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GM will bring an electric truck to market in 2021

By Kirsten Korosec

GM CEO Mary Barra said Thursday that the automaker will bring its first electric truck to market in the fall of 2021.

The comments were made Thursday during GM’s investor day. Later this evening, Tesla, which also plans to start selling an electric truck in 2021, will reveal its “cybertruck” at an event in Hawthorne, Calif. Reuters first reported the news.

“General Motors understands truck buyers and… people who are new coming into the truck market,” Barra said during the investor conference, explaining the company’s rationale for the move.

GM’s foray into electric trucks has been public before. Last month, the Detroit Free Press reported the that GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant would remain open to produce an electric pickup under a deal between the UAW and the automaker.

This is the first time the company has provided a timeline.

Several other companies are expected to bring electric trucks to the marketplace in the next several years, including newcomer Rivian, Tesla and Ford.

Vulog will power Hyundai’s new LA car-sharing service

By Kirsten Korosec

The technology behind Hyundai’s new car-sharing service in Los Angeles is provided by a company that is largely unknown despite its ubiquity.

Vulog announced Tuesday during Automobility LA that Hyundai will use its technology platform for a car-sharing pilot that will launch in Los Angeles at the end of 2019 and will eventually grow to 300 vehicles.

Vulog might have a low profile, but it’s hardly a startup. The French-based company has been providing the underlying hardware and software needed for car-sharing services since 2006. Vulog’s product, which includes tools like fleet management and a consumer-facing app, is used in car-sharing services in more than 30 cities globally. The company says its turnkey product can get a large-scale car-sharing service up and running in about three months.

Today, its platform is used by Volkswagen’s WeShare, Kia Motor’s Wible and Groupe PSA’ Free2Move car-sharing service. Aimo, which is owned by Sumitomo Corporation, and a British Columbia Automobile Association company called Evo also uses the platform. And now, Hyundai.

Earlier this month, Hyundai Group launched MoceanLab, a mobility service venture based in Los Angeles and the latest effort by the automaker to diversify and modernize its core business of producing and selling vehicles. MoceanLab will focus on piloting autonomous ridesharing, shuttling, multimodal transportation, and personal mobility in Los Angeles.

One of the efforts under MoceanLab is Mocean Carshare, the car-sharing service that will use Vulog’s technology platform. The service is part of a permit pilot program offered by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The car-sharing service will use 20 Hyundai Ioniq plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Mocean Carshare will eventually transition to a fleet of 300 fully electric vehicles from Hyundai and Kia Motors. 

MoceanLab, the umbrella mobility services venture, will do more than car-sharing. The Hyundai-owned company is eyeing the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles as an event to offer a variety of services to alleviate congestion, including autonomous ridesharing and shuttling.

The creation of MoceanLab follows Hyundai’s joint venture with autonomous driving company Aptiv and the launch of BotRide, an autonomous ride-hailing service in nearby Irvine, California with Chinese autonomous startup Pony.ai  and Via.

Meanwhile, Vulog has its own ambitions. The company plans to double its footprint in the next year to hit 60 cities by the end of 2020.

Talking to Zero Motorcycles’ CEO and taking home the 2020 SR/F

By Jake Bright

The motorcycle industry is shifting to electric. Harley-Davidson signaled the trend this year, becoming the first big gas manufacturer to release a street-legal e-motorcycle in the U.S., the LiveWire.

But before Harley’s EV pivot, California-based startup Zero Motorcycles had been selling e-motos for years.

“We’re an electric motorcycle and power-train manufacturer founded in 2006 in Santa Cruz, California…we’re sold in over 30 countries,” Zero CEO Sam Paschel told TechCrunch.

“Fundamentally we aim to transform and elevate the motorcycling experience and by doing that we expect to make a huge dent in transforming transportation globally.”

Toward that aim, Zero recently released the all-new 2020, SR/F — a $19K high-performance e-motorcycle and competitor to Harley Davidson’s $29K LiveWire.

TechCrunch took an SR/F home to experience going full e-moto. The biggest distinction between e-motorcycles — versus gas two-wheelers — is lightning acceleration and uninterrupted forward movement.

