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Today — September 19th 2019Your RSS feeds

A Massive GM Strike, a LastPass Vulnerability, and More News

By Alex Baker-Whitcomb
Catch up on the most important news from today in two minutes or less.

The Shift to Electric Vehicles Propels a Strike Against GM

By Alex Davies
Like other automakers, General Motors is preparing for a mostly electric future. The catch is that building those cars requires a lot fewer workers.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Elon Musk promises to take Tesla Model S to ‘Plaid’ with new powertrain

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised a more powerful powertrain option in future Model S, Model X and the next-generation Roadster sports car that will push acceleration and speed beyond the current high bar known as Ludicrous mode.

Musk tweeted Wednesday evening “the only thing beyond Ludicrous is Plaid,” a teaser to a higher performing vehicle and a nod to the movie Spaceballs.

The only thing beyond Ludicrous is Plaid

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 12, 2019

 

These new higher performing versions of the Model S, Model X, and Roadster will contain what Musk describes as a Plaid powertrain and is still about a year away from production. This new powertrain will have three motors, one more than the dual motor system found in today’s Model S and X.

Yes. To be clear, Plaid powertrain is about a year away from production & applies to S,X & Roadster, but not 3 or Y. Will cost more than our current offerings, but less than competitors.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 12, 2019

This Plaid powertrain has already seen some action. Tesla revealed Wednesday that a Model S equipped with a Plaid powertrain and chassis prototype had lapped Laguna Seca racetrack in 1:36:555, a second faster than the record for a four-door sedan.

*~ Some personal news ~*

We lapped Laguna Seca @WeatherTechRcwy in 1:36.555 during advanced R&D testing of our Model S Plaid powertrain and chassis prototype

(That’s a second faster than the record for a four-door sedan) pic.twitter.com/OriccK4KCZ

— Tesla (@Tesla) September 12, 2019

 

The “Plaid” powertrain will not be offered in the lower cost Model 3 or Model Y, which isn’t expected to go into production until late 2020. Musk also promised that this plaid powertrain will cost more than “current offerings, but will be less than competitors” without explaining what that means.

Cclose followers of the automaker might recall hints of a three motor powertrain in the past.

When Tesla unveiled a new Roadster prototype in November 2017, Musk said it would have three motors and be able to travel a whopping 0 to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds and a top speed of 250 mph or even more. The Roadster isn’t expected to go into production until 2020.

What is new are Tesla’s plans to make this more powerful three-motor powertrain available in the Model S and Model X. And it stands to be an important option, if it does in fact materialize. The Model S has been around since 2012 and since the introduction the cheaper Model 3, sales have dipped.

And yet, Musk has said the X and S won’t be getting a major refresh. If Tesla hopes to maintain demand for either of its higher margin luxury vehicles, new trims like this plaid powertrain will be essential.

Tesla first announced Ludicrous mode in its Model S vehicles way back in July 2015. As shareholders and customers awaited the Model X to arrive, Musk unveiled several options for the company’s Model S sedan, including a lower priced version, longer battery range and “Ludicrous mode” for even faster acceleration.

Ludicrous mode, which improved acceleration by 10% to let drivers go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, came about as a result of an improved battery fuse. This new fuse, Musk explained in a blog post at the time, has its own electronics and a tiny lithium-ion battery that monitors current and protects against excessive current.

Tesla also upgraded the main pack contactor with a high-temperature space-grade superalloy instead of steel. This enabled the battery pack to remain “springy” under the heat of heavy current. In the end, the max pack output increased from 1300 to 1500 Amps.

Ludicrous was a $10,000 add on for new buyers. Tesla did reduce the price for existing Model S P85 owners for the first six months following the announcement and sold them the pack electronics upgrade needed for Ludicrous Mode for $5,000.

Musk joked in this 2015 blog post that there is “one speed faster than ludicrous, but that is reserved for the next generation Roadster in 4 years: maximum plaid.”

Forget Driving. You’ll Wish You Could Watch TV in This Car

By Alex Davies
An electric SUV from Chinese startup Byton features a 4-foot-wide curved screen, as well as 270 horsepower and a 224-mile range.

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

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drones as headlights!

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

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

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

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

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

FORD KUGA SIDE CHARGING

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ford Europe plans

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

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

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

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

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

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

Here’s an up close look at the interior. 

