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Rivian’s electric R1T pickup truck, R1S SUV get their official EPA ranges

By Kirsten Korosec

Rivian announced Friday that the first edition version of its all-electric R1T pickup truck has an official EPA range of 314 miles, while its R1T SUV comes in a skosh higher at 316 miles.

The official range and fuel economy values have been posted on the U.S. EPA website. The official numbers align with Rivian’s own previous estimates, which it has advertised as 300 miles.

While EPA estimates can’t account for different driving styles, the test cycle is robust enough to provide an accurate benchmark for customers shopping for an electric vehicle.

In this case, Rivian has the benefit of being the first electric truck on the market. Ford’s F-150 Lightning, which isn’t expected to come on the market until spring 2022, has a targeted range of 230 miles in the standard and up to 300 miles in the extended version. The EPA has not issued official ranges for the Ford Lightning.

Rivian’s “Launch edition” R1T truck and R1S SUV come equipped with a 135-kWh battery pack that is branded as the “large pack.” Deliveries of the Launch Edition vehicles are slated to begin this month.

The official EPA range values for our Launch Edition vehicles are in:
R1T Large Pack: 314 miles
R1S Large Pack: 316 miles
We'll share more EPA information about other editions as we have it. https://t.co/MPY1wVzkz9 pic.twitter.com/rzrCkQpggd

— Rivian (@Rivian) September 3, 2021

The R1T and R1S vehicles will be offered in two trims, both of which are offered with the same 135-kWh-pack size. The Adventure variant of the R1T, which has a premium interior, starts at $73,000. The R1T Explore trim starts at $67,500.

The Adventure trim in the R1S SUV starts at $75,500, while the Explore package has a base price of $70,000.

Rivian intends to begin deliveries of the Adventure and Explore packages in January 2022.

Rivian also plans to offer an even larger pack, dubbed the “Max pack,” for the R1T. That larger pack costs an additional $10,000 and is expected to push the range of the R1T past 400 miles. The EPA has not posted an official range for the max pack or other editions, including a planned smaller battery pack option.

BMW Group’s Neue Klasse lineup to focus on circular economy to achieve reduction in CO2 emissions

By Rebecca Bellan

The BMW Group announced Thursday its intentions to commit to a 50% reduction from 2019 levels in global carbon dioxide emissions during the use-phase of its vehicles by 2030, as well as a 40% reduction in emissions during the life cycle of the vehicle. These goals, including a plan to focus on the principles of a circular economy to achieve a more sustainable vehicle life cycle, will manifest in the company’s Neue Klasse platform, which should be available by 2025.

Announced in March, the BMW “New Class” is a reboot of a line of sedans and coupes the German automaker produced from 1962-1977, a line that established BMW’s identity as a sports car manufacturer. The new line will feature “a completely redefined IT and software architecture, a new generation of high-performance electric drivetrains and batteries and a radically new approach to sustainability across the entire vehicle life cycle,” according to the company.

“With the Neue Klasse we are significantly sharpening our commitment and also committing ourselves to a clear course for achieving the 1.5 degree target,” said Oliver Zipse, chairman of the board of management of BMW AG, in a statement. “How companies are dealing with CO2 emissions has become a major factor when it comes to judging corporate action. The decisive factor in the fight against global warming is how strongly we can improve the carbon footprint of vehicles over their entire life span. This is why we are setting ourselves transparent and ambitious goals for the substantial reduction of CO2 emissions; these are validated by the Science Based Targets Initiative and will deliver an effective and measurable contribution.”

BMW says the utilization phase of its vehicles accounts for 70% of the group’s total CO2 footprint, which makes sense given the fact that most of BMW’s car sales are still ICE vehicles. In the first half of 2021, about 11.44% of BMW’s total sales volume were either electric or plug-in hybrid, according to its 2021 half-year earnings report. The company has expressed a goal of selling 1 million plug-in units, including hybrids, by the end of 2021. As of Q2, it’s already at around 850,000, but in order to reach its goal of halving emissions during the utilization phase, BMW will need to seriously up its sales of low or zero-emissions vehicles. BMW already has its i3 compact EV out and plans to launch two long-range models, the i4 sedan and iX SUV, later this year, with plans for more in 2022. But unlike GM or Volvo, the automaker has not yet announced plans to kill its ICE vehicles, nor has it begun to sell a full line of vehicles designed from the ground up to run on batteries.

This announcement comes just a couple of months after BMW, along with other German automakers Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche, acknowledged its involvement in colluding on an emissions cartel since the 1990s. The automakers collectively hid technology that would have been able to reduce harmful emissions beyond what was legally required under EU emissions standards. The EU fined BMW $442 million, a slap on the wrist given BMW’s second-quarter profits of close to $6 billion.

In addition, the EU’s “Fit for 55” energy and climate package, which was released last month, upgraded the overall carbon emissions reductions goal from 40% to 55% by 2030, which means automakers need to pick up the pace of electrification, and BMW knows that. Other proposals reportedly under discussion in the European Commission involve a 60% emissions reduction by 2030, followed by 100% cut by 2035, which would make it near impossible to sell ICE vehicles by that time.

BMW says its Neue Klasse will further the momentum to get EVs to market. The automaker aims to have 10 million all-electric cars on the road over the next decade, with at least half of all BMW Group sales being all-electric and the Mini brand offering exclusively all-electric from 2030. As part of its circular economy focus, BMW also intends to incorporate an increase of use of secondary materials and promote a better framework for establishing a market for secondary materials with the Neue Klasse. The company says it aims to raise the percentage of secondary materials it uses from its current rate of 30% to 50%, but didn’t specify by when.

BMW says its use of secondary nickel in the iX battery, for example, is already 50%, with the battery housing containing up to 30% secondary aluminum, and the goal is to improve those numbers. BMW is also piloting a project with BASF and the ALBA Group to increase the recycling of plastics used in cars.

As part of what BMW is calling a comprehensive recycling system, “the ALBA Group analyses end-of-life BMW Group vehicles to establish whether a car-to-car reuse of the plastic is possible,” according to a statement by the company. “In a second step, BASF assesses whether chemical recycling of the pre-sorted waste can be used in order to obtain pyrolysis oil. This can then be used as a basis for new products made of plastic. In the future, a new door trim or other components could be manufactured from a used instrument panel, for example.”

To ensure an easier recycling process, BMW is also incorporating early-stage design of vehicles. Materials must be put together in a way that’s easy to disassemble at the end of life and then reuse. The automaker says it will increasingly build the interior of a car with monomaterials that can be transferred back into usable material.

“For example, the onboard wiring systems must be easy to remove, in order to avoid mixing steel with copper from the cable harnesses in the vehicles,” the company said in a statement. “If this mixing does take place, the secondary steel loses its essential material properties and therefore no longer meets the high safety requirements of the automotive industry.”

A circular economy also involves using higher-quality vehicles, which will reduce the overall number of materials used because those parts can be recycled or fixed more easily.

With this announcement, BMW promises transparency when it comes to the life cycle of its vehicles. The company does indeed publish life cycle assessments (LCAs), as does almost every other major car manufacturer, but there’s no standard in the industry yet, which means it’s sometimes difficult to compare different vehicles. Looking at the overall life cycle of a vehicle will be increasingly important if we actually want to cut emissions goals. The emissions that come from the supply chains and manufacturing processes to obtain all the materials needed to even build batteries and vehicles is a body of research that’s only just coming to light, and what that light reveals is the possibility that these moves could even increase emissions in the aggregate.

“Embodied emissions can be devilishly difficult to accurately quantify, and nowhere are there more complexities and uncertainties than with EVs,” writes Mark Mills, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, in a recent TechCrunch article about what it takes to calculate the real carbon cost of EVs. “While an EV self-evidently emits nothing while driving, about 80% of its total lifetime emissions arise from the combination of the embodied energy in fabricating the battery and then in ‘fabricating’ electricity to power the vehicle. The remaining comes from manufacturing the non-fuel parts of the car. That ratio is inverted for a conventional car where about 80% of lifecycle emissions come directly from fuel burned while driving, and the rest comes from the embodied energy to make the car and fabricate gasoline.”

Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike review: Utility that shreds

By Rebecca Bellan

A recent move to Auckland, New Zealand — a city with lackluster public transit and hills that can turn a quick bike ride to the store into a sweaty workout — piqued my interest in e-bikes. 

Strong demand and skyrocketing prices, however, made it difficult to access these coveted e-bikes here in the Land of the Long White Cloud. That changed after learning about Ubco, the New Zealand-based electric utility bike startup that recently raised $10 million from investors. 

The company provided me with the Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike for nearly a month, which gave me plenty of time to put it to the test. 

I may not be Ubco’s target audience, although I did my best to use the bike as its design suggests, and packed it up with bags of books and other heavy things that might simulate the weight of delivered garlic bread, mail and other packages. The Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike is made for city utility riding, with the option of going off-road, which I would later try with gusto.

The company’s flagship is the Ubco 2X2 Work Bike, an electric dirt bike that was originally designed to help farmers. The fresh capital the company raised in June will be used to expand into existing verticals like food delivery, postal service and last-mile logistics, scale a commercial subscription business and target sales growth in the United States. 

