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With the 2020 Cadillac CT4, GM begins to expand its hands-free Super Cruise driving system

By Kirsten Korosec

GM’s high-end brand unveiled Thursday the 2020 Cadillac CT4, a sporty and small sedan that is designed and priced to attract younger buyers looking to enter into the luxury car market.

The vehicle’s debut also marks an important expansion for GM’s hands-free driver assistance system, Super Cruise. The hands-free driving system has been lauded for its capabilities; it’s also been criticized because of its severe limitations. Today, Super Cruise is available in just one Cadillac model, the full-size CT6 sedan. And even in the CT6, the system is restricted to certain highways.

Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

GM is finally starting to expand where the system can be used and bringing it to more models. Earlier this year, the company said it will add another 70,000 miles of compatible divided highways in the United States and Canada to the existing system via a software update. By the end of the year, Super Cruise will be available on more than 200,000 miles of highways.

The automaker plans to bring SuperCruise to other GM brands such as Chevrolet, GMC and Buick after 2020.

The expansion follows other improvements rolled out in 2018, including adding a dynamic lane offset so that a CT6 with Super Cruise activated can adjust slightly over in its lane for driver comfort when passing large vehicles. Gauge cluster messages were also added, to inform drivers why Super Cruise may not be available in certain instances.

Super Cruise isn’t the only feature of note in the 2020 Cadillac CT4 model. Cadillac is offering the CT4 in a few trim levels, all of which will have turbo engines. The standard version will have a an eight-speed transmission and a 2.0 turbo-4 engine that generates 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

The CT4-V, and the premium luxury version the CT4, have a 2.7-liter turbo-4 engine with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

The CT4 will come with unique grilles and bright exterior accents to distinguish the CT4 luxury and premium luxury models. The Sport and V-Series models are differentiated by darker accents and “performance-inspired” details, including unique grilles, fascias, rocker extensions, rear spoiler and exclusive performance design wheels, Cadillac said.

Every version of the CT4 will have LED exterior lighting including headlamps, tail lamps and signature vertical lights at all four corners.

Cadillac 2020 CT4 Sport 023

The interior of the 2020 Cadillac CT4.

Inside the car, drivers will find an 8-inch touchscreen that is mounted prominently in the center of the instrument panel. GM’s new digital platform, which can handle over-the-air software updates, is integrated into the CT4 as well.

“We developed CT4 to appeal to youthful buyers in the luxury market who may be new to the Cadillac brand,” said Andrew Smith, executive director of global Cadillac design. “The vehicle was intended to draw attention, using a combination of great proportions, taught surfacing and Cadillac family details that hint at the athletic driving experience this vehicle offers.”

Voyage raises $31 million to bring driverless taxis to communities

By Kirsten Korosec

Voyage, the autonomous vehicle startup that spun out of Udacity, announced Thursday it has raised $31 million in a round led by Franklin Templeton.

Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures also participated in the round. The company, which operates a ride-hailing service in retirement communities using self-driving cars supported by human safety drivers, has raised a total of $52 million since launching in 2017. The new funding includes a $3 million convertible note.

Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron has big plans for the fresh injection of capital, including hiring and expanding its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which always have a human safety driver behind the wheel.

Ultimately, the expanded G2 fleet and staff are just the means toward Cameron’s grander mission to turn Voyage into a truly driverless and profitable ride-hailing company.

“It’s not just about solving self-driving technology,” Cameron told TechCrunch in a recent interview, explaining that a cost-effective vehicle designed to be driverless is the essential piece required to make this a profitable business.

The company is in the midst of a hiring campaign that Cameron hopes will take its 55-person staff to more than 150 over the next year. Voyage has had some success attracting high-profile people to fill executive-level positions, including CTO Drew Gray, who previously worked at Uber ATG, Otto, Cruise and Tesla, as well as former NIO and Tesla employee Davide Bacchet as director of autonomy.

Funds will also be used to increase its fleet of second-generation self-driving cars (called G2) that are currently being used in a 4,000-resident retirement community in San Jose, Calif., as well as The Villages, a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in Florida. Voyage’s G2 fleet has 12 vehicles. Cameron didn’t provide details on how many vehicles it will add to its G2 fleet, only describing it as a “nice jump that will allow us to serve consumers.”

Voyage used the G2 vehicles to create a template of sorts for its eventual driverless vehicle. This driverless product — a term Cameron has used in a previous post on Medium — will initially be limited to 25 miles per hour, which is the driving speed within the two retirement communities in which Voyage currently tests and operates. The vehicle might operate at a low speed, but they are capable of handling complex traffic interactions, he wrote.

“It won’t be the most cost-effective vehicle ever made because the industry still is in its infancy, but it will be a huge, huge, huge improvement over our G2 vehicle in terms of being be able to scale out a commercial service and make money on each ride,” Cameron said. 

Voyage initially used modified Ford Fusion vehicles to test its autonomous vehicle technology, then introduced in July 2018 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, its second generation of autonomous vehicles. But the end goal has always been a driverless product.

Voyage engineers Alan Mond and Trung Dung Vu

TechCrunch previously reported that the company has partnered with an automaker to provide this next-generation vehicle that has been designed specifically for autonomous driving. Cameron wouldn’t name the automaker. The vehicle will be electric and it won’t be a retrofit like the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid vehicles Voyage currently uses or its first-generation vehicle, a Ford Fusion.

Most importantly, and a detail Cameron did share with TechCrunch, is that the vehicle it uses for its driverless service will have redundancies and safety-critical applications built into it.

Voyage also has deals in place with Enterprise rental cars and Intact insurance company to help it scale.

“You can imagine leasing is much more optimal than purchasing and owning vehicles on your balance sheet,” Cameron said. “We have those deals in place that will allow us to not only get the vehicle costs down, but other aspects of the vehicle into the right place as well.”

