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Watch GM unveil the $80,000 GMC Hummer EV right here

GM just took the wraps off the Hummer EV and it looks great. The vehicle is coming to dealers in 2022, with pre-orders starting in 2021. You can watch the unveiling here.

The vehicle is detailed here. With 1,000 HP, 350 mile range, and autonomous drive modes, it’s an impressive vehicle though still significantly more than Tesla said the Cybertruck will cost.

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GMC reveals the Hummer EV: 1,000 HP, 350 mile range, and 0-60 in ‘around 3 seconds’

General Motors today revealed the GMC Hummer EV, its first electric pickup. The vehicle has a 350 range, 1,000 HP, and up to 11,500 pound feet of torque (through fuzzy math). And with a starting price of $80,000, it’s easily twice the cost of a gas-powered pickup. Yes, it sort of looks like the Tesla Cybertruck.

Several key stats stick above the rest. Three motors within two Ultium drive units power the vehicle and it appears to have the longest battery of any GM vehicle with an electric powertrain. GM says the Hummer EV can hit 60 mph in around three seconds. It also has all-wheel steering, which allows it drive diagonally in a mode called Crabwalk. There are removable roof panels, 35-inch tires, and an air suspension system that can raise the vehicle 6-inches.

Some details are still missing including the capacity of the battery, and towing capacity. For truck buyers, numbers around power and torque are secondary to what they mean in the real world. How much can the vehicle tow? How far can it go? How far can it go when pulling a trailer?

GM has plenty of time to answer those questions and more. The Hummer EV is not coming soon. GMC said the vehicle will be available for pre-ordering in 2021 and vehicles will be available for delivery in 2022.

The electric Hummer starts at $80,000. That gets buyers the Hummer EV2, a two-drive version that lacks key advertised features. For $100,000 buyers can get the Hummer EV3x which includes three motors and torque vectoring steering. For $90,000, and a release date of Spring 2023, buyers can get the EV2x which includes air ride and 4 wheel steer

The Hummer EV

The Hummer brand long stood for exessively large vehicles and this new incarnation is no different. It’s massive. While GM hasn’t revealed the full dimensions, it comes stock with 35-inch tires and is capable of 37-inch tires. That’s big.

GM built impressive technology into the Hummer EV. The Hummer EV comes with GM’s self-driving technology, Super Cruise, that allows the truck to drive partly autonomously. The battery pack is capable of connecting to an 800 volt charging system that will give the vehicle 100 miles in 10 minutes of charging. Buyers can order the Hummer EV with up to 18 cameras, including cameras that sit under the vehicle to help with ground clearance.

It seems GMC is positioning the Hummer EV as a quasi off-roader that’s part pickup and part SUV.

Inside a 13.4-inch touchscreen dominates the dashboard. The driver’s gauge cluster is digital as well with a 12.3-inch screen. Epic’s Unreal Engine powers both screens, which features class-leading animations. This technology is a huge leap forward over GM’s current infotainment system. The vehicle still has plenty of buttons, though, as functions such as climate control are separate from the screen.

The general’s electric era

The Hummer EV is a big step for General Motors and signals a market shift. GM started its EV push in the ’90s with the EV1, which was revived in spirit with the Volt in 2010. GM released the small Chevy Bolt in 2017. None of these cars sold in large numbers, frankly, because they were uninspiring and, and well, cars. General Motors and others like Ford largely stopped developing cars as the market shifted to SUVs and pickups. GM is moving past the small commuter car with the Hummer EV in favor of a large pickup — a market segment GM knows well.

The Chevy Silverado joins the Ford F-150 and Ram Pickup as the top three selling vehicles in the United States. The three pickups outsold the next six vehicles combined. Trucks are a major market for American automakers, and the Hummer EV is clearly designed to test the water. With a unibody construction, it’s easy to imagine General Motors releasing an SUV version of the Hummer EV too. This would follow GM’s recent roadmap of moving away from cars and into SUVs and crossovers.

The Hummer EV’s unusual shape speaks to engineering limitations and partly explains why the GMC Hummer EV is not branded as a Chevy Silverado or GMC Serra. Much like the Tesla Cybertruck, the Hummer EV is likely based on a unibody construction similar to a passenger car. At this time, or rather when development began on the Hummer EV, it’s likely GM could not produce a unibody pickup with the same key specifications around towing, cargo capacity, and range of its Silverado pickups. An electric Silverado (or Ford F-150) must match its internal combustion counterpart on key areas — something the Hummer EV fails to do.

An electric Silverado is in the works. GM’s Mary Barra revealed the obvious during an interview in 2019. The automaker has only released one detail about the upcoming pickup: According to a financial document from July 2020, the electric pickup will have a 400 mile range.

General Motors has another electric pickup in the works through a significant investment with Nikola. On September 8, General Motors announced a $2 million investment in Michigan-based Nikola Motors. With the investment, General Motors gained access to Nikola’s EV development while also agreeing to manufacture Nikola’s Badger pickup. However, the deal is in question after fraud claims caused the company’s chairman to step down.

GM discontinued the Hummer brand during the auto crisis of 2008. It’s largely remembered for the monstrous H1 and H2 SUVs, the first being a civilian version of the military’s Humvee and the second being an over-the-top SUV. Towards the end of Hummer’s life, the company offered a pickup version of its smaller H3 model.

GMC Hummer EV vs. Tesla Cybertruck

Comparisons between the Hummer EV and Tesla Cybertrucks are inevitable. Much of the Cybertruck is still speculation and GM failed to reveal key details about the Hummer EV. Tesla unveiled the so-called super-truck eleven months ago and has been rather quiet since about the vehicle. In May, Elon Musk tweeted that the production version of the Cybertruck will likely be about the same size as the prototype.

At the time of the Cybertruck’s reveal, Tesla said it would be available starting at $39,000 for a single motor version capable of pulling 7,500 pounds and driving 250 miles on a charge. An AWD dual-motor and tri-motor version would also be available for $49,000 and $69,000, respectively. It’s unclear if those price points or specs will be true with Tesla releases the Cybertruck.

The Tesla Cybertruck and GMC Hummer EV share a lot in common, including a unibody construction that gives the vehicles their unusual look. Both the Hummer EV and Cybertruck feature unique C pillars that act as a flying buttress. These pillars add significant strength to the vehicle and compensate for the unibody design.

Generally, pickup trucks are built as two pieces: the body is placed on a frame. This is done for several reasons, but most notable here is because a frame can handle the significant twist caused by the drivetrain running from the front axle to the back. And in an EV, truck or car, there isn’t a drivetrain connecting the front and rear axels. This allows the automakers to employ a lighter unibody construction, which is often safer for the occupants. However, these bodies need to be as stiff as possible to help with towing and hauling. Honda leaned into this design with the unibody Ridgeline pickup.

