Inside Uber’s Auto-Lease Machine, Where Almost Anyone Can Get a Car

Eric Newcomer & Olivia Zaleski:

In its relentless pursuit for growth, Uber needs new drivers, and many of those drivers need cars. To help them get started, Uber has been offering short-term leases since July through a wholly owned Delaware-based subsidiary called Xchange Leasing, LLC. It partners with auto dealerships, advertises to drivers, manages risk, and even pays repo men to chase down cars whose drivers aren’t making their payments.
 Xchange may be key to Uber’s continued expansion as it tangles with Lyft in the U.S. and a bevy of competitors abroad. Uber announced a partnership with Toyota last week to finance even more cars. This year, Uber said its financing and discount programs, which include Xchange, will put more than 100,000 drivers on the road. That requires dipping into the vast pool of people with bad or no credit.
 In a deal led by Goldman Sachs, Xchange received a $1 billion credit facility to fund new car leases, according to a person familiar with the matter. The deal will help Uber grow its U.S. subprime auto leasing business and it will give many of the world’s biggest financial institutions exposure to the company’s auto leases. The credit facility is basically a line of credit that Xchange can use to lease out cars to Uber drivers.

Tesla, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley Have a Mutual Admiration Society

Thomas Donlan:

Nothing to see here. Move along. It was just an accident, just bad timing. The barrier that Wall Street used to call a Chinese wall—barricading firms against conflicts of interest between their analysts and their investment bankers—is still intact. Or so they say at Goldman Sachs, at Morgan Stanley, around the corner, down the block and in the bars.
 Tesla, the electrifying electric-car stock, went up some more on May 18 after Goldman Sachs analysts issued an upgrade to a Buy rating and set a price target of $250. “Following a 23% decline in the share price post the Model 3 unveil, we do not believe Tesla shares are fully capturing the company’s disruptive potential,” said Goldman analyst Patrick Archambault.

Electric cars are no longer held back by crappy, expensive batteries.

Daniel Gross:

And that expense inhibited the Volt’s success. It’s one thing if a battery-powered car doesn’t take you that far, since you can run on gas after the battery gives out. It’s another when the inclusion of a not-very-effective battery boosts the price of the vehicle so much that no one wants to buy it. So for several years, electric cars suffered in comparison with electronic products like mobile phones and computers, which benefited from Moore’s law—the notion that the processing power of computers doubles every two years. That’s why we’ve seen incredible simultaneous improvements in both price and quality for electronic devices like phones and laptops. Every version is both better and cheaper than the previous.

Cost disease: Why U.S. Infrastructure Costs So Much

Justin Fox:

That said, the U.S. probably also ought to be spending less on infrastructure. Not overall, but on something like a per-mile basis. Broad international cost comparisons across all kinds of infrastructure don’t seem to be available, but there is a growing body of evidence on one particular infrastructure area that matters a lot to me as a New York City commuter: subways and other rail systems. And it shows that U.S. construction costs are among the world’s highest.
 Transportation blogger Alon Levy has probably done the most to raise awareness of this, with five years of posts documenting the cost differences. And last year, Tracy Gordon of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and David Schleicher of Yale Law School examined 144 planned and finished rail projects in 44 countries and found that the four most expensive on a per-kilometer basis (and six of the top 12) were in the U.S.
 To put these numbers in global perspective, New York’s Second Avenue Subway will cost roughly eight times more than Tokyo’s Koto Waterfront line and 36 times more than Madrid’s Metrosur tunnels on a per-kilometer, purchasing power parity (PPP) basis.
 Why is this? It’s actually pretty hard to answer. Here’s Levy, writing in November 2014:
 I try to avoid giving explanations for these patterns of construction costs. If I knew for certain what caused them, I would not be blogging; I would be forming a consultancy and teaching New York and other high-cost cities how to build subways for less than $100 million per kilometer.
 Still, others have been willing to offer explanations. In a 2012 Bloomberg View piece, New York land-use and transit writer Stephen Smith blamed over-reliance on outside consultants, overly ambitious station architecture and a legal system that favors contractors over the agencies paying them to build things. Gordon and Schleicher agreed that the legal system may be an issue, but for other reasons:

“in a play to persuade automakers to run cars on its Android operating system…”

Gabe Nelson:

Brady said Google plans to freely offer the Google-designed interface to automakers for use inside their cars, though it expects that most automakers using Android will design customized interfaces to suit their brands.

In another major change, Google announced that it plans to offer Android Auto as a stand-alone app for smartphones.

This means people with older cars — or newer cars that haven’t been designed for Android Auto — will be able to get a comparable experience by placing a smartphone in a mount on the dashboard.

Google veterans head off on their own to work on self-driving trucks

Chris Ziegler:

Rather than building their own trucks, Otto is hoping to make hardware kits for existing truck models that would either be installed by service centers, or possibly at the factory if the company is able to forge manufacturer partnerships. Unlike Google’s self-driving car project, Otto would at least initially focus on highway driving, which account for the overwhelming majority of a typical truck route; the human drivers would still handle surface streets, loading, unloading, and the like. Right now, the company is testing with the Volvo VNL 780, but hopes to work with many so-called Class 8 trucks, which are the largest, heaviest trucks on American roads.

