Teaser images and leaked photos of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class suggested the automaker was moving towards a more digital-centric interior. That might have been an understatement.
Mercedes-Benz revealed Monday its second-generation MBUX infotainment system and it is loaded with new technology, including touchscreens, augmented reality head-up display as well as improved voice and facial recognition. Gone are many of the physical switches found in the older version of the S-Class. Mercedes said it removed 27 mechanical switches for the 2021 model.
The upshot: Mercedes’ is linking technology with luxury. And while the entire interior of the new S-Class has yet to be revealed, it appears the company is transitioning away from a rather crowded dash and center console area that in previous models included every kind of analog button and switch as well as newer digital displays.
Before diving into the tech that stands out in the newest version of MBUX, here’s a handy graphic that provides an overview.
The first-generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience or MBUX system was unveiled in January 2018 at the CES tech trade show and debuted in the automaker’s A Class hatchback. That was a departure for Mercedes, which has historically reserved its best tech for its flagship model the S-Class. Mercedes is returning to that strategy with the new version of MBUX heading to the 2021 S-Class.
Here are the highlights.
You read that correctly. The 2021 Mercedes S Class will have up to five touchscreens, which includes displays for passengers. The S-Class will come standardly equipped with 12.8-inch OLED screens that include haptic feedback.
The user can control or access features on the displays by touching or swiping the actual screen or by using voice control, natural hand gestures and now gaze control. Mercedes did hold back on keep some functions like lights and windshield wipers off of the touchscreen. The climate control panel is permanently at the lower edge of the display.
The system will provide the kind of customization an S-Class owner would expect. Preferences can be stored in the vehicle’s personal “Mercedes me” profile. Up to seven different profiles are possible in the vehicle.
The appearance of the screens can also be individualized with a choice of four display styles — discreet, sporty, exclusive and classic. The are three users modes as well to cover navigation, assistance and service. Screen content can also be shared with other passengers.
In the backseat, where up to three screens are optionally available, passengers can share select and amend navigation destinations.
Mercedes has adopted 3D technology into the vehicle, specifically for the driver display. The three-dimensional effect is possible without having to wear 3D glasses, the automaker said.
The company was able to achieve this effect by combining a conventional LCD display with a special pixel structure and a controllable LCD aperture grill. A barrier mask is placed a few millimeters in front of the LCD. The result is that the left and right eye see different pixels of the LCD, creating the illusion of depth.
The 3D display feature can be adjusted to a 2D or flatter graphic.
Mercedes-Benz put an early emphasis on voice in the first-generation of MBUX. The automaker said it has improved its voice assistant further. For instance, certain actions can be triggered without the ‘Hey Mercedes’ activation keyword to accept a phone call or display the navigation map. “Hey Mercedes” can now explain further in-car questions such as, where the first-aid kit is located or how to connect a smartphone via Bluetooth.
The voice assistant now understands commands and questions relating to infotainment sector and vehicle operation in 27 languages. It has also become far more natural and continues to learn — two areas we hope to test. For instance, the voice assistant understands indirect language such as if a user says “I am cold” instead of the clear command “Set temperature in footwell to 72 degrees.”
There’s also a new “Chit-Chat” feature that supplies the right answer to many questions — even questions about animal noises or general knowledge can be answered, Mercedes claims.
Mercedes is all in on the security of this vehicle. The classic PIN entry is still on the S-Class. The automaker has added a new authentication method ensure a high level of security.
The system now combines fingerprint, face and voice recognition. This allows access to individual settings. That extra layer of security isn’t there to protect your seating preference, although perhaps that’s worth protecting. It’s also there to allow users to make payments digitally from within the vehicle.
Besides the voice assistant, the infotainment system is equipped with other tools to assist the driver.
For instance, there’s a special blind spot warning designed for drivers leaving their vehicle. Sensors and cameras can detect the driver’s intention to leave and will issue warning if there are road users and obstacles alongside the car. Another warning will alert of an unattached child seat on the front passenger seat.
The vehicle will also listen for cues to gauge the alertness level of the driver. If the driver says “I’m tired,” an activation program of energizing comfort control is started. The same sentence from the rear starts a well-being program.
Karma Automotive has raised a $100 million lifeline from outside investors, as reported by Bloomberg, with the struggling electric vehicle maker’s fortunes likely buoyed by the current market optimism on other EV companies including Tesla. Karma is the reincarnated version of Fisker Automotive, which previously faced bankruptcy before being acquired by Wanxiang Group in 2014.
Karma Automotive has made more progress than Fisker ever did, including actually delivering around 500 of its inaugural Revero electric sport sedan in 2019. The company will be continuing to sell the Revero, which retails staring at around $140,000, and will also be looking to add a high horsepower GTE version, as well as a supercar for an even higher-tier customer.
The automaker also says that it’s in discussions with a partner for a commercial delivery truck, which it intends to develop in prototype form by year’s end. There are a number of different companies pursuing delivery vans for use by courier companies including UPS and FedEx, and the increase in e-commerce spending does present an opportunity for multiple players to succeed in this category, even as there is a rush on in terms of entrants.
Karma will also seek to leverage and extend the benefits of its fresh investment by shopping around its EV platform to other automakers and OEMs, the company says, and also will eventually expand beyond pure EVs to hybrid fuel vehicles. In short, it sounds like Karma is willing to try just about everything and anything to chart a path towards profitability, but time will tell if that’s intelligent opportunism, or scattershot desperation.
Mercedes-Benz sent out a teaser image and video Monday of its upcoming 2021 S-Class that hints at a sleeker interior that forgoes the bevy of physical knobs and toggles found in previous models in favor of a digital-centric design.
The teasers illustrate a movement in the automotive industry popularized by Tesla to incorporate large touchscreens in new models.
Little is known about Mercedes’ next-generation MBUX infotainment system, which will debut in the 2021 S-Class. It appears, based on Mercedes’ teaser image and latest video as well as leaked photos that a large portrait-style touchscreen will be the centerpiece of the new MBUX system. Mercedes didn’t reveal the size of the screen or what functions will be incorporated into it. However, it appears that the climate control functions are headed to the central touchscreen.
