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The Age of Electric Cars Is Dawning Ahead of Schedule

FRANKFURT — An electric Volkswagen ID.3 for the same price as a Golf. A Tesla Model 3 that costs as much as a BMW 3 Series. A Renault Zoe electric subcompact whose monthly lease payment might equal a nice dinner for two in Paris.

As car sales collapsed in Europe because of the pandemic, one category grew rapidly: electric vehicles. One reason is that purchase prices in Europe are coming tantalizingly close to the prices for cars with gasoline or diesel engines.

At the moment this near parity is possible only with government subsidies that, depending on the country, can cut more than $10,000 from the final price. Carmakers are offering deals on electric cars to meet stricter European Union regulations on carbon dioxide emissions. In Germany, an electric Renault Zoe can be leased for 139 euros a month, or $164.

Electric vehicles are not yet as popular in the United States, largely because government incentives are less generous. Battery-powered cars account for about 2 percent of new car sales in America, while in Europe the market share is approaching 5 percent. Including hybrids, the share rises to nearly 9 percent in Europe, according to Matthias Schmidt, an independent analyst in Berlin.

As electric cars become more mainstream, the automobile industry is rapidly approaching the tipping point when, even without subsidies, it will be as cheap, and maybe cheaper, to own a plug-in vehicle than one that burns fossil fuels. The carmaker that reaches price parity first may be positioned to dominate the segment.

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Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

A few years ago, industry experts expected 2025 would be the turning point. But technology is advancing faster than expected, and could be poised for a quantum leap. Elon Musk is expected to announce a breakthrough at Tesla’s “Battery Day” event on Tuesday that would allow electric cars to travel significantly farther without adding weight.

The balance of power in the auto industry may depend on which carmaker, electronics company or start-up succeeds in squeezing the most power per pound into a battery, what’s known as energy density. A battery with high energy density is inherently cheaper because it requires fewer raw materials and less weight to deliver the same range.

“We’re seeing energy density increase faster than ever before,” said Milan Thakore, a senior research analyst at Wood Mackenzie, an energy consultant which recently pushed its prediction of the tipping point ahead by a year, to 2024.

Some industry experts are even more bullish. Hui Zhang, managing director in Germany of NIO, a Chinese electric carmaker with global ambitions, said he thought parity could be achieved in 2023.

Venkat Viswanathan, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University who closely follows the industry, is more cautious. But he said: “We are already on a very accelerated timeline. If you asked anyone in 2010 whether we would have price parity by 2025, they would have said that was impossible.”

This transition will probably arrive at different times for different segments of the market. High-end electric vehicles are pretty close to parity already. The Tesla Model 3 and the gas-powered BMW 3 Series both sell for about $41,000 in the United States.

A Tesla may even be cheaper to own than a BMW because it never needs oil changes or new spark plugs and electricity is cheaper, per mile, than gasoline. Which car a customer chooses is more a matter of preference, particularly whether an owner is willing to trade the convenience of gas stations for charging points that take more time. (On the other hand, owners can also charge their Teslas at home.)

Consumers tend to focus on sticker prices, and it will take longer before unsubsidized electric cars cost as little to drive off a dealer’s lot as an economy car.

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Credit…Samuel Zeller for The New York Times

The holy grail in the electric vehicle industry has been to push the cost of battery packs — the rechargeable system that stores energy — below $100 per kilowatt-hour, the standard measure of battery power. That is the point, more or less, at which propelling a vehicle with electricity will be as cheap as it is with gasoline.

Current battery packs cost around $150 to $200 per kilowatt-hour, depending on the technology. That means a battery pack costs around $20,000. But the price has dropped 80 percent since 2008, according to the United States Department of Energy.

All electric cars use lithium-ion batteries, but there are many variations on that basic chemistry, and intense competition to find the combination of materials that stores the most power for the least weight.