 

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

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

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

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

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2019 09 09 at 11.35.06 AM

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

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

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

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

ID.3 details

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

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

Screen Shot 2019 09 09 at 11.32.00 AM

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

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

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

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

Series production

The series production version of the ID.3 will have two additional battery options, including a 45 kWh-pack that has a range of 205 miles and a 77 kWh-pack that can travel 341 miles on a single charge, in accordance with WLTP. The WLTP, or Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, is the European standard to measure energy consumption and emissions, and tends to be more generous than the U.S. EPA estimates.

The ID.3 will come with an advanced driver assistance system-supported multifunction camera mounted on the windshield. This camera will be able to identify road signs.

Volkswagen ID.3 Large 10139

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

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

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

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

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

More to come

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

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

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

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

By Darrell Etherington

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

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

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

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

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

Volocopter’s 2X eVTOL records a first with flight at Helsinki International Airport

By Darrell Etherington

The Volocopter 2X air taxi vehicle is now the first electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) craft to fly at an international airport, fully integrated into the same airspace as other commercial passenger craft. It performed this key milestone flight at Helsinki International Airport, in a demonstration mission that showed it successfully integrated with both traditional air traffic management, and air traffic management systems designed specifically for aircraft with no pilot on board controlling the vehicle manually.

The test is intended to show that air traffic management systems which are designed for both traditional piloted flight and autonomous aircraft, including air robotaxis, can operate in concert with one another, even in areas with dense sky traffic – including over cities in future.

Volocopter, which recently unveiled a new version of its eVTOL which it intends to be the version that goes into commercial service once it launches for paying customers, ran tests at Helsinki airport along with AirMap, Altitude Angel and Unifly, all providers of air traffic management services for unpiloted aerial craft. Through the test, they determined that the Volocopter systems work well with each provider, which is a key step towards gaining certification for commercial flight.

The German startup will be flying its 2X vehicle at an event in Stuttgart on September 14, but its next major milestone will be unveiling the new VoloCity commercial craft and its prototype VoloPort take-off and landing facility in Singapore later this year.

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

By Kirsten Korosec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving Volkswagen’s all-electric ID Buggy concept

By Kirsten Korosec

The VW electric ID Buggy concept is delightful and bright, stout and smiling. It’s a vehicle fit for the sunshine and sand dunes, or perhaps a less committing slow roll along the beach.

And so my first drive in a prototype of the all-electric buggy — along the coast near Spanish Bay in Monterey, Calif., — was tinged with sadness. After all, the ID Buggy is just a concept. It’s not meant for this world. At least not right now.

There is still a chance that the ID Buggy will make it to production. VW is already in talks with “at least one company” to bring the buggy into production, TechCrunch confirmed.

The global debut of the ID Buggy concept at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show in March was meant to showcase VW’s electric future and demonstrate the versatility of its modular electric drive toolkit chassis, or MEB. The MEB, which was introduced in 2016, is a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.

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

VW has shown off several ID concepts. Some of these, like the ID Crozz and ID Buzz are going into production. A production version of the Crozz is coming to the U.S. at the end of 2020. Others, like this buggy, are not currently on the production track.

kirstenbuggy

Driving the ID Buggy Drive

The ID Buggy is simple, and that’s exactly what it should be. No clutter or whiz-bang creature comforts. Instead, this leisure vehicle inspired by the 1960s era Meyers Manx has no roof or doors — although a tarpaulin can be stretched between the windscreen frame and the Targa bar as a sun sail or light weather protection. Without doors, the driver climbs in, and with relative ease, depending on one’s general fitness and flexibility.

The ID Buggy towers over its inspiration — the iconic Meyers Manx buggy that became popular among the California beach-and-surf culture of the 1960s.

The ID Buggy was also a quieter, smoother ride than the Meyers Manx. I also spent some time in a classic bright red buggy with a four-speed manual transmission and gas engine that might have been a touch carbureted. While the Manx roared as I shifted into first and peeled away, the electric ID Buggy was silent and smooth as it rolled out of the sandy parking lot.

vw id buggy wheel

The main detail inside the ID Buggy is the lack of features and do-dads. The hexagonal steering wheel, shown above, isn’t littered with toggles; there are just a couple of controls on the crossbar. A small integrated stock to the right side of the steering wheel allows the driver to move the vehicle into drive, reverse and park. A digital instrument cluster provides the basic information like speed.

