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Porsche NA CEO Klaus Zellmer is coming to TC Sessions: Mobility

By Kirsten Korosec

The name Porsche has been synonymous with gas-powered high-performance sports cars and racing for nearly three quarters of a century. Now, the sports car manufacturer that is owned by Volkswagen Group is trying to build a new legacy, starting with its first all-electric vehicle, the Porsche Taycan.

Porsche has said that the Taycan, which was first unveiled in September, is just the beginning. It has committed to invest more than $6 billion into electric mobility through 2025 — a goal that is already well underway. Porsche spent more than $1 billion developing the Taycan, a cost that included expanding its factory. The company is investing in tech too, including an increased stake in Croatian electric vehicle components and hypercar company Rimac Automobili. Its venture arm took a minority stake in TriEye, an Israeli startup that’s working on a sensor technology to help vehicle driver-assistance and self-driving systems see better in poor weather conditions like dust, fog and rain.

Where is Porsche headed next? TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 will hopefully provide some answers. We’re excited to announce that Klaus Zellmer, the president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, will join us onstage for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 on May 14, 2020 in San Jose, Calif.

As president and CEO of PCNA, Zellmer leads the brand’s operations in the United States and Canada. He is also CEO of Porsche Digital, the sports car manufacturer’s digital subsidiary. Zellmer previously served as head of Overseas and Emerging Markets, with responsibility for Australia, Japan and Korea, and as CEO of Porsche Germany.

Zellmer has been with Porsche more than 20 years, an era of huge change at the sports car manufacturer, notably its electric vehicle program. Zellmer will talk about Porsche’s push into electrification, digital services and even flying cars while onstage at TC Sessions: Mobility.

TechCrunch created TC Sessions: Mobility to explore new ideas and startups, dig into the tech and highlight the people driving change in this ever-changing industry. This one-day event is centered around the future of mobility and transportation. We’ve already announced a few of the engineers, investors, founders and technologists who will join us onstage, including Waymo’s Boris Sofman, Ike Robotics co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Trucks VC general partner Reilly Brennan and Shin-pei Tsay, director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber.

Stay tuned to see who we’ll announce next.

And … $250 Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up on April 9; book today. Students, you can grab your tickets for just $50 here.

Uber’s self-driving unit starts mapping Washington, D.C. ahead of testing

By Kirsten Korosec

Uber Advanced Technologies Group will start mapping Washington, D.C., ahead of plans to begin testing its self-driving vehicles in the city this year.

Initially, there will be three Uber vehicles mapping the area, a company spokesperson said. These vehicles, which will be manually driven and have two trained employees inside, will collect sensor data using a top-mounted sensor wing equipped with cameras and a spinning lidar. The data will be used to build high-definition maps. The data will also be used for Uber’s virtual simulation and test track testing scenarios.

Uber intends to launch autonomous vehicles in Washington, D.C. before the end of 2020.

At least one other company is already testing self-driving cars in Washington, D.C. Ford announced in October 2018 plans to test its autonomous vehicles in Washington, D.C. Argo AI is developing the virtual driver system and high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles.

Argo, which is backed by Ford and Volkswagen, started mapping the city in 2018. Testing was expected to begin in the first quarter of 2019.

Uber ATG has kept a low profile ever since one of its human-supervised test vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona in March 2018. The company halted its entire autonomous vehicle operation immediately following the incident.

Nine months later, Uber ATG resumed on-road testing of its self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, following a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation decision to authorize the company to put its autonomous vehicles on public roads. The company hasn’t resumed testing in other markets such as San Francisco.

Uber is collecting data and mapping in three other cities in Dallas, San Francisco and Toronto. In those cities, just like in Washington, D.C., Uber manually drives its test vehicles.

Uber spun out the self-driving car business in April 2019 after closing $1 billion in funding from Toyota, auto-parts maker Denso and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. The deal valued Uber ATG at $7.25 billion, at the time of the announcement. Under the deal, Toyota and Denso are providing $667 million, with the Vision Fund throwing in the remaining $333 million.

Mobileye takes aim at Waymo

By Kirsten Korosec

Mobileye has built a multi-billion-dollar business supplying automakers with computer vision technology that powers advanced driver assistance systems. It’s a business that last year generated nearly $1 billion in sales for the company. Today, 54 million vehicles on the road are using Mobileye’s computer vision technology.

In 2018, the company made what many considered a bold and risky move when it expanded its focus beyond being a mere supplier to becoming a robotaxi operator. The upshot: Mobileye wants to compete directly with the likes of Waymo and other big players aiming to deploy commercial robotaxi services.

TechCrunch sat down with Amnon Shashua, Mobileye’s president and CEO and Intel senior vice president, to find out why and how — yep, acquisitions are in the future — the company will hit its mark.

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.

Aeva snags VW investment with smaller, longer-range lidar

By Kirsten Korosec

Lidar startup Aeva has deepened its relationship with VW Group with a new investment from Porsche Automobili Holding SE, thanks to a next-generation sensor that is headed for the ID Buzz AV, an electric reboot of the automaker’s iconic bus that will be used as autonomous taxis.

Aeva’s newest lidar product, called Aeries, has a 120-degree field-of-view — twice as much as its first product — and yet is half the size and uses less power. All of the components of the new lidar fit onto a single chip, an achievement that Aeva CEO Soroush Salehian said will cost $500 at scale, considerably cheaper than current sensors on the market.

The companies didn’t disclose the investment amount from Porsche SE, only describing it as “significant.” It’s worth noting that this is the only lidar company that Porsche SE, a majority voting shareholder of the Volkswagen Group, has made an investment in to date. And it’s the latest company within the VW Group to take notice in Aeva, a startup founded more than two years ago by veterans of Apple and Nikon.

The investment follows a deal announced in April by Audi subsidiary Autonomous Intelligent Driving, or AID. The unit, which falls under the VW Group, is using Aeva lidar sensors in a fleet of autonomous electric e-trons that were being tested in Munich.

Aeva has developed what it describes as “4D lidar” that can measure distance as well as instant velocity without losing range, all while preventing interference from the sun or other sensors.

Lidar, or light detection and ranging radar, measures distance. It’s considered by many as a critical and necessary sensor for autonomous vehicles. Traditional lidar sensors are able to determine distance by sending out high-power pulses of light outside the visible spectrum and then tracking how long it takes for each of those pulses to return. As they come back, the direction of, and distance to, whatever those pulses hit are recorded as a point and eventually forms a 3D map.

The Aeries lidar sensor meets the final production requirements for autonomous driving robotaxis and large volume customers working on advanced driver assistance systems, and will be available for use in development vehicles in the first half of 2020, the company said.

“It checks all the boxes and requirements in achieving high performance,” said Alex Hitzinger, senior vice president of autonomous driving at VW Group and CEO of VW Autonomy, an autonomous development unit created earlier this year.

Specifically, Hitzinger pointed to the lidar sensor’s high resolution, long range and small size.

“Also, Aeva’s lidar measures the velocity for every point, which is a big deal for perception software and helps to significantly simplify the tasks perception like object classification for critical objects such as pedestrians at far distances,” Hitzinger said in an email to TechCrunch, adding that it’s the best solution on the market.

Volkswagen is planning to launch an ID Buzz AV for robotaxi applications in 2022. The vehicle will be the base platform for the development of the automaker’s self-driving system that will enable VW Autonomy to scale AV technology across the VW Group brands of vehicles afterwards.

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.

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