Fair acquires Canvas from Ford to expand its on-demand vehicle subscription business

By Ingrid Lunden

Fair, the $1.2 billion startup backed by SoftBank that has built a smartphone-based car leasing platform that lets people takes cars for as little as one month, is making another acquisition in the ongoing consolidation of the short-term car rental market. It’s picking up Canvas, another platform for leasing cars, from its owner Ford Motor Credit, a division of the car giant Ford Motor Company that provides leasing and financing to dealers and customers.

The price and other financial details were not disclosed, but we have confirmed with Fair’s co-founder Scott Painter that it will give Ford an equity stake in his startup, so there are at least some shares involved. Canvas is a similar kind of business to Fair’s but significantly smaller.

Fair has about 45,000 subscribers currently in the U.S., with 3.2 million downloads across 30 markets, while Canvas has only around one-tenth of that (3,800 to be exact: one possible reason that Ford decided not to hold on to it) across San Francisco, Los Angeles and Dallas. While Canvas offered leases starting at three months, Fair’s start at one month, although Painter said that the average they have found are that consumers take cars for about 18 months, while those leasing for ridesharing use them on average for 12.

The Canvas business will continue to operate, but it will gradually switch over to the Fair brand in the coming months. Those who are currently on Canvas contracts will be given the option to switch over to Fair as those deals come up for renewal.

We have confirmed that Ford is not investing further into Fair with this acquisition — not yet, at least. “This is an opportunity to build a relationship,” he said.

While equity funding is always something that Fair is looking at, he added, the company more immediately is planning to announced further debt funding next week, he said. Fair raised hundreds of millions in debt and equity to date to expand to new cities and buy in more vehicles.

Fair is picking Canvas’s employees, technology and business in the deal, Painter said. The team will stay in San Francisco, where they are currently based, to help Fair expand its operations in the Bay Area and continue hiring. “It’s an important market for us for engineers and developers,” he added. This is Fair’s third acquisition, following Xchange Leasing, the leasing business of Uber, for about $400 million; and of rental car service Skurt, for about $50 million.

The move to Fair will be Canvas’s third home under its third brand.

The company was originally founded as ZephyrCar to tap the opportunity of providing cars to Uber and Lyft drivers among other lease markets. It then rebranded as Breeze to double down on ridesharing. Then, as those rideshare companies explored other options for leasing (including Uber’s own unprofitable foray into Xchange Leasing), it shut down, at which point the team and other assets were picked up by Ford and rebranded as Canvas. At that point, the company shifted to a more specific consumer focus to lease Ford, Lincoln, and eventually other makes of cars.

Over that time, it’s amassed a lot of knowledge and data about car leasing and building that into more efficient, on-demand services, a contrast with many of the traditional leasing services in the market today.

“Canvas’ mission is to provide customers with flexible access to the vehicle of their choice for an affordable monthly payment,” said Ned Ryan, CEO of Canvas, in a statement. “Our strong synergies with Fair make this a natural fit.”

Ford’s move was part of the automaker’s efforts to explore the future of transportation: we’re in the middle of a tectonic shift in the automotive industry where new innovations like ridesharing and autonomous vehicles, along with changing consumer demands, have changed the game when it comes to simply making and selling vehicles.

As Painter characterizes it, Ford’s ownership of Canvas was partly about exploring all of that — something that it will now continue to do as a shareholder of Fair.

“Canvas built an impressive business and we learned a lot about subscription services, fleet management and the technology that underlies both,” said Sam Smith, executive vice president of strategy and future products at Ford Credit, in a statement. “We are proud of the work that was done in support of Canvas and we wish the entire team the best of luck.”

Ford’s competitors — including GM, Daimler and more — have also made big investments and acquisitions in an effort to better understand the shifts, and to hopefully keep a sizeable business alive in the future, a pattern that is likely to continue.

“I think if you’re a carmaker today, you have to think about how the world is changing and how to serve consumers given the rise of smartphones and the changing business models of the automotive industry,” said Painter.

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.”

Audi’s off-roading electric concept would be perfect for Tatooine

By Kirsten Korosec

Concept vehicles are a staple of the auto show circuit. And while most will never end up as a production vehicle, they can provide insight into an automaker and clues to where it’s headed.

Over at Audi, designers and engineers might have had a distant planet in mind. Or at least an expanse of wilderness.

The German automaker unveiled Tuesday at the Frankfurt Motor Show the Audi AI: TRAIL quattro, a concept electric vehicle designed for the “future of off roading.” The “Trail” off roader is one of four concept vehicles that Audi has presented at various auto shows since 2017. Other concepts included a sports car, luxury vehicle and one designed for megacities.

Audi argues that these concepts aren’t efforts of futility. Instead, the company says it these four vehicles show how Audi vehicles in the future will be designed for specific use cases.

“In the future, customers will be able to order any of these specialist Audi models from an Audi on-demand vehicle pool to suit their personal preferences and requirements and to lease them for a limited period,” the company said in its announcement.

Audi takes this idea of the on-demand subscription further by noting that vehicles will be configured to suit individual preferences of customers who use this still non-existent and totally conceptual on-demand product. All the essential customer information would be stored in the myAudi system and accompanying app, the company said.

In the video below, Audi’s head of design Marc Lichte explains the thinking behind these concepts.

 

In the case of the Audi AI: TRAIL, designers put an emphasis on exploration and seeing the surrounding environment. It even comes with five drones, which aside from replacing the headlights, can provide other tasks such as lighting up your camping area or picnic spot.

The all-electric concept, which has a range of up to 310 miles, is about 13.5 feet long and 7 feet wide and is outfitted with beefy 22-inch wheels. And because it’s a vehicle meant to off road, designers gave it ground clearance of 13.4 inches. This concept, if it really existed beyond the showroom floor, can ford through water more than half a meter deep. The range of the vehicle does drop on rough roads to about 155 miles, which would theoretically (if this vehicle actually existed) make wilderness travel more difficult.