Domino’s drivers in Auckland, and I hear in the U.K., can be seen delivering hot pizzas on Ubco bikes, and the company has a range of other national clients, like the New Zealand Post, the Defense Force, the Department of Conservation, and Pāmu, or Landcorp Farming Limited, as well as other local restaurants and stores.

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

The handoff

CEO and co-founder Timothy Allan drove out from the company headquarters in Tauranga to hand off the bike personally. It was a sunny day in my neighborhood, and I listened impatiently as he described the various bits and bobs, how to work the machine and how to charge it.

Allan helped me download the Ubco app to pair my phone with the bike, which, among other functionalities, allowed me to select beginner mode, which would cap the vehicle speed at around 20 miles per hour. I made a mental note so that I could write about it here, but was determined to reach the top speed of 30 miles per hour right away. 

I did, and it was … pretty sick. I’m not supposed to gush, but man! It’s a sweet ride. Here’s why:

Appearance

The Adventure Bike comes standard in white and sits on 17X2.75-inch multi-use tires with aluminum rims, both of which are DOT compliant. My version also had Maori decals on the frame, in a nod to the indigenous people of New Zealand.  

The bike’s height is about 41 inches and the seat comes to 32 inches. From wheel to wheel, it’s about 72 inches. The payload, including the rider, is about 330 pounds, so both my partner (6’2” man) and I (5’7” female) rode this bike with ease, needing only to adjust the wide rearview mirrors sticking out of the handlebars. And no, we didn’t ride it together. This bike is designed as a one-seater. 

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

That said, there’s a little cargo rack above the back wheel, which holds the license plate (apparently these are classified as mopeds, which require registration in many places) and any other cargo one might carry. I didn’t try, but I reckon it could hold at least five pizza boxes tied down with a bungee cord. The bike rack also allows for saddlebags to be strapped on. Ubco sells what it calls the Pannier Back Pack, a weather-resistant roll-top cargo bag, for $189 that slots in very nicely and is actually a quality bag with 5.28-gallon capacity. 

Accessories aside, the alloy frame is lightweight and step-through, which I love in a bike — it lets me start to shift myself off before I fully park and I feel super agile and swift. Speaking of parking, the rules are different everywhere, I assume, but here, you park it on the street or in parking spaces, not on the sidewalk. It’s got a kickstand to hold it in place, and you can lock the front wheel so no one can just wheel it away. They could, however, probably chuck it into the back of their pickup truck if they so chose, since it’s only 145 pounds. 

The appearance of the bike stood out, and not just to me. During my multi-week test drive, numerous tradesmen and bike folks went out of their way to compliment its design, the exact demographic that Ubco is aiming for. 

Rideability

The lightness of the bike means that it’s easy to take off and find your balance. The battery is also in the middle of the frame, just near where your feet sit, which anchors the bike and gives you a stable center of gravity.

The lightweight nature of the bike is a blessing and a curse. Cutting a turn is easy, but on a windy day and an open road, there were moments I worried that I’d be knocked off it — but maybe that had more to do with riding next to a 10-wheeler on the street. Because it’s so light, it did feel a bit strange to me to be in the street lane with the other bigger, meaner cars rather than in the bike lanes.

The bike accelerates quickly via the fully electronic throttle control, even up steep hills, due to the high torque geared drivetrain. The drivetrain has two 1kw Flux2 motors with sealed bearings, active heat management and active venting for residual moisture — a necessity in this moistest of cities.

The acceleration sound, which mimics those of a gas-powered dirt bike but with a softer electronic tone, was a surprising plus. I didn’t realize how much I relied on my sense of sound to tell how fast I was going until I rode the Ubco. 

The braking system was a bit touchy. It felt very sensitive to me, probably because hydraulic and regenerative brakes are operating together on the vehicle. There’s also a passive regenerative braking system, which I gather is what put the brakes on for me when I was just trying to coast down one of those mammoth hills.

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

Both the front suspension, 130 mm, and rear suspension, 120 mm, have a coil spring with a hydraulic dampener and have preload and rebound adjustment. In other words, the shocks are awesome. Even when I actively drove myself off sidewalks and over speed bumps, I could barely feel a thing. 

To test its off-road capabilities, I took the bike to Cornwall Park, where I ran it at full speed on the grass, swerving between trees, flying over roots and rocks, doing doughnuts in the field. It was good fun and I felt completely in control of the vehicle. I can imagine why farmers have turned to the Work Bike.

When it was time to test out its use as a delivery bike, I packed the two saddlebags with books and groceries and took it for a spin. Still a great ride, although I was a little wobbly turning corners until I got the hang of it.

Value

Since the Ubco Adventure Bike doesn’t neatly fit into a specific bike category, it’s not a simple price comparison. An electric moped, like a Lexmoto Yadea or a Vespa Elettrica, could set you back anywhere from $2,400 or $7,000, respectively. Electric dirt bikes could cost anywhere from $6,000 to $11,000 for something like a KTM or Alta Motors. 

With that in mind, the Ubco Adventure Bike costs $6,999 with a 2.1 kW power supply and $7,499 for a 3.1 kW power supply. Depending on what you want it for, I’d say it’s somewhere around mid-range for a bike like this. Since you’d probably use it for work-related activities, it could get a tax write-off. Plus, you want quality in a bike that’s down to do some heavy lifting, and Ubco has plenty of that. It’s not only a handy utility bike, but it’s also got some excellent tech under the proverbial hood, which we’ll get to later. 

Ubco estimates a 10- to 15-year life expectancy, depending on use. Over-the-air software updates, replacing parts and full refurbishments can help keep the bike going for longer. The company encourages riders to send back the dead bikes because it’s committed to full product stewardship.

That said, if you wanted to buy a bike now, it’d be a preorder (unless your local Ubco dealer had some in stock). Ordering now could get you an Ubco by September if you live in the States. The company says it’s still feeling the effects of COVID, with high demand and a stretched supply chain causing delays. The preorder requires a $1,000 deposit. 

Ubco also has a subscription model, which is mainly available for enterprise customers at the moment and priced on a case-by-case basis. However, it’s piloting subscriptions for individuals in Auckland and Tauranga before rolling the program out globally. Subscriptions will start at around NZD $300 per month for a 36-month term.

Range

The Adventure Bike comes with either the 2.1 kWh battery pack, which has around 40 to 54 miles of range, or the 3.1 kWh, with 60 to 80 miles.

The battery is run off a management system, called “Scotty,” to monitor real-time performance and safety. The battery, which is sealed with alloy and vented during use, is made with 18650 lithium-ion cells, which means it’s a powerful battery that can handle up to 500 charging cycles. Ubco says its batteries are designed to be disassembled at the end of life.

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

The 10amp alloy fast charger can fuel the battery fully within four to six hours. You can charge it while it’s still in the vehicle by just connecting it to a power outlet, or you can unlock the battery and yank it out (it’s a little heavy) and charge it inside. Note: Charging is loud. Not sure if this is standard, but probably is. 

I charged it every two to three days, but that will depend on use and where you are. It’s winter in Auckland, so a bit cold, which affects battery life, and the hills are brutal, which also use up a lot of battery life.

I’d ride it downtown and around my neighborhood every day, but I’d wager a delivery driver would need to charge it nightly. As I mentioned earlier, the battery can be removed for charging, so if you take it to work, you can always take it up to the office or wherever to charge while you’re doing other things. 

Tech features

Vehicle management system

The vehicle runs off what Ubco calls its Cerebro vehicle management system, which integrates all electronic and electrical functions of the vehicles and provides control and updates via Bluetooth. Ubco builds with end of life in mind, so the CAN bus is isolated so future CAN devices can be easily integrated. 

Now, one of my first questions, given the heftiness of this bike and the likelihood of gig economy workers who would ride it for work living in urban dwellings, was this: How can I ensure no one will steal this thing when it’s on the street, because there’s no way I’m lugging it up to my fifth-floor walkup?

Like I said, you can lock the wheel in place, which would make it far more difficult for someone to wheel it off. If someone did decide to capture the whole cumbersome vehicle, Ubco would be able to track it for you. Each Ubco bike has telemetry, aka a SIM card, hardwired inside, and that can help provide data that can be used for location, servicing, theft, safety, route planning, etc. 

This VMS architecture is made for handling fleets via Ubco’s enterprise subscription vehicles, but it obviously has other uses, like providing peace of mind (personally, I’d still lock it up with chains, but I’m a New Yorker and trust no one). Obviously, if you think this telemetry is creepy, you can opt out, but it does come standard with subscriptions, allowing subscribers to track their bike’s location on the app.

Display

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

Mounted on the handlebar is an LCD display that shows speed, power levels and more. Also on the handlebars are switch controls for high or low beams, indicators and a horn. I found the indicators to be a bit sticky and sometimes I would slip and hit the horn. What I wish the handlebars also had was a mount for your phone so you could follow directions. I had my headphones in and was listening to Google Maps tell me how to get around, but that felt less safe and efficient. 

Turning it on

You can turn the power on with a keyless fob by either clicking the button on the fob or the button on the handlebars. I will note that the keyless fob button is weirdly sensitive. At multiple points, I had it in my pocket with my phone or other pocket inhabitants and it must have knocked into the button, turning the vehicle off while I was riding it. Thankfully, that never happened anywhere busy, but that’s something to be wary about. 