Truck buyers have different expectations

The Hummer EV is a significant step for General Motors as it pushes into the electric future. Some buyers are not ready for electric vehicles, and truck buyers could be among the hardest demographic to convince.

Following the reveal of the Tesla Cybertruck in 2019, the company hooked a prototype up to the tow bar of a newer Ford F-150. The test was widely panned, as many pointed out the flaws that resulted in a Cybertruck win. Tesla was trying to demonstrate that its truck, though electric, can still do truck stuff. GMC will likely employ similar feats of strength, including commercials where gruff men proving a voiceover while the Hummer EV is towing a boat.

Truck buyers expect several things. One, the truck has to have a strong stance, which the Hummer EV has in bundles. Two, most truck buyers look at towing capacity even if they never tow anything. Towing capacity in trucks is much like horsepower in sports cars — more the better even if it’s not used. And towing capacity is only partially dictated by the powertrain’s power output. The rest comes from the design of the platform and how it can handle pulling weight. It’s unclear at this point if the Hummer EV, even with its crazy 1,000 HP, will be able to out tow a Silverado or F-150.

The Hummer falls short in several categories critical to pickup buyers: range and hauling capacity.

Pickups come with large gas tanks giving them amazing range. For instance, my 2016 Ford F-150 has a 32-gallon tank. If driven carefully, the truck can get 700 miles on one tank. When towing a trailer, the range is cut in half but exceeds 300 miles on a tank. GMC says the Hummer has a 350 range but has yet to say the range when towing a 7,000 travel trailer.

The electric pickup wars

With a release date of 2022, the Hummer EV is far from a sure bet. GM has plenty of time to rework the machine, adding or decreasing the range as technology improves before its release.

GM has competition too. The electric pickup race is just starting and Ford has the most to lose.

The Ford F-150 is the top selling vehicle in the American market, and has been for generations. The truck is the foundation of Ford’s success. In 2019 the company released a video demonstration of an early prototype electric powertrain that was able to pull (note: not tow) 1 million pounds. To help its efforts Ford invested hundreds of millions into Michigan-based Rivian, maker of an electric pickup platform. Recent reports place the viability of that partnership in question, but Ford is likely working at full tilt towards its electric pickups.

Automotive startups are also looking at building electric pickups. Rivian intends to build and sell its own pickup and SUV. Lordstown Motors, an outfit out of Lordstown, Ohio, revealed its pickup design in June and said it would retail for $52,000. And there’s more: Bollinger Motors, Workhorse, and Nikola.

Electric pickups are ripe for an electric takeover and GM just threw down a Hummer-sized hammer.

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The Station: Yandex spins out self-driving biz, Ike takes the SaaS road and a solid-state battery startup strikes SPAC

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

Hello and 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.

As summer comes to an end, deals have lagged a skosh ahead of what promises to be a busy fall. And while the news cycle continues, there has been a slight dip in intensity. Sounds like a good time to take a break, no? Yup, it is. Next week, there will not be an issue of the newsletter. Don’t worry, it will return Sept. 19.

Email me anytime 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 let’s get to it. First up, deals!

Deal of the week

Deals, we got em. And this week, a new SPAC stands out. Yup, you knew it. I knew it; we all knew another SPAC was coming. Some SPAC merger announcements feel like a desperate attempt by young unproven companies to access capital. That’s not the case this week.

QuantumScape, the solid-state battery company backed by Volkswagen Group, agreed to merge with a special purpose acquisition company Kensington Capital Acquisition Corp. The merger will give QuantumScape a post-deal market valuation of $3.3 billion.

QuantumScape is not a fledgling startup. It’s been around for decade, attracting attention and capital early on from high-profile venture firms like Kleiner Perkins  and Khosla Ventures. Volkswagen entered the picture in 2012 and has invested a total of $300 million in QuantumScape, including $200 million this year.

QuantumScape is going after the capitally intensive goal of attempting to commercialize solid-state batteries for electric vehicles. Solid-state batteries use a solid electrolyte and not a liquid or gel-based electrolyte found in lithium-ion batteries. Developers claim that solid electrolytes have greater energy density, which translates into squeezing more range out of a smaller and lighter battery. Solid electrolytes also are supposed to be better at thermal management, reducing the risk of fire and the reliance on the kinds of cooling systems found in today’s EVs.

Other deals that got my attention … (seems a little light this week, no?)

Geely Automobile Holdings plans to raise 20 billion yuan ($2.93 billion) from a public share sale on Shanghai’s STAR Market, funds that will be used to invest in new car models and technologies, Reuters reported.

Zomato, the Indian food delivery startup, has raised $62 million from Temasek, resuming a financing round that it originally expected to close in January this year. Singapore’s state investment arm Temasek financed the capital through its unit MacRitchie Investments, a regulatory filing showed.

AV spotlight: Yandex

Coverage of automated vehicle technology companies tends to focus on U.S.-based efforts. Rest assured, there is action elsewhere. Yandex, the publicly traded Russian tech giant that started as a search engine, is one of those companies.

The company has expanded into a number of other, related areas (similar to U.S. counterpart Google) including automated vehicle technology. In January, I rode in their self-driving vehicle (with no human behind the wheel) during a demo on public streets of Las Vegas during CES. I’ve never been a huge fan of demos as it can help companies hide problems with their tech. Yandex’s demo was notable however. The vehicle moved confidently, maybe even aggressively, as it maneuvered around a bus that had stopped in the roadway, it handled left turns as well as a parking garage with ease. (this GIF from Yandex is of a drive in Moscow, fyi)

I mention all of this background because Yandex said this week it is spinning out its self-driving car unit from MLU BV — a ride-hailing and food delivery joint venture it operates in partnership with Uber. The move comes amid reports that Yandex  and Uber were eyeing up an IPO for MLU last year. At the time, the JV was estimated to be valued at around $7.7 billion.

As part of the spin-out, Yandex is investing $150 million into the business, a sum that will include $100 million in equity, plus $50 million in the form of a convertible loan. Yandex is buying out some of Uber’s shares in this process and will now have a 73% stake in the spun-out business, with Uber owning 19%. The remaining 8% will be owned by Yandex self-driving group (SDG) management and employees. Yandex said it has invested some $65 million in the business up to now.

Spinning out the unit could help improve the unit economics and cost base of the MLU unit, as TechCrunch editor Ingrid Lunden noted in her report. But Yandex says that it’s being done to double down on a more focused investment in self-driving.