Even the brake and accelerator pedals continue this stripped-down design story. 

The dashboard and the passenger area are just as void of features. This lack of “stuff” is more about function than form, although the matte green and textured grey blue at the bottom does make a visual statement. The ID Buggy is meant to be driven in the elements, rain or shine. And so designers made the interior waterproof.

vw buggy dash

Under the ID Buggy’s body is where the good stuff lives.

The rear-wheel drive buggy is outfitted with an electric motor that produces 201 horsepower and a maximum torque of 228 pound-feet. It has a 62-kilowatt-hour battery that can travel 155 miles (under the WLTP standard) on a single charge. There is not an EPA estimate for the range. It can accelerate from a standstill to 62 miles per hour in 7.2 seconds.

Unfortunately, this prototype had a kill-the-thrill speed limiter on it, scuttling my plans for a zippy ride along the coast.

Still, the ID Buggy offered a fun and easy, breezy ride. It handled the curves of the roads with ease and its wide body and higher rear end provided a sense of security even while driving amid other much larger passenger cars.

vw buggy id front

Building the ID Buggy

It’s unclear what company, or companies, are in talks to produce the buggy. VW wouldn’t give names; not even the ocean breeze and cloudless sky or the endless supercar eye candy were enough to loosen the lips of VW employees during Monterey Car Week.

It’s possible that this unnamed company is e.Go Mobile. VW announced in March that e.Go Mobile would be its first external partner to use its MEB electric platform to launch other EVs in addition to Volkswagen’s model range. A dedicated vehicle project is already being planned, VW said at the time.

A VW spokesperson told TechCrunch there’s no decision about which car will be produced under this partnership with e.Go Mobile. It could be the buggy; it could also be some other vehicle.

And then there’s Ford. Earlier this year, the two automakers announced a partnership that includes Ford producing electric cars based on the MEB developed by Volkswagen.

The VW folks on the ground in Monterey did express hope that a third party does build the buggy, or a modified version of it. As one spokesperson later told TechCrunch, “As the drive in Monterey showed, the Buggy is a great ambassador for Volkswagen and for e-mobility. I am sure it would find a lot of customers.”

In the end, the ID Buggy is a sleek cruiser rather than a beach bomber like the 1960s original. It successfully demonstrates the versatility around VW’s electric platform. After all, Volkswagen foresees critical parts in the ID Buggy used to power multiple consumer electric vehicles in the near future. And it’s a fair assumption the ID Buggy’s production cousins will have a bit more gadgets, including silly things like doors.

The 2020 Chevy Bolt EV now has a 259-mile range thanks to some cell chemistry tinkering

By Kirsten Korosec

The 2020 Chevy Bolt EV now has 259 miles of range, a 9% increase from previous year models of the electric hatchback, according to the EPA.

To get there, the company focused on cell chemistry, not the battery pack. The GM brand did not add more battery cells or change the battery pack or the way it is integrated into the vehicle structure, a spokesperson confirmed.

Instead, Chevrolet’s battery engineering team made what the company described as “impactful changes to the cell chemistry.” The changes to the cell chemistry allowed the team to improve the energy of the cell electrodes, and ultimately enabled them to squeeze more range out of the battery.

The increase pushes the 2020 Chevy Bolt ahead of the Kia Niro and the standard range plus variant of the Tesla Model 3, with 239 and 240 miles of range, respectively. Other versions of the Model 3, the long-range and performance, have a much longer 310-mile range. It’s also just one mile better than the 258-mile range Hyundai Kona EV. Nissan Leaf Plus, the laggard in the group, can travel 226 miles on a single charge.

That might not seem like much. But in this small, yet growing pool of electric vehicle models, jumping from 238 to 259 miles could help Chevrolet sell more Bolt EVs next year. It could also cannibalize sales this year.

The electric vehicle has never been a top seller for the GM brand, particularly compared to its top-selling SUVs and trucks. It has beat out some of its other Chevy models and sales are high enough for the company to stick with the compact hatchback for now.

GM delivered 23,297 Chevy Bolt EVs in 2017, the first model year of the electric vehicle. But the following year, deliveries fell 22%, to 18,019. Sales have rebounded in the first half of the year.