[gallery ids="1880216,1880211,1880220,1880215,1880212,1880213,1880210,1880221,1880214,1880207"]

The battery unit is integrated into the floor providing a spacious interior that sits four people. Glass surrounds the cabin to provide unrivaled views of the environment, whether it’s an earthly vista or the binary sunset over the fictional Tatooine desert.

The remaining exterior body is made of a mixture of high-tech steel, aluminum and carbon fiber, giving it a total weight of 3,858 pounds.

The concept vehicle is equipped with four electric motors, systems for assisted and automated driving and all-wheel drive. What you won’t find are any screens for streaming video. This concept was designed for viewing the outside world.

The interior, which uses recycled materials, is scant. There are pedals, a yoke for a steering wheel, a few buttons, and a smartphone attached to the steering column as a display and control center for vehicle functions and navigation.

The second row features seats that are designed to function like hammocks — and can be removed and used as mobile outdoor chairs.

Drones as headlights!

Perhaps the most interesting feature is the inclusion of five rotorless electrically operated drones, which serve a variety of purposes. The drones, which have matrix LED lighting, can dock on the roof to get more power with the inductive charging elements.

Audi calls these drones Audi Light Pathfinders because of their ability to fly and illuminate the path ahead. These drones, Audi says replace headlights altogether. When the vehicle is parked, the drones can be used ti light up the surrounding area.

Occupants control the drones through their smartphones in this theoretical use case. The on-board cameras can generate a video image that can be transmitted to the display in front of the driver via Wi-Fi, turning the Pathfinders into “eyes in the sky,” Audi says.

Ford unveils lineup for Europe to outpace gas and diesel vehicle sales by 2022

By Kirsten Korosec

Ford unveiled a range of hybrid vehicles Tuesday at the Frankfurt Motor Show as part of its plan to reach sales of 1 million electrified vehicles in Europe by the end of 2022.

Ford introduced hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the Mondeo wagon, Puma compact crossover, Kuga (shown below) and Explorer SUVs as well as the new Tourneo “people mover” at the show.

FORD KUGA SIDE CHARGING

But more are coming. Ford said earlier this year it plans to bring eight electrified vehicles to market this year and another nine that will be produced by 2024. One of those, an all-electric Mustang-inspired SUV, will come to market in 2020. The electric SUV with Mustang styling has a targeted range of 600 km (more than 370 miles) calculated using the World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), and fast-charging capability.

Ford expects that electrified vehicles will account for more than 50% of its car sales in Europe by 2022, surpassing combined sales of conventional petrol and diesel models.

Ford’s upcoming portfolio is part of its broader plan to make its Europe division leaner and more profitable. The company said in June it will cut 12,000 jobs and consolidate its manufacturing footprint to a proposed 18 facilities by the end of 2020. Most of the job cuts, 2,000 of which are salaried position, will occur through voluntary separation programs.

The automaker also announced Tuesday partnerships with six energy suppliers in Europe, including Centrica in the U.K. and Ireland, to install home charging wall boxes and provide green energy tariffs. A partnership with NewMotion aims to help drivers locate and pay for charging more easily at more than 118,000 charging points in 30 countries.

“With electrification fast becoming the mainstream, we are substantially increasing the number of electrified models and powertrain options for our customers to choose from to suit their needs,” Ford of Europe President Stuart Rowley said in a statement.

Electrified doesn’t mean every vehicle will be solely powered by electricity. The term means the vehicles can use hybrid, plug-in hybrid or battery-electric technology. The showcase Tuesday supports the automaker’s earlier commitment that every new Ford passenger vehicle will include an electrified option.

Ford Europe plans

While some automakers have stuck to an all-electric strategy, Ford plans to produce a range of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to electrification – every customer’s circumstances and travel needs are different,” said Joerg Beyer, executive director of engineering at Ford of Europe. “Our strategy is to pair the right electrified powertrain option to the right vehicle, helping our customers make their electrified vehicle experience easy and enjoyable.”

Ford isn’t doing this alone. The automaker announced in July a partnership with Volkswagen Group that covers collaboration on electric vehicles and development of autonomous technology via a $2.6 billion investment by VW into Argo AI.

Under the EV part of the tie-up, Ford will use VW’s MEB platform, the underlying architecture for its upcoming line of passenger electric vehicles, to develop at least one fully electric car for Europe. VW debuted Monday the ID.3, the first model with MEB platform.

Let’s look inside Volkswagen’s new ID.3 electric hatchback

By Kirsten Korosec

The Volkswagen ID.3 that debuted ahead of the IAA International Motor Show in Frankfurt looks like a compact hatchback. And it is.

But inside customers might feel like they’re sitting in a bigger car, thanks to how engineers and designers took advantage of the electric architecture. Without having to contend with an internal combustion engine, there was more room to play around with. A high-voltage flat battery is in the underbody to save space, as well as auxiliary units, such as air conditioning compressor or steering rack, that have been integrated into the vehicle front end.

The ID.3 is as long as a VW Golf, but because it has shorter overhangs, the wheelbase is larger.

Here’s an up close look at the interior. 

 

[gallery ids="1879674,1879680,1879325,1879676,1879675,1879679,1879329,1879681,1879318,1879322,1879319,1879321,1879683,1879685,1879691,1879690,1879324"]

As a quick recap, the five-seater ID.3 will go into production this year. The all-electric vehicle, which is not coming to the U.S., will start landing in customers’ hands in spring 2020.

