In two years, Voyage has gone from a tiny self-driving car upstart spun out of Udacity to a company able to operate on 200 miles of roads in retirement communities.
Now, Voyage is on the verge of introducing a new vehicle that is critical to its mission of launching a truly driverless ride-hailing service. (Human safety drivers not included.)
This internal milestone, which Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron hinted at in a recent Medium post, went largely unnoticed. Voyage, after all, is just a 55-person speck of a startup in an industry, where the leading companies have amassed hundreds of engineers backed by war chests of $1 billion or more. Voyage has raised just $23.6 million from investors that include Khosla Ventures, CRV, Initialized Capital and the venture arm of Jaguar Land Rover.
Still, the die has yet to be cast in this burgeoning industry of autonomous vehicle technology. These are the middle-school years for autonomous vehicles — a time when size can be misinterpreted for maturity and change occurs in unpredictable bursts.
The upshot? It’s still unclear which companies will solve the technical and business puzzles of autonomous vehicles. There will be companies that successfully launch robotaxis and still fail to turn their service into a profitable commercial enterprise. And there will be operationally savvy companies that fail to develop and validate the technology to a point where human drivers can be removed.
Voyage wants to unlock both.
By-the-minute car rental service Car2go is raising its rates for short trips under the guise of variable pricing, the company announced to its users today. As we’ve seen with other variably priced services like delivery and ride hailing, in practice this means you never really know what it will cost but will have little choice but to pay.
In an email to users of its service, Car2go said that as a result of “constantly evaluating our product, packages, and pricing strategies” it had arrived at the new system, under which price will depend on time, location and day. The new cost structure takes effect next month.
For Car2go users, this will generally mean paying more. The company highlighted a new cheaper possible per-minute rate of 35 cents, significantly lower than the current $0.45 rate. But it’s easy to guess when that lower rate will be available: “times, locations and days” that no one is using the service. Meanwhile, it’s also possible to encounter a new higher per-minute rate of up to 49 cents when cars are in demand or in a high-use location.
Blocks of time from half an hour to four hours are all increasing in price: The current flat rates are now floor rates, with the possibility you’ll be paying as much as a third more than before. For example, a two-hour block currently costs $29; soon it will cost somewhere between $30 and $39. Again, you won’t know until you open the app to check it out, at which point you’re probably already committed.
Day-length packages are actually cheaper under the new system, but no longer include miles, so while a 24-hour pass used to be $79, now it’s $70 — but at 19 cents per mile, you’ll be in the red after less than 50 miles. And the price only goes up from there. Still, it’s conceivable you’ll pay less for a two or three-day rental if you’re not actually going anywhere distant, but just need a car for the weekend.
A newly instituted zone-based charge and refund system punishes drivers for leaving the city center and rewards those at the periphery for driving back toward heavy usage areas. There’s a $5 charge if you leave the central zone, and $5 refund — or the price of the trip, if less — if you bring a car in from the outer one. (Consult your local Car2go to see what the zones are in your city.)
Count the cards here and you can see the house always wins. If you’re going out, the full $5 fee always applies. If you’re coming in, it will be very difficult to nail that $5 ride — go under and Car2go is reimbursing less than the $5 (and thus comes out ahead), go over and you end up paying money anyway. It’s just one of those clever little traps businesses set up.
You can see the full changes in the chart below:
Oh, and your first 200 trips this calendar year have an additional $1 fee. You’re welcome!
In case you can’t tell, this is bad news for consumers, though it would be too much to expect that these prices would stay stable for years. But variable pricing is fundamentally anti-consumer because of a lack of transparency under which the companies controlling it can pull all kinds of shenanigans. Sadly, that makes it a great choice for the bottom line.
These unwelcome changes come six months after Car2go joined the BMW-Daimler joint venture Share Now, which has a variety of car-share services around the world it intends to unify under a single brand soon (it already killed ReachNow, rather abruptly). Apparently larger scale and reduced competition don’t actually lead to lower prices — unfortunate for their customers. But overall the floating car-share services are an important one. Just not as cheap as they used to be.
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.
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.
BMW has finished a nearly two-year project to bring 100 electric vehicle charging stations to America’s national parks.
The automaker partnered in 2017 with several U.S. agencies, including the National Park Foundation, National Park Service, and Department of Energy, to donate 100 electric vehicle charging stations in and near to national parks throughout the United States.
More than 90 of the charging stations have been installed. The remaining few will open this month, the company said.
The effort is small compared to some of the broader infrastructure campaigns in the U.S. But it has the potential to ease the EV charging desert that exists on the open road and at national parks. And as more electric vehicles come on the market, the demand for these chargers will only increase.