More information about the system and the S-Class is coming in just a couple of days. Mercedes-Benz will unveil the next-gen MBUX system at 5:30 a.m. EDT July 8 as part of a series of digital reveals that will give snippets of information on the 2021 S-Class. The other videos are set for July 29 and August 12. The world premiere of the S-Class is expected to be held in September.
The first-generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience or MBUX system was unveiled in January 2018 at the CES tech trade show and debuted in the automaker’s A Class hatchback. That was a departure for Mercedes, which has historically reserved its best tech for its highest-class models — the S-Class being the first vehicle to typically get the latest and greatest tech. Mercedes appears to be returning to that strategy with the new version of MBUX heading to the 2021 S-Class.
The next-gen MBUX will likely continue its emphasis on voice, if the video with Daimler board member Markus Schäfer is any indication. The 2021 Mercedes S-Class will also have a head-up display, according to the video.
BMW today announced a number of updates to its in-car software experience during a VR press event, complete with a virtual drive through Munich to show off some of these features. These new updates will come to most recent BMWs that support the company’s Operating System 7 later this year — and new cars will already have them built-in.
The automaker is now able to not only update the car’s infotainment system but virtually every line of code that’s deployed to the various compute systems that make up a modern vehicle. And because of this, the company is now also able to bring a couple of features to market that it has long talked about.
Perhaps most notable is the update to the program that allows you to subscribe to specific hardware features that may already be built into your car but that you didn’t activate when you bought the car — like heated seats or advanced driver assistance systems.
BMW has talked about this for a while, but it is now making this a reality. That means if you didn’t buy the heated steering wheel and seats, for example, your new BMW may now offer you a free three-month trial and you can then essentially buy a subscription for this feature for a set amount of time.
“We offer maximum flexibility and peace of mind to our customers when it comes to choosing and using their optional equipment in their BMWs, whether this BMW is new or used,” a company spokesperson said during today’s press event. “So flexible offers, immediate availability, simpler booking and easy usability for choice, at any time, when it comes to your optional equipment. We already started connectivity over 20 years ago and since 2014, we are online with our Connected Drive Store, where digital services can already be booked.”
Those were very much infotainment features, though. Now, BMW will let you enable vehicle functions and optional equipment on demand and over the air. The company started offering some features like active cruise control with stop and go functionality, a high beam assistant and access to the BMW IconicSounds Sport. The carmaker will add new features to this line-up over time.
Surprisingly, it’s often easier and cheaper for car manufacturers to build some hardware into cars, even if it is not activated, simply because it removes complexity from the production process. A lot of the features that BMW is talking about consist of a combination of software and hardware, though.
What’s new here is the ability to only subscribe to some features for a short time.
“In the near future, we will not only be able to add more functions here, but we will also be able to add even more flexibility for our customers with temporary bookings so booking of options for three years, for one year, or even shorter periods of time, like a few months,” a spokesperson said.
The company also notes that this will give somebody who buys a used car a lot more flexibility, too. It’s worth noting that Apple CarPlay support was also originally a subscription feature in new BMWs, costing $80 a year. That really felt like nickel-and-diming drivers, though, since none of its competitors charged for this. The company’s customers were not very happy, so the company reversed that decision last December.
It’ll be interesting to see how drivers will react to additional subscription services, but the focus now is more on convenience features that would usually be an option when you buy a new car, so my guess is that this will be less of an issue.
Among the other new and updated digital services the company showcased today is support for Apple’s new ‘Car Keys,’ which BMW brands as the BMW Digital Key, as well as an updated BMW Personal Assistant. Some of these new Assistant features are more cosmetic and about how it is showcased on the in-car display.
One nifty new Assistant feature is a kind of IFTTT for your car, where you can program it to automatically roll down your windows when you enter your company’s parking garage, for example, so that you can easily scan your badge to open the boom gate.
Other updates include the new BMW Maps, the company’s built-in GPS system, which the company described as a ‘major leap.’
This cloud-based service can now find routes faster, has more granular traffic data and also includes the ability to find parking spaces for you — and that parking feature itself is based on a lot of work the company is doing in aggregating sensor data from across its fleet, which already covers and maps close to 99% of the German highway system once a day in HD.
Speaking of maps, the company, which is still in the middle of the roll-out of its hybrid-electric vehicles, also announced today that its hybrid fleet will make it easier for drivers to find charging stations and will automatically switch to electric driving when they enter low-emission zones in 80 European cities, with support for additional cities coming over time.
“Digital technologies belong to the core of BMW – because hardware and software are of
equal importance for premium cars,” said Oliver Zipse, the Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW. “Our mission is to integrate advanced digital technologies with highest product excellence to enhance our customers’ experience and driving pleasure even more.”
Audi has opened an office in Silicon Valley that aims to adapt and develop advanced driver assistance systems for the U.S. market.
The Audi Automated Driving Development (A2D2) R&D office will be located in San Jose and initially staffed with about 60 employees. The company said A2D2 will have the “flexibility to quickly develop new software and to collaborate with nearby startups for production-intent applications.”
This new R&D office is focused on advancing so-called Level 2 systems, a designation by the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE), in which two primary functions are automated and still have a human driver in the loop at all times. There are five levels of automation under SAE’s definition. Level 4 means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention and is what companies like Argo AI, Aurora, Cruise and Waymo are working on. Level 5, which is widely viewed as a distant goal, would handle all driving in all environments and conditions.
The focus on Level 2 is an important distinction. Audi had developed a Level 3 automated system called Traffic Jam Pilot that was supposed to be in the latest-generation A8 that debuted in 2017. After numerous delays, Audi decided in May to scrap plans to roll out the Level 3 automated driving system. Traffic Jam Pilot theoretically allows the vehicle to operate on its own without the human driver keeping their eyes on the road. But it has never been commercially deployed.
