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

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— IIHS (@IIHS_autosafety) August 7, 2019

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

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

Nissan and EVgo to add 200 fast chargers as more electric vehicles hit US roads

By Kirsten Korosec

Nissan and EVgo said Tuesday they will install another 200 DC fast chargers in the United States to support the growing number of consumers who are buying electric vehicles, including the new Nissan Leaf e+ that came to market earlier this year.

The 100 kilowatt DC fast-charging stations will have both CHAdeMO and CCS connectors, making them accessible to more EV drivers. The inclusion of both charger connectors is logical; it’s also notable for Nissan, once the primary advocates for CHAdeMO chargers.

The announcement builds off of the companies’ six-year partnership, which included building out a corridor of EV chargers along Interstate 95 on the East Coast, as well as between Monterey, Calif., and Lake Tahoe.

Nissan says it has installed more than 2,000 quick-charge connectors across the country since 2010.

Plans to add another 200 fast chargers follows the launch of the 2019 Nissan Leaf e+. The Nissan Leaf e+, which came to the U.S. and Canada this spring, has a range of 226 miles and fast-charging capability.

This new version of the Leaf all-electric hatchback has 40% more range than other versions thanks to a 62 kilowatt-hour battery pack. That 226-mile range puts the Leaf e+ just under the Chevy Bolt EV, which has a 238-mile range, the Kia Niro EV with 239 miles and the Tesla Model 3 standard range plus with 240 miles.

“Given the tremendous driver response to the 2019 long-range all-electric LEAF, Nissan and EVgo will accelerate fast charging by committing to a multi-year charger construction program that will continue to expand fast-charging options for EV drivers across the country,” Aditya Jairaj, director, EV Sales and Marketing, Nissan North America said in a statement.

The companies also plan to partner on a marketing campaign to sell consumers on the benefits of EVs, and for Nissan, hopefully persuade more to buy its Nissan Leaf Plus. Nissan’s July sales figures were down compared to the same month last year, a slump that has affected the Leaf, as well.

BMW 2019 i8 review: Driving yesterday’s car of tomorrow, today

By Matt Burns

The BMW i8 is a lovely vehicle to drive even though it’s lacking. It hugs the road and commands attention. It’s thrilling in a way that few cars can achieve without speed. Sure, it’s quick, but it won’t set track records or quarter-mile times. It just feels great to drive.

By the numbers, there’s little reason to buy a $164,000 BMW i8 Roadster. Want speed? Buy a Porsche 911 Turbo for $161K or Corvette ZR1 for $123K or Nissan GT-R for $112K. Supercar aesthetics? Get an Acura NSX for $157K. Want all-electric? Get a Tesla Model S. All are faster and cheaper than the BMW i8.

The BMW i8 is just a stepping stone in BMW’s history. An oddball. It’s a limited-edition vehicle to try out new technology. From what I can tell, BMW never positioned the i8 as a top seller or market leader. It was an engineer’s playground. I love it.

[gallery ids="1853460,1853459,1853458,1853457,1853456,1853455,1853461,1853454,1853453"]

Review

BMW released the first i8 in 2014 when the automotive scene looked different. Tesla was still a fledgling startup with only the Model S in its lineup. GM was working on the second-generation Chevy Volt. Hybrid powertrains seemed to be the answer, and BMW followed suit with the dual-power in the i8.

In 2015 I took the just-launched i8 from Vegas to LA in an epic, one-day adventure that took me through the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park. It was a great way to appreciate the i8, and now that the model is on its way out, I wanted another go in the car.

This time, I had an i8 tester for a week. I took my kids to school in it, I got groceries with it and, in between rain storms, I lived my best life with the top down on in this $164,000 droptop.

It’s a lovely car and garners attention like nothing else in its price range. I noted this several years back when driving the i8 down the Vegas strip. The i8 is stunning and always draws a crowd. For my money, there isn’t a car that gets more attention.

The sheet metal flows as if a master glassmaker made it. It’s beautiful. The front end is aggressive and direct. The sides flow with precision to a back-end with some of the most unique tail lights available. The exhaust — remember, this is a hybrid — exits behind the rear window through a metal grate.

