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Yesterday — October 21st 2019Your RSS feeds

The Station: Volvo evolves, Skip trips and touchscreen tech

By Kirsten Korosec

The Station is back for another week of news and analysis on all the ways people and goods move from Point A to Point B — today and in the future. As always, I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior reporter at TechCrunch.

Portions of the newsletter will be published as an article on the main site after it has been emailed to subscribers (that’s what you’re reading now). To get everything, you have to sign up. And it’s free. To subscribe, go to our newsletters page and click on The Station.

This week, we’re looking at factories in China, scooters in San Francisco and touchscreens in cars, among other things.

Please reach out anytime with tips and feedback. Tell us what you love and don’t love so much. Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Welcome to micromobbin’ — a weekly dive into the tiny but mighty chaotic world of micromobility. This also happens to be a place where Megan Rose Dickey reigns. Follow her @meganrosedickey.

Uber, Lime and Spin each deployed 500 electric scooters in San Francisco as part of the city’s permitting program. This means residents in SF can now choose from Uber-owned JUMP, Lime, Spin or Scoot scooters. Unfortunately for Skip, the company did not receive a permit to continue operating in the city, which means layoffs at the local level are afoot, Skip CEO Sanjay Dastoor said earlier this week.

Meanwhile, former Uber executive Dmitry Shevelenko unveiled Tortoise, an autonomous repositioning software for micromobility operators. The idea is to help make it easier for these companies to more strategically deploy their respective vehicles and reposition them when needed.

Let’s close this section with the obligatory funding round. Wheels, a pedal-less electric bike-share startup, raised a $50 million round led by DBL Partners. That brought its total funding to $87 million.

Oh, but wait, TC reporter Romain Dillet reminded us that micromobbin’ happens outside of the U.S. too. Uber also announced this past week that it has integrated its app with French startup Cityscoot, which has a fleet of free-floating moped-style scooters.

This is the latest example of Uber’s plan to become a super mobility app that goes well beyond its own network of ride-hailing vehicles.

— Megan Rose Dickey

Snapshot: Touchscreen tech

We’ve seen a lot of different approaches when it comes to engaging with connected car services: head-up displays on the windshield, small screens perched on the dashboard, interactive voice and, of course, connections and mounts for smartphones.

But how about if your whole car becomes the touchscreen? A startup called Sentons is working on technology that could make that happen. The company uses a technique involving processors and AI that emit and read ultrasound to detect physical movement on a surface, such as touch, force or gestures, and users can create “virtual controls” on the fly that work on these surfaces.

This week, it released SurfaceWave, a software and hardware stack that works on glass, metal and plastic surfaces of smartphones.

CEO Jess Lee says the next iterations are going to be the kinds of materials that are used to make car dashboards and other interior surfaces you find inside the vehicle, including leather, thicker plastic and other materials. The company is already engaging with automotive companies, Lee told TechCrunch.

I can see a lot of possibilities for this in the human-driven vehicles of today. We’ve already seen how Tesla has changed how we think about infotainment systems in cars. And then there’s electric vehicle startup Byton, which plans to bring a vehicle to market with a touchscreen that extends along the entire dashboard.

The real opportunity for Sentons will be with autonomous vehicles, a product that will afford its passengers more leisure time.

— Ingrid Lunden

Made in China

the station china

Earlier this week, Tesla was given the OK to begin producing vehicles at its $2 billion factory in Shanghai. Tesla was added to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s list of approved automotive manufacturers.

Now we’ll watch and wait to see if production starts this month. Expect the topic of China and this factory to come up during Tesla’s earnings call with analysts October 23.

In other China factory news, we hear that electric vehicle startup Byton plans to host a splashy opening ceremony in early November for its new plant. The event will include lots of Chinese officials, company executives and maybe a preview of a near-final production version of its M-Byte vehicle.

Byton’s factory in Nanjing covers some 800,000 square meters (8.6 million square feet) funded with a total investment of more than $1.5 billion. Over the summer, the walls and roof went up, equipment was installed and commissioning began in five major workshops: stamping, welding, paint, battery and assembly.

The plant will begin trial production in late 2019.

This all sounds great, but there have been challenges, and the constant requirement for capital is one of them. Byton has delayed the launch of the production version of the M-Byte by two quarters. It’s now looking like commercial production will begin by the end of the second quarter of 2020.

Here are a couple of interesting tidbits for those manufacturing geeks out there:

  • The stamping shop completes one panel every 3 seconds on average. Byton claims it will be one of the fastest stamping production lines in China.
  • The welding shop incorporates 335 welding robots supplied by KUKA and boosts the automation rate to 99%, according to Byton.
  • The paint shop is equipped with a “3 Coating 2 Baking” system and thin film pre-treatment as well as the transverse “Eco-Incure” oven technology.
  • The battery shop will produce and assemble battery packs, designed independently by Byton. Battery maker CATL provides the battery cells and modules and aluminum maker Constellium supplies the aluminum battery tray.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share. A little bird is where we pass along insider tips and what we’re hearing or finding from reliable, informed sources in the industry. This isn’t a place for unfounded gossip.

To get a “little bird” and the rest of the newsletter, please subscribe. Just go to our newsletters page and click on The Station.

What does systems engineering in AVs mean?

the station autonomous vehicles1

I recently spoke to Randol Aikin, the head of systems engineering at self-driving trucks startup Ike Robotics, about the company’s approach, which is based on a methodology developed at MIT called Systems Theoretic Process Analysis. STPA is the foundation for Ike’s product development.

