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Waymo’s self-driving trucks and minivans are headed to New Mexico and Texas

By Kirsten Korosec

Waymo said Thursday it will begin mapping and eventually testing its autonomous long-haul trucks in Texas and parts of New Mexico, the latest sign that the Alphabet company is expanding beyond its core focus of launching a robotaxi business.

Waymo said in a tweet posted early Thursday it had picked these areas because they are “interesting and promising commercial routes.” Waymo also said it would “explore how the Waymo Driver” — the company’s branded self-driving system — could be used to “create new transportation solutions.”

Waymo plans to mostly focus on interstates because Texas has a particularly high freight volume, the company said. The program will begin with mapping conducted by Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

The mapping and eventual testing will occur on highways around Dallas, Houston and El Paso. In New Mexico, Waymo will focus on the southern most part of the state.

Interstate 10 will be a critical stretch of highway in both states — and one that is already a testbed for TuSimple, a self-driving trucking startup that has operations in Tucson and San Diego. TuSimple tests and carries freight along the Tucson to Phoenix corridor on I-10. The company also tests on I-10 in New Mexico and Texas.

This week, we’ll start driving our Chrysler Pacificas and long-haul trucks in Texas and New Mexico. These are interesting and promising commercial routes, and we’ll be using our vehicles to explore how the Waymo Driver might be able to create new transportation solutions. pic.twitter.com/uDqKDrGR9b

— Waymo (@Waymo) January 23, 2020

 

Waymo, which is best known for its pursuit of a robotaxi service, integrated its self-driving system into Class 8 trucks and began testing them in Arizona in August 2017. The company stopped testing its trucks on Arizona roads sometime later that year. The company brought back its truck testing to Arizona in May 2019.

Those early Arizona tests were aimed at gathering initial information about driving trucks in the region, while the new round of truck testing in Arizona marks a more advanced stage in the program’s development, Waymo said at the time.

Waymo has been testing its self-driving trucks in a handful of locations in the U.S., including Arizona, the San Francisco area and Atlanta. In 2018, the company announced plans to use its self-driving trucks to deliver freight bound for Google’s  data centers in Atlanta.

Boom Supersonic partners with Flight Research to test its XB-1 supersonic aircraft

By Darrell Etherington

Supersonic aviation startup Boom is making progress on its XB-1 demonstrator aircraft, the airplane that will prove out its tech and pave the way for construction of its future production commercial supersonic passenger jets. The Denver-based startup has partnered with Flight Research, Inc., a company that specializes in flight testing and certification, as well as pilot training.

The XB-1 demonstrator aircraft will be tested with support from Flight Research, Inc., with Boom hoping to fly the aircraft over the Mojave desert in a stretch used for supersonic testing. As part of the deal, Flight Research will be providing Boom with a hanger at the Mojave Air and Space Port to fly from, and a T-38 talon supersonic trainer aircraft which will be used both to train the XB-1’s test pilots, and to trail the Boom aircraft for observation while it’s in flight.

Boom is in the process of building the XB-1, which will be used to test and refine the final design of Overture, the passenger commercial airliner it eventually hopes to build. Already, Boom says development of the subscale XB-1 has lead to improvements of the design elements it’s going to be using to construct Oveture. The flight controls system and engines on XB-1 are already fully complete, and the company is now working on finishing touches on the cockpit construction, with about half of the work still left to go on the fuselage, and a third of the construction of the wings still to be done. Its first flight is currently planned for sometime later this year.

Baraja’s unique and ingenious take on lidar shines in a crowded industry

By Devin Coldewey

It seems like every company making lidar has a new and clever approach, but Baraja takes the cake. Its method is not only elegant and powerful, but fundamentally avoids many issues that nag other lidar technologies. But it’ll need more than smart tech to make headway in this complex and evolving industry.

To understand how lidar works in general, consult my handy introduction to the topic. Essentially a laser emitted by a device skims across or otherwise very quickly illuminates the scene, and the time it takes for that laser’s photons to return allows it to quite precisely determine the distance of every spot it points at.

But to picture how Baraja’s lidar works, you need to picture the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”

GIFs kind of choke on rainbows, but you get the idea.

Imagine a flashlight shooting through a prism like that, illuminating the scene in front of it — now imagine you could focus that flashlight by selecting which color came out of the prism, sending more light to the top part of the scene (red and orange) or middle (yellow and green). That’s what Baraja’s lidar does, except naturally it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The company has been developing its tech for years with the backing of Sequoia and Australian VC outfit Blackbird, which led a $32 million round late in 2018 — Baraja only revealed its tech the next year and was exhibiting it at CES, where I met with co-founder and CEO Federico Collarte.

“We’ve stayed in stealth for a long, long time,” he told me. “The people who needed to know already knew about us.”