The company told TechCrunch back in May that the lack of a legal framework raised concerns about liability. To further complicate the problem, the A8 has been progressing through its generational life cycle. Audi was faced with continuing to pour money into the feature to adapt it without promise of a framework progressing.
Now, Audi has turned its attention and capital toward advanced driving assistance systems that can actually be launched in passenger vehicles. A2D2 will be the first office dedicated to developing ADAS hardware and software specifically for North American roads and driving behaviors, the company said.
“Given the rapid advancement of driver assistance technologies in North America, it’s important to be part of the latest breakthroughs, work with leading edge of technology startups and attract the top talent,” said Frank Grosshauser, senior director, ADAS, Audi of America.
The A2D2 office is hugely important to the further advancement of systems here in the U.S. in the interim, not just in terms of assisted driving but all of the various sensors and systems and how they can be brought together to further improve the driving experience, safety and use for our customers in the not too distant future, an Audi spokesperson wrote in an email.
The A2D2 office has outfitted several Audi Q7 development vehicles with roof-mounted sensor kits to collect data to develop various cloud-based automated driver-assistance functions planned for introduction by 2023, the company said. The A2D2 development vehicles are wrapped in a QR code that links to a web page where people can get updates on Audi’s progress.
Audi is also working on automated driving technology with Car.Software, a newly founded Volkswagen Group unit. All Volkswagen Group brands have concentrated their automated driving development activities within this unit, the company said.
GM’s electric offensive to bring at least 20 new EVs to market by 2023 reportedly includes a commercial van.
Reuters reported Thursday that the company is developing an electric van for the commercial market code named BV1. The vehicle is expected to start production in late 2021 and will use the Ultium battery system that was revealed in March, according to the report.
When, and if, GM delivers on that goal in 2021 it will join an increasingly crowded pool. Amazon ordered 100,000 electric delivery vans from Rivian, the first of which are expected to be on the road in 2021. Ford has announced an electric Transit van that’s expected to launch in 2021. Startups such as Arrival, Chanje, Enirde, and XoS have received orders for electric vans from package delivery companies such as Ryder and UPS.
Tesla is one outlier that hasn’t revealed plans to produce commercial electric vans. GM’s move has been cast as a strategy to get ahead of Tesla in the commercial marketplace.
But there are likely other reasons driving GM’s decision, including high margins that can be achieved selling commercial trucks and vans as well as governments enacting increasingly strict emissions laws, particularly in urban centers.
Electric vans are logical fit for delivery companies, which tend to have predictable routes, a specific geographic area and operate a high utilization all of which fits with the EV infrastructure and charging ecosystems that enables their full economic use, a research note released Thursday from Morgan Stanley argues.
Morgan Stanley notes it hasn’t been “smooth sailing” for all EV vans. For instance, DHL’s StreetScooter program was recently shut down.
Prior to Reuters’ report, it appeared GM’s EV strategy was pinned to passenger vehicles. In March, GM revealed an electric architecture that will be the foundation of its future EV plans and support a wide range of products across its brands, including compact cars, work trucks, large premium SUVs, performance vehicles and a new Bolt EUV crossover expected to come to market next summer.
GM said the modular architecture, called “Ultium,” will be capable of 19 different battery and drive unit configurations, 400-volt and 800-volt packs with storage ranging from 50 kWh to 200 kWh, and front-, rear- and all-wheel drive configurations.
GM’s focus on making this EV architecture modular underlines the automaker’s desire to electrify a wide variety of its business lines, from the Cruise Origin autonomous taxi and compact Chevrolet Bolt EUV to the GMC HUMMER electric truck and SUV and the newly-announced Cadillac Lyriq SUV. GM also showed a variety of electric vehicles that had not yet been announced, to show how this modularity will be exploited further out in their product plan, including a massive Cadillac flagship sedan called Celestiq.
Volkswagen Group finalized Tuesday its $2.6 billion investment into Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based self-driving car startup that came out of stealth in 2017 with $1 billion in backing from Ford.
The deal turns Argo into a global company with two customers — VW and Ford — as well as operations in the U.S. and Europe and an instant jump in its workforce. Autonomous Intelligent Driving, the self-driving subsidiary that was launched in 2017 to develop autonomous vehicle technology for the VW Group, will be absorbed into Argo AI. AID’s Munich offices will become Argo’s European headquarters.
That integration, which can begin now that the deal has closed, will expand Argo’s workforce to more than 1,000 people. Argo also has offices in Detroit, Palo Alto, and Cranbury, New Jersey. The company has fleets of autonomous vehicles mapping and testing on public roads in Austin, Miami and Washington, D.C.
Argo AI is developing the virtual driver system and high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles. That mission now expands to VW. Ford and VW will share the cost of developing Argo AI’s self-driving vehicle technology under the terms of the deal.
“Building a safe, scalable and trusted self-driving service, however, is no small task. It’s also not a cheap one,” Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC CEO John Lawler said in a blog post.
Two years ago, Ford said it would spend $4 billion through 2023 in a newly created LLC dedicated to building out an autonomous vehicles business. Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC houses the company’s self-driving systems integration, autonomous-vehicle research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy and business development teams.
Lawler emphasized that “sharing development costs” doesn’t mean Ford is reducing its overall spend in autonomous vehicles. Instead, the company said it will reallocate money towards development of transportation as a service software and fleet operations for its eventual self-driving service.
Despite this shared investment, Ford and VW will not collaborate on the actual self-driving vehicle service.
Lawler, who is also vice president of mobility partnerships at Ford, said the U.S. automaker “will remain independent and fiercely competitive in building its own self-driving service.”
Argo’s board will now be comprised of two VW seats, two Ford seats and three Argo seats.
Audi has created a new business unit called Artemis to bring electric vehicles equipped with highly automated driving systems and other tech to market faster — the latest bid by the German automaker to become more agile and competitive.
