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Behold, the Tesla Cybertruck is here

By Kirsten Korosec

Elon Musk revealed Thursday evening the Tesla Cybertruck, a futuristic vehicle that seemed stripped straight out of a post-apocalyptic-era movie.

The Tesla Cybertruck, which Musk unveiled in dramatic fashion and to the hoots and hollers of invited guests at the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, Calif., is made of cold-rolled steel, armored glass that did crack in one demonstration and adaptive air suspension.

When the vehicle first came out people cheered and gasped. Some wondered out loud if this was really the cybertruck Musk had been promising. Others seemed disappointed it wasn’t a more market-ready truck. But as Musk began rolling through the specs — first the body, then the performance and finally the price — the enthusiasm in the crowd began building.

By the time Musk uttered “one more thing,” the crowd was frenzied and fully committed to the ride he was taking them on. And then an ATV rolled out onto the stage and the crowd went wild.

Later, while hundreds stood in line for a chance to take a two-minute ride in the cybertruck, the most common phrase from invited guests was “It’s growing on me.” Whether it will “grow on them” is unclear. All of the invited guests at the event, and those watching online, will have a couple of years (at least) to decide if it’s grown on them enough to buy.

One, two, three motors

Tesla will offer three variants of the cybertruck. The cheapest version, a single motor and rear-wheel drive model, will cost $39,900, have a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds and more than 250 miles of range. The middle version will be a dual-motor all-wheel drive, have a towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds and be able to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge. The dual motor AWD model is priced at $49,900.

The third version will have three electric motors and all-wheel drive, a towing capacity of 14,000 pounds and battery range of more than 500 miles. This version, known as “tri motor,” is priced at $69,900.

Musk touted the acceleration of the Cybertruck as well, showing a video at one point of the truck beating a Porsche 911 off the line. Musk said the “tri motor” version can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than 2.9 seconds. The single-motor rear-wheel drive model is the slowest off the line, with a 0 to 60 mph acceleration of less than 6.5 seconds.

tesla cybertruck

Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed the Tesla Cybertruck on Thursday, November 21, 2019

Tesla said customers can put down a $100 deposit. They’ll be able to complete their configuration as production nears in late 2021. Tri-motor AWD production is expected to begin in late 2022.

Musk has talked about producing an all-electric pickup truck for years now. In December, Musk resurrected the idea, saying that Tesla might have a prototype to unveil in 2019.

Musk mentioned on Twitter in April 2017 the desire to produce a pickup truck, before the first Model 3 sedans had been handed over to customers and the CEO had entered production hell. At the time, Musk tweeted that a pickup truck would be unveiled in 18 to 24 months.

If Tesla were to hit that mark it would be bringing its electric truck to market after GM and Rivian have started delivering their products.

Rivian is expected to begin vehicle production of its electric R1T pickup truck in the second half of 2020. GM CEO Mary Barra said Thursday during an investor conference that the automaker plans to bring an electric pickup truck to market in 2021. Ford also is planning an electric F-150 truck.

It’s unclear how much demand there will be for electric pickup trucks. However, the demand for gas and diesel-powered trucks is growing. Large trucks account for 14.4% of new vehicle sales through October, compared to 12.6% in 2015, according to Edmunds.

Midsize trucks accounted for 3.7% of new vehicle sales through October, compared to 1.5% in 2014.

Automakers are keen to tap into that growth because trucks and SUVs tend to have higher profit margins than sedans. And those margins could continue to increase if automakers can keep costs down.

The average transaction price of a full-size truck (gas and diesel) crossed $50,000 for the first time in September, and continues to climb, according to Jessica Caldwell, the executive director of insights at Edmunds. The average transaction price of a full-size truck was $50,496 in October, and a midsize truck was $36,251.

Toyota’s first plug-in hybrid RAV4 piles on the power and fuel efficiency

By Kirsten Korosec

Toyota gave its first plug-in hybrid RAV4 more than just a plug. It piled on the power as well.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime, which was unveiled this week at the LA Auto Show, will achieve two seemingly conflicting goals. The vehicle will be its most fuel efficient and one of its most powerful.

This variant of the RAV4 will have an all-wheel drive, sport-tuned suspension. It has a tuned 2.5-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and when combined with the electric motors will deliver 302 horsepower and be able to travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a projected 5.8 seconds. Toyota hasn’t announced a price yet, but expect it to be more expensive than the hybrid version of the RAV4, which starts at $28,100.

toyota rav4 prime

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime, a plug-in hybrid, on the floor of the 2019 LA Auto Show

That might seem slow compared to some of the pure electric sedans on the market. But it’s far zippier than previous models and marks a much needed improvement in the RAV4. The vehicle’s electric battery will provide an estimated 39 miles of range before kicking back to the gas-powered engine.

The RAV4 Prime has a manufacturer-estimated 90 combined MPGe. The 2021 model will be available in the sportier SE and luxury focused XSE trims, and will hit the marketplace in summer 2020.

To understand the improvement, consider this. Toyota offered a 3.5-liter V6 in the 2006 to 2012 model years of the RAV4. And yet, despite having more cylinders and bigger displacement, it only produced 269 horsepower and combined fuel economy rating of 21 miles per gallon.

The vehicle will also come standard with advanced driver assistance features, including pre-collision pedestrian detection, radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beam and road sign assistance.

As Toyota offers more electrified versions of its popular SUVs, the company is upping the warranty on its hybrid battery. The automaker said that beginning with the 2020 model year, its hybrid battery warranty will be increased from eight years or 100,000 miles to 10 years from original date of first use, or 150,000 miles, whichever comes first.

BMW locks up €10.2 billion battery order ahead of EV onslaught

By Kirsten Korosec

BMW announced Thursday it will spend more than €10 billion euros ($11.07 billion) on battery cells from Chinese battery cell manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. and Samsung SDI.

The deal comes just days after BMW unveiled its first purely electric premium mid-size sedan, called the i4. The all-electric sedan, which won’t be available until 2021, is powered by the company’s fifth-generation eDrive platform and part of the company’s upcoming onslaught of EVs.

BMW’s original deal with CATL, which was announced in mid-2018, was for €4 billion worth of battery cells. This new contract is from 2020 to 2031, the German automaker said.