App

As I mentioned earlier, you could pair your phone, as well as other users’ phones, to the bike using the app. The app allows you to choose learner mode or restricted mode, which controls ride settings; turn the bike and lights on and off; change the metrics; and check the status of things like battery life, speed and motor temperature. It’s basically all the info on the dash, but on an app. I didn’t really feel the need to use it.

Lights

The LED headlights are on at all times when the vehicle is turned on, but there’s also a high and low beam, as well as peripheral parking lights, all of which are designed for disassembly at the end of life. There are also LED rear, brake and number plate lights, as well as DOT-approved indicator lights.

Other stuff

Among the features that don’t fit neatly into the other categories, there’s the field kit, which is fastened to the lift-up seat and contains a user manual and tools to set up and maintain the 2X2, which is really handy. Usually, when people buy an Ubco bike, it comes in a box and there are “a few simple steps to follow to get it ready to ride.” There’s also an UBCO University course that shows how to set it up. If you buy from one of Ubco’s dealers, they’ll unpack it and set it up when you come to collect it. 

Maintenance

Maintenance comes with the cost of a monthly subscription. Ubco has a network of technicians placed wherever the company sells its bikes if they’re in need of fixing. If there’s no authorized mechanic nearby, Ubco’s head office will work with customers to help them fix the bike. Ubco did not respond to information about how many authorized mechanics are in its network.

Again, being from New York, I’ve seen probably thousands of delivery riders on bikes and mopeds, oven mitts covered in a plastic bag taped onto the handlebars so drivers can keep their hands warm during the colder months. This bike can handle a hefty load for delivering goods, it’s quick and agile for weaving in and out of traffic, and it’s easy to ride and use.

The subscription offering, especially for enterprise, makes this a great city utility bike that can probably handle a range of weather conditions. I already know it can handle rain and mud, so all signs point to success in the sloshy, icy hell of a Northern city winter. And for the adventurer — the person who just wants to ride something sweet on- and off-road, out of the city and into the wilderness — this is also a great consumer ride that will last you quite a while.

Cox Automotive acquires battery health company Spiers as ‘EVs take center stage’

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Cox Automotive is getting into the electric vehicle battery lifecycle business.

The company said Wednesday it acquired Oklahoma City-based Spiers New Technologies (SNT), a business that provides repair, remanufacturing, refurbishing and repurposing services for EV battery packs.

The two companies did not disclose the terms of the deal. Cox said the acquisition will help it establish its battery servicing offerings, particularly as “EVs take center stage.” It added that electric vehicles have completely difference service profiles than their internal combustion engine vehicle counterparts, and much of that comes down to the battery. EV battery support is particularly critical as the battery pack itself can comprise as much as 40% of the vehicle’s cost.

Even as federal investment in electric vehicles grow, and more automakers announce billions to build out their EV businesses, public skepticism remains. Eight out of 10 people not considering purchasing an EV are skeptical about the value of the battery and its useful life, according to research conducted by Cox.

This is not Cox’s only foray into EV battery management; the company also build a battery health diagnostic tool with SNT that uses Spiers’ software platform, Alfred. Cox said it would use the diagnostic tool to push greater confidence in electric vehicles, likening it to the way that Kelley Blue Book has provided greater transparency about ICE vehicles’ condition for consumers.

The acquisition will also give Cox a stake in the battery repurposing business. Spiers is one of a few companies that specializes giving EV batteries a “second life” after they are no longer fit in a vehicle. Around 80% to 90% of the batteries SNT receives are from OEMs, with the rest from auto dismantlers, the company told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. It’s a business segment that is likely only to grow as more EVs come off the roads, so the transaction is likely giving Cox a stake in end-of-life purposes as well.

Cake launches the Makka, a $3,500 electric moped for city riding

By Rebecca Bellan

Swedish electric motorcycle manufacturer Cake has released its newest vehicle, the Makka, a super lightweight e-moped that’s built for urban convenience. The bike starts at $3,500 and is now available for pre-order in the U.S. and Europe.

The Makka is a step outside the norm for Cake, which is best-known for off-road motorbikes like its flagship high-performance Kalk and its utility machine Ösa. This third platform will be Cake’s first motorbike specifically made for city riding like short-haul commercial transportation and commuting needs. 

“These new electric mopeds further define Cake’s ambition of making two-wheeled electric vehicles accessible to everyone, while constantly pushing the envelope of performance, durability and relevancy in line with the company’s mission to inspire towards a zero-emission lifestyle,” the company said in a statement.

The Makka weighs about 132 pounds and comes standard with a rear cargo rack. Mounts and other accessories like saddlebags, a child seat or even a passenger seat can be attached to the rack.

The e-moped comes in white or gray and is street legal. In the U.S., it’s classified as a motor-driven cycle, meaning it produces 5-brake horsepower or less, and requires a car or motorcycle license. In the EU, the Makka has an L1e-b classification, which means the motor does not exceed 45 kilometers per hour (28 miles per hour), and requires a moped or car license.

[gallery ids="2196758,2196759,2196760"]

Cake’s newest moped comes in two forms. The Makka Range, which is available only in Europe, has a lower maximum speed of 15 miles per hour and a range of up to 35 miles. The Makka Flex, which is available in Europe and the U.S., costs $3,800 and can hit top speeds of 28 miles per hour,. The range of this vehicle is slightly less at 30 miles.

Both bikes feature a foot board and aluminum step-through frame, which rides on top of two 14 by 3 inch motorcycle tires. The Makka range comes with a touchscreen display that shows information like battery, speedometer, odometer, ride mode (for extended range or balanced performance) and brake mode selection.

The Makka’s drivetrain has 3.6 kW of power and a battery capacity of 1.5 kWh. It takes about two hours to charge the battery up to 80%, which can be done by removing the battery or plugging the bike in. It takes three hours to charge the battery to 100%. The electronic motorcycle braking system with hand levers for both front and rear braking regenerates braking power into the battery to increase range.

Cake isn’t the only manufacturer to see the utility in repurposing off-road bikes for urban use. Ubco, a New Zealand electric utility bike brand, has recently raised $10 million to expand sales of its moped, which has a similar look and feel to the Makka, internationally to the U.S. Cake’s last funding round was a $14 million Series A in 2019.

VanMoof raises $128 million to become the world’s leading e-bike brand

By Romain Dillet

Amsterdam-based startup VanMoof has raised a $128 million Series C funding round. The company designs and sells electric bikes that are quite popular in some markets. It now wants to become the world’s leading e-bike brand by iterating at a faster pace.

Asia-based private equity firm Hillhouse Investment is leading the round, with Gillian Tans, the former CEO of Booking.com, also participating. Some existing investors also put some more money on the table, such as Norwest Venture Partners, Felix Capital, Balderton Capital and TriplePoint Capital.

Today’s Series C represents a big jump compared to the company’s Series B. Last year, VanMoof raised a $40 million Series B. Overall, if you add it all up, the startup has raised $182 million in total.

If you’re not familiar with VanMoof’s e-bikes, TechCrunch reviewed both the most recent S3 and X3 models. On paper, they are identical. The VanMoof X3 features a smaller frame and smaller wheels.

What makes VanMoof different from your average e-bike manufacturer is that the company tries to control everything from the supply chain to the customer experience. VanMoof e-bikes are premium e-bikes that are primarily designed for city rides. The most recent models currently cost $2,298 or €2,198.

They feature an electric motor paired with an electronic gear shifting system. It has four gears and you don’t have to change gears yourself. All you have to do is jump on the bike and start pedaling.

Recognizable by their iconic triangular-shaped futuristic-looking frames, the S3 and X3 also come with hydraulic brakes, integrated lights and some smart features. There’s an integrated motion detector combined with an alarm, a GPS chip and cellular connectivity.

If you declare your bike as stolen, the GPS and cellular chips go live and you can track your bike in the VanMoof app. The company’s bikes are now also compatible with Apple’s Find My app.

Instead of relying exclusively on off-the-shelf parts, the company works with a small set of suppliers to manufacture custom components. This way, it can cut out as many middleperson as possible to bring costs down. It’s also a good competitive advantage.

Growing a company like VanMoof is a capital-intensive business. The company has opened retail stores and service hubs in 50 different cities around the world. While the company started in Europe, the U.S. is now the fastest growth market for VanMoof.

With today’s funding round, the startup plans to double-down on its current strategy. You can expect updated bikes with refined designs and more custom parts. You can expect more stores and service hubs around the world. And you can probably expect more online sales as well.

“It will help us get 10 million people on our bikes in the next five years,” co-founder and CEO Taco Carlier said in a statement. So far, there are 150,000 people using VanMoof bikes.

Today’s investment shouldn’t come as a surprise. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated plans to transform European cities — and prioritize bikes over cars. Last year, TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas and I wrote a comprehensive overview of key policy developments in four major cities — Paris, Barcelona, London and Milan. VanMoof is now benefiting from these policy shifts.

Electric vehicle company Rivian has confidentially filed for an IPO

By Kirsten Korosec

Rivian, the electric vehicle startup backed by a host of institutional and strategic investors including Ford and Amazon, has confidentially filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to go public.