The idea for the tech came out of the telecommunications industry, where Collarte and co-founder Cibby Pulikkaseril thought of a novel use for a fiber optic laser that could reconfigure itself extremely quickly.

We thought if we could set the light free, send it through prism-like optics, then we could steer a laser beam without moving parts. The idea seemed too simple — we thought, ‘if it worked, then everybody would be doing it this way,’ ” he told me, but they quit their jobs and worked on it for a few months with a friends and family round, anyway. “It turns out it does work, and the invention is very novel and hence we’ve been successful in patenting it.”

Rather than send a coherent laser at a single wavelength (1550 nanometers, well into the infrared, is the lidar standard), Baraja uses a set of fixed lenses to refract that beam into a spectrum spread vertically over its field of view. Yet it isn’t one single beam being split but a series of coded pulses, each at a slightly different wavelength that travels ever so slightly differently through the lenses. It returns the same way, the lenses bending it the opposite direction to return to its origin for detection.

It’s a bit difficult to grasp this concept, but once one does it’s hard to see it as anything but astonishingly clever. Not just because of the fascinating optics (something I’m partial to, if it isn’t obvious), but because it obviates a number of serious problems other lidars are facing or about to face.

First, there are next to no moving parts whatsoever in the entire Baraja system. Spinning lidars like the popular early devices from Velodyne are being replaced at large by ones using metamaterials, MEMS, and other methods that don’t have bearings or hinges that can wear out.

Baraja’s “head” unit, connected by fiber optic to the brain.

In Baraja’s system, there are two units, a “dumb” head and an “engine.” The head has no moving parts and no electronics; it’s all glass, just a set of lenses. The engine, which can be located nearby or a foot or two away, produces the laser and sends it to the head via a fiber-optic cable (and some kind of proprietary mechanism that rotates slowly enough that it could theoretically work for years continuously). This means it’s not only very robust physically, but its volume can be spread out wherever is convenient in the car’s body. The head itself also can be resized more or less arbitrarily without significantly altering the optical design, Collarte said.

Second, the method of diffracting the beam gives the system considerable leeway in how it covers the scene. Different wavelengths are sent out at different vertical angles; a shorter wavelength goes out toward the top of the scene and a slightly longer one goes a little lower. But the band of 1550 +/- 20 nanometers allows for millions of fractional wavelengths that the system can choose between, giving it the ability to set its own vertical resolution.

It could for instance (these numbers are imaginary) send out a beam every quarter of a nanometer in wavelength, corresponding to a beam going out every quarter of a degree vertically, and by going from the bottom to the top of its frequency range cover the top to the bottom of the scene with equally spaced beams at reasonable intervals.

But why waste a bunch of beams on the sky, say, when you know most of the action is taking place in the middle part of the scene, where the street and roads are? In that case you can send out a few high frequency beams to check up there, then skip down to the middle frequencies, where you can then send out beams with intervals of a thousandth of a nanometer, emerging correspondingly close together to create a denser picture of that central region.

If this is making your brain hurt a little, don’t worry. Just think of Dark Side of the Moon and imagine if you could skip red, orange and purple, and send out more beams in green and blue — and because you’re only using those colors, you can send out more shades of green-blue and deep blue than before.

Third, the method of creating the spectrum beam provides against interference from other lidar systems. It is an emerging concern that lidar systems of a type could inadvertently send or reflect beams into one another, producing noise and hindering normal operation. Most companies are attempting to mitigate this by some means or another, but Baraja’s method avoids the possibility altogether.

“The interference problem — they’re living with it. We solved it,” said Collarte.

The spectrum system means that for a beam to interfere with the sensor it would have to be both a perfect frequency match and come in at the precise angle at which that frequency emerges from and returns to the lens. That’s already vanishingly unlikely, but to make it astronomically so, each beam from the Baraja device is not a single pulse but a coded set of pulses that can be individually identified. The company’s core technology and secret sauce is the ability to modulate and pulse the laser millions of times per second, and it puts this to good use here.

Collarte acknowledged that competition is fierce in the lidar space, but not necessarily competition for customers. “They have not solved the autonomy problem,” he points out, “so the volumes are too small. Many are running out of money. So if you don’t differentiate, you die.” And some have.

Instead companies are competing for partners and investors, and must show that their solution is not merely a good idea technically, but that it is a sound investment and reasonable to deploy at volume. Collarte praised his investors, Sequoia and Blackbird, but also said that the company will be announcing significant partnerships soon, both in automotive and beyond.

Foxconn and Fiat Chrysler partner to develop EVs and an ‘internet of vehicles’ business

By Kirsten Korosec

Foxconn Technology Group, the Taiwanese electronics giant best known for its iPhone manufacturing contract, is forming a joint venture with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to build electric vehicles in China.

The joint venture was disclosed in a regulatory filing. Nikkei was first to report the joint venture.