The first vehicle to go into production is a special edition called the ID.3 1ST. The special edition will come with a 58 kWh-battery pack with a range of up to 420 kilometers, or about 260 miles, and be offered in three equipment variants. The ID.3 1ST will start under 40,000 euros ($44,200).

Volta Charging raises another $20 million to expand ad-supported EV charging network

By Kirsten Korosec

Volta Charging, the San Francisco-based company that combines outdoor digital advertising with charging stations to give electric vehicle owners free power, has added another $20 million in a follow-on to its Series C round.

The company’s Series C round is now closed at $100 million. Schneider Electric Ventures, SK Innovation, Energize Ventures and a number of existing partners participated in the follow-on Series C round. Volta Charging also borrowed $44 million from Energy Impact Partners and CION.

Volta raised $35 million in 2018 in a round led by the Invenergy Future Fund, the technology investment arm of renewable energy project developer Invenergy, and Activate Capital.

Volta, which launched in 2010, partners with businesses and real estate owners to install EV chargers in high-traffic areas such as grocery stores, entertainment venues and shopping centers. Instead of charging EV owners, the power is provided for free. Volta makes money on the outdoor advertising that is a centerpiece of the charger design.

More than 45 million free electric miles have been given to EV drivers to date, the company said.

The company’s first charging stations popped up in Hawaii. Since then, Volta has expanded to San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Silicon Valley in California as well as Chicago and its suburbs, Phoenix, and Dallas and Houston.

The funds will be used to expand the company’s network of free, advertiser sponsored charging stations. Volta is focused on adding more chargers to cities where it already has a presence as well as moving into new markets.

“As the electric vehicle industry continues to grow, Volta is well-positioned to build out an economically viable charging network needed to facilitate the shift from gas to electric,” Volta CEO and founder said Scott Mercer said in a statement. “We continue to rapidly scale our business to meet the growing demands of drivers, real estate partners and sponsors. This capital injection will accelerate our mission of mainstreaming electric vehicles.”

Rivian lands $350 million investment from Cox Automotive

By Kirsten Korosec

Rivian, the adventure-minded electric automaker that plans to produce a pickup truck and SUV, has raised $350 million from global automotive services company Cox Automotive.

The two companies said Tuesday they will also “explore partnership opportunities in service operations, logistics, and digital retailing.” Further details weren’t provided. However, a statement from Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe suggests the partnership will help the EV startup provide services to its customers.

“We are building a Rivian ownership experience that matches the care and consideration that go into our vehicles,” Scaringe said. “As part of this, we are excited to work with Cox Automotive in delivering a consistent customer experience across our various touchpoints. Cox Automotive’s global footprint, service and logistics capabilities, and retail technology platform make them a great partner for us.”

And Cox Automotive, as well as its parent company Cox Enterprises, has the reach Rivian is looking for. Cox Enterprises owns nearly 30 automotive brands, including Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Pivet, RideKleen and Manheim, which transports, services, and auctions vehicles across more than 150 global locations.

The Cox Automotive partnership follows two other eye-popping investments this year. In February, Rivian raised $700 million in a round led by Amazon. Two months later, the company announced a $500 million investment from Ford Motor.

Despite all of these big-name investors, Rivian says it will remain an independent company, a desire repeated to TechCrunch on several occasions over the past year by Scaringe. Cox Automotive will add a representative to Rivian’s board.

“With the electrification of vehicles set to play a significant role in the new mobility future, this partnership opens another channel of discovery and learning for Cox Automotive,” Joe George, president of Cox Automotive Mobility Group said in a statement. “Advancements in battery technology and the electrification of fleets are two of our primary focus areas, and we believe this relationship will prove to be mutually beneficial.”

Rivian spent the majority of its life in the shadows until November 2018 when it revealed its all-electric R1T pickup and R1S SUV at the LA Auto Show. Scaringe launched the company as Mainstream Motors in 2009. By 2011, the name changed to Rivian and moved out of Florida. Today, the company has more than 750 employees split between four development locations in the U.S. and an office in the U.K. The bulk of its employees are in Michigan to be close to an expansive automotive supply chain.

The company also has operations in San Jose and Irvine, Calif., where engineers are working on autonomous vehicle technology. Rivian also owns a factory in the Normal, Ill. that was once owned by Mitsubishi in a joint venture with Chrysler Corporation called Diamond-Star Motors.

Deliveries of these vehicles to customers in the U.S., which use a flexible skateboard platform, are expected to begin in late 2020.

Volkswagen reveals its mass-market ID.3, an electric car with up to 341 miles of range

By Kirsten Korosec

Volkswagen introduced Monday the ID.3, the first model in its new all-electric ID brand and the beginning of the automaker’s ambitious plan to sell 1 million EVs annually by 2025.

The ID.3 debut, which is ahead of the IAA International Motor Show in Frankfurt, is an important milestone for Volkswagen. The company upended its entire business strategy in the wake of the diesel emissions cheating scandal that erupted in September 2015. Now, four years later, VW is starting to show more than just concept vehicles for its newly imagined electric, connected and carbon-neutral brand.

Information about the ID.3, which was unveiled alongside a new VW logo and brand design, has trickled out for months now. Monday’s reveal finally fills in some much-needed details on the interior, battery, infotainment and driver assistance systems.

Screen Shot 2019 09 09 at 11.35.06 AM

The upshot: Everything about the ID.3, from its size and styling to its battery range and pricing, is aiming for the mass-market category.

The electric hatchback is similar in size to the VW Golf. But this is no VW Golf. The aim here, and one Volkswagen just might have achieved, was to signal the beginning of a new brand.

Numerous details in the special edition version of the ID.3, including a panorama tilting glass roof edged in black and interactive LED headlights that have “eyelids” that flutter when the driver approaches the parked vehicle, help drive the future-is-here point home.

