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Gogoro’s Eeyo 1s e-bike goes on sale in France, its first European market

Gogoro announced today that its Eeyo 1s is now available for sale in France, the smart electric bike’s first European market. Another model, the Eeyo 1, will launch over the next few months in France, Belgium, Monaco, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic.

In France, the Eeyo 1s can be purchased through Fnac, Darty or, in Paris, Les Cyclistes Branchés. The Eeyo 1s is priced at €4699 including VAT, while the the Eeyo 1 will be priced at €4599, also including VAT.

The weight of Eeyo bikes is one of their key selling points and Gogoro says they are about half the weight of most other e-bikes. The Eeyo 1s weighs 11.9 kg and the Eeyo 1 clocks in at 12.4 kg.  Both have carbon fiber frames and forks, but the Eeyo 1s’ seat post, handlebars and rims are also carbon fiber, while on the Eeyo 1 they are made with an alloy.

Based in Taiwan, Gogoro first introduced its Eeyo lineup in May, making them available for sale in the U.S. first. The e-bikes are the company’s second type of vehicle after its SmartScooters, electric scooters that are powered by swappable batteries. The Eeyo bike’s key technology is the SmartWheel, a self-contained hub that integrates its motor, battery, sensor and smart connectivity technology so it can be paired with a smartphone app.

In an interview for the Eeyo’s launch, Gogoro co-founder and chief executive Horace Luke said the company began planning for Eeyo’s launch in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. While sale of e-bikes were already growing steadily before COVID-19, the pandemic has accelerated sales of e-bikes as people avoid public transportation and stay closer to home. Several cities have also closed some streets to car traffic, making riders more willing to use bikes for short commutes and exercise.

Founded in 2011 and backed by investors including Temasek, Sumitomo Corporation, Panasonic, the National Development Fund of Taiwan and Generation (the sustainable tech fund led by former vice president Al Gore), Gogoro is best known for its electric scooters, but it is also working on a turnkey solution for energy-efficient vehicles to license to other companies, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions in cities around the world.

Hong Kong logistics unicorn Lalamove unveils foray into the US

Lalamove, an on-demand logistics service active in China, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, has officially entered the U.S. seven years after launch.

As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps millions of Americans home, Hong Kong-based Lalamove believes it can seize the growing demand for delivery services in the country. It makes its debut in the Dallas Fort-Worth area, a major hub for distribution and logistics in the U.S. In days the service will launch in Chicago and Houston.

The startup was one of the first in Hong Kong to hit the $1 billion unicorn valuation mark alongside its archrival GoGoVan. Its business is multifold and highly localized, but essentially it works as an Uber for businesses and individuals that need to move goods within the city.

In China, where it’s known as Huolala (货拉拉), it primarily serves as a broker between shippers who need to send cargo and a network of truck drivers. In Southeast Asia, the business functions similarly with the addition of food delivery for restaurants, a crowded and cash-burning space. In the U.S., its fleet of sedans, SUVs and pickup trucks are available 24/7, allowing it to target customers spanning catering, retail, e-commerce, manufacturing and construction, with fees starting at $8.90.

“Delivery is essential, especially during the pandemic. But many local businesses don’t have or cannot afford in-house fleets, so we’re excited to work with businesses in the Dallas Fort-Worth area to provide same-day, on-demand delivery services to their customers,” said Blake Larson, international managing director at Lalamove and formerly co-founder of Rocket Internet’s Asia-focused e-hailing startup Easy Taxi.

Like GoGoVan, Lalamove was founded by a Hong Kong entrepreneur who was educated in the U.S. Both companies have scored fundings from heavyweight institutions from China and elsewhere.

Lalamove’s investors included Hillhouse Capital, Sequoia Capital China and Xiaomi founder’s Shunwei Capital. Through a merger with China’s 58 Suyun, GoGoVan counts Tencent, Alibaba, KKR and New Horizon Capital amongst its backers.

The Hong Kong startup’s global expansion comes at a time when TikTok stumbles in the U.S. due to its links to China. In the logistics startup’s case, a Chinese team operates the Chinese division Huolala, while separate international teams manage the overseas segments of Lalamove, TechCrunch understands. The core of TikTok’s challenge in the U.S. is the video app’s dependence on its Chinese parent ByteDance’s technological capabilities.

To date, Lalamove has verified and onboarded more than 500 partner drivers in Dallas Fort-Worth, with plans to add another 500 in the area by the end of this year. It’s also hiring for its regional operational office at a time when the U.S. is struck by widespread virus-induced layoffs, furloughs and slowdown in hiring.

Lalamove claims it has to date matched more than 7 million users with a pool of over 700,000 delivery partners in 22 markets around the world.

GM, Ford wrap up ventilator production and shift back to auto business

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the United States, a number of automakers and other manufacturers announced plans to retrofit factories to help ease the shortage of personal protective gear and ventilators.

Now, two U.S. automakers have fulfilled their separate multi-million-dollar ventilator contracts — together delivering 80,000 of the devices to the U.S. government.

General Motors said Tuesday that it has completed its contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for 30,000 critical care ventilators delivered to the Strategic National Stockpile. GM said many of its ventilators have been deployed to hospitals. Ford has also completed its 50,000-ventilator contract, Bloomberg reported.

GM and Ford didn’t go it alone. Both automakers partnered with companies to accelerate the ramp up from 0 to thousands of ventilators within five months. GM partnered with Ventec Life Systems to produce ventilators at its engine plant in Kokomo, Ind., using about 1,000 workers. The GM-Ventec partnership grew out of  StopTheSpread.org, a coordinated effort of private companies to respond to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Ford teamed up with GE Healthcare to produce ventilators at the automaker’s Rawsonville Road plant in Michigan. Ford’s $336 million contract wrapped up August 28 when it shipped its final Model A-E ventilator unit. Ford’s contract was supposed to be fulfilled by mid-July, but said it was delayed by new suppliers that were ramping up parts production, according to Bloomberg. The company was granted an extension by HHS.

In the early days of the contracts, GM and Ford were criticized, and even attacked, by President Trump, although ultimately he applauded the efforts.

Both efforts stretched and showcased the capabilities of the automakers to convert portions of factories used to assemble vehicles and parts into facilities cranking out medical devices. Before GM even announced its partnership with Ventec, the automaker investigated the feasibility of sourcing more than 700 components needed to build Ventec’s critical care ventilators called VOCSN. Ventec describes these VOCSN devices as multi-function ventilators that were cleared in 2017 by the FDA.

GM initially estimated it would cost about $750 million, a price that included retrofitting a portion of the engine plant, purchasing materials to make the ventilators and paying the 1,000 workers needed to scale up production, the source said. However, the Trump Administration balked at the price tag, putting a contract with the U.S. government in limbo. Eventually, GM reached a $490 million contract with the federal government to produce 30,000 ventilators by the end of August. Under the contract, GM produced a different critical care ventilator from Ventec called the VOCSN V+Pro, a simpler device that has 400 parts. The other more expensive and complex machine had a multi-function capability.

Ford and GM also produced other medical supplies. Ford, which called its effort Project Apollo, said it produced more than 75 million pieces of personal protective equipment, including 19 million face shields, 42 million face masks,1.6 million washable isolation gowns and more than 32,000 powered air-purifying respirators in collaboration with 3M.

GM said its Warren facility has two production lines for face masks and a third line making N95 face respirators. To date, the facility has produced more than 10 million masks, with production going to employees at GM facilities or donated to community organizations, the company said.

Elon Musk says ’embarrassingly late’ two-factor is coming to Tesla app

Tesla CEO Elon Musk acknowledged Friday that the company was ‘embarrassingly late’ rolling out a security layer known as two-factor authentication for its mobile app.

“Sorry, this is embarrassingly late. Two factor authentication via sms or authenticator app is going through final validation right now,” Musk wrote Friday in response to a question from a Twitter follower.

Musk said in April that the additional security layer was “coming soon.” He first mentioned that the company would add two-factor authentication back in May 2019. Tesla owners have stepped up their calls for two-factor authentication as the rest of the tech community has adopted the security feature.

Sorry, this is embarrassingly late. Two factor authentication via sms or authenticator app is going through final validation right now.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 14, 2020

Two-factor authentication — also known as two-step verification — combines something you know, like a password, with something you have, like your phone. This is a way to verify that the real account holder — or car owner — is logging in and not a hacker.

Some websites do this by sending you a code by text message. But hackers can intercept these. A more secure way of doing it is by sending a code through a phone app, often called an authenticator, which security experts prefer.

Beefing up the security on the Tesla mobile app is particularly pressing. The Tesla app is a critical tool for owners, giving them control over numerous functions on their vehicles.

When Bluetooth is enabled, the Tesla app allows drivers to use their phone as a key to Tesla’s newer vehicle models. The app also lets the user remotely lock and unlock the doors, trunk and frunk, turn on the HVAC system, monitor and control charging, locate the vehicle and schedule service — to name a few of the main capabilities.

These days, two-factor authentication is common and widely employed to stop hackers from using stolen passwords to break into users’ accounts. What’s unclear with Tesla is whether the two-factor tool will rely on SMS or a phone app. Musk said the final validation was for SMS “or” authenticator app, a statement that leaves that critical question unanswered.

Waymo and Fiat Chrysler’s next big project is to develop self-driving Ram vans

Waymo and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have inked a deal to develop and test autonomous cargo vans and other light commercial vehicles designed to shuttle goods. The agreement is an expansion of a partnership that kicked off four years ago with a focus on self-driving Pacifica hybrid minivans meant to transport people.

The deal is the latest example of Waymo’s efforts to build out the delivery arm of its autonomous vehicle technology business. The two companies said the initial plan is to integrate Waymo’s self-driving stack — the suite of software and hardware that allows the vehicle to operate without a human behind the wheel —into FCA’s Ram ProMaster vans. These self-driving cargo vans will be used by Waymo Via, the company’s trucking and local delivery service.

However, it appears that the terms of the deal could extend far beyond Waymo Via. It’s possible that FCA could supply other transport companies with the self-driving vans (equipped with Waymo tech) through a licensing deal.

The companies said the partnership actually covers FCA’s entire portfolio of vehicles. The agreement between FCA and Waymo also extends to future affiliates, according to those familiar with the partnership. This point matters because FCA and French automaker Groupe PSA are in the process of merging into a newly formed corporation called Stellantis. If the 50-50 merger closes as expected in the first quarter of next year, the agreement would theoretically include all the brands that fall under Stellantis.

As broad as the Waymo-FCA agreement might be, the automaker has sought out other partners in the autonomous vehicle industry in varying capacities. FCA’s approach to rapid advancement of autonomous vehicle technology is to focus on vehicle-side needs while establishing smart and strategic collaborations that promote a culture of innovation, safety and know-how, the automaker previously told TechCrunch.

Last year, FCA and autonomous vehicle technology startup Aurora announced a partnership that was also focused on light commercial vehicles. FCA said it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Aurora, an agreement that has since run its course, a spokesperson said. The two companies are still working on custom-built Pacifica hybrids, which Aurora is using in its testing, but they are not co-developing autonomous commercial vans.

“Over the last eighteen months, Aurora and FCA have collaborated closely in the specification, design, and development of custom-built Pacificas into which we’ve integrated the Aurora Driver,” Aurora said in an emailed statement. “Aurora looks forward to deploying our self-driving solution on FCA’s passenger and commercial vehicles.”

FCA is also supplying self-driving vehicle startup Voyage with purpose-built Pacifica Hybrids that have been developed for integration of automated technology. These vehicles come with customizations such as redundant braking and steering that are necessary to safely deploy driverless vehicles.

Waymo is best known for developing, testing and now launching an on-demand, ride-hailing business using self-driving passenger vehicles, namely the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans. A spokesperson reiterated that ride-hailing is still its most important business.

While Waymo has publicly talked about its ambitions for self-driving trucks, local delivery vans and even personal car ownership, the ramp-up of its Waymo One robotaxi service in Arizona has largely overshadowed those plans.

Waymo first integrated its self-driving system into Class 8 trucks and began testing them in Arizona in August 2017. Those tests stopped sometime later that year. The company didn’t bring back its truck testing to Arizona until 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 marked a more advanced stage in the program’s development, Waymo said at the time.

Waymo’s trucking program has had a higher profile since June 2019 when the company brought on 13 robotics experts, a group that includes Anki’s co-founder and former CEO Boris Sofman, to lead engineering in the autonomous trucking division.

The Station: Bird spikes Circ in the Middle East, Kitty Hawk folds Flyer, Cruise attempts a hiring coup

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hi friends and first-time readers. Welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

In the past two weeks, demonstrators have taken to the streets to protest police brutality following the murder of George Floyd (and many other black men and women who have been killed by police). Newsletters about transportation hardly seem important right now.

I will note that transportation, or the lack of access to it, has played a huge part in continued and systemic racism in the United States. The Station aims to highlight the founders, urban planners, bike advocates, lawmakers, tech companies and venture capitalists who are helping — and hurting — the efforts to make transportation accessible to all.

Reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Alright, time to dig in. Vamos.

Micromobbin’

The scooter and bike scrapping keeps on keepin’ on. Last month, it was Uber tossing more than 20,000 JUMP bikes into a recycling yard following its deal to offload the JUMP brand to Lime.

This week, it’s scooter sharing company Bird. The company shut down scooter sharing in several cities in the Middle East, an operation that was managed by Circ, the micromobility startup it acquired in January. About 100 Circ employees were laid off and as many as 10,000 Circ scooters were sent to a third-party UAE-based company for recycling, TechCrunch learned from multiple sources.

Bird couched the shutdown as “pausing of operations” and was quick to note that it was still in Tel Aviv. This pause comes less than six months after Bird announced it had acquired its European counterpart and touted plans to expand. Bird’s decision to shut down Circ’s entire Middle East business affects operations in Bahrain, UAE and Qatar.

