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WordPress.com sites can now accept subscriptions with new ‘Recurring Payments’ feature

By Sarah Perez

The subscription model is today sustaining a number of businesses, including artists, creators, news publishers, game developers, entertainment providers and more. Now, top publishing platform WordPress.com is making it easier for any creator or web publisher to add a subscription feature to their own website, so they can begin to generate repeat contributions from their supporters, readers, fans or customers.

The feature is available to any of the millions of WordPress .com sites on a paid plan, as well as the millions of self-hosted WordPress sites using Jetpack, the company says. It’s also fairly flexible in nature.

Once enabled, WordPress.com website owners could charge for weekly newsletters, accept monthly donations, sell yearly access to exclusive content or charge for anything else where they want to be able to bill their supporters on a set schedule.

WordPress.com partnered with internet payment processor Stripe on the new feature, which means WordPress.com blog publishers will also need to set up a Stripe account of their own before using Recurring Payments. Then, they’ll head to the “Earn” page on WordPress.com and click on “Connect Stripe to Get Started” to be walked through the setup process.

Users are able to create as many different payment plans as they like — including those that support different currencies, payment frequencies and names — which enables them to offer different tiers or types of subscriptions to their customers, readers or fans.

They’ll also be able to put a Recurring Payments button on their website.

Subscribers, meanwhile, can cancel their subscriptions at any time from their WordPress.com account.

Being able to quickly and easily add subscriptions to any website could convince some creators to move their subscription plans off larger platforms, like Patreon, for example, in order to save on fees and revenue share. However, they would miss out on the other platform resources by doing so. Instead, many may choose to simply add WordPress.com as another channel where they collect subscription revenue.

The feature isn’t necessarily only for creators — it also could be put to use by clubs and organizations that have to collect their own recurring membership fees and dues or anyone else who needs to be able to collect money easily on a regular basis. WordPress.com notes that some people even collect rent through recurring payments, for example.

The launch could have a major impact on the prevalence of subscriptions across the web, given the size of WordPress.com’s footprint. The company today touts that more than 409 million people view 20 billion pages on its platform every month, and publishers produce around 70 million new posts per month.

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.

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.

Elon Musk promises to take Tesla Model S to ‘Plaid’ with new powertrain

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised a more powerful powertrain option in future Model S, Model X and the next-generation Roadster sports car that will push acceleration and speed beyond the current high bar known as Ludicrous mode.

Musk tweeted Wednesday evening “the only thing beyond Ludicrous is Plaid,” a teaser to a higher performing vehicle and a nod to the movie Spaceballs.

The only thing beyond Ludicrous is Plaid

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 12, 2019

 

These new higher performing versions of the Model S, Model X, and Roadster will contain what Musk describes as a Plaid powertrain and is still about a year away from production. This new powertrain will have three motors, one more than the dual motor system found in today’s Model S and X.

Yes. To be clear, Plaid powertrain is about a year away from production & applies to S,X & Roadster, but not 3 or Y. Will cost more than our current offerings, but less than competitors.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 12, 2019

This Plaid powertrain has already seen some action. Tesla revealed Wednesday that a Model S equipped with a Plaid powertrain and chassis prototype had lapped Laguna Seca racetrack in 1:36:555, a second faster than the record for a four-door sedan.

*~ Some personal news ~*

We lapped Laguna Seca @WeatherTechRcwy in 1:36.555 during advanced R&D testing of our Model S Plaid powertrain and chassis prototype

(That’s a second faster than the record for a four-door sedan) pic.twitter.com/OriccK4KCZ

— Tesla (@Tesla) September 12, 2019

 

The “Plaid” powertrain will not be offered in the lower cost Model 3 or Model Y, which isn’t expected to go into production until late 2020. Musk also promised that this plaid powertrain will cost more than “current offerings, but will be less than competitors” without explaining what that means.

Cclose followers of the automaker might recall hints of a three motor powertrain in the past.

When Tesla unveiled a new Roadster prototype in November 2017, Musk said it would have three motors and be able to travel a whopping 0 to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds and a top speed of 250 mph or even more. The Roadster isn’t expected to go into production until 2020.

What is new are Tesla’s plans to make this more powerful three-motor powertrain available in the Model S and Model X. And it stands to be an important option, if it does in fact materialize. The Model S has been around since 2012 and since the introduction the cheaper Model 3, sales have dipped.

And yet, Musk has said the X and S won’t be getting a major refresh. If Tesla hopes to maintain demand for either of its higher margin luxury vehicles, new trims like this plaid powertrain will be essential.

Tesla first announced Ludicrous mode in its Model S vehicles way back in July 2015. As shareholders and customers awaited the Model X to arrive, Musk unveiled several options for the company’s Model S sedan, including a lower priced version, longer battery range and “Ludicrous mode” for even faster acceleration.