For traditional car companies, this is all very scary. Internal combustion engines have not changed fundamentally for decades, but battery technology is still wide open. There are even geopolitical implications. China is pouring resources into battery research, seeing the shift to electric power as a chance for companies like NIO to break into the European and someday, American, markets. In less than a decade, the Chinese battery maker CATL has become one of the world’s biggest manufacturers.

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Credit…Felix Schmitt for The New York Times

The California company has been selling electric cars since 2008 and can draw on years of data to calculate how far it can safely push a battery’s performance without causing overheating or excessive wear. That knowledge allows Tesla to offer better range than competitors who have to be more careful. Tesla’s four models are the only widely available electric cars that can go more than 300 miles on a charge, according to Kelley Blue Book.

On Tuesday, Mr. Musk could unveil a technology offering 50 percent more storage per pound at lower cost, according to analysts at the Swiss bank UBS. If so, competitors could recede even further in the rearview mirror.

“The traditional car industry is still behind,” said Peter Carlsson, who ran Tesla’s supplier network in the company’s early days and is now chief executive of Northvolt, a new Swedish company that has contracts to manufacture batteries for Volkswagen and BMW.

“But,” Mr. Carlsson said, “there is a massive amount of resources going into the race to beat Tesla. A number, not all, of the big carmakers are going to catch up.”

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Credit…Felix Odell for The New York Times

The traditional carmakers’ best hope to avoid oblivion will be to exploit their expertise in supply chains and mass production to churn out economical electrical cars by the millions.

A key test of the traditional automakers’ ability to survive will be Volkswagen’s new battery-powered ID.3, which will start at under €30,000, or $35,000, after subsidies and is arriving at European dealerships now. By using its global manufacturing and sales network, Volkswagen hopes to sell electric vehicles by the millions within a few years. It plans to begin selling the ID.4, an electric sport utility vehicle, in the United States next year. (ID stands for “intelligent design.”)

But there is a steep learning curve.

“We have been mass-producing internal combustion vehicles since Henry Ford. We don’t have that for battery vehicles. It’s a very new technology,” said Jürgen Fleischer, a professor at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in southwestern Germany whose research focuses on battery manufacturing. “The question will be how fast can we can get through this learning curve?”

Peter Rawlinson, who led design of the Tesla Model S and is now chief executive of the electric car start-up Lucid, likes to wow audiences by showing up at events dragging a rolling carry-on bag containing the company’s supercompact drive unit. Electric motor, transmission and differential in one, the unit saves space and, along with hundreds of other weight-saving tweaks, will allow the company’s Lucid Air luxury car — which the company unveiled on Sept. 9 — to travel more than 400 miles on a charge, Mr. Rawlinson said.

His point is that designers should focus on things like aerodynamic drag and weight to avoid the need for big, expensive batteries in the first place. “There is kind of a myopia,” Mr. Rawlinson said. “Everyone is talking about batteries. It’s the whole system.”

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Credit…Felix Schmitt for The New York Times

When Jana Höffner bought an electric Renault Zoe in 2013, driving anywhere outside her home in Stuttgart was an adventure. Charging stations were rare, and didn’t always work. Ms. Höffner drove her Zoe to places like Norway or Sicily just to see if she could make it without having to call for a tow.

Ms. Höffner, who works in online communication for the state of Baden-Württemberg, has since traded up to a Tesla Model 3 equipped with software that guides her to the company’s own network of chargers, which can fill the battery to 80 percent capacity in about half an hour. She sounds almost nostalgic when she remembers how hard it was to recharge back in the electric-vehicle stone age.

“Now, it’s boring,” Ms. Höffner said. “You say where you want to go and the car takes care of the rest.”

The European Union has nearly 200,000 chargers, far short of the three million that will be needed when electric cars become ubiquitous, according to Transport & Environment, an advocacy group. The United States remains far behind, with less than half as many as Europe.