Bird says it will return to the region. But my sources disagree, noting that the company ruined its relationships with transportation agencies in places like Abu Dhabi.

Meanwhile, electric-bike maker Cowboy released a new iteration of its bike, the Cowboy 3. It’s a relatively small update that should make the experience better for newcomers, Roman Dillet reports.

Oh and remember our little snippet last week about Superpedestrian? Megan Rose Dickey noted Superpedestrian, the startup that makes self-diagnosing electric scooters, had teamed up with Zagster and quietly launched a shared electric scooter service called LINK.

Turns out Zagster is Superpedestrian. Growth equity firm Edison Partners said this week it has sold its portfolio company Zagster to Superpedestrian.

Deal of the week

money the station

This week, we turn our attention to Volkswagen’s $2.6 billion investment into Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based self-driving car startup that came out of stealth in 2017 with $1 billion in backing from Ford. The deal, which was announced in July 2019, was finalized this week.

It’s notable for a few reasons. Argo is now a global company with two customers — VW and Ford — as well as operations in the U.S. and Europe. The company’s workforce just popped by more than 40% as Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID), the self-driving subsidiary that was launched in 2017 to develop autonomous vehicle technology for the VW Group, will be absorbed into Argo AI. AID’s Munich offices will become Argo’s European headquarters.

Argo also has offices in Detroit, Palo Alto and Cranbury, N.J. The company has fleets of autonomous vehicles mapping and testing on public roads in Austin, Miami and Washington, D.C.

This is all very exciting. Of course, now the hard work begins. Argo must juggle two huge, traditional automotive customers and maintain multiple offices with more than 1,000 employees. Welcome to the big time.

Argo AI CMU

An Argo AI autonomous vehicle at Carnegie Mellon University.

Other deals that got our attention:

OTTO Motors, the industrial division of Clearpath Robotics, raised $29 million in funding in a Series C funding round led by led by Kensington Private Equity Fund, with participation from Bank of Montreal Capital Partners, Export Development Canada (EDC) and previous investors iNovia Capital and RRE Ventures. To date, the company has raised $83 million in funding.

Beam, a Singapore-headquartered micromobility firm that offers shared e-scooters, has raised $26 million in a Series A round led by Sequoia India and Hana Ventures. Several more investors from the Asia Pacific region participated, including RTP Global, AppWorks, Right Click, Cherubic and RedBadge Pacific, Beam said. The startup, which has raised $32.4 million to date, plans to use the capital to expand its footprint in Korea, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Taiwan.

Navmatic, a startup that provides high-accuracy positioning for micromobility, robotics and mobile phones, came out of stealth mode earlier this year on $4 million in funding. The round, which was finalized pre-COVID 19, was led by Lear Corporation’s Lear Innovation Ventures, and also includes UpWest, Next Gear Ventures, and several private investors.

Navmatic is aiming to solve one of the stickier problems of micromobility: precise location within centimeters. Navmatic CEO and co-founder Boaz Mamo says the tech, which goes beyond GPS, is the backbone of micromobility that will help cities, customers and scooter companies. Mamo also weighed in on the pandemic and its impact on shared mobility. He expects that while micromobility has been negatively affected by COVID, it will return as people try to avoid public transportation and seek other means of getting around.

Gojek, the five-year-old Southeast Asian ride-hailing startup that also offers food delivery and mobile payments, is attracting more high-profile backers. Facebook and PayPal are the latest to participate in its ongoing Series F financing round, which brings it total raise-to-date to over $3 billion. Google and Tencent have also invested in Gojek.

Softbank announced a new investment vehicle to back entrepreneurs of color called the Opportunity Growth Fund, which “will only invest in companies led by founders and entrepreneurs of color,” according to an internal memo from SoftBank’s COO Marcelo Claure. The fund will initially start at $100 million.

Andreessen Horowitz is launching a fund designed to invest in underrepresented and underserved founders. The Talent x Opportunity (TxO) fund starts with $2.2 million in donations from the firm’s partners. TxO will be invested in a small group of seed-stage startups the first year and expand in size going forward.

Vroom released an updated IPO filing that provides pricing information for a somewhat odd public offering. The company expects to price its IPO between $15 and $17 per share, according to the filing. It hopes to sell 18.75 million shares in its debut, generating gross proceeds of between $281.25 million and $318.75 million. Alex Wilhelm spends some time sorting through the latest financial bits.

It’s electric

the station electric vehicles1

There was too much electric vehicle news this week to put under my catch-all at the bottom of the newsletter. Plus lots of photos too!

Let’s kick things off with James Dyson, the man behind the high-tech vacuum cleaners and fans company. Dyson was working on an electric vehicle until he wasn’t. The project, known internally as N526, was killed in October.

Dyson popped back up this week with a blog post, video and photos that describe the project in greater detail and shared new tidbits. Dyson spent £500 million (or about $605 million)he project) of his own money on the EV project that, at one point, had 600 people working on it. Dyson described it as a fantastic result with interesting features like no visible door handles and all controls on the steering wheel. “It’s a brilliant car with very special features and a very intelligent hard-working team,” he said in a video.

Image Credits: Screenshot/Dyson

And yet despite this seeming slam dunk, the electric vehicle project was ended because it wasn’t commercially viable. “It’s a great shame, that’s probably the best way of putting it,” Dyson said in one of the videos.

One insider told me at the time the project ended that this came down to choice and legacy. Dyson, who had already made his fortune, could walk away despite the enormous expense. To continue, would be to risk the legacy he had built.

Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk didn’t have that luxury during its most challenging times, the insider noted. It was either push on or die.

Other electric news

GM’s electric offensive to bring at least 20 new EVs to market by 2023 reportedly includes a commercial van. The company is developing an electric van for the commercial market, Reuters reported. Code-named BV1, the van is expected to start production in late 2021 and will use the Ultium battery system that was revealed in March.

As I noted in my own reporting,  GM will join an increasingly crowded pool if it delivers on that goal. Amazon ordered 100,000 electric delivery vans from Rivian, the first of which are expected to be on the road in 2021. Ford has announced an electric Transit van that’s expected to launch in 2021. Startups such as Arrival, Chanje, Enirde and XoS have all received orders for electric vans from package delivery companies such as Ryder and UPS.

Bollinger Motors has been granted a patent for its Passthrough and Frunkgate, two features that take advantage of its electric architecture.

The Passthrough is an opening that spans the length of the vehicle, from the front-cargo space through the interior of the cab, to the rear of the vehicle. The Passthrough enables an uninterrupted 13-foot on its B1 sport utility truck and a 16-foot path, on its B2 pickup.

Bollinger electric vehicle Passthrough

Image Credits: Bollinger Motors

The Frunkgate is the fold-down portion on the nose of the truck, similar to a tailgate and allows cargo to be inserted through the front of both the Bollinger B1 and B2. Production for the Bollinger Motors B1 sport utility truck and B2 pickup is slated to begin in 2021.

Nikola Motors, the maker of electric and hybrid trucks and vehicles, went public this week. The company did a reverse merger with VectoIQ and took over its stock ticker. Forbes examines the company, its plans and founder.

Jalopnik took a deep dive into an electric vehicle that senior editor Jason Torchinsky ordered for $900 ($1,200 by the end) from Alibaba. The vehicle, built by the Changzhou Changli Vehicle Factory, is more impressive than you might expect for the price.

Changli electric vehicle

Image Credits: Alibaba/screenshot

Notable reads and other tidbits

Before we dive into all the news bits, I wanted to draw your attention to a draft transportation bill released this week by House Democrats.

The $494 billion, 5-year plan is called Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act. The proposed legislation would replace the FAST Act, which was passed in 2015 and expires later this year.

Rail and transit get a proposed funding boost. The federal Transportation Alternatives Program, which focuses on bike and pedestrian projects, got a 60% increase above the $850 million authorized in the FAST Act. However, the bulk of the draft bill is still focused on roads and related infrastructure.

AV news

Yandex, the Russian search giant that has been working on autonomous vehicle technology, unveiled its fourth-generation self-driving cars that were jointly developed with Hyundai Mobis. If you recall, Yandex and Hyundai partnered in March 2019 to develop software and hardware for autonomous car systems.

The latest generation platform operates on the 2020 Hyundai Sonata, joining Yandex’s existing fleet of more than 100 self-driving Toyota Priuses. [On a side note: I took a ride in one of Yandex’s self-driving (and driverless) Toyota Priuses in Las Vegas this January during CES. I was surprised by the bold and assertive decision making and driving by the vehicle.]

These fourth-generation self-driving Sonatas are now operating in Moscow. The company plans to add another 100 Sonatas by the end of 2020. The vehicles will be integrated into its robotaxi program in Innopolis, Russia, as well as joining its fleet in Michigan.

California Department of Motor Vehicles has given its autonomous vehicle web portal a new look. Let’s hope it’s easier to navigate and find the important stuff like incident reports.

The AP Stylebook made an important update last week that I failed to mention last week. Four points that have now been cast in stone forevermore:

  1. The term autonomous vehicles describes vehicles that can monitor the road and surroundings and drive for all or part of a trip without human supervision. They also can be called self-driving vehicles
  2. The term driverless should not be used unless there is no human backup driver.

  3. Some vehicles have driver-assist systems that can perform tasks such as changing lanes, driving at low speeds, or keeping a safe distance from vehicles ahead of them, but they still need human supervision. These should be referred to as partially automated.

  4. Avoid the term semi-autonomous because it implies that these systems can drive themselves. At present, human drivers must be ready to intervene at any time.

The IIHS caused a bit of a kerfuffle with a study that undercuts some of the presumed safety benefits around autonomous vehicles. AV developers and PAVE, or Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, pushed back. Here is PAVE’s counterargument. Both are worth the read.

Miscellaneous bits

Rumors of buses full of antifa protestors plying the countryside are causing panic in rural counties throughout the country — even though there’s no evidence they exist, The Verge reports. The Associated Press has catalogued at least five separate rural counties where locals have warned of imminent attacks, although none of the rumors have been substantiated.

Amazon has added 12 new cargo aircraft to Amazon Air, bringing its total fleet to more than 80 aircraft, in part because of increased demand for shipments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amazon said one of the planes will begin transporting cargo this month, and the rest will be delivered next year.

The Boring Co., another Elon Musk company, has proposed a a high-speed tunnel linking Rancho Cucamonga with Ontario International Airport. This week, San Bernardino County transportation agency voted unanimously to support the idea, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Staff have been directed flesh out the proposal and postpone a $3 million study of other airport-rail connections.

LanzaTech, which develops technologies that can turn carbon emissions into ethanol that can be used for chemicals and fuel, has spun out a new company. This spinout, conducted alongside its corporate partners Mitsui, Suncor and All Nippon Airways, aims to bring sustainable aviation fuel to the commercial market.

Layoffs, business disruptions and people

Remember a week ago when I used the term “knife fight” to describe the pursuit of talent within the autonomous vehicle technology industry? Yeah, welp.

Cruise co-founder and CTO Kyle Vogt sent an email to employees at Zoox with a direct appeal to join his company. It’s no secret that Zoox has had to do some belt tightening in the past year and is reportedly being pursued by Amazon. Zoox is in an uncertain time and Vogt didn’t waste the opportunity.

“I’m writing because your company is potentially about to go through a major transition, and I want to ensure you have the ability to do what you signed up to do: transform transportation …,” the email read, according to an initial report from Reuters, a follow on from The Information and confirmed by TechCrunch.

This ploy didn’t sit well with Tim Kentley Klay, the co-founder and ousted CEO of Zoox. Klay sent a tweet Saturday morning that called Vogt a “vulture” and said Zoox engineers are “better than yours.” Grab the popcorn.

Layoffs

On-demand parking startup Spothero laid off 40 people, citing economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

TrueCar, the online car marketplace, laid off 30% of its staff.

And under the weird hiring-layoff hybrid

Kitty Hawk is shutting down its Flyer program, the aviation startup’s inaugural moonshot to develop an ultralight electric flying car designed for anyone to use.

The company, backed by Google co-founder Larry Page and led by Sebastian Thrun, said it’s now focused on scaling up Heaviside, a sleeker, more capable (once secret) electric aircraft that is quiet, fast and can fly and land anywhere autonomously.

Kitty Hawk is laying off most of Flyer’s 70-person team, TechCrunch learned. But it says it is “doubling down” on Heaviside, a plan that includes hiring more folks for that project.

Rivian laid off 40 employees at its Plymouth, Michigan office, a story that The Verge first reported. There appears to be confusion over why there were layoffs. Employees said it was related to COVID-19, while Rivian said it was performance based.

Meanwhile the company told TechCrunch it has hired a new COO and filled several new position. Rod Copes, who previously worked at Royal Enfield and Harley Davidson, is the new COO. The new positions were filled by employees who have worked at Apple, Lucid Motors, Nissan, Tesla and Waymo.

Rivian hired Beth Harrington as director of strategic programs, Matt Horton as executive vice president of energy and charging Solutions, Noe Mejia as senior director of service operations, Charly Mwangi as executive vice president of manufacturing engineering and Georgios Sarakakis as vice president of reliability engineering.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport SEL

2020 vw atlas cross sport

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

As I mentioned last week, I spent a few days test driving 2020 VW Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL (premium trim), a smaller and more approachable version of the massive three-row Atlas. Over the next several weeks I plan to test and share my thoughts on a few new SUVs because as I previously mentioned — this is the summer of the reimagined road trip thanks to COVID-19.

Last November, I tested the bigger VW Atlas during a climbing and camping trip in Joshua Tree. At the time, I felt that the Atlas was simply too much car for my needs — even with a full climbing rack and camping gear stuffed inside. There are two engines offered in the Atlas Cross Sport — a 2.0-liter turbo four with produces 235 horsepower and a 3.6-liter V6 with 276 horsepower. Both versions have an 8-speed automatic transmission.