The company also released a wickedly long safety report (it’s halfway down that landing page in the link provided).

The complete interview was included in the emailed newsletter. Yet another reason to subscribe to this free newsletter. Here’s one quote from the interview with Aikin:

We asked the question, what do we have to prove to ourselves and demonstrate in order to be on a public road safely? It’s the same question that we’re going to have to answer for the product as well, which is, what do we need to prove to assure that we’re safe to operate without a human in the cab?

It’s one of the huge unproven hypotheses. Anybody in this space that doesn’t consider that to be a huge technical challenges is ignoring a really thorny and important question.

Who will own the future of transportation?

Our mobility coverage extends to Extra Crunch. Check out my latest article on who will own the future of transportation based on insights from Zoox CEO Aicha Evans and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The idea here is to explore some of the nuances of this loaded question.

Extra Crunch requires a paid subscription and you can sign up here.

 

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Mercedes-Benz app glitch exposed car owners’ information to other users

By Zack Whittaker

Mercedes-Benz car owners have said that the app they used to remotely locate, unlock and start their cars was displaying other people’s account and vehicle information.

TechCrunch spoke to two customers who said the Mercedes-Benz’ connected car app was pulling in information from other accounts and not their own, allowing them to see other car owners’ names, recent activity, phone numbers, and more.

The apparent security lapse happened late-Friday before the app went offline “due to site maintenance” a few hours later.

It’s not uncommon for modern vehicles these days to come with an accompanying phone app. These apps connect to your car and let you remotely locate them, lock or unlock them, and start or stop the engine. But as cars become internet-connected and hooked up to apps, security flaws have allowed researchers to remotely hijack or track vehicles.

One Seattle-based car owner told TechCrunch that their app pulled in information from several other accounts. He said that both he and a friend, who are both Mercedes owners, had the same car belonging to another customer, in their respective apps but every other account detail was different.

benz app 2

Screenshots of the Mercedes-Benz app showing another person’s vehicle, and exposed data belonging to another car owner. (Image: supplied)

The car owners we spoke to said they were able to see the car’s recent activity, including the locations of where it had recently been, but they were unable to track the real-time location using the app’s feature.

When he contacted Mercedes-Benz, a customer service representative told him to “delete the app” until it was fixed, he said.

The other car owner we spoke to said he opened the app and found it also pulled in someone else’s profile.

“I got in contact with the person who owns the car that was showing up,” he told TechCrunch. “I could see the car was in Los Angeles, where he had been, and he was in fact there,” he added.

He said that he wasn’t sure if the app has exposed his private information to another customer.

“Pretty bad fuck up in my opinion,” he said.

The first customer reported that the “lock and unlock” and the engine “start and stop” features did not work on his app, somewhat limiting the impact of the security lapse. The other customer said they did not attempt to test either feature.

It’s not clear how the security lapse happened or how widespread the problem was. A spokesperson for Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

According to Google Play’s rankings, more than 100,000 customers have installed the app.

A similar security lapse hit Credit Karma’s mobile app in August. The credit monitoring company admitted that users were inadvertently shown other users’ account information, including details about credit card accounts and balances. But despite disclosing other people’s information, the company denied a data breach.

Harley-Davidson has resumed production of the LiveWire

By Kirsten Korosec

Harley-Davidson has resumed production and deliveries of its electric LiveWire motorcycle after determining an issue with charging was isolated to a single vehicle.

HD halted production and delivery of its first electric motorcycle earlier this week after discovering what it described at the time as a “non-standard condition.” Harley-Davidson didn’t recall any of the LiveWire motorcycles already on the road. But it did stop production and deliveries and began additional testing and analysis.

At the time, HD didn’t explain what the non-standard issue was, but TechCrunch has since learned that it was a charging-related problem on one motorcycle.

“After completing rigorous analysis this week, we have resumed LiveWire production and deliveries,” Harley-Davidson said in a comment emailed to TechCrunch. “Customers may continue riding their LiveWire motorcycle and are able to charge the motorcycle through all methods. Temporarily stopping LiveWire production allowed us to confirm that the non-standard condition identified on one motorcycle was a singular occurrence.”

The company added that this incident shows that its quality assurance measures are working as designed.

The production stoppage put a damper on Harley-Davidson’s first foray into electrification just weeks after deliveries of LiveWire began to ramp up. The $29,799, 105 horsepower electric motorcycle was to be the first of a future line-up of EVs from Harley-Davidson spanning motorcycles, bicycles and scooters.

The LiveWire, which is meant to complement, not replace, Harley-Davidson’s premium internal-combustion cruiser motorcycles, went into production in 2019. Delivery to dealers began September 27.

Who will own the future of transportation?

By Kirsten Korosec

Autonomous vehicles are often painted as a utopian-like technology that will transform parking lots into parks and eliminate traffic fatalities — a number that reached 1.35 million globally in 2018.

Even if, as many predict, autonomous vehicles are deployed en masse, the road to that future promises to be long, chaotic and complex. The emergence of ride-hailing, car-sharing and micromobility hints at some of the speed bumps between today’s modes of transportation and more futuristic means, like AVs and flying cars. Entire industries face disruption in this new mobility world, perhaps none so thoroughly as automotive.

