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The debut of electric pickups signals a new EV era

By Matt Burns

Several companies rolled out electric pickups in 2019. Tesla’s Cybertruck got most of the attention, but don’t sleep on General Motors and Ford — bringing electric pickups to market is critical for the viability of electric vehicles.

Automakers build vehicles around shared components. These platforms, the underpinnings of the vehicles, often live for 10 or more years, and are critical to each automaker’s economic stability. The exterior sheet metal might change, but dozens of models often share the frame, powertrain and electrical components.

Electric pickup platforms offer vehicle makers a new revenue source. Instead of building electric vehicles designed to move people, these platforms can move goods. That’s key to building a long-term strategy around electric vehicles.

Look at Ford, whose best-selling F-150 is just a portion of its success. From the F-150, the automaker has dozens of commercial vehicles built off platforms that share components. If Ford can produce an electric pickup — which it says it’s doing alongside startup Rivian — Ford will be able to electrify its commercial offering more quickly.

Specific vehicle platforms are perfect for electrification. Vehicles with a predictable driving route like municipal vehicles, delivery vans and even hearses could benefit from electric powertrains.

Electric powertrains have long offered advantages over internal combustion; electric counterparts feature fewer moving parts and are now often smaller, allowing for more interior space. And then there’s the torque that gives electric vehicles near-superhero strength.

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.

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