BMW Group will be the first customer of CATL’s battery cell factory that is under construction in Erfurt, Germany. BMW played an active part in establishing CATL in Germany, according to Andreas Wendt, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for purchasing and supplier network.

The automaker also signed a long-term supply contract with Samsung SDI for its fifth-generation electric drivetrains. BMW’s contract with Samsung SDI, which is worth €2.9 billion, is valid from 2021 to 2031.

BMW battery-i4

Battery in the BMW i4 sedan

“In this way, we are securing our long-term battery cell needs,” Wendt said at a supplier event Thursday in Seoul, South Korea.

And if BMW sticks to its electric vehicle agenda, those needs will be substantial. The automaker plans to have 25 electrified models in its lineup by 2023. “Electrified” can mean plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles, and BMW has created a flexible vehicle architecture to be able to offer both varieties and respond to market conditions.

More than half of the 25 models will be fully electric, the company said. The BMW Group has said it will double its sales of electrified vehicles between 2019 and 2021. The steepest growth curve will be through 2025. The company has predicted that global sales of electrified vehicles should increase by an average of more than 30% every year.

The $189,000 DBX SUV Is Here to Save Aston Martin

By Alex Davies
The esteemed brand is following the luxury SUV trend in a bid to expand and diversify its customer base.

Feds Pin Uber Crash on Human Operator, Call for Better Rules

By Alex Davies, Aarian Marshall
For starters, self-driving car companies should be required to submit safety evaluation letters—and those letters should be formally assessed.

Circ, the Berlin-based e-scooter company, makes layoffs following ‘operational learnings’

By Steve O'Hear

Circ, the Berlin-based e-scooter rentals — or so-called micro-mobility — company founded by Lukasz Gadowski of Delivery Hero fame, has made a number of layoffs, TechCrunch has learned.

This has seen a reduction in headcount in its HQ and other regional operations. The exact number isn’t clear, although once source placed it at around 50 people, or less than 10% of employees.

Confirming the restructuring, Circ issued the following statement, citing the move to swappable batteries and a shift of focus to “efficiency and ops excellence”:

After fast growth in the initial stage now we focus on efficiency and ops excellence, including switching our operations mode to swappable battery scooters, [we] just introduced the Circ “KAISER” vehicle in a few German cities. Apart from being more cost efficient that is also more sustainable (cargo bikes instead of vans).

I managed to get Gadowski on a call and he added some further context to the layoffs, citing three reasons behind the decision to reduce headcount: seasonality, operational learnings, and indeed the move to e-scooters with swappable batteries.

“It’s a seasonal business, we have less riders in the winter than summer,” explained the Circ founder. “In winter you can expect less than 50% of your summer rides with the current micro-mobility devices. That may change in the future”.

With regards to operational learnings, Gadowski says the company needed to learn how to operate a micro-mobility service across many markets simultaneously. “Basically figure out how to be more efficient, how to run a micro-mobility operation; it’s not optimised yet and we learned over the summer”.

He also conceded that, within the micro-mobility space more generally, there had been something of a land grab strategy that is now perhaps inevitably shifting towards greater emphasis on capital efficiency. “When we started this there was a focus on time to market but now it is not about time to market but efficiency,” he tells me.

Finally, Gadowski says the move to swappable battery technology means that Circ can run more efficiently and therefore also requires less people.

“What happens at the moment is we have warehouses where we store the scooters, maintain them and charge the batteries. Vans bring them into the city hotspots, the user rides them, then vans pick them up again where they are maintained or batteries charged. And now this changes to swappable batteries operations in which the vehicles are equipped with batteries that are swappable so you charge only the battery in the warehouse… and mechanics do light maintenance in-field. This requires less people because it is more operations efficient”.

The Circ KAISER, equipped with a swappable battery system

Meanwhile, Circ shared some updated metrics with TechCrunch. The company says it has enabled approximately 10 million rides to date and has 3 million registered customers. It operates in more than 40 cities across 14 European countries, in addition to United Arab Emirates.

I’m also told that this year Circ has seen “positive unit economics” in cities in about 1/3rd of its countries (5 out of 14). “In 2020 we expect to be unit economic profitable across the group,” a spokesperson tells TechCrunch.

Circ — then called Flash — raised €55 million in Series A funding in January, with Target Global leading the round via its mobility fund.

Uber reports a sharp rise in government demands for user data

By Zack Whittaker

Uber says the number of legal demands for riders’ data made by U.S. and Canadian authorities has risen sharply in the past year.

The ride-hailing company said the number of law enforcement demands for user data during 2018 are up 27% on the year earlier, according to its annual transparency report published Wednesday. Uber said the rise in demands was partly due to its business growing in size, but also a “rising interest” from governments to access data on its customers.

Uber said it received 3,825 demands for 21,913 user accounts from the U.S. government, with the company turning over some data in 72% of cases, during 2018.

That’s up from 2,940 demands for 17,181 user accounts a year earlier, with a slightly higher compliance rate of 73%.

Canadian authorities submitted 161 demands for data on 593 user accounts during 2018.

Uber said that the rise in demands for customer data presents a challenge for the ride-hailing company, previously valued at $82 billion, which went public in May. “Our responsibility to preserve consumer privacy while meeting regulatory and public safety obligations will become increasingly complex and challenging as we field a growing number of government requests for data every year,” said Uttara Sivaram, global privacy and security public policy manager at Uber.

The company also said it disclosed ride information on 34 million users to U.S. regulators and 1.8 million users to Canadian regulators, such as local taxi and transport authorities. Uber said it is mandated to give over the information to regulators as part of the “bespoke legal and regulatory requirements to which we are subject,” which can include pickup and drop-off locations, fares, and other data that may “identify individual riders,” the company said.

Uber isn’t the only company fielding a record number of demands from governments. Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter have all reported a rise in government demands over the past year as their customer base continues to grow while governments become increasingly hungry for companies’ data.

But Uber’s figures offer insight into only the largest portions of its businesses — its consumer and business ride-hailing services, food delivery and electric scooters — and only covers North America, despite operating in hundreds of cities around the world.

Despite the rise in overall law enforcement requests, Uber said it “has not received a national security request” to date.

Such disclosures are rare but not unheard of. Most national security demands, such as orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and FBI-issued subpoenas, are coupled with secrecy rules that prevent the companies from disclosing anything about the demand. By proactively posting these so-called “warrant canary” statements, companies can quietly reveal when they have received such orders by removing the statements from their websites.