According to the filing, each party will own 50% of the venture to develop and manufacture electric vehicles and engage in an IOV, what Foxconn parent company Hon Hai calls the “internet of vehicles” business. Hon Hai’s direct shareholding in the subsidiary will not exceed 40%, the filing says.

The venture will initially focus on making electric vehicles for China. But these vehicles could be exported at a later date, according to Foxconn.

The wording in the regulatory filing suggests these will be new vehicles that are designed and built from the ground up and not a project to electrify any of the vehicles in FCA’s current portfolio.

The venture could give FCA a better path to capturing more business in China, the world’s largest market for electric vehicles.

Foxconn has invested in other electric vehicle ventures before, although this appears to be the first tie-up in which the company will develop and build the product. EV startup Byton was originally started as Future Mobility Corporation as a joint venture between Harmony Auto, Tencent and Foxconn. And Foxconn is also an investor in XPeng Motors, the Chinese electric vehicle startup that recently raised a fresh injection of $400 million in capital and has taken on Xiaomi  as a strategic investor.

Volkswagen to bring self-driving electric shuttles to Qatar by 2022

By Kirsten Korosec

Volkswagen Group and Qatar have agreed to develop a public transit system of autonomous shuttles and buses by 2022 for the capital city of Doha.

The agreement signed Saturday by VW Group and the Qatar Investment Authority is an expansive project that will involve four brands under VW Group, including Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Scania, its shared ride service MOIA and Audi subsidiary Autonomous Intelligent Driving, or AID.

The aim is to develop the entire transport system, including the electric autonomous shuttles and buses, legal framework, city infrastructure and ride-hailing software required to deploy a commercial service there. The autonomous vehicles will be integrated into existing public transit.

“For our cities to progress we need a new wave of innovation,” QIA CEO Mansoor Al Mahmoud said in a statement. “AI-enabled, emission-free transportation technologies will help advance urban mobility, while diminishing congestion and improving energy efficiency.

The fleet will include 35 autonomous electric ID. Buzz vehicles from the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles unit, which will shuttle up to four passengers on semi-fixed routes in a geo-fenced area of Doha. Another 10 Scania buses will be used for larger groups.

Closed testing of the shuttle vehicles and buses is expected to begin in 2020. Trials could start as early as 2021. VW and QIA said the project will go live by the end of 2022.

Bluespace.ai, a startup focused on AV technology for mass transit, gets $3.5 million in seed funding

By Catherine Shu

Bluespace.ai, a new autonomous driving startup focused on mass transit, announced today that it has raised $3.5 million in seed funding led by Fusion Fund.

Other investors include YouTube co-founder Steve Chen; UMC, the Taiwanese semiconductor foundry; Kakao Ventures; GDP Ventures; Atinum; Wasabi Ventures; Blue Ivy Ventures; Plug n Play; and SLV Capital.

The startup develops software systems for autonomous mass transit fleets and is currently in meetings with cities and transit providers. Its founding team includes CEO Joel Pazhayampallil, previously co-founder of Drive.ai, which was acquired by Apple earlier this year, and president and COO Christine Moon, whose experience includes serving as head of partnerships for Google’s Nexus program.

Bluespace.ai’s team also has people who have worked at AV companies like Zoox, Lyft Level 5 and Voyage. Their combined experience includes launching AV fleets in Texas, California and Florida.

In an email, Moon told TechCrunch that Bluespace.ai’s software “enables verifiably safe AV operation without the millions of miles of testing needed by current generation AVs. This enables our mission of making urban mobility more equitable, accessible and sustainable through mass transit automation in the near term.”

Several major automakers, including Volvo and Toyota, and startups like May Mobility and Optimus Ride, are also working on AV solutions for mass transit.

Moon said Bluespace.ai’s specific focus is on “increas[ing] the overall ability and efficiency across trunk transit routes with higher rider capacity.” While other startups have primarily focused on first- and last-mile solutions for slow-speed vehicles that are part of main transit systems, Moon added that Bluespace.ai’s aim is to safely enable full-size vehicles that can travel on public roads at road speed, therefore serving more passengers at a time.

In a press statement, Fusion Fund managing partner Lu Zhang said “After looking at many investment opportunities in the AV space, we found that BlueSpace stood out with their revolutionary technology approach and providing near term market application. The founding team has an incredibly strong technology background and significant deployment experience, having launched AV services in Florida, Texas and California.”

The electric Porsche Taycan Turbo has an EPA range of 201 miles

By Kirsten Korosec

The Porsche Taycan Turbo, one of several variants of the German automaker’s first all-electric vehicles, has an EPA estimated range of 201 miles, according to government ratings posted Wednesday.

This is the first variant of the Taycan — Porsche’s first all-electric vehicle — to receive an estimated range from the EPA. The range, which indicates how far the vehicle can travel on a single charge, is far behind other competitors in the space, notably the Tesla Model S. But it also trails other high-end electric vehicles, including the Jaguar I-Pace and the Audi e-tron.

