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.
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.”
Paul Brest didn’t set out to transform philanthropy. A constitutional law scholar who clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Harlan and is credited with coining the term “originalism,” Brest spent twelve years as dean of Stanford Law School.
But when he was named president of the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, one of the country’s largest large non-profit funders, Brest applied the rigor of a legal scholar not just to his own institution’s practices but to those of the philanthropy field at large. He hired experts to study the practice of philanthropy and helped to launch Stanford’s Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society, where he still teaches.
Now, Brest has turned his attention to advising Silicon Valley’s next generation of donors.
Scott Bade: Your background is in constitutional law. How did you make the shift from being dean at Stanford to running the Hewlett Foundation as president?
Paul Brest: I came into the Hewlett Foundation largely by accident. I really didn’t know anything about philanthropy, but I had been teaching courses on problem-solving and decision making. I think I got the job because a number of people on the board knew me, both from Stanford Law School, but also from playing chamber music with Walter and Esther Hewlett.
Bade: When was this?
Brest: I started there in 2000. Bill Hewlett died the year after I came. Walter Hewlett, Bill’s son, was chair of the board during the entire time I was president. But it’s not a family foundation.
Bade: What were your initial impressions of the foundation and the broader philanthropic space?
Brest: Not having come from the non-profit sector, it took me a year or so to really understand what it [meant] to use our assets in each area in a strategic way. The [Hewlett] Foundation had very good values in terms of the areas it was supporting — the environment, education, population, women’s reproductive rights. It had good philanthropic practices, but it was not very strategically focused. It turned out that not very many foundations were strategic.
Bade: What do you mean by ‘strategic’?
Brest: What I mean [by] strategic is having clear goals and having an evidence-based, evidence-informed strategy for achieving them. Big foundations tend to be conglomerates with different programs trying to achieve different goals.
[Being strategic means] monitoring progress as you work towards those goals. Then evaluating in advance whether the strategy is going to be plausible and then whether you’re actually achieving the outcomes you’re trying to achieve so that you can make course corrections if you’re not achieving.
[For example,] the likelihood that the roughly billionaire dollars or more that have been spent or committed to climate advocacy are going to have any effect is quite low. The place where metrics comes in is just having kind of an expected return mindset where yes, the chances of success are low, but we know that the importance of success — or putting it differently, the effects of failure — are going to be catastrophic.
What a strategic mindset does here is say: it’s worth taking huge bets even where the margins of error of the likelihood of success are very hard to measure when the results are huge.
I don’t want to say the [Hewlett] Foundation was anti-strategic, or totally unstrategic, but it really had not developed a [this kind of] systematic framework for doing those things.
Bade: You’re known in the philanthropic community for putting an emphasis on defining, achieving, measuring impact. Have those sort of technocratic practices made philanthropy better?
Brest: I think you have to start by asking, what would it mean for philanthropy to be good? From my point of view, philanthropy is good when I like the goals it chooses. Then, given a good goal, when it is effective in achieving that goal. Strategy really has nothing to say about what the goals are, but only how effective it is.
My guess is that 90 plus percent of philanthropy is intended to achieve goals that most of us think are good goals. There are occasions when you have direct conflicts of goals as you do with say the anti-abortion and the choice movements, or gun control and the NRA. Those are important arguments.
But most philanthropy is trying to improve education or improve the lives of the poor. My view is that philanthropy is good when it is effective in achieving those goals, and trying to do no harm in the process.
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.
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.”
Homeownership has long been touted as the American dream. But rising rates of mortgage debt, student loan debt, or otherwise are making the pursuit of homeownership a nightmare. Debt burdened individuals or those with inconsistent or tight cash flow can not only struggle to get credit loan approval when buying a home but also struggle to satisfy monthly mortgage payments even after purchase.
Patch Homes is hoping to keep the proverbial American dream alive. Patch looks to provide homeowners with cash flow and liquidity by allowing them to monetize their homes without taking on debt, interest or burdensome monthly payments.
Today, Patch took another big step in making its vision a far-reaching reality. The company has announced it’s raised a $5 million Series A round led by Union Square Ventures (USV) with participation by from Tribe Capital and previous investors Techstars Ventures, Breega Capital, and Greg Schroy.
