, Edison Energy, the Federal Transportation Administration, General Motors’s venture arm and Tao Capital Partners.

Proterra produces electric buses for municipal, federal and commercial transit agencies; it has a line of electric buses, hundreds of which have been sold, that can travel 350 miles on a single charge. The Burlingame, Calif. company, which has a number of former Tesla employees in leadership positions, including CEO Ryan Popple, has since diversified its business.

Proterra rolled out in April a $200 million credit facility backed by Japanese investment giant Mitsui & Co. to scale up a battery leasing program aimed at lowering the barrier of entry of buying an electric bus.

And just this month, the company announced it has added a new business line called Proterra Powered that will sell its vehicle battery systems, powertrain technology and charging infrastructure to commercial truck and manufacturers of heavy-duty vehicles like garbage trucks.

This new business line stems from its previous relationships with companies like Van Hool and Daimler . Proterra announced last year it was working with Daimler to electrify the company’s Thomas Built Buses division, which makes a line of school buses. That relationship comes with some financial backing and an agreement to share technologies.

Daimler co-led a $155 million funding along with Tao Capital Partner. Proterra is lending its battery and drive train expertise; Daimler will show Proterra how to scale its manufacturing business even further.

The partnership has already been fruitful. Thomas Built Buses received certifications from the California Air Resources Board and the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project for an electric bus, known as the Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley, which uses Proterra technology. Electric school bus production for demonstration and innovation vehicles begins in 2019 and commercial production begins in 2020.

Hyundai’s fuel cell SUV just scored a top safety rating from IIHS

By Kirsten Korosec

The Hyundai Nexo, a hydrogen fuel cell SUV first unveiled at CES 2018, has earned a top safety award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The award, announced Thursday, marks two firsts. The Nexo is the first fuel cell vehicle to earn IIHS’s top safety award. Then again, it’s also the first fuel cell vehicle IIHS has ever tested.

The top safety pick+ award is for 2019 Hyundai Nexo vehicles built after June 2019, when the automaker adjusted the headlights to provide better visibility through curves. Any Nexo vehicles produced prior to June still get high marks, but fall short of the top award. Instead, they qualify for IIHS’ second-tier top safety award. The Nexo joins other 2019 Hyundai and Kia vehicles to earn top safety pick+ awards, including the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Niro hybrid and Kia Soul.

The market for the Nexo is small right now. Within the U.S., the new vehicle, which has a base price of $58,300, is only sold in California. Deliveries of the vehicle to California residents began in December 2018. The vehicle has been available to customers in Korea since early 2018.

Normally, such a limited vehicle wouldn’t be included in IIHS’s routine test schedule, the organization said. Hyundai nominated the vehicle for testing. IIHS says it ended up benefiting too because it gave the organization an early opportunity to evaluate a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

Earning this top safety pick+ award isn’t easy. A vehicle has to earn good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. It also needs an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and a good headlight rating.

The Nexo, a midsize luxury SUV, has good ratings in all six crashworthiness tests, IIHS said. The Nexo’s standard front crash prevention system earned a superior rating. The vehicle avoided collisions in 12 mph and 25 mph track tests and has a forward collision warning system that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria, according to IIHS.

The Nexo could someday become more common, and even used in fleets. Self-driving vehicle startup Aurora has been working with Hyundai and Kia for the last year to integrate its “Driver” into Hyundai’s Nexo.

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.

Self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics begins deliveries in Texas

By Kirsten Korosec

A year after coming out of stealth mode with $40 million, self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics will begin making its first commercial deliveries in Texas.

Kodiak will open a new facility in North Texas to support it freight operations along with increased testing in the state. The commercial route

There are some caveats to the milestone. Kodiak’s self-driving trucks will have a human safety driver behind the wheel. And it’s unclear how significant this initial launch is; the company didn’t provide details on who its customers are or what it will be hauling.

Kodiak has eight autonomous trucks in its fleet, and according to the company it’s “growing quickly.”

Still, it does mark progress for such a young company, which co-founders Don Burnette and Paz Eshel say is due to its talented and experienced workforce. 

Burnette, who is CEO of Kodiak, was part of the Google self-driving project before leaving and co-founding Otto in early 2016, along with Anthony Levandowski, Lior Ron and Claire Delaunay. Uber would acquire Otto (and its co-founders). Burnette left Uber to launch Kodiak in April 2018 with Eshel, a former venture capitalist and now the startup’s COO.