Autonomous-vehicle ubiquity may be decades away, but automakers, startups and tech companies are already clambering to be king of the ‘future of transportation’ hill.

How does a company, city or country “own” this future of transportation? While there’s no clear winner today, companies as well as local and federal governments can take actions and make investments today to make sure they’re not left behind, according to Zoox CEO Aicha Evans and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who spoke about the future of cities on stage this month at Disrupt SF. 

Local = opportunity

Evolution in mobility is occurring at a global scale, but transportation is also very local, Evans said. Because every local transit system is tailored to the geography and the needs of its residents, these unique requirements create opportunities at a local level and encourages partnerships between different companies.

This is no longer just a Silicon Valley versus Detroit story; Europe, China, Singapore have all piled in as well. Instead of one mobility company that will rule them all, Evans and Granholm predict more partnerships between companies, governments and even economic and tech strongholds like Silicon Valley.

We’re already seeing examples of this in the world of autonomous vehicles. For instance, Ford invested $1 billion into AV startup Argo AI in 2017. Two years later, VW Group announced a partnership with Ford that covers a number of areas, including autonomy (via a new investment by VW in Argo AI) and collaboration on development of electric vehicles.

BMW and Daimler, which agreed in 2018 to merge their urban mobility services into a single holding company, announced in February plans to unify these services and sink $1.1 billion into the effort. The two companies are also part of a consortium that includes Audi, Intel, Continental and Bosch, that owns mapping and location data service company HERE.

There are numerous other examples of companies collaborating after concluding that going it alone wasn’t as feasible as they once thought.

Volvo creates a dedicated business for autonomous industrial and commercial transport

By Darrell Etherington

Volvo Group has established a new dedicated business group focused on autonomous transportation, with a mandate that covers industry segments like mining, ports and moving goods between logistics hubs of all kinds. The vehicle maker has already been active in putting autonomous technology to work in these industries, with self-driving projects — including at a few quarries and mines, and in the busy port located at Gothenburg, Sweden.

The company sees demand for this kind of autonomous technology use growing, and decided to establish an entire business unit to address it. The newly formed group will be called Volvo Autonomous Solutions, and its official mission is to “accelerate the development, commercialization and sales of autonomous transport solutions,” focused on the kind of transportation “where there is a need to move large volumes of goods and material on pre-defined routes, in receptive flows.”

Their anticipation of the growth of this sector comes in part from direct customer feedback, the automaker notes. It’s seen “significant increase in inquires from customers,” according to a statement from Martin Lundstedt, Volvo Group’s president and CEO.

Officially, Volvo Autonomous Solutions won’t be a formal new business area under its parent company until January 2020, but the company is looking for a new head of the unit already, and it’s clear they see a lot of potential in this burgeoning market.

Unlike autonomous driving for consumer automobiles, this kind of self-driving for fixed-route goods transportation is a nice match to the capabilities of technology as they exist today. These industrial applications eliminate a lot of the chaos and complexity of driving in, say, urban environments and with a lot of other human-driven vehicles on the road, and their routes are predictable and repeatable.

Tesla gets green light to start producing EVs in China

By Kirsten Korosec

China’s industry ministry has added Tesla to a government list of approved automotive manufacturers, a designation that allows the electric automaker to begin producing vehicles in the country.

Tesla’s inclusion on the list published by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology was reported by Reuters. A Chinese tech site also reported the news and provided a screenshot of MIIT’s approved automakers. Tesla is the first automaker listed.

TechCrunch has reached out to Tesla and will update when the company responds.

Tesla is building a $2 billion factory in Shanghai, its first manufacturing facility outside the United States.

In July, Tesla wrote in its quarterly earnings letter to shareholders that Model 3 production was on track to begin at its Shanghai factory by the end of the year. Starting production by November would be a critical milestone for the automaker if it hopes to continue to increase sales and avoid the high cost of shipping and tariffs.

Tesla wrote at the time that machinery was moved into the factory during the second quarter in preparation for the first phase of production.

The company also said in July that “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.”

Tesla has said 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 has also 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.

Every angle of Volvo’s first electric vehicle, the XC40 Recharge

By Kirsten Korosec

Volvo Cars introduced Wednesday the XC40 Recharge, an all-electric vehicle that CTO Henrik Green described as “a car of firsts and a car of the future.”

The XC40 Recharge is hardly the first electric vehicle on the market. But for Volvo, the XC40 is a “car of firsts.” This is the company’s first all-electric vehicle. It’s also the first Volvo to have an infotainment system powered by Google’s Android operating system as well as have the ability to make over-the-air software updates.

Before we move on to the photos, here are some of the specs.

The XC40 Recharge is equipped with an all-wheel-drive powertrain and a 78 kilowatt-hour battery that can travel more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) on a single charge, in accordance with WLTP. The WLTP, or Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, is the European standard to measure energy consumption and emissions, and tends to be more generous than the U.S. EPA estimates. The EPA estimates are not yet available, but it’s likely the XC40 Recharge will hit around the 200-mile range.

That would put the range of the Volvo XC40 Recharge below the Tesla Model 3, Chevy Bolt EV, Kia Niro and Hyundai Kona.

The vehicle’s electric motor produces the equivalent of 408 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque that allows the vehicle to go from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. The battery charges to 80% of its capacity in 40 minutes on a fast-charger system.

The XC40 Recharge is expected to go on sale in the U.S. in late 2020.