Don’t let its go-fast exterior oversell the capabilities though. The i8 is not as fast as it looks.

The i8 isn’t a quarter-mile racer. This is a hybrid sports car with the heart of a grand tourer. This isn’t a car you want to take to a drag strip, but it could be fun at a track day. It’s a carver. Its low center of gravity lets it embrace the road. It’s silky through flowing corners.

Behind the wheel, the i8 is easy to love. The hybrid powertrain is smooth and free of drama. Hit the gas and go. Click the transmission to sport mode and it’s quick, but not fast. And that’s okay with me.

BMW got the inside of the i8 right. For a two-seat exotic, the i8 is comfortable and functional as long as the driver doesn’t need to transport golf clubs. The scissor doors open with little effort and offer enough room to enter and exit the car. The seats are supportive and comfortable. This 2019 version is equipped with BMW’s latest infotainment system, which is among the best offered in the industry. There is very little storage available in the Roadster variant that ditches the back seats for the droptop storage. The trunk can hold four six-packs and nothing else.

When I drove the i8 in 2015, I stated that this was a car someone should buy only after they have their Porsche 911. That’s still true. While the i8 is easy to love, there are other vehicles available that offer more thrills and functionality.

The i8 is easy. Drivers shouldn’t be afraid to push the powertrain. It won’t bite, but it will provide plenty of excitement in sport mode. The i8 doesn’t require the skill of other vehicles in its price range. If a Porsche 911 Turbo or Corvette ZR-1 is too much car, look at the i8. Or the Audi R8 — another sports car I found easy to boss around.

After a week of living with the i8, its performance was secondary to the experience. I’m convinced that the i8 doesn’t need raw speed to be enjoyable.

In 2014 BMW proclaimed the i8 to be the car of tomorrow, available today. And in some regards it was. The i8 was one of the first mass-production vehicles to pair an electric powertrain to a gas engine in the name of performance. Since then, nearly every exotic automaker is doing the same in various formats.

The i8 still feels like it’s a different type of vehicle than anything else available. It feels green. It feels healthy. But in the end, the i8 still relies on a dirty internal combustion engine while there are faster, better-equipped vehicles available that run on just electric motors.

Rumor is BMW is not making a direct successor to the i8, but the automaker will likely make an all-electric sports car. Eventually. And that would change everything. With just electric motors, a BMW coupe could offer serious speed while being more friendly to the environment. A pure electric i8 could be a game changer and a legitimate speed demon.

The 2019 i8 is a lovely vehicle and could bring serious enjoyment to the right person with its easy powertrain and stunning looks.


Video Review of BMW i8 (filmed in 2015)

With global ambitions, VC firm Maniv Mobility raises $100 million from automakers, suppliers

By Kirsten Korosec

What started as an accident has turning into a venture firm with a global reach and backing from a some of the biggest corporations in the automotive and transportation industries.

Maniv Mobility, the Israel-based venture capitalist firm, said Tuesday it has closed a new $100 million fund backed by 12 corporations, including the venture arms of the Aptiv, BMW, Hyundai, Lear Corp, LG Electronics, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, Shell and Valeo.

Other investors that joined the round include Deutsche Bahn Digital Ventures, the venture arm of the German rail and logistics operator Deutsche Bahn, the Israeli car importer Carasso Motors and numerous individuals, family offices and institutional investors, according to Maniv.

The company officially considers 2016 its launch date. Although founder and managing director Michael Granoff and Maniv partner Olaf Sakkers were making smaller angel investments back in 2015. The VC began raising its first fund, which ended up at $44 million, in 2016. (Granoff will be on stage July 10 in San Jose as part of the TC Sessions: Mobility event)

“We call ourselves an accidental VC,” Sakkers explained to TechCrunch recently. Since the beginning, they have focused on the thesis that there is a significant disruption happening in mobility and working closely with founders helps them develop their technology. “We’ve just realized that running a VC is the most effective way for us to do that,” he added.