The traditional automotive industry, where the design to start of production cycle might take five to seven years, has been grappling with how to bring new and innovative products to market more quickly to meet consumers’ fickle demands. The model is more akin to how Tesla or a consumer electronics company operates.
The first project under Artemis will be to “develop a pioneering model for Audi quickly and unbureaucratically,” Audi AG CEO Markus Duesmann said in a statement Friday. The unit is aiming to design and produce what Audi describes as a “highly efficient electric car” as early as 2024.
Artemis will be led by Alex Hitzinger, who was in charge of Audi’s Autonomous Intelligent Driving, the self-driving subsidiary that was launched just in 2017 to develop autonomous vehicle technology for the VW Group. AID was absorbed into the European headquarters of Argo AI, a move that was made after VW invested $2.6 billion in capital and assets into the self-driving startup.
Hitzinger, who takes the new position beginning June 1, will report directly to Duesmann. Artemis will be based at the company’s tech hub of its INCampus in Ingolstadt, Germany.
Artemis is under the Audi banner. However, the aim is for this group’s work to benefit brands under its parent company VW Group. Hitzinger and the rest of his team will have access to resources and technologies within the entire Volkswagen Group . For instance, Car.Software, an independent business unit under the VW Group, will provide digital services to Artemis. The upshot: to create a blueprint that will make VW Group a more agile automaker able to bring new and technologically advanced vehicles to market more quickly.
VW Group plans to produce and sell 75 electric vehicle models across its brands by 2029, a group that includes VW passenger cars and Audi. The creation of Artemis hasn’t changed Audi’s plans to produce 20 new all-electric vehicles and 10 new plug-in hybrids by 2025.
“The obvious question was how we could implement additional high-tech benchmarks without jeopardizing the manageability of existing projects, and at the same time utilize new opportunities in the markets,” Duesmann said.
The race to automate vehicles on China’s roads is heating up. Didi, the Uber of China, announced this week an outsized investment of over $500 million in its freshly minted autonomous driving subsidiary. Leading the round — the single largest fundraising round in China’s autonomous driving sector — is its existing investor Softbank, the Japanese telecom giant and startup benefactor that has also backed Uber.
As China’s largest ride-hailing provider with mountains of traffic data, Didi clearly has an upper hand in developing robotaxis, which could help address driver shortage in the long term. But it was relatively late to the field. In 2018, Didi ranked eighth in kilometers of autonomous driving tests carried out in Beijing, far behind search giant Baidu which accounted for over 90% of the total mileage that year.
It’s since played aggressive catchup. Last August, it spun off its then three-year-old autonomous driving unit into an independent company to focus on R&D, building partnerships along the value chain, and promoting the futuristic technology to the government. The team now has a staff of 200 across its China and U.S. offices.
As an industry observer told me, “robotaxis will become a reality only when you have the necessary operational skills, technology and government support all in place.”
Didi is most famous for its operational efficiency, as facilitating safe and pleasant rides between drivers and passengers is no small feat. The company’s leadership hails from Alibaba’s legendary business-to-business sales team, also known as the “Alibaba Iron Army” for its ability in on-the-ground operation.
The autonomous segment can also benefit from Didi’s all-encompassing reach in the mobility industry. For instance, it’s working to leverage the parent company’s smart charging networks, fleet maintenance service and insurance programs for autonomous fleets.
The fresh capital will enable Didi’s autonomous business to improve safety — an area that became a focal point of the company after two deadly accidents — and efficiency through conducting R&D and road tests. The financing will also allow it to deepen industry cooperation and accelerate the deployment of robotaxi services in China and abroad.
Over the years, Didi has turned to traditional carmakers for synergies in what it dubs the “D-Alliance,” which counts more than 31 partners. It has applied autonomous driving technology to vehicles from Lincoln, Nissan, Volvo, BYD, to name a few.
Didi has secured open-road testing licenses in three major cities in China as well as California. It said last August that it aimed to begin picking up ride-hailing passengers with autonomous cars in Shanghai in a few months’ time. It’s accumulated 300,000 kilometers of road tests in China and the U.S. as of last August.
Construction on the factory, which will eventually produce its R1T and R1S electric vehicles for consumers as well as 100,000 delivery vans for Amazon, has restarted with employees returning in phases. Despite the shutdown and gradual restart, the timeline for the Amazon delivery vans is still on track, according to a statement from Amazon released Thursday.
In September, Amazon announced it had ordered 100,000 electric delivery vehicles from Rivian as part of its commitment to The Climate Pledge to become net zero carbon by 2040. Vans will begin delivering to customers in 2021, as previously planned. About 10,000 of electric vehicles will be on the road as early as 2022 and all 100,000 vehicles on the road by 2030, Amazon said in a statement Thursday.
Rivian has pushed the start of production on the R1T and R1S to 2021. The company had initially planned to start production and begin deliveries of the electric pickup truck and SUV in late 2020. That timeline has been adjusted. Rivian had always planned to deliver the R1T truck first, followed by the R1S.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the company to adjust its timeline due to supply constraints. However, Rivian is now working on bringing the production and delivery timeline of the R1T and R1S closer together.
For now, the company is focused on work inside and outside the factory. About 335 Rivian employees were on site before COVID hit. Today, about 116 are on site with plans to gradually bring back the remaining employees. Rivian did not furlough any employees and continues to pay all workers their wages.
About 109 contractors are also back at the factory working on the interior. Another 120 to 140 contractors are working outside to expand the factory from 2.6 million to 3 million square feet.
The company has implemented new safety practices under a 4-phase plan, according to Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe. Temperature checks are carried out and workers are supplied with protective clothing and equipment.
The vehicle engineering and design teams have also developed digital methods to make sure that program timing remains on track, according to Scaringe.
Why’s this on TechCrunch? We hear that occasionally when posting things outside of our general programming. Generally, there’s a tech hook; there isn’t here with this $100,000 2020 Lotus Evora GT.