Here’s what this car of “many firsts” looks like.

[gallery ids="1898424,1898427,1898434,1898428,1898429,1898431,1898432,1898435,1898436,1898426,1898437"]

Volvo to roll out a new electric vehicle every year through 2025

By Kirsten Korosec

Volvo Cars used the unveiling of the XC40 Recharge, its first electric vehicle, to lay out an ambitious business strategy that includes introducing a new EV every year through 2025 and slashing by 40% the carbon footprint of the lifecycle of every car and SUV it builds.

All of the changes are aimed at Volvo Cars’ target to become a climate-neutral company by 2040.

The goals laid out by Volvo Car Group President and CEO Håkan Samuelsson during a press conference Wednesday to launch the XC40 Recharge will change the structure of the company and affect its supply chain.

“We made safety a part of our brand and part of our company, we should do exactly the same with sustainability,” Samuelsson said Wednesday during the press conference.

Volvo plans to reach its goal by producing and selling electric and plug-in electric vehicles, cutting the carbon footprint of the lifecycle of its vehicles by 40% between 2018 and 2025 and spinning out its combustion engine unit.

Electrifying every model

A critical piece to hitting its target will be making more EVs available. The automaker plans to launch an all-electric car every year over the next five years. By 2025, it wants all-electric vehicles to represent 50% of global sales with the rest composed of hybrids.

As of this year, every new Volvo launched will be electrified, which means it could be a hybrid, plug-in electric (PHEV) or all-electric (BEV) vehicle.

To hit this target, every Volvo model will include a Recharge option. This means a plug-in hybrid or all-electric version will be available, according to the company. To further encourage electric driving, every Volvo Recharge plug-in hybrid model will come with free electricity for a year, provided through a refund for the average electricity cost during that period.

Volvo also plans to triple its manufacturing capacity and is now quickly ramping up its production globally, Björn Annwall, head of global commercial operations at Volvo, said during the press conference. Volvo is aiming for plug-in hybrid cars to make up 20% of total sales in 2020.

Carbon footprint

The company’s bid to reduce the carbon footprint of the lifecycle of its cars 40% between 2018 and 2025 will affect every aspect of how these vehicles are made, as well as its suppliers.

Today, the supply chain makes up one-third of the total carbon footprint throughout the lifecycle of a new vehicle, according to CTO Henrik Green. But switching to electrified vehicles to reduce tailpipe emissions increases the total lifecycle footprint of vehicles by two-thirds, primarily due to battery cell manufacturing.

“This is an industry challenge,” Green said, adding that lawmakers, utilities, automakers and battery cell manufacturers need to collaborate.

Volvo is targeting its supply chain to help it hit its goal as well as moving more toward renewable energy for its power. Reducing waste and standardizing materials to support recycling are also key to making the company more sustainable, according to Green.

Gas-powered spin-out

Volvo isn’t ditching combustion engines completely. But it’s distancing itself from them.

Volvo Cars and its Chinese parent company Geely Holdings will merge their existing combustion engine operations into a standalone business. The move will “clear the way for Volvo Cars to focus on the development of its all-electric range of premium cars,” Samuelsson said.

“So we believe we will bring sustainability into our company, not as something to add on, because it’s good or something that is expected for us,” Samuelsson said. “We bring it into the company because we think it’s really good for our business. It will make our company grow faster, it will make our company stronger, exactly as safety made Volvo stronger.”

Via is launching an on-demand public transit network in the city of Cupertino

By Kirsten Korosec

Shuttle startup Via and the city of Cupertino are launching an on-demand public transportation network, the latest example of municipalities trying out alternatives to traditional buses.

The aim is for these on-demand shuttles, which will start with six vans branded with the city of Cupertino logo, to provide more efficient connections to CalTrain and increase access to public transit across the city.

The on-demand shuttle service, which begins October 29, will eventually grow to 10 vehicles and include a wheelchair accessible vehicle. Avis Budget Group, another partner in this service, is the fleet management service that will maintain the vehicles.

In Cupertino, residents and commuters can use the Via app or a phone reservation system to hail a shuttle. The network will span the entire 11-square-mile city with a satellite zone surrounding the Sunnyvale CalTrain station for commuters, Via said Monday. Cupertino Mayor Steven Scharf views the Via on-demand service as the next generation of “what public transportation can be, allowing us to increase mobility while taking a step toward our larger goal of reducing traffic congestion.”

The service, which will run from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, will cost $5 a ride. Users can buy weekly and monthly passes for $17 and $60, respectively.

Via has two sides to its business. The company operates consumer-facing shuttles in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and New York.

Via also partners with cities and transportation authorities, giving clients access to their platform to deploy their own shuttles. The city of Cupertino, home to Apple, SeaGate Technologies and numerous other software and tech-related companies, is one example of this. Austin’s Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority also uses the Via platform to power the city’s Pickup service. And Via’s platform is  used by Arriva  Bus UK, a Deutsche Bahn Company, for a first- and last-mile service connecting commuters to a high-speed train station in Kent, U.K.

In January, Via announced it was partnering with Los Angeles as part of a pilot program that will give people rides to three busy public transit stations. Via claims it now has more than 80 launched and pending deployments in over 20 countries, providing more than 60 million rides to date.

While city leaders appear increasingly open to experimenting with on-demand shuttles, success in this niche business isn’t guaranteed. For instance, Chariot, which was acquired by Ford, shut down its operations in San Francisco, New York and the UK in early 2019.