Zero’s SRF has a magnet motor and one gear — with no clutch or shifting — and fewer mechanical parts to put the 14.4 kWh battery’s 140 ft-lbs of torque to the pavement.

You simply twist and go.

The SR/F is a fully digital, IoT motorcycle that syncs to a smartphone and the cloud to monitor charge status or adjust performance. It has preset riding modes  — Eco, Street, Sport, and Rain — for different combinations of power and range. The EV also allows for customized riding modes dialed in via smartphone.

Zero Ride Mode GIFOne can power Zero’s sporty e-moto from a household outlet or use fast-charging networks — like ChargePoint — for a full battery in around 80 minutes.

Zero’s SR/F has a range of up to 161 miles in the city, where it can recharge itself marginally through regenerative braking. For a combination of city, highway, an sport riding, I averaged around 100 miles a charge, alternating between riding modes.

On performance, Zero’s new sport-entry hauls ass. Going 0 to 60 at full power on the new SR/F is a rush, while 60 to 100 speed is so fast it’s downright frightening.  Overall, the e-moto’s acceleration is stronger and more constant than internal combustion machines, with no emissions and little sound.

Zero’s CEO Sam Paschel thinks the distinct electric motorcycle experience can convert gas riders

“We have what we consider enthusiasts…These are people that are avid motorcycle riders…What we find with them is they throw a leg over a Zero…have an electric motorcycle experience, it’s fundamentally different…They fall in love, they buy one,” he said.

Zero’s e-motos — starting at around $9K for the entry level FX — are also attracting a younger generation, according to the startup’s CEO.

“They’re an early adopter of new technology. They love the idea — whether it’s the performance elements the riding experience, green or eco elements of having electric vehicle — and we’re actually drawing them into the sport in a way that they wouldn’t have been drawn in by internal combustion,” he said.

Zero Chargepoint 1Paschel is undaunted by Harley’s EV debut or the other big gas motorcycle manufacturers entering the E-market.

“You have a major OEM that’s launched a bike into the space that we have been defining and creating for over a decade. Of course, the nature of that relationship is fundamentally competitive,” he said.

“The question I get more often is…are we concerned? Are we worried or scared of any OEMs entering? And The answer is no. This is actually the most exciting thing that’s happened in the space in a long time,” said Paschel.

“A rising tide is going to lift all ships, and…I’m more than confident that we will capture more than our fair share of a rapidly growing market simply because this is all we do. And we spent 13 years, millions of miles, and a lot of time doing this just right.”

Both Zero and Harley are banking on e-motos to reboot a flailing U.S. motorcycle industry. New bike sales dropped 50% since 2008 — with sharp declines in ownership by everyone under 40.

Zero has worked to close gaps on price, range, charge times, and performance compared to petrol-powered motorcycles.

The startup is not alone. Italy’s Energica is expanding distribution of its high-performance e-motos in the U.S. Other competitors include California based Lightning Motorcycles and e-moto startup Fuell, with plans to release its $10K, 150 mile range Flow this year.

Of course, there’s already been some speed-bumps and market attrition, with three e-moto startups — Alta Motors, Mission Motors, and Brammo — forced to power down over the last several years.

Zero looks to its head start and proprietary technology to win in the electric conversion of motorcycles.

The company has also received partnership inquiries

“It’s not something that we are actively seeking…I will tell you that there’s a lot of inbound interest. I think people were waking up and realizing that that transition is much closer than they thought it was…We’ve had conversations from a list of OEMS, many of whom you would recognize,” said Paschel.

Still, Zero is likely to ride on alone, according to its CEO.

“Right now it’s an inherently competitive relationship with a lot of those guys, so it would have to be the right deal…But right now we’re fiercely competitive company. We’re in a competition with all these brands.”

ZERO SRF TC IIZero’s SR/F could be the sweet spot of tech, price, range, and performance it has been striving toward to finally go mass market and compete with those brands.