The Lotus Evora GT is supersized go-kart with nary an advanced technical feature. And I love it. While most cars are coming equipped with supercomputers, the lack of technical wizardry makes the 2020 Evora GT interesting, and that’s why it’s on TechCrunch.
A modest v6 rests behind the driver. The stats are hardly notable. 416 BHP and 317 lb-ft. It’s supercharged with an Edelbrock screw providing 8.7 psi of boost. In all, it’s not much considering rivals often sport twice the power and torque. The Lotus Evora GT doesn’t care. The engine provides intense thrills and driving dynamics. This car proves that even today, when 1,000 hp is obtainable and F1-inspired hybrid systems are hitting cars, over-the-top horsepower and exotic power plants are not needed. Not really, at least.
This Lotus follows a timeless analog formula. Throw a good engine in a little car, give the driver control over the transmission, and fun ensues.
I never turned on the radio. The howl of the engine was enough for me as I took this Lotus around Michigan’s deserted backroads.
The engine wails with power. A distinct whine is caused by the supercharger that’s quickly followed up by a roar from the exhaust. The combination creates a harmony missing in most modern sports cars. Now in days, automakers take grain pain in isolating drivers from the violent explosions powering their vehicles, and in a vehicle the size of this Lotus, that’s not possible.
The Lotus Evora GT is small. This isn’t a car for commuting. The creature comforts of power seats, and cup holders are missing. There’s no room for golf clubs. The tiny storage compartment between the rear-mounted engine and the bumper has a warning not to exceed 50kg. There’s a back seat, but don’t expect anyone to sit in it; it’s too small for even a child. This is a car for whipping around a track or empty roads and enjoying every second of it.
Power is instructed through a six-speed manual transmission. The throws are lovely and spaced perfectly. It’s the Goldilocks of standards. Not too long, not too short. Not too hard, not too soft. Just right. This transmission is part of the Lotus Evora GT’s appeal.
In most modern sports cars, the driver is often a conductor, sending instructions to various orchestra members. The result is beautiful music, and the crowd cheers as the conductor take a bow. But he didn’t do anything. He just told the musicians what to do.
In cars like this Lotus, the driver is more akin to a one-person band. Sure, the music or driving might not be as technically beautiful as an orchestra, but that one man, controlling and playing all the instruments, simultaneously produced magic.
Save the manuals.
With immense power to weight ratio, the Lotus is primed for excitement. In traffic, it’s like driving a Hot Wheels toy car next to a giant Tonka Truck. Wide Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 XLs seem to provide enough grip to allow the Evora GT to climb a wall. I had a smile every time there was a sharp highway ramp.
There are a handful of competitors around the Evora GT’s $100,000 price tag. For perspective buyers, they should be considered. For nearly the same price, one can opt for the stellar Porsche 718 Cayman GT4, which offers similar driving characteristics with a lot more creature comforts. Likewise, the base model Porsche 911 starts at $100,000 and can be configured for weekend fun and daily commuting.
Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, I’m unable to provide a report from a track. Everything is closed here in late May as the country struggles to reopen.
This Lotus Evora GT is a quarantine buster. I live outside of a small city in the middle of Michigan. Make a right when leaving my house to go to town. Take a left, and I have access to endless roads lined with cornfields. That’s where I spent most of my time with this Lotus.
It’s a thrilling ride, racing through country roads. Uphills and down. Around meandering country lines and fields and animal pastures. I’ve taken many cars through this area, and the open stretches of the road never get old. This Lotus feels at home on these back roads.
Cars like the Evora GT are a dying example of motoring. Electric sports cars can provide more thrills, and yet they lack the mechanical wonder caused by gas-powered cars. The Lotus Evora GT is a new car with an old soul. It doesn’t want to live a life of commuting. It wants to drive for the hell of it.
In the days and weeks after Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed the cybertruck — a post-apocalyptic inspired vehicle made of cold-rolled steel — there was a lot of speculation about whether it would be smaller once it actually made it to market.
Production of the Cybertruck is still a long ways off. There isn’t even a factory to build the all-electric truck yet. However, Musk did provide some clarification Saturday on its size. In a tweet, Musk wrote “Reviewed design with Franz last night. Even 3% smaller is too small. Will be pretty much the same size. We’ll probably do a smaller, tight world truck at some point.” (Musk was referring to Tesla’s head of design Franz von Holzhausen. And we assume Musk meant to write “light” not “tight” truck.)
Musk had previously said the company could probably reduce the width of the cybertruck by an inch and “maybe reduce length by 6-plus inches without losing on utility or esthetics.”
Reviewed design with Franz last night. Even 3% smaller is too small. Will be pretty much this size. We’ll probably do a smaller, tight world truck at some point.
Tesla hasn’t shared the dimensions of the vehicle. And TechCrunch failed to bring a measuring tape at the launch. (Lesson learned).
In the past two months, Musk has provided a few other updates around the cybertruck via Twitter, noting that the company is increasing dynamic air suspension travel for better off-roading and that it “will float for awhile,” a claim he didn’t explain further.
Tesla said it will offer three variants of the cybertruck. The cheapest version, a single motor and rear-wheel drive model, will cost $39,900, have a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds and more than 250 miles of range, according to specs on its website. The middle version will be a dual-motor all-wheel drive, have a towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds and be able to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge. The dual motor AWD model is priced at $49,900.
The third version will have three electric motors and all-wheel drive, a towing capacity of 14,000 pounds and battery range of more than 500 miles. This version, known as “tri motor,” is priced at $69,900.
High-quality data is the fuel that powers AI algorithms. Without a continual flow of labeled data, bottlenecks can occur and the algorithm will slowly get worse and add risk to the system.
It’s why labeled data is so critical for companies like Zoox, Cruise and Waymo, which use it to train machine learning models to develop and deploy autonomous vehicles. That need is what led to the creation of Scale AI, a startup that uses software and people to process and label image, lidar and map data for companies building machine learning algorithms. Companies working on autonomous vehicle technology make up a large swath of Scale’s customer base, although its platform is also used by Airbnb, Pinterest and OpenAI, among others.