Patch Home looks to partner with homeowners by investing up to $250,000 (with an average investment of ~$100,000) for an equity stake in the home’s value, generally in the 5% to 20% range. Homeowners aren’t subject to any interest or recurring payments and have ten years to pay back Patch’s investment. Upon doing so, the only incremental money Patch receives is its portion of the change in the home’s value over the course of the ten year period. If the value of the home goes down in value, Patch willingly takes a loss on its investment.
According to Patch Homes CEO and cofounder Sahil Gupta, one of the major motivations behind the company’s model is to align Patch’s incentives with the homeowners, allowing both parties to think of each other as trusted partners even after financing. After Patch’s investment, the company provides a number of ancillary services to homeowners such as credit score monitoring, as well as home value and property tax tracking.
In one instance recounted by Gupta in an interview with TechCrunch, Patch even covered three months of an owner’s mortgage during a liquidity crunch for his small business, allowing him to maintain his home and credit score. Patch is incentivized to provide all services that can help ensure an increase in home value, benefitting both Patch and the homeowner, with the homeowner earning the majority of the asset’s appreciated value.
Additionally, since Patch’s model isn’t focused on a homeowner’s ability to pay back a loan, interest or periodic payments, Patch is able to provide financing to more people. Patch is able to help those with more variable qualifications that struggle to get traditional loans — such as a 1099 contracted worker — monetize their illiquid assets with less harsh or restrictive terms and without increasing their debt burden. Gupta described this as solving the core problem of providing liquidity to asset-rich but cash-flow sensitive people.
Patch is not only looking to provide easier liquidity to more homeowners, but they’re trying to do so faster than traditional lenders. Interested customers can first receive a free estimate of whether Patch will invest in their home or not, how much its willing to invest and what percentage equity it will take — primarily based on Patch’s machine learning models that focus on asset, market, and location level attributes.
After the initial estimate, a Patch home advisor will educate the customer on the product and start a formal application process, which includes your standard income and credit score verification and otherwise, that takes 5-10 days. All-in, homeowners have the ability to get money in as little as 14 days, a significantly shorter timeline than your standard home credit process. Once the investment is made, owners have full freedom with how they use the money.
According to Patch, while its customers come from a diverse set of backgrounds, many either accumulated debt have to pay down the net or may struggle making monthly payments. The average Patch homeowner uses 40% of the investment to eliminate debt, adds 40% to their savings account or passive income, and invests 20% into home improvements.
To date, Patch has raised a total of $6 million and believes the latest round of funding will help scale its operations as they team up with advisors like USV that have experience scaling fintech companies (such as a Lending Club or Carta). The funds will be used to invest in product and Patch’s clearing technology in order to further speed up Patch’s lending process.
Patch also hopes to use the investment to help them gradually expand their footprint, with the goal of eventually having a presence all 50 states. (Patch is currently available in 11 regional markets within California and Washington and expects to be in 18 regional markets by the end of the year including those in Utah, Colorado and Oregon.)
What makes homeownership so galvanizing for the Patch team? Patch CEO Sahil Gupta spent years putting his Carnegie Mellon financial engineering degree to work in banking and finance, as well as in financial products and strategy positions at fintech startups backed by heavy hitters such as YC to Goldman Sachs.
After realizing the majority of the US population were homeowners, but were struggling to make monthly payments or save for the future, Sahil wanted to figure out how we could take an illiquid asset like a home and make it easily accessible.
Around the same time, Sahil’s cofounder Sundeep Ambat was working as a contractor on a new business venture of his and was struggling to get a home equity loan. While these circumstances ultimately led Sahil and Sundeep to found Patch Homes in 2016 out of the TechStars New York accelerator program, the deeper motivation behind Patch can be traced back nearly 30 years when Sahil’s father made an equity sharing agreement with his brother as they were building his family’s home in India.
With a growing family and a pregnant wife, Sunil’s father was adamant about living debt-free and so his brother provided an investment in exchange for an equity stake in the house. According to Sahil, the home is still in the family and has appreciated substantially in value to the benefit of both Sahil’s father and his brother. Longer-term, Patch wants to be the preferred partner for homeownership, helping reduce cash tight owners’ financial anxiety without the debilitating weight of debt.
“Some companies want to help people buy or sell homes, but homeownership really begins after that point. Patch is built to be inside the home with you and everything that comes thereafter,” Gupta told TechCrunch.
“Patch was created to partner with homeowners to help them unlock their home equity so they can achieve their financial goals along every step of their homeownership journey.
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.