And with Zero and Harley growing e-moto market share, expect big names still on the sidelines — Honda, Ducati, Kawasaki — to debut production EVs soon.

With that, the electrification of the motorcycle industry will become another facet of the transformation of global mobility.

Supercross’s anticipated EV class not ready for primetime in 2020

By Jake Bright

Motorcycle racing series Supercross isn’t quite ready to add an EV class.

The sport — where riders race high-performance machines on jump-filled stadium tracks — currently fields only gas-powered two-wheelers.

Supercross was poised to launch an all-electric class this month, by converting its junior program to a new e-moto manufactured by KTM — Supercross Director of Operations Dave Prater told TechCrunch in April.

“We haven’t one-hundred-percented it yet, but it’s fairly close and we’re…going to race that electric KTM in October,” he said.

That won’t likely happen for the upcoming 2020 season, but input from Supercross and KTM indicates the launch of a junior EV class could be imminent.

On why it didn’t kick-off in October, “That would be a KTM question,” Prater told TechCrunch on a call this week.

“As a company, we’re embracing EV racing. At the moment, we’re beholden to the OEM’s and how quickly they want to introduce it into the mix,” he added.

The first-mover OEM could still be KTM and the first electric class the juniors.

“The KTM Junior racing in Supercross is an incredible experience for a small group of kids and their parents. At some point we might start using the SX-E5,” KTM’s Group Marketing Manager for North America Tom Moen told TechCrunch in an email.

“We can’t have them racing something that is not readily available,” he added.

KTM SX E 5 2020KTM’s SX-E5 launched in the U.S. this month, but won’t be available in dealerships until late November, according to Moen.

So for now, there appears to be a timing gap between Supercross and KTM.

Another area to watch for the introduction of e-moto competition — according to Moen — is outdoor dirt series Motocross, the rules of which (like Supercross) are governed by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA).

“The AMA…is working on classes for the AMA Loretta Lynn’s championships for 2020, which is the national amateur MX series, the finals happen late summer, this is much more important racing wise,” Moen said.

TechCrunch has an inquiry into AMA for confirmation and will update accordingly.

One hurdle to entering electric motorcycles in AMA gas racing is how to classify battery powered two-wheelers compared to internal combustion engines that the AMA classes based on displacement, AMA off-road racing manager Erek Kudla explained to TechCrunch in April.

The other potentially larger hurdle (as Supercross’s Dave Prater alluded to) is the lack of an OEM-produced competition e-moto capable of racing at or near the specs of the high-performance gas machines that run in Supercross and Motocross.

California based EV startup Alta Motors had come the closest toward creating an e-moto toward that endeavor, but went bankrupt before getting there.

In addition to its junior SX-E5, KTM debuted its Freeride E-XC adult off-road e-motorcycle in the U.S. in 2018, but KTM didn’t indicate if this was the bike it was planning to reconfigure for motocross.

For the moment, it looks like seven to eight-year-olds racing KTM’s SX-E5 in Supercross could be the nearest bet for EV motorcycle competition.

And Supercross creating an all EV junior class has a spot of relevance in the overall transformation of global mobility — namely the conversion of the motorcycle industry to electric.

Factors such as declining sales among young people and competitive pressure from EV startups are pushing the big names toward E offerings. Harley-Davidson launched its first e-moto, the $29K  LiveWire, this year as part of a full EV pivot.

Zero Motorcycles is challenging HD with its new $19K SR/F.  And rumors have floated on Ducati developing an e-moto, after the Italian company debuted two e-bicycles.

Harley and e-moto companies such as Zero have spoken of the importance of early adopters to embrace e-motorcycles. Harley made moves this year to reach the earliest of early adopters when it acquired kids e-bicycle company StaCyc.

Launching one of motorcycle racing’s first all-electric classes with juniors and pairing it to Supercross’s stadium venues could become more than an EV gateway for OEM KTM.

It could actually start young riders on e-motos before they’ve ever ridden gas and keep them running on voltage into teen and adult years.

For the motorcycle industry at large, that means creating a future EV market versus trying convert one with preferences set in fossil-fuel the past.

 

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