Elon Musk’s growing empire is fueled by government subsidies

Jerry Hirsch:

Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space.
 And he’s built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies.
 Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups.
 “He definitely goes where there is government money,” said Dan Dolev, an analyst at Jefferies Equity Research. “That’s a great strategy, but the government will cut you off one day.”
 Three companies, $4.9 billion in government support
 The figure compiled by The Times comprises a variety of government incentives, including grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans and environmental credits that Tesla can sell. It also includes tax credits and rebates to buyers of solar panels and electric cars.

Tesla And Its Customers Find It’s Not Easy Being Green

Edward Niedermeyer

Tesla’s use of petroleum-fueled generators to power backup Superchargers and its customers willingness to use this carbon-emitting power source may not be completely hypocritical; the standard Harris Ranch Supercharger station does not make use of solar panels, and therefore may be nearly as carbon-intensive as a small gas or diesel generator. But it does point out how far Tesla has to go in order to live up to its initial claims about its Supercharger network.

Robot highway considered for autonomous trucks

Eric Limer:

There are plenty of problems to solve before any of this would be possible though, including self-driving car laws in half a dozen US states, some way of having driver-less robo-rigs cross borders into and out of the United States, and security in place to make sure no one tries to exploit that system. But robot roads like this one—if it happens—could pave the way to wider acceptance of self-driving vehicles that really do take care of it all themselves. Even if we’re not ready to have them on the road with us just yet.


S.F. hit by Zipcar theft wave; 76 boosted before woman’s arrest

Kale Williams:

San Francisco saw a recent epidemic of Zipcar thefts, with 76 of the short-term rental vehicles vanishing in a six-week span, authorities said.

The police and the company were confounded. But then an alleged serial car thief was busted, and the crime wave abruptly stopped.

Now city prosecutors are building a case against the woman they believe is responsible for stealing several Zipcars — and possibly a whole lot more, officials said.

Ray Charles Dipo, who goes by Nicole, was arrested April 12 and charged with stealing five Zipcars over the previous two months, said Max Szabo, a spokesman for the San Francisco district attorney’s office.

Via Bruce McLaughlin.

Carmakers increasingly selling “the illusion of control”

Drew Harwell:

In one, a narrator mocks the biggest trend in cars, self-driving technology, as boring and overbearing, taking “the wheel right from your very hands.” In another, a man celebrates the fact that the Q50 can speed up, steer and stop on its own, via upgrades that show the luxury sedan has an “instinct to protect.”
 Volvo now sells an SUV, the XC90, that stops at red lights, accelerates at green lights and can match the steering of cars ahead. Tesla Model S sedans will download “autopilot” features over the air this summer. Next year, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz will offer models that can drive on auto­pilot, hands-free, and even park themselves.
 The new technology heralds a big change in the way drivers relate to their cars. Few features threaten the traditional promise of the automobile — freedom, independence, control of the road — like a computer that can drive far safer and has no qualms about taking the wheel.
 That has put automakers in an awkward spot to reach car buyers who are drawn to the idea of driving with fewer dangers and drudgeries but are still leery of self-driving technology. To win them over, carmakers increasingly are selling the illusion of control while, in practice, taking more and more away.

Mike Ramsey has more.

Everyone’s A Bad Driver (Except Me And My Autonomous Car)

Edward Niedermeyer:

When news broke this week that autonomous cars operated by Google and Delphi have been involved in 12 crashes since they began testing, the reaction was predictably breathless. Ever since the technology was announced, commentators have been obsessed with the technical and ethical shortcomings of the robot chauffeurs that Silicon Valley insists are the solution to the some 33,000 road deaths that take place in the US each year.
 As driverless technology continues to advance, these fears won’t simply go away; on a psychological level, humans seem wired to fear anything that diminishes our sense of control, even if that sense of control is an illusion. This psychological barrier, irrational though it may be, demonstrates a crucial reality of the transition from cars to autonocars: developing technology that improves on the dismal safety record of human drivers is far easier than re-organizing social and individual values that have evolved over the hundred-year history of the automobile.

Toyota’s record gains, and Piech’s shattered dreams

Bertel Schmitt:

This probably was the big question Ferdinand Piech asked Martin Winterkorn, a question Winterkorn could not answer in the presence of the ever-present labor unions. The answer is in the last row of the table. Volkswagen’s global headcount is nearly double that of Toyota. As long as Volkswagen shows profits, and as long as the unions sit at the conference table, jobs are sacrosanct at Volkswagen. RIF is a taboo word in Wolfsburg. Even during times of losses, labor costs had to be saved the hard way, by attrition, by working only four days, and by satisfying the urges of the unions with callgirls.