Ludicrous mode, which improved acceleration by 10% to let drivers go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, came about as a result of an improved battery fuse. This new fuse, Musk explained in a blog post at the time, has its own electronics and a tiny lithium-ion battery that monitors current and protects against excessive current.

Tesla also upgraded the main pack contactor with a high-temperature space-grade superalloy instead of steel. This enabled the battery pack to remain “springy” under the heat of heavy current. In the end, the max pack output increased from 1300 to 1500 Amps.

Ludicrous was a $10,000 add on for new buyers. Tesla did reduce the price for existing Model S P85 owners for the first six months following the announcement and sold them the pack electronics upgrade needed for Ludicrous Mode for $5,000.

Musk joked in this 2015 blog post that there is “one speed faster than ludicrous, but that is reserved for the next generation Roadster in 4 years: maximum plaid.”

Tesla Autopilot was engaged before 2018 California crash, NTSB finds

By Kirsten Korosec

A Tesla Model S was in Autopilot mode — the company’s advanced driver assistance system — when it crashed into a fire truck in Southern California last year, according to a preliminary report released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Reuters was the first to report on the contents of the public documents. A final accident brief, including NTSB’s determination of probable cause, is scheduled to be published Wednesday.

The crash, involving a 2014 Tesla Model S, occurred January 22, 2018 in Culver City, Calif. The Tesla had Autopilot engaged for nearly 14 minutes when it struck a fire truck that was parked on Interstate 405. The driver was not injured in the crash and the fire truck was unoccupied.

Tesla has not commented on the report. TechCrunch will update if the company provides a statement.

The report found that the driver’s hands were not on the wheel for the vast majority of that time despite receiving numerous alerts. Autopilot was engaged in the final 13 minutes and 48 seconds of the trip and the system detected driver-applied steering wheel torque for only 51 seconds of that time, the NTSB said. Other findings include:

  • The system presented a visual alert regarding hands-off operation of the Autopilot on four separate occasions.
  • The system presented a first-level auditory warning on one occasion; it occurred following the first visual alert.
  • The longest period during which the system did not detect driver-applied steering wheel torque was 3 minutes and 41 seconds.

In the 2018 crash into a fire truck, the vehicle was operating a “Hardware Version 1” and a firmware version that had been installed via an over-the-air software update on December 28, 2017. The technology provided a number of convenience and safety features, including forward, lane departure and side collision warnings and automatic emergency braking as well as its adaptive cruise control and so-called Autosteer features, which when used together

Public docket opened Tuesday, for investigation of Jan. 22, 2018, Culver City, California, highway crash involving a Tesla & Culver City Fire Dept. fire truck; https://t.co/UbgF0ll9dA. Final accident brief, including probable cause, slated to publish Sept. 4, 2019.

— NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) September 3, 2019

While the report didn’t find any evidence that the driver was texting or calling in the moments leading up to the crash, a witness told investigators that he was looking down at what appear to be a smartphone. It’s possible that the driver was holding a coffee or bagel at the time of the crash, the report said.

Autopilot has come under scrutiny by the NTSB, notably a 2016 fatal crash in Florida and a more recent one involving a Walter Huang, who died after his Model X crashed into a highway median in California. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also opened an inquiry into the 2016 fatal crash and ultimately found no defects in the Autopilot system. NTSB determined the 2016 fatal crash was caused by a combination of factors that included limitations of the system.

The family of Huang filed in May 2019 a lawsuit against Tesla and the State of California Department of Transportation. The wrongful death lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court, County of Santa Clara, alleges that errors by Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system caused the crash.

Tesla’s Model 3 interior (even the steering wheel) is now 100% leather-free

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla said Saturday that its Model 3 interiors are now completely free of leather, fulfilling a promise made by CEO Elon Musk at this year’s annual shareholder meeting.

Tesla has been closing in on a leather-free interior for a couple of years now. But a sticking point was the steering wheel, which Musk made mention of at the company’s shareholder meeting in June in response to a request from PETA activist.

I believe we were close to having a non-heated steering wheel, that’s not leather,” Musk said at the time.There are some challenges when when heat the non-leather material and also how well it wears over time.”

Musk said Model Y and Model 3 would be vegan by 2020. He wasn’t sure if the company would be able to meet that same goal for the Model S and X.

Model 3 interior is now 100% leather-free 🐄pic.twitter.com/2F47zp8A4T

— Tesla (@Tesla) August 31, 2019

 

 

Activist shareholders made a proposal in 2015 that Tesla no longer use animal-derived leather in the interiors of its electric vehicles by 2019. While stockholders rejected that proposal, Tesla did begin rolling out more “vegan” interior components in its cars.

The company began by offering leather-free seats as an option. Two years ago, Tesla made the synthetic material standard in its Model 3, Model X and Model S vehicles.