A different kind of EV startup

This isn’t an electric vehicle startup; it’s more like EV adjacent. And it’s an app!

A number of apps have popped over the past several years — in step with Tesla’s rising popularity. Most aim to let drivers track and plan their routes and often have a social component. Tezlab is a good example, and I’ve written about them before. 

The one I want to introduce you to is called Nikola. The app launched in 2018 as a hobby project of David Hodge, who founded a mass transit app called Embark, which Apple acquired in 2013. Hodge stayed at Apple for several years and then went to Stripe. But the Nikola app compelled him to go out on his own again.

This week, Hodge launched Nikola 2.0. Here’s the gist: Nikola 2.0 is a subscription-based app that provides health monitoring of the owner’s Tesla (just Teslas for now, but Hodge aims to expand).

Image Credits: Nikola

The app, which is only in iOS right now, gives the user information on battery level trends, efficiency, energy consumption, top and average speed as well as stats on weekly ghost drain and driving and charging history, which can be exported for tax or expense report purposes. Users can also check their battery level with the Nikola Apple Watch complication and compare their performance to other Tesla drivers with Nikola Fleet Stats.

What I am interested in is this other new feature called the Nikola report. It is like a Carfax report that an EV owner can share with prospective buyers when they go to sell their electric vehicle. The data collection for the Nikola report feature is just now getting started.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Welcome to the roundup section of the newsletter …

Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, is selling personal hand straps that can be quickly thrown onto poles in the train car for folks would rather not touch any surfaces.

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

GM and Honda signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to establish an automotive alliance in North America. The deal brings together two automakers that have a long established history of working together. The companies will share vehicle platforms, which will be sold under their respective and distinct brands, as well as cooperate in purchasing, research and development and connected services.

Ike, the automated trucking startup, had some big news this week. Ryder, DHL and NFI have chosen Ike as their automated driving technology provider. These fleets, and some others the company has not yet announced, have collectively reserved the first 1,000 trucks powered by its technology.

The startup also lifted the hood, so to speak, on their business model. Ike is taking a SaaS approach to automated vehicle technology.  The company explained in a blog post this week that it will sell a Software as a Service subscription to fleets. Customers will buy trucks equipped with Ike’s validated automation system from its OEM manufacturing partners. Automated trucks will be owned and operated by fleets and “Powered by Ike,” the post read.

REMINDER! Nancy Sun, the co-founder and chief engineer of Ike, will be on our virtual stage for the TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 event October 6 and 7. If you’ve never heard of Sun, or listened to her, be prepared to be impressed. The event is shaping up to be pretty great and we have a few more speakers left to announce.

Lucid Motors, which is set to reveal the Air on September 9, keeps dropping bits of info on the luxury electric vehicle. This time, Lucid announced that the Air is capable of a 9.9-second quarter mile. That’s faster than a Tesla Model S and faster than most production cars on the market.

Metromile, a pay-per-mile insurance company, said it’s teaming up with Ford Motor to provide owners of Ford vehicles equipped with built-in connectivity with personalized car insurance.

Tesla didn’t make it into the S&P 500 as so many had predicted. Tesla fans took to Twitter on Friday to gripe about the decision that welcomed Etsy, Teradyne and Catalan into the S&P.

Torc Robotics and its parent company Daimler Trucks, announced plans to expand their joint self-driving truck on-road testing to New Mexico this month and establish a test center in the Albuquerque area.

The U.S. government rolled out a new online tool designed to give the public insight into where and who is testing automated vehicle technology throughout the country. The official name of the online tool is the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing Initiative tracking tool. While the design is simple and straightforward, it’s incomplete since it is based off of information that companies have volunteered. Let’s hope this is the beginning of what will become a comprehensive one-stop shop of all automated vehicle technology in the country.

VanMoof, the e-bike company is opening a store in Seattle — its third in the United States. The expansion illustrates the company’s growth, which has accelerated since March as sales of e-bikes in the U.S. popped 85% compared with the same month a year earlier.

Volkswagen released teaser images of its upcoming all-electric ID.4 compact SUV that shows what might just be a nice balance between tech and old timely toggles and buttons. Could this be the Goldilocks story of the EV world? I will find out later this month. Stay tuned.

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The Station: Luminar takes the SPAC path and Voyage lifts the hood on its next-gen robotaxi

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.

Hello and 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’ll skip the typical wind up and get right to things this week. We’ve got SPACs, venture deals and micromobility news along with a peek at one AV company’s newest vehicle.

I wanted to mention one item before we launch because it speaks to a larger issue of safety and how some shared mobility startups are turning to tech in an attempt to improve it.

Shared electric moped startup Revel resumed operations in New York City a month after shutting down its service following several deaths. The startup’s blue mopeds (3,000 of them) that had become a familiar sight in New York City are back, but with a number of new protocols and features aimed at boosting safety and assuaging city officials. Revel is leaning heavily on tech, and specifically its app, to improve safety, including training videos and tests, a helmet selfie feature that requires photographic evidence the user is wearing a helmet and a community reporting tool. The question is, will this effort be sufficient?

Image credits: Getty

Alright, let’s go!

Email me anytime 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.

Micromobbin’

Remember last week when I told y’all about California Assembly Bill 1286? Here’s a quick refresher: the bill passed the Assembly in 2019 and moved over to committee within the Senate. It sat untouched until this month, when it popped up and passed a committee vote, an action that sent it to the full Senate.

To say the micromobility industry was caught off guard, might be an understatement. The action set off alarm bells and a coalition of micromobility companies, advocacy groups and bike share operators sent a letter to Senate leadership arguing that the bill was an existential threat to shared micromobility in the state. The group was specifically concerned with a line in the bill that would prohibit companies from putting a liability waiver in the user agreement.

That language was removed this week, prompting at least a few emails with comments like “micromobility in California has been saved.”


The National Association of Transportation Officials released its annual report on the growth and use of shared micromobility such as bike share, e-bike share and scooter share in the United States. This report focuses on 2019 ridership data, however, NACTO also weighs in a bit on the first half of 2020.

The study found that people in the U.S. took 136 million trips on bikes and scooters in 2019 — a 60% increase from the previous year. Of those trips, 40 million were on station-based bike share systems. The remaining 96 million trips were on dockless systems with 10 million on ebikes and 86 million on scooters.

That doesn’t mean it was a balanced picture. NACTO reported that scooter expansion was in some cases unstable as companies exited markets at the end of the year (prior to the pandemic), possibly due to over-competition and other market pressures.

Image Credits: NACTO

Shared micromobility trips were on average 11 to 12 minutes long and for a distance of 1 to 1.5 miles. Short trips are important, NACTO said in its report, noting that 35% of all U.S. car trips are under 2 miles.