The charging stations, which include Level 2 and DC fast chargers, are concentrated in popular areas where there’s a strong electric vehicle market. The agencies and BMW also considered the distance from nearby charging locations.
BMW’s charging stations can be found in Everglades and Grand Canyon, two of the most visited U.S. national parks, as well Death Valley in California, Rainier and Olympic National parks in Washington and Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts.
BMW worked with the National Park Service and National Park Foundation to identify sites, address technical considerations and coordinate with state and local authorities.
“The automobile has long been central to the great American vacation in national parks,” said National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith. “While our treasured landscapes offer familiar vistas time after time, the automobile has changed greatly, and parks want to meet the needs of our visitors who electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.”
BMW Vision M NEXT, the electric vehicle concept that had its world debut June 25, won’t be in showrooms anytime soon, if ever. But let’s hope the sound of the vehicle, which was created by famous film score composer Hans Zimmer and Renzo Vitale, an acoustic engineer and sound designer at the BMW Group, makes into the automaker’s next line of vehicles.
Sure, electric vehicles are silent. They don’t need to sound like a vehicle with an internal combustion engine. And this concept doesn’t. But it could be a fun add-on feature that drivers could opt to turn on or off.
Earlier this month, BMW promoted Zimmer’s role in shaping the sound for the Vision M NEXT concept and possibly its next-generation of electric vehicles. It wasn’t clear what the concept sounded like because the video released at the time made it difficult to pick out the noise of electric vehicle against the background music.
Now, BMW has added a webpage where visitors can get a closer look into the futuristic car. People can 3D print a smaller version of the vehicle thanks to a free STL file. They can download wallpaper. Or they can listen to the sound that Zimmer created for the Vision M NEXT.
The video file below plays a recording of what the BMW Vision M NEXT sounds like when it accelerates in “Boost+ Mode.”
The beginning of the track sounds a lot like the THX opener that plays in movie theaters right before a film and then transitions to a pop — that’s the boost — and continues to build into a high pitch that evokes a feeling of speed.
It’s reminiscent of Blade Runner — and that’s a good thing.
The vehicle, which debuted at the NEXTGen event in Munich, is meant to should show where the automaker is headed in terms of design, electric vehicle plans and technology like its next generation adaptive cruise control system, which will be able to detect and automatically stop at red lights.
BMW customers can expect the next generation of electric vehicles to come with special acoustics meant to mimic the feeling a driver might get when they’re behind an M5 or other BMW with an internal combustion engine. And it appears BMW’s next slate of electric vehicles could arrive sooner than originally planned.
The automaker announced at the NEXTGen event that it’s running ahead of schedule in its efforts to produce least 25 electrified vehicles. BMW, which was aiming for 2025, now says that it will offer these 25 vehicles by 2023.
At its NextGen event, BMW today premiered the next generation of its adaptive cruise control system, which will be able to detect and automatically stop at red lights. This isn’t exactly autonomous driving just yet, but it’s clearly an effort to bring some of these advanced cruise control features from highway driving to a more urban environment.
The system uses the same cameras that are already built into virtually all new BMWs today and which can already detect speed limits and pass those on to the cruise control system.
In addition to the camera, the system also uses the car’s built-in navigation feature to get information about where it should expect traffic lights.
Because it’s a new software feature, BMW will be able to upgrade existing cars with this feature in the future, though it remains mum about when exactly it will launch it to customers and which cars will get it first.
I saw the system in action during a short drive in a standard 3-Series car with the software update today. It worked flawlessly in the dense urban traffic of Munich, though this was obviously a pre-planned route that even including a traffic light the company set up specifically for this demo. Whenever the car detected a red light, it gently brought the car to a stop. The car will automatically hold the car at the red light and the driver then has to tap the cruise control button to continue when the light changes to green.
While I didn’t see it in action, the system is also able to detect right and left arrows at more complex intersections and react accordingly, based on the route you programmed into your navigation system
I admit that, at least for the time being, I remain skeptical about using these kinds of level 2 automation systems in an urban environment. It’s a far more challenging and risky environment to navigate and even with these new tools, the driver still has to remain highly engaged. Outside of the urban environment, where there are obviously also plenty of traffic lights, this strikes me as a very useful feature. BMW, though, clearly believes that its system is robust enough to handle urban traffic, too.
At its NEXTGen event in Munich, BMW today announced that it is running ahead of schedule in its efforts to offer at least 25 electrified vehicles. Previously, the German luxury car manufacturer was shooting for 2025, but it now says that it will offer these 25 vehicles by 2023.