The biggest gulf is between the Taycan Turbo and the long-range version of the Model S, which has an EPA range of 373 miles. The performance version of the Model S has a range of 348 miles. It was also below the Jaguar I-Pace, an electric vehicle that launched in 2018. The EPA has given the Jaguar I-Pace an official estimated range of 234. However, the company recently said it was able to add another 12 miles of range to the vehicle through what it learned in the I-Pace racing series.

The European standard known as the WLTP placed the range of the Porsche Taycan Turbo at up to 279 miles.

Despite the lower EPA range estimate, Porsche said it’s not disappointed.

“We sought to build a true Porsche, balancing legendary performance our customers expect of our products with range sufficient to meet their everyday needs,” a Porsche spokesperson told TechCrunch. “The Taycan is a phenomenal car built to perform and drive as a Porsche should. We stand by that.”

epa electric range

Porsche introduced in September the Taycan Turbo S and Taycan Turbo — the more powerful and expensive versions of its all-electric four-door sports car with base prices of $185,000 and $150,900, respectively.

In October, the German automaker revealed a cheaper version called the Porsche Taycan 4S that is more than $80,000 cheaper than its leading model. All of the Taycans, including the 4S, are the same chassis and suspension, permanent magnet synchronous motors and other bits. However, this third version, which will offer a performance-battery-plus option, is a little lighter, cheaper and slightly slower than the high-end versions of the Taycan that were introduced earlier this year. Theoretically, the 4S should also have a higher range.

Porsche has always said it would have multiple versions of the Taycan. The 2020 Taycan Turbo will be among the first models to arrive in the United States.

While Porsche said it isn’t disputing the EPA range, the automaker did send an email to dealers Wednesday to share additional data that shows a far rosier picture.

Porsche asked AMCI Testing to conduct independent tests to evaluate the Taycan Turbo range, according to an email the automaker sent to dealers for Taycan customers. The independent automotive research firm came up with a range of 275 miles, a result that was calculated by averaging the vehicle’s performance over five test cycles.

Daimler and Bosch take a mixed mobility approach to autonomous vehicles

By Kirsten Korosec

A fleet of Mercedes-Benz S Class vehicles are now plying the roads of San Jose, California as part of a robotaxi pilot project that Daimler and Bosch have been developing for two and a half years, but the launch itself could be chalked up as a mere blip on the autonomous vehicle scene.

At last count, 65 companies have permits to test autonomous vehicles in California. And a handful of companies, including Waymo and Zoox, have the additional permit from the California Public Utilities Commission to transport passengers in their robotaxis through the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot.

It’s a milestone for German automaker Daimler and Bosch, one of the world’s largest automotive tech and hardware suppliers, but the most noteworthy aspect is how the pilot has been structured. The companies’ approach provides a marker of sorts for exactly where the “race” to develop and deploy commercial autonomous vehicle stands. In short: this is no sprint. Adventure or expedition racing — a contest that requires strategy, partnerships, expertise in multiple areas, endurance and a head for navigating risk— might be a more apt analogy.

Much of the media coverage has focused on the launch of the pilot or that it will use self-driving Mercedes-Benz S-Class vehicles, the Sonderklasse (special class) of the automaker’s portfolio. What might have been missed is that this is really two projects in one.

Electric vehicle startup Nio lays off 141 employees at its North American headquarters

By Catherine Shu

Electric vehicle startup Nio is laying off 141 people at its North American headquarters. According to a filing from Employment Development Department of California, the employees at its San Jose office received notice on December 6.

Nio, whose global headquarters are in Shanghai, announced last month that it is partnering with Intel’s Mobileye to develop autonomous vehicles for consumers. Under the agreement, Nio will engineer and produce a self-driving system designed by Mobileye.

The Intel partnership was a spot of bright news after a difficult year for Nio. Nio’s third quarter saw an uptick in sales, thanks in part to competitive pricing, but its share prices have fallen about 78% since the end of February.

The company reported losses in the first and second quarters of the year and in June, voluntarily recalled 5,000 of its ES8 electric SUVs after battery fires in China, impacting its production and delivery. CEO William Li said during the company’s earnings report in September that it would implement cost-cutting measures, including reducing its workforce from 9,900 people down to 7,800 by the end of the third quarter. Nio has offices in 11 cities, including Beijing, London and Munich.

Walmart partners with self-driving startup Nuro to test autonomous grocery delivery in Houston

By Sarah Perez

Walmart this morning announced a new pilot program that will test autonomous grocery delivery in the Houston market starting next year. The retailer is partnering with autonomous vehicle company Nuro, a robotics company that uses driverless technology to deliver goods to customers. Nuro’s vehicles in this case will delivery Walmart online grocery orders to a select group of customers who opt into the service in Houston.