Top Ten Facts about Tesla’s $350/kWh (DC) PowerWall battery

Bruce Lin and Matthew Klippenstein:

There’s an MBA joke about scaring your clients by asking them “What’s your China strategy?”.
 Today, it’s “What’s your Tesla strategy?” $350/kWh (DC) retail really is that significant. In the few days since the Tesla energy storage announcement, we’ve had a half-dozen people ask what we think about it. As energy systems developers with experience in several different chemistries and system scales, we can make some well-grounded educated guesses on the design and economics.
 Here are our top ten conclusions, with plenty of links to reference information.

Daimler Freightliner keeps on truckin’ with driverless evolution

Robert Wright:

Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration in Las Vegas: the first autonomous truck licensed to operate on public streets

When the Freightliner Inspiration truck leaves its parking place near the Las Vegas Speedway, Christian Urban, the driver, starts off as on any other trip, moving the steering wheel and operating the pedals.

But when the vast truck is on the public road, a message on the dashboard tells Mr Urban that a program called “Highway Pilot” is ready to take over. After pushing a button on the steering wheel, the truck steers, accelerates and brakes without the intervention of Mr Urban, an engineer at Freightliner’s headquarters.

Germany’s Daimler, Freightliner’s parent, has hailed the Inspiration — which was granted permission on Tuesday to operate on Nevada’s roads — as the first autonomous truck licensed to operate on public streets.

But while the state’s decision is significant, the step looks more evolutionary than revolutionary. Daimler portrays the Inspiration as the next step from vehicles that warn drivers when they are leaving their lane and control braking if too close to the vehicle in front.

A day in the life of a London electric car station

John Sunyer:

Does it work? On a recent weekday morning, I walked to the nearest charging point to my home in Camberwell, southeast London, but it was out of service. So was the next one I visited, around half a mile away. This shouldn’t have been surprising. A survey of the live online network map would have revealed those that were available, already in use, or out of service. In some areas, the number of broken points outnumbers those working. It is not uncommon for around 40 per cent of London’s charging stations to be out of service at any one time.

“The network isn’t in perfect shape. The electric car industry, still relatively new to London, is years and years away from that. But we are heading in the right direction,” said Erik Fairbairn, the 38-year-old chief executive of POD Point, which manufactures and installs, at a cost of £1,000 each, some of London’s public charging stations. The company was founded in 2009 and, according to Fairbairn, achieved 136 per cent growth in terms of turnover from last year. “Still,” he added, “the challenge of cracking London is one of immense complexity.”

Fairbairn was referring to the piecemeal manner in which the electric vehicle charging network has been assembled and managed. Transport for London set it up at the instruction of Boris Johnson, mayor of London, in May 2011. But the scheme never really took off. It was marred by uncertainty and disagreements between various interested parties — among them the operator of the service, 27 London boroughs and 39 private partners, including charge point manufacturers and car park operators — over who was responsible for maintaining the network.

Carmakers Ditch Luxury Names For Something More Practical

Sonari Glinton:

Cadillac, the luxury car brand, is experimenting with a new way to name car models. Evocative names like DeVille, El Dorado and Fleetwood are out, and new names, such as CT6, ELR and XTS, are in.

Driver booking startup Blacklane (Berlin) serves more cities and airports worldwide than Uber

Ivo Spigel:

“All our drivers are licensed, insured professionals. Like Uber, we too own none of the cars which we use, nor are the drivers our employees. We partner with local, established chauffeur services in each city where we operate. Thus we don’t have any of the conflicts, regulatory mess or slashed tires which have come to symbolize Uber.”
 Taking me home from the airport in a nice, black Mercedes, my driver Marko told me his company had been in partnership with Blacklane for more than a year now. I was literally amazed that no one I knew knew anything about this. They certainly will now!

Scared of Self-Driving Cars? They’re a Lot Closer Than You Think

Keith Naughton:

The survey, conducted for Autotrader.com, is a reminder that game-changing technology is less scary when it arrives piecemeal, seeping into daily life until it becomes the new normal. Automakers are betting gradualism will ease consumers’ anxieties about ceding control of a speeding automobile to sensors, cameras and chips.
 Each year, bit by bit, cars will become more fully autonomous as the industry bakes “driver-assist” technology into packages of safety options. Gadgetry that five years ago seemed like science fiction is quietly becoming commonplace in a range of models, from luxury Audis to middle-market Subarus.
 Ty Hendrickson, 40, recently traded in an aging minivan for a Subaru Outback after meeting someone who broke his back in a rear-end accident. The $27,000 Outback automatically brakes or cuts the throttle if it senses an impending collision and sounds an alarm if Hendrickson crosses the center line or wanders out of his lane.