Waymo is creating 3D maps of Los Angeles to better understand traffic congestion

By Kirsten Korosec

Waymo, the autonomous vehicle company under Alphabet, has started creating 3D maps in some heavily trafficked sections of Los Angeles to better understand congestion there and determine if its self-driving vehicles would be a good fit in the city.

For now, Waymo is bringing just three of its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to Los Angeles to map downtown and a section of Wilshire Boulevard known as Miracle Mile.

Waymo employees will initially drive the vehicles to create 3D maps of the city. These maps are unlike Google Maps or Waze. Instead, they include topographical features such as lane merges, shared turn lanes and curb heights, as well as road types and the distance and dimensions of the road itself, according to Waymo. That data is combined with traffic control information like signs, the lengths of crosswalks and the locations of traffic lights.

Starting this week, Angelenos might catch a glimpse of Waymo’s cars on the streets of LA! Our cars will be in town exploring how Waymo's tech might fit into LA’s dynamic transportation environment and complement the City’s innovative approach to transportation. pic.twitter.com/REHfxrxqdL

— Waymo (@Waymo) October 7, 2019

Waymo does have a permit to test autonomous vehicles in California and could theoretically deploy its fleet in Los Angeles. But for now, the company is in mapping and assessment mode. Waymo’s foray into Los Angeles is designed to give the company insight into driving conditions there and how its AV technology might someday be used.

The company said it doesn’t plan to launch a rider program like its Waymo One currently operating in the suburbs of Phoenix. Waymo One allows individuals to hail a ride in one of the self-driving cars, which have a human safety driver behind the wheel.

The self-driving car company began testing its autonomous vehicles in and around Mountain View, Calif., before branching out to other cities — and climates — including Novi, Mich., Kirkland, Wash., San Francisco and, more recently, in Florida. But the bulk of the company’s activities have been in the suburbs of Phoenix  and around Mountain View — two places with lots of sun, and even blowing dust, in the case of Phoenix.

Self-driving vehicle startup Zoox has expanded to Las Vegas

By Kirsten Korosec

Zoox, the autonomous vehicle startup, is expanding to Las Vegas, CTO Jesse Levinson said at TechCrunch Disrupt SF.

The startup, which has raised $800 million and has been testing on public roads in San Francisco, said Las Vegas is a target market for its autonomous driving fleet and service. Las Vegas will serve as an anchor market for Zoox. The company plans to test, validate and refine its technology with future plans to launch an autonomous ride-hailing service there, Levinson said.

Zoox received permission from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles to drive autonomously on state roads in early 2019. The startup is currently mapping and test-driving new routes in the greater Las Vegas region. The permit also allows Zoox to transport passengers, although that is not happening at this time, the company said.

Zoox LV 2019 005

For now, Zoox, is doing strategic testing to keep costs in line, CEO Aicha Evans told TechCrunch during Disrupt. That means, Zoox is sending its retrofitted Toyota Highlander autonomous vehicles to Las Vegas for blocks of time, maybe six weeks or so. The company, which has a fleet of more than 30 of these modified vehicles, has now completed five of these deployments.

Over time, Zoox will expand its time and footprint in the city. Zoox plans to start demonstrating its ground-up vehicles on public roads in 2020, with commercial operations soon to follow, the company said,

Zoox says it selected Las Vegas because the region offers an opportunity to extend learning in a second dense urban environment and one that it says has diverse and unique use cases compared to driving in San Francisco. For instance, Las Vegas has reversible lanes, complex pick-up and drop-off zones, high temperatures and more night-time activity, the company said.

Here’s how much the all-electric Polestar 2 will cost in its launch markets

By Darrell Etherington

Volvo group’s Polestar electric performance car sub-brand has announced pricing for the Polestar 2, the company’s second production car, a four-door mid-sized fastback that will begin production in 2020 and start shipping as early as next June. Starting prices are set at between 58,800€ (around $63,720 U.S.). Those prices include three years of service and maintenance and European value-added tax (VAT). Polestar also previously communicated that its rough guide pricing for North America was at around $63,000, so this is consistent with that, but the final actual price for American buyers will be revealed later on.

That’s a pretty competitive price in the electric performance sedan market: The Model S starts at $75,000 U.S., for instance. The Polestar 2 is really much more a competitor for the Model 3, however, and is priced more closely to a kitted out version of that vehicle.

In terms of what the Polestar 2 packs in performance, its estimated EPA range is set at around 275 miles (the Model 3 starts at 240 but ranges up quickly to 310 and 325 miles depending on battery options). It offers around 408 horsepower from its 300 kW electric powertrain, again just short of the Model 3 when that’s equipped with its dual-motor performance configuration. Polestar say that it’ll do 0 to 60mph is under five seconds, again sort of in the middle of the pack when you look at the Model 3’s full configuration lineup.

Polestar 2 019

Aside from its electric powertrain, the Polestar 2 will have some other interesting techie twists, including an infotainment system based entirely on Android OS and shipping complete with the full suite of Google services, including Google Assistant and the Google Play Store. This is a deeper integration than just Android Auto, which is powered by an Android phone and basically just displays an interface on the in-car screen.

Like the Model 3, the Polestar 2 will initially launch at a higher price point, with more affordable model variations coming later on, including a base model starting at around $45,000 U.S.