As BMW’s Klaus Fröhlich stressed at a press event ahead of today’s announcement, BMW will continue to offer a full range of vehicles that span from fully-electric to hybrids and standard combustion-engine powered cars for the foreseeable future. More than half of the 25 vehicles the company is talking about today, though, will be fully electric.
“We are moving up a gear in the transformation towards sustainable mobility, thereby making our company fit for the future: Over the past two years, we have consistently taken numerous decisions that we are now bringing to the roads,” said BMW CEO Harald Krüger. “By 2021, we will have doubled our sales of electrified vehicles compared with 2019.”
The company expects that its electrified car sales will continue to grow by more than 30 percent per year up to 2025. Indeed, it expects to have sold more than half a billion fully-electric or plug-in hybrids by the end of 2019. That’s a tough goal to achieve, Krüger admitted. He also noted that BMW plans to power all of its plants with renewable energy from next year onward.
Right now, that number is definitely driven by sales of the somewhat quirky i3, with 150,000 on the roads today. Then, over the course of the next few years, the i3 will be joined by a fully-electric Mini, iX3 and then the i4 and iNext.
By 2020, all of these plug-in hybrids will also feature a new tool that will make driving them in cities that ban combustion engines from their city centers: BMW eDrive Zones. This feature will automatically detect when you enter a zone where only electric vehicles are allowed and then switch to running on batteries until you leave.
BMW has a long history of building motorcycles, but it hasn’t done all that well in the electric motorcycle department. Clearly, though, this is something the company is thinking hard about and today, at its inaugural NextGen event, the company showed its newest electric concept bike, the BMW Motorrad Vision DC Roadster.
As usual, there’s no guarantee that this concept will ever come to market. Indeed, it’s likely that it won’t, but it will provide the inspiration for what will eventually go into production.
Going electric is a hard move to make for a company and that has been associated with its 2-cylinder boxer engine for ages. If it wants to produce a successful electric motorcycle, then it needs to be able to offer buyers not just performance (something they get by default with an electric engine and the torque it produces), but also something that retains the brand image buyers associate with BMW motorcycles.
Edgar Heinrich, the Head of Design for BMW Motorrad, argues that the Vision DC Roadster does just that. “The boxer engine is the heart of BMW Motorrad – an absolute stalwart of its character,” he said. “But BMW Motorrad stands for visionary zero-emissions vehicle concepts, too. In view of this, one question that arises is: what would happen if we were to replace the boxer engine with an electric motor and the required battery? The Vision Bike shows how we’re able to retain the identity and iconic appearance of BMW Motorrad in distinctive form while at the same time presenting an exciting new type of riding pleasure.”
Where a typical BMW motorbike would usually have its engine, the Vision roadster has a battery pack with coolers. Throughout the concept, the company’s designers used familiar design elements fro previous generations of the brand’s motorcycles.
In addition to the motorcycle, BMW also today showed off a new concept vehicle, the BMW Vision M Next, a new electrified sports car. The idea here is to provide a counterpart to the existing iNEXT concept that focuses more on performance than ease of use.
“Where the BMW Vision iNEXT illustrated how autonomous driving is set to transform life on board our vehicles, the BMW Vision M NEXT demonstrates how state-of-the-art technology can also make the experience of driving yourself purer and more emotionally engaging,” said Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design. “In both models, the focus is firmly on the people inside. Design and technology make the ‘EASE’ and ‘BOOST’ experiences more natural and more intense.”
In line with this idea, the new concept vehicle promises to be able to go from 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in three seconds and offer a range of about 62 miles (which isn’t all that much). To get access to more power, drivers can also hit a BOOST+ button.
With the M Next, BMW is also showing off some new user interface designs. The interface now adapts to the speed you are driving at, for example, and will automatically give you less information as you drive faster, in order to let you focus as you head down the autobahn at 120 mph.
Buying a car is painful. Dealerships are the worst, and the options are endless. The rise of the Internet produced powerful tools for shoppers, but in the end, most buyers still have to trudge down to a car lot.
For this series of articles, TechCrunch spoke with several founders and investors attempting to rethink car buying. It’s clear these startups are the underdog in this fight. Most consumers buy cars the same way as their grandparents did and for good reason. Dealerships nationwide fought for years to enact laws and regulations that protect their businesses.
Several young companies are attempting to put the dealership online. Companies like Carvana, Shift, Vroom and Joydrive are putting the entire car buying process online, allowing customers to buy, trade-in and even test drive vehicles without talking to a salesman in an oversized golf pullover.
In the next part of this series, we’ll look at companies like Fair that are moving consumers away from purchasing and into short-term leases. Even automakers are trying something new. Tesla sells directly to consumers while Volvo, BMW, Mercedes and others are launching subscription options to give owners even more flexibility.
