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Volkswagen’s $800M Tennessee factory expansion to include battery pack plant

By Kirsten Korosec

Volkswagen said Wednesday it will build a battery pack assembly facility as part of an $800 million expansion project that will turn the Chattanooga, Tenn. factory into its North American base for manufacturing electric vehicles.

The Chattanooga factory expansion, which is includes a 564,000-square-foot addition to the body shop and is expected to create 1,000 new jobs at the plant, has been in the works for some time now. But the battery pack assembly announcement, while logical, came as a surprise.

“This is a big, big moment for this company,” Scott Keogh, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America said in a statement. “Expanding local production sets the foundation for our sustainable growth in the U.S. Electric vehicles are the future of mobility and Volkswagen will build them for millions of people.”

The automaker’s Chattanooga expansion is just a piece its broader plan to move away from diesel in the wake of the emissions cheating scandal that erupted in 2015. Globally, VW Group plans to commit almost $50 billion through 2023 toward the development and production of electric vehicles and digital services.

The Tennessee factory (along with the other new facilities) will produce electric vehicles using Volkswagen’s modular electric toolkit chassis, or MEB, introduced by the company in 2016. The MEB 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 company also built a European facility in Zwickau, Germany. Earlier this month, VW began production of the ID. 3 electric vehicle began at the Zwickau factory. By 2022, VW’s MEB vehicles will be produced at eight locations on three continents.

EV-production at facilities are expected to come online in Anting and Foshan in China in 2020, and in the German cities of Emden and Hanover by 2022.

Volkswagen currently produces the midsize Atlas SUV and the Passat sedan at the Chattanooga factory. Production of its electric vehicles is  set to begin in Chattanooga in 2022. First model will be a SUV of ID. family.

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The 2020 Ford Shelby Mustang is a savage, daily-driver muscle car

By Matt Burns

The Shelby GT500 is a beast on the track. It’s not a surprise. After a day driving around Las Vegas, I found something that surprised me: The GT500 is as comfortable on the road as it is on the track.

The Shelby GT500 is an icon of motoring. The name implies a simple formula of stuffing a lot of power into a modest body. I’m pleased to report Ford stuck to the proven method for the 2020 GT500. A 5.2L supercharged engine provides 670 HP in this coupe. It’s the most powerful Ford ever mass-produced. The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is a future classic, and unlike its predecessors, the car is memorable for more than just going fast in a straight line.

The 2013-2014 GT500 was a monster. It was raw and unhinged and had the thumping soul of a muscle car from a bygone era. It was a Mustang in its purest form. Fast down the drag strip and prone to crash when burning out of Cars and Coffee. This time around, Ford created something different. The 2020 GT500 is still packed with power, but refined enough to create a vehicle that’s capable and comfortable.

IMG 1933On the track, The GT500 dives into corners and roars down the straights. On the drag strip, it hits the quarter-mile in less than 11 seconds (I did a 10.98). And on the street, it’s comfortable driving between red lights. The GT500 is a car someone could drive daily to and from an office park. I took my tester to Starbucks and through the back streets of Las Vegas. It’s sublime thanks to a brilliant implementation of a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The DCT manages the communication between the engine and tires. It’s lovely. The dual-clutch transmission is lightning quick, with shifts happening as fast as 80ms. On the track, that’s critical, and on the streets, it makes for easy driving. When cruising from red light to red light, the shifts are refined. They’re quick and light as they translate the engine’s obscene power into mild motoring.

During my short time with the 2020 GT500, I never felt overwhelmed with power when driving it on city streets. The 2020 GT500 is an exercise in controlled restraint. Somehow this 670 HP Ford can hit 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and still be easy to putz around town. It’s surprising and a testament to the advances made within Dearborn.

The on-street feel is critical to the success of the latest GT500. Not everyone is looking for a dragster or track superstar. With this performance car, Ford is punching up, appealing to entry-level Porsche and BMW buyers with sticker shock. The GT500 is not apologetic. It’s not trying to be a European sports car, and yet I find it competitive with some of the best from Germany.

Yet don’t sleep on this GT500. When instructed, the 670 HP engine will rip the soul from your body. Drop the pedal to the floor, and it hits 60 mph nearly as fast as Ford’s GT supercar.