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed, or even halted, that flow of data as AV companies suspended testing on public roads — the means of collecting billions of images. Scale is hoping to turn the tap back on, and for free.
The company, in collaboration with lidar manufacturer Hesai, launched this week an open-source data set called PandaSet that can be used for training machine learning models for autonomous driving. The data set, which is free and licensed for academic and commercial use, includes data collected using Hesai’s forward-facing PandarGT lidar with image-like resolution, as well as its mechanical spinning lidar known as Pandar64. The data was collected while driving urban areas in San Francisco and Silicon Valley before officials issued stay-at-home orders in the area, according to the company.
“AI and machine learning are incredible technologies with an incredible potential for impact, but also a huge pain in the ass,” Scale CEO and co-founder Alexandr Wang told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “Machine learning is definitely a garbage in, garbage out kind of framework — you really need high-quality data to be able to power these algorithms. It’s why we built Scale and it’s also why we’re using this data set today to help drive forward the industry with an open-source perspective.”
The goal with this lidar data set was to give free access to a dense and content-rich data set, which Wang said was achieved by using two kinds of lidars in complex urban environments filled with cars, bikes, traffic lights and pedestrians.
“The Zoox and the Cruises of the world will often talk about how battle-tested their systems are in these dense urban environments,” Wang said. “We wanted to really expose that to the whole community.”
The data set includes more than 48,000 camera images and 16,000 lidar sweeps — more than 100 scenes of 8s each, according to the company. It also includes 28 annotation classes for each scene and 37 semantic segmentation labels for most scenes. Traditional cuboid labeling, those little boxes placed around a bike or car, for instance, can’t adequately identify all of the lidar data. So, Scale uses a point cloud segmentation tool to precisely annotate complex objects like rain.
Open sourcing AV data isn’t entirely new. Last year, Aptiv and Scale released nuScenes, a large-scale data set from an autonomous vehicle sensor suite. Argo AI, Cruise and Waymo were among a number of AV companies that have also released data to researchers. Argo AI released curated data along with high-definition maps, while Cruise shared a data visualization tool it created called Webviz that takes raw data collected from all the sensors on a robot and turns that binary code into visuals.
Scale’s efforts are a bit different; for instance, Wang said the license to use this data set doesn’t have any restrictions.
“There’s a big need right now and a continual need for high-quality labeled data,” Wang said. “That’s one of the biggest hurdles overcome when building self-driving systems. We want to democratize access to this data, especially at a time when a lot of the self-driving companies can’t collect it.”
That doesn’t mean Scale is going to suddenly give away all of its data. It is, after all a for-profit enterprise. But it’s already considering collecting and open sourcing fresher data later this year.
Polestar’s first U.S. retail stores will open in Los Angeles, New York City and two locations in San Francisco later this year — the latest milestone for the automaker as it gets closer to bringing its all-electric vehicle to market.
Polestar, which is jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding of China, was once a high-performance brand under Volvo Cars. The 2021 Polestar 2 is the first EV to come out of Polestar since it was recast as an electric performance brand in 2017.
The company has had plans to open physical retail showrooms called “Polestar Spaces.” Those plans have been delayed by stay-at-home orders prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The stores are expected to open in the second half of 2020.
Polestars plans to expand its retail footprint in the first half of 2021 with locations in Boston, Denver, Texas, Washington, D.C. and Florida. More than 80% of Polestar 2 reservation holders reside within a 150-mile range of the stores scheduled to open by mid 2021, according to Gregor Hembrough, head of Polestar USA.
Unlike the traditional dealership model, Polestar will sell or lease its cars online to customers in all 50 states. The physical stores, which will be in partnership with retailers such as Manhattan Motorcars, Galpin Motors and Price-Simms Automotive Group, are meant to supplement its digital strategy.
Porsche has been placing more resources into developing digital services as it tries to match the tech demands of its customers. The latest effort from its Porsche Digital subsidiary is an app that lets U.S. buyers who have ordered a 911 sports car track its progress from production to the dealership.
The app, which is integrated with the My Porsche web portal, provides customers updates on 14 events, including production in Germany, the vehicle’s departure and trek across the Atlantic, port entry into the U.S. and its arrival at the dealership. The digital service, called Porsche Track Your Dream, provides background information about each milestone and shows a countdown in miles and days.
The Porsche tracker is a niche product with a narrow customer base. It will only be offered to 911 buyers. The automaker sold last year 9,265 Porsche 911 sports cars in the United States. But the company does plan to add other vehicles in the future, including its all-electric Taycan.
The app is part of a broader strategy to up its digital game. Earlier this month, Porsche Cars North America launched an online platform called Porsche Finder that lets customers search for used vehicles across its dealership network. The platform lets customers search by vehicle model and generation and includes additional filters for price, equipment and packages, as well as interior and exterior vehicle colors.
In April, the automaker unveiled a line of head units designed to replicate the vintage look while still featuring modern connectivity, such as Bluetooth, DAB+ and Apple CarPlay.
GM has a “big team” working on an advanced version of its hands-free driving assistance system, Super Cruise, that will expand its capability beyond highways and apply it to city streets, the automaker’s vice president of global product development Doug Parks said Tuesday.
GM is also continuing to improve its existing Super Cruise product, Parks said during a webcasted interview at Citi’s 2020 Car of the Future Symposium.
“As we continue to ratchet up Super Cruise, we continue to add capability and not just highway roads,” Parks said, adding that a separate team is working on the hands-free city driving product known internally as “Ultra Cruise.”
“We’re trying to take that same capability off the highway,” he said. “Ultra cruise would be all of the Super Cruise plus the neighborhoods, city streets and subdivisions. So Ultra Cruise’s domain would be essentially all driving, all the time.”
Parks was quick to add that this would not be autonomous driving. Advanced driving assistance systems have become more capable, but they still require a human driver to take control and to be paying attention.
“What we’re not saying is that Ultra Cruise will be fully autonomous 100% of the time, although that could be one of the end games,” Parks said.