The autonomous delivery service will involve R2, Nuro’s custom-built delivery vehicle that carries products only with no onboard drivers or passengers, as well as autonomous Toyota Priuses that deliver groceries.

The program’s goal is to learn more about how autonomous grocery delivery could work and how such a service can be improved to better serve Walmart’s shoppers.

Nuro’s focus to date has been developing a self-driving stack and combining it with a custom unmanned vehicle designed for last-mile delivery of local goods and services. The vehicle has two compartments that can fit up to six grocery bags each.

The company has raised more than $1 billion from partners, including SoftBank, Greylock Partners and Gaorong Capital. In March, the company announced it had raised $940 million in financing from Softbank Vision Fund.

Nuro is known for its pursuit of autonomous delivery. But it also licensed its self-driving vehicle technology to Ike, the autonomous trucking startup. Ike now has a copy of Nuro’s stack, which is worth billions, based on this latest round. Nuro also has a minority stake in Ike.

Nuro’s partnership with Walmart is hardly its first. The company partnered in 2018 with Kroger to pilot a delivery service in Arizona. The pilot, which initially used Toyota Prius vehicles, transitioned in December to the delivery bot. The autonomous vehicle called R1 is operating as a driverless service without a safety driver on board in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale.

The Nuro partnership isn’t Walmart’s first autonomous delivery pilot, either. The retailer earlier this year tapped the startup Udelv to test autonomous grocery deliveries in Arizona. This summer, it kicked off a test with Gatik A.I., an autonomous vehicle startup to test grocery delivery from Walmart’s main warehouse in Bentonville, Arkansas. Walmart also launched a pilot with self-driving company Waymo in 2018 to test rides to Walmart for grocery pickup, as well as a test with Ford and Postmates for autonomous grocery delivery.

“Our unparalleled size and scale has allowed us to steer grocery delivery to the front doors of millions of families – and design a roadmap for the future of the industry,” said Tom Ward, Walmart’s SVP of digital operations, in a statement. “Along the way, we’ve been test driving a number of different options for getting groceries from our stores to our customers’ front doors through self-driving technology. We believe this technology is a natural extension of our Grocery Pickup and Delivery service, and our goal of making every day a little easier for customers,” he aded.

Walmart’s Online Grocery business is booming, but today still relies on partnerships with third-party delivery services. Currently, Walmart partners with delivery providers across the U.S. to facilitate deliveries, including Point Pickup, Skipcart, AxleHire, Roadie, Postmates, and DoorDash. It has also tried, then ended, relationships with DelivUber and Lyft in the past. By the end of 2019, Walmart Grocery will offer nearly 3,100 pickup locations and 1,600 stores that support grocery delivery.

The retailer’s investments in its online grocery business helped boost sales and benefitted consumers by offering an affordable competitor to Amazon, Target’s Shipt, Instacart, and others. In Q3, Walmart’s grocery business helped online sales grow 41%, ahead of the 35% gain expected, leading Walmart to another earnings beat and 21 quarters of growth in the U.S.

In the quarter, Walmart earnings rose to $1.16 a share on revenue of $127.99 billion. However, Walmart’s e-commerce business is losing money as it continues to invest in new technologies and acquisitions, which has led to internal tensions.

Walmart says its pilot program will Nuro will kick off in 2020.

Here’s why the Tesla Cybertruck has its crazy look

By Matt Burns

Elon Musk revealed the Cybertruck last night, saying it looks like nothing else on the market. That’s true, but the Cybertruck shares several key features with an unlikely pickup — the first-generation Honda Ridgeline.

Both the Cybertruck and Honda Ridgeline are built differently from standard pickups. They employ a unibody design, much like what’s used in most passenger vehicles. Instead of a body sitting on a frame, the Cybertruck and Ridgeline are built around what is essentially a metal cage. A unibody truck makes sense for Tesla, which doesn’t want a large, bulky frame under the body. Tesla wants batteries under the vehicle and uses the body to protect them.

Because of the unibody pickup design, the vehicle has to employ a key design element to enable high-capacity towing: a sail pillar.

Most often, a vehicle’s towing capacity is limited by body design rather than engine strength. Towing places a lot of stress on the vehicle’s frame. Want to pull more? Make a beefier frame under the truck. But with the unibody Tesla Cybertruck, to increase the towing capacity, it had to use as big of a sail pillar as possible, explaining the unconventional design.

A vehicle naturally wants to twist. Think of wringing out a washcloth. In a body-on-frame design, the engine rests on a large frame, which absorbs a lot of the stresses. In a unibody design, vertical supports help, and are employed throughout, starting with an A pillar by the windshield and ending with a D pillar in the rear window of SUVs.