Apple famously used a warrant canary in its first transparency report in the wake of the NSA surveillance scandal, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. In 2016, Reddit quietly removed its warrant canary suggesting it had received a classified order.

Although the First Amendment protects government-compelled speech, the legality of warrant canaries remains legally questionable.

An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated Sivaram’s title. This has been corrected.

WHILL brings its autonomous wheelchairs to North American airports

By Jonathan Shieber

After trials in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, Tokyo’s Haneda airport and Abu Dhabi airport earlier this year, WHILL, the developer of autonomous wheelchairs, is bringing its robotic mobility tech to North America.

At airports in Dallas and Winnipeg, travelers with mobility limitations can book a WHILL through Scootaround and test out the company’s products.

Using sensing technologies and automatic brakes, WHILL’s wheelchairs detect and avoid obstacles in busy airports, allowing customers to get to their gate faster.

Based in Yokohama, Japan, WHILL has raised roughly $80 million for its technology to bring autonomy to personal mobility.

“When traveling, checking in, getting through security and to the gate on time is critical to avoid the hassle and frustration of missing a flight,” said Satoshi Sugie, the founder and chief executive of WHILL, in a statement. “Travelers with reduced mobility usually have to wait longer times for an employee to bring them a wheelchair and be pushed to their gate, reducing their flexibility while traveling. We are now providing an opportunity for travelers with reduced mobility to have a sense of independence as they move about the airport and get from point A to point B as smoothly as possible.”

The company is one of a growing number of startups and established technology companies tackling the massive market of assistive technologies.

The entire population of people with disabilities globally stands at 1 billion, and there are 70 million potential customers for assistive technology products across Europe. If demand in human terms isn’t enough to sway would-be entrepreneurs, then perhaps a recent market report indicating that spending on assistive technologies for the elderly and people with disabilities is projected to reach over $26 billion by 2024 will do the trick.

“Accessibility is a priority for Winnipeg Richardson International Airport and travel is now easier for passengers with limited mobility thanks to our partnership with WHILL. We are excited to be one of the first airports in North America to trial WHILL’s autonomous personal mobility devices with our travelers.”

Volkswagen’s new all-electric concept wagon could be coming to the U.S. by 2022

By Kirsten Korosec

Volkswagen revealed Tuesday evening a new concept vehicle called the ID Space Vizzion, and despite the crazy Frank Zappaesque name, this one might actually make it into production in Europe and North America.

The ID Space Vizzion is the seventh concept that VW has introduced since 2016 that uses its MEB platform, a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.

The first vehicles to use this MEB platform will be under the ID brand, although this platform can and will be used for electric vehicles under other VW Group brands such as Skoda and Seat. The ID.3, the first model in its new all-electric ID brand and the beginning of the automaker’s ambitious plan to sell 1 million EVs annually by 2025.

The ID Space Vizzion is equipped with a rear-mounted 275-horsepower motor and a 82 kilowatt-hour battery pack with a range of up to 300 miles under the EU’s WLTP cycle. A second motor can be added to give it all-wheel drive capability and a total output of 355 horsepower.

This concept will likely be described in a number of ways — and during the event at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles it was — but this is a wagon through and through.

[gallery ids="1914304,1914306,1914307,1914308,1914309,1914310"]

Scooter maker Superpedestrian raises $20 million as it gears up to launch

By Megan Rose Dickey

Superpedestrian, the startup working with a handful of scooter operators to deploy vehicles that can perform self-diagnostics, just raised a $20 million round from Spark Capital, General Catalyst, Hanaco Ventures and Empire Angels. This brings Superpedestrian’s total funding to $64 million.

Superpedestrian has yet to announce its operating partners, but is on track to launch in multiple markets in January.

Superpedestrian scooters can last up to seven days without recharging, assuming about five to six rides per week, its CEO Assaf Biderman told TechCrunch. But its key offering is the vehicle intelligence platform, which is designed to detect more than one hundred situations that could lead to malfunction, triage each issue and then determine what response to take in order to prevent vehicle damage and rider injury.

“The vehicle is constantly asking itself if it’s safe,” Biderman said.

That means Superpedestrian’s software is continuously monitoring for things like water penetration, cut internal wires, battery cell temperature imbalances, braking issues and more. Superpedestrian’s software is also able to quickly enforce local speed limits via geofencing.

Superpedestrian isn’t disclosing how much it’s selling its platform and vehicles to operators, but says the price is competitive with the other products on the market. While Biderman says Superpedestrian is currently focused on selling to operators, the company does plan to eventually sell directly to consumers.

While launching and operating shared micromobility services is no longer novel, Superpedstrian is trying to take advantage of an emerging opportunity in the space. That opportunity is software. As business and mobility analyst Horace Dediu recently told me, these micromobility vehicles have an opportunity to also be software hubs. In fact, he said it’s where he expects bigger players like Google and Apple to enter the space.

In the heated cloud kitchens race, Kitchen United aims to kill with kindness; here’s its playbook

By Connie Loizos

Cloud kitchens, ghost kitchens, dark kitchens. No doubt by now you know a little about these businesses that are moving into underused or more affordable properties that can be turned into shared workspaces for the purposes of cooking up meals exclusively for delivery.

You probably also know that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has been at the forefront of the trend for more than a year, growing his CloudKitchens business as fast as he can, fueled in part by $400 million that he quietly raised from the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia earlier this year. Sometimes these are in the U.S., in so-called opportunity zones or lower-income areas that, under the Trump Administration, are enabling businesses to set up shop and avoid federal taxes in exchange. Kalanick is also reportedly eyeing big moves into both India and China.

CloudKitchens has competition, though. In fact, among a growing number of rivals, its fiercest competitor is Kitchen United, a Pasadena, Ca.-based outfit that has raised roughly $56 million to date from investors including GV, Fidelity, and the real estate operating companies Divco West and RXR Realty, among others — and which has turned down hundreds of millions of dollars more for the time being.

Does its founder, a tech veteran turned restaurateur Jim Collins, not understand the opportunity before him? It was one question among many that Collins answered last week at a StrictlyVC event in San Francisco where he dazzled the crowd with his comic timing — and his tactics. The interview — conducted by former TechCrunch editor and now CNBC reporter Lora Kolodny — also provided one of the best overviews we’ve heard to date of what this fast-ballooning industry is really about.