[gallery ids="1906453,1906452,1906451,1906450,1906449,1906447"]

The interior is lackluster for the price. When the GT500 is fitted with all the options, it approaches six figures. The performance is worth the sticker price, but the interior is that of a car costing around $30,000. The GT500 comes with upgraded seats, extra gauges and some materials are improved. In the end, the GT500 lacks the interior refinement of an M3 or AMG C Class, and it will likely cost Ford some sales.

Ford engineers fitted the Shelby GT500 with a powertrain that will devour tracks. The dual-clutch transmission keeps the 670 HP supercharged engine in line. During my time on the track, this DCT performed admirably, gleefully holding shifts until the right moment and rev-matching downshifts while dipping into corners. Sure, a manual transmission would be fun at times, but using this DCT means peak performance is more obtainable.

The 2020 Shelby GT500 attacks corners, unlike any most muscle cars, dipping and diving without a hint of the brakes fading. It grips better than expected, holding the tires on the tarmac even during the most extreme cornering. The on-track performance is impressive for any car, let alone a Mustang. The GT500 offers class-leading track performance. A Dodge SRT Hellcat Redeye will beat the Mustang to a quarter-mile, but the Mustang will pull ahead at the first corner.

On the drag strip, nearly anyone can hit an 11-second quarter mile. During my time at the track, there was a stiff headwind, and it took me four runs down the strip to go from 11.4 seconds to 10.98 seconds. Ford says the car can do it in 10.9, and I see little reason to doubt that time.

Monster burn-outs are a few menu options away. With just a couple button presses, a novice can lock the front wheels and spin the rears to create a massive plume of burning rubber.

Turn the exhaust to normal or track, and the car screams when the throttle is wide open. The noise is impressive. It’s full range and sounds more supercar than muscle car. I found the exhaust note to be more expansive than just an explosive rumble.

I asked a Ford engineer if the GT500 was louder than the GT350. He laughed before answering with a straight face. “First of all, both are legal,” he said, alluding to the explosive exhaust note. Unlike the GT350, the GT500 has a quiet mode. It’s not as soft as a Camry, but in this mode, the GT500 is less obnoxious, making it easier to drive daily.

It’s hard to imagine where the Mustang goes from here. I spent a day racing the GT500 around desert roads and the Las Vegas Speedway. It’s incredible and exceeded my expectations. The GT500’s power is endless, and the noise is intoxicating. How does Ford improve while maintaining the Shelby Cobra heritage? Likewise, will future versions lean on electric motors to squeak even more performance from Ford’s pony car?

Never mind about the future. As it sits right now, the 2020 GT500 is the pinnacle of muscle car performance.

Purists will decry Ford’s use of an automatic transmission in this car, saying the GT500 should have a standard instead. It’s understandable. A manual transmission results in a commanding feeling of control. And for those looking for such experience, the much-less expensive GT350 is worth a look. The GT350 offers much of the usable power of the GT500 in a more traditional package. In the run-up to driving the GT500, I borrowed a 2019 GT350 for a week. It’s a beast, and I loved it. The steering seemed more direct than the GT500, and the manual transmission resulted in the feeling of unhinged power that’s somewhat lacking in the carefully packaged GT500.

Want an over-the-top, muscle car feel? Get the GT350. Want a supercar experience at a pony car price? Get the GT500.

It’s nearly a mischaracterization to call the GT500 a muscle car. The GT350 is a muscle car with its standard transmission and raw 5.2L flat-plane crank engine. The GT500, with its supercharged 670 HP engine and dual-clutch transmission, is something more refined. It’s not a supercar, nor is it a muscle car. It’s just a fantastic sports car living its best life.

It’s undeniable: In 2019, we are living in the twilight of combustion engines. Electric is the future. And in these last days, internal combustion engines are a work of art. Automakers from all parts of the globe are turning out wonderful engines that are breathtaking in their efficiency and performance. The supercharged 5.2L found in the GT500 is a masterpiece.

The Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is the most powerful Mustang to date, and I would venture to say, one of the last without an assist from an electric motor. Enjoy it while it lasts. These sorts of fossil fuel-burning, greenhouse gas-emitting monsters from Detroit are long for this world.

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Demand for Porsche Taycan prompts automaker to add 500 more jobs

By Kirsten Korosec

Demand for the all-electric Porsche Taycan sports car has prompted the German automaker to add 500 more jobs at its headquarters in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.