Apple Card’s rewards program, Daily Cash, is expanding today with the addition of Walgreens. The retailer joins Uber and Uber Eats to become the latest merchant to offer 3% Daily Cash to Apple Card customers who use Apple Pay at checkout. This includes purchases made in both Walgreens and Duane Reade retail stores, as well as on the web at walgreens.com, and in the Walgreens mobile app.
Daily Cash is the Apple Card’s big incentive, as it offers a percentage back on every purchase when cardholders pay with Apple Pay, or when they pay with their titanium Apple Card when Apple Pay isn’t available.
Initially, only purchases made directly with Apple — including at Apple Stores, apple.com, the App Store, the iTunes Store and for Apple services — would qualify for the 3% Daily Cash. Apple Pay purchases earned 2% Daily Cash and those made with the physical card earned 1%.
This Daily Cash is paid out with every qualifying purchase and can be used right away for other Apple Pay purchases. It can also be put towards the Apple Card balance or sent to friends and family through iMessage.
But when the Apple Card launched in August to all customers in the U.S., Apple surprised users by expanding its 3% Daily Cash program to more merchants. Uber and Uber Eats were only the first of “many popular merchants” who would join the program in the months ahead, the company said at the time.
For the merchants, participation in the rewards program means better access to Apple’s sizable customer base, and a way to increase customer loyalty with their own businesses. After all, why not shop Walgreens over CVS, when there’s 3% Daily Cash to be had?
Apple hasn’t yet said what other merchants may be joining the program in the future, but an obvious place to look would be at the big list of Apple Pay merchants who accept Apple Pay in their stores already, as Walgreens does.
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.
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.”
Sex, despite being one of the most fundamental human experiences, is still one of those businesses that some advertisers reject, banks are hesitant to financially support and some investors don’t want to fund.
Given how sex is such a huge part of our lives, it’s no surprise founders are looking to capitalize on the space. But the idea of pleasure versus function, plus the stigma still associated with all-things sex, is at the root of the barriers some startup founders face.
Just last month, Samsung was forced to apologize to sextech startup Lioness after it wrongfully asked the company to take down its booth at an event it was co-hosting. Lioness is a smart vibrator that aims to improve orgasms through biofeedback data.
Sextech companies that relate to the ability to reproduce or, the ability to not reproduce, don’t always face the same problems when it comes to everything from social acceptance to advertising to raising venture funding. It seems to come down to the distinction between pleasure and function, stigma and the patriarchy.
This is where the trajectories for sextech startups can diverge. Some startups have raised hundreds of millions from traditional investors in Silicon Valley while others have struggled to raise any funding at all. As one startup founder tells me, “Sand Hill Road was a big no.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Last week, when the popular payments startup Stripe made some waves with its first move into money lending through the launch of Stripe Capital, we reported that the company was also soon going to be launching a credit card. Now, that news is official. Today, the company is doubling down on financing with the launch of corporate cards for business customers.
Announced officially today to coincide with the company’s developer event Stripe Sessions, the Stripe Corporate Card — as the product is officially called — is a Visa that will be open to businesses that are incorporated in the US, although they can operate elsewhere.
Notably, users are expected to pay their balance in full each month, so for now there is no interest rate, or fee, to use the card, with Stripe making its money by way of the interchange fee that comes with every transaction using the card.
“We’re not freezing cards based on late or no payments,” Cristina Cordova, the business lead overseeing the launch, said in an interview. “A pretty common reason for non-payment is that a person switched bank accounts and forgot to update the information. But we think we’ll have fewer problems because we have banking information for accepting revenue, by way of our payments business.”
The move is another major step ahead for Stripe as it continues to diversify its business and bring on more financial products to become a one-stop shop for e-commerce and other companies for all the transactions they might need to make in the course of their lives. It is a little ironic that it’s taken years for credit cards to get added into the mix, considering Stripe’s earliest homepages and marketing efforts were built around the design of a credit card (a reference to taking payments online, not issuing credit, of course).
In any case, the list of products now offered by Stripe is long — longer, you might say, than it takes to incorporate a Stripe service into a developer workflow. In addition to its API-based flagship payments product — which is available as a direct service or, via Stripe Connect, for third parties via marketplaces and other platforms — it offers billing and invoicing, in-person payment services (via Terminal), business analytics, fraud prevention on transactions (Radar), company incorporation (Atlas), and a range of content around business strategy.