The size and price range for the proposed offering have yet to be determined. The initial public offering is expected to take place after the SEC completes its review process, subject to market and other conditions, the brief statement said.

The confidential filing comes less than two months since Rivian announced it had closed a $2.5 billion private funding round led by Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, D1 Capital Partners, Ford Motor and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. Third Point, Fidelity Management and Research Company, Dragoneer Investment Group and Coatue also participated in that round.

The company did not share a post-money valuation at the time of the July 2021 announcement.

The electric automaker, which now employs 7,000 people, is preparing to deliver its R1T pickup truck in September. The road to produce the R1T and an accompanying SUV requires capital, which Rivian has had little trouble raising.

Rivian has raised roughly $10.5 billion to date. In January, the company brought in $2.65 billion from existing investors T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., Fidelity Management and Research Company, Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Coatue and D1 Capital Partners. New investors also participated in that round, which pushed Rivian’s valuation to $27.6 billion, a source familiar with the investment round told TechCrunch at the time.

Developing….

Lordstown Motors taps former Icahn exec as CEO to put its EV truck ambitions back on track

By Kirsten Korosec

Lordstown Motors has hired Daniel A. Ninivaggi, a longtime automotive executive and former head of Carl C. Icahn’s holding company, as CEO and a board member. The appointment follows months of tumult at Lordstown, which became publicly traded via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company.

In June, founder and CEO Steve Burns and CFO Julio Rodriguez resigned following a disappointing first-quarter earnings that revealed the company was consuming more capital than expected and unable to reach previously forecasted production numbers for its electric Endurance pickup truck. The resignations were also tied to a board committee investigation that found inaccuracies in some of the company’s disclosures on its truck preorders.

The resignations were just one of several problems, including allegations of fraud and separate investigations by the Department of Justice and the SEC, that has put the two-year-old company at risk of failing. Lordstown did receive a lifeline in August when hedge fund YA II PN purchased 35.1 million shares, or about 19.9% of outstanding shares. The sale provided much-needed capital required to produce its first electric vehicle at the former GM Assembly Plant in Lordstown, Ohio.

Ninivaggi has the background to bring order to Lordstown’s business. He is also bullish on the company’s product, noting in a statement that the demand for full-size electric pickup trucks will be strong and that Lordstown’s Endurance truck has the opportunity to capture a meaningful share of the market.

The former CEO of Icahn Enterprises has served in a variety of senior leadership positions in the automotive and transportation industries, beginning at Lear Corporation, where he eventually became executive vice president. He was later co-chairman and co-CEO of automotive components supplier Federal Mogul Holdings Corporation ahead of its sale to Tenneco.

While with Icahn Enterprises, Ninivaggi also oversaw the company’s automotive aftermarket service network and parts distribution businesses. He also has a long history directing public companies, including Motorola Mobility (prior to its sale to Google), Navistar International, Hertz Global Holdings and CVR Energy.

Porsche expands online marketplace to include US inventory of new cars

By Kirsten Korosec

Porsche Cars North America has added its entire U.S. inventory of new cars to its online marketplace as the company seeks to keep up with customer demands and the industry’s shift to digital commerce.

When the online marketplace Porsche Finder launched in May 2020, customers were only able to search for pre-owned and certified pre-owned vehicles using the tool. That platform, which lets customers search by vehicle model and generation as well as price, equipment, packages and colors, now includes all new vehicle inventory from its 193 U.S. dealerships.

The platform, which was developed by automaker’s Porsche Digital subsidiary and PCNA, also includes features that let customers estimate a trade-in value and a payment calculator to compare leasing and financing options from Porsche Financial Services.

Online platforms that allow customers to search for products are not new. As customers shift their shopping to online — a trend that accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic — digital platforms have become a critical tool for companies.

Established automakers like Porsche, however, have had to balance the demand of its customers and dealership network. Porsche doesn’t have a direct sales model like Tesla and new entrants Lucid Group and Rivian.

“The dealership is still at the center of everything we do,” PCNA President and CEO Kjell Gruner said in a recent interview. “At the dealership, we believe very much in personal interaction — in looking somebody in the eye, reading their body language. And, of course, our products are very physical.”

While all 193 dealers are participating in the Porsche Finder tool, Gruner acknowledged that this large group includes those who have been more cautious about the move toward digital commerce.

“You always have some more innovative people, some more cautious,” he said. “COVID … really prompted a willingness to go digital and to use those tools for their own advantage.”

General Motors issues third recall for Chevrolet Bolt EVs, citing rare battery defects

By Aria Alamalhodaei

General Motors is recalling even more Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles due to possible battery cell defects that could increase the risk of fire. This latest recall, announced by the automaker on Friday, marks the third time GM has issued the consumer notice for the Bolt.

The second recall, which was issued in July, covered 2017 to 2019 Bolt EVs. Now, GM is expanding that recall to include an additional 9,335 2019 model year Bolts, as well as 63,683 2020–2022 Bolt EV and EUV vehicles.

“In rare circumstances, the batteries supplied to GM for these vehicles may have two manufacturing defects – a torn anode tab and folded separator – present in the same battery cell, which increases the risk of fire,” the company said in a news release. It added that it was working with its cell supplier, South Korea’s LG, regarding the issue.

This recall is expected to cost GM an additional $1 billion – that’s on top of the $800 million the company has already estimated for the prior recalls. Costs associated with fixing defective Bolt batteries made up the lion’s share of GM’s $1.3 billion in warranty expenses last quarter, the automaker said in an earnings call earlier this month.

GM is recommending that included Bolt drivers to a 90 percent state of charge limitation and avoid depleting the battery below a 70 mile range. The automaker also suggests parking the vehicle outside right after charging and not leaving the vehicle charging indoors overnight – likely due to the risk of fire. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration released its own recommendation to Bolt drivers to park their vehicles away from their homes to reduce fire risk.

Ample raises $160M to scale its battery swapping service

By Aria Alamalhodaei

San Francisco-based Ample has raised a $160 million Series C to scale its battery swapping service, the largest round yet for the 8-year-old startup that wants to completely rethink how we use electric vehicles.

Ample’s approach is relatively straightforward: Cars equipped with the company’s modular battery pack can drive into one of Ample’s automated charging pod locations and swap out their depleted batteries for ones that are fully charged. The swapped-out batteries are then recharged in the pod and ready to be reinserted into another vehicle.

Although Ample’s battery swapping model is simple on paper, the company is proposing thinking about EV batteries in a completely different way. Instead of an EV battery being something that needs to be recharged, like an iPhone, Ample wants to turn them into things that can be swapped out, like batteries in a digital camera.

This latest nine-figure funding round is a sign that investors are paying attention. The internationally funded Series C was led by Moore Strategic Ventures with participation from PTT, a Thai state-owned oil and gas company, and Disruptive Innovation Fund. Existing investors Eneos, a Japanese petroleum and energy company, and Singapore’s public transit operator SMRT also participated. Ample’s total funding is now $230 million.

“We realized that there’s this big elephant in the room with electric vehicles and [it’s that] nobody is that excited about spending an hour, two hours or three hours charging their vehicle,” Ample co-founder John de Souza said.

Industry’s response has been to develop technology like DC fast chargers, which have managed to shave charging time down to only 20 or 30 minutes. But de Souza said that improvements in charging time don’t get rid of fundamental problems: “[Fast charging] generates a lot of heat; the grid doesn’t support it,” he said. “Even if you could have batteries you charge in five minutes, you’d need chargers that were massively powerful and you’d need power plants around every corner to do it.”

Ample is currently focused on fleets – it operates five battery swapping stations in the Bay Area for participating Uber drivers, and it also locked in a partnership with Sally, an EV rental company for taxi and last-mile deliveries in New York City. But the company sees its battery swapping service as suitable for consumers, as well. Ample co-founder Khaled Hassounah said battery swapping could also be useful for personal consumers who don’t have a good charging solution available to them, like people who live in apartment buildings. “We’re really a lot more focused on the cars that are coming on the road” rather than EVs that have already been manufactured, Hassounah added.

Image Credits: Ample. Ample co-founders John de Souza and Khaled Hassounah. 

The company says that its modular system means that drivers only need to carry around as much battery as they need. For Ample, that means less battery waste and less weight in the vehicle.

Much of Ample’s vision relies on buy-in from automakers. For example, the company is imagining that when a person goes to buy a car, the OEM could offer either a fixed battery option or a vehicle equipped with an Ample battery system.

Ample says it has validated its approach with 10 different car models by working directly with OEMs, and that none of them have required making modifications to the vehicle. That doesn’t mean that there are no interfaces between the battery and the car that need to be altered — there are things like voltage cables or a cooling line, for example — but that the actual architecture of EVs is simpler than one might think.

“The marketing departments at the OEMs want to tell you that … ‘This is a super-duper battery that is very well integrated with the car; there’s no way you can separate it,’” Hassounah said. “The truth of the matter is they’re built completely separately and so true for almost — not almost, for every battery in the car, including a Tesla.

“Since we’ve built our system to be easy to interface with different vehicles, we’ve abstracted the battery component … from the vehicle,” he added.