The 2020 model year, which will be offered in two new exterior colors, is expected to arrive in dealerships later this year. The base price of the electric vehicle is $37,495, which includes destination and freight charges. Tax, title, license and dealer fees are excluded.

Segway-Ninebot’s new scooter drives to its docking station for a recharge

By Brian Heater

At an event in Beijing last week, Chinese scooter company Segway-Ninebot Group unveiled a trio of new products. The most compelling of the bunch was no doubt the KickScooter T60, which harnesses AI to drive itself back to the charging station.

The company says it will start piloting the products next quarter, with a timeline for commercialization realized some time early next year. “The pain point for scooter operators is to better maintain the scooters at a lower cost,” Ninebot chairman Gao Lufeng told Reuters in an interview tied to the event.

Cost is an interesting point here, given that a “smart” scooter would be priced considerably higher at around $1,400 — several times the price of its more basic units. But the executive’s statement factors in the cost of having to manually collect scooters to recharge them. Obviously managing the two different factors will be a bit of a balancing act for scooter operators.

In an age when delivery robots have become something of a hot-button topic amongst various city councils, there’s also a question of sidewalk legality for a self-driving vehicle — even one designed to drive relatively short distances.

The company hasn’t offered much detail, but a video that has since appeared on YouTube shows a fleet of T60s in action. In the short promotional video, the scooters appear to be semi-autonomous, with an employee controlling them remotely via desktop computer.

Ninebot also used the opportunity to debut a pair of delivery robots for indoor and outdoor settings.

Shell’s first Greenlots electric vehicle fast charger lands in Singapore

By Kirsten Korosec

Royal Dutch Shell, the energy giant known for its fossil fuel production and hundreds of Shell gas stations, is creeping into the electric vehicle-power business.

The company’s first DC fast charger from its newly acquired company Greenlots launched Monday at a Shell gas station in Singapore. Greenlots, an EV charging startup acquired by Shell in January, installed the charger. This is the first of 10 DC fast chargers that Greenlots plans to bring to Shell service stations in Singapore over the next several months.

The decision to target Singapore is part of Greenlots’ broader strategy to provide EV charging solutions across all applications throughout Asia and North America, the company said. Both Shell and Greenlots have a presence in Singapore. Greenlots, which is based in Los Angeles, was founded in Singapore; and Shell is one of Singapore’s largest foreign investors.

Singapore has been promoting the use of electric vehicles, particularly for car-sharing and ride-hailing platforms. The island city-state has been building up its EV infrastructure to meet anticipated demand as ride-hailing drivers and commercial fleets switch to electric vehicles.

Greenlots was backed by Energy Impact Partners, a cleantech investment firm, before it was acquired by Shell. The company, which combines its management software with the EV charging hardware, has landed some significant customers in recent years, notably Volkswagen. Greenlots is the sole software provider to Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal.

Clarification: Shell has other EV chargers. These are the first through its newly acquired company Greenlots.

Local governments are forcing the scooter industry to grow up fast

By Megan Rose Dickey

Gone are the days when tech companies can deploy their services in cities without any regard for rules and regulations. Before the rise of electric scooters, cities had already become hip to tech’s status quo (thanks to the likes of Uber and Lyft) and were ready to regulate. We explored some of this in “The uncertain future of shared scooters,” but since then, new challenges have emerged for scooter startups.

And for scooter startups, city regulations can make or break their businesses across nearly every aspect of operations, especially two major ones: ridership growth and ability to attract investor dollars. From issuing permits to determining how many scooters any one company can operate at any one time to enforcing low-income plans and impacting product roadmaps, the ball is really in the city’s court.

Proterra, the Tesla of electric buses, closes in on $1 billion valuation

By Kirsten Korosec

Proterra has authorized shares to raise $75 million, a new round of funding that would push the electric bus maker’s valuation past $1 billion, TechCrunch has learned.

The company authorized the sale of 10,857,762 shares at a price of $6.91 in a Series 8 round, according to a securities filing that was obtained by the Prime Unicorn Index, a company that tracks the performance of private U.S. companies, and reviewed by TechCrunch. If all of the shares are issued, the company’s total valuation would be $1.04 billion, pushing it into “unicorn” territory, according to Prime Unicorn Index.

Proterra declined to comment.