My vehicle was a pyrite silver Atlas Cross Sport with the 3.6-liter V6 and had a base price of $49,350, including the required destination fee.

 

VW packed a lot of the same features into the smaller Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL. I was first struck by how much lower it sits, giving it a sportier stance. The ground clearance is actually the same as its bigger sibling, and yet its overall height is more than 2 inches lower. The vehicle has the same 117.3-inch wheelbase as the full-sized Atlas, but is 5.7 inches shorter.

The outcome is a more manageable ride. Despite its sportier package it didn’t feel zippier than the full sized Atlas. The performance and get-up-and-go were similar in both vehicles.

I’m a sucker for a large moonroof — at least during a road trip — and the Atlas Cross Sport didn’t disappoint. The vehicle interior is loaded with features like heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated and ventilated seats, and 10-way power driver’s seat. There are USB charging only ports in the front and back rows and a center console with dual USB data and charging ports and cup holders. The seats folded down easily to create loads of space — 77.8 cubic feet — for gear. If that’s not enough room, the vehicle has a roof rails that can be outfitted to hold roof boxes and bike attachments. It also has trailer hitch and can tow 5,000 pounds. Heck, there are even 11 cup holders.

And then there’s the ADAS system, which includes parking assist adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and automated emergency braking, active blind spot monitor, lane keeping system and traffic jam assist. All of these are easy enough to locate and activate after a few moments of fiddling around.

My big quibble is how long a driver can have ACC and lane assist on without their hands on the wheel. Remember, this is a “lane assist” feature. If a driver takes their hands off the wheel while this feature is engaged, a visual warning pops up on the display after about 7 seconds. Several seconds later, an audible warning followed. The lane assist feature is consistent enough to warrant a stricter system to avoid distraction and abuse.

vw atlas cross sport screen

Overall, it’s a vehicle ready to take a family or gear on the road and has lots of the comforts one might expect for a nearly $50,000 vehicle. The sporty stance makes the Cross Sport standout, but its performance doesn’t quite match up with its visual appeal.

Ola Electric acquires Etergo, to launch own line of electric two wheelers this year

Ola Electric, the EV business that spun out of the ride-hailing giant Ola last year, has acquired an Amsterdam-based electric scooter startup as the Indian firm looks to locally produce and launch its own line of two wheelers as soon as this year.

The Indian firm said Wednesday it had acquired Etergo, a Dutch firm that has built a scooter that uses swappable, high energy battery that delivers a range of up to 240 km (149 miles).

Ola did not reveal the terms of the deal, but Etergo was valued at around $90 million in its previous financing round, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The six-year-old startup had raised €20.3 million from the market before its acquisition today, according to Crunchbase.

Etergo’s electric-powered two wheeler

The Indian firm, which gained the unicorn status last year when it raised $300 million, said it plans to launch its electric two wheeler in India next year, though TechCrunch understands that the company is internally hoping to reach the milestone by end of this year.

“This acquisition will further bolster Ola Electric’s strong engineering and design capabilities with the Etergo team’s extensive vehicle development experience with leading automotive companies like Tesla, General Motors, Ferrari, Jaguar, and BMW. Etergo’s team will continue to be based out of Amsterdam as they join Ola Electric,” it said in a statement.

More to follow…

Voyage gets the green light to bring robotaxi service to California’s public roads

Voyage has cleared a regulatory hurdle that will allow the company to expand its self-driving service from the private roads of a retirement community in San Jose, Calif. to public roads throughout the rest of the state.

The California Public Utilities Commission issued a permit Monday that gives Voyage permission to transport passengers in its self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads. The permit, which is part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, puts Voyage in a new and growing group of companies seeking to expand beyond traditional AV testing. Aurora, AutoX, Cruise, Pony.ai, Zoox and Waymo have all received permits to participate in the CPUC’s Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program.

The permit also puts Voyage on a path toward broader commercialization.

The company was operating six autonomous vehicles — always with a human safety driver behind the wheel — in The Villages, a community of more than 4,000 residents in San Jose, Calif. (Those activities have been suspended temporarily under a statewide stay-at-home order prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.) Voyage also operates in a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in central Florida.

Voyage didn’t need a CPUC permit because the community is made up of private roads, although CEO Oliver Cameron said the company wanted to adhere to state rules regardless of any technicalities. Voyage was also motivated by a grander ambition to transport residents of The Villages to destinations outside of the community.

“We want to bring people to all the things that live outside The Villages, facilities like hospitals and grocery stores,” Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron told TechCrunch in an interview Monday.

Voyage’s strategy was to start with retirement communities — places with specific customer demand and a simpler surrounding environment. The demographic that Voyage serves has an average age of 70. The aim isn’t to change its customer base. Instead, Cameron wants to expand the company’s current operational design domain to give Voyage a bigger reach.

The end goal is for Voyage’s core customers — people Cameron dubs power users — to be able to use the service for everything from heading to a neighbor’s house for dinner to shopping, doctor’s visits and even the airport.

🚨 Announcement time! We recently received a CPUC permit granting permission to move CA residents in driverless cars.

We join a tiny group of companies with this permit (👋@zoox @Cruise @Waymo @aurora_inno) & can’t wait to get back on the road to serve seniors. We miss you ❤pic.twitter.com/VBPtNQjRI1

— Voyage (@voyage) April 20, 2020

The CPUC authorized in May 2018 two pilot programs for transporting passengers in autonomous vehicles. The first one, called the Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, allows companies to operate a ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles as long as they follow specific rules. Companies are not allowed to charge for rides, a human safety driver must be behind the wheel and certain data must be reported quarterly.

The second CPUC pilot would allow driverless passenger service — although no company has yet to obtain that permit.

Under the permit, Voyage can’t charge for rides. However, there might be some legal wiggle room. Voyage can technically charge for rides within The Villages; in fact, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdown, the company had started charging for a ride-hailing service.

Rides outside of The Villages would have to be free, although it’s unclear if the company could charge for mileage or time until the vehicle left the community.

Voyage has aspirations to take this further. The company is also applying for a traditional Transportation Charter Permit, which is required for limousine, bus and other third-party charter services. Cameron said the company had to go through the stringent application process for the CPUC’s Drivered AV permit first.

The CPUC programs shouldn’t be confused with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which regulates and issues permits for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads — always with a safety driver. There are 65 companies that hold autonomous vehicle testing permits issued by the DMV. Companies that want to participate in the CPUC program must have a testing permit with the DMV.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk: New York gigafactory will reopen for ventilator production

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday that the company’s factory in Buffalo, New York will open “as soon as humanly possible” to produce ventilators that are in short supply due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

His comments, which were made Wednesday via Twitter, follows previous statements by the CEO outlining plans to either donate ventilators or work to increase production of the critical piece of medical equipment needed for patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by coronavirus. COVID-19 attacks the lungs and can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. And since there is no clinically proven treatment yet, ventilators are relied upon to help people breathe and fight the disease. There are about 160,000 ventilators in the United States and another 12,700 in the National Strategic Supply, the NYT reported.

Giga New York will reopen for ventilator production as soon as humanly possible. We will do anything in our power to help the citizens of New York.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 25, 2020

Last week, Tesla said in a statement it would suspend production at its Fremont, Calif. factory, where it assembles its electric vehicles, and its Buffalo, N.Y gigafactory, except for “those parts and supplies necessary for service, infrastructure and critical supply chains.”

It isn’t clear based on Musk’s statements when the Buffalo plant would reopen or how long it would take to convert a portion of its factory, which is used to produce solar panels. Musk didn’t say if this was part of a possible collaboration with Medtronic .

Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak told CNBC on Wednesday that it is increasing capacity of its critical care ventilators and partnering with others such as Tesla. He said Medtronic is open sourcing one its lower end ventilators in less acute situations for others to, to make as quickly as they can. These lower end ventilators, which are easier to produce because there are fewer components, can be used as an intermediary step in critical care.

Tesla is one of several automakers, including GM, Ford and FCA that has pledged support to either donate supplies or offer resources to make more ventilators. Earlier this week, Ford said it is working with GE Healthcare to expand production capacity of a ventilator.

GM is working with Ventec Life Systems to help increase production of respiratory care products such as ventilators. Ventec will use GM’s logistics, purchasing and manufacturing expertise to build more ventilators. The companies did not provide further details such as when production might be able to ramp up or how many ventilators would be produced.

Lyft to charge San Francisco e-bikers more for decadent dockless parking

Lyft to charge San Francisco e-bikers more for decadent dockless parking

San Francisco e-bike riders’ penchant for locking their Bay Wheels wherever they damn well please is about to cost them some serious dough. 

A host of pricing changes are coming to the Lyft-operated platform as of March 2. Perhaps the most notable of which includes a brand new $2 locking fee for riders who choose to ignore available dock spaces in favor of using built-in cables to lock the e-bikes to racks or street signs. In other words, use a docking station or pay up. 

Pretty simple, right? It will be cheaper for riders to leave e-bikes at stations as opposed to scattered about, thus helping to ensure bikes are easier to find, maintain, and charge. But wait, we’re not done yet.  Read more…

More about Lyft, E Bikes, Bike Share, Tech, and Transportation

Have a Tesla over-the-air update disaster? Try these reboots.

Have a Tesla over-the-air update disaster? Try these reboots.

Christmas came early for Tesla owners with a “holiday” update that added new features and tools to the software system controlling the electric vehicles. 

But with new features like more voice commands, TRAX music-making, Twitch video streaming, Camp Mode, and new games like Stardew Valley and backgammon comes the inevitable errant Tesla whose computer just won’t update.  

Tesla with its screen-based driving system is known for its quick and painless over-the-air updates. It’s similar to downloading and installing a new operating system on a smartphone. While connected to your WiFi, the car downloads and updates to a new version in about 30 minutes, bringing a slew of new features and changes to the driving experience. But sometimes things get sticky.  Read more…

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Tesla code points to Ludicrous Mode, better battery in Model 3

Tesla code points to Ludicrous Mode, better battery in Model 3

The Tesla Model 3 might be getting a couple of improvements according to some lines of code found by notoriously eagle-eyed Twitter user Green.

In looking at Tesla’s software, Green found a couple of notable changes coming to the Model 3, including an inclusion of the company’s Ludicrous Mode and an option for a 100kWh battery, which is a nice upgrade from the car’s current 75kWh battery.

Of course, it’s important to note that Tesla is no stranger to changing plans for its vehicles and that sometimes even the things it promises don’t quite line up to reality (*cough* cybertruck windows).

Along with these finds, Green pointed out some other changes in the software that could point toward new options for Model 3 buyers. There could be new tire pressure sensors, new rim options, new options for glass roofs, and improved airflow. Read more…

More about Tesla, Tech, Big Tech Companies, and Transportation

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

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.

India’s electric bike rental startup Yulu inks strategic partnership with Bajaj Auto, raises $8M

Yulu, a Bangalore-based electric bike sharing platform that maintains a partnership with Uber, said today it has won the backing of one of the country’s largest automaker firms.

The two-year-old startup said it has entered into a strategic partnership with Bajaj Auto, which has also funded Yulu’s $8 million Series A financing round. As part of the partnership, Bajaj will co-design and manufacture future generation of Yulu two-wheelers, Amit Gupta, cofounder and chief executive of Yulu, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Yulu, which operates in Bengaluru and recently entered portions of New Delhi and Mumbai, has raised about $18.5 million to date, he said.

The startup maintains over 3,000 electric bikes on its platform. A customer can rent the bike through Yulu’s app for 14 cents, pay another 14 cents for each hour of usage and then park it at the nearest zone.

Gupta said Yulu plans to have 100,000 two-wheelers in its fleet by end of next year. And that’s where its partnership with Bajaj Auto would come in handy. The startup currently relies on its Chinese original design manufacturer partners to build its bikes. But Bajaj Auto, which has decades of building two-wheelers in the nation, will be taking care of the manufacturing from here, he said. “They clearly have much better understanding of Indian context than most,” he said.

In a statement, Rajiv Bajaj, Managing Director of Bajaj, said, “in Yulu we find an experienced and committed partner with robust achievement of success metrics in a very short time. And this is why we decided to partner with them in their journey of bringing Yulu service to every neighborhood of Urban India.”

Yulu is also expanding its presence quickly in the nation. In Delhi, it has been granted the permission to offer electric bikes at 250 subway stations. “We are already servicing in nine of those,” said Gupta, who also co-founded advertising tech giant InMobi.

“We work through clusters. So we deploy about 1000 vehicles, and set up 200 to 300 parking stations and 25 to 30 charging stations. We have been able to replicate this cluster model in many places,” he said.

These bikes can ride as fast as 35 kmph (21.7 mph), and cover 60 kms (37.2 miles) in one charging cycle. The startup works with neighborhood stores, individuals to expand its parking and charging stations. “It’s very economical,” Gupta said. Yulu also has an army of workers who swap the used battery with freshly charged one, he said.

More to follow…

Take a look at the first all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E. (It’s an SUV.)

Last week Ford thought it played it coy only revealing the name of its first all-electric vehicle (the Ford Mustang Mach-E), but after some simple poking around the Ford website, images, video, specs, and prices of the upcoming vehicles were leaked ahead of Sunday’s big reveal in Los Angeles. 

But the leaks, still posted on a Mach-E online forum, were accurate: Ford’s first EV does indeed look like a puffed up, oddly compact SUV version of its Mustang muscle car glory of the 1960s. The car is no longer two-door, but it’s still got the pony emblazoned on the front. Its Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition is the most reminiscent of the sporty Mustang of the past, with its zero-to-60 mph in mid-3 seconds and 459 horsepower abilities. Read more…

More about Idris Elba, Ford, Electric Vehicles, Tech, and Transportation

Tesla, Elon Musk violated labor laws, judge rules

Tesla broke national labor laws when it unfairly prevented workers from unionizing, an administrative law judge in California ruled Friday.