With a body-on-frame design, like what’s used in most pickups, the force from a trailer rests on the frame. Most of the energy is absorbed in the structure located under the body of the truck. The truck’s cab is decoupled from the bed, allowing the cab and bed to move relative to one another and better compensate for the stress on the frame.

In a unibody design, like in the Cybertruck, Ridgeline or most SUVs, the body is subjected to the same forces, but has to use the body to prevent twisting. The buttress-like sail pillar helps absorb the energy and prevent the truck from twisting.

Unibody SUVs have D pillars — the vertical supports at the rear of the vehicle — where pickups do not. This D pillar is needed to prevent the unibody from twisting and flexing when under load. But without the D pillar in a unibody pickup, a sail pillar connects the C pillar to the rear of the truck, achieving a similar result.

The first-generation Honda Ridgeline had a modest sail pillar, but Honda was able to ditch the feature for the second generation by reinforcing critical points throughout the unibody.

Honda described the redesign like this:

The rear frame structure of the 2017 Ridgeline is vitally important to the overall structural rigidity of the body, to collision safety performance and to the Ridgeline’s hauling and towing capability. Utilizing fully boxed frame members for the body sides and rear tailgate frame, the truss-style rear inner construction contributes to the new Ridgeline’s more conventional three-box design profile—allowing for the elimination of the buttress-style body structure in the forward portion of the upper bed on the previous model—while contributing to a 28-percent gain in torsional rigidity versus the previous model. Also, the U-shaped rear frame member serves as a highly rigid mounting structure for the rear tailgate, allowing for a highly precise tailgate fit.

The Chevrolet Avalanche also used a sail pillar to compensate for the lack of a D pillar. To make the Avalanche, Chevy took a full-size Suburban SUV and cut off the rear quarter.

It’s unclear if Tesla unveiled the final version of the Cybertruck. We still have significant questions. And if it’s not the final design, there’s a chance Tesla will be able to use some of Honda’s tricks to reduce the flying buttresses and produce a more conventional pickup design.

Hyundai and Seoul set to test self-driving cars on city roads starting next month

By Darrell Etherington

Hyundai has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the city of Seoul to begin testing six autonomous vehicles on roads in the Gangnam district beginning next month, BusinessKorea reports. The arrangement specifies that six vehicles will begin testing on 23 roads in December. Looking ahead to 2021, there will be as many as 15 of the cars, which are hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, testing on the roads.

Seoul will provide smart infrastructure to communicate with the vehicles, including connected traffic signals, and will also relay traffic and other info as frequently as every 0.1 seconds to the Hyundai vehicles. That kind of real-time information flow should help considerably with providing the visibility necessary to optimize safe operation of the autonomous test cars. On the Hyundai said, they’ll be sharing information too — providing data around the self-driving test that will be freely available to schools and other organizations looking to test their own self-driving technology within the city.

Together, Seoul and Hyundai hope to use the partnership to build out a world-leading downtown self-driving technology deployment, and to have that evolve into a commercial service, complete with dedicated autonomous vehicle manufacture by 2024.

We have five questions about Tesla’s Cybertruck

By Matt Burns

Tesla just unveiled its first pickup truck, and the Cybertruck gets a lot of things right. The look is polarizing, but from a truck perspective, it’s capable, practical and relatively affordable compared to other pickups. Of course, all those qualifiers come with an asterisk. Tesla didn’t say when it will hit the market and past Tesla vehicles have been hit with delays and missing features.

Now that the dust has settled, some questions stick out. Is the design final or how will Tesla have to change it to meet regulations? Tesla says the Cybertruck has a maximum range of 500 miles, but how will that change once a trailer is behind it? And what’s the size? It looks significantly longer than a full-size Ford F-150. Why does it have super glass and who does Tesla expect to buy it?

How does the design need to change to meet safety regulations?

There are many safety regulations throughout the world. Each market has slightly different variations. Does the current design meet these regulations? What changes are expected to meet these regulations?

The tires look to stick out from the wheel-wells, and that’s not allowed. The vehicle seems to lack a pedestrian-friendly front bumper. Where are the windshield wipers and turn signals and side mirrors?

How does load affect the range?

Weight kills range — in electric and gas vehicles. In my F-150 Ecoboost, when towing a large camper, my mpg drops from 19 mpg to 10 mpg. Where I can generally get around 700 miles on a tank, when towing a camper, I get about 400 miles.

Tesla seems to be addressing this in a few ways. One, adding another motor should increase the efficiency and help increase range, and the Cybertruck will be offered with two and three motors. Two, an air suspension is better suited to handle the added weight on the rear axle, allowing the vehicle to distribute the weight better.

What are the vehicle dimensions?

The Cybertruck looks massive. During the presentation, it’s showed next to several other vehicles, including a Ford F-150 SuperCrew with a five-and-a-half-foot bed. The Cybertruck looks significantly longer and wider.