Efforts to raise capital come as the company explores an IPO, according to a report last month by Reuters that said Proterra had hired underwriters from Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.

Prior to this August 2 filing, Proterra had raised a total of $551.77 million in funding from investors that include G2VP, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Constellation Ventures, Mitsui & Co. as well as BMW i Ventures, Edison Energy, the Federal Transportation Administration, General Motors’s venture arm and Tao Capital Partners.

Proterra produces electric buses for municipal, federal and commercial transit agencies; it has a line of electric buses, hundreds of which have been sold, that can travel 350 miles on a single charge. The Burlingame, Calif. company, which has a number of former Tesla employees in leadership positions, including CEO Ryan Popple, has since diversified its business.

Proterra rolled out in April a $200 million credit facility backed by Japanese investment giant Mitsui & Co. to scale up a battery leasing program aimed at lowering the barrier of entry of buying an electric bus.

And just this month, the company announced it has added a new business line called Proterra Powered that will sell its vehicle battery systems, powertrain technology and charging infrastructure to commercial truck and manufacturers of heavy-duty vehicles like garbage trucks.

This new business line stems from its previous relationships with companies like Van Hool and Daimler . Proterra announced last year it was working with Daimler to electrify the company’s Thomas Built Buses division, which makes a line of school buses. That relationship comes with some financial backing and an agreement to share technologies.

Daimler co-led a $155 million funding along with Tao Capital Partner. Proterra is lending its battery and drive train expertise; Daimler will show Proterra how to scale its manufacturing business even further.

The partnership has already been fruitful. Thomas Built Buses received certifications from the California Air Resources Board and the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project for an electric bus, known as the Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley, which uses Proterra technology. Electric school bus production for demonstration and innovation vehicles begins in 2019 and commercial production begins in 2020.

Skip scooters are returning to Washington, DC after battery fires

By Megan Rose Dickey

Following battery issues and a single-alarm fire caused by improperly disposed of batteries in Washington, D.C., Skip has been given the green light to resume operations in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas of Alexandria and Arlington. The plan is to redeploy the scooters in the coming weeks.

In June, a battery on one of Skip’s scooters caught fire in D.C., prompting the company to ground its scooters in both D.C. and San Francisco. The scooter in question was found with its external battery on fire, which caused “minor damage” to a wall nearby. In light of that incident, Skip identified other potential at-risk batteries and quarantined them in its warehouse.

“In DC, they weren’t disposed of properly, which helped create the right conditions for a single-alarm fire,” Skip wrote in a blog post. “After the incident, DDOT asked us to suspend operations. Frankly, that was the right call. We didn’t just let our cities and riders down, we let ourselves down.”

Since then, Skip says it has consulted with battery experts and OSHA compliance firms to put in place new procedures and operations around handling and disposing of damaged equipment. Now, Skip has real-time monitoring and alerting for battery and vehicle issues to ensure batteries are disposed of before exhibiting any safety issues. Among other steps, Skip is now reporting its handling of batteries and employee injuries to the District Department of Transportation.

Skip is not the only micromobility company that has experienced issues with battery fires. Last month, a couple of Lyft’s electric bike batteries caught on fire in San Francisco, prompting the company to pull its bikes from the streets. Late last year, Lime recalled some of its Ninebot scooters due to fire concerns.

And battery fires do not only affect electric bikes and scooters. You may remember the year of the exploding hoverboards, as well as exploding smartphones and laptops. What all of those have in common are lithium-ion batteries, which are very commonly used for portable electronics and now, personal electric vehicles. The downside to these types of batteries is potential overheating, which can lead to a failure mode called “thermal runaway” and result in a battery fire.

Other potential issues that can lead to battery failure are bad design and the mere fact that scooters can be banged around by users. In the case of Skip, the issue seemed to fall on the latter.

“The investigation found the main cause to be physical damage, but it was not able to determine whether the damage was intentional or unintentional,” a Skip spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Given the amount of scrutiny all of these companies are under, coupled with their reliance on approval from cities, the likes of Skip, Lyft and Lime need to make sure their respective safety procedures are buttoned up if they want to thrive in this space.

An Old-School Auto Supplier Is Betting on an Electric Future

By Alex Davies
Germany's Continental, the world's fourth-largest auto-parts maker, says it will stop investing in parts for internal combustion engines.
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