In August 2018, the company announced it had raised $40 million in Series A financing led by Battery Ventures . CRV, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Tusk Ventures also participated in the round. Itzik Parnafes, a general partner at Battery Ventures, joined Kodiak’s board.

Kodiak is the latest autonomous vehicle company to test its technology in Texas. The state has become a magnet for autonomous vehicle startups, particularly those working on self-driving trucks. That’s largely due to the combination of a friendly regulatory environment and the state’s position as a logistics and transportation hub.

“As a region adding more than 1 million new residents each decade, it is important to develop a comprehensive strategy for the safe and reliable movement of people and goods,” Thomas Bamonte, senior program manager of Automated Vehicles for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said in a statement. “Our policy officials on the Regional Transportation Council have been very forward-thinking in their recognition of technology as part of the answer, which is positioning our region as a leader in the automated vehicle industry.”

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple was awarded a contract this spring to complete five round trips, for a two-week pilot, hauling USPS trailers more than 1,000 miles between the postal service’s Phoenix and Dallas distribution centers. A safety engineer and driver will be on board throughout the pilot.

Other companies developing autonomous vehicle technology for trucks such as Embark and Starsky Robotics have also tested on Texas roads.

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.

Optimus Ride’s Brooklyn self-driving shuttles begin picking up passengers this week

By Darrell Etherington

Self-driving startup Optimus Ride will become the first to operate a commercial self-driving service in the state of New York – in Brooklyn. But don’t expect these things to be contending with pedestrians, bike riders, taxis and cars on New York’s busiest roads; instead, they’ll be offering shuttle services within Brooklyn Navy Yards, a 300-acre private commercial development.

The Optimus Ride autonomous vehicles, which have six seats across three rows for passengers, and which also always have both a safety driver and another Optimus staff observer on board, at least for now, will offer service seven days a week, for free, running a service loop that will cover the entire complex. It includes a stop at a new ferry landing on-site, which means a lot of commuters should be able to pretty easily grab a seat in one for their last-mile needs.

Optimus Ride’s shuttles have been in operation in a number of different sites across the U.S., including in Boston, Virginia, California and Massachusetts.

The Brooklyn Navy Yards is a perfect environment for the service, since it plays host to some 10,000 workers, but also includes entirely private roads – which means Optimus Ride doesn’t need to worry about public road rules and regulations in deploying a commercial self-driving service.

May Mobility, an Ann Arbor-based startup also focused on low-speed autonomous shuttles, has deployed in partnership with some smaller cities and on defined bus route paths. The approach of both companies is similar, using relatively simple vehicle designs and serving low-volume ridership in areas where traffic and pedestrian patterns are relatively easy to anticipate.

Commercially viable, fully autonomous robotaxi service for dense urban areas is still a long, long way off – and definitely out of reach for startup and smaller companies in the near-term. Tackling commercial service in controlled environments on a smaller scale is a great way to build the business while bringing in revenue and offering actual value to paying customers at the same time.

Automotive marketplace Carro acquires Indonesia’s Jualo, extends Series B to $90M

By Manish Singh

Carro, an automotive marketplace and car financing startup based in Singapore, said it has raised $30 million to extend and close its $90 million Series B financing round and acquired Indonesia-based marketplace Jualo as it looks to further scale its business in Southeast Asia.

The Series B round, for which Carro raised $60 million last year, was funded by SoftBank Ventures Asia, government-linked global investor EDBI, Dietrich Foundation, and NCORE Ventures.

Hanwha Asset Management as well as existing investors including Insignia Ventures, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital Group, Singtel Innov8, Golden Gate Ventures, and Alpha JWC also participated in the round. The three-year-old startup has raised over US$100 million from investors.

“There was an overflow of interest in our Series B round, which we initially closed towards the end of last year. We had a lot of quality strategic investors coming to the and therefore decided to extend the round. The round is now officially closed,” Aaron Tan, founder and CEO of Carro, told TechCrunch.

As part of the announcement, Carro said it had acquired Jualo.com, one of Indonesia’s fastest-growing marketplaces where sellers trade new and used goods in over 300 categories including cars, motorcycles, property, fashion, and electronics. Jualo has amassed 4 million monthly active users and facilitated transactions worth $1 billion last year.