On Collins’s background:

I did tech companies for a bunch of years and sold the last one off about 10 years ago, and i said i never want to work with venture capital people again. [Laughs.] That’s sort of true but not completely. Honestly, I was burned out, it was a grind.

[One day] there was a restaurant up the street for sale. I walked up the street and bought the restaurant and then came home and told my wife, ‘I bought the restaurant.’ And so we had a conversation that [that decision] might entail a lifestyle change where I was going to be gone every night, and I was at the restaurant every night for about a year and a half getting it going, but I absolutely fell in love with the restaurant business.

On how he came to run Kitchen United:

[Our restaurant] is in Montrose outside of Los Angeles, in a sleepy community that most people in Los Angeles have never heard of, and about a year-and-a-half ago, we started getting people at the door, saying, ‘Yes, I’m from Postmates’ or ‘DoorDash’ or ‘UberEats’ and ‘I’m here to place an order.’  Because we weren’t signed up on any services, I was like: What is that? I was so far outside of my past world that I didn’t even know what it was. But all of a sudden, it was a thing and [it was growing], and one day, a headhunter who I knew well called me up and said, ‘Hey, I want you to take a look at food thing.’ So he sent me a job description (that was honestly terrible) for the CEO role at Kitchen United, so I went and met the founders — the two folks who were with the company at the time — and I kind of fell in love with them and felt like it was a big idea that we could go after.

What they pitched him on, and why he didn’t think it would work:

The original business plan was,  ‘Robots and autonomous cars are going to change the food business, so we need to be ready for that, so let’s build kitchens!’ And I said, ‘I think that’s actually true . . . in 10 years. The problem that the restaurant industry is experiencing because of the explosion of the shift in consumer demand and consumption isn’t a robots-and-autonomous-cars problem. It’s a proximity problem, and proximity is a problem we can solve tomorrow while we’re waiting.

What Kitchen United is building exactly:

We build kitchen centers. Basically you go into a space that’s $25 per square foot that no one has rented in 20 years, so we’ll take that space and put a bunch of kitchens in it. We also install a lot of technology — IoT, conveyer belts, all kinds of display information; we use machine learning to understand fire times — a whole series of things that go into deploying a kitchen center. Then we build a pick-up center in the front of the space that’s kind of the retail interface where drivers from Ubers, Postmates, DoorDash, Cavier, GrubHub (and seven other services can pick up the food) and [consumers can also grab pick-up].

Jim CollinsThere’s a thing called shared kitchens, which means that I’m going to go and cook in a space this morning, and when I’m done, somebody else is going to walk in this afternoon and cook in that same space. That’s not our business. Ours is effectively creating four-wall spaces for known restaurants to operate inside of our facilities for the purpose of extending their reach to meet new markets for delivery and consumer pick-up.

On whether Kitchen United is raising more money soon:

I don’t think so. We closed our Series B about six weeks ago.

It’s weird to be an entrepreneur in this world. There are two different operating methods that you’re encouraged to pursue if you’re going after a hot space. You’re either encouraged to be the biggest and fastest and to take as much money as you possibly can so you can be the biggest fastest, right? Or you’re encouraged to work hard and build a great business and then once you’ve built a great business, go out and get lots of money so you can build it.

Honestly, I felt like this business was so complex, that we had to learn about elementary stuff, like, where do we build these? Where’s the right place to put ’em? When we first started, we had meetings with big investment firms that were saying, ‘We’ll put $250 million against a $750 million valuation right now.’ That was the first conversation, when it was really like, we’ll put $8 in against whatever [laughs]. But when we were having that conversation, I’m flying home, thinking, $250 million? How would I deploy that? And they’re saying, ‘Well, you just go out and buy a bunch of warehouses in opportunity zones, and put kitchens in them, and it’ll be a great business! It’ll be awesome and you’ll own the market!”

Except warehouses in opportunity zones are too far away from consumers for food to get there fast enough for consumers to want to order from those restaurants. So I would have deployed $150 million in venture capital on brick walls and dry wall and stoves and vents and plumbing — like, ugly stuff. And once that stuff is deployed, it isn’t like it’s so easy to pick it up and move it someplace else.

How Kitchen United competes, if not in a land grab: 

Most conservative projections for this space over the course of the next four years are that we’re going to go from somewhere around $30 billion today to around $230 billion, so people come along and people say, ‘This guy is in this business and he’s got all this money’ or ‘This company has raised this much to put to work; does that make you nervous?’ And the answer is, if we go out and build 3,000 of these things, we build like the fourth-largest restaurant chain in the U.S., we’ve only addressed about 40 percent of the total market. So when I look at it from a pure antiseptic, practical perspective, the fact is we need other people in the space, helping us solve the problem. And honestly, to the extent that other people are learning from us and getting better, and we’re learning from others and getting better, I think the competition isn’t a bad thing, I think it’s a good thing. (Here, Kolodny teased him for his “very diplomatic answer.”)

On what makes Kitchen United distinct from its long and growing list of rivals:

First, we decided the U.S. is a giant market, so we decided to focus here on the U.S., despite requests probably once a week from somebody saying, ‘Come to Saudi Arabia’ because it turns out it’s hard to build kitchens anywhere in the world, and we’re pretty good at building them.

The other thing we did . . .[is decide to play nice with Kitchen United’s two biggest customers  — major food chains and delivery services]. I don’t want to boil the ocean. I don’t want to be a restaurant; I don’t want to cook food for consumers. There are 800,000 restaurants in the U.S., so let’s let them cook food and let’s come alongside them and help them expand what they are doing into new areas. . . . Our whole job is to expand the inventory for the [delivery] marketplace, expand the addressable market for the restaurant, and expand options for consumers so that we have a great business for all the various markets that we’re serving.

On the criteria to become part of Kitchen United:

We don’t work with startup restaurants. We don’t work with people that only have one location. When we started, we didn’t know what would work so we brought in all kinds of restaurants and ended up having to kick most of them out because either they didn’t know how to be a restaurant or they didn’t know how to be a multi-location restaurant. This is true of the ghost kitchen community as a whole: if you’re a restaurant and you don’t already have a consumer connection and an audience and a following and you try to open in a space with no consumer interface, no storefront, you have to climb a giant mountain.