The ruling, which will likely be appealed, was first reported by Bloomberg. Tesla has not responded to a request for comment. TechCrunch will update the article if Tesla responds.

The automaker and CEO Elon Musk were ordered by Judge Amita Baman Tracy to take several actions to remedy the violations, including reinstating and giving backpay to a fired pro-union employee. The judge also ordered Musk to hold a public meeting and read aloud the findings to employees at the factory informing them the NLRB concluded the company had broken the law.

From the ruling:

I recommend that Respondent be ordered to convene its employees and have Elon Musk (or, if he is no longer the chief executive officer, a high-ranking management official), in the presence security guards, managers and supervisors, a Board agent and an agent 15 of the Union, if the Region and/or the Union so desire, read the notice aloud to employees, or, at Respondent’s option, permit a Board agent, in the presence Musk, to read the notice to the employees at the Fremont facility only.

The NLRB, while able to determine Tesla violated the law, has a limited reach, Bloomberg noted. The NLRB, for instance, can’t hold executive personally liable, nor can it assess punitive damages.

The ruling, which was published Friday, found that Musk and Tesla had violated the National Labor Relations Act by repressing attempts to organize a union at the company’s Fremont. Calif., factory. The judge determined that Tesla violated labor laws when it created rules that prevented off-duty employees from distributing union organizing leaflets in the Fremont parking lot, fired two workers unfairly and interrogated employees about their union activities. The judge also determined that Musk’s own tweets violated the law when he implied that workers who unionized would have to give up company-paid stock options.

Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 21, 2018

 

Elon Musk promises to take Tesla Model S to ‘Plaid’ with new powertrain

Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised a more powerful powertrain option in future Model S, Model X and the next-generation Roadster sports car that will push acceleration and speed beyond the current high bar known as Ludicrous mode.

Musk tweeted Wednesday evening “the only thing beyond Ludicrous is Plaid,” a teaser to a higher performing vehicle and a nod to the movie Spaceballs.

The only thing beyond Ludicrous is Plaid

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 12, 2019

 

These new higher performing versions of the Model S, Model X, and Roadster will contain what Musk describes as a Plaid powertrain and is still about a year away from production. This new powertrain will have three motors, one more than the dual motor system found in today’s Model S and X.

Yes. To be clear, Plaid powertrain is about a year away from production & applies to S,X & Roadster, but not 3 or Y. Will cost more than our current offerings, but less than competitors.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 12, 2019

This Plaid powertrain has already seen some action. Tesla revealed Wednesday that a Model S equipped with a Plaid powertrain and chassis prototype had lapped Laguna Seca racetrack in 1:36:555, a second faster than the record for a four-door sedan.

*~ Some personal news ~*

We lapped Laguna Seca @WeatherTechRcwy in 1:36.555 during advanced R&D testing of our Model S Plaid powertrain and chassis prototype

(That’s a second faster than the record for a four-door sedan) pic.twitter.com/OriccK4KCZ

— Tesla (@Tesla) September 12, 2019

 

The “Plaid” powertrain will not be offered in the lower cost Model 3 or Model Y, which isn’t expected to go into production until late 2020. Musk also promised that this plaid powertrain will cost more than “current offerings, but will be less than competitors” without explaining what that means.

Close followers of the automaker might recall hints of a three motor powertrain in the past.

When Tesla unveiled a new Roadster prototype in November 2017, Musk said it would have three motors and be able to travel a whopping 0 to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds and a top speed of 250 mph or even more. The Roadster isn’t expected to go into production until 2020.

What is new are Tesla’s plans to make this more powerful three-motor powertrain available in the Model S and Model X. And it stands to be an important option, if it does in fact materialize. The Model S has been around since 2012 and since the introduction the cheaper Model 3, sales have dipped.

And yet, Musk has said the X and S won’t be getting a major refresh. If Tesla hopes to maintain demand for either of its higher margin luxury vehicles, new trims like this plaid powertrain will be essential.

Tesla first announced Ludicrous mode in its Model S vehicles way back in July 2015. As shareholders and customers awaited the Model X to arrive, Musk unveiled several options for the company’s Model S sedan, including a lower priced version, longer battery range and “Ludicrous mode” for even faster acceleration.

Ludicrous mode, which improved acceleration by 10% to let drivers go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, came about as a result of an improved battery fuse. This new fuse, Musk explained in a blog post at the time, has its own electronics and a tiny lithium-ion battery that monitors current and protects against excessive current.

Tesla also upgraded the main pack contactor with a high-temperature space-grade superalloy instead of steel. This enabled the battery pack to remain “springy” under the heat of heavy current. In the end, the max pack output increased from 1300 to 1500 Amps.

Ludicrous was a $10,000 add on for new buyers. Tesla did reduce the price for existing Model S P85 owners for the first six months following the announcement and sold them the pack electronics upgrade needed for Ludicrous Mode for $5,000.

Musk joked in this 2015 blog post that there is “one speed faster than ludicrous, but that is reserved for the next generation Roadster in 4 years: maximum plaid.”

Gig worker bill AB-5 passes in California

Assembly Bill 5, the gig worker bill opposed by the likes of Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, has passed in the California State Senate. This comes shortly after California Governor Gavin Newsom officially put his support behind AB 5 in an op-ed.

The bill needed 21 votes to pass in the State Senate. It passed in a 29 to 11 vote this evening.

The next step is for Governor Newsom to sign the bill into law, which he is expected to do. If he signs the bill, it will go into effect at the beginning of 2020.

“AB 5 is only the beginning,” Gig Workers Rising member and driver Edan Alva said in a statement. “I talk daily to other drivers who want a change but they are scared. They don’t want to lose their only source of income. But just because someone really needs to work does not mean that their rights as a worker should be stepped all over. That is why a union is critical. It simply won’t work without it.”

The bill, first introduced in December 2018, aims to codfiy the ruling established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles. In that case, the court applied the ABC test and decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors based on the presumption that “a worker who performs services for a hirer is an employee for purposes of claims for wages and benefits…”

Those who work as 1099 contractors can set their own schedules, and decide when, where and how much they want to work. For employers, bringing on 1099 contractors means they can avoid paying payroll taxes, overtime pay, benefits and workers’ compensation.

According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and is regularly engaged in an “independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.”

In short, AB-5, which has already passed in the California State Assembly, would ensure gig economy workers are entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits.

Uber and Lyft, two of the main targets of this legislation, are adamantly against it. Last month, Uber, Lyft and DoorDash amped up their efforts to do whatever they can to prevent it from happening. That’s in part due to the fact that the companies cost of operating would increase.

Uber, Lyft and DoorDash each put $30 million toward funding a 2020 ballot initiative that would enable them to keep their drivers as independent contractors.

Assuming Gov. Newsom signs the bill, it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

AB5 has passed through the Senate! We thank @LorenaAD80 for championing this in the legislature and celebrate with drivers from across the state who have spent years organizing. Up next: a real union for drivers!

— Gig Workers Rising (@GigWorkersRise) September 11, 2019

NASA and SpaceX practice Crew Dragon evacuation procedure with astronaut recovery vessel

NASA and SpaceX continue their joint preparations for the eventually astronaut crew missions that SpaceX will fly for the agency, with a test of the emergency evacuation procedure for SpaceX’s GO Searcher seaborne ship. The ship is intended to be used to recover spacecraft and astronauts in an actual mission scenario, and the rehearsals this week are a key part of ensuring mission readiness before an actual crewed SpaceX mission.

Photos from the dress rehearsal, which is the first coordinated end-to-end practice run involving the full NASA and SpaceX mission teams working in concert, saw NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken don SpaceX’s fancy new crew suits and mimic a situation where they needed to be removed from the returned Crew Dragon spacecraft and taken to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from the GO Searcher by helicopter.

By all accounts, this was a successful exercise and seems to have left parties on both sides happy with the results. Check out photos released by NASA of the dry run below.

SpaceX and NASA continue to work towards a goal of launching Crew Dragon’s first actual crewed flight this year, though they’ve encountered setbacks that make that potentially impossible, including the explosion of a Crew Dragon test vehicle during a static test fire in April.

Didi Chuxing and oil giant BP team up to build electric vehicle charging infrastructure in China

Ride-sharing and transportation platform Didi Chuxing announced today that it has formed a joint venture with BP, the British gas, oil and energy supermajor. to build electric vehicle charging infrastructure in China. The charging stations will be available to Didi and non-Didi drivers.

The news of Didi and BP’s joint venture comes one week after Didi announced that it had received funding totaling $600 million from Toyota Motor Corporation. As part of that deal, Didi and Toyota Motor set up a joint venture with GAC Toyota Motor to provide vehicle-related services to Didi drivers.

BP’s first charging site in Guangzhou has already been connected to XAS (Xiaoju Automobile Solutions), which Didi spun out in April 2018 to put all its vehicle-related services into one platform.

XAS is part of Didi Chuxing’s evolution from a ride-sharing company to a mobility services platform, with its services available to other car, transportation and logistics companies. In June, Didi also opened its ride-sharing platform to other companies, enabling its users to request rides from third-party providers in a bid to better compete with apps like Meituan Dianping and AutoNavi, which aggregate several ride-hailing services on their platforms.

Didi says it now offers ride-sharing, vehicle rental and delivery services to 550 million users and covers 1,000 cities through partnerships with Grab, Lyft, Ola, 99 and Bolt (Taxify). The company also claims to be the world’s largest electric vehicle operator with more than 600,000 EVs on its platform.

It also has partnerships with automakers and other car-related companies like Toyota, FAW, Dongfeng, GAC, Volkswagen and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi to collaborate on a platform that uses new energy, AI-based and mobility technologies.

In a press statement, Tufan Erginbilgic, the CEO of BP’s Downstream business, said “As the world’s largest EV market, China offers extraordinary opportunities to develop innovative new businesses at scale and we see this as the perfect partnership for such a fast-evolving environment. The lessons we learn here will help us further expand BP’s advanced mobility business worldwide, helping drive the energy transition and develop solutions for a low carbon world.”

Ethics in the age of autonomous vehicles

Earlier this month, TechCrunch held its inaugural Mobility Sessions event, where leading mobility-focused auto companies, startups, executives and thought leaders joined us to discuss all things autonomous vehicle technology, micromobility and electric vehicles.

Extra Crunch is offering members access to full transcripts of key panels and conversations from the event, such as Megan Rose Dickey‘s chat with Voyage CEO and co-founder Oliver Cameron and Uber’s prediction team lead Clark Haynes on the ethical considerations for autonomous vehicles.

Megan, Oliver and Clark talk through how companies should be thinking about ethics when building out the self-driving ecosystem, while also diving into the technical aspects of actually building an ethical transportation product. The panelists also discuss how their respective organizations handle ethics, representation and access internally, and how their approaches have benefited their offerings.

Clark Haynes: So we as human drivers, we’re naturally what’s called foveate. Our eyes go forward and we have some mirrors that help us get some situational awareness. Self-driving cars don’t have that problem. Self-driving cars are designed with 360-degree sensors. They can see everything around them.

But the interesting problem is not everything around you is important. And so you need to be thinking through what are the things, the people, the actors in the world that you might be interacting with, and then really, really think through possible outcomes there.

I work on the prediction problem of what’s everyone doing? Certainly, you need to know that someone behind you is moving in a certain way in a certain direction. But maybe that thing that you’re not really certain what it is that’s up in front of you, that’s the thing where you need to be rolling out 10, 20 different scenarios of what might happen and make certain that you can kind of hedge your bets against all of those.

For access to the full transcription below and for the opportunity to read through additional event transcripts and recaps, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Megan Rose Dickey: Ready to talk some ethics?

Oliver Cameron: Born ready.

Clark Haynes: Absolutely.

Rose Dickey: I’m here with Oliver Cameron of Voyage, a self-driving car company that operates in communities, like retirement communities, for example. And with Clark Haynes of Uber, he’s on the prediction team for autonomous vehicles.

So some of you in the audience may remember, it was last October, MIT came out with something called the moral machine. And it essentially laid out 13 different scenarios involving self-driving cars where essentially someone had to die. It was either the old person or the young person, the black person, or the white person, three people versus one person. I’m sure you guys saw that, too.

So why is that not exactly the right way to be thinking about self-driving cars and ethics?

Haynes: This is the often-overused trolley problem of, “You can only do A or B choose one.” The big thing there is that if you’re actually faced with that as the hardest problem that you’re doing right now, you’ve already failed.

You should have been working harder to make certain you never ended up in a situation where you’re just choosing A or B. You should actually have been, a long time ago, looking at A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and like thinking through all possible outcomes as far as what your self-driving car could do, in low probability outcomes that might be happening.

Rose Dickey: Oliver, I remember actually, it was maybe a few months ago, you tweeted something about the trolley problem and how much you hate it.

Cameron: I think it’s one of those questions that doesn’t have an ideal answer today, because no one’s got self-driving cars deployed to tens of thousands of people experiencing these sorts of issues on the road. If we did an experiment, how many people here have ever faced that conundrum? Where they have to choose between a mother pushing a stroller with a child and a regular, normal person that’s just crossing the road?

Rose Dickey: We could have a quick show of hands. Has anyone been in that situation?

Hellobike, survivor of China’s bike-sharing craze, goes electric

Just two years ago, investors were heavily pouring money into China’s dockless bike-sharing startups. Now that boom has busted with derelict bikes littering the streets of cities.