Ample said it’s working with five different OEMs right now, “some of the largest OEMs out there,” de Souza said, though he declined to specify which ones. He added that growing demand from fleets goes hand in hand with conversations with OEMs, which are eager to sell vehicles.

It could be an attractive proposal because much of the cost of an electric vehicle is its battery system. The market has seen a version of this idea from Chinese automaker Nio, which offers consumers the option of purchasing a vehicle with or without a battery (for the latter option, Nio leases the batteries). Under the leasing option, drivers shave ¥70,000 ($10,800) off the price of a vehicle. Nio has already completed more than 2.4 million battery swaps for Chinese drivers, founder William Li said in May.

Looking to the future, Ample is focused purely on scaling: deploying with large customers in new cities. Interestingly, de Souza added that the company is getting a lot of interest from governments who want to shift to electric transportation but don’t have the requisite charging infrastructure.

“The question is, how can we get more miles and be electric, rather than build more infrastructure?” Hassounah said. “If you go and deploy a million fast chargers and no one uses them, we haven’t achieved anything.”

Foxconn plans to build EV factories in the US and Thailand in 2022

By Darrell Etherington

Foxconn is getting more serious about its electric vehicle ambitions. The company told investors during an earnings call that it plans to build EV factories in the US and Thailand in 2022 and start mass producing vehicles the following year. Chairman Liu Young-way said the company is also in talks regarding possible locations for plants in Europe.

At its US facility, Foxconn will build vehicles for EV clients including Fisker. The companies signed a deal in May, and Foxconn plans to start making Fisker EVs by the end of 2023. The two are jointly investing in the Project Pear vehicle and will share revenue from it.

Foxconn is in discussions with three states, including Wisconsin, for the EV plant, according to Nikkei. Earlier this year, Foxconn drastically scaled back plans for its existing facility in Wisconsin. Liu has also suggested Foxconn may build EVs at the controversial plant.

The planned Thai factory will form part of Foxconn’s joint venture with oil and gas conglomerate PTT. The two are working on a platform for EV and component production. Liu said Foxconn plans to build up to 200,000 EVs at that plant each year.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

Arrival is on track to begin production of its electric bus and van next year

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Executives from London-based commercial EV company Arrival told investors Thursday the company was on track to meet planned product launch dates, but much will depend on whether or not the company can fulfill orders and turn letters of intent into sales – especially a crucial van order with UPS, which could bring in upwards of $1 billion in revenue.

The company’s non-binding orders and letters of intent total 59,000 vehicles – a number that includes an agreement with UPS to purchase up to 10,000 vehicles across the U.S. and Europe, and an option in the agreement for an additional 10,000 vehicles. If the logistics giant opts to purchase all 20,000 vehicles, the deal could be worth over $1 billion, the company told investors last year.

The 59,000 figure also includes two sales that have come in since the close of last quarter: an agreement with car leasing company Leaseplan for 3,000 vehicles, which is expected to be completed in the third quarter, and a five-bus order from Anaheim, California’s public transportation network.

The ccompany’s earnings report contains an important asterisk toward the end: “All references to orders and LOIs are non-binding and subject to cancellation or modification at any time.” And there are a number of steps the company must complete before we start to see its vans and buses on the road, including public road trials, completed prototype builds and production certification.

Despite the to-do list, Arrival executives said the Arrival Bus will commence trial productions in the UK at the end of this year, with a planned start of production at the company’s South Carolina microfactory by the second quarter of 2022. The first Arrival Vans will be built in the UK by the third quarter of next year.

Arrival President Avinash Rugoobur also said the company has decided to open a product development R&D center in India, where it has seen an increase in “potential” orders.

“I think the Indian market is extremely important,” Arrival CEO Denis Sverdlov added. “It’s a very market unique in terms of size. Pricing for the product and the certification for the product is very much different than what we’re used to seeing in Europe or the United States. For us it’s an extremely important step because this enables us to create vehicles which can be successful in countries like in Asia and India and so on, so for us it’s a big, big step.”

A different manufacturing approach

Arrival, whose investors include Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Motors Corporation, wants to take what it pitches as a new approach to auto manufacturing. Instead of building a large, centralized factory, it aims to build commercial EVs in scalable, more capex-light regional microfactories – and it wants to open 31 by 2024. Arrival’s factories use autonomous mobile robots, or AMRs, which the company develops in-house. The robots were designed to operate autonomously and run on a single AMR software.

The company already has plans for two microfactories in the U.S.: one in West Charlotte, North Carolina, and a factory in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The company also has a microfactory in Bicester, UK, which the company said has already produced over 500 composite panels.

Construction on the North Carolina site is due to be complete in October this year, with production commencing in the fourth quarter of next year. The EVs built at that location will eventually end up in UPS’s North American fleet.

Like other new EV makers, the company still has no revenue yet to speak of and its earnings report reflects the expenses associated with bringing a new vehicle to market. Arrival reported an EBITDA loss of €29 million ($34 million). Its adjusted EBITDA loss was €35 million ($41 million) which widened from the first quarter’s loss of €27 million ($31 million).

Capex came to €65 million ($76 million), primarily due to the costs of staff working on product development and other costs related to factory equipment. The company anticipates spending between €175 million to €225 million ($205 million to $264 million) on capex in the remainder of the year, versus €106 million ($124 million) for the first half of the year. The increase is due to expenses from the Bicester, UK microfactory being brought forward into this year, as well as planned openings of other factories in South Carolina and one-off tooling costs.

The company is completing the quarter with €445 million ($522 million) in cash.

Since the first quarter, Arrival has announced a number of partnerships, including with Microsoft for an open software platform, Hitatchi and STMicroelectronics. It also counts LG Chem as its battery cell supplier.

The company, founded in 2015, joined a suite of other transportation startups when it merged with a blank-check firm in March. That transaction, with CIIG Merger Corp., had an implied enterprise value of $5.4 billion and injected the company with around $660 million in cash. The company’s also growing fast: it now has over 2,200 full-time employees, versus 1,300 in December 2020.

Its shares soared to $37.18 apiece in December. Today, the share price opened at $12.80. The company trades on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol “ARVL.”

Pyka shows off its new electric passenger plane, the P3

By Devin Coldewey

Pyka appeared out of nowhere in 2019 with an unusual take on electric aircraft: a pilotless crop duster. The success of this first plane led the company to begin developing its next one, the P3: a 9-passenger craft with a totally unique propeller setup aimed at making regional flights cheaper and simpler. It could be flying as soon as next year.

The company also has a new president in Dan Grossman, formerly of Zipcar, Ford, and Maven. The transportation sector DNA he brings could help Pyka create the networks and partnerships it needs to get off the ground in local air travel.

The P3 is intended to fly up to 200 nautical miles (about 230 of our lubber miles) at 155 knots, in other words doing the kind of hour-ish hops people opt for instead of a long drive. Currently these routes are served by larger, more expensive aircraft that often fly half-full, making the economics a bit squirrelly. But by Pyka’s estimate its smaller, much less expensive to operate aircraft will allow for more full flights per day between regional hubs.

“It’s mostly places where driving 150 miles is unfeasible,” said founder and CEO Michael Norcia. “The amount of money people spend driving these regional routes, it’s a staggering amount — billions of dollars, and they’re not happy about it.”

Existing small craft flights are prohibitively expensive, but Norcia thinks the P3 will be able to match bulk airfare rates while offering many more flights per day and more destinations.

The aircraft itself looks quite conventional, until you look closely… are those propellers on the fronts and backs of the wings?

CG render of Pyka's P3 plane on a runway with people getting into it.

Image Credits: Pyka

“It hasn’t been done before,” said Norcia. And it bears a brief explanation why.

Small planes like this need to change the pitch of their propellers from one configuration during takeoff and climbing to another during cruising, since a different angle is needed for each task. That means the propeller blades have to tilt, which isn’t simple.

“In a normal aircraft, it makes sense to have this quite complex and heavy mechanism on your propeller in order to operate optimally over the whole range,” said Norcia. “Electric propulsion provides some opportunities to just massively simplify the aircraft. So all four of the propellers are fixed-pitch: the ones in front are pitched for takeoff and climb out, and the rear ones are for cruising.”

With a heavy, complex, expensive traditional engine, it would be silly to double the number just so you don’t have use variable pitch propellers for takeoff. But with light, simple, inexpensive electric engines, it makes perfect sense to do so, even if it looks unusual.

The front and rear propellers are only both active during take-off and climbing, with the front ones folding away afterwards as then the rear ones take over completely for cruise. It mechanically simplifies things — no heavy duty hinges and hydraulics — and in fact putting the prop back there seems to improve efficiency by about 10 percent, said Norcia. “It’s pretty cool,” he added. (And they’ve applied for a patent.)

(Update: I misunderstood the way the propellers share work and have updated the preceding paragraphs to reflect that.)

The general size and shape of the P3 are familiar, however, and that’s not an accident.

CG render of Pyka's P3 plane on a runway with people getting into it.

Image Credits: Pyka

“We’re starting clean sheet,” Norcia said, as the unconventional prop setup attests, “but the approach to this aircraft was talking to customers and regulators and finding out what they want. The answer was resoundingly a nine passenger plane.”