Adam Kovacevich, Lime’s head of North America and APAC Government Affairs, called the numbers “eye popping” in an emailed statement, adding that “People are voting with their feet, and they clearly want more scooters and dockless bikes in their cities.”


We’re not finished yet; one more item of note. Jump returned to the Sacramento region on Saturday. Through an agreement with SACOG, Lime said it is now the “exclusive” regional bikeshare operator for the region.

Deal of the week

Luminar, the lidar startup founded in 2012 by whiz kid and Thiel fellow Austin Russell, has taken the SPAC path to the public markets. SUMMER OF THE SPAC CONTINUES!

The lidar startup announced it was merging with special purpose acquisition company Gores Metropoulos Inc., with a post-deal market valuation of $3.4 billion. The SPAC merger comes just three months after Luminar hit a critical milestone and announced that Volvo would start producing vehicles in 2022 equipped with its lidar and a perception stack. Volvo plans to use the Luminar technology to deploy an automated driving system for highways in its production vehicles.

Image Credits: Luminar

Russell told me in a recent interview that they wanted to go public at some point, but the momentum from the Volvo deal along with interest within public markets led the company to take the SPAC route.

Luminar is the latest startup — and second lidar company — to turn to SPACs this summer in lieu of a traditional IPO process. In June, Velodyne Lidar struck a deal to merge with special purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., with a market value of $1.8 billion. Four electric vehicle startups have also skipped the traditional IPO path in recent months, opting instead to go public through a merger agreement with a SPAC, which are also known as blank check companies. Canoo, Fisker Inc., Lordstown Motors and Nikola Corp. have gone public via a SPAC merger this spring and summer. Shift Technologies, an online used car marketplace, also used a SPAC to go public.


Image Credits: Xpeng via Weibo

Meanwhile, Chinese electric automaker Xpeng Inc. made its public market debut the old-fashioned way. Although this traditional IPO path still packed in some unexpected financial thrills. Despite escalating tensions between the U.S. and China, the company raised more than it expected in its initial public offering.

Xpeng, which began trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol XPEV, said in a filing that it sold 99.7 million shares for $15 each, raising about $1.5 billion through its initial public offering. The automaker had originally planned to sell 85 million shares with a price guidance of between $11 and $13.

Xpeng will need the capital. The company faces an increasingly crowded pool of electric automakers in China, including Tesla, Li Auto and Nio. Shares of Xpeng closed up at $22.79 on Friday.

Other deals that got my attention …

CoPilot, a mobile app for buying and owning vehicles, raised $10 million in a new Series A funding round led by Next Coast Ventures, with participation from Max Levchin’s SciFi Ventures and Arthur Patterson, co-founder of Accel Partners, along with existing investors Chicago Ventures. The investment brings the company’s total outside funding to $17 million.

curbFlow, a curb management startup that uses a network of computer vision devices to detect available parking spots, raised $8 million in seed stage funding led by General Catalyst and Initialized Capital. Doordash is its first paying customer. Keep an eye out for a longer piece on curbFlow; I interviewed the founder Ali Vahabzadeh about the startup and where he sees it evolving. If the name Ali Vahabzadeh sounds familiar, it should. He is the co-founder and former CEO of Chariot, the on-demand shuttle service that Ford acquired and then killed off.

Delivery Hero, the Berlin-based restaurant delivery company that operates mainly in emerging markets, acquired Dubai-based grocery delivery platform InstaShop. The acquisition values the company at $360 million, $270 million upfront plus an additional $90 million based on InstaShop meeting certain growth targets, according to the company. Investors in InstaShop are surely celebrating right now. The five year-old startup had raised just $7 million before being acquired.

Firefly, which offers Uber and Lyft drivers a digital display to make extra money by running ads, acquired Strong Outdoor. The company said it has also become the advertising partner for fleet operator Sally.

Fox Robotics, the Austin-based startup that builds automated forklifts, raised $9 million in a Series A round led by Menlo Ventures. The latest round brings its total funding to date up to $13 million, with support from previous investors Eniac, Famiglia, SignalFire, Congruent, AME and Joe.

Motiv Power Systems, a company that builds all-electric chassis and software systems for the electrification of medium-duty trucks and buses, said it has secured $15 million in additional funding from GMAG Holdings Corp. The company that the funding will be made by means of convertible notes that are expected to be converted into a Series C funding round, which Motiv is in the process of raising.

Shopmonkey, a San Jose, Calif.-based SaaS startup that serves auto repair shops, raised $25 million in a Series B funding round led by Bessemer Venture Partners with participation from Index Ventures, e.ventures and I2BF.

Zoomo, a three-year-old electric bike platform marketed to gig economy delivery workers, raised $11 million from a Series A funding round led by Australian Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Zoomo was actually Bolt Bikes until this past week. The company announced its new name along with its funding round. The round also included equity from Hana Ventures and existing investors Maniv Mobility and Contrarian Ventures, together with venture debt from OneVentures and Viola Credit.

People: layoffs, hiring and moves

It’s been a minute since I wrote about hirings and firings and such. Two bits of hiring news got my attention this week.

Image credit: Rivian

First up, Bloomberg reported that Rivian hired former Tesla executive Nick Kalayjian to lead its engineering. Kalayjian is replacing Mark Vinnels, a former executive a McLaren Automotive.

You might recall that relations between Rivian and Tesla are a bit prickly at the moment. Tesla filed a lawsuit in July against Rivian and four former employers on claims of poaching talent and stealing trade secrets. Specifically, Tesla claimed that Rivian instructed a recently departed Tesla employee about the types of confidential information it needed.

Rivian recently fired back. Rivian filed motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that two of the three claims in the case fail to state sufficient allegations of trade-secret theft and poaching talent and instead was an attempt to malign its reputation and hurt its own recruiting efforts.

It should be noted that Kalayjian didn’t come directly from Tesla; he had a brief stint at San Francisco-based Plenty Inc., according to his Linkedin profile. Still, Kalayjian spent a decade at Tesla, and his move to Rivian likely got the attention of his former employer.


Convoy, the digital freight network that connects truckers with shippers, has hired former Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom as the company’s president and Chief Operating Officer, effective August 31, 2020. Okerstrom will be responsible for Convoy’s finance, operations, sales, marketing, supply, and marketplace growth teams. Okerstrom wrote a blog about what prompted to leave Expedia after a decade.

Convoy is only five years old, but it’s become a giant in the nascent digital freight business. The company has managed to attract a slew of high-profile investors such as Jeff Bezos, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Greylock Partners, Y Combinator, Cascade Investment (the private investment vehicle of Bill Gates) and Code.org founders Hadi and Ali Partovi. Even U2’s Bono and the Edge have invested in Convoy.