There are some virtual restaurant brands. We have one in our location in Chicago. They were people who had operated multi-location restaurants and had a tremendous amount of internet marketing savvy and skill, so we decided to let them operate and they’re actually doing pretty well, so that’s an interesting new wrinkle.

On whether anything disqualifies a business from using Kitchen United as a platform:

Yes, a lot of large chains that will say we want to be in Kitchen United. We were at a big real estate development conference in Las Vegas and there were probably 20 chains that talked with us about being in KU and probably 18 of them would not qualify.

You’d like to think [that’s on a nutritional basis]. One thing we’ve learned isn’t to filter what the American consumer wants; our job is just to provide a path for them to get what they want.

The actual challenge is giant chains that have very little ability to create an online connection to their consumer. If they don’t have sophisticated online ordering interfaces, if they haven’t deployed the right technologies into their ERP and their ordering infrastructure and all the stuff that goes into the back end, then they aren’t going to be a good fit for KU because of the operational problems they have to overcome is just too great.

On how Kitchen United uses the data that’s running through its operations:

It’s a hot topic. We’re pretty careful. KU is a partner to our restaurants, and so we learn information through our own order channel. We don’t derive much information through the marketplace channels. There’s sort of a misnomer that when the marketplaces deliver orders . . . all we know is a consumer name, we don’t know an address or any of the other information. So you don’t get a lot of data like that.

Information we do get is stuff like how many chicken sandwiches a Chick-fil-A is selling or whatever. And you might think, ‘Oh cool, so you’ll just make a chicken sandwich [of your own] when Chick-fil-A closes down and you’ll sell it to the public.’ The restaurant world is very nervous about that; it’s a big topic in this space. If you go to restaurant conferences, there are a lot [accusations of], ‘They’re stealing my data.’ I’m the guy on stage saying, ‘It’s their data [the delivery marketplaces]. They attracted the consumer, they got the order from you. It’s their data. They aren’t stealing your data, it’s their data; you chose to allow them to sell your product on their network.’

But [also] it’s not as easy as that. You can’t just whip up a fried chicken sandwich and make consumers like it. The world is littered with even more failed restaurants than failed startups.

What happens to neighborhoods — and local restaurants — if Kitchen United succeeds:

The restaurant industry is huge — $800 billion in the U.S., $675 billion if you discount hospitals and stuff like that. [This take-out market] is somewhere around $33 billion this year. So we’re edging into it as a percentage, but if you look at dining room revenue year over year for the last 20 years in the U.S restaurant industry, it grows 1% per year, which is pretty much consistent with population growth. And the same is projected to be the case this year.

So restaurants aren’t dying because of marketplace delivery. Marketplace delivery is actually pulling business out of grocery stores. That’s why you see Kroger and Amazon and other grocery store chains plowing down rows of [goods] and installing warm counters with warm food and you’re seeing grocery chains focus on delivery.

It’s the wild west. It’s a crazy market and I absolutely, positively love it. It’s not a question of what gets me up in the morning. I never go to bed.

Karma Automotive unveils its faster next act, the Revero GTS

By Kirsten Korosec

Karma Automotive’s second act is a gasoline-electric luxury vehicle that aims to deliver more performance and tech inside a sleek and sporty $149,950 package.

The 2020 Revero GTS unveiled Tuesday during AutoMobility LA, the press and trade days of LA Auto Show, shares some of the same bits as its sibling Revero GT. Both vehicles use a gasoline-electric powertrain — a BMW engine powers a generator that charges the 28 kilowatt-hour nickel manganese cobalt lithium-ion battery. Like the GT, the battery supplies the GTS with 80 miles of electric driving. Both vehicles have a total 360-mile range when they’re fully charged and fueled with gas.

And both have some of the same operational features, including three driving modes and launch control that allows drivers to unlock all the power and torque inside and “launch” the vehicle down the road. The three drive modes are “stealth,” for pure-electric driving, a range extender mode called “sustain,” and sport, which combines the output from the battery pack and the generator for maximum driving performance.

The specs

The GTS does have a lot of extra though and costs about $15,000 more than the GT. The GTS has a new body, including a redesigned hood, doors, deck lid, body sides and side mirrors. It’s also faster off the line and can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in an estimated 3.9 seconds compared to the 4.5 seconds in the GT. The GTS comes with electronic torque vectoring, refined power steering. It also has a higher electronically-limited top speed of 130 miles per hour versus the GT’s 125 mph.

The GTS’ twin electric motors and all-electric powertrain produce 536 horsepower and 635 pound-feet of torque, which should deliver a responsive and exciting enough drive. Although we’ll have to wait and experience it for ourselves.

Karma Automotive GTS Interior Detail

The new vehicle has advanced driver assistance features like blind spot and cross traffic detection as well as audio technology developed in house and active noise cancelling. The infotainment system has also been improved on the GTS and includes haptic tactile switches a new touchscreen and user interface processor as well as a center console with improved storage.

Karma Automotive says it will begin production of the GTS in first quarter of 2020. First deliveries of the Revero GT expected during the fourth quarter of 2019.

The new business plan

The Karma Revero GT was the first fully conceived product to come out of a company that launched from the remnants of Fisker Automotive, the startup led by Henrik Fisker that ended in bankruptcy in 2013. China’s Wanxiang Group purchased what was left of Fisker in 2014 and Karma Automotive was born.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing though. The company’s first effort, known as the Revero, wasn’t received warmly. The Revero GT has been an improved effort. However, that hasn’t relieved the pressure.

The company laid off about 200 workers this month from its Irvine, Calif. headquarters following a restructuring that will focus on licensing its technology to other carmakers. The company’s assembly plant is in Moreno Valley, Calif.

Karma’s efforts to pack more tech and performance in the GTS makes sense considering the company’s new business strategy to open its engineering, design, customization and manufacturing resources to other companies. It also explains Karma’s other reveal Tuesday, an all-electric concept vehicle called the SC2 that delivers a stunning 1,100 horsepower and 10,500 lb.-ft. of torque and can achieve 0 to 60 mph in less than 1.9 seconds.

In other words, the GTS is a model of what Karma can do. And it explains some of Karma’s decisions to design and produce more of the vehicle’s components in house. Karma has developed its own inverters to maximize and maintain full software control for fast over-the-air updates as well as a proprietary 7.1-channel 570-watt Soloscape audio system, according to Todd George, the company’s VP of Engineering. The inverters convert DC current from the battery  pack to power the AC drive motors, and to also capture AC power from the regenerative braking system to recharge the battery pack.