Several companies are building online car dealerships. Shoppers find and buy a vehicle solely through these sites, and often, the cars are delivered to the buyer. These online dealerships even take trade-ins.
Three services dominate this space, and they were all founded in 2013. Carvana, Shift, and Vroom hit the market at the same time but have experienced different paths. One thing is clear though: it takes hundreds of millions of venture capital money to build an online dealership.
Emily Melton, co-founder and managing partner, Threshold Ventures (formally known as DFJ Ventures), points to consumer’s changing expectations and an optimized process across all kinds of vehicles. She invested in Shift’s recent $140m round.
Just a few months ago, Innoviz became one of the better capitalized lidar startups when it announced it had raised $132 million in a Series C funding round. But that wouldn’t be the end of it.
The company kept the funding doors propped open and ultimately captured another $38 million from investors. The round has closed at $170 million, Innoviz said Monday.
Initial investors in the Series C round included China Merchants Capital, Shenzhen Capital Group, New Alliance Capital, Israeli institutional investors Harel Insurance Investments and Financial Services and Phoenix Insurance Company. The newest investors, and those responsible for the fresh injection of $38 million, were not named.
The close of the Series C round brings Innoviz’s total funding to $252 million.
The lidar industry is brimming with startups — about 70 according to industry experts — that see an opportunity to sell their tech to companies developing autonomous vehicles. Lidar measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. It’s considered by most in the self-driving car industry a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles.
Innoviz is aiming for this very space with its solid-state lidar sensors and perception software for autonomous vehicles. The company contends that solid-state lidar technology is more reliable over time because of the lack of moving parts.
Innoviz says that its perception software is what helps it stand out in a sea of lidar startups. The perception software identifies, classifies, segments and tracks objects to give autonomous vehicles a better understanding of the 3D driving scene.
The company plans to use the funding, in part, to further develop the perception software piece. That includes bringing on two computer vision experts, Dr. Raja Giryes and Or Shimshi, as “strategic collaborators.”
The funding will also be used to help Innoviz scale up and eventually mass produce its products. Its automotive-grade lidar product called InnovizOne is entering series production in 2021 for global automakers. The company has an existing solid-state lidar (InnovizPro) that is available now.
Innoviz’s strategy has been to partner with a number of OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers, such as Magna, HARMAN, HiRain Technologies and Aptiv, and to package perception software with its lidar sensors and offer it as a complete unit for companies developing autonomous vehicle technology.
Innoviz has locked in several key customers, notably BMW. The automaker picked Innoviz’s tech for series production of autonomous vehicles starting in 2021.
Urban-X, the startup accelerator for companies focused on solving the problems facing the world’s urban environment, has selected the latest seven companies for its sixth cohort.
Backed by the design arm of BMW’s Mini division and the venture capital firm Urban.US, the seven companies will receive $150,000 in financing and participate in the Urban-X 20-week accelerator program, replete with access to engineers and designers from BMW, software developers, policy experts and sales and marketing leaders.
The companies selected for the program include:
Mini launched Urban-X three years ago as part of its Innovation and Brand Strategy practice. The accelerator is focused on backing companies that pitch services for mobility, efficient and renewable energy use, urban infrastructure, housing, food waste and more.
Since its launch, the program has accelerated 44 companies, with more than 85% raising additional rounds of capital.
“Cities and emerging technology companies are powerful partners in helping to tackle our cities biggest challenges,” said Urban-X Managing Director Micah Kotch. “We look forward to working with Cohort 06 and bringing their solutions to scale across a diverse set of industries that impact city living.”
FCA confirmed to TechCrunch that it has withdrawn its offer, largely due to political conditions.
“FCA remains firmly convinced of the compelling, transformational rationale of a proposal that
has been widely appreciated since it was submitted, the structure and terms of which were
carefully balanced to deliver substantial benefits to all parties,” according to a company statement provided to TechCrunch. “However, it has become clear that the political conditions in France do not currently exist for such a combination to proceed successfully.”
FCA delivered May 27 a non-binding letter to Renault’s board that proposed combining the business as a 50-50 merger. FCA’s proposal illustrated 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. Earlier Wednesday, BMW and Jaguar announced a collaboration on developing next-generation electric vehicle components.
Under the proposal, the combined businesses would have been 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 ea
The WSJ reported that Nissan Motor, French automaker Renault’s existing partner, was the primary sticking point in the merger. Renault has an alliance with Nissan Motor. Under that alliance, Renault owns 43.4 percent of Nissan. Nissan owns 15 percent of Renault.
The relationship between Renault and Nissan Motor 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.
This is a developing story.