Meanwhile, a new race has started for two-wheelers with motors — and one of the main players is a survivor from the bike-sharing craze. Blessed with fundings from the world’s most valuable fintech company Ant Financial through its Series D to F funding rounds, Hellobike provides a range of mobility services such as shared e-bikes and rented electric scooters to its 230 million registered users.

Electric push

Hellobike first launched in 2016 by deploying shared bikes in smaller cities and towns — where Ofo and Mobike were largely absent early on — rather than large urban centers like Beijing and Shanghai. This allowed Hellobike to largely avoid the cash splurging competition against Ofo and Mobike.

Ofo is now battling a major financial crisis as it struggles to repay user deposits. Its archrival Mobike has slowed down expansion since it was sold to Hong Kong-listed local services giant Meituan. And Hellobike, which boasts about its operational efficiency, has begun an electric push.

“When the two major powers were at war, neither of them went after electric bikes. They were fighting over bicycles,” Hellobike’s chief financial officer Fischer Chen (pictured above) recently told TechCrunch at Rise conference in Hong Kong, referring to the feud between Mobike and Ofo. “As such, there was no price war for e-bikes from the outset. The competition is rational.”

Electric two-wheeled vehicles are in high demand in the country where nearly 1.4 billion people live. According to data collected by Hellobike, nearly 300 million rides are completed on analog bikes every day in China. What many don’t realize is that pedal-assist electric bikes and pedal-free scooters together more than double that number, generating 700 million rides per day.

As with bicycles, there are benefits to rent rather than buy an electric bike in China. For one, users don’t need to worry about getting their assets stolen. Second — and, this is specific to electric vehicles — finding a safe, convenient charging spot can be a challenge in China.

That’s why Hellobike put up charging stations as it went about offering shared ebikes in 2017. At these kiosks, riders swap their battery out for a new one without having to plug in and wait. They then have the option to pay with Alipay, Ant’s mobile wallet with a one-billion user base.

hellobike

Hellobike’s bike (left and middle) and e-bike (right) models / Photo: Hellobike via Weibo

Of all the monthly two-wheeler electric bikes activity in China, Hellobike has captured 80% of the market share, Chen claims. For bike-sharing, it accounts for 60-70%. It’s hard to verify the share by looking at data compiled by third-party app trackers, for they don’t usually break out the user number for individual features. The Hellobike app is a one-stop-shop for bicycles, e-bikes, e-scooters as well as carpooling, a service complementary to its main two-wheeler business intended to “capture price-sensitive small-town consumers” according to Chen.

Similarly, Mobike has been folded into Meituan’s all-in-one service app. What further complicates the inquiry is some of Hellobike’s rides are accessed directly on Alipay rather than its own app.

When it comes to competition in electric two-wheelers, Chen maintained that other challengers are “relatively small” and that acquiring online users has become “very difficult.” For Hellobike, getting existing customers to try out new features takes as much effort as “adding a new tab to its app,” Chen suggested.

But other internet giants have also set their sight on plugged-in micromobility. Both Mobike and ride-sharing leader Didi Chuxing have their own e-bike sharing programs. It won’t be an easy game, as all contenders need to cope with China’s increasingly strict rules for electric bicycles.

Scooter rental is next

What’s for certain is that Hellobike has big ambitions for electric micromobility. While shared bikes and e-bikes are meant for one-off uses, Hellobike plans to rent out e-scooters for longer swathes of time as many people might want the powered-up vehicles for their daily commute.

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Hellobike’s electric scooter. Caption: “App-enabled lock. Smart anti-theft. Real-time location tracking for checking the vehicle’s status.” / Photo: Hellobike homepage  

Hellobike founded a new joint venture last month to fulfill that demand. Joining forces with Ant — which is controlled by Alibaba founder Jack Ma — and China’s top battery manufacturer CATL, Hellobike is launching a rental marketplace for its 25 km/h e-scooters targeted at millions of migrant workers in Chinese cities.

“People might be able to afford an e-scooter that costs several thousand yuan [$1 = 6.88yuan], but they might be leaving the city after a year, so why would they buy it? So we come in as a third-party partner with a new rental model through which people pay about 200 yuan a month to use the scooter,” explained Chen. “By doing so, we convert people from buying vehicles to paying for services, renting the vehicles.”

The three shareholders will also work to install more battery-swapping stations nationwide that not only recharge Hellobike’s shared e-bikes but also its e-scooters, that will be made by manufacturing partners.

“We function as a platform and won’t compete with traditional scooter manufacturers,” suggested Chen. “They still get to use their own designs and SKUs [stock keeping units], but we will put smart hardware into their models… so users know where their vehicles are… and they can unlock the scooters with a QR code just like they do with a shared bike or e-bike.”

Hellboke has raised at least $1.8 billion to date, according to public data compiled by Crunchbase. Bloomberg reported in April that it was seeking to raise at least $500 million in a new funding round. The company declined to comment on its fundraising progress.

When it comes to financial metrics, Chen, a veteran investment banker, declined to disclose whether Hellobike overall is profitable but said the company “performs much better than its competitors” financially. The most profitable segment, according to the executive, is the electric bike business.

As for bicycles, Chen noted that China’s main bike-sharing companies are “no longer burning money” since they’ve raised prices in recent times. Hellobike’s bike unit has achieved cash-flow positive during the warmer, peak seasons, Chen added.

Elon Musk’s Boring Company is cranking up its hiring machine

Elon Musk’s tunneling and transportation startup The Boring Company is ramping up hiring about six weeks after landing a $48.7 million commercial contract to build and operate an underground “people mover” in Las Vegas.

The company’s website has posted more than a dozen new job openings in Las Vegas as well another 15 at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California. That’s a tiny number of jobs when compared to openings at Musk’s two other companies SpaceX and Tesla. Still, it shows the company is attempting to scale up and move beyond the status of Musk pet project. (TBC hasn’t publicized how many people it employs; estimates from various sources put it at more than 80 people, although there’s evidence of overlap between SpaceX and TBC)

The Boring Company, or TBC, secured the contract in May to build an underground loop system that shuttles people after receiving approval from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The initial design for the project, dubbed Campus Wide People Mover, or CWPM, will focus on the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is currently in the midst of an expansion that is expected to be completed in time for CES 2021. The newly expanded Las Vegas Convention Center will span about 200 acres once completed. The people mover is supposed to be complete and ready for customers by December 2020.

Come work with us in Las Vegas – lots of boring jobs available! https://t.co/imlQMDfprJ

— The Boring Company (@boringcompany) July 2, 2019

This underground people mover will involve the construction of twin tunnels for vehicles and one pedestrian tunnel, according to contract documents. The twin tunnels are expected to be less than a mile. There will be three underground stations for passenger loading and unloading and an elevator or escalator system for passenger access to each station.

TBC is looking to fill the kind of jobs one might expect for such an engineering heavy endeavor, including civil and tunnel engineers, construction manager and lead architect.

Once completed, the people mover is supposed to whisk people between stops at high speeds in modified electric Tesla vehicles. The contract describes these as autonomous electric vehicles, or AEVs. The standard AEVs will be Tesla Model X and Model 3 vehicles, the company said. It plans to use modified Tesla Model X chassis for a “high-occupancy” AEV that will transport up to 16 passengers with both sitting and standing room.

(It should be noted that Tesla vehicles on roads today are not self driving, and instead have an advanced driver assistance system that handles certain tasks on highways such as lane steering and adaptive cruise control.)

Before it opens to the public, the contract dictates that TBC test the system for three months.

While the project is limited for now, TBC has said in the past that the project could someday connect downtown, the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Las Vegas Boulevard Resort Corridor and McCarran International Airport.

Arnold Schwarzenegger pushes gas guzzlers as undercover car salesperson

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Do it now

That’s sleazy used car salesman Howard Kleiner back in action, this time trying to get would-be electric car buyers hyped about gas-guzzling, fossil fuel-burning cars. 

Except it’s — surprise! — former California governor, body builder, and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger with a fake mustache and wig. He’s just pretending to be a salesman obsessed with muscle cars that burn tons of gas as part of a campaign to get more people informed about electric vehicles. 

“We need to get off fossil fuels as quickly as we can,” the governator said in a phone call this week.

The tongue-in-cheek video is part of EV coalition Veloz’s “Kicking Gas” and Electric For All campaign to bring more electric cars to California and beyond. The organization works with automakers, utilities, government agencies, charging networks, and other transportation groups to raise awareness about electric vehicles. Read more…

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Elon Musk, SEC agree to guidelines on Twitter use

Tesla,  Elon Musk and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reached an agreement Friday that will give the CEO freedom to use Twitter —within certain limitations — without fear of being held in contempt for violating an earlier court order.

Musk can tweet as he wishes except when it’s about certain events or financial milestones. In those cases, Musk must seek pre-approval from a securities lawyer, according to the agreement filed with Manhattan federal court.

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, the presiding judge on this matter, must still approve the deal. Nathan had given the SEC and Musk two weeks to work out their differences and come to a resolution.

Musk must seek pre-approval if his tweets include:

  • any information about the company’s financial condition or guidance, potential or proposed mergers, acquisitions or joint ventures,
  • production numbers or sales or delivery number (actual, forecasted, or projected),
  • new or proposed business lines that are unrelated to then-existing business lines (presently includes vehicles, transportation, and sustainable energy products);
  • projection, forecast, or estimate numbers regarding Tesla’s business that have not been previously published in official company guidance
  • events regarding the company’s securities (including Musk’s acquisition or disposition of shares)
  • nonpublic legal or regulatory findings or decisions;
  • any event requiring the filing of a Form 8-K such as a change in control or a change in the company’s directors; any principal executive officer, president, principal financial officer, principal accounting officer, principal operating officer, or any person performing similar functions

The fight between the two parties began after Musk’s now infamous August 7, 2018 tweet that had “funding secured” for a private takeover of the company at $420 per share. The SEC filed a complaint in alleging that Musk had committed securities fraud.

Musk and Tesla settled with the SEC last year without admitting wrongdoing. Tesla agreed to pay a $20 million fine; Musk had to agree to step down as Tesla chairman for a period of at least three years; the company had to appoint two independent directors to the board; and Tesla was also told to put in place a way to monitor Musk’s statements to the public about the company, including via Twitter.

The fight was re-ignited after Musk sent a tweet on February 19 that Tesla would produce “around” 500,000 cars this year, correcting himself hours later to clarify that he meant the company would be producing at an annualized rate of 500,000 vehicles by year end.

The SEC argued that the tweet sent by Musk violated their agreement. Musk has said the tweet was “immaterial” and complied with the settlement.

The SEC had asked the court to hold Musk in contempt for violating a settlement agreement reached last October over Musk’s now infamous “funding secured” tweet. The SEC had argued that Musk was supposed to get approval from Tesla’s board before communicating potentially material information to investors, the agency has argued. The SEC claimed a February 19 tweet violated the agreement.

Musk has steadfastly maintained that he didn’t violate the agreement.

Hackers conquer Tesla’s in-car web browser and win a Model 3

A pair of security researchers dominated Pwn2Own, the annual high-profile hacking contest, taking home $375,000 in prizes including a Tesla Model 3 — their reward for successfully exposing a vulnerability in the electric vehicle’s infotainment system.

Tesla handed over its new Model 3 sedan to Pwn2Own this year, the first time a car has been included in the competition. Pwn2Own is in its 12th year and run by Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative. ZDI has awarded more than $4 million over the lifetime of the program.

The pair of hackers Richard Zhu and Amat Cam, known as team Fluoroacetate, “thrilled the assembled crowd” as they entered the vehicle, according to ZDI, which noted that after a few minutes of setup, they successfully demonstrated their research on the Model 3 internet browser.

The pair used a JIT bug in the renderer to display their message — and won the prize, which included the car itself. In the most simple terms, a JIT, or just-in-time bug, bypasses memory randomization data that normally would keep secrets protected.

Tesla told TechCrunch it will release a software update to fix the vulnerability discovered by the hackers.

“We entered Model 3 into the world-renowned Pwn2Own competition in order to engage with the most talented members of the security research community, with the goal of soliciting this exact type of feedback. During the competition, researchers demonstrated a vulnerability against the in-car web browser,” Tesla said in an emailed statement. “There are several layers of security within our cars which worked as designed and successfully contained the demonstration to just the browser, while protecting all other vehicle functionality. In the coming days, we will release a software update that addresses this research. We understand that this demonstration took an extraordinary amount of effort and skill, and we thank these researchers for their work to help us continue to ensure our cars are the most secure on the road today.”

That’s a wrap! Congrats to @fluoroacetate on winning Master of Pwn. There total was $375,000 (plus a vehicle) for the week. Superb work from this great duo. pic.twitter.com/Q7Fd7vuEoJ

— Zero Day Initiative (@thezdi) March 22, 2019

Pwn2Own’s spring vulnerability research competition, Pwn2Own Vancouver, was held March 20 to 22 and  featured five categories, including web browsers, virtualization software, enterprise applications, server-side software and the new automotive category.

Pwn2Own awarded a total of $545,000 for 19 unique bugs in Apple Safari, Microsoft Edge and Windows, VMware Workstation, Mozilla Firefox, and Tesla.

Tesla has had a public relationship with the hacker community since 2014 when the company launched its first bug bounty program. And it’s grown and evolved ever since.

Last year, the company increased the maximum reward payment from $10,000 to $15,000 and added its energy products as well. Today, Tesla’s vehicles and all directly hosted servers, services and applications are now in scope in its bounty program

Elon Musk defends tweets in SEC’s contempt proceedings

Tesla CEO Elon Musk argued Friday that his Twitter use did not violate a settlement agreement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and that the agency’s request to have him held in contempt is based on a “radical interpretation” of the order, according to court papers filed in Manhattan federal court.