Tesla delivers a record 97,000 electric vehicles in third quarter

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla said Wednesday it delivered a record 97,000 electric vehicles in the third quarter, a nearly 2% increase from the previous period, but still short of analysts’ expectations.

Tesla shares fell nearly 6% in after market trading on the news.

The company reported Wednesday that it produced 96,155 vehicles in the third quarter, a 10% increase from the previous period. Tesla has shown steady improvement in its production numbers over the past several quarters. Tesla produced 86,555 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2018 and then dropped to 77,100 in the first period of the year. Numbers rebounded to 87,048 vehicles in the second quarter of 2019.

Analysts expected Tesla to deliver 99,000 vehicles during the third quarter, according to estimates compiled by FactSet.

Despite hitting record numbers and showing the ability to push production higher, the numbers still weren’t able to meet CEO Elon Musk’s lofty targets. Musk had said in a leaked email that the company could produce 100,000 vehicles in the third quarter.

Tesla said Wednesday it received record net orders in the third quarter and is entering the fourth quarter with an increase in its order backlog. Tesla added that all of their Model 3 orders were received from customers who did not hold a reservation.

Here’s a look back at the past several quarters of deliveries.

Tesla delivered 95,200 vehicles in the second quarter, a dramatic pop from the company’s first-quarter delivery numbers when it reported deliveries of 63,000 vehicles, nearly a one-third drop from the previous period. The low first-quarter delivery numbers signaled what was to come: wider-than-expected loss of $702 million driven by disappointing delivery numbers, costs and pricing adjustments to its vehicles.

The first details about Volvo’s upcoming electric XC40 SUV

By Kirsten Korosec

Volvo is teasing its upcoming, and first all-electric car, with some initial sketches and a few details of the XC40 SUV. The upshot: Volvo is emphasizing a simpler design that discards some of the features found on gas-powered vehicles.

The XC40 SUV won’t have tailpipes, for instance. The traditional front grille, which is used to cool down gas-powered cars, are also gone. And then there’s the frunk — the front trunk that is found in Tesla’s electric vehicles along with a few other recent entrants.

For now, Volvo is only sharing sketches of the new car, which will debut October 16.

Take note, in the photo below, the lack of tailpipes.

Design sketch of Volvo Cars fully electric XC40 SUV 4

Volvo XC40 BEV design sketch.

In this next photo, Volvo shows off the frunk, which it says provides around 30 liters of extra load space.

Design sketch of Volvo Cars fully electric XC40 SUV 2

Here’s a more detailed look at the front of the vehicle. Gone is the traditional grille found on gas-powered Volvo vehicles.

“Without the need for a grille we have created an even cleaner and more modern face, while the lack of tailpipes does the same at the rear. This is the approach we will explore more and more as we continue down the road of electrification,” Robin Page, head of design at Volvo Cars, said in a statement that accompanied the images.

Design sketch of Volvo Cars fully electric XC40 SUV

Volvo revealed a few more details of the upcoming electric SUV. The vehicle will come in eight exterior colors, including a brand new “Sage Green” metallic option. A contrasting black roof comes as standard. Two new 19-inch and 20-inch wheel options will also be available.

Volvo changed the driver interface inside the SUV to provide relevant information such as the battery status. The interior design package features sporty styling details as well as carpets made of recycled materials, the company said. Volvo also emphasized the roomy interior, thanks in part to extra space it captured because the battery pack is integrated into the floor of the car.

The vehicle includes more functional storage space in the doors and under the seats, a fold-out hook for small bags and a removable waste bin in the tunnel console.

Demand for Porsche Taycan prompts automaker to add 500 more jobs

By Kirsten Korosec

Demand for the all-electric Porsche Taycan sports car has prompted the German automaker to add 500 more jobs at its headquarters in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.

The move, which will boost jobs dedicated to the Taycan by one third to 2,000, is designed to give Porsche the flexibility it might need to boost production.

“With the Taycan, we are showing that e-mobility is by no means a job killer,” Andreas Haffner, a Porsche board member in charge of human resources, said in a statement. “Rather, we are underlining its future viability, especially in the sports car segment.”

Porsche has poured more than $1 billion into the development of the Taycan, its first all-electric vehicle. And that bet appears to be paying off, if initial numbers hold up. Even before the Taycan was revealed in September, the company reported strong demand for the vehicle, which it measured through the number of people who had made deposits to order the four-door sports car. Reservations required a €2,500 deposit ($2,785).

Porsche initially targeted 20,000 Taycans for the first year of production, although at full capacity the line can produce up to 40,000 of these electric vehicles.

The company has received more than 32,000 applications for the Taycan, Haffner said.

Porsche plans to increase its workforce dedicated to the Taycan by the end of the second quarter of 2020.

The Porsche Taycan wasn’t just a big bet by the automaker; the company’s workers also made a gamble. Workers and executives agreed to cost-cutting measures, including giving up a percentage of their scheduled wage increases through 2025, to guarantee that the vehicle would be built in Zuffenhausen, and not in another plant where the cars could be produced more cheaply.

Tesla acquires computer vision startup DeepScale in push toward robotaxis

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla has acquired DeepScale, a Silicon Valley startup that uses low-wattage processors to power more accurate computer vision, in a bid to improve its Autopilot driver assistance system and deliver on CEO Elon Musk’s vision to turn its electric vehicles into robotaxis.