Last November, Convoy announced it had raised $400 million in a Series D funding round, funding that would be used to scale its business amid an increasingly competitive market. Convoy said at the time that its post-money valuation to $2.75 billion.

AV Spotlight: Voyage

Image Credits: Voyage

Autonomous vehicle startup Voyage is a smaller enterprise than its industry peers, in terms of capital raised and number of employees. But that doesn’t mean Voyage isn’t making moves — and progress.

The three-year-old startup tests and operates a self-driving vehicle service (with human safety operators) in retirement communities in California and Florida. They started by modifying Ford Fusion vehicles and later retrofitted FCA’s Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans with its autonomous vehicle technology. Last year, Voyage partnered with FCA to provide next-generation purpose-built Pacifica Hybrid vehicles 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. (The partnership wasn’t announced until this spring).

Now, Voyage is lifting the veil on its third-generation robotaxi, called G3. CEO Oliver Cameron tells me G3 is designed to drive without the need of a human safety operator, equipped with COVID killing U-VC hardware and half the cost of its previous second-generation (G2) vehicle.

It might seem odd for the CEO of an AV company to exclaim that its vehicle is designed to be driverless. What Cameron means is that the vehicle generation has progressed to a point where it has all of the necessary redundancies and automotive grade hardware to move beyond testing and into commercial driverless operations. Voyage points to three technologies that get it there.

First, there’s the brain of the G3 — internally called Commander — that is powered by its perception, prediction and behavioral modules. Commander runs atop a safety-certified middleware and monitored by self-diagnostic systems. Then there’s the collision mitigation system called Shield that acts as a backup system to bring the vehicle to a safe stop if necessary. And then finally, a remote operations feature called Telessist. When the brain, or Commander, faces a novel or chaotic traffic situation it has the capability to ask for assistance.

Voyage has talked about these elements before, but it has never really dug into the compute side of things. As Cameron noted to me, “it used to be you had to choose between automotive grade and performance. Now, we have both.”

Voyage worked with Nvidia on the compute. It also involved another company, which took the Nvidia boards and made them automotive grade. “So think ruggedized aluminum, think safety certified, think liquid cooling — all the things you need to do this safely and in a vehicle,” Cameron said.

Also of note, Voyage is using Blackberry’s QNX operating system in the G3. This generation also has a number of features aimed at its senior citizen customers, including two-way voice, extra steps to help mobility-challenged riders get in and out of the vehicle, extra lighting, and an in-cabin user interface that caters to vision-impaired riders.

Image Credits: Voyage

Inside the vehicle, Voyage has added U-VC hardware to kill COVID and other airborne diseases. Cameron said they knew it would be critical to find some cost-effective way of cleaning the vehicles. A friend suggested that he look into ambulances.

“Ambulances have really figured out how to prevent contamination from one person to another after each trip,” Cameron said. “It turns out they primarily use UV-C and it turns out in multiple studies and publications that UV-C at a certain intensity, kills COVID.”

The UV-C lights, provided by a company called GHSP, are placed in each row of the vehicle.

Despite the extra cost of the UV-C lighting and other features, Cameron said the G3 is still 50% cheaper than its previous generation.

“In the past 12 months, we’ve seen our sensor costs decrease by 65% and our compute costs decrease by 25%, resulting in a vehicle that is about 50% cheaper than the prior generation. And that’s puts us on a viable path to make money.”

The G3 isn’t quite ready for prime time. Beta versions of the G3 are being tested on the road in San Jose. Production vehicles and commercial driverless are expected to follow next year.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Loads of other mobility news went down this week. Let’s check it out.

Bentley’s Bentayga packed in a series of surprises for TechCrunch’s Matt Burns. Here’s what he discovered over 24 hours with the $177,000 sport utility vehicle.

Blackberry is pushing into China. The company announced it will be powering the Level 3 driving domain controller of Xpeng, one of the most-funded electric vehicle startups in China, and Tesla’s local challenger.

Bollinger Motors, the Michigan-based startup known for its rugged electric SUV and pickup truck, unveiled a delivery van concept called the DELIVER-E that it plans to start producing in 2022. This shouldn’t be confused with the E-Chassis, now called Chass-E, that the company designed for Class 3 commercial vehicles.

Elon Musk called an attempted cyberattack against Tesla “serious,” a comment that confirmed the company was the target of a foiled ransomware attempt at its massive factory near Reno, Nevada. The Justice Department released a complaint that described a thwarted malware attack against an unnamed company in Sparks, Nevada. It wasn’t clear if the company was Tesla until Musk publicly commented on it. Russian national Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, 27, allegedly attempted to recruit and bribe a Tesla employee to introduce malware in the company’s network, according to the complaint.

Ford, Bosch and Bedrock are demonstrating automated valet parking in downtown Detroit. This system is designed to allow drivers to exit a vehicle and the vehicle would park itself in the parking structure. You might recall that Bedrock also has a pilot with automated shuttle startup May Mobility.

Image Credits: Ford

GM is moving the engineering team responsible for the mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette to the company’s electric and autonomous vehicle programs to “push the boundaries” on what its future EV battery systems and components can deliver, according to an internal memo from Doug Parks.

Monet, a joint venture between SoftBank Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled two adapted vans. One of the vans pumps fresh air through the vehicle to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure, Reuters reported.

Pony.ai, the self-driving startup Pony.ai, and Bosch reached an agreement to explore the future of automotive maintenance and repair for autonomous fleets. The companies started in July a pilot of the robotaxi fleet maintenance at an undisclosed Bosch Car Service location in the San Francisco Bay area.

Scout Campers unveiled its new Kenai unit, a camper that packs a massive amount of equipment into its small footprint, including a 160-watt solar panel, CNET’s Roadshow reports.

Xwing, the autonomous aviation startup, revealed its go-to-market strategy, a plan that includes focusing on regional 500-mile distance cargo flights.

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The Station: Uber eats rides, the next micromobility trend, Levandowksi’s day in court

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.

Hello and 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.

A series of recent and upcoming vehicle reveals have provided yet another reminder of how automakers are doubling down on tech. This isn’t just about the shift away from knobs and buttons and towards giant touchscreens. I’m talking about advanced driver assistance systems and more specifically, ADA or active driving assistance. ADA is considered a part of ADAS, but it’s worth understanding what it is and is not. ADA systems combine steering, acceleration and braking. It’s technology that actively assists the driver.

Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise, both of which combine adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance, are examples of ADA.