The SEC has asked a judge to hold Musk in contempt for violating a settlement agreement reached last year over Musk’s now infamous “funding secured” tweet. Under that agreement, Musk is supposed to get approval from Tesla’s board before communicating potentially material information to investors.

Musk contends he didn’t violate the agreement and that the problem lies in the SEC’s interpretation, which he describes as “virtually wrong at every level.” The filing also reveals new details about the settlement negotiations, notably that the SEC sent Musk a draft agreement that would have required him to obtain pre-approval for all public statements related to Tesla, in any format.

Musk and Tesla never agreed to those terms. Instead, Musk says the agreement requires him to comply with Tesla own policy, which would require pre-approval for “written communications that contain, or reasonably could contain, information material to the company or its shareholders.”

The barbs traded via court filings are the latest in an escalating fight between the billionaire entrepreneur and SEC that began last August when Musk tweeted that he had “funding secured” for a private takeover of the company at $420 per share.  The SEC filed a complaint in federal district court in September alleging that Musk lied.

Musk and Tesla settled with the SEC last year without admitting wrongdoing. Tesla agreed to pay a $20 million fine; Musk had to agree to step down as Tesla chairman for a period of at least three years; the company had to appoint two independent directors to the board; and Tesla was also told to put in place a way to monitor Musk’s statements to the public about the company, including via Twitter.

But the fight was re-ignited last month after Musk sent a tweet on February 19 that Tesla would produce “around” 500,000 cars this year, correcting himself hours later to clarify that he meant the company would be producing at an annualized rate of 500,000 vehicles by year end.

The SEC argued that the tweet sent by Musk violated their agreement. Musk has said the tweet was “immaterial” and complied with the settlement.

Equity Shot: Lyft files to go public and we’re stoked

Hello and welcome to an Equity Shot, a short-form episode of the show where we dive into a single breaking news story. Guess what we’re talking about today?! It’s Lyft . You guessed correctly.

The Lyft S-1 is the very first major S-1 event of 2019. As you might recall, the government shutdown gummed the IPO process by halting the Securities and Exchange Commission, an agency that plays the most active role in helping a company go public. Now the government is open, and Lyft’s formerly private filing is now a public filing.

You can read Kate’s deep dive here or mine here, but what follows is an overview of what we chatted about on the show. Here’s the SEC filing if you want to follow along.

Up top are revenue and growth. Lyft’s revenue grew from $1.06 billion to nearly $2.2 billion from 2017 to 2018. That’s impressive.

Next is costs. Lyft’s costs rose dramatically during 2018, compared to the year prior. In fact, Lyft’s total cost profile rose from $1.77 billion in 2017 to a staggering $3.13 billion in 2018. That’s a lot, and each figure is far higher than its revenue.

Which lead us to losses. Sure those revenue numbers look hot, but Lyft, at the same time, lost $911 million on 2018 revenue and $688 million the previous year. Though, as Alex points out, that ratio is improving, pointing to a positive (maybe even profitable???) future for Lyft.

However, while the S-1 had its ups and downs, two data points stood out that weren’t GAAP, but did make us appreciate Lyft’s work a bit more. As we explain, Lyft’s share of bookings (total value of services) from its platform is rising as is its revenue-per-rider. Those bode well for the future, too.

We closed the episode with some chatter on Lyft’s plan to reward its drivers. The business is helping drivers — the core of its business — earn a piece of that tasty IPO pie with a $10,000 bonus. TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey has more on that here. Plus, we’d have been remiss not to discuss Lyft’s scooter play, which it apparently spent $60 million on last year.

All that and we got an S-1 done. Let’s have a few more, and quickly.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Amazon Air cargo plane operated by Atlas crashes in Texas, killing 3 on board

An Atlas cargo plane flying on behalf of Amazon Air — Amazon’s own freight delivery service that competes with FedEx and UPS, among others — has crashed outside Houston, Texas, killing three people on board.

Amazon and Atlas both confirmed the accident with short statements. Neither provided any details on the nature of the accident.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the flight crew, their families and friends along with the entire team at Atlas Air during this terrible tragedy. We appreciate the first responders who worked urgently to provide support,” said Dave Clark, SVP of worldwide operations at Amazon.

“This is to confirm that an Atlas Air 767 cargo aircraft Flight No. 3591 operating from Miami to Houston has been involved in an accident this afternoon,” reads a statement from Atlas. “We understand the aircraft went down near the city of Anahuac, Texas, in the Trinity Bay. We can confirm there were three people on board the aircraft. Those people and their family members are our top priority at this time. Atlas Air is cooperating fully with the FAA and NTSB. We will update as additional information becomes available.”

The Boeing 767 cargo jetliner lost contact on radio and radar around 12:45pm local time after crashing into Trinity Bay close to Anahuac, a small city about 30 miles from Houston. Local news reported officials on the ground saying there is unlikely to be survivors.

The aircraft, Atlas Air Flight 3591, was flying from Miami on behalf of Amazon, according to flight tracking site Flightradar24.

Many are reporting the crash as a “Prime Air” incident, but this isn’t completely accurate. Originally, Amazon Air was branded “Prime Air”, and this appears to be the logo that still runs on many of these planes — but Amazon rebranded the service in December 2017. Amazon Prime Air now refers to the company’s efforts to build a drone delivery network.

As we have noted, it is not yet clear what caused the crash. The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the accident in a statement, deferring the investigation to the National Transportation Safety Board, which said in a tweet that it has dispatched investigators to the crash site.

Counting today’s plane, Amazon has 40 aircraft operating under the Amazon Air brand, serving some 23 airports in the U.S.

One looming question is how and if today’s incident will impact Amazon’s bigger strategy with freight delivery.

The company has been building its own network of cargo planes since 2015, a strategy that serves a couple of purposes. It gives Amazon more control (both in terms of scheduling and costs) over air-based logistics for the transport of goods that it sells; and it gives Amazon a shot at taking on some of the air shipping business that FedEx and UPS provide for other companies.

Amazon Air has quietly but steadily grown over the years. Amazon currently has plans to add another 10 aircraft during 2019 and 2020, leasing them from Air Transport Services Group, an Atlas competitor. Notably, Amazon has stakes in both Atlas and ATSG as part of this bigger bet on taking on other larger cargo carriers with its own freight delivery service.

Nissan’s old Leaf batteries can power this smart pop-up camper for one week

Nissan has turned its old Leaf batteries into an off-grid camping companion.

The automaker’s Nissan Energy subsidiary worked with camper manufacturer Opus to create the ultimate “smart” pop-up trailer that integrates cells recovered from its first-generation electric vehicles to provide off-grid power. Add in one to two recharges of the accompanying 400W solar panel accessory and campers can listen to tunes and use their smartphones and other devices, including a microwave, for about 7 days, the companies said. The battery pack can be recharged by the solar panel in 2 to 4 hours.

The Nissan x OPUS concept camper debuted this week at the The Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show in the UK. Inside the smart camper — code for LED lighting and USB sockets for charging — is a veritable glamping wonderland. You can almost smell the pour-over coffee.

Unlike many other concepts that debut at auto shows, components of the Nissan x OPUS are actually coming to market. The Air Opus is already available with a base price of £15,995 (a bit more than $20,000). The Nissan Energy ROAM product will launch in European markets later this year. Pricing for the ROAM wasn’t immediately available.

This isn’t the first time Nissan’s ROAM unit has shown up in a concept product either. It was featured earlier this year in Nissan’s NV300 concept van designed for woodworkers. Nor is this Nissan’s first foray into the secondary battery market. In November, Nissan launched Nissan Energy to create an ecosystem for owners of its electric vehicles. The idea is for owners to be able to connect their cars with energy systems to charge their batteries, power homes and businesses or feed energy back to power grids. The company said at the time, that it will also develop new ways to reuse electric car batteries.

Nissan x AirOPUS

“The Nissan x OPUS concept is a real-world example of how Nissan Energy ROAM can integrate into our lifestyles – in this case the hugely popular leisure activity of camping,” Nissan Energy managing director Francisco Carranza said in a statement.

The concept pairs the Air Opus, a novel off-road pop-up camper that inflates in 90 seconds, with Nissan Energy’s portable power pack called ROAM. The ROAM unit is mounted in a special compartment at the front of the camper, where it can provide a power supply to both the 230-volt circuit and the 12-volt circuit. The battery pack can also be removed and recharged via a standard 230v domestic socket, or by plugging into a solar panel accessory.

The ROAM unit has a storage capacity of 700Wh and a power output for 1kW. That’s enough power to keep smartphones charged and the lights on. The Nissan x Opus camper has a 230v outlet, USB sockets, a 4G mobile WiFi hotspot for up to 10 devices; and even a digital projector with pull-up screen to watch movies. There’s also a 230v portable microwave and a two-burner gas stove and a fridge.

You can watch the marketing video here.

Pervs kept stealing the ‘mile 69’ highway marker, so it was replaced with this

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2019 has barely started, and we’ve already suffered a great loss: A “69” mile marker is gone forever, and will not be replaced.

The Washington Department of Transportation is sick and tired of people stealing the marker (notably known as the ~sex number~) so it’s replacing the highway sign with one that says “68.9.” 

“Thieves show no signs of slowing down,” a local CBS station reported. Watch the mildly painful banter between the two anchors as they debate the accuracy of the sign without cracking up over its reference to a sex position.  Read more…

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Alibaba-backed Hellobike bags new funds as it marches into ride-hailing

2018 has been a rough year for China’s bike-sharing giants. Alibaba-backed Ofo pulled out of dozens of international cities as it fought with a severe cash crunch. Tencent-backed Mobike puts a brake on expansion after it was sold to neighborhood services provider Meituan Dianping. But one newcomer is pedaling against the wind.

Hellobike, currently the country’s third-largest bike-sharing app according to Analysys data, announced this week that it raised “billions of yuan” ($1 = 6.88 yuan) in a new round. The company declined to reveal details on the funding amount and use of the proceeds when inquired by TechCrunch.

Leading the round were Ant Financial, the financial affiliate of Alibaba and maker behind digital wallet Alipay, and Primavera Capital, a Chinese investment firm that’s backed other mobility startups including electric automaker Xpeng and car trading platform Souche. The fledgling startup also got SoftBank interested in shelling out an investment, The Information reported in November. The fresh capital arrived about a year after it secured $350 million from investors including Ant Financial.

As China’s bicycle giants burn through billions of dollars to tout subsidized rides, they’ve gotten caught up in financial troubles. Ten months after Ofo raised $866 million, the startup is reportedly mulling bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Mobike is downsizing its fleet to “avoid an oversupply,” a Meituan executive recently said.

It’s interesting to note that while both Ofo and Hellobike fall under the Alibaba camp, they began with different geographic targets. By May, only 5 percent of Hellobike’s users were in China’s Tier 1 cities, while that ratio was over 30 percent for both Mobike and Ofo, a report by Trustdata shows.

This small-town strategy gives Hellobike an edge. As the bike-sharing markets in China’s major cities become crowded, operators began turning to lower-tier cities in 2017, a report from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology points out.

The new contender is still dwarfed by its larger competitors in terms of user number. Ofo and Mobike command 43 million and 38 million unique monthly mobile installs, respectively, while Hellobike stands at 8 million, accroding to iResearch.

Hellobike’s ambition doesn’t stop at two-wheelers. In September, it rebranded its Chinese name to HelloTransTech to signify an extension into other transportation means. Aside from bikes, the startup also offers shared electric bikes, ride-hailing and carpooling, a category that became much contested following high-profile passenger murders on Didi Chuxing .

In May and August, two female customers were killed separately when they used the Hitch service on Didi, China’s biggest ride-hailing platform that took over Uber’s China business. The incidents sparked a huge public and regulatory backlash, forcing Didi to suspend its carpooling service up to this day. But this week, its newly minted rival Hellobike decides to forge ahead with a campaign to recruit carpooling drivers. Time will tell whether the latecomer can grapple with heightened security measures and fading customer confidence in riding with strangers.

Uber reaches tentative settlement with drivers arbitrating over employment status and expense reimbursement

Uber is reportedly on track to go public in the first quarter next year, and in the lead up to that, it’s sewing up some loose ends.

TechCrunch has learned that Uber has offered a tentative settlement to pay out 11 cents for every mile driven for Uber (including adjacent services like Uber Eats) to drivers who have been in individual arbitration with the company over their employment classification. Drivers were pursuing individual arbitration after an appeals court ruled in September that they could not combine their cases into a class action lawsuit.

Uber has declined to comment for this story, and one of the firms representing drivers, Lichten & Liss-Riordan, has not yet responded to our request for comment.

In a case that now goes back years and covers nine states, some 160,000 drivers had been seeking to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors, partly in order to get compensated for expenses related to driving for the company, such as gasoline used and vehicle maintenance.

Another big complaint in the case involved tips: drivers said Uber would not allow them to take or keep tips from passengers. (The claim preceded June 2017, when Uber formally introduced tips in its app, netting some $600 million extra for drivers in one year.)

Uber’s settlement of 11 cents per mile for all on-trip miles that were driven for Uber bypasses addressing those specific details. Notably, drivers who accept the settlement sign documents to release all claims against Uber related to employee misclassification.

The settlement is tentative depending on a sufficient number of drivers signing the agreement (we do not know what the minimum would be), among other factors, and it could take up to six months for payments to get to drivers.

On one hand, this an okay result in what was a challenging situation for litigating drivers. A class action lawsuit, combining several people into one case, would have gained economies of scale in terms of legal costs, and that could have meant a stronger recovery payout for the group.

But with the appeals judges striking down that possibility, it would have been left to individual drivers to pursue their own cases against the company. That is an expensive and time-consuming process and might not have seen as many plaintiffs willing to fight.

It may have been unpalatable for Uber, too. With the company gearing up for a public listing and all the scrutiny that comes with that, drawing a line under these cases with a settlement is a better result than multiple, years-long arbitration cases.