CNBC was the first to report the acquisition. TechCrunch independently confirmed the deal with two unnamed sources, although neither one would provide more information on the financial terms of the deal. 

Tesla vehicles are not considered fully autonomous, or Level 4, a designation by SAE that means the car can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention.

Instead, Tesla vehicles are “Level 2,” and its Autopilot feature is a more advanced driver assistance system than most other vehicles on the road today. Musk has promised that the advanced driver assistance capabilities on Tesla vehicles will continue to improve until eventually reaching that full automation high-water mark.

Earlier this year, Musk said Tesla would launch an autonomous ridesharing network by 2020. DeepScale, a four-year-old startup based in Mountain View, Calif., appears to be part of that plan. The acquisition also brings much needed talent to Tesla’s Autopilot team, which has suffered from a number of departures in the past year, The Information reported in July.

DeepScale has developed a way to use efficient deep neural networks on small, low-cost, automotive-grade sensors and processors to improve the accuracy of perception systems. These perception systems, which use sensors, mapping, planning and control systems to interpret and classify data in real time, are essential to the operation of autonomous vehicles. In short, these systems allow vehicles to understand the world around them.

The company argued that its method of using low-wattage and low-cost sensors and processors allowed it to deliver driver assistance and autonomous driving to vehicles at all price points.

The company had raised more than $18 million — in $3 million seed and $156 million Series A rounds — from investors that included Autotech VC, Bessemer, Greylock and Trucks VC.

On Monday, DeepScale’s co-founder Forrest Iandola posted an announcement on Twitter and updated his LinkedIn account. The Twitter message read “I joined the @Tesla #Autopilot team this week. I am looking forward to working with some of the brightest minds in #deeplearning and #autonomousdriving.”

I joined the @Tesla #Autopilot team this week. I am looking forward to working with some of the brightest minds in #deeplearning and #autonomousdriving.

— Forrest Iandola (@fiandola) October 1, 2019

In Tesla’s push toward “full self-driving,” it developed a new custom chip designed to those capabilities. This chip is now in all new Model 3, X and S vehicles. Musk has said that Tesla vehicles being produced now have the hardware necessary — computer and otherwise — for full self-driving. “All you need to do is improve the software,” Musk said in April at the company’s Autonomy Day.

Others in the industry have balked at those claims. Tesla and Musk have maintained the “improve software” line, and have continued to roll out improvements to the capability of Autopilot. Earlier this month, Tesla released a software update that adds new features to its cars. The update included Smart Summon, an autonomous parking feature that allows owners to use their app to summon their vehicles from a parking space.

Defining micromobility and where it’s going with business and mobility analyst Horace Dediu

By Megan Rose Dickey

Micromobility has taken off over the last couple of years. Between electric bike-share and scooter-share, these vehicles have made their way all over the world. Meanwhile, some of these companies, like Bird and Lime, have already hit unicorn status thanks to massive funding rounds.

Horace Dediu, the well-known industry analyst who coined the term micromobility as it relates to this emerging form of transportation, took some time to chat with TechCrunch ahead of Micromobility Europe, a one-day event focused on all-things micromobility.

We chatted about the origin of the word micromobility, where big tech companies like Apple, Google and Amazon fit into the space, opportunities for developers to build tools and services on top of these vehicles, the opportunity for franchising business models, the potential for micromobility to be bigger than autonomous, and much more.

Here’s a Q&A, which I lightly edited for length and clarity, I did with Dediu ahead of his micromobility conference.


Megan Rose Dickey: Hey, Horace. Thanks for taking the time to chat.

Horace Dediu: Hey, no problem. My pleasure.

Rose Dickey: I was hoping to chat with you a bit about micromobility because I know that you have the big conference coming up in Europe, so I figured this would be a good time to touch base with you. I know you’ve been credited with coining the term micromobility as it relates to likes of shared e-bikes and scooters.

So, to kick things off, can you define micromobility?

Dediu: Yes, sure. So, the idea came to me because I actually remembered microcomputing.

Auto workers’ strike pushes GM losses past $1 billion

By Kirsten Korosec

The workers strike against General Motors — now in its third week — has cost the automaker more than $1 billion during the third quarter, according to a research note from J.P. Morgan analyst Ryan Brickman.

And those losses are accelerating with each passing week. GM lost about $480 million during the first week of the strike and another $575 million in the second, according to Brickman. GM is losing about $82 million of potential profit in North America every day.

TechCrunch will update the article if GM responds to a request for comment.

The effects of the production stoppage, which began Sept. 16 when 49,000 United Auto Workers went on strike, is causing a ripple effect through the Detroit automaker’s global operations. AP reported Tuesday that GM has shut down its pickup truck and transmission factories in Silao, Mexico, affecting 6,000 workers there. GM has also had to close an engine factory in Mexico and an assembly plant in Canada because of the strike.

“GM’s US production stopped immediately when the UAW [United Auto Workers] walked off the job on September 16 and we estimate its Canadian and Mexican facilities became progressively impacted throughout the first week,” Brinkman wrote in his research note this week.

Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois also weighed in this week noting that the strike could restrict GM’s ability to make investments.

While pay, benefits and the status of temporary workers are the primary drivers of the strike, so are concerns about changes within the automaker towards electrification. GM and the rest of the automotive industry are pouring money into developing electric vehicles. But this shift is also affecting workers because electric vehicles, which require fewer parts, are easier to build. The UAW has said the shift from gas to electric engines could lead to a loss of 35,000 jobs over the next few years, according to a research study conduct by the union and recently noted by CNBC.