Some of these Stripe products are free to use, and some come at a price: the main point for offering them together is to build more engagement and loyalty from customers to keep them from migrating to other services. In that regard, credit cards are a cornerstone of how businesses operate, to handle day-to-day expenses in a more accountable way, and this is an area that is already well-served by others, including startups like Brex but also a plethora of challenger and traditional banks. So as much as anything else, this is a clear move to help stave off competition.
At the same time, it underscores how Stripe is leveraging the huge amount of data that it has amassed about its users and payments on the platform: it’s not just about enabling single services, but about using the byproducts of those services — data — to put fuel into new products.
Today, to underscore its global ambitions in that regard, Stripe is adding some expansions to several of its existing products. For example, it will now allow businesses to make payouts in local currencies in 45 countries (an important detail, for example, for marketplaces and network-based companies like ridesharing businesses).
The credit card product will follow a model similar to that of Stripe Capital. As with the lending product, there is a single bank issuing the credit and the card. Amber Feng, head of financial infrastructure for Stripe, confirmed to me that it is actually the same bank that’s providing the cash behind Stripe Capital. Stripe is still declining to name the bank itself, but hints that we may hear more about it soon, which leads me to wonder what news might be coming next.
(Funding perhaps would make sense? The company has raised a whopping $785 million to date and has a valuation of $22.5 billion at the moment. Given that Stripe has made indications that a public listing is not on the cards soon, that might imply, with the launch of these new financing products, that more capital might be raised soon.)
Also similar to Stripe Capital, the underwriting of the card is based on Stripe data. That is to say, business users are verified and approved based on turnover (revenues) as measured by the Stripe payments platform itself; and in cases where applicants are “pre-revenue”, they can be evaluated based on other data sources. For example, if they have used Stripe Atlas to incorporate their businesses, the paperwork supplied for that is used by Stripe to vet the customer’s suitability for a credit card.
Notably, the cards will be delivered in the spirit of instant gratification: if you are applying and get approved, you can download a virtual card within minutes to your Apple Wallet as you await the physical card to arrive in the post.
Stripe is big on data in its own business, and it’s bringing some of that into this product with spending controls that can be set by person and by category; real-time expense reporting by way of texts; rewards of 2% back on spending in the business’s most-used categories; and integration with financial software like Quickbooks and Expensify.
This fall, nearly half a million international students will begin or return to STEM degree programs at U.S. colleges and universities. If you’re among them, congratulations — look forward to being wooed by talent-hungry U.S. tech firms when you graduate. But there’s bad news, too: Under current immigration rules, switching from a student visa to an employment visa can be tricky, so it’s important to understand what’s required and how the latest policy upheavals could impact your journey.
In theory, it’s a great time to be a STEM graduate. U.S. STEM jobs are expected to grow by nearly 11% — or about 10.3 million positions — between 2016 and 2026, faster than all U.S. occupations. In practice, however, it can be tough for international students to secure permanent residence in the United States. The H-1B skilled-worker visa system is badly clogged; a federal lawsuit could slam the door on many STEM graduates, and the White House is shaking up both the skilled-worker and student visa systems.
But don’t despair: There’s still a pathway to a future in the United States — you just might face a bumpy ride. Whether you’re starting your studies or preparing to graduate, it’s crucial to understand your options.
An employment-based green card requires an executive-level job, a truly extraordinary résumé, or an employer willing to pony up thousands of dollars in fees and labor-certification costs. Because it’s hard to get a green card, most international STEM students aim for an H-1B visa, which lets you work for a specified U.S. employer for up to six years. It’s not a permanent solution, but it can be a useful launchpad for your career.
Even getting an H-1B isn’t easy, though. There’s a hard cap on H-1Bs: This year, there were more than 200,000 applicants vying for just 85,000 visas. Recipients are selected via lottery, and while you could land an H-1B on your first attempt, many tech workers have to try again — and again, and again — before they finally get lucky.
In the meantime, international students typically start out using the temporary work authorization through their student visa until they transfer to an H-1B.
Let’s dig into the details of what’s allowed under your student visa:
The F-1 student visa is one of the main on-ramps to the U.S. tech sector for foreign-born workers. That’s largely thanks to Bush- and Obama-era changes that expanded the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows F-1 holders to work at American companies after graduating, from 12 to 36 months.