Why Energy Storage is About to Get Big – and Cheap

Ramez Naam:

 I’ve been writing about exponential decline in the price of energy storage since I was researching The Infinite Resource. Recently, though, I delivered a talk to the executives of a large energy company, the preparation of which forced me to crystallize my thinking on recent developments in the energy storage market.
 Energy storage is hitting an inflection point sooner than I expected, going from being a novelty, to being suddenly economically extremely sensible. That, in turn, is kicking off a virtuous cycle of new markets opening, new scale, further declining costs, and addition

Two ways of thinking about automotive safety.

Malcolm Gladwell:

In the early nineteen-seventies, Denny Gioia worked in the recall office of the Ford Motor Company. His job was to read field reports from the engineers Ford had posted around the country. If a safety problem was spotted, the Ford representative in that district would write up the case on a standardized form—single sheet, two sides, sometimes with a photograph stapled to the page—and send it on to Detroit.
 Gioia looked for patterns. “You have to be able to identify something that’s breaking,” he said not long ago. “Otherwise, I’ve got an imaginary event. I try not to engage in magical thinking. I’ve also got to have a pattern of failures. Idiosyncrasies won’t do. Question is, do you have enough here indicating that these failures are not just one-off events?” He was looking for what he called “traceable cause.”

German Car Makers Preparing Formal Bid for Nokia’s Here Map Service With China’s Baidu

William Boston & Ilka Kopplin:

Germany’s big-three premium-brand auto makers are preparing to launch a formal bid to acquire a majority stake in Nokia Corp.’s Here mapping unit, in a consortium that includes Chinese technology group Baidu Inc. and values Here at “considerably more than €2 billion,” according to people familiar with the situation.
 BMW AG, Audi AG, and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz are usually fierce rivals in the market for luxury automobiles. But they are so worried about Silicon Valley’s ambitions that they are banding together to…

Electric Trabi Combines Communist Past With Silent Thrill

Naomi Kresge:

Watch out, BMW, a new German rival is on the scene: The sputtering, yet lovable Trabant is getting an electric makeover 25 years after the country’s reunification.
 A power company is refitting the plucky little car built for the communist East’s proletariat with an electric motor, giving the vehicle an emission-free range almost equivalent to BMW AG’s high-tech i3 electric.
 Technology firm ReeVOLT says it’s created the e-Trabant to show the environmental virtues of retrofitting existing vehicles with electric motors. The unit of utility WEMAG AG also sells electric versions of vehicles such as the Fiat 500 and Ford Ka. Driving the 38-horsepower electric Trabi, with no power steering and weak brakes, is a little like taking a bumper car onto the open road and stepping on the gas.

Test drive of a petrol car

Tibor Blomhäl:

Having heard so much good about petrol cars, we decided to test drive one. They are said to combine cheap price with long range and fast charging. A winning formula on paper – but how are they in real life?
 We sat us in the loaner car at the car salesman’s office. Automakers do not sell the cars themselves, only through independent car repair shops as middlemen. It may sound like a bad omen to buy the car from a car repair shop that you want to visit as seldom as possible. But you apparently can’t buy the car directly from the manufacturer but must go through such intermediaries. The seller was very ”pushy” and tried to convince us to buy the car very forcibly, but the experience is perhaps better elsewhere.
 So we sat in the car and pressed the START button. The car’s gasoline engine coughed to life and started to operate. One could hear the engine’s sound and the car’s whole body vibrated as if something was broken, but the seller assured us that everything was as it should. The car actually has an electric motor and a microscopically small battery, but they are only used to start the petrol engine – the electric motor does not drive the wheels. The petrol engine then uses a tank full of gasoline, a fossil liquid, to propel the car by exploding small drops of it. It is apparently the small explosions that you hear and feel when the engine is running.
 The petrol engine consists of literally hundreds of moving parts that must have tolerance of hundredths of a millimeter to function. We begun to understand why it is car repair shops that sell the cars – they might hope for something to break in the car that they can mend?

Ford scraps plan to build car seat that detects heart attack

Andy Sharman:

Ford has quietly abandoned a project to develop driving seats that can detect heart attacks, blaming cheaper and more accurate wearable technology on a move that underlines the rapid pace of innovation carmakers need to maintain in the era of the connected car.

The US carmaker and its rivals are jostling to be seen as leaders in new car technologies. Ford, which opened an expanded research office in Silicon Valley this year and is looking into developments such as car-sharing, recently launched a people carrier that can read speed limit signs and adjust the throttle accordingly.

The wider motor industry is fighting to keep up with demands from consumers for greater connectivity inside the vehicle while heading off the threat posed by new entrants such as Tesla, Google and, potentially, Apple.