Walmart and Tesla are going to try and work things out

By Kirsten Korosec

Walmart came out swinging earlier this week in a lawsuit that accused Tesla of breach of contract and gross negligence over problems with rooftop solar panel systems installed at the retail giant’s stores.

Now, just days later, the lawsuit has been placed on hold while the two companies try to reach an agreement that would keep the solar installations in place and put them back in service, according to a joint statement issued late Thursday night.

“Walmart and Tesla look forward to addressing all issues and re-energizing Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores, once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed,” the statement read. “Together, we look forward to pursuing our mutual goal of a sustainable energy future. Above all else, both companies want each and every system to operate reliably, efficiently, and safely.”

Walmart hasn’t dropped the lawsuit. The complaint is still on file with New York state court. But the two parties are going to try to reach an agreement that would avoid a lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which is aimed at Tesla’s energy unit that was formerly known as SolarCity, alleges that seven fires on Walmart rooftops were caused by the solar panel systems. Walmart asked Tesla to remove the solar panel systems on all 244 stores where they are currently installed and to pay for damages related to fires that the retailer alleges stem from the panels.

Now, a Walmart spokesperson said it is “actively working towards a resolution” with Tesla.

Neither Tesla or Walmart would explain the details of the negotiations.

The stakes are high for Tesla. Earlier this month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk  announced a new rental offering for solar power in a bid to reboot the flagging renewable energy business.

Tesla’s share of the solar market has declined since its merger with SolarCity in 2016. In the second quarter Tesla deployed only 29 megawatts of new solar installations, while the number one and two providers of consumer solar, SunRun and Vivint Solar, installed 103 megawatts and 56 megawatts, respectively.

Tesla’s renewable energy business includes residential and commercial solar and energy storage products. The company also has a utility-scale energy product called Megapack. While Tesla still produces solar panels for residential use, much of its focus has been on developing its solar roof, which is comprised of tiles. It still operates a commercial business, which targets municipalities, schools, affordable housing, enterprise and agriculture and water districts as customers.

The company doesn’t provide a breakdown of its solar installations, making it difficult to determine if the commercial business is flat, falling or on the rise. Language in its latest 10-Q suggests Tesla is putting a renewed effort into its solar business.

Tesla said it’s working on revamping the customer service experience for solar products, according to the 10-Q. The company said while its retrofit solar system deployments have it expects they “will stabilize and grow in the second half of the year.”

Should you raise equity venture capital or revenue-based investing VC?

By Arman Tabatabai
David Teten Contributor
David Teten is a Venture Partner with HOF Capital. He was previously a Partner for 8 years with HOF Capital and ff Venture Capital. David writes regularly at teten.com and @dteten.

Most founders who are raising capital look first to traditional equity VCs. But should they? Or should they look to one of the new wave of revenue-based investors?

Revenue-based investing (“RBI”) is a new form of VC financing, distinct from the preferred equity structure most VCs use. RBI normally requires founders to pay back their investors with a fixed percentage of revenue until they have finished providing the investor with a fixed return on capital, which they agree upon in advance.

This guest post was written by David Teten, Venture Partner, HOF Capital. You can follow him at teten.com and @dteten. This is the 5th part of our series on Revenue-based investing VC that touches on:

From the founders’ point of view, the advantages of the RBI model are:

Tesla pitches a solar rental program to boost its renewable energy business

By Jonathan Shieber

Tesla is pitching customers on a new rental offering for solar power as a way to revive the flagging fortunes of its renewable energy business.

Once among the largest installers of renewables in the country through SolarCity, Tesla has seen its share of the market decline significantly since its acquisition of SolarCity three years ago. In the second quarter Tesla deployed only 29 megawatts of new solar installations, while the number one and two providers of consumer solar, SunRun and Vivint Solar installed 103 megawatts and 56 megawatts respectively.

That’s likely one reason why Elon Musk took to Twitter early Sunday morning to pitch the new solar rental program.

One click to order solar & save ~$500/year in utility bills with no long-term contract (cancel anytime)

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 18, 2019

According to Musk, the new program is “like having a money printer on your roof” for potential customers who live in states with high energy costs. “Still better to buy,” Musk exhorted, “but the rental option makes the economics obvious.”

Unlike SunRun and Vivint, which both used partnerships with homebuilders and retailers like Home Depot, BJ’s Wholesale, Costco and Sam’s Club to acquire customers, Tesla slashed ended door-to-door marketing and abandoned its partnership with Home Depot. The company began relying almost entirely on direct sales to power its solar business and eschewed the no-money-down lease model, which SolarCity had used so effectively.

Under the new system, Telsa is offering customers the option to rent solar systems for anywhere from $65 for a small installation to $195 for its largest installation. Customers only need to pay a fully refundable $100 charge.

Tesla said the contract can be canceled any time, but it would charge users $1,500 to remove the system once it has been installed.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.

 

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