The move, which will boost jobs dedicated to the Taycan by one third to 2,000, is designed to give Porsche the flexibility it might need to boost production.

“With the Taycan, we are showing that e-mobility is by no means a job killer,” Andreas Haffner, a Porsche board member in charge of human resources, said in a statement. “Rather, we are underlining its future viability, especially in the sports car segment.”

Porsche has poured more than $1 billion into the development of the Taycan, its first all-electric vehicle. And that bet appears to be paying off, if initial numbers hold up. Even before the Taycan was revealed in September, the company reported strong demand for the vehicle, which it measured through the number of people who had made deposits to order the four-door sports car. Reservations required a €2,500 deposit ($2,785).

Porsche initially targeted 20,000 Taycans for the first year of production, although at full capacity the line can produce up to 40,000 of these electric vehicles.

The company has received more than 32,000 applications for the Taycan, Haffner said.

Porsche plans to increase its workforce dedicated to the Taycan by the end of the second quarter of 2020.

The Porsche Taycan wasn’t just a big bet by the automaker; the company’s workers also made a gamble. Workers and executives agreed to cost-cutting measures, including giving up a percentage of their scheduled wage increases through 2025, to guarantee that the vehicle would be built in Zuffenhausen, and not in another plant where the cars could be produced more cheaply.

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.

Inside the Porsche Taycan’s minimalist, 911-inspired interior

By Kirsten Korosec

Porsche has taken the wraps off of the interior of the all-new, all-electric Porsche Taycan ahead of its world debut September 4. Gone are the buttons and the clutter. This is a minimalist and sleek interior for the modern digital age.

Porsche released Thursday several images of the interior. Earlier this week, TechCrunch was among numerous media outlets that got an up close view of the interior (along with some other things we can’t talk about) and a chance to play around with the infotainment system.

Porsche didn’t just slap a bunch of screens in and call it a day. Here are the inside details and what stood out.

911 design lines

At first glance, the dashboard might give viewers a twinge of deja vu. And they wouldn’t be wrong.

Designers used the dashboard from the 1963 Porsche 911 as inspiration. And that’s evident in the pictures below, which shows a clean and sleek dashboard.

The 911 DNA is evident. But this isn’t some throwback. This is a modern vehicle with its own design story, which includes horizontal digital screens that are sandwiched between the upper and lower dash lines and stretch all the way over to the passenger seat.Taycan Interior 2

The elevated center console stretches down from the horizontal central screen to two air vents that are not the mechanically-operated louvres found most vehicles today. Instead, the direction of the airflow is controlled digitally via an 8.4-inch touch panel that is located just below the central screen. This touch panel houses the climate control system and includes a track pad with haptic feedback. The trackpad can also be used for quick address inputs.

Tucked under the touch panel is a small flat space to place a wallet or phone. Two cups holders and then a storage unit, which is equipped with wireless charging and two USB ports, completes the center console.

Porsche’s design team repeatedly talked to TechCrunch about the emphasis on the driver. And that shows. (The design team worked on the interface alone for 3.5 years.) Although there are plenty of passenger features here as well. From the driver’s seat, everything is in reach and without constantly looking over to the center display. Natural voice integration courtesy of Nuance is activated by a “Hey Porsche” trigger or simply pressing the voice button on the central display or dedicated button on the steering wheel.

The minimalist design continues to the all-digital instrument cluster. This free-standing panel, which houses the instrument cluster, has a slight curve to it. Interestingly, it doesn’t have the standard cowl or lip that is often used to prevent reflection. Instead, Porsche used glass coated with a vapor-deposited, polarizing filter.


The digital instrument cluster is the highest point of the dashboard in the Porsche Taycan.

The Instrument Cluster

Inside the 16.8-inch cluster display, the driver will see three round instruments that display information. Drivers can customize what each of these instruments displays. Drivers can also remove the information for a more streamlined look in “pure mode.”

This pure mode displays only essential information such as speed, navigation or traffic sign recognition (so you know what the speed limit is). Pure mode, which manages to give the interior an even more minimalist look, could be a handy and fun feature for a Taycan owner on track day.