Parks didn’t provide a timeline for when Ultra Cruise might be available. A GM spokesperson said in a statement after his interview that the company continues to expand its hands-free driver assistance system technology across its vehicle portfolio and has “teams looking at how we can expand the capabilities to more scenarios.”
GM said it “does not have a name or anything specific to announce today, but stay tuned.”
This new Ultra Cruise feature would put it in competition with Tesla’s Autopilot advanced driving system, which is largely viewed as the most capable on the market today. Tesla’s “full self-driving” package, a more capable version of Autopilot, can now identify stop signs and traffic lights and automatically slows the car to a stop on approach. This feature is still considered to be in beta.
GM’s 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 has taken a slower approach to Super Cruise compared to Tesla’s method of rolling out software updates that gives early access to some owners to test the improved features. When GM launched Super Cruise in 2017, it was only available in one Cadillac model — the full-size CT6 sedan — and restricted to divided highways. That began to change in 2019 when GM announced plans to expand where Super Cruise would be available.
GM’s new digital vehicle platform, which provides more electrical bandwidth and data processing power, enabled engineers to add to Super Cruise’s capabilities. In January, GM added a feature to Super Cruise that automated lane changes for drivers of certain Cadillac models, including the upcoming 2021 Escalade.
This enhanced version of Super Cruise includes better steering and speed control. The improved version will be introduced starting with the 2021 Cadillac CT4 and CT5 sedans, followed by the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade. The vehicles are expected to become available in the second half of 2020.
Tesla officials visited two sites in Tulsa, Oklahoma this week to search for a location for its future and fifth gigafactory that will produce its all-electric Cybertruck and Model Y crossover, a source familiar with the situation told TechCrunch.
Company representatives also visited Austin. A final decision has not been made, but Austin and Tulsa are among the finalists, according to multiple sources. The AP also reported Tulsa and Austin as top picks for the gigafactory.
Tesla expects to make a decision as soon as next month, and “certainly within three months,” CEO Elon Musk said April 29 during the company’s first quarter earnings call.
Musk tweeted in March that Tesla was scouting locations for a so-called “Cybertruck Gigafactory.” Musk said, at the time, that the factory would be located in the central part of the U.S. and would be used to produce Model Y crossovers for the East Coast market as well as the cybertruck.
Not long after the tweets, TechCrunch learned that Tesla was eyeing Nashville and had been in talks with officials there. Tesla informed Nashville officials this week that the city is out of the running for its gigafactory location, according to one source.
An email was sent to Tesla requesting comment. The article will be updated if Tesla responds.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum’s office issued a statement neither confirms nor denies the talks.
“While I can not comment on potential projects, it is clear that Tesla and Tulsa were forged in the same spirit,” Bynum said in an emailed statement. “Both founded by pioneers who dreamt big and made it happen. Both trying to change the world with a new kind of energy. Both investing big in what matters most: people. Tulsa is a city that doesn’t stifle entrepreneurs – we revere them. And as Tesla continues to rapidly change transportation all around the world, I can’t imagine a better place for them to further that important work than Green Country.”
This next gigafactory, wherever it is located, will likely be larger and produce multiple products, CFO Zachary Kirkhorn said during the same April 29 call.
“That’s under a belief that there’s significant efficiencies by having as much as possible and similar product lines under the same roof and as much vertical integration as possible all in one facility,” Kirkhorn said.
Musk has referred to these as future plants as “tera” factories — a nod to terawatt, or more specifically a terawatt-hour of battery capacity. The company’s first “gigafactory” is in Sparks, Nevada. The massive structure, which has surpassed. 1.9 million square feet, is where Tesla produces battery packs and electric motors for its Model 3 vehicles. The company has a joint venture with Panasonic, which is making the lithium-ion cells.
Tesla dubbed the Sparks plant a “gigafactory” because the company said at the time it would be capable of producing 35 gigawatt-hours per year of battery cells.
Tesla assembles its Model S, Model X and Model 3 vehicles in Fremont, Calif. at a factory that was once home to GM and Toyota’s New United Motor Manufacturing Inc (NUMMI) operation. Tesla acquired the factory in 2010. The first Model S was produced at the factory in June 2012.
“Gigafactory 2” in Buffalo, New York, is where Tesla produces solar cells and modules. The company’s third gigafactory is located in Shanghai, China and started producing the Model 3 late last year. The first deliveries began in early January.
Tesla is now preparing to build another factory near Berlin. Once complete, this German factory will produce the Model 3 and Model Y for the European market.
Ever since the Tesla Model 3 came to market in 2017 there’s been widespread speculation about an interior camera that’s hidden in the rearview mirror and faces into the car’s cabin.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said the camera is there to support the company’s eventual robotaxi plans or even record sing-along sessions with the vehicle’s Caroake feature. But there have also been hints that the camera would be used to recognize people in the vehicle and automatically deliver personalized features.
But wait. Now, it appears the cabin-facing camera could also be used for video conferencing. Sure, why not?
Video conferencing within a Tesla will be “definitely a future feature,” Musk wrote on Twitter in response to a question from the Tesla Owners Silicon Valley group.
Yeah, definitely a future feature
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 5, 2020
How or when this feature might appear isn’t important. Details like whether it will be active even while someone is driving are boring.
Today, Tesla’s entertainment features like its video games or streaming Netflix can only be used when the vehicle is in park. The Caroake feature can be deployed while driving, although a message pops up saying that the lyrics, which are displayed on the central screen, are only for passengers. A confirmation button that reads “I am a passenger” is also displayed before launching.
But that doesn’t mean the video conferencing feature will have the same constraints. Just a few days ago, Musk talked about creating a game like a complex version of Pac-Man or Mario Kart that interacts virtually with reality. In other words, could be played while driving on roads.