It’s a business angle that Karma hopes will give it the immediate and long-term capital it needs to stay afloat. Karma is backed and owned by Wanxiang, the massive Chinese auto parts supplier. But it will eventually need to stand on its own.

Vulog will power Hyundai’s new LA car-sharing service

By Kirsten Korosec

The technology behind Hyundai’s new car-sharing service in Los Angeles is provided by a company that is largely unknown despite its ubiquity.

Vulog announced Tuesday during Automobility LA that Hyundai will use its technology platform for a car-sharing pilot that will launch in Los Angeles at the end of 2019 and will eventually grow to 300 vehicles.

Vulog might have a low profile, but it’s hardly a startup. The French-based company has been providing the underlying hardware and software needed for car-sharing services since 2006. Vulog’s product, which includes tools like fleet management and a consumer-facing app, is used in car-sharing services in more than 30 cities globally. The company says its turnkey product can get a large-scale car-sharing service up and running in about three months.

Today, its platform is used by Volkswagen’s WeShare, Kia Motor’s Wible and Groupe PSA’ Free2Move car-sharing service. Aimo, which is owned by Sumitomo Corporation, and a British Columbia Automobile Association company called Evo also uses the platform. And now, Hyundai.

Earlier this month, Hyundai Group launched MoceanLab, a mobility service venture based in Los Angeles and the latest effort by the automaker to diversify and modernize its core business of producing and selling vehicles. MoceanLab will focus on piloting autonomous ridesharing, shuttling, multimodal transportation, and personal mobility in Los Angeles.

One of the efforts under MoceanLab is Mocean Carshare, the car-sharing service that will use Vulog’s technology platform. The service is part of a permit pilot program offered by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The car-sharing service will use 20 Hyundai Ioniq plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Mocean Carshare will eventually transition to a fleet of 300 fully electric vehicles from Hyundai and Kia Motors. 

MoceanLab, the umbrella mobility services venture, will do more than car-sharing. The Hyundai-owned company is eyeing the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles as an event to offer a variety of services to alleviate congestion, including autonomous ridesharing and shuttling.

The creation of MoceanLab follows Hyundai’s joint venture with autonomous driving company Aptiv and the launch of BotRide, an autonomous ride-hailing service in nearby Irvine, California with Chinese autonomous startup Pony.ai  and Via.

Meanwhile, Vulog has its own ambitions. The company plans to double its footprint in the next year to hit 60 cities by the end of 2020.

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Uber’s chief product officer is stepping down

By Megan Rose Dickey

Uber Chief Product Officer Manik Gupta announced today he is leaving the company. Gupta’s last day will be December 13, he wrote in a note to Uber’s product team today.

“After a few discussions with Dara as well as with my family—and now that we’ve made it through the IPO and an important year for the company—I’ve made the tough decision to leave Uber,” Gupta wrote in the note.

In a conversation with TechCrunch, Gupta elaborated that he felt like now was a good time for him to take a break, noting that he’s “leaving the team in very capable hands.” Additionally, he said he’s “very bullish on Uber’s future.”

As for what’s next for Gupta, his plan is to recharge and spend time with his family before jumping into the next thing. During this time, Gupta plans to look at some of the emerging trends in the consumer internet space, which has changed a lot over the last four years, he told TechCrunch. Take TikTok, he said, which didn’t exist four years ago. Meanwhile, there is increased scrutiny surrounding all of these consumer platforms.

“I really want to look at some of these trends,” he said.

Gupta joined Uber from Google in 2015 as a senior director of the maps and marketplace product team. In November 2018, Gupta was promoted to chief product officer. Uber does not have another chief product officer lined up, so the plan is for Gupta to stay on for a bit during this transition and help the company find his replacement. Matt Cohler, general partner at Benchmark, will also help Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in his search for a chief product officer, according to Uber. In the meantime, all of Gupta’s reports will report directly to Khosrowshahi. In Gupta’s note, he said it will be a good opportunity for Khosrowshahi to get more involved with the product team.

“Over the past four years, Manik has elevated our product strategy and has been the driving force behind some of our most ambitious launches, including Uber Rewards and Uber Pro, Uber Wallet, and our movement towards a ‘super app,’ ” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re grateful for his leadership and wish him the very best.”

This year, Uber has laid off more than 1,000 employees across its marketing, engineering, product, Eats, self-driving and other organizations throughout the company. Gupta was one of the leaders tasked with evaluating his team, identifying duplicate and overlapping roles, as well as individual performance to determine who would be laid off. That process resulted in 170 layoffs from the product team in September.

“Obviously, that was a tough decision we made but it was the right decision,” Gupta said. “We had to take our execution to the next level and look at how we set ourselves up for the future.”

Meanwhile, Uber has unveiled a number of new features and tools over the past few months, including a financial services platform, ads within Eats and rewards programs. Uber Pro, Uber Rewards and Uber Money are three products Gupta pointed to when discussing how Uber has better positioned itself to become the operating system for everyday life. This is a vision Gupta said he’s “very excited about.”

Moving forward, Gupta hopes the company will keep moving faster and “take on more and more bold bets,” he said.

Gupta’s departure comes shortly after Uber reported losses of more than $1 billion in its latest earnings report. Uber’s stock is currently trading at $26.78.

Here’s the entirety of Gupta’s note:

Team,

The end of November marks 4 years for me at Uber, and as we’ve been planning our strategy for next year, I’ve been doing my own personal 2020 planning. After a few discussions with Dara as well as with my family—and now that we’ve made it through the IPO and an important year for the company—I’ve made the tough decision to leave Uber.

I joined Uber to work on the fascinating problem of building a real-world, real-time marketplace, at global scale. I have had the privilege of being part of an amazing journey as we got to incredible scale across several businesses. I am truly proud of everything we have accomplished as a team. We have a strong product roadmap ahead of us and I continue to be bullish about Uber’s future.

I am grateful for this team, who is hard at work building an amazing product experience for our users. This is a great opportunity for Dara to get even more involved in Product and, until he finds my replacement, my leads will report directly to him. Later this afternoon, Dara and I will host a Q&A with all of you to talk about the transition and the plan for the interim.