AAA automotive researchers recently conducted tests of these ADA systems. (A photo of a test vehicle colliding with a fake simulated vehicle is below) They found that over the course of 4,000 miles of real-world driving tests, vehicles equipped with active driving assistance systems experienced some type of issue every 8 miles, on average. Other problems included disengaging with little notice and “almost instantly” handing control back to the driver.

Based on the study, AAA is recommending automakers “increase the scope of testing for active driving assistance systems and limit their rollout until functionality is improved to provide a more consistent and safer driver experience.”

I’ll add my own two cents in here. It’s not just about ensuring the systems work as intended. It’s also important that these systems have protections, like driver monitoring systems, so that if control is suddenly handed back to the driver, you can be sure that they will be ready.

Friendly reminder that you can reach out and email me anytime 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.

Micromobbin’

There’s a hot trend brewing the micromobility world: hardware-as-a-service.

Unagi, the company that sells sleek, portable electric scooters, has launched a subscription service. The service, called Unagi All-Access, will be offered in New York City and Los Angeles. The company said it plans to expand to additional markets as it gathers customer feedback and refines the service.

For a flat monthly fee of $39 (or $34 if a customer signs up for a year), Unagi will cover maintenance and insurance for scooter theft or damage.

Unagi isn’t alone in this scooter subscription pivot, or what I like to call hardware-as-a-service. Others are also pursuing this business model, including Dance and Voi.

How many more will move to this model?

Other micromobility news this week …

Image Credits: Uber

Those iconic bright red Jump bikes have been integrated into the Lime app. Why this matters?

Three months ago, Jump’s bikes and scooters disappeared from city streets after Uber unloaded the micromobility company to Lime as part of a complex $170 million fundraising round. When the Jump bikes were finally spotted it was in a recycling yard, where more than 20,000 of them laid in piles, awaiting their demise.

New, unused Jump bikes were tucked away in storage. Lime has started to add those Jump bikes to cities like Denver, London, Paris, Seattle and Washington, D.C. But they were only available through the Uber app. Now, the Jump bikes will show up on the Lime app — as red, not green bike icons. This is the first time since Lime acquired Jump’s assets that the bikes have been integrated into its app.

Deal of the week

The Summer of the SPAC continues with yet another electric automaker turning to a blank check company to go public.

This time it’s Lordstown Motors, the one-year-old Ohio electric automaker that revealed a pickup truck prototype in June. The company said it reached a deal to merge with special-purpose acquisition company DiamondPeak Holdings Corp., with a market value of $1.6 billion.

Electric automakers Nikola Motor and Fisker Inc. have also become public companies through a SPAC over the past two months. Shift Technologies, an online used car marketplace and sensor company Velodyne Lidar, also went public via a SPAC, sidestepping the traditional IPO path.

Axios’ Dan Primack predicted recently that more SPACs are coming. He noted that SPACs have raised $24 billion so far in 2020. What company is next?


Speaking of publicly traded companies, Chinese electric automaker Xpeng filed its F-1 on Friday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. An F-1 is a required filing for foreign companies that want to be listed on an American stock exchange.

To get up to speed, Xpeng recently raised around $500 million in a Series C+ round. That announcement followed its Series C round of $400 million closed last November.

I haven’t read EVERY SINGLE LINE of the F-1 (I promise more of a deep dive next week). But here’s one highly unusual item. The company has negative gross margins. It brought in revenue, but its cost of sales surpassed revenue. So, negative. This isn’t including other costs like operating expenses or R&D.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Buckle, a financial services company that insures gig economy workers, including ride-hailing drivers, raised $31 million in Series A funding co-led by Eos Venture Partners and HSCM Bermuda.

ChargePoint, the electric vehicle charging network, raised $127 million in funding in a bid to expand its platform for businesses and fleets in North America and Europe. A mix of existing investors from the oil and gas, utilities and venture industries added to the round, including American Electric Power, Chevron Technology Ventures, Clearvision and Quantum Energy Partners.

Grab raised $200 million from South Korean private equity firm Stic, bringing its total funding so far to more than $10 billion at a valuation of about $14.3 billion, per Bloomberg, which cited unnamed sources. Grab wouldn’t comment about the raise to TechCrunch. Grab did reveal this week that its financial unit is launching a slew of consumer products, including micro-investments, loans, health insurance and a pay-later program.

Streetlight Data Inc., a transportation analytics company, raised $15 million in a Series D round that included Macquarie Capital and Activate Capital as well as existing investors Osage University Partners and Ajax Investment Strategies.

StreetLight Data CEO Laura Schewel told TechCrunch that use of the company’s mobility metrics doubled in just the first month of the pandemic. New volatility of travel — led by a steep COVID-driven decline, then a less-than-gradual return to a ‘new normal,’ and significant mode switching from transit to bikes — has propelled government transportation agencies to turn to StreetLight, according to Schewel.

“We’ve also seen a massive surge in new customers within the thousands of small transportation engineering firms supporting the DOTs, who have been forced by COVID-19 to accelerate their transition to digital data collection (as opposed to going out and doing manual counts or installing devices),” she said. “We’re of course adjusting where we put our resources to be able to serve these growing segments.”

Uber acquired U.K.-based Autocab, which sells SaaS to the taxi and private hire vehicle industry.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Remember when August was the slow news month? Not anymore.

Autonomous cars

Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer and serial entrepreneur who was at the center of a lawsuit between Uber and Waymo, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison on one count of stealing trade secrets. Levandowski also agreed to pay $756,499.22 in restitution to Waymo and a fine of $95,000.

He will not have to report to prison until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.

Levandowski was pushing for home confinement. Judge William Alsup, who also presided over the Uber v. Waymo trial, disagreed. He said home confinement would “[give] a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets. Prison time is the answer to that.”

But as Mark Harris and I discovered, Levandowski is not skulking away. Levandowski recently filed a lawsuit making explosive claims against Waymo and Uber that, if proven, could turn his fortunes around with a multi-billion-dollar payout. Whether this is a last-ditch effort by a desperate man whose career has been upended by his own poor choices or a viable claim against a double-dealing tech titan will be up to the courts to decide.

This new lawsuit, filed as part of Levandowski’s bankruptcy proceedings, mostly focuses on Uber’s agreement to indemnify Levandowski against legal action when it bought his self-driving trucking company, Otto Trucking. It also includes new allegations concerning the settlement that Waymo and Uber reached over trade secret theft claims.

The end goal: Levandowski believes and claims in the lawsuit that he should be awarded earn outs associated with the profits of Uber Freight  — the new name of Otto Trucking  — an amount that “should be at least $4.128 billion.” He also wants Uber to pay the $179 million sum that was awarded to Google in arbitration.