Perhaps one of the most functional features is the map mode. The map replaces the central power meter in this mode. But it really becomes useful when “full map mode” is turned on, which extends the map across the full display. TechCrunch wasn’t allowed to take photos of the interior during its visit to Porsche North America headquarters, so readers will have to imagine it a digital map taking up most of the instrument cluster.

Finally, just to the left and right of the main instrument cluster, drivers will see small, touch-control fields at the edges of the screen for operating the light and chassis functions. One of these buttons is a trigger key, which lets drivers customize what it operates.

All The Screens

The Porsche Taycan has several screens. Oh, so many screens. Beyond the digital instrument cluster is a horizontal 10.9-central display. Directly below this is a tilted screen that houses climate control as well as a digital track pad that gives haptic feedback.

From the central screen and moving to the right, is a display for the passenger. The passenger display cannot be turned on if the driver is the only one in the vehicle, according to Oliver Fritz, director of driver experience at Porsche.

Porsche is experimenting with streaming video on the passenger display. This likely won’t be available when Porsche begins delivery before the end of the year. But could be rolled out in future over-the-air software updates. For now, the company is testing technology that would prevent the driver from being able to view the screen. Fritz emphasized that this idea was still in testing and Porsche won’t roll out streaming video unless it’s sure the driver cannot see the screen.

Dark Mode

Porsche designers have made “dark mode” the default in the instrument cluster and rest of the infotainment system. That can be changed to a white background, Porsche said. TechCrunch doesn’t recommend that though. The dark mode, and the ability to turn off the central 10.9-inch infotainment display and optional passenger one, should let drivers enjoy the road and escape the annoying “blue light” that is emanates from so many vehicles these days.

Interior colors and leather-free options

Porsche will offer a number of color combinations in the interior, including an all-black matte look, which TechCrunch viewed. The company’s design team didn’t reveal the total number of interior color combinations, but they did list a few. There will be four exclusive interior colors for the Taycan, a black-lime beige, blackberry, Atacama beige and Meranti brown. An optional interior accent package will include black matte, dark silver or neodyme, which is like a champagne gold color.

The doors and center consoles can have wood trim, matte carbon, embossed aluminum or fabric.

The company is also offering a leather-free trim interior, which includes the steering wheel. Porsche designer Thorsten Klein was careful not to call it vegan. He told TechCrunch that even synthetic materials can be treated using animal products. Porsche is pushing to source materials that don’t use these processes, but until then Porsche won’t use the vegan term.

Apple Music and more

Earlier this week, Porsche announced it will integrate Apple  Music into the Taycan, the first time the music streaming service has been offered as a standalone app within a vehicle.

But Apple Music is just one of the many features in the infotainment system. The user interface is laid out to always show a home, vehicle and messages button, which will lists notifications coming into the vehicle. The voice feature can also be used so the driver doesn’t need to glance at the screen.

Other buttons on the central screen include navigation, phone, settings, climate, news, calendar, charging information, weather and Homelink, which can be used to open the owner’s garage door.

Porsche invests in ‘low visibility’ sensor startup TriEye

By Kirsten Korosec

Porsche’s venture arm has acquired a minority stake in TriEye, an Israeli startup that’s working on a sensor technology to help vehicle driver-assistance and self-driving systems see better in poor weather conditions like dust, fog and rain.

The strategic investment is part of a Series A financing round that has been expanded to $19 million. The round was initially led by Intel Capital and Israeli venture fund Grove Ventures. Porsche has held shares in Grove Ventures since 2017.

TriEye has raised $22 million to date. Terms of Porsche’s investment were not disclosed.

The additional funding will be used for ongoing product development, operations and hiring talent, according to TriEye.

The advanced driver-assistance systems found in most new vehicles today typically rely on a combination of cameras and radar to “see.” Autonomous vehicle systems, which are being developed and tested by dozens of companies such as Argo AI, Aptiv, Aurora, Cruise and Waymo, have a more robust suite of sensors that include light detection and ranging radar (lidar) along with cameras and ultrasonic sensors.

For either of these systems to function properly, they need to be able to see in all conditions. This pursuit of sensor technology has sparked a boom in startups hoping to tap into demand from automakers and companies working on self-driving car systems.

TriEye is one of them. The premise of TriEye is to solve the low visibility problem created by poor weather conditions. The startup’s co-founders argue that fusing existing sensors such as radar, lidar and standard cameras don’t solve this problem.