Anyone think they can get a good multiplayer Minecraft working on Teslas? Or maybe create a game that interacts virtually with reality like Pokémon Go while driving safely? Like a complex version of Pac-man or Mario Kart?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 3, 2020
Volvo Cars will start producing vehicles in 2020 that are equipped with lidar and a perception stack — technology developed by Silicon Valley startup Luminar that the automaker will use to deploy an automated driving system for highways.
For now, the lidar will be part of a hardware package that consumers can add as an option to their Volvo vehicle, starting with the second-generation XC90. Volvo will combine Luminar’s lidar with cameras, radar, software and back-up systems for functions such as steering, braking and battery power to enable its highway pilot feature.
Volvo, which is known for making its advanced safety features standard, sees a bigger opportunity in its partnership with Luminar. The Swedish automaker said Luminar will help it improve advanced driver assistance systems and may lead to all of its second-generation Scalable Product Architecture (SPA2) vehicles to come with lidar as a standard feature.
The announcement is a milestone for Luminar and its whiz founder Austin Russell, who burst onto the autonomous vehicle startup scene in April 2017 after operating for years in secrecy. It also makes Volvo the first automaker to equip production vehicles with lidar — the light detection and ranging radar that measures distance using laser light to generate a highly accurate 3D map of the world around the car.
Luminar’s Iris lidar sensors — which TechCrunch has described as about the size of really thick sandwich and one-third smaller than its previous iterations — will be integrated in the roof. The sensor’s tucked away placement is a departure from the bucket style spinning lidars that have become synonymous with autonomous vehicle development.
Shipping a vehicle with the proper hardware and perception stack doesn’t mean customers will be able to let their Volvo take over driving on highways from the get go. The software, which is being developed by Zenuity, is still underway, Volvo CTO Henrik Green said.
The software will be activated wirelessly once it is verified to be safe in individual geographic locations. Volvo will continue to expand the capability of the software such as pushing up the maximum speed a vehicle can travel while driving autonomously. This hardware first-continual software update strategy is similar to Tesla, which has sold an automated driving package to consumers for years that has improved over time, but still does not allow for so-called “full self-driving.”
“Soon, your Volvo will be able to drive autonomously on highways when the car determines it is safe to do so,” Green said. “At that point, your Volvo takes responsibility for the driving and you can relax, take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel. Over time, updates over the air will expand the areas in which the car can drive itself. For us, a safe introduction of autonomy is a gradual introduction.”
Lidar sensors are considered by many automakers and tech companies an essential piece of technology to safely roll out autonomous vehicles. In the past 18 months, as the timeline to deploy commercial robotaxi fleets has expanded, automakers have turned back to developing nearer term tech for production vehicles.
“It’s a very isolated problem to solve and becomes a lot more solvable in a safe way than trying to solve autonomous driving through the inner city of Los Angeles or San Francisco,” Green said. “By narrowing the use case to those particular highways, we can bring safe autonomy into vehicles for personal use in the timeframe we’re talking about.”
Advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, that was pushed aside in pursuit of fully autonomous vehicles has become a darling once again. It’s prompted a pivot within the industry, particularly with lidar companies. Dozens of lidar startups once grappling to become the supplier of choice for fully driverless vehicles are now hawking their wares for use in regular old passenger cars, trucks and SUVs. Some lidar startups such as Luminar have developed the perception software as well in an effort to diversify their business and offer a more appealing package to automakers.
The companies will deepen their collaboration to ensure Luminar’s lidar technology is validated for series production. Volvo Cars said it has signed an agreement to possibly increase its minority stake in Luminar.
Volkswagen plans to start selling the launch edition of its ID.3 vehicle next month to customers who placed pre-orders of the all-electric hatchback.
Customers who made reservations for the launch edition, known as ID.3 1st, will be able to order their vehicle starting June 17, according to a tweet posted by Volkswagen board member Jürgen Stackmann. Volkswagen has registered more than 37,000 reservations for the first edition, which will be limited to 30,000 units. Orders for right-hand drive markets will open in July, Stackmann said.
The announcement follows the automaker’s decision last month to restart production of the ID.3 at its Zwickau, Germany factory, which had been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Production of the ID.3 1st resumed April 23, initially with reduced capacity and slower cycle times.
The ID.3 is the first model in the company’s new all-electric ID brand and the beginning of its ambitious plan to sell 1 million electric vehicles annually by 2025. The ID.3 will only be sold in Europe. Other models under the ID brand will be sold in North America.
Our #VWID3 1st pre-bookers can order their car from 17th June, 2020 You will be contacted by your dealer shortly! In right-hand-drive markets the start of ordering should be about 4 weeks later. You will be contacted by your dealer shortly! Thanks for your patience! pic.twitter.com/fOpxB5sYu2
— Jürgen Stackmann (@jstackmann) May 5, 2020
The four-door, five-seater hatchback is as long as the VW Golf. However, thanks to the ID.3’s shorter overhangs, its wheelbase is larger, giving the vehicle a roomier interior. The special-edition version will start less than €40,000 in Germany, the company has previously said.
Volkswagen will fulfill its orders for the special launch edition of the ID.3 first. VW customers paid a deposit of €1,000 ($1,122 based on conversion last year) to pre-order the special-edition vehicle. Volkswagen said that the ID.3 1st will include free electric charging for the first year, up to a maximum of 2,000 kWh, at all public charging points connected to the Volkswagen charging app WeCharge and using the pan-European rapid charging network IONITY.
Volkswagen plans to produce the ID.3 in three configurations — the Pure, Pro and Pro S.
The ID.3 Pure is the entry-level model that will be equipped with a 45 kWh battery pack that can travel up to an estimated 260 miles under the WLTP standard. The entry-level version will be priced less than €30,000 on the German market and come standard with 18-inch steel wheels, LED headlights with automatic lighting control and LED tail-light clusters.
The ID.3 Pro has a larger battery than the Pure, increased range, more power and shorter charging times, and will start at less than €35,000 in Germany. The Pro S sits at the top of the model range and includes sportier equipment, including 19-inch Andoya wheels and “Play & Pause” design pedals.