But the European network is already dense enough that owning and charging an electric car is “no problem,” said Ms. Höffner, who can’t charge at home and depends on public infrastructure.

Price and infrastructure are closely connected. At least in theory, people won’t need big, expensive batteries if there is a place nearby to quickly recharge. (Charging times are also dropping fast.)

Lucid’s first vehicle is a luxury car, but Mr. Rawlinson said his dream was to build an electric car attainable by the middle class. In his view, that would mean a lightweight vehicle capable of traveling 150 miles between charges.

“I want to make a $25,000 car,” Mr. Rawlinson said. “That’s what is going to change the world.”

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Gates, Musk and Other Top Tech Figures Get Twitter Accounts Hacked

It was about 4 in the afternoon on Wednesday on the East Coast when chaos struck online. Dozens of the biggest names in America — including Joseph R. Biden Jr., Barack Obama, Kanye West, Bill Gates and Elon Musk — posted similar messages on Twitter: Send Bitcoin and the famous people would send back double your money.

It was all a scam, of course, the result of one of the most brazen online attacks in memory.

A first wave of attacks hit the Twitter accounts of prominent cryptocurrency leaders and companies. But soon after, the list of victims broadened to include a Who’s Who of Americans in politics, entertainment and tech, in a major show of force by the hackers.

Twitter quickly removed many of the messages, but in some cases similar tweets were sent again from the same accounts, suggesting that Twitter was powerless to regain control.

The company eventually disabled broad swaths of its service, including the ability of verified users to tweet, for a couple of hours as it scrambled to prevent the scam from spreading further. The company sent a tweet saying that it was investigating the problem and looking for a fix. “You may be unable to Tweet or reset your password while we review and address this incident,” the company said in a second tweet. Service was restored around 8:30 Wednesday night.

Twitter’s investigation into the breach revealed that several employees who had access to internal systems had their accounts compromised in a “coordinated social engineering attack,” a spokesman said, referring to attacks that trick people into giving up their credentials. The attackers then used Twitter’s internal systems to tweet from high-profile accounts like Mr. Biden’s.

“We’re looking into what other malicious activity they may have conducted or information they may have accessed,” Twitter’s spokesman added. “We’ve taken significant steps to limit access to internal systems and tools while our investigation is ongoing.”

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, said in a post Wednesday night that it was a “tough day for us at Twitter. We all feel terrible this happened. We’re diagnosing and will share everything we can when we have a more complete understanding of exactly what happened.”

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The hackers did not use their access to take aim at any important institutions or infrastructure — instead just asking for Bitcoin. But the attack was concerning to security experts because it suggested that the hackers could have easily caused much more havoc.

There was little immediate evidence for who conducted the attack. One of the most obvious culprits for an attack of this scale, North Korea, has been documented to have used Bitcoin extensively in the past. But its nature — “effective, but also amateurish” in the words of one senior American intelligence official — led American intelligence agencies to an initial assessment that this was most likely the work of an individual hacker, not a state.

Had it been Russia, China, North Korea or Iran, said the official, who would not speak on the record because they were not authorized to discuss an intelligence investigation, the effort would have probably focused on trying to trigger stock market havoc, or perhaps the issuance of political pronouncements in the name of Mr. Biden or other targets.

Officials also noted that the breach did not affect the account of one of the most watched and powerful users of Twitter: President Trump. Mr. Trump’s account is under a special kind of lock-and-key after past incidents, the official noted.

Security experts said that the wide-ranging attacks hinted that the problem was caused by a security flaw in Twitter’s service, not by lax security measures used by the people who were targeted. Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and the former chief security officer at Facebook, said there were a range of other theories, but all suggested that the attackers got inside Twitter’s system, rather than stealing the passwords of individual users.

One American official called that a “scary possibility” in a world where national leaders, sometimes imitating Mr. Trump’s techniques, have adopted Twitter as a primary source of unfiltered communications.