As for what’s next for me, you only get a few moments in your life to take a break, and with the holidays coming up and before my son starts middle school mid-next year, I plan to spend some quality time with family and recharge before my next adventure.

I want to thank Dara for the opportunity to lead the Product team and drive the product vision at one of the most transformational companies of all time. Thanks to all of you as well for your partnership and for teaching me so much—I will always be cheering for you. I’m around until December 13th and hope to catch up with as many of you as possible. Thank you.

Manik

The Mustang Mach-E is the exciting shape of the electric future

By Matt Burns

Ford just unveiled its first EV, and it’s stunning. Called the Mustang Mach-E, it appears to get a lot of things right. From the branding to little surprises, the Mustang Mach-E looks to be a hit.

“We knew we had to do something different and something exciting and something only Ford could do,” Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford North America said at a press event prior to the Sunday unveiling. I think he’s right. The Mustang Mach-E is the ideal shape of the mass-produced electric future. Henry Ford would be proud. This is an electric car for the masses.

It’s a Mustang

It starts with branding. I hate it. The car guy in me is sad that a Mustang will soon be available in a four-door version. And electric. And lifted. That’s not a Mustang, I want to say. A Mustang is a sports car. And yet a Mustang is an affordable, reliable vehicle, and that’s exactly why Ford is calling its first EV a Mustang.

Branding is critical for the electric future. Ford is using an established brand that resonates with buyers. Look for this again and again as car companies unveil an electric version of current and past vehicles. An electric Ford F-150 and an electric Jeep Cherokee.

Instead of inventing a new model line, like Chevy tried to do with the Bolt, companies will look to convert familiar models to electric. The switch should make for more comfortable transitions. With the Chevy Bolt, consumers understand it is electric, but are still left with new questions. How does the driver sit in a Bolt? Is a Bolt a low-end model? What will the resell value of a Bolt be in three years. With an established model, say a Chevy Cruze, Buick Regal or BMW 3 series, a lot of the questions are more easily answered. Consumers are familiar with the branding and the meaning behind the model.

With the Mustang Mach-E, Ford is addressing many questions with just the name. The Mach-E will be fast (it is), it will be smallish (it’s a small crossover) and it will be competitively priced (at $40,000, it is).

For example, other companies like Jeep, Honda and Subaru will likely follow the same scheme. It’s easier for the consumer to rehash current brands. An electric Jeep Cherokee would be a capable, mid-range vehicle with a tall ride height, sophisticated all-wheel drive system and seating for five. An electric Honda Civic would be a small, affordable car, while an electric Subaru Impreza would offer an electric powertrain on a car-based AWD platform.

Likewise, unnecessary questions arise if Jeep or Honda or any other car company bring an EV to market under a new name.

There is risk in using a legacy name. It can be offensive to die-hard and vocal enthusiasts. Ford is getting backlash with the Mach-E name. I find it offensive on a car-guy level. That’s not a Mustang, I want to yell. Taking a step back, it’s easy to see Ford’s justification.

Chevrolet re-released the Blazer last year and experienced a similar revolt. A Blazer is supposed to be a beefy off-roader, not the small, sporty crossover of the current version.

The Mustang brand is arguably one of the most valuable Ford assets. It’s been around for more than 50 years. Car companies invest fortunes in building and marketing brands and models. It often takes generations to get consumer buy-in, and, at that point, car companies treat them with careful consideration. With the Mustang Mach-E, Ford must have abundant data that shows a projected success.

The simple interior

The Mustang Mach-E follows the Tesla Model 3 design language: Big screen in the middle and not much else. The Mach-E builds on the Model 3 to make it a bit more palatable by including an LCD screen in front of the driver. The Bolt did this, too, but the Chevy didn’t go far enough. With the Mach-E and the Model 3, Ford and Tesla are utilizing smart manufacturing techniques, which will likely be replicated across the automotive industry — for better or worse.

Each car maker manufacturers switches and dials and screens that are installed throughout its models. A part bin, in car lingo. Often, switches are shared between brands. A switch in Audi could find its way into a Lambo, as both brands are in the VW family. This is done to reduce costs. Why make a different window switch for each brand when a window switch is a window switch?

The Model 3 and the Mach-E do not have any physical buttons in their center stacks. A massive screen handles climate control, media playback and more. Instead of making and installing gobs of little switches, Ford, Tesla and other automakers are using a single screen to do the same functions. This makes scaling across brands and markets easier. Suddenly, without buttons, car companies can reduce to a single device the number of parts, working hours and troubleshooting. This also makes building a car for different markets easier. Instead of building in a different language or for driving on the other side of the road, car companies only need to rejigger the software.

This single-screen setup needs the right software, and the Mach-E is the first to demonstrate Ford’s Sync 4 system. It looks great to me, with persistent controls for climate and a logical layout. Is it functional? I haven’t used it yet.

Thankfully, there’s still one physical knob: volume control. Volume should always be controlled by a spinning knob instead of a sliding bar. Always.

These screens allow car companies to integrate branding into the vehicles further. Expect Lincoln models to use similar software, but with a different design scheme from Ford models. Likewise, Acura software will be similar to Honda’s, but with a more sporty, upscale feel.

The little surprises

The Mach-E has several surprises, and that’s thanks to the electric platform.

The majority of the vehicles on the market right now run electric systems based on a decades-old system. It’s limiting, though carmakers are pushing it as far as it can go. The move to electric opens countless opportunities to designers and engineers. Features and details that were fantasy are now possible.

The Mach-E doesn’t have traditional door handles. Instead, it has small buttons that release the doors. What happens when the battery dies? For the most part, that’s highly unlikely, as the Mach-E’s electrical system doesn’t rely on a traditional battery and alternator.

The Mach-E has a front-based storage area — a frunk if you will. These are standard features on most electric vehicles. Ford did something novel, though, and made the Mach-E’s frunk out of plastic and added a drain plug. This lets owners pack it full of ice and store drinks in the frunk.

With electric vehicles, carmakers can open their playbooks and implement brand-specific features. Jeeps should get more Jeep-ie. Lexus models should be able to stand apart from their Toyota counterparts, and so on. The electric platforms are fundamentally more simple than internal combustion systems, freeing engineers and designers to be more creative with creature comforts.

The downside of these new features based around a new platform will come in a couple of years when repairs have to be made. It’s unlikely that most owners will be able to diagnose and fix systems, like with current vehicles. Instead, owners will have to rely on auto repair service centers that will look more like IT shops than garages.