Rapidly falling costs of battery packs for electric vehicles

Björn Nykvist & Måns Nilsson:

To properly evaluate the prospects for commercially competitive battery electric vehicles (BEV) one must have accurate information on current and predicted cost of battery packs. The literature reveals that costs are coming down, but with large uncertainties on past, current and future costs of the dominating Li-ion technology1, 2, 3. This paper presents an original systematic review, analysing over 80 different estimates reported 2007–2014 to systematically trace the costs of Li-ion battery packs for BEV manufacturers. We show that industry-wide cost estimates declined by approximately 14% annually between 2007 and 2014, from above US$1,000 per kWh to around US$410 per kWh, and that the cost of battery packs used by market-leading BEV manufacturers are even lower, at US$300 per kWh, and has declined by 8% annually. Learning rate, the cost reduction following a cumulative doubling of production, is found to be between 6 and 9%, in line with earlier studies on vehicle battery technology2. We reveal that the costs of Li-ion battery packs continue to decline and that the costs among market leaders are much lower than previously reported. This has significant implications for the assumptions used when modelling future energy and transport systems and permits an optimistic outlook for BEVs contributing to low-carbon transport.

“realize that they spent $5,000 or $10,000 more than they initially planned to”….

John Stoll & Jeff Bennett:

Ford said the average price paid for F-series pickups in April was a record. The $42,600 average was “an incredible number…up more than $3,200” from a year ago, said Ford’s sales chief Mark LaNeve.

The trajectory is supported by less discounting, but the foundation for the higher prices is longer-duration loans.

In an industry where 36-month terms once were standard, it now is common to see loans spanning seven years. Executives say these loans are available to buyers with good credit looking for a low monthly payment on a premium car, but come with the downside of potentially locking those buyers out of the new-car market for several years.

“We do see a little bit of escalation up into 80, 84-month terms,” Ford’s Mr. LaNeve said, adding: “we have dipped our toe in and we want to do whatever is right for our customers.”

Edmunds.com senior auto analyst Jessica Caldwell said new car loans in April averaged 67.8 months—the longest average in history. In many cases, she said, buyers use the longer terms “to finance vehicles with higher transaction prices than they might otherwise choose.”

AutoWeb’s Mr. Harley said car makers “have learned that people are fixed on monthly outlays.” If a dealer can lower the monthly payments a buyer will walk out of the store and “realize that they spent $5,000 or $10,000 more than they initially planned to.”

7 Benefits and 1 Huge Problem With a World of Driverless Taxis

Eric Jaffe:

A city where private cars are largely replaced with driverless taxis doesn’t feel terribly close, but it’s not too far away to think about. And all the better when someone does the thinking for us—as is the case with this delightfully thorough new report on a “taxibot” world by Luis Martínez of the International Transport Forum (spotted by Gizmodo Australia).
 Martínez and collaborators used real trip data to model what life would be like in Lisbon, Portugal, if shared autonomous vehicles of various size ruled the streets. Some scenarios had these taxibots partnering with high-capacity public transit—in Lisbon’s case, a subway network—while others considered a transit-less city. (Though taxibots replaced local buses in all cases.) At half a million city and 2.8 million metro area residents, Lisbon is a pretty typical midsized city, though it’s car-ownership rate (217 per 1,000 people) is on the lower end of the global scale.

The Citroën DS 19: Why It’s the Ultimate Classic Car

Dan Neil:

WHY HAVE I commandeered your attention with this strange and irresistible object? It is obviously not a car. It cannot possibly be real. Does it even have wheels? Is it a submarine?

Sixty years after its introduction at the Paris Auto Show, the futuristic, perfectly Gallic Citroën DS 19 (D series from 1955-75) retains the ability to wow, an atom bomb of style from a time when atom bombs were kind of cool. The DS was the most technically gifted automobile of its time and the most quintessentially modern, in that it scorned all that was familiar in prewar design—big, exposed wheels, low roofs, strong shoulders and commanding chrome grilles—in favor of something utterly new, at least outside the realm of pulp science fiction.

And yet until two weeks ago I had never actually driven a DS. Now, thanks to the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tenn., which let me take theirs out of the barn, I must have one. That is a problem because I have neither the time, money nor garage space to devote to a temperamental French car that looks like a glass escargot.

Asymcar 22 discussed the DS.

Tesla announces low-cost batteries for homes

Michael Safi:

Wall-mounted, with a sleek design, the lithium-ion batteries are designed to capture and store up to 10kWh of energy from wind or solar panel. The reserves can be drawn on when sunlight is low, during grid outages, or at peak demand times, when electricity costs are highest.
 The smallest “Powerwall” is 1.3m by 68cm, small enough to be hung inside a garage on or an outside wall. Up to eight batteries can be “stacked” in a home, Musk said, to applause from investors and journalists at the much-anticipated event.
 The batteries will initially be manufactured at the electric car company’s factory in California, but will move production to its planned “gigafactory” in Nevada when it opens in 2017.
 The Nevada facility will be the largest producer of lithium-ion batteries in the world, and it is hoped its mass-production scale will help to bring down costs even further.