I drive a Ford F-150 SuperCrew with a six-and-a-half-foot bed. It’s longer than a standard parking spot. It’s very long and hard to park, even in suburban parking spots. I worry the Cybertruck will be even harder to park — though the tough exterior will help door dings.

If the Cybertruck is longer and wider than a standard pickup truck, it will need additional lights to drive on U.S. roads. The U.S. government mandates any vehicle wider than 80 inches must have five orange safety lights to illustrate the width. The Cybertruck showed during the presentation lacked these lights.

Why super glass?

The Cybertruck is a unibody design, something Elon talked up extensively throughout the introduction. A unibody vehicle distributes stress throughout the body instead of a decoupled frame. But unibody trucks are not new, and there are several on the market, including the Honda Ridgeline. None have bulletproof glass.

With more stress hitting the body, durable glass is wanted to help handle the pressure.

But why extra-strong glass? Adding extra-durable glass seems like a waste of weight, and Tesla didn’t explain the justification outside of saying it’s cool.

What’s the target market?

Who does Tesla expect to buy the Cybertruck?

For construction companies, the massive (and necessary) sail pillar is polarizing and impractical, as it limits the utility of the bed. Plus, Tesla doesn’t like owners wrenching on their vehicles, which could hamper on-the-spot repairs construction companies generally employ.

For those hauling trailers, the Cybertruck’s range is dramatically less than what’s possible with gasoline and diesel engines and will be even less once under load.

For the weekend DIY, the Cybertruck appears to be extremely long, limiting its appeal as a daily driver when it needs to navigate parking lots and city streets.

Eventually, Tesla will answer the questions above as the Cybertruck nears release.

Tesla accidentally busted two windows on the Cybertruck while demonstrating how tough they are

By Greg Kumparak

Well, I don’t think that was supposed to happen.

In what was one of the more surreal product launches I’ve seen, Tesla debuted its $39,900 Cybertruck pickup tonight. After running through some specs and hitting the truck’s door with a sledge hammer, Elon asked an onstage companion (Tesla’s lead designer, Franz von Holzhausen) to demonstrate the strength of the Tesla “Armor Glass” by throwing a solid metal, baseball-sized ball at the driver side window.

It… did not go well.

While the glass didn’t completely shatter, it did appear to crack from edge to edge.

“Oh my [bleeping] God,” Musk laughs. “Well, maybe that was a little too hard.”

So they tried it again on the rear passenger window… and it cracked too. “Room for improvement,” Musk says with a shrug.

Was this a gag? A “Hah hah! Just kidding, here’s a test on the real glass!” sort of thing? Nope. Elon stood in front of the truck, two broken windows and all, and completed the presentation.

While no one would expect most standard windows to stand up to a test like this, even Elon seemed surprised by the results. “We threw wrenches, we threw everything,” he said on stage. “We even literally threw a kitchen sink at the glass, and it didn’t break. For a little weird reason it broke now, I don’t know why.”

“We’ll fix it in post,” he followed up with a laugh, then moved on to talking about the car’s suspension. The video went private on Tesla’s YouTube channel about 30 seconds after the live stream was over.

And with that, the undeniable truth that is “live demos never work” lives on.

tesla cybertruck

 

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.

GM will bring an electric truck to market in 2021

By Kirsten Korosec

GM CEO Mary Barra said Thursday that the automaker will bring its first electric truck to market in the fall of 2021.

The comments were made Thursday during GM’s investor day. Later this evening, Tesla, which also plans to start selling an electric truck in 2021, will reveal its “cybertruck” at an event in Hawthorne, Calif. Reuters first reported the news.

“General Motors understands truck buyers and… people who are new coming into the truck market,” Barra said during the investor conference, explaining the company’s rationale for the move.

GM’s foray into electric trucks has been public before. Last month, the Detroit Free Press reported the that GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant would remain open to produce an electric pickup under a deal between the UAW and the automaker.

This is the first time the company has provided a timeline.

Several other companies are expected to bring electric trucks to the marketplace in the next several years, including newcomer Rivian, Tesla and Ford.

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.

Mercedes prices its all-electric EQC SUV at $67,900

By Kirsten Korosec

The Mercedes-Benz EQC 400 4MATIC, the German automaker’s first all-electric vehicle under its new EQ brand, will start at $67,900 when it arrives in the U.S. early next year.

Mercedes-Benz announced the price of the EQC 400 Wednesday at the LA Auto Show. The price, which doesn’t account for the $7,500 federal tax credit, is notable because it’s below competitors like the Jaguar I-Pace, Audi e-tron and Tesla Model X.

It’s been a year since Mercedes-Benz unveiled the EQC, an all-electric SUV that kicked off the automaker’s plans to invest more than $12 billion to produce a line of battery-powered models under its new EQ brand. And in March, TechCrunch got a brief ride in the SUV in Austin during SXSW. In short, information about the vehicle has been out there. But the price has not.