The ID.3 will only be sold in Europe and have a starting price under €30,000 (about $33,000). North America’s first chance at an all-electric VW will be the ID Crozz, which is coming to the U.S. at the end of 2020.

ID.3 details

The four-door, five-seater hatchback is as long as a Golf, but thanks to its shorter overhangs, its wheelbase is larger than that of any other vehicle in its category, according to the company. This gives the ID.3 a roomier interior.

The company is starting with the ID.3 1ST, a special edition version that will come with a 58 kWh-battery pack with a range of up to 420 kilometers, or about 260 miles, and come with three equipment variants. The ID.3 1ST will start under €40,000 ($44,200).

Screen Shot 2019 09 09 at 11.32.00 AM

The ID.3 1ST will have fast-charging capability that will allow it (when using a DC fast charger) to add 180 miles to its battery in 30 minutes, a longer range than had previously been possible in the compact vehicle segment, VW said Monday.

Buyers of the special edition will be offered free charging for one year up to 2,000 kWh. This free-charging deal only applies to stations linked to WeCharge, which includes the Ionity network of more than 100,000 charging points throughout Europe.

Volkswagen, which owns a stake in the joint venture Ionity, aims by 2020 to install along main European routes 400 ultra-fast charging stations that use 100% renewable energy.

All 30,000 special edition ID.3 vehicles have been reserved. The first ID.3 vehicles will be delivered to customers in Germany in spring 2020.

Series production

The series production version of the ID.3 will have two additional battery options, including a 45 kWh-pack that has a range of 205 miles and a 77 kWh-pack that can travel 341 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 ID.3 will come with an advanced driver assistance system-supported multifunction camera mounted on the windshield. This camera will be able to identify road signs.

Volkswagen ID.3 Large 10139

The ADAS will include an emergency braking system, pedestrian monitoring, multi-collision brake feature, lane-keeping and lane change systems, and a parking assist that uses a rearview camera. There also will be a keyless access system featuring illuminated door handles.

A park distance control feature is designed to prevent impending collisions or to reduce the severity of collisions by triggering an emergency braking maneuver at the latest possible point.

Inside the ID.3, customers will find a 10-inch touch display. A feature called ID. Light will display an LED strip during navigation that can signal drivers to take actions, such as prompting them to brake.

VW is also offering an optional augmented reality head-up display that will project relevant information directly onto the windshield. All controls are operated using touch functions featuring touch-sensitive buttons. Only the electric windows and hazard warning lights are still operated using tactile switches, the company said.

The ID.3 comes equipped with intelligent natural voice control. Drivers or front passengers can speak to the ID.3, simply by saying “hello ID.” Visually, ID. Light signals to whom the ID.3 is currently responding.

More to come

The ID.3 along with others that will join its eventual portfolio of more than 20 full-electric models are built on VW’s flexible MEB platform.

The MEB, which was introduced in 2016, is a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.

The first vehicles to use this MEB platform will be under the ID brand, although this platform can and will be used for electric vehicles under other VW Group brands such as Skoda and Seat. (The MEB won’t be used by VW brands Audi or Porsche, which are developing their own platform for electric vehicles.)

Root Insurance valuation hits $3.65 billion in latest round led by DST Global and Coatue

By Kirsten Korosec

Root Insurance,  lang="EN">an Ohio-based car insurance startup that uses smartphone technology to understand individual driver behavior, said Monday it has raised $350 million on a $3.65 billion valuation in a Series E funding round. 

The amount of the round was reported last month by Axios, citing anonymous sources. This official announcement fills in the remaining details, including that DST Global and Coatue Management led the funding round. Existing investors Drive Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Ribbit Capital, Scale Venture Partners and Tiger Global Management all participated in this round, along with several new investors, according to the company.

The car insurance company, founded in 2015, has now raised $523 million with an additional $100 million in debt financing. The funding will be used to scale up in the 29 U.S. states where it currently operates and expand into new markets. The additional capital will also be used to develop new product lines, Root said.

The company said last year it planned to be in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. by the end of 2019. 

“Root is transforming auto insurance, the largest property and casualty insurance market in the U.S., by leveraging technology and data to offer consumers lower prices, transparency, and fairness,” Tom Stafford, managing partner of DST Global, said in a statement.

Root provides car insurance to drivers. The company has differentiated itself by using individual driver behavior along with other factors to determine the premium customers pay.

Drivers download the Rootmobile app and take a test drive that typically lasts two or three weeks. Root provides a quote that rewards good driving behavior and allows customers to switch their insurance policy. Customers can purchase and manage their policy through the app.

Root has said its approach allows good drivers to save more than 50% on their policies compared to traditional insurance carriers. The company uses AI algorithms to adjust risk and sometimes provide discounts. For example, a vehicle with an advanced driver assistance system that it deems improves safety might receive further discounts.

The company’s business model has attracted customers. Root wrote more than $187 million in insurance premiums in the first six months of 2019, 824% growth over the same period in 2018.

Uber commits $200 million to Uber Freight expansion in bet on trucking and Chicago

By Kirsten Korosec

Uber Freight is establishing its headquarters in Chicago as part of Uber’s broader plan to invest more than $200 million annually in the region, including hiring hundreds of workers.

Uber said Monday it will hire 2,000 new employees in the region over the next three years; most will be dedicated to Uber Freight .

Uber Freight, which helps truck drivers connect with shipping companies, has become an important piece to Uber’s larger business strategy to generate revenue from all forms of transportation, including logistics for packages. The announcement comes on the heels of a disappointing quarter for Uber that included a stunning $5.2 billion loss.

Since launching in May 2017, Uber Freight has grown from from limited regional operations in Texas to the rest of the continental U.S. and to Europe.

Uber made Uber Freight a separate business unit in August 2018. Since then, the company has redesigned the app, adding new navigation features that make searching for and filtering loads easier to customize and more intuitive, as well as other features, including an updated map view and a search bar across the top of the screen.