TriEye, which was founded in 2017, believes the answer is through short-wave infrared (SWIR) sensors. The startup said it has developed an HD SWIR camera that is a smaller size, higher resolution and cheaper than other technologies. The camera is due to launch in 2020.

The technology is based on advanced nano-photonics research by Uriel Levy, a TriEye co-founder and CTO who is also a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The company says its secret sauce is its “unique” semiconductor design that will make it possible to manufacture SWIR HD cameras at a “fraction of their current cost.”

TriEye’s technology was apparently good enough to get Porsche’s attention.

Michael Steiner, a Porsche AG board member focused on R&D, said the technology was promising, as was the team, which is comprised of people with expertise in deep learning, nano-photonics and semiconductor components.

“We see great potential in this sensor technology that paves the way for the next generation of driver assistance systems and autonomous driving functions,” Steiner said in a statement. “SWIR can be a key element: it offers enhanced safety at a competitive price.”

Porsche is integrating Apple Music into the all-electric Taycan

By Kirsten Korosec

Porsche said Monday it will integrate Apple Music into its upcoming all-electric Taycan sports car, the first time the music streaming service has been offered as a standalone app within a vehicle.

The announcement illustrates the latest efforts by Porsche to focus on digital entertainment in its vehicles as well as its further alignment with Apple.

The Apple Music integration will begin with the hotly anticipated Taycan. However, the relationship between Apple and Porsche won’t end at there, Porsche North America CEO Klaus Zellmer told TechCrunch.

Apple CarPlay, an app that brings the look and feel of an iPhone to the vehicle’s central screen, is already offered in new Porsche models, a list that will include the Taycan. And like the rollout of Apple CarPlay, a fully integrated Apple Music app will eventually make its way into the rest of the Porsche lineup.

The intention is to give all Porsche customers the “same bandwidth of services,” he said, adding that Apple Music will be introduced into new vehicles that have the technology to integrate the streaming services. It was a sentiment echoed in a statement by Porsche AG board member Detlev von Platen.

For now, the partnership between the two companies will give Taycan owners access to Apple Music — and its 50 million songs, Beats 1 live streamed radio station and curated playlists — through the vehicle’s touchscreen display or its voice assistant. Apple Music, which costs $9.99 for an individual membership, recently surpassed 60 million subscribers.

The integration means more than an Apple Music app icon popping up on the Taycan’s digital touchscreen. The company wanted the experience to be seamless, meaning no wonky sign-ins, phone pairing or separate accounts. Instead, Porsche is linking an owner’s Apple ID with their Porsche Taycan ID. Apple Music content in the Taycan will be identical to what’s on the user’s iPhone app.

Apple Music in the Taycan can also be accessed via Porsche’s voice assistant, which will let users request songs, albums, playlists, or radio stations.

New and existing Porsche owners will be given a free six-month subscription to Apple Music, another hint that the integration will eventually reach other vehicles in the German automaker’s portfolio.

Once that period expires, owners will have to pay for the streaming service. Although if Taycan owners reflect Porsche’s larger U.S. customer base, it’s possible that many already have a subscription. More than 80% of the U.S. Porsche customers also have iPhone, Zellmer told TechCrunch.

Porsche said it will also give Taycan owners three years of free in-car internet.

“None of our customers will have to worry about data consumption while streaming,” Lars Buchwald, director of sales and marketing at Porsche Connect for Porsche AG, said during an event Monday at Porsche’s North America headquarters in Atlanta.

Apple is a natural fit for Porsche, Zellmer said, noting that the brands of the two companies are closely aligned with their parallel focus on design, technology and innovation.

Both brands also share a closed system ethos. For instance, Porsche doesn’t support open source-based Android Auto, the competitor to Apple CarPlay. And while that doesn’t mean Apple Music will be the only app ever integrated into the Taycan or other Porsche vehicles, they will likely be few and far between.

“Generally speaking, we always want to be in control of that system for privacy reasons,” Zellmer said. “We don’t want our customers to be approached with marketing or advertising messages that are not relevant or adequate. We will always be very cautious about whom we grant access to our digital ecosystem in our cars. Another reason why Apple is our partner is because they have exactly the same attitude.”