“It could have been much worse. We got lucky that this is what they decided to do with their power,” Mr. Stamos said.

The hacker or hackers made some rookie errors. Mr. Stamos said that because the attackers had sent identical messages from the compromised accounts, they were easy to detect and delete. The decision to ask for money through Bitcoin, he added, showed that the attackers were most likely unable or unwilling to launder money or use their access for a more sophisticated scam.

The messages were a version of a long-running scam in which hackers pose as public figures on Twitter, and promise to match or even triple any funds that are sent to their Bitcoin wallets. But the attacks Wednesday were the first time that the real accounts of public figures were used in such a scam.

Bitcoin is a popular vehicle for this type of scam because once a victim sends money, the design of Bitcoin, with no institution in charge, makes it essentially impossible to recover the funds.

By Wednesday evening, the Bitcoin wallets promoted in the tweets had received over 300 transactions and Bitcoin worth over $100,000, according to websites that track Bitcoin’s public ledger of transactions, which is known as the blockchain.

$118,000 in Three Hours

A scam on Twitter was propelled into the mainstream after hackers took control of several high-profile accounts and directed their followers to send them Bitcoin with a promise that they would double the amount.






@KimKardashian

@FloydMayweather

$118,000

Money sent into

Bitcoin wallet

as of 7 p.m.

$100,000

@MikeBloomberg

@JeffBezos

@kanyewest

@BarackObama

$50,000

Tweets from

hacked accounts

@WarrenBuffett

@JoeBiden

@ElonMusk

@Uber

Twitter locks down some

accounts shortly after 6 p.m.

@BillGates

@Apple

4 p.m.

5 p.m.

6 p.m.

7 p.m.

@KimKardashian

@FloydMayweather

$118,000

$100,000

Money sent into

Bitcoin wallet

as of 7 p.m.

@MikeBloomberg

@JeffBezos

@kanyewest

@BarackObama

$50,000

Tweets from

hacked

accounts

@WarrenBuffett

@JoeBiden

Twitter locks down

some accounts

shortly after 6 p.m.

@ElonMusk

@Uber

@BillGates

@Apple

4 p.m.

5 p.m.

6 p.m.

7 p.m.

@KimKardashian

@FloydMayweather

$118,000

Money sent into

Bitcoin wallet

as of 7 p.m.

$100,000

@MikeBloomberg

Tweets from

hacked accounts

@JeffBezos

@BarackObama

@kanyewest

$50,000

@JoeBiden

@WarrenBuffett

@ElonMusk

@Uber

Twitter locks down some

accounts shortly after 6 p.m.

@BillGates

@Apple

4 p.m.

5 p.m.

6 p.m.

7 p.m.


Source: Blockchair

Note: All times Eastern. By Matthew Conlen and Lazaro Gamio

Twitter initially handled the attacks by taking down the offending tweets. A spokesman for the Biden campaign said that Twitter had removed the tweet promoting the scam and locked down Mr. Biden’s account.

But the hackers kept control of many of the accounts, such as those of Mr. Musk and Mr. West, and sent out new messages as soon as the old ones were taken down.

As Twitter locked down verified accounts in an attempt to stop the attack, the company also hampered its function as a real-time news service. Derrick Snyder, a meteorologist in Kentucky, said in a series of tweets that the National Weather Service could not issue warnings about a tornado in Illinois because its account, one that Twitter had verified, was shut down.

“What a mess,” Mr. Snyder wrote. “There is a tornado warning in effect.”

Twitter has fallen victim to breaches before. Last August, hackers compromised the account of Twitter’s chief, Mr. Dorsey, and posted racist messages and bomb threats. His account was taken over after hackers transferred his phone number to a new SIM card, which stores a phone’s number. The practice, known as SIM-swapping, allowed hackers to tweet from Mr. Dorsey’s account.