Last November GM CEO and Chairman Mary Barra announced plans to cut more than 14,000 jobs in North America, shutter factories and eliminate several car models in an effort to transform into a nimble company focused on high-margin SUVs, crossovers and trucks and investments in future products like electric and autonomous vehicles.

The actions were meant to safeguard the automaker from an expected downturn in the U.S. market and increase GM’s annual free cash flow by about $6 billion. But it has also caused discontent and concern among workers.

Learn everything you can about mobility at Disrupt SF

By Kirsten Korosec

Cars might still reign supreme, but things they are a changin’. And companies are lining up to provide new ways — and some recycled ones — for people to get from Point A to Point B.

The past several years have seen an explosion in startups, automakers and tech companies launching and testing products from scooters and electric bike shares to ride-hailing, electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and even flying taxis. Or heck, even space travel.

Even as more mobility startups pop up, the shine of these new things is starting to fade, and companies are facing big technical challenges, regulatory hurdles, hiring and economic headwinds.

TechCrunch is at the center of this mobility storm and we’re bringing some of the industry’s leaders on stage at Disrupt SF, including Bird founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden, Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun and Zoox CEO Aicha Evans, to hear firsthand how these companies are trying to change how people and packages move in the world and the challenges that lie ahead.

There are talks related to mobility on every stage, including the main stage and EC stage.

Disrupt kicks off October 2 with a 10:05 a.m. talk with Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith, who intends to return the U.S. to crewed spaceflight. Expect TechCrunch to ask Smith for details on what a ticket for a trip might cost, once it begins taking on paying customers.

Once this wraps up, head over to the ExtraCrunch stage for a 10:45 a.m. sponsored talk by  mapping company TomTom to hear about its new partnerships with technology companies.

Back at the main stage, check out a space, autonomy, investment and defense-related talk with Lockheed Martin’s Marilyn Hewson at the main stage.

And for those interested in subscription-based businesses, which if you haven’t noticed are becoming more prevalent in the mobility world, be sure to check out the 3:45 p.m. talk on the Extra Crunch stage with Alex Friedman from Lola, Eurie Kim with Forerunner Ventures, and Sandra Oh Lin  of KiwiCo.

October 2 is filled with mobility-related talks, including a morning chat with David Krane, CEO and managing partner at Gain Insights, a firm known for its bold bets on companies like Lime, Impossible Foods, Uber and Slack.

Don’t miss the mid-morning interview with Sebastian Thrun, an educator, inventor and serial entrepreneur, about the future of flight and Kitty Hawk Corporation, the urban air mobility company he leads. If you’ve ever seen Thrun before, you know not to miss this.

As Thrun walks off stage, VanderZanden of Bird walks on to talk about how the company is faring in scooter wars and it’s is doing to improve its unit economics.

Day 2 ends with an interview on the main stage with Zoox CEO Aicha Evans, who will talk about the self-driving car company and how it plans to work with cities to change how people live and work in these urban areas.

Don’t miss Day 3, because well Simone Giertz is going to be on the main stage. For the unfamiliar, Giertz has amassed a major YouTube following courtesy of her “sh*** robots” and other highly entertaining projects. One of her most recent projects was turning a Tesla sedan into a pickup. 

And finally, in the mobility world packages matter too. Finish the day off with an interview on the main stage with Postmates co-founder and CEO Bastian Lehmann, who will talk about the on-demand delivery company’s uncertain future and how robotics will change the landscape of the on-demand world.

Get passes to Disrupt to put the pedal to the metal on everything happening in mobility.

Tesla, Elon Musk violated labor laws, judge rules

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla broke national labor laws when it unfairly prevented workers from unionizing, an administrative law judge in California ruled Friday.

The ruling, which will likely be appealed, was first reported by Bloomberg. Tesla has not responded to a request for comment. TechCrunch will update the article if Tesla responds.

The automaker and CEO Elon Musk were ordered by Judge Amita Baman Tracy to take several actions to remedy the violations, including reinstating and giving backpay to a fired pro-union employee. The judge also ordered Musk to hold a public meeting and read aloud the findings to employees at the factory informing them the NLRB concluded the company had broken the law.

From the ruling:

I recommend that Respondent be ordered to convene its employees and have Elon Musk (or, if he is no longer the chief executive officer, a high-ranking management official), in the presence security guards, managers and supervisors, a Board agent and an agent 15 of the Union, if the Region and/or the Union so desire, read the notice aloud to employees, or, at Respondent’s option, permit a Board agent, in the presence Musk, to read the notice to the employees at the Fremont facility only.

The NLRB, while able to determine Tesla violated the law, has a limited reach, Bloomberg noted. The NLRB, for instance, can’t hold executive personally liable, nor can it assess punitive damages.

The ruling, which was published Friday, found that Musk and Tesla had violated the National Labor Relations Act by repressing attempts to organize a union at the company’s Fremont. Calif., factory. The judge determined that Tesla violated labor laws when it created rules that prevented off-duty employees from distributing union organizing leaflets in the Fremont parking lot, fired two workers unfairly and interrogated employees about their union activities. The judge also determined that Musk’s own tweets violated the law when he implied that workers who unionized would have to give up company-paid stock options.

Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 21, 2018

 

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