It’s also an important step in Uber repairing its image with current and potential drivers.

The company went through a huge crisis last year that highlighted questionable management and bad company culture when it came to female employees, treatment of drivers, interfacing with regulators and more.

(In fact the tipping was introduced as part of the company’s wider efforts to repair its business and image among drivers, passengers and employees. It also included appointing a new CEO. )

Having a loyal and growing base of drivers is essential to Uber scaling its business, and this settlement is one signal to drivers that Uber is trying to do right by them.

Still, it seems that the bargaining power here may have been more on Uber’s side.

Uber, valued at $72 billion as of its last funding and potentially as high as $120 billion in an IPO, is one of the world’s biggest privately-held tech companies. The 11 cents per mile it’s offering as a settlement is estimated to be only one-third of what a driver could have recovered for just one of the claims, expense reimbursement, had he or she pursued the arbitration rather than opted for the settlement.

Securing rights for the growing number of contract workers in the labor market has been one of the more controversial aspects of the boom in “gig-economy” businesses. It will be interesting to see how and if more of these kinds of cases come to light, and if regulators start to wade in, in cases where employers have not.

Elon Musk’s underground tunnel has potential, but leaves a lot to be desired

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At first, the alley looked like many others: cinder block walls, neglected asphalt, and chain link fences that back up on beige single family bungalows.

There was one big difference, though. At the end of this unnamed alley between 122nd and 120th streets in Hawthorne, California is a subterranean elevator that can transport a small SUV underground. Oh, and that car-sized elevator? It’s owned by Elon Musk. The guy helming Tesla and SpaceX. And the Boring Company.

On Tuesday, Musk held a proof of concept launch event for his 1.4-mile long test tunnel at SpaceX headquarters, which is just outside Los Angeles. Musk said he chose the location for his first tunnel so that he would be able to watch progress from the window at his desk.  Read more…

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Air New Zealand’s new safety briefing is a music video set to ‘It’s Tricky’

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Air New Zealand has taken people to Middle Earth and done a Men In Black throwback in its safety videos, setting itself apart from other, boring pre-flight briefings.

The airline’s latest edition is dubbed “It’s Kiwi,” a remake of Run-DMC’s classic track “It’s Tricky” featuring Deadpool 2 actor Julian Dennison, local musicians, as well as talent from 30 community groups.

It’s the 18th safety video the airline has ever produced, and aims to celebrate Kiwi culture and the country’s diversity. Read more…

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Nikola Motor unveils a new hydrogen semi truck designed for Europe

Nikola Motor has started taking reservations for Tre, the startup’s first hydrogen-electric truck built for the European market.

Nikola Motor, which less than a year ago announced plans to build a $1 billion hydrogen-electric semi truck factory in a suburb of Phoenix, said it’s in the preliminary planning stages to identify the proper location for its European manufacturing facility.

European testing is projected to begin in Norway around 2020, the company said.

The Tre — it means three in Norwegian — is still years away from production. CEO Trevor Milton said production will begin around the same time as its U.S. version between 2022 and 2023.

But it illustrates Nikola’s global aspirations.

The U.S. and Europe have different trucking regulations. Nikola had to design a different model to meet those regulations before it consider trying to break into Europe. 

Nikola Motor Nikola Tre back

The Tre will be built with redundant braking, redundant steering, redundant 800V dc batteries and a redundant 120 kW hydrogen fuel cell, all necessary for true level 5 autonomy, Milton said in a statement. Level 5 is the highest level autonomy, a designation in which the vehicle handles all driving under all conditions.

The Nikola TRE will come will come in 500 to 1,000 horsepower versions. The truck will be able to travel 500 to 1,200 kilometers, depending on options a customer chooses.

Nikola plans to have more than 700 hydrogen fueling stations across the U.S. and Canada by 2028. The company said Monday it’s working Nel Hydrogen of Oslo to provide hydrogen stations for the U.S. market.

Nel will be used to secure resources for Nikola’s European growth strategy, according to Nikola CFO Kim Brady.

By 2028, Nikola plans to have a network of more than 700 hydrogen stations across the USA and Canada. Each station will be capable of 2,000 to 8,000 kgs of daily hydrogen production. Nikola’s European stations are planned to come online around 2022 and are projected to cover most of the European market by 2030.

The company will display a prototype display of the Nikola TRE during the Nikola World event April 16 and April 17 in Phoenix.

Tesla to bring portion of Model 3 production to China next year

Tesla, which reported its first quarterly profits in two years Wednesday, is looking to extend its earnings streak by bringing its new Model 3 to customers beyond North America. And part of that plan involves accelerating its manufacturing plans in China.

Tesla saw its revenue skyrocket to $6.8 billion in the third quarter (and a $312 million profit) thanks to sales of its new Model 3 vehicle, despite production bottlenecks and more recent issues with delivery logistics. The company was able to achieve that profitability milestone just through sales in the U.S. and Canada. That leaves two other massive markets on the table. Cue Europe and China.

Tesla said Wednesday it will start to take orders for the Model 3 in Europe and China before the end of 2018. Tesla said it will begin deliveries of the Model 3 to Europe early next year.

“The mid-sized premium sedan market in Europe is more than twice as big as the same segment in the U.S.,” Tesla said in its shareholder letter released Wednesday. “This is why we are excited to bring Model 3 to Europe early next year.”

Notably, the company is further accelerating its timeline for China and said it will bring portions of Model 3 production to the country next year.

“We are aiming to bring portions of Model 3 production to China during 2019 and to progressively increase the level of localization through local sourcing and manufacturing,” Tesla said in its earnings report. “Production in China will be designated only for local customers.”

Tesla said earlier this month it plans for as rapid build out of a factory in China. But there’s something new here. The term “portions of Model 3 production” is the important phrase. This could be referring to a term used in the manufacturing world known as a complete knock down. CKD is basically a kit of non-assembled parts of a product, like say a Model 3. It’s a strategy used to avoid tariffs when shipping to foreign countries.

Tesla has plans to build a factory in Shanghai, but construction hasn’t even begun yet.

The company secured in October rights to about 210 acres of land in Lingang, Shanghai, the site of the electric automaker’s planned factory and its first outside of the U.S.

Tesla warned in its production and delivery report in early October that tariffs, combined with the cost of shipping its vehicles via ocean carrier and the lack of access to cash incentives available to locally produced electric vehicles, has put the company at a disadvantage in China. Tesla reiterated those cost constraints in its third-quarter earnings report.

Tesla reached a deal in July with the Shanghai government to build a factory that it says will be capable of producing 500,000 electric vehicles a year. Once construction begins, it will take about two years until Tesla can produce vehicles. It will be another “two to three years before the factory is fully ramped up to produce around 500,000 vehicles per year for Chinese customers,” a Tesla spokesman said at the time.

Elon Musk’s high-speed hyperloop tunnel in L.A. will soon be open for public rides

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Elon Musk says the first tunnel is “almost done.” 

Posting on Twitter on Sunday night, the Boring Company founder and CEO announced the first test tunnel of the ambitious ultra-high-speed hyperloop project in Los Angeles will be open for public rides on Dec. 11.

The very first LA tunnel, which will primarily function to transport pedestrians and cyclists, was officially completed in May, after digging permission was granted in August last year. 

Opens Dec 10

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 22, 2018

Musk has previously announced that the service will apparently cost passengers just $1 to ride on shuttles within the city when it officially launches. Read more…

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SF judge denies Lime’s request to block electric scooter deployment

A judge today denied Lime’s request for a temporary restraining order that would block Skip and Scoot from deploying their electric scooters in San Francisco on Monday. This means San Franciscans will be able to use electric scooter services again first thing next week.

Following the SFMTA’s decision to grant Skip and Scoot electric scooter permits, Lime sent an appeal requesting the agency reevaluate its application. At the time, the SFMTA said it was “confident” it picked the right companies. Just yesterday, Lime said it believed “that it has no choice but to seek emergency relief in the court” and take legal action.

“We’re pleased the court denied Lime’s request for a temporary restraining order,” John Cote, communications director for City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement to TechCrunch. “The bottom line is the judge said he would not stop the permits from being issued on Monday. The SFMTA’s permit program has been both fair and transparent. Lime just didn’t like the outcome. The reality is that Lime’s application fell notably short of its competitors. That’s why it didn’t get a permit. San Franciscans deserve scooter services that are safe, equitable and accountable, which is exactly what this pilot program was designed to do.”

While Lime didn’t quite get what it wanted, Lime says it still sees this as a victory. In a statement to TechCrunch, Lime Head of Communications Jack S. Song said:

The Honorable Harold E. Kahn voiced serious concerns about the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency’s (SFMTA) permit process and ordered expedited discovery into the SFMTA’s selection process.  In a rare move, the Judge ordered five key SFMTA officials and staff — including Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin himself — to testify next week. There will be another public hearing on this issue before Judge Kahn in mid-November, where the SFMTA will be required to answer to the people of San Francisco, and explain exactly what happened in the SFMTA’s biased selection process.  

We look forward to having our preliminary injunction request heard in the coming days — to ensure that the people of San Francisco receive a transparent, fair and equitable process that best serves the entire City and County.

Our decision to file this lawsuit was not about preventing other operators from going forward; it was about exposing the biased and flawed process of the SFMTA, standing up for the rule of law, and serving Lime’s hometown.

Lime wants to block Scoot and Skip from deploying electric scooters in SF next week

Lime is doing the most right now. In light of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency denying Lime a permit to operate electric scooters in the city, Lime is gearing up to request a temporary restraining order.

“Lime believes that after selecting two other less experienced electric scooter companies and comparatively weaker applications in a process that was riddled with bias, the SFMTA should revisit the decision and employ a fair selection process,” the company wrote in a press release.

Those two “less experienced” electric scooter companies Lime’s referring to are Skip, which currently operates via an official permit in Washington, D.C., and Scoot, which has successfully and legally operated shared electric mopeds in the city for several years.

Following the SFMTA’s decision, Lime sent an appeal requesting the agency reevaluate its application. At the time, the SFMTA said it was “confident” it picked the right companies.

Now, since the SFMTA still plans to enable both Scoot and Skip to deploy their respective scooters on Monday, Lime says it “believes that it has no choice but to seek emergency relief in the court.”

Ahead of the decision in Santa Monica, Lime, along with Bird, protested recommendations for the city to not grant Lime a permit. Though, the city did end up granting Lime a permit. Lime, however, is not the only company that has appealed the decision in San Francisco. Earlier this week, Lyft reportedly petitioned SF Mayor London Breed, asking her to reconsider the SFMTA’s decision to only grant two permits for electric scooters.

“It’s unfortunate Lime has chosen this course,” John Coté, communications director for City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. “The SFMTA’s permitting process for the pilot program was thoughtful, fair and transparent. It includes an appeal process that Lime should be pursuing instead of wasting everyone’s resources by running to court.”

He added:

Lime appears to be playing games. It had weeks to resolve this and instead chose a last-minute motion in an effort to shut down the entire scooter program. Lime fails to admit that its application simply didn’t match those of its competitors. If Lime succeeds, it will be hurting the very people it purports to want to help – those who are ready to use scooters on Monday.

Last spring, Lime told San Franciscans that electric scooters were a great transportation alternative. Now, Lime is saying that if they can’t run electric scooters in San Francisco, no one can. It’s sour grapes from Lime, plain and simple.

I’ve reached out to the SFMTA and will update this story if I hear back.

Tesla’s first safety report claims drivers on Autopilot are safer, but lacks detail

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Tesla has released its first Autopilot safety report on Thursday, following promises from CEO Elon Musk in May that the company would do so quarterly after highly-publicised crashes involving its cars.

The one-page report claims that in the third quarter of 2018, there has been one accident or crash-like event for every 3.34 million miles for Tesla cars driven with Autopilot. 

Without Autopilot engaged, Tesla registered one accident or crash-like event for every 1.92 million miles driven. 

Tesla compared their findings to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, whose latest data shows “an automobile crash every 492,000 miles,” — this doesn’t include near-misses that Tesla has recorded in its report. Read more…

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Scooting while drunk is a dangerous, lame way to get a DUI

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Yes, you can get busted for scooting while drunk. 

With scooters swooping into more and more cities, it’s no surprise that people are behaving badly on the electric devices. E-scooter rental company Bird celebrated its first anniversary earlier this month with 2.1 million riders in 100 cities. That’s 10 million rides.  

But not all those rides have gone smoothly. Just this week Los Angeles had its first DUI case involving an e-scooter. The Bird scooter driver was three times over the legal limit when he crashed into a 64-year-old pedestrian, who fell to the ground, scraping their knees. Twenty-eight-year-old Nicholas Kauffroath rode off without helping the pedestrian. Read more…

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A Lime scooter rider died this morning in Washington, D.C., marking the second fatality this month

Lime, the 18-month-old, San Francisco-based company whose bright green bicycles and scooters now dot cities throughout the U.S., launched a pilot program in Tacoma, Washington, today, but that tiny victory might have felt short-lived. The reason: on the opposite side of the country, a Lime rider was killed today by an SUV while tooling around Washington D.C.’s DuPont neighborhood. The local fire department shared video of the rescue, which shows that the victim, an adult male, had to be pulled from the undercarriage of the vehicle.

It’s the second known fatality for the company following a death earlier this month in Dallas, when a 24-year-old Texas man fell off the scooter he was riding and died from blunt force injuries to his head.