Now, Maniv is taking its core beliefs global. The VC’s initially focused on transportation and mobility-related startups in Israel with a few in investments in the U.S. The company’s portfolio includes vehicle security company Owl, peer-to-peer car sharing company Turo, teleoperations startup Phantom Auto, autonomous vehicle-focused chipmaker Hailo, shared electric moped company Revel and in-vehicle software management firm Aurora Labs. It was one of the many VCs that backed Drive.ai, the troubled autonomous vehicle tech startup that was recently acquired (in what has been described as an acqui-hire) by Apple as it prepared to shut down.

The VC has made five investments from the new fund, including Spain-based car subscription startup Bipi and Revel. Three others have not been announced yet, although one is a startup focused on food delivery and another is a digital insurance firm.

Maniv Mobility is focused on just one vertical: mobility. But it’s taking a global investment approach by working with strategic partners in Europe, North America, Israel and in the long term, possibly India and other Asian markets. Those partnerships are central to the firm’s investment strategy and are on clear display in Tel Aviv, a city that has exploded in recent years with startups and a number of automotive venture arms.

“Mobility is a very global game,” Sakkers, told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “That’s something that we want to pursue plus, our network of investors actually want global exposure.”

Fiat Chrysler proposes 50-50 merger with Renault

By Kirsten Korosec

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has proposed merging its business with Renault that, if accepted, would create the third largest global automaker with 8.7 million in annual vehicle sales.

FCA delivered Monday a non-binding letter to Renault’s board that proposes combining the business as a 50-50 merger. FCA’s proposal illustrates the growing desire among automakers to consolidate, or form partnerships, in an environment of increasing regulatory pressure, declining sales and rising costs associated with next-generation technologies such as autonomous vehicle technology.

Under the proposal, the combined businesses would be split equally between FCA and Renault shareholders. The board would be a combined entity of 11 members, FCA said. The majority would be independent. FCa and Renault would get equal represent with four members each as well as one nominee from Nissan. The parent company would be listed on the Borsa Italiana in Milan, Euronext in Paris and the New York Stock Exchange.

French automaker Renault has an alliance with Nissan Motor. The two companies, whose relationship has become stressed in the fallout over the arrest of former Renault-Nissan Alliance CEO Carlos Ghosn and subsequent power struggle, share vehicle parts and collaborate on technology. Renault owns 43.4 percent of Nissan. Nissan owns 15 percent of Renault.

Fiat Chrysler is best known in U.S. for the company behind the Jeep and Ram trucks. But its business is far larger. Fiat, which has a market value of $20 billion, is also one of Italy’s oldest companies and owns brands like Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, and Maserati.

Fiat acquired a stake in Chrysler in 2009. The FCA people know today — which employs nearly 200,000 people — was created when the companies merged in 2014.

The proposed merger would result in cost savings. However, FCA insists it would not come from plant closures. No factories would close as a result of the merger, FCA said in its proposal. In a release describing the proposal FCA states:

The benefits of the proposed transaction are not predicated on plant closures, but would be achieved through more capital efficient investment in common global vehicle platforms, architectures, powertrains and technologies.

The combined companies would realize more than 5 billion euros in estimated annual run rate savings by collaborating on products and in certain regions, particularly when it comes to the development and commercialize of new technologies. FCA noted that these areas included connectivity, electrification and autonomous driving.

FCA argued that is has a history of “successfully combining OEMs with disparate cultures to create strong leadership teams and organizations dedicated to a single purpose.”

Those cost savings will be crucial for both companies if there’s a downturn in sales — a reality that other automakers like GM and Ford are already preparing for. It would also allow the companies to pursue technologies such as advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles.

FCA, which operates 46 research and development centers, has invested in advanced driver assistance systems like its highway assist feature offered in its Maserati brand. It has also relied on partnerships such as the one with self-driving vehicle company Waymo .

Last year, the company announced an expanded partnership with Waymo that will add up to 62,000 more Chrysler  Pacifica minivans to Waymo’s self-driving car fleet. The two companies are also working on ways to license Waymo’s self-driving car technology in order to deploy the tech in cars for consumers.

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