This is partly because of regulatory requirements: planes with certain burdens and passenger counts fall under a simpler, more permissive regulatory regime, as do airlines that fly with 9 or fewer seats. Therefore the simplest path forwards seems to be a 9-passenger plane that makes big progress on efficiency and affordability while not reinventing the wheel.

Further expediting its transition from twinkle in the eye to actual flying machine is starting the P3 out as an unmanned cargo vehicle, essentially a drone for medium-size payloads. There’s a limited market for this (unmanned small aircraft can’t fly ordinary overland cargo routes) but it’s a way to put the P3 in the air legally and get the ball rolling with regulators before aiming for the more important passenger plane certification.

The Pyka P3 flying in the air.

Image Credits: Pyka

The goal is to have P3 in the air by the end of 2022, which is an extremely aggressive timeline for a brand new aircraft. But Pyka has already shipped two aircraft, the prototype Egret crop dusting craft and the production Pelican version.

“We started the company because we think electric aviation will fundamentally change the way we move for the better,” said Norcia. “It’s unprecedented times for electric aircraft, but most are taking pre-orders for aircraft that may get certified some time in the next decade. We just shipped two Pelicans in the last three months.”

Grossman said that was a major factor in his choice to join the company and help it scale: “They’re shipping right now, and planning on shipping one plane a month next year. They’ve been incredibly efficient with the money they’ve made.”

Of course, launching a new aircraft is an expensive endeavor, and Norcia said that they are in the middle of raising a big round to fund production scaling and to fly a full-sized P3. If all goes well the passenger version could be in the air as soon as 2025.

Lordstown will deliver its Endurance truck to ‘select early customers’ early next year

By Aria Alamalhodaei

The beleaguered EV startup Lordstown Motors is on track to begin production of its flagship electric truck Endurance, but only select customers will begin to receive vehicles early next year, executives said during a second quarter earnings call.

Executives struck a cautious tone in the second-quarter earnings call as they tried to assuage shareholder concerns and address the near-term realities of bringing its first vehicle to market without any revenue to offset its costs. Lordstown’s approach, at least this quarter, was to try and reduce operating costs from the previous quarter, helping it offset its increase in capital expenditures.

Lordstown reported a net loss of $108 million, a 13.7% improvement from the first quarter loss of $125 million. Its net losses are more than tenfold higher than the -$7.9 million it reported in the same period last year.

Lordstown cut research and development spending by 17% from the previous quarter to $76.5 million.

Meanwhile, it increased its capital expenditures to $121 million from $53 million in the first quarter. Lordstown also increased its capital expenditure guidance for the year, from $250 million to $275 million to a $375 million to $400 million range, a spike related to its need to prepay for equipment.

The decline in R&D expenses was due to declines in purchases of vehicle components, as many of those were acquired in prior quarters, Lordstown interim CFO Becky Long said during an investor call. However, legal expenses were $9 million higher than last quarter, due to costs related to a special committee and a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation over whether Lordstown exaggerated pre-sales. (The fun doesn’t stop there — the company is also under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.)

Lordstown was thrown a life vest earlier this summer, when investment firm Yorkville Advisors agreed to purchase up to $400 million of Lordstown’s shares. The company is “now exploring a variety of other financing options, including non-dilutive private strategic investments and debt,” interim CEO Angela Strand said during an investor call. The company is also still pursuing a loan with the U.S. Department of Energy, Long said during the call.

Although the company said it was still on track to begin production of the Endurance at the end of September, only “select early customers” will begin to receive vehicles in the first quarter of 2022, followed by commercial deliveries in the second quarter. Strand said this deployment plan is to allow fleet customers time to build out charging infrastructure and to manage supply chain challenges.

One thing that distinguishes the company from some of its competitors is its manufacturing plant — a 6.2 million square foot former General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio. It’s now looking like the company is exploring different ways to turn a profit off this asset. Strand said “serious discussions” were underway with potential partners to use Lordstown’s facility to manufacture their products, suggesting the company is eager to find additional sources of revenue to offset its mounting expenses. “This is a critical strategic pivot for us, a decision that we believe will lead to significant new revenue opportunities for Lordstown,” she said.

“We are exploring multiple partnership constructs,” she added. “That includes contract manufacturing, that includes licensing, in addition to producing our own vehicles,” she added.

The Lordstown executive team has not had a smooth summer. The company announced in June the resignations of both CEO Steve Burns and CFO Julio Rodriguez, who were replaced in an interim capacity by Strand and Roof respectively. Lordstown was founded as an offshoot of Burns’ company Workhorse Group — the same company that said it had sold 11.9 million shares, or nearly three-quarters of its stake, since the beginning of July. The company is actively searching for a CEO and CFO, Strand said.

Lordstown was riding high in late 2020, when it announced its SPAC merger with a value of $1.6 billion. Its shares soared to $31.80 apiece at their 52-week highs. They’ve since plummeted to $5.94.

“We still plan to be first to market, particularly in the commercial fleet space,” Strand said.

Ford F-150 hybrid: The 2021 rumble before the Lightning EV strikes

By Tamara Warren

Full-size pickup trucks are the meat of the U.S. automotive business; it’s a red-hot category with the Ford F-150 leading the pack in sales and the Chevrolet Silverado and Ram pickups fast followers.

But the air is thin at the top. What’s often lost in truck coverage is how fiercely automakers compete to woo discerning customers with packaged bundles of optional and standard features. And now, more than ever, those packaged bundles rely heavily on in-car tech.

Ford, as the top seller, must add bells and whistles without alienating its most discerning clientele. The 2021 F-150 — as I was reminded during a recent test drive — epitomizes this effort and hints at what is to come with the upcoming all-electric Lightning pickup truck.

I tested the 2021 4×4 SuperCrew Lariat equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 PowerBoost Full Hybrid engine in its native suburban Detroit, 20 miles from where it was developed and manufactured.

Getting the details right on pickup trucks is an art of custom packaging for car companies. It’s one of the reasons that options packages are dizzying; the F-150 I tested was no exception. The F-150 offers six different powertrains, three bed lengths and three cab options, and then there’s eight trim levels, two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive options.

This options-heavy strategy has paid off for automakers like Ford. However, as these companies add more tech and software, there is a risk of causing confusion among its most loyal customers.

Screensavers

2021 Ford F-150 interior

2021 Ford F-150 interior. Image Credits: Ford Motor Company

What sets the F-150 apart from other vehicles in its lineup is how much functional tech matters to its core customers. On the new model I tested, a 12-inch display that houses the standard Sync4 infotainment system is the center of the dashboard — and the customer experience.

Sync4 was introduced on the Mustang Mach-E and on the new Ford Bronco. Sync has been steadily improving for a simpler user experience since its 2007 introduction. Sync4 doubles computational power and introduced over-the-air software updates.

The system sources data from INRIX on traffic, construction (always in a Michigan summer), weather and parking space availability from data in 20,000 cities and 150 countries.

Natural language processing used in the system provided more accurate responses to my voice-based queries and incoming SMS messages. One caveat worth noting: It was difficult to judge the machine learning algorithm because my test vehicle had been used by multiple drivers in recent weeks.

For infotainment, I generally defer to Apple CarPlay, which along with Android Auto, is easy to call up, because it connects wirelessly in the F-150 and minimizes distracted driving. Ever since they debuted in production vehicles — 2014 for CarPlay and 2015 for Android Auto — it seemed inevitable that Apple and Google were going to dominate the middleware infotainment system game.

Sync also tees up supported apps Waze and Ford+Alexa.

Driving tech

Driving a full-size truck for the first time can be intimidating, and Ford uses camera tech to make the big rig easier to maneuver. The split screen helps a timid driver feel confident navigating through tight spaces.

Five onboard cameras act as guides that assist with steering and parking. The vivid graphics incorporated into the 360-degree view from above helps to establish bearings where mirrors won’t suffice.

Behind the steering wheel is a 12-inch digital cluster. There’s part of me that misses the old-fashioned gauges of a classic pickup, but that’s not the direction Ford is heading. Ford is striving for future-forward vibes, encapsulated by Mustang Mach-E’s Apple-design-inspired aesthetic.

Through its in-car design, Ford is trying to make the case it’s a tech company first, and a 120-year-old automaker second. These earnest aesthetic cues may be a bit too on the nose as products age over time.

Ford is due to introduce Blue Cruise, an advanced driver assistance system it once called Active Drive Assist, on vehicles later this year by an automatic software update, which was not yet active on the model I drove in June, though the hardware was included.

The company claims the system allows for hands-free driving in zones that span 100,000 miles of North American road and will be standard on the F-150 Limited vehicles in the Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep Package. It will be sold as an option on Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum models. The system uses a driver-facing camera to track eye gaze and head position to monitor concentration as an answer to GM’s Super Cruise.

The doodads that matter most

2021 Ford F-150

2021 Ford F-150’s interior work surface. Image Credits: Ford Motor Company

Under the foot-long screen are the old-school knobs and switches that show Ford knows its customers still favor a manual cue here and there. Below that is a shift lever that folds down and flat into a 15-inch workstation, which I used for some in-car laptop time.