The Mercedes EQC has a new drive system with compact dual electric drivetrains at each axle, which together generate 402 horsepower and 561 pound-feet of torque. The EQC can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds.

Mercedes has configured the vehicle motors to handle different aspects of the driving. The front electric motor is optimized for efficiency in the low to medium load range, while the rear motor is designed to create a sporty driving experience.

The vehicle’s 80 kilowatt-hour battery has an estimated range of around 200 miles, Mercedes-Benz has said in the past. The company didn’t provide updated numbers. The battery has standard DC fast-charging that can reach an 80% charge in 40 minutes.

The EQC will come standard with the company’s new MBUX infotainment system, which is already in the A-Class. The infotainment system has put an emphasis on voice assistant technology and navigation, which will be critical for new EV converts worried about locating charging stations. EQ-optimized navigation, driving modes, charging current and departure time also can be controlled and set via MBUX, the company said.

MBUX will recommend the shortest amount of time needed to get to a destination and uses online services to find available DC fast charging stations to use if the operating range is insufficient. Mercedes-Benz customers can also find charging stations via the Mercedes me Charge card, the Mercedes me App or directly from the car.

The onboard charger makes the most from available external power, with the battery able to recharge from 10% to 80% in just 40 minutes.

The EQC will be available in three tiers at launch: progressive, premium and advanced. The progressive and premium tiers will offer two curated paint and upholstery options, while three selections will be available for the more expensive advanced tier.

The entry-level progressive trim will come standard with MBUX, two 10.25-inch digital displays with touchscreen, advanced driver assistance system features like active brake assist with autonomous emergency braking, LED headlamps with adaptive high-beam assist and three years of

Production of the EQC started this year at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Bremen.

Karma’s new electric hinge-winged hypercar concept goes 0 to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds

By Kirsten Korosec

Karma Automotive took the wraps off Tuesday of a new electric concept car called the SC2 that produces a heart-thumping 1,100 horsepower and can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds.

The concept is a showpiece and an integral part of the Chinese-backed California-based startup’s new strategy to become a technology and design incubator that supplies other automakers.

Karma Automotive also unveiled Tuesday at Automobility LA, the press and trade days of the LA Auto Show, a performance variant of its Revero GT. The new Revero GTS is similar to the Revero GT, but boasts more performance and several other new interior and tech touches.

Meanwhile, the SC2 — with its eye-popping looks and performance specs — is meant to be show what Karma can do, not necessarily what it will do.

Karma CEO Lance Zhou called the SC2 a “signpost” to the company’s future as a technology-driven brand. It also previews the company’s future design language.

“Our open platform serves as a test bed for new technologies and partnerships, where we are to provide engineering, design, technology and customization resources others,” Zhao said.

The nuts and bolts

The battery-electric concept has front and rear mounted twin electric motors that deliver 800 kW peak power, with 10,500 pound-feet wheel torque and 350 miles of pure electric range. The I-shaped 120 kilowatt-hour battery is housed in the center tunnel beneath the dashboard and seats.

The vehicle has carbon ceramic breaks, a push-rod operated racing suspension and a Karma torque vectoring gearbox.

The hinge-winged doors aren’t the only flashy or tech-forward features. The concept has long-range radars, cameras, and FMCW lidar sensors in a nod towards an autonomous driving future.

Karma Automotive SC2 Interior

Drivers will theoretically (this is a concept after all) enter the vehicle through fingerprint and facial recognition sensors. Inside the vehicle, there are biometric seats and 3D audio to create individual sound zones for driver and passenger. Electro chromatic glass shifts from clear to opaque for privacy and light sensitivity.

Reliving the drive

Karma also showed a feature that lets drivers re-live their street-racing adventures through a simulation. A triple high definition camera under the windshield and frequency-modulated
continuous wave lidar sensors capture of the car in motion. At the same time, software captures in real-time all of the turns, braking and acceleration of driving.

After the drive, an adaptive laser projector replays the journey while the vehicle is parked. A mounted smartphone acts as the cabin’s rear-view mirror and turns it into a driving simulator where the user can re-experience their drive and fine-tune their skills.

And of course, drivers can then share that experience with others or stream drivers’ routes from
around the world within their own vehicles.

SC2’s technology can be integrated into a variety of future vehicles, according to Andreas Thurner, Karma’s vp of global design and architecture.

And that’s the whole point of this exercise. It’s unlikely that the SC2 will ever be made as a production vehicle. But the tech and design features in it could live on.

Karma Automotive’s roots began with 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.

Karma hasn’t had the smoothest of resurrections. 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.

This new incubator effort is an effort to bring some stability to the company and help it offset the capitally intensive business of designing and producing its own cars.

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.

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