It has also made some key hires, one of which intimated the company’s global ambitions. The company hired Andrew Smith, one of Box’s early employees, to head up global sales at Uber Freight, and Bar Ifrach, formerly of Airbnb, to lead its marketplace team.

With signs of some success, Uber is doubling down on the trucking business.

Uber Freight has more than 400,000 drivers in its carrier network and 1,000-plus shippers as customers, including AB Inbev, Niagara Bottling and Land O’Lakes, according to the company. Uber Freight also has more than 50,000 carriers on the platform.

“I believe this makes Uber Freight  the biggest virtual fleet in the United States,” Lior Ron, head of Uber Freight, told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

The company has been relatively quiet as it has scaled up, Ron said, noting that this announcement marks a turning point for Uber Freight.

“This is really a graduation moment for us and where we can share that because the business is doing so well we are doubling down on our investment,” he said.

The new Uber office located in The Old Main Post Office in the historic Chicago River area will serve as Uber Freight headquarters and its first engineering hub outside of San Francisco.

“Trucking represents an enormous opportunity for Uber, and this milestone is a testament to our long-term commitment to our Freight business,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. “Chicago is the heart of America’s transportation and logistics industry, and there is no better place to open our dedicated Freight HQ. Uber has long recognized the incredible history, innovation, and talent that Chicago has to offer, and we’re excited about the thousands of new jobs our Freight business will help bring as we become one of the city’s largest technology employers.”

As part of its new investments in the region, Uber is collaborating with the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership (CCWP) to help with workplace diversity. Uber will start onboarding new employees in 2020 and will work with CCWP to develop a process for identifying potential candidates through their system.

UPS introduces hybrid, long-range trucks that change modes based on where they are

By Darrell Etherington

UPS is introducing fifteen new vehicles to its fleet that offer extended driving range vs. traditional EVs, but that are also capable of operating in fully electric mode when required to do so, as in emission-free zones and dense city cores. The trucks, developed in partnership with commercial electric vehicle tech startup TEVVA, can switch between hybrid and fully electric modes for a total range of up to 400km (~250 miles), with the same cargo carrying capacity of same-sized diesel-powered trucks.

The trucks can operate at a much longer range than fully electric delivery trucks, which typically top out at around 60 miles of range and can also switch between modes to stay fair of local transportation bylaws. This is especially helpful where they’re rolling out in Birmingham and Southampton in the UK, since Birmingham will introduce a clean air zone to block non-electric commercial vehicles in its city center by sometime next year.

UPS has already made use of electric delivery vehicles, but the range of its existing trucks meant they couldn’t make the trip from central depots to in-city drop-off points in every case. Plus, this hybridized solution will also be able to carry a lot more packages than the fully electric trucks, which should lead to fewer cars on the road overall and less congestion, according to UPS.

The crucial difference between these trucks and standard hybrid vehicles is that they’re capable of fully autonomously switching between purely electric motors and their diesel hybrid powertrains – and can do so with geofencing whenever they cross into and out of a clean air or reduced emissions regulated zone.

UPS has taken delivery of 15 fo these vans already, and they’re serving customers in both Tamworth and Southampton in the UK. They’re just one part of UPS’ overall effort to decrease their emissions footprint and environmental impact.

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.

Watch the Porsche Taycan make a 0-90-0 test run on the USS Hornet flight deck

By Kirsten Korosec

Porsche is squeezing in one more teaser ahead of the global debut of the all-electric Porsche Taycan. And this time, the German automaker didn’t hold back.

Professional racer Shea Holbrook drove a prototype Taycan from a standstill up to 90.58 miles per hour (145 km/h), then slammed on the brakes back to zero all within 10.7 seconds. Shea accelerated the Taycan to 90.58 mph in just 422 feet before braking hard.

If that wasn’t splashy enough, Porsche took it up a level and conducted the demonstration on the flight deck of the USS Hornet, the 27,500-ton aircraft carrier used to recover astronauts from the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions to the moon. You can watch the entire test run in the video below.

Yes, this is gratuitous automotive theater and a marketing ploy. It’s also a spectacularly fun way to show off the stability and performance of Porsche’s big bet on electric vehicles.

Now, the 0-90-0 run falls short of the traditional 0-100-0 tests. It’s not clear why Porsche didn’t make a 0-100-0 run, although available space might have been a factor.porsche taycan uss hornet 001

Stefan Weckbach, vice president of the Taycan product line, admitted that the demonstration was “some kind of fun testing than a completely serious one.” But he added that it was a fitting way to demonstrate the power of the car as it nears the end of its development.

On a tough, changeable surface the Taycan’s composure, its incredible acceleration and stopping power were absolutely impressive – though we decided not to take it to the max, just to reach the 0-100 mph margin.” Weckbach said. While I was completely sure both Shea and the car could achieve something special, I’m really relieved no one went for a swim.”

 

Holbrook said that despite appearances, the deck was quite bumpy.

“Deliberately accelerating towards thin air and the ocean is a new experience for me, but the Taycan gave me a huge amount of confidence — it was really stable but under acceleration and, more importantly, under braking,” she added.

porsche taycan uss hornet 021

 

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.

Meet Olli 2.0, a 3D-printed autonomous shuttle

By Kirsten Korosec

From afar, Olli resembles many of the “future is now!” electric autonomous shuttles that have popped up in recent years.

The tall rectangular pod, with its wide-set headlights and expansive windows nestled between a rounded frame, gives the shuttle a friendly countenance that screams, ever so gently, “come along, take a ride.”

But Olli is different in almost every way, from how it’s produced to its origin story. And now, its maker, Local Motors, has given Olli an upgrade in hopes of accelerating the adoption of its autonomous shuttles.