There are ample charging stations and wireless charging throughout the cabin. While the F-150 interior is spacious, every inch of real estate is carefully thought through. Seats fold to 180-degrees for proper roadside naps or to add extra cargo space.

The dark grey leather seats felt more utilitarian than luxurious, especially for a fully loaded vehicle. (Crosstown competitor Ram tends to outdo Ford on driving joy and interior design aesthetics.) The exterior and interior design emphasizes functionality, pure and simple. I hauled two kayaks in the back and found thoughtful hooks to connect to my bungee cords in the truck bed.

A bevy of 240-volt outlets are in the rear of the truck bed and two more are onboard in the cabin. The truck bed also has a convenient ruler built in on the tailgate with both metric and imperial calculations. A 2.4 kilowatt generator is standard on the hybrid model, while the optional 7.2 kW generator functions for 32 hours on a full tank of gas.

I didn’t test out the F-150’s towing capacity, but for truck folks these numbers are essential. It has a payload of 2,120 pounds and can tow up 12,700 pounds (those numbers vary a bit depending on bed length and drivetrain). It also offers a backup towing assist function, which helps align the connection to a trailer. The model I drove was priced at $68,095, a significant leap from the $50,980 base price. In contrast, Ford produces an even higher-end F-150 trim called the Limited, which starts at $73,000.

Function in form

Before it goes all electric, the hybrid powertrain gives Ford a much needed boost to compete with Ram and Chevrolet, which already sell hybrid variants. The hybrid option is a logical compromise for customers who aren’t ready for the full Lightning EV that will go on sale in 2022, a launch that’s already generated buzz and 120,000 pre-orders. I clocked about 24 miles per gallon, an improvement over all-gasoline and best in its class for non-diesel. It’s still not enough to get Ford anywhere close to a stellar emissions report card, which is why the Lightning matters so much.

In order to court new EV customers, Ford must appease its current buyers who buy all those trucks we see on the road today. There’s two kinds of pickup truck customers: Those who rely on the functionality for their daily vocation or the weekend warriors and those who seek out the capability in case they might need it in a disaster scenario. The truck that I drove does the job of appealing to both.

The F-150 has always been suited to buyers who use it for home improvement projects, outdoorsy hobbies and towing. Pickup trucks also support laborers that require a rugged, functional vehicle. When Ford introduces anything new to this model, it creates hype and high stakes on how these customers feel about tweaks.

2021 F-150 Lariat interior in black. Image Credits: Ford Motor Company

The buyer who seeks security came to mind while I had the F-150 on loan in late June, which is why I’ve saved the part about how it drives for last. My test drive period coincided with a summer storm that pummeled Michigan and shut down major highways and left vehicles stranded for days.

Before the storm, I zoomed around town, adjusting to the big loose steering and wide turns and the rhythm of stillness that occurs as the hybrid engine regenerates.

Once the storm came, I eased off the throttle and into a steady and sure pace, hands at 10 and two. Passenger cars and lesser capable crossover SUVs floated by me in two feet of water on the Lodge Freeway. The F-150 plowed through the muck, unbothered. I didn’t experience any skidding or stalling, in contrast to one friend who was forced to walk home because her Uber driver got stuck. The F-150 feels like a test case for a survivalist in an environmental catastrophe. The backup generator is the added security blanket.

Full-size trucks have an innate quality to make a driver feel invincible, which at the end of day is why people love their F-150s, and why the company has gotten so much mileage off that “Ford tough” tagline. It’s a delicate balance, keeping an unfussy truck at a price point that delivers power, substance and peace of mind.

Hyzon Motors has begun shipping hydrogen fuel cell trucks to customers

By Aria Alamalhodaei

Hydrogen-powered heavy-duty truck company Hyzon Motors said Wednesday it is ramping up operations in the wake of its merger with blank-check firm Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corp., including shipping its first trucks to European customers.

The company, which reported second-quarter earnings Wednesday, said it is also preparing to start its first customer trials in the United States.

Like other transportation companies that have gone public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition fund, Hyzon doesn’t yet have any revenue to speak of. Instead, Hyzon is banking on the huge injection of capital from the transaction – more than $500 million – and growing customer orders to take it to positive cash flow.

As of now, the company reported a net loss for the quarter of $9.4 million, including $3.5 million in R&D expenses. It had a negative adjusted EBITDA of $9.1 million. The company has $517 million in cash on hand, enough to reach free cash flow by 2024 without having to sell additional equity, Hyzon CFO Mark Gordon said during a second quarter earnings call.

In addition to manufacturing hydrogen fuel cell powertrains, Hyzon is also investing in hydrogen fuel production hubs, a key piece of infrastructure for technology uptake. In April, the company signed a MOU for a joint venture with renewable fuels company Raven SR for up to 100 hydrogen production hubs. Gordon confirmed the first two will be in the Bay Area.

He also said that the company is on track to deliver 85 fuel cell vehicles by the end of this year, with the company’s first revenue coming next quarter. Orders and memoranda of understanding under contract has grown to $83 million from $55 million as of April, but many of the MoUs are non-binding. An agreement with Austrian grocer MRPEIS for 70 trucks next year is one such example. Similarly, Hyzon faces a slightly uphill battle in terms of technological adoption, as many of their customers have never seen or used a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle before.

“Many customers are getting their hands on the first fuel cell vehicles they’ve ever seen in the next six to 12 months,” CEO Craig Knight said during the call. That is a genuine kind of technology validation process and the customers need to feel comfortable the vehicles function well in their use case.”

While many of Hyzon’s sales are for a small number of trucks, Knight said he sees the purchasing timeline from initial sale to fleet conversion growing shorter – at least in Europe, where there is significantly more hydrogen availability. “Whereas, earlier I would have said, it’s a 12-to-18 month process to go from getting your first fuel cell truck and trying it out and then maybe getting a few more and figuring out what fleet conversion would look like over time, and then kicking off that fleet conversion process – I actually think that’s compressing,” Knight said.

The company is focused on mostly on back-to-base operations rather than long-haul freight haulage, as the latter requires a more extensively built-out hydrogen refueling network. The U.S. customer trial with logistics company Total Transport Services Inc is high-utilization (trucks can run up to 18-20 hours per day) use case, but the truck will only ever need to access the single refueling station in Wilmington, California. “It’s a good application for hydrogen, and we’re not introducing the complication of having to find hydrogen stations across the country,” Knight said.

ChargePoint acquires Amsterdam-based electric fleet manager ViriCiti

By Aria Alamalhodaei

ChargePoint has made its second acquisition since going public in March, purchasing European electric fleet management company ViriCiti for €75 million ($88 million) in cash. The news comes just a few weeks after the EV charging network operator announced the purchase of European charging software company has·to·be.

Like the has·to·be buy, this newer deal will beef up ChargePoint’s portfolio of hardware and vehicle management software for electric fleet customers, as well as add another 2,500 networked ports and 3,500 connected vehicles to its growing portfolio. ViriCiti customers include Chicago Transit Authority, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, British public transportation company Arriva and Berlin’s main public transport service Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe.

Beyond this customer base, ChargePoint CEO Pasquale Romano told TechCrunch the acquisition of ViriCiti will give the company access to a much larger software feature set for customers beyond ChargePoint’s core offerings of charger management and vehicle charger scheduling, like battery health monitoring, vehicle operations data and greater vehicle telematics capabilities.

“It’s really important for us here to make it easy for fleets to electrify and this [acquisition] is all about making us continually having the most complete offering for fleets,” Romano said.

ChargePoint operates the largest vehicle charging network in North America, with more than 115,000 charging points globally. The company also offers customers access to another 113,000 public charging spots through network roaming agreements. While the company might be best known for this extensive branded network, it also has a cloud subscription platform, as well as a considerable commercial and fleet division. The company went public in March after merging with blank-check company Switchback Energy Acquisition Corporation.

Some of ViriCiti’s services, like battery health monitoring, could be applicable for residential customers, or even simply for fleet customers that let employees take home or use a company vehicle full-time. “If you have vehicles that go home with the driver […] it would stand to reason that what you need to do in the take-home scenario is, your infrastructure needs to look like a logical extension of the infrastructure that you would have in your depots. So we’re pleasantly surprised at how much commercial and residential relevance there is.”

Crucially, ChargePoint will also be absorbing ViriCiti’s more than 50-person workforce, a whole team of mostly software engineers that will transfer their expertise to the new company. “If you just want to see evidence of where our mindset is, look at how many software engineers [are] in the sum total of those two acquisitions,” Romano said. “It’s the majority of both of those companies’ staffs are engineers, and they’re all software in general […] You can see where our focus is in terms of in terms of investment.”

All-electric 2022 Audi e-tron GT and RS e-tron GT provide a pop of tech in understated packaging

By Abigail Bassett

Luxury, technology and a whole lot of flash often go hand in hand. In the age of space-faring billionaires, we all expect the latest wiz-bang gadget to look like something from the future, right?

Not in Audi’s view. The 2022 Audi e-tron GT and RS e-tron GT are a pair of all-electric grand touring halo cars that don’t look like something from 2060. They look just like sleek gasoline-powered GTs, but beneath the skin, there’s a whole lot more power, technological pop and panache than the design implies at first glance.