Carro, which operates in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, said more than $500 million worth of vehicles were sold last year on its platform, up from $250 million in 2017 and $120 million the year before.

Carro has already expanded in terms of services. Initially a vehicle marketplace, it launched Genie Finance and has also forayed into insurance brokerage and road-side assistance. Last year, it introduced a service that completes vehicle sales in 60 minutes — Carro Express. In March this year, Carro launched its first subscription-based car service in Singapore to offer consumers additional flexibility.

Tan said that Jualo, which operates in several more categories than Carro, will continue to operate under its original branding.  “Our aim with Jualo.com is to double down and grow the Jualo.com business; with a strong focus and emphasis on the automotive sector,” he said.

Carro, which sees more than 70% of its transactions come from outside home Singapore, will reveal expansion plans to new markets and more acquisition deals later this year, Tan said. The subscription service will also be extended, he added.

Carro is rivaled by a number of startups, including BeliMobilGue in Indonesia, Carsome, iCar Asia and Rocket Internet’s Carmudi, although with its new raise in the bank Carro is the best-funded by some margin.

iCar Asia, which is managed by Malaysian venture builder Catcha, raised $19 million in late 2017. Last year, Carsome — which covers Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand — raised a $19 million Series B, BeliMobilGue — Indonesia-only — raised $3.7 million and Carmudi landed $10 million.

In the case of Carmudi, the business has retrenched itself. At its peak it covered over 20 markets worldwide across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, but today its focus is on Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Tesla brings back free unlimited supercharging for the Model S and X

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla is resurrecting a popular benefit that CEO Elon Musk once called “unsustainable” as it attempts to boost sales of its more expensive electric vehicles.

Tesla announced Saturday that all new Model S sedans and Model X SUVs will come with free unlimited access to its network of electric vehicle chargers known as superchargers.

The move comes on the heels of a second quarter of wider-than-expected losses of $408 million despite record deliveries of its electric vehicles.

The automaker reported in July it delivered a record 95,200 of its electric vehicles in the second quarter, a dramatic reversal from a disappointing first period. The company generated $6.3 billion in revenue in the second quarter from those sales, the bulk of which came from its lower margin and less expensive Model 3 vehicles.

Meanwhile, sales of the Model S and Model X have slowed. Of its 95,200 deliveries, just 17,650 were Model S and X vehicles. Tesla doesn’t separate delivery or production figures for the S and X.

BREAKING: All new Model S and Model X orders now come with ⚡ free ⚡ unlimited ⚡ Supercharging ⚡

— Tesla (@Tesla) August 3, 2019

In its early days, free unlimited supercharging was part of the package of buying a Tesla vehicle.

Tesla began phasing out free unlimited access to its supercharger network when it announced that customers who buy cars after January 1, 2017 will have 400 kilowatt-hours, or about 1,000 miles, of free charging every year. Once owners surpassed that amount, they would be charged a small fee.

Will see what we can do. Really need to bring this program to an end while being as fair as possible. It’s not sustainable long-term.

— E (@elonmusk) September 17, 2018

Tesla then narrowed the free unlimited access to superchargers through a referral program and only to buyers of performance versions of the Model S, Model X and Model 3. The free unlimited supercharger referral program is now set to end September 18.

Musk has brought back the perk several times since to drive sales.

It’s unclear how long this latest offer will last. The company has been tinkering with its pricing structure, vehicle configurations and rewards programs, with changes occurring monthly.

Watch a Tesla Model 3 play chess against the top-ranked player in the US

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla cars can now take on human players in a game of chess, thanks to a software update it pushed out to vehicles last month. Its programmers likely didn’t imagine they were designing a chess program to take on the best players in the world, however: U.S. No. 1 ranked chess player Fabiano Caruana (also currently ranked No. 2 in the world) played a Tesla Model 3 in a recent match… but Deep Blue versus Kasparov, this was not.

Caruana bests the vehicle in just under five minutes of playing time, and he’s not particularly stressing the time, plus he’s offering a running commentary. The car makes some questionable moves, but to be fair, it’s not a super computer with deep artificial intelligence, and Caruana is one of the world’s best. He also gives it credit at the end, calling the game “challenging” and you can hear it’s probably more than he was expecting from a car’s infotainment system.

The car would probably beat me, but I’m unranked and haven’t played a game of chess in probably 15 years, so there’s that.

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