Connected cars

The Black Hat security conference is that annual event that reminds me of how vulnerable connected cars can be. This year, security researchers at the Sky-Go Team, the car hacking unit at Qihoo 360, found more than a dozen vulnerabilities in a Mercedes-Benz E-Class car that allowed them to remotely open its doors and start the engine.

As our cybersecurity editor Zack Whittaker noted, vehicle security has gotten better over the past half-decade. But Sky-Go’s researchers showed that not even one of the most recent Mercedes-Benz models are impervious to attacks.

Delivery

Amazon’s plan to take a 16% stake in on-demand food delivery app Deliveroo was approved by the U.K.’s competition regulator.

DoorDash launched a digital storefront to sell household goods and other items you might find at a convenience store. The storefront, called DashMart, is available in eight cities throughout the United States. These are essentially micro-fulfillment centers that carry around 2,000 items. Warehouse employees pick and pack the orders, and then delivery workers, known as Dashers, come to collect the order and deliver to the customer.

Uber seems to be popping up all over the place in this week’s newsletter. And delivery is one area I couldn’t ignore. The company reported its second-quarter earnings and buried in the blizzard of numbers (really this earnings report was a 100-year storm of figures) was a nugget that stood out.

Uber’s delivery business — better known as Uber Eats — is now bigger than its original and core ride-hailing division, based on adjusted net revenue. Now, adjusted net revenue tells only a piece of this evolving Uber story. Income, or losses in the case of Uber’s delivery business, are also important.

Still, looking at the change of the past year, and specifically in the past two quarters, it’s clear that Uber’s strategy has shifted. Here are some Q2 numbers to chew one.

  • Delivery gross bookings: $6.96 billion
  • Mobility gross bookings: $3.05 billion

Here’s how those gross bookings results turned into adjusted net revenue:

  • Delivery adjusted net revenue: $885 million
  • Mobility adjusted net revenue: $793 million

And how those revenue results turned into adjusted profit, and adjusted losses:

  • Delivery adjusted EBITDA: -$232 million
  • Mobility adjusted EBITDA: $50 million

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi provided the upshot during the Q2 earnings call. “It’s become clear that we have a hugely valuable hedge across our two core businesses that is a critical advantage in any recovery scenario. When travel restrictions lift we know the mobility trips rebound. If restrictions continue or need to be re-imposed our delivery business will compensate.”

Ride-hailing

Uber and Lyft are facing separate lawsuits from the office of the California Labor Commissioner alleging wage theft. The lawsuits filed this week argue Uber and Lyft are misclassifying their drivers as independent contractors. The end goal: enforce labor practices set forth by California law AB 5 and claw back money allegedly owed to these drivers.

In a separate — yet related matter — Uber and Lyft are fighting to prevent a preliminary injunction that would force the companies to immediately reclassify their drivers as employees. California Superior Court Judge Ethan P. Schulman heard arguments from Uber and Lyft, as well as lawyers representing the people of California, regarding the request for a preliminary injunction.

Car bits

Image Credits: Cadillac

GM revealed the Cadillac Lyriq, an all-electric crossover that aims to set the benchmark for future Cadillacs and propel the brand into a new electrified era.

That new era for Cadillac will have to wait though. The Lyriq will go into production in the U.S. in late 2022, more than two years after its reveal date. The Cadillac Lyriq will be a global product, meaning it will be headed to China as well. Production in China will begin ahead of the U.S., according to Cadillac.

The Lyriq is just one in a roster of 20 electric vehicles that GM plans to bring to market by 2023. The cornerstone of GM’s electric strategy isn’t a specific electric car or truck. It’s a new scalable electric architecture called Ultium that will support a wide range of products across all of its brands, including Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.


Ford is changing up its leadership. The company announced that CEO Jim Hackett is retiring effective October 1, although he’ll stay on as a special advisor until March 2021. Jim Farley, who many believed was being groomed for the position, has been named president and CEO.

Hackett will be leaving Ford three years after being tapped to transform the automaker into a leaner, more competitive and profitable company while investing in technology and shifting toward electrification, automation and connectivity.

Hackett’s turnaround plan was aimed at modernizing the company while making it fitter and included $14 billion in cost reductions over five years. While Hackett accomplished some of those goals, he fell short in others, particularly around the day-to-day toil of making and shipping vehicles.

Speaking of Ford, this column by John Stoll at the WSJ is thought provoking. Ford has struggled to appease shareholders. Stoll argues that the company’s lofty ambition to “lap Tesla” might require extraordinary measures. “Sometimes, the answer is to take back control,” he writes. And that means taking Ford private.

One fun thing

Jason Stinson, the CTO and co-founder of Renovo, a Silicon Valley company that has created a data management platform for self-driving vehicles, has taken his virtual Zoom meetings with employees to a whole new level.

He dresses up for every meeting. And by “dress up,” I’m not talking about the traditional suit and tie. Instead, Gene Simmons from KISS might show up. Or a shark, gondolier, a roller derby Christmas elf, The Greatest American Hero, Pickle Rick from “Rick and Morty” or even The Dude from “The Big Lebowski” may also attend a company meeting.

We would never know about these amazing costumes, if it weren’t for his wife, Aileen Lee, the founder and managing partner of Cowboy Ventures. Thankfully, Lee has been posting photos of Stinson on Twitter. (SF Gate also wrote about Stinson’s meetings.)

Aileen, thank you for your service. Lee is a force within the venture community; you can and should follow her @aileenlee.

Image Credits: Alieen Lee

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Cadillac reveals Lyriq, its all-electric SUV flagship loaded with luxury and tech

GM unveiled Thursday the Cadillac Lyriq, an all-electric crossover dripping in luxury, tech-forward touches and promising more than 300 miles of range that aims to propel the brand into a new electrified era.

That new era for Cadillac will have to wait though. The company said the Lyriq will go into production in the U.S. in late 2022, more than two years after its reveal date. The Cadillac Lyriq will be a global product, meaning it will be headed to China as well. Production in China will begin ahead of the U.S., according to Cadillac.

The Lyriq is just one in a roster of 20 electric vehicles that GM plans to bring to market by 2023. But it will be a critical one for the Cadillac brand. “The Lyriq sets benchmark for future Cadillacs,” Michael Simcoe, GM’s vice president of global design, said during the reveal.

The Lyriq embodies the kinds of luxury touches a Cadillac customer has come to expect, from the “black crystal” grille and jewelry box-styled drawer to the 33-inch vertical LED touchscreen display and AKG sound system.