In 2017, a rogue worker at the company used their access to Twitter’s systems to briefly delete President Trump’s Twitter account. The account was restored within minutes, but the incident raised questions about Twitter’s security as it serves as a megaphone for politicians and celebrities.

And in 2010, Twitter settled a complaint brought by the Federal Trade Commission, in which the regulator claimed that the company did not do enough to protect users’ personal information. The F.T.C. charged that “serious lapses” in Twitter’s security allowed hackers to take control of company systems and send out phony tweets from high-profile accounts, including Mr. Obama’s. As part of the settlement, Twitter agreed to undergo security audits for 10 years.

On Wednesday evening, Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, wrote a letter to Mr. Dorsey asking for information on the attack, including how many users were compromised.

Shares in the social media company fell 3 percent in after-hours trading.

Cybersecurity experts said the attack showed how vulnerable social media remains to attacks.

“This demonstrates a real risk for the elections,” Mr. Stamos said. “Twitter has become the most important platform when it comes to discussion among political elites, and it has real vulnerabilities.”

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Tesla Deliveries Slipped in Second Quarter Even as Pandemic Hit

Tesla reported a modest decline in new-car deliveries for the second quarter, as sales in China and other foreign markets helped the company weather the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

The company said it delivered 90,650 cars in the quarter, down 5 percent from the 95,365 it sold in the same period in 2019. It sold 88,496 cars in the first quarter of 2020, when most of the company’s operations were largely unaffected by the virus.

Local officials forced Tesla to shut down its main car factory, in Fremont, Calif., in March. Two months later, the company restarted production earlier than it was authorized to do so after its chief executive, Elon Musk, criticized stay-at-home orders as “fascist.”

Analysts said Tesla was able to increase sales in China, where it recently began producing Model 3 sedans at a factory in Shanghai. The new plant allowed Tesla to sell cars in China, the world’s largest market for electric cars, without paying import duties that had limited its sales in that country in the past.

China has also rebounded from its coronavirus outbreak faster than the United States, where auto sales have been slowed significantly by the pandemic. Tesla does not break out U.S. sales, but General Motors and Fiat Chrysler reported on Wednesday that new-vehicle sales in the United States fell by more than a third in the second quarter.

Tesla’s delivery numbers were better than analysts had expected and the company’s stock price was up about 6 percent on Thursday. The company’s stock has soared in recent months, and has been setting new highs this week. At its current price, Tesla has a market value of about $220 billion. That’s more than the value of Toyota Motor, which was previously the world’s most valuable automaker, and three and a half times the combined value of General Motors and Ford Motor.

While traditional automakers sell vastly more cars and earn billions of dollars more in profit than Tesla, Wall Street has grown increasingly optimistic about Tesla’s prospects this year. Some investors consider the company to be at the vanguard of the transition from petroleum-fueled cars and trucks to electric vehicles — a change that they believe older companies like Toyota, G.M. and Ford are ill prepared for.

Tesla has also seemed to overcome problems that had hobbled its ability to bring new cars to market and scale up manufacturing. The company successfully opened a second factory, in Shanghai, and has started building a third, near Berlin. It also started delivering the Model Y, a sport-utility vehicle that is expected to sell well because it starts at about $53,000, which is roughly what comparable luxury gasoline vehicles sell for.

Further, Tesla reported a profit in the first quarter, is generating cash from its operations and appears to have stabilized its financial situation. It ended the first quarter with $8 billion in cash, a dramatic turnaround for a company that had struggled to raise money at favorable terms in 2019.

“If you go back a year and a half, the question was, can these guys make it with the kind of capital expenditures they need to do,” said Joseph Osha, an analyst at JMP Securities. “That’s no longer a question.”

The company is also preparing to accelerate its expansion and is in the early stages of identifying a location for a fourth car factory. Tesla appears to be eyeing a site near Austin, Texas. In a recent county filing, the company said it could begin construction in the third quarter of this year at a 2,100-acre site that is currently occupied by a concrete plant.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 30, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.