Right now, this is an issue I have with my aging Chevy Volt. I live in Michigan, where the Volt was designed and built. I take it to one of the largest Chevy dealerships in the country for service, where there is only one technician certified to work on the vehicle. Repairs take much longer than I would like, and this issue will likely compound as more complex vehicles come to market. Vehicle techs will have to be retrained, and lower-cost third-party service centers will likely lag behind expensive dealerships.

It’s an electric future

The Mustang Mach-E is an EV done right. Ford took lessons from Tesla, Chevy and others with its first mass-produced electric vehicles. The Mach-E naming is unconventional at first glance, yet a closer look reveals its logic. The interior is exciting and yet scalable, and the model is full of surprises that will delight and could frustrate owners.

Eventually, the automotive landscape will be filled with similar models to the Mach-E: recycled branding, higher ride height and unique features around simple interiors.

It’s been said that the move to electric will produce stale, lookalike vehicles. That’s likely the short-term result as carmakers look to capitalize on familiar shapes and brands to get consumers onboard. Once consumers are comfortable with electric, that’s when the real fun begins. Expect the next generation of the Mustang Mach-E to be something more worthy of the Mustang name.

Bolt Bikes launches e-bike subscription platform for gig delivery workers in US, UK

By Kirsten Korosec

Bolt Bikes, the Sydney, Australia-based startup founded in 2017, is taking its electric bike platform designed for gig economy delivery workers to the U.S. and UK.

The company is expanding on the heels of a $2.5 million seed round led by Maniv Mobility, European e-mobility firm Contrarian Ventures, individual investors and former executives of Uber and Deliveroo . The company was founded by Mina Nada, former Deliveroo and Mobike executive) and Michael Johnson, a former Bain & Co executive.

Bolt Bikes now provides its flexible subscriptions, which include vehicle servicing, in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, San Francisco and London. The company sells its electric bikes. But the main premise is to rent them out for commercial use. The electric bikes are rented on a week-to-week contract for $39.

The Bolt Bikes platform includes a the electric bike, fleet management software, financing and servicing. Subscribers get 24-hour access to the bike. A battery charger, phone holder, phone USB port, secure U-Lock and safety induction is included. Bolt Bikes also offers the first week as a free trial.

“Being in the food delivery industry since its inception, we saw that light electric vehicles were the real future of ‘last mile’ logistics, yet no-one was offering the right vehicle, financing or maintenance solution,” Nada said in a statement.

Bolt Bikes has piqued the interest of more than investors. Postmates has been piloting a Bolt Bikes rental program in San Francisco since June.

And the company has aspirations to increase its fleet and to expand to more cities in the U.S., UK and Australia.

Ford Mustang Mach-E: 5 tech and design details that stood out

By Kirsten Korosec

Ford finally showed the world its highly anticipated all-electric crossover, the Mustang Mach-E. The vehicle, which was unveiled Sunday at the Hawthorne Airport and in Tesla’s backyard, marks a series of firsts for Ford and the Mustang badge.

It’s the first vehicle to come out of Team Edison, the automaker’s dedicated electric vehicle organization. It’s not only the first electric Mustang, it’s also an SUV. 

TechCrunch has had an up-close look and ride in the Mach-E, the first variant of which will become available in fall 2020. While there’s a lot to highlight, here are some of the details that stood out.

Door handles

Ford went an entirely new direction with the door handles on the Mustang Mach-E. You won’t find any Tesla lookalike door handles here. The doors seem to be lacking handles at all. A closer look though reveals illuminated buttons on the B and C pillars. The front doors also have a small, protruding handle located just under the button to grab onto.

Pressing the button for the backdoor immediately pops it open just slightly. Then the passenger reaches into the ajar door to hit the latch. This might sound dangerous and apt for a crushed finger. Except there’s an immediate safety in place that doesn’t allow the door to close. TechCrunch tested it out.

Owners also will be able to use their smartphone to unlock the Mustang Mach-E. This phone as a key technology is new to Ford.

Tech tray

It’s a seemingly small detail, but so many automakers ignore that their customers have smartphones and want to put these devices somewhere other than a cup holder. Behold the tech tray, which has a wireless charging pad.

The cup holders, located just below the tech tray, can be used to hold actual cups.

Infotainment system

The 15.5-inch screen will get a lot of attention, perhaps because its location and vertical placement is reminiscent of the Tesla Model S. But then there’s the physical dial placed on the bottom of the screen to control the volume.

Ford Mustang Mach-E screen

While not everyone will love this feature, it’s interesting how this dial came to be. Team Edison was assembled in 2017 to do more than create a new electric vehicle. It was created to do it differently and much faster than a typical vehicle program.

How the look and functionality of the infotainment system was developed is an example of this newfound nimbleness. A group of just over a dozen people with minimal oversight started with a research trip to China. Further customer research revealed that people wanted native apps in their car’s infotainment system and they didn’t want to learn anything new, Philip Mason, who is on Team Edison’s user experience, said during a backgrounder event prior to unveiling.

A prototype of the physical dial was put together quickly — no fancy prototypes — and research groups responded positively.

The infotainment system is also cloud connected, allowing it to show traffic in real time in the navigation feature; has natural language, activated by one of four “wake words” like “OK, Ford”; and allows users to create personal profiles. The system learns the behavior and likes of the user over time.

And the entire system will be updated and improved via over-the-air software updates.

Vegan interior

Ford is hardly the first to move away from leather for its interior. Tesla has dropped leather and the Porsche Taycan is also vegan. Now the interior of the Mustang Mach-E also qualifies.

The synthetic material is among the better faux leather materials TechCrunch has come across. Even the steering wheel, a challenging area for synthetics, feels good.

Ford Mustang Mach-E interior

Frunk

A front trunk in an all-electric vehicle is nothing new. The Mustang Mach-E doesn’t have the biggest frunk on the market; it’s not the smallest either.

But there is something interesting about this 4.8-cubic-foot frunk. It’s drainable and plastic lined. Josh Greiner, senior interior designer on the Mach-E, was quick to note during a backgrounder prior to the unveiling that the frunk could be packed with ice and used while tailgating.

One more bonus item

Right above the steering wheel is a driver monitoring system. This might come in handy for the automaker’s eventual plans to offer a hands-free driver assist system in Mach-E.

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