Meet Olli 2.0, a 3D-printed connected electric autonomous shuttle that Rogers says will hasten its ubiquity.

“The future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed,” Local Motors co-founder and CEO John B. Rogers Jr. said in a recent interview. “That’s something I say a lot. Because people often ask me, ‘Hey, when will I see this vehicle? 2023? What do you think?’ My response: It’s here now, it’s just not everywhere.”

Whether individuals will adopt Rogers’ vision of the future is another matter. But he argues that Olli 1.0 has already been a persuasive ambassador.

Olli 2.0 Left Door

Olli 1.0 made its debut in 2016 when it launched in National Harbor, Md., at a planned mixed-use development a few miles south of Washington, D.C. In the two years since, Olli has shown up at events such as LA Automobility, and been featured by various media outlets, including this one.  Heck, even James Cordon rode in it.

Local Motors, which was founded in 2007, and its Olli 1.0 shuttle are familiar figures in the fledgling autonomous vehicle industry. But they’re often overshadowed by the likes of Argo AI, Cruise, Uber and Waymo — bigger companies that are all pursuing robotaxis designed for cities.

Olli, meanwhile, is designed for campuses, low-speed environments that include hospitals, military bases and universities.

“The public isn’t going to see New York City with autonomous vehicles running around all the time (any time soon),” Rogers said. Campuses, on the other hand, are a sweet spot for companies like Local Motors that want to deploy now. These are places where mobility is needed and people are able to get up close and personal with a “friendly robot” like Olli, Rogers said. 

Olli 2.0

Olli and Olli 2.0 are clearly siblings. The low-speed vehicle has the same general shape, and a top speed of 25 miles per hour. And both have been crash tested by Local Motors and come with Level 4 autonomous capability, a designation by the SAE that means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention.

Olli 2.0 has a lot more range — up to 100 miles on a single charge, according to its spec sheet. The manufacturing process has been improved, and Olli 2.0 is now 80% 3D-printed and has hub motors versus the axle wheel motors in its predecessor. In addition, there are two more seats in Olli 2.0 and new programmable lighting.

But where Olli 2.0 really stands out is in the improved user interface and more choices for customers looking to customize the shuttle to suit specific needs. As Rogers recently put it, “We can pretty much make anything they ask for with the right partners.”

Local-Motors-Olli -2.0

The outside of Olli 2.0 is outfitted with a PA system and screens on the front and back to address pedestrians. The screen in the front can be shown as eyes, making Olli 2.0 more approachable and anthropomorphic.

Inside the shuttle, riders will find better speakers and microphones and touchscreens. Local Motors has an open API, which allows for an endless number of UI interfaces. For instance, LG is customizing media content for Olli based on the “5G future,” according to Rogers, who said he couldn’t provide more details just yet.

AR and VR can also be added, if a customer desires. The interior can be changed to suit different needs as well. For instance, a hospital might want fewer seats and more room to transport patients on beds. It’s this kind of customization that Rogers believes will give Local Motors an edge over autonomous shuttle competitors.

Local-Motors-Olli-2.0-Interior

Even the way Olli 2.0 communicates has been improved.

Olli 1.0 used IBM Watson, the AI platform from IBM, for its natural language and speech to text functions. Olli 2.0 has more options. Natural language voice can use Amazon’s deep learning chatbot service Lex and IBM Watson. Customers can choose one or even combine them. Both can be altered to make the system addressable to “Olli.”

The many people behind Olli

In the so-called race to deploy autonomous vehicles, Local Motors is a participant that is difficult to categorize or label largely due to how it makes its shuttles.

It’s not just that Local Motors’ two micro factories — at its Chandler, Ariz. headquarters and in Knoxville, Tenn. — are a diminutive 10,000 square feet. Or that these micro factories lack the tool and die and stamping equipment found in a traditional automaker’s factory. Or even that Olli is 3D-printed.

A striking and perhaps less obvious difference is how Olli and other creations from Local Motors, and its parent company Local Motors Industries, come to life. LMI has a co-creation and low-volume local production business model. The parent company’s Launch Forth unit manages a digital design community of tens of thousands of engineers and designers that co-creates products for customers. Some of those mobility creations go to Local Motors, which uses its low-volume 3D-printed micro factories to build Olli and Olli 2.0, as well as other products like the Rally Fighter.

This ability to tap into its community and its partnerships with research labs, combined with direct digital manufacturing and its micro factories, is what Rogers says allows it to go from design to mobile prototype in weeks, not months — or even years.

The company issues challenges to the community. The winner of a challenge gets a cash prize and is awarded royalties as the product is commercialized. In 2016, a Bogota, Colombia man named Edgar Sarmiento won the Local Motors challenge to design an urban public transportation system. His design eventually became Olli.

(Local Motors uses the challenges model to determine where Olli will be deployed, as well.)

New design challenges are constantly being launched to improve the UI and services of Olli, as well as other products. But even that doesn’t quite capture the scope of the co-creation. Local Motors partners with dozens of companies and research organizations. Its 3D-printing technology comes from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Olli itself involves a who’s who in the sensor, AV and supplier communities.

Startup Affectiva provides Olli’s cognition system, such as facial and mood tracking of its passengers and dynamic route optimization, while Velodyne, Delphi, Robotic Research and Axis Communications handle the perception stack of the self-driving shuttle, according to Local Motors. Nvidia and Sierra Wireless provide much of the Human Machine Interface. Other companies that supply the bits and pieces to Olli include Bosch, Goodyear, Protean and Eastman, to name just a few.

Where in the world is Olli?

Today, Olli 1.0 is deployed on nine campuses, the most recent ones at the Joint Base Myer – Henderson Hall, a joint base of the U.S. military located around Arlington, Va., which is made up of Fort Myer, Fort McNair and Henderson Hall. Olli was also introduced recently in Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento, Calif.