Cadillac aimed for a modern and aggressive design that it achieved by giving the Lyriq a low, fast roofline and wide stance. That “black crystal” grille is a dynamic feature with “choreographed” LED lighting that greets the owner as they approach the vehicle. The LED lighting continues in the rear with a split taillamp design.

Inside the vehicle are backlit speaker grilles, curved screens with hidden storage and orchestrated lighting features similar to the dynamic lighting outside.

The Lyriq will be available in rear-wheel drive and performance all-wheel drive configurations. The 100 kilowatt-hour battery pack will provide more than 300 miles of range, according to the company’s internal testing. It will come with DC fast charging rates over 150 kilowatts and Level 2 charging rates up to 19 kW.

Image Credits: Cadillac

The tech inside the Lyriq includes the latest version of the hands-free driver assistance system called Super Cruise that first debuted in the Cadillac CT6 several years ago. Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

The Lyriq will also come with a dual-plane augmented reality-enhanced head-up display. The head up display, which is projected on the windshield in the sight line of the driver, shows a near plane indicating speed and direction and a far plane that displays navigation signals and other important alerts. The effect is a layered look.

A vehicle has to be compelling visually to attract buyers. But the underlying foundation of the Lyriq is where GM has placed its biggest bet. Earlier this year, the automaker revealed a sweeping plan to produce and sell EVs that hinges on a new scalable electric architecture called Ultium that will support a wide range of products across all of its brands, including Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC. The EV portfolio will include everything from compact cars and work trucks to large premium SUVs and performance vehicles.

This modular architecture, called “Ultium,” will be capable of 19 different battery and drive unit configurations, 400-volt and 800-volt packs with storage ranging from 50 kWh to 200 kWh, and front-, rear- and all-wheel drive configurations. At the heart of the new modular architecture will be the large-format pouch battery cells manufactured at this new factory.

Ultium battery has a nickel-cobalt-manganese-aluminum chemistry that uses aluminum in the cathode to help reduce the need for rare-earth materials such as cobalt, according to GM. The company said it has been able to reduce the cobalt content by more than 70%, compared to current GM batteries.

GM recently started construction on a 3-million-square-foot factory that will mass produce Ultium battery cells and packs. The Ultium Cells LLC battery cell manufacturing facility in Lordstown, Ohio is part of a joint venture between GM and LG Chem that was announced in December. At the time, the two companies committed to invest up to $2.3 billion into the new joint venture, as well as establish a battery cell assembly plant on a greenfield manufacturing site in the Lordstown area of Northeast Ohio that will create more than 1,100 new jobs. The factory will be able produce 30 gigawatts hours of capacity annually.

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Ford Bronco reservations surpass 150,000

The reception to Bronco 2021 — Ford’s flagship series of 4×4 vehicles that were revealed earlier this month — surpassed expectations of the company’s most optimistic initial projections, CEO Jim Hackett said in an earnings call Thursday. 

More than 150,000 customers have plunked down $100 to reserve a spot to order one of the vehicles, according to Ford. 

“We think this family of vehicles has big upside potential in the growing off-road category and this is a category with a leading OEM has not been seriously challenged until now,” Hackett said.

These are, of course, mere reservations, not actual orders. The deposits are refundable. Now, Ford is focused on the due diligence required to determine how many of these reservations will be converted to orders as it lay outs its manufacturing strategy for the brand.

The Ford Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 will be built at Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan. The Bronco Sport will be assembled at plant in Mexico. The company is now determining how many shifts to staff at each factory in order to match actual orders.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Ford COO Jim Farley said in a call with analysts Thursday. “But the mix is great.”

The Bronco is a brand that leans heavily on nostalgia, customization, functional design and technology, such as the automaker’s next-generation infotainment system and a digital trail mapping feature that lets owners plan, record and share their experiences via an app.

While the response to the Bronco has been palatable, there are a number of competitors also aiming to win over customers. GM released a video this week teasing its all-electric GMC Hummer. While the video was a promotional mashup of buzzwords, it also showed that GM had clearly identified Ford Bronco and Tesla Cybertruck as its main competitors. Then there’s electric upstart Rivian, which plans to start production of its EV pickup and SUV in 2021.

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GM delivers first ventilators under 30,000-unit government contract

Ventilators assembled by GM and Ventec Life Systems were delivered to hospitals Thursday night with more making their way to facilities today and through the weekend, the first in a 30,000-unit order with the U.S. government.

The deliveries, which went to hospitals in Chicago and Olympia Fields, Ill., are a milestone for the two companies that launched an effort less than a month ago to make thousands of ventilators for hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

GM and Ventec announced a partnership March 20 to help increase production of respiratory care products such as ventilators. The companies had initially focused on making Ventec’s critical care ventilators, called VOCSN, a higher-end multi-function device that includes a ventilator, oxygen concentrator, cough assist, suction and nebulizer. The device, which has more than 700 components, was cleared in 2017 by the FDA.

GM investigated the feasibility of sourcing the materials needed as well as what it would take to build a new clean room and production line within its Kokomo, Ind. factory. GM 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. The remaining $250,000 of estimated costs came from Ventec.

The Trump Administration balked at the price tag, putting a contract with the U.S. government in limbo. GM and Ventec planned to push ahead anyway, even as President Trump used Twitter to criticize the automaker and its CEO, Mary Barra . Trump then signed a presidential directive ordering GM to produce ventilators and to prioritize federal contracts, just hours after the automaker announced plans to manufacture the devices.

In spite of the scuffle, GM did reach a $490 million contract with the federal government to produce 30,000 ventilators by the end of August. Under the contract, GM is producing 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.

To speed its ability to build ventilators, the government contract calls for the VOCSN unit with ventilator capability only, according to GM.

Production began this week with one shift of workers and is ramping up. Eventually, GM has plans to add a second and then a third shift in the coming weeks, according to a company spokesperson. More than 1,000 workers will be needed over the three shifts.

To date, 10 ventilators have been delivered to Franciscan Health in Olympia Fields. Another 10 were expected to be delivered Friday afternoon to Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago. A third shipment of 34 ventilators will be delivered Saturday to the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the Gary/Chicago International Airport for distribution to other locations where the need is the greatest, according to GM.

The need for ventilators is urgent as cases of COVID-19 pop up with increasing frequency as widespread testing begins. While some people with COVID-19 reported more mild symptoms, others have experienced severe respiratory problems and need to be hospitalized. The shortage has prompted automakers, including Ford and Volkswagen, to investigate ways of ramping up ventilator production. Ford and GE Healthcare have licensed a ventilator design from Airon Corp and plan to produce as many as 50,000 of them at a Michigan factory by July.

Automakers are also making face masks, face shields and Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) for healthcare workers.

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