The 2022 Audi e-tron GT and RS e-tron GT get a low-slung roofline, wide track and long wheelbase like those grand tourers of the past, with the addition of a few design flourishes to bring it in line with Audi’s subtle, yet luxurious aesthetic. While the e-tron GT and the RS e-tron GT were both produced alongside the Audi R8 (its roofline is lower than the R8) and borrow a few things from that iconic design, these electric grand tourers are a pair of beasts all their own.

Nuts and bolts

Based on the same 800-volt architecture as the Porsche Taycan, the e-tron GT makes 469 combined horsepower (up to 522 hp with overboost) from a pair of dual, permanent-magnet motors powering the front and rear wheels. The RS e-tron GT makes 590 (637 hp with overboost) horsepower from those same motors and Audi says it can do 0-60 in 3.1 seconds.

Both vehicles are capable, confident and quick and don’t tarry on mountain roads or long highway stretches. Acceleration is almost seamless, as it is in most electric vehicles.

Thanks to Audi’s electric quattro all-wheel drive with torque vectoring system, both vehicles are sure-footed and well sorted, even when the wheels start to squeal. This system allows a variable amount of power to be sent to wheels that slip when cornering hard, making a sudden lane change, or driving in slippery conditions.

The vehicles I drove were outfitted with summer tires, and I got to test a bit of this out on a closed slalom course with a sudden lane change at the end at the Agua Dulce Airpark about 50 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. I ran the RS e-tron GT through the cones three consecutive times to get a feel for the system and each time the car felt secure, planted and under control.

Steering, speed and range

Audi RS e-tron GT Tango Red_03

2022 Audi RS e-tron GT. Image Credits: Audi

Both the e-tron GT and the RS e-tron GT also get optional rear-wheel steering. Under 30 mph, the rear wheels can turn up to 2.8 degrees in the opposite direction to the front wheels to help make the turning radius of the e-tron GT and the RS e-tron GT smaller. Above 30 mph the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front. This system is similar (with fewer degrees of rotation) to that in the Porsche Taycan.

While I did not get to try out overboost in either vehicle on the smooth tarmac at the airpark, I did run a series of back-to-back 0 to 100 mph accelerations using launch control in the RS e-tron GT. Amongst the cohort of journalists there, I came in second, doing 0-60 in 3.24 seconds and 0-100 in 7.29 seconds. In 102-degree heat, on cold tires, those numbers are plenty impressive. By the end of the runway, I saw speeds approaching 120 mph, 32 mph short of the electronically limited 155 mph, (152 mph in the e-tron GT) before hitting the brakes. After three back-to-back runs, the fully charged RS e-tron GT had only lost 20 miles of range.

The EPA-estimated range for the RS e-tron GT is 232 miles while the e-tron GT is estimated to get 239 miles of range.

Charging up

2022 Audi e-tron GT Ascari Blue_54

2022 Audi e-tron GT. Image Credits: Audi

Those estimated EPA ranges are a result of the low-slung 93 kWh battery pack (the same in both vehicles) that Audi says can charge up to 80% in 23 minutes on 270-volt chargers (DC fast charging).

The e-tron GT starts at $99,900 and the RS e-tron GT pops to a higher $139,900 (both excluding the $1,045 destination charge). That price tag does come with one-time limited benefit.

Audi paired up with Electrify America to offer free, unlimited public charging for three years (without time restrictions). They also offer at-home charging stations set up through Qmerit. Both the e-tron GT and the RS e-tron GT come with standard dual charging ports and a 9.6 kW charging system with 240-volt capability so that owners can charge anywhere. Electrify America was launched by the Volkswagen Group, which owns Audi, following the Dieselgate scandal.

Finding any charger is available through the infotainment system, known as the MMI, and the 10.1-inch touchscreen in the center console. Head to navigation and then hit the icon marked with a plug and a list of chargers near you will populate.

While I didn’t get the opportunity to try to find chargers on the one-day drive, Audi says that finding EA chargers and their status and availability is easy through both Audi’s MyAudi app (available via smartphone and desktop), and through the MMI.  Audi says that drivers can sort by their preferred charging level (Level 1 through DC fast chargers) and navigate to the charger all without leaving Audi’s in-vehicle interface.

Drivers can also perform the search on their phone through EA’s app or through the MyAudi app and send directions to the car either via wireless CarPlay, which is currently available or wireless Android Auto, which is coming on production models, though it wasn’t available in the e-tron GT or the RS e-tron GT that I drove. Drivers can also connect their smartphone through a USB-C port located in the center armrest.

I didn’t get to try the MyAudi app since I am not an owner (it requires tying the vehicle’s VIN to the app to ensure that privacy is maintained), but Audi says that drivers can plan a route on their MyAudi app, and the system will automatically include charge stops along the way to ensure that they arrive with plenty of battery in reserve.

For those luxury buyers who want a bit more support to make a seamless transition to an all-electric luxury car, Audi is launching what they call Audi Care for EVs with the e-tron GT and RS e-tron GT. At participating dealers, owners can pay an additional $999 plus tax to get vehicle servicing for four years that includes high-wear items like wipers and brake pads, available valet pick-up and drop-off for service appointments, mobile service (tire changes, basic maintenance) and, if an owner needs it, up to 10 free tows to an Audi center per year. Audi is also offering seven free days of rentals from Audi by Silvercar with the purchase of an e-tron GT or a RS e-tron.

That virtual cockpit, though

Audi-e-tron GT Ascari Blue

2022 Audi e-tron GT. Image Credits: Audi

The e-tron GT and the RS e-tron GT blend features from both the e-tron (the SUV) and the Audi R8, and both GTs get dual screens that offer tons of features for drivers and passengers. The 12.3-inch virtual cockpit in front of the driver is highly customizable, like it is on most modern Audis today, offering everything from map views to battery status access with few simple inputs on the steering wheel.

The system makes navigating a breeze and drivers or passengers can use voice control to set destinations by simply pressing the button on the steering wheel and giving the car an address, point of interest or city.

The voice system is surprisingly robust and while it was a bit laggy when I used it, it recognizes natural language inputs and verbally prompts the speaker to use specific terms when choosing between two options — say canceling a route and putting in a new destination versus making a stopover. Never once did I have to try multiple times to get the system to recognize what I wanted to do.

The 10.1-inch infotainment system in the center console offers everything from drive mode selection to specific Audi apps, navigation options, optional massage, heat and cooled seats, and much more.

The Audi MMI center screen is touch capacitive and users can drag and drop icons around, allowing owners and their passengers to customize the home screen in any way. The seat heater, cooler and the massage can all be run at the same time, should someone so desire (and have the right equipment), all from the MMI.

Maybe just a little flash?

2022 Audi RS e-tron GT Tango Red_23

2022 Audi RS e-tron GT. Image Credits: Audi

Both GTs are pushing $100,000, and for that, some buyers may want just a little bit more razzle dazzle.

For the launch year, Audi is offering one pricey, but special option on the RS e-tron GT: the Year One package. For $20,350, owners get the “carbon performance” package with features like carbon-fiber trim, illuminated door sills, black badges and rear-wheel steering, along with special 21-inch wheels, red ceramic brake calipers, red seatbelts and red stitching inside.

For those who want the prestige, power and advanced technology of a luxury brand, in an electric halo grand tourer that doesn’t (necessarily) come with all the flash, the 2022 Audi e-tron GT and Audi RS e-tron GT fit the bill. Both are on sale now.

Lilium in talks with Brazilian airline for $1B order

By Aria Alamalhodaei

German electric aircraft startup Lilium is negotiating the terms for a 220-aircraft, $1 billion order with one of Brazil’s largest domestic airlines, the companies said Monday. Should the deal with Azul move forward, it would mark the largest order in Lilium’s history and its first foray into South American markets.

“A term sheet has been signed and we will move towards a final agreement in the coming months,” a Lilium spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The 220 aircraft would fly as part of a new, co-branded airline network that would operate in Brazil. Should the two companies come to an agreement, Azul would operate and maintain the fleet of the flagship 7-seater aircraft, and Lilium would provide custom spare parts, including replacement batteries, and an aircraft health monitoring platform.

Deliveries would commence in 2025, a year after Lilium has said it plans to begin commercial operations in Europe and the United States. These timelines are dependent upon Lilium receiving key certification approvals from each country’s requisite aerospace regulator. Azul said in a statement it would “support Lilium with the necessary regulatory approval processes in Brazil” as part of the agreement.

Even if a deal is reached, it would likely be subject to Lilium hitting certain performance standards and benchmarks, similar to the conditions of Archer Aviation’s $1 billion order with United Airlines. Still, orders of this value are seen as a positive signal to markets and investors that an electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft is more than smoke and mirrors.

Also like Archer, Lilium is planning on taking the SPAC route to going public. The company in March announced its intention to merge with Qell Acquisition Corp. and list on Nasdaq under ticker symbol “LILM.” SPACs have become a popular vehicle for public listing across the transportation sector, but they’ve become especially popular with capital-intensive eVTOL startups.

The merger may be necessary for the company’s continued operations. According to the German news website Welt, Lilium added a risk warning to its 2019 balance sheet noting that it will run out of money in December 2022 should the SPAC merger not be completed.

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