Production of Olli 2.0 began in July and deliveries will begin in the fourth quarter of this year. In the meantime, three more Olli shuttle deployments are coming up in the next six weeks or so, according to Local Motors, which didn’t provide further details.

Production of Olli 1.0 will phase out in the coming months as customer orders are completed. Olli will soon head to Europe, as well, with Local Motors planning to build its third micro factory in the region.

VW Group to pay $96.5M to settle inflated fuel economy lawsuit

By Kirsten Korosec

VW Group of America said Friday it has reached an agreement with thousands of U.S. customers over alleged inflated fuel economy information on about 98,000 gas-powered vehicles from its four brands, Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Volkswagen.

The agreement involves alleged misinformation about fuel economy on 98,000 vehicles, or about 3.5% of the model year 2013-2017 VW Group vehicles sold or leased in the United States. The fuel economy will be restated to reflect a discrepancy of one mile per gallon, when rounded according to the U.S.-specific “Monroney” label requirements, according to the EPA.

Most of the vehicles affected by the overstatement of fuel economy were from Audi, Bentley and Porsche, including the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Audi A8L, RS7 and S8 vehicles. Other affected models include variants of the Porsche Cayenne such as the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo.

Volkswagen does not admit wrongdoing under the terms of the settlement.

Eligible customers will receive payments ranging from $5.40 to $24.30 for each month the vehicle is owned or leased. The total value of the settlement, which is subject to court approval, is $96.5 million, according to VW.

Volkswagen Group of America will also adjust its Greenhouse Gas credits to account for any excess credits associated with the fuel economy discrepancy.

Potential claimants will have to submit a claim to receive compensation. However, owners do not need to take any action at this time. Individual class members will receive information about their rights and options (including the option to “opt out” of the settlement agreement) if the court grants preliminary approval of the proposed agreement, according to VW.

Didi Chuxing to launch self-driving rides in Shanghai and expand them beyond China by 2021

By Darrell Etherington

Didi Chuxing will begin picking up ride-hailing passengers with self-driving cars in Shanghai in just a few months, according to company CTO Zhang Bo (via Reuters). The plan is to roll out autonomous pick-ups in Shanghai first, starting in one district of the city, and then expand the program from there — finally culminating in the deployment of self-driving vehicles outside of China by 2021.

Like Uber’s autonomous test vehicles, Didi’s cars will be staffed with a human driver on board during the initial launch period, which awaits a few remaining licenses before it can actually begin serving human passengers. Self-driving rides will be free for customers, and Zhang said that more than 30 different vehicles will be offered for self-driving trips as part of the pilot.

After its initial pilot launch in Shanghai, Didi will look to expand its offerings to Beijing and Shenzhen as well, with hopes to be live in all three cities by 2020.

Didi is the largest ride-hailing company in China, and beat out an attempt by Uber to establish a presence in the market, resulting in Uber selling its Chinese business to Didi and exiting the market in 2016 (in exchange for a minority stake). We spoke to Didi’s CTO (who asked to be identified as “Bob” at the time, hence the lower-third in the video below) later that same year about why the company believes it has an advantage when it comes to data-driven technology development relative to Uber and other ride-hailing companies.

Aside from a general sense in the industry that autonomy is a likely, if not inevitable end goal for ride-hailing and other mobility services with a technological focus, Didi is also likely motivated by a need for drivers to meet demand — and drivers who can provide a safe and secure experience for passengers. The company revealed in July that it had proved more than 300,000 drivers didn’t meet its safety standards after overhauling those standards last year.

Earlier this month, Didi also announced that it was spinning out its autonomous driving unit as a separate company, with Zhang as CEO. It’ll look to develop tech for its own fleet, and work in partnership with automakers, including Toyota, in pursuit of commercializing and deploying autonomous driving.

Porsche Taycan sets fastest 4-door electric car record at Nürburgring Nordschleife

By Kirsten Korosec

Porsche’s upcoming all-electric Taycan has set a narrow, yet notable record lap time at the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife test track in Germany.

The company said Monday the Porsche Taycan, which will debut September 4, completed the 12.8-mile course in 7 minutes and 42 seconds. This is the fastest lap for a four-door electric vehicle. The record time was set in a pre-series Taycan driven by Lars Kern.

But it’s not the fastest lap for any electric vehicle. That honor goes to Volkswagen’s ID R electric race car, which completed the course in 6:05.336 minutes. The previous record was set in 2017 by Peter Dumbreck, who was driving a Nio electric vehicle.

Still, it’s a zippy time for any vehicle. Porsche has set out to show the speed and endurance of its first electric vehicle ahead of its debut. Porsche says its record run at Nürburgring Nordschleife and an endurance test at the Nardò high-speed track show the Taycan can do both.

Earlier this year, Porsche tested the Taycan’s ability to do successive acceleration runs from zero to 62 miles per hour. A video shows 26 successive starts without losses in performance. The average acceleration figure from the timed runs was less than 10 seconds, according to Porsche. The difference between the fastest and slowest acceleration runs was 0.8 seconds, the company said.

The German automaker also drove 2,128 miles at speeds between 128 and 133 mph within 24 hours, only stopping to charge the battery and change drivers, at the Nardò track in Italy.

At Nürburgring Nordschleife, development engineers started driving a Taycan around in a simulator to test and evaluate its performance on a virtual race track. Porsche said one of the main goals was determining electric energy with thermal management, which form an important contribution to achieving the lap time.

Porsche is aiming to prove to its existing customers, many of whom have never driven or owned an electric vehicle, that the Taycan will meet the same performance standards as its gas-powered cars and SUVs. It also hopes to attract new customers to the Porsche brand.

It appears the company is on the right track, if the thousands of reservations for the Taycan convert into actual purchases.

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