Graduates with multiple STEM degrees (such as a bachelor’s and master’s degrees) can also chain together their OPT periods, working for up to six years in total before switching to another visa. That’s great news because each year of OPT is another chance to play the H-1B lottery, increasing your odds of winning a visa.
To use OPT, you’ll need to get a work permit (“Employment Authorization Document,” or EAD) as you near graduation. You’ll also need to file for visa extensions in order to make the most of your OPT entitlement.
Similar to the F-1, the J-1 visa is designed for students involved in cultural exchange programs or who receive substantial funding from governments or institutions.
As a J-1 student, you won’t get OPT but 18 months of Academic Training (AT). Any internships or jobs you take during your studies will count toward your AT allotment, so it’s possible to finish your degree with less than 18 months of work authorization remaining. And while a second 18-month AT period is available for postdoctoral research, there’s no automatic extension for STEM degree holders: Once your 18 months are up, you’ll need to leave the United States.
There’s another catch: Many J-1 visas come with a home residency requirement (HRR), requiring holders to return to their home country for two years before seeking a work-based or family-sponsored U.S. visa — that or apply for an HRR waiver.
The M-1 visa is used by students at technical and vocational schools, not academic programs. As student visas go, it’s very restrictive: You won’t be able to work off-campus and can’t work for more than six months. You also won’t be able to switch to an F-1 visa and won’t find it easy to transition to an H-1B. If you hope to stay in the United States long-term, think carefully about whether an M-1 is right for you.
If you don’t have a job offer, there are other ways to stay in the United States after finishing your studies. One popular option is to enter a graduate program: Getting a master’s degree could extend your student visa by a year or two, while upgrading to a PhD program could get you several additional years. In fact, an advanced U.S. degree under your belt effectively doubles your chances of getting an H-1B in the same lottery.
If you can’t find work and don’t want to keep studying, you’ll need existing family ties to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder). If you’re the direct relative of one (for example, a spouse or child), then things are relatively easier: You have a clear path toward a family-based green card, allowing you to live and work permanently in the United States. That’s true even if you’ve become a family member through marriage: You’ll be able to obtain a marriage-based green card more quickly and easily than an H-1B or other employment-based green cards.
If you’re the spouse or child of someone on a temporary visa, such as an H-1B or O-1 visa holder, you can usually obtain a dependent’s visa. Such visas often allow you to study, but you won’t qualify for OPT after graduating. It’s also getting harder for H4 visa holders to obtain work permits, so don’t count on using a dependent’s visa to launch your career in Silicon Valley. In many cases, OPT is still a better springboard to an H-1B or green card.
If the person who claims you as a dependent applies for permanent residence, you may be able to get a green card through “derivative” benefits, meaning their green card eligibility trickles down to you.
Whatever immigration status you currently have or want to get, you’ll need to plan ahead. In some cases, you might need to start planning your next step almost as soon as you begin your studies, in order to make sure you aren’t left without a valid visa.
Whatever your plans, remember that immigration rules are constantly changing — and seldom in ways that benefit new immigrants. If you can, file your visa or green card application right away to avoid nasty surprises.
It’s important not only to understand your current visa but also to recognize that the U.S. immigration system is in flux — and many of the planned changes spell bad news even for immigrants with advanced degrees and vitally needed skills.
The new public charge rule, for instance, will make it harder to get a green card if you’ve used public benefits and allows the U.S. government to deny your application if they suspect you’ll fall on hard times in the future. For STEM grads with solid job offers, that might not seem like a major concern, but the new rule will apply even to those on temporary visas, including H-1Bs, who wish to extend or change their immigration status. At the least, it’s a sign of how much harder the immigration process is getting.
The Trump administration is also targeting students with a new “unlawful presence” rule that imposes tough punishments for minor violations of student visa terms. Fortunately, the rule is tied up in court, but if it goes through, it could lead to lengthy bans on future work visas if you overstay on your student visa, work in ways that aren’t authorized, or otherwise fail to play by the rules.
Such changes underscore the importance of doing your own due diligence and not simply relying on your college or employer to steer you right. Figuring out your immigration options can feel overwhelming — but as the many thousands of foreign-born STEM graduates who’ve successfully built careers in the United States can tell you, it’s well worth the effort.
Have a question about the complex and shifting immigration process? Boundless can help. Please send your immigration-related questions to our resident immigration expert, Anjana Prasad, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will consider your question for a future column on the Boundless blog.
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 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.