On the one hand, the developments, while unfortunate, can hardly come as a surprise to anyone given how vulnerable riders or e-scooters are. E-scooter use is on the rise, with both Lime and its L.A.-based rival Bird, announcing this week that their customers have now taken north of 10 million rides. At the same time, city after city has deemed their use on sidewalks illegal out of fear that fast-moving riders will collide with and injure pedestrians. That leaves riders sharing city streets with the same types of giant, exhaust-spewing machines that they hope to increasingly displace. In fact, sales of traditional SUVs has continued to surge, thanks in part to low unemployment, high consumer confidence, and Americans’ enduring love with gigantic vehicles.

One solution to the issue, and one for which the e-scooter companies and their investors have been advocating, are protected lanes that would allow e-scooters to be operated more safely. Bird has even publicly offered to help fund new infrastructure that keeps cyclists and scooter riders safer.

Another possible answer would appear to be mandating the use of helmets with e-scooters, though California evidently disagrees. On Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into a law that states Californians riding electric scooters will no longer be required to wear helmets as of January 1.

The bill was reportedly sponsored by Bird.

Used car site Vroom is raising $70M six months after a big round of layoffs

After cutting a big portion of its staff in March, Vroom is back pitching investors. Yesterday, the site for buying and selling used cars filed to raise $70 million in new equity funding.

Vroom has already secured $30 million of that $70 million target, signaling confidence from investors that it’ll become profitable and beat out key competitors in the space, like Carvana and Shift.

The startup wants to make the process of buying a used car as easy as ordering a pizza. With more than 3,000 cars for sale on the site, Vroom delivers directly to its customers’ doorsteps. Since it was founded in 2013, Vroom has brought in $320 million from General Catalyst, T. Rowe Price, Altimeter and others, reaching a valuation of $655 million in July 2017.

Vroom declined to comment on its upcoming round.

As part of the March layoffs, Vroom, which is headquartered in New York City, also shuttered its Dallas, Texas and Whitestown, Indiana locations. The official number of employees Vroom let go is unclear, though when news of the layoffs broke, the company listed 845 employees on its website. Today, the site list “600+” or about 30% fewer employees.

The cuts, the company said, were part of a restructuring that would allow Vroom to focus on profitability. This is what the company had to say in March:

“While Vroom’s business is healthy and financially stable, we’re always looking to align our resources to fulfill our long-term vision and deliver on our mission,” the statement said. “In sharpening our focus on profitability, we recently made some adjustments to our strategy that has impacted our headcount. While decisions like this are never easy, we are putting the company in a better position to become the leader in online car buying and continue to invest in future areas of growth.”

It’s not surprising Vroom is back in the fundraising game. Buying and selling cars is a capital-intensive business. 

Vroom’s competitors have similarly raised a lot of capital. Carvana brought in more than $300 million in equity funding, as well as $400 million in debt, before hitting the stock markets in 2017. Shift has raised roughly $110 million to date. Beepi, a cautionary tale in the business of selling used cars online, landed $150 million in VC funding, then failed to sell its business twice, ultimately selling for parts to multiple buyers, including Vroom.

Yeaaah, Waymo’s self-driving taxis don’t seem like they’ll be ready for their 2018 launch date

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It appears that Waymo’s “fully self-driving” taxi service was a bit too aggressive with its 2018 launch date.

A report from The Information Tuesday paints a bleak picture out of Phoenix, Arizona, where Waymo seems to be experiencing glitches with its autonomous vehicles.

Merging into highway traffic, navigating around groups of people, turning left — these are just a few of the hurdles facing Waymo’s fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans that the company is hoping to turn into a fully autonomous taxi service. 

The minivans often drive in the center of wide roads and stop for a full three seconds at stop signs, habits that aren’t popular among some local residents. At least a dozen people told The Information, “I hate them.”  Read more…

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China announces transportation industry reform, days after murder of Didi carpooling passenger

The Chinese government announced it will reform the transportation industry to safeguard passengers, three days after a female passenger was allegedly raped and murdered by a Didi Chuxing driver last Friday. Provinces and autonomous regions are now tasked with setting up passenger safety committees by the end of this month and ensuring that incidents are investigated promptly.

The crime led to the suspension of Hitch, Didi Chuxing’s carpooling service, and the firing of two executives: Hitch’s general manager and Didi’s vice president of customer services. This is not the first time, however, that Didi has been forced pull back on Hitch. Earlier this year, it suspended night operations after a female passenger was allegedly murdered by an unregistered driver who had accessed the service using his father’s account. Nighttime Hitch rides then resumed in June after Didi put new safety measures in place, including a rule that prohibited drivers from accepting ride requests by passengers of the opposite sex during certain hours.

The latest incident took place on Friday in the eastern province of Zhejiang and is especially concerning because the driver had been flagged just one day before the murder by another female passenger who complained that he followed her after she left his vehicle. In a statement, Didi said a safety center representative failed to follow corporate policy and initiate an investigation within two hours. The company also admitted that its customer service procedures has “many deficiencies” and said it will “plead for law enforcement and the public to work with us in developing more efficient and practical collaborative solutions to fight criminals and protect user personal and property safety.”

China’s police and transport ministries have already said that Didi bears “unshirkable responsibility” for Friday’s murder. The company has already been accused of being too lax with passenger safety, leaving its users–particularly women–vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault.

What stunned me while reporting this was the numbers. According to Southern Weekly, at least 53 women have been raped or sexually harassed by Didi drivers in the past 4 yrs?! Caixin says there are 14 rapes linked to Didi drivers, citing court docs. https://t.co/Me0oBXRyxo

— Sui-Lee Wee 黄瑞黎 (@suilee) August 27, 2018

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the agency that enacts strategies for China’s economic and social development, posted its announcement, titled “Concerning untrustworthy behavior in the emerging transportation sector,” online on Monday morning.

In it, the NDRC said it will put measures into place to root out untrustworthy and dishonest operators in China’s transportation industry, which has grown dramatically over the past two decades. Provinces and autonomous regions must form committees and procedures to ensure passenger safety by August 31 and share information about violations and offenders with other municipalities.

While the NDRC mentioned all transportation sectors, including railways, airplanes and ships, it singled out passenger vehicles, including buses, shuttles and cabs, in one passage and ordered municipalities to investigate offenses in a timely manner. Operators that don’t take action quickly to fix “untrustworthy behavior” risk being placed on a blacklist and having their names published on government websites.

Elon Musk: Tesla will remain a public company

Tesla will remain a public company, CEO Elon Musk said Friday night, less than three weeks after he announced to the world via Twitter that he was considering taking the electric automaker private at $420 a share.

Musk, who posted the announcement via Tesla’s blog, said Friday that after speaking with shareholders and investigating the process of taking the company private he believes the better path is for Tesla to remain public. Musk met with Tesla’s board of directors Thursday and told him his decision. The board agreed, he wrote.

Here’s an excerpt:

Given the feedback I’ve received, it’s apparent that most of Tesla’s existing shareholders believe we are better off as a public company. Additionally, a number of institutional shareholders have explained that they have internal compliance issues that limit how much they can invest in a private company. There is also no proven path for most retail investors to own shares if we were private. Although the majority of shareholders I spoke to said they would remain with Tesla if we went private, the sentiment, in a nutshell, was “please don’t do this.”

I knew the process of going private would be challenging, but it’s clear that it would be even more time-consuming and distracting than initially anticipated. This is a problem because we absolutely must stay focused on ramping Model 3 and becoming profitable. We will not achieve our mission of advancing sustainable energy unless we are also financially sustainable.

That said, my belief that there is more than enough funding to take Tesla private was reinforced during this process.

Friday night’s announcement closes a tumultuous 17 days that began with Musk tweeting that he secured funding and was considering taking Tesla private. The tweet wasn’t warmly embraced by the Tesla board or many shareholders. It also prompted the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate.

https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/10268726522903797

While this 17-day ride might be over, the questions over Musk’s behavior (and possible drug use) and the company’s future are likely not.

Uber and Lyft encourage NYC customers to oppose proposed ride-hail cap legislation

Uber is making calls to some of its customers in New York City, offering to connect them to local council members to express their opposition to the proposed legislation that would cap the number of ride-hailing drivers in the city, BuzzFeed first reported. Meanwhile, Lyft is also reaching out to its NYC-based riders, asking them to contact their local officials.

For context, the NYC city council is currently considering legislation that would limit the number of ride-hail drivers on the road. Specifically, the proposal wants to place a one-year hold on the issuance of new for-hire vehicle licenses, unless the vehicles are wheelchair accessible.

This legislation would affect Uber, Lyft, Juno and Via — all of which operate ride-hailing services in the city. The deadline to submit an amended version of the proposal is tonight at midnight, so the clock is ticking.

Anyway, some people seem to be a bit upset about receiving calls from Uber, but Uber Director of Public Affairs Jason Post told TechCrunch the calls are simply one of its tactics that is consistent with its terms of services.

Uber is not calling every single customer in the city, Post said, but the company is making enough calls to yield a few dozen calls per council member. Though, why people are answering calls from unknown numbers is beyond me.

Uber is also employing an in-app takeover that notifies passengers of the legislative landscape in NYC.

“Uber has launched an App takeover so New Yorkers can read the Council’s bills for themselves,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “We believe New Yorkers will join us in supporting living wages for drivers and opposing a cap that will harm outer borough riders who have come to rely on Uber because of the unreliable, or non-existent subway.”

Lyft says the proposals would affect wait times, driver earnings and job opportunities.

“Worst of all, the proposals prioritize corporate medallion owners above the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers,” a Lyft spokesperson said. “And while many are saying that this a cap would not diminish service, based on Lyft’s internal driver attrition trends, we believe the industry’s annual churn rate is at least 25%, meaning available drivers for New York City ride-share would shrink significantly within the next year if a cap were imposed, massively undercutting service levels across the board and in particular in outer-borough neighborhoods.”

Lyft’s VP of public policy, Joseph Okpaku, also noted in a Medium post that the cap would have even worse effects on communities of color.

“For communities of color, who, before the arrival of ridesharing, were denied equal transportation options, the impact will be felt even more strongly,” he wrote. “It will return us to the days when African-American and Latino New Yorkers had to worry whether they would get a ride every time they raised their hand to hail a cab.”

Segway’s whacky new roller shoes will cost $399

Did you know Segway is making a pair of self-balancing roller shoes? It is! The company has been tinkering with all sorts of new form factors since it was acquired by Ninebot in 2015, from half-sized Segways to kick scooters. Next up: inline… shoe… platform things.

Called the Segway Drift W1s, they sorta look like what would happen if you took a hoverboard (as in the trendy 2016 hoverboard-that-doesn’t-actually-hover “hover”board, not Marty McFly’s hoverboard), split it in two and plopped one half under each foot.

It released a video demonstrating the shoes a few weeks back. Just watching it makes me feel like I’ve bruised my tailbone, because I’m clumsy as hell.

Pricing and availability was kept under wraps at the time, but the company has just released the details: a pair will cost you $399, and ship sometime in August. Oh, and they’ll come with a free helmet, because you’ll probably want to wear a helmet.

A new product page also sheds some light on a few other previously undisclosed details: each unit will weigh about 7.7lbs, and top out at 7.5 miles per hour. Riding time “depends on riding style and terrain,” but the company estimates about 45 minutes of riding per charge.

I look forward to trying these — then realizing I have absolutely no idea how to jump off and just riding forever into the sunset.

Uber is looking at adding benefits and insurance for drivers

At the Code Conference tonight, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi spoke about the company’s relationship with drivers, autonomous driving, uberEATS having a $6 billion bookings run rate, taking over as CEO and flying taxis, obviously.

Just this week, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent subpoenas to Uber and Lyft seeking information on driver pay, benefits and classification info. Uber wasn’t available for comment at the time, but now it seems that the company is looking at ways to offer benefits and insurance to drivers. Specifically, Uber is looking at an economically-sound way to offer drivers a benefits and insurance package so that “this can be a safer way of living,” Khosrowshahi said.

And despite what former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in the past about needing to get rid of the driver, Khosrowshahi said he disagrees.

“The face of Uber is the person sitting in the front seat,” Khosrowshahi said. He added that it usually is a man driving, but that he would “love to have more women sitting in the front seat” because it’s a “great form of employment.”

Still, Uber is moving ahead with autonomous driving. That’s in light of the fatal car accident in Tempe, Arizona involving one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles.

“We will get back on the road over the summer,” Khosrowshahi said.

Uber also envisions licensing its technology — once it’s safe enough — to third-parties and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Despite the high-profile lawsuit between Uber and Waymo over self-driving car technology, Khosrowshahi said he’d welcome Waymo to put its cars into its network. Regarding Uber’s relationship with Waymo, Khosrowshahi said it’s “getting better.”

In addition to Uber’s core driver business and autonomous driving, it has several other things going on for it. One of those is uberEATS, which Khosrowshahi said has a $6 billion run rate, is growing 200 percent and is the biggest food delivery company in the world, with the exception of those in China.

Uber also recently acquired JUMP Bikes for about $200 million, launched UberRENT, announced a public transportation partnership with Masabi and is working on flying cars via its Elevate program.

Just like residential and buildings have gone three-dimensional, Khosrowshahi said, “you’re going to have to build a third-dimension in terms of transportation.”

For Uber, Elevate is its “big bet” on that third-dimension of transportation, he said. The big plan with all of these modes of transportations — whether that’s bike-sharing, ride-sharing, flight-sharing or whatnot — is to become a multi-modal transportation service.

“We want to be the Amazon for transportation,” Khosrowshahi said.

Earlier in the conversation, Khosrowshahi shed some light into how he had no idea he’d get the chief executive officer job at Uber. In fact, he said that while his wife thought he would get the job, he wasn’t as optimistic.

He also spoke about his relationship with Kalanick and how, early on, Khosrowshahi asked for space and Kalanick respected that.

“I consult with him the way I consult with the board,” Khosrowshahi said.

Moving forward, Khosrowshahi still has his eyes set on the second half of 2019 to go public.

“We’re on track,” he said.