Germany To Give €1 Billion Electric Car Subsidy

Electric Vehicles:

Germany will subsidies electric car purchases to bring a fast approach in its effort to bring 1 million fuel free vehicles by 2020. People purchasing purely electric vehicles will receive €4,000 ($4,500) and plug-in hybrid car buyers will receive €3,000 . Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW have already signed up for this program.
 The government has budgeted over all €600 million for electric car purchasing subsidies until 2019 and another €300 million for building electric car-charging stations in cities and highways.

Tesla imported cheap labor

Louis Hansen:

girlfriend in Slovenia for a job in America, his visa application described specialized skills and said he was a supervisor headed to a South Carolina auto plant.
 Turns out, that wasn’t true.
 The unemployed electrician had no qualifications to oversee American workers and spoke only a sentence or two of English. He never set foot in South Carolina. The companies that arranged his questionable visa instead sent Lesnik to a menial job in Silicon Valley. He earned the equivalent of $5 an hour to expand the plant for one of the world’s most sophisticated companies, Tesla Motors.
 Lesnik’s three-month tenure ended a year ago in a serious injury and a lawsuit that has exposed a troubling practice in the auto industry. Overseas contractors are shipping workers from impoverished countries to American factories, where they work long hours for low wages, in apparent violation of visa and labor laws.

Apple invests $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing

Julia Love:

said on Thursday it has invested $1 billion in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing, a move that Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said would help the company better understand the critical Chinese market.
 The investment comes as Apple is trying to reinvigorate sales in China, its second-largest market. Apple recently has come under pressure from Chinese regulators, with its online book and film services shut down last month, and Cook is traveling to the country this month.
 The investment gives Apple, which has hired dozens of automotive experts over the past year, a sizeable stake in Uber Technologies Inc’s chief rival in China. Cook said in an interview that he sees opportunities for Apple and Didi Chuxing to collaborate in the future.
 “We are making the investment for a number of strategic reasons, including a chance to learn more about certain segments of the China market,” he said. “Of course, we believe it will deliver a strong return for our invested capital over time as well.”

Nevada state treasurer expresses concern over Faraday Future deal

Scott Magruder:

The State Treasurer says he is concerned about issuing $175 million in bonds to car manufacturer Faraday Future because his office has not received the necessary documentation to move forward.

In a statement released Wednesday, Treasurer Dan Schwartz said his office has not received requested documentation indicating the proposed $1 billion facility to build electric cars in Las Vegas remains on schedule.

“Our office is charged with issuing up to $175 million in general obligation bonds to finance the project’s infrastructure,” Schwartz said in the statement. “To date, our office has not received requested documentation indicating the project remains on schedule for the bond’s original issue date of September 2016.”

The NYPD Was Systematically Ticketing Legally…

I Quant NY:

New York City is a complex place to drive. And when it comes to parking, there are plenty of rules and regulations to follow. It’s no wonder that sometimes people get confused and end up getting their cars ticketed or towed.
 But in all of these rules, there is one thing that very few drivers seem to know. As of late 2008, in NYC you can park in front of a sidewalk pedestrian ramp, as long as it’s not connected to a crosswalk. It’s all written up in the NYC Traffic Rules, and for more detail, take a look at this article. The local legislation making these parking spots legal was proposed by Council Member Gentile, and adopted by the Department of Transportation before it ever made it for a vote. Though few people seem to know about the change.

Volvo’s Self-Driving Program Will Have Redundancy For Everything

Philip Ross:

Next year Volvo will do something no other company has tried: it will put 100 fully self-driving cars in the hands of customers. The tests, which will begin small and ramp up slowly, are to be held in Gothenberg, Sweden and in London.
 It’s a lot harder than it may seem. True, the cars will be in self-driving mode only in the testing area and only when driving conditions permit. But they’ll be production cars, not experimental prototypes, and the drivers will be laymen, not engineers, with full ability to sit back and read a book, not continually putting a hand on the steering wheel to prove they’re capable of intervening at a moment’s notice. There’s no human being to serve as backup.

SleepBus Offers Overnight Service Between LA and SF


The SleepBus is a new way to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back again quickly and painlessly. Lots of people have a plan for making that journey easier. Elon Musk is proposing a high tech system called the Hyperloop to move people quickly and efficiently between the two cities. California is moving ahead with plans for a high speed rail corridor. Both are projected to cost billions. Fares will be commensurate.

Via Steve Crandall.

The Wall Street Journal AUTOS GM Executive Credits Silicon Valley for Accelerating Development of Self-Driving Cars

John Stoll:

A General Motors Co. executive credited Silicon Valley companies, including Alphabet Inc.’s Google car division and Tesla Motors Inc., for accelerating the development of autonomous vehicle technology and shortening the timetable for when safer self-driving cars hit the road.
 Richard Holman, a 30-year automotive veteran running GM’s foresight and trends unit, said Tuesday that three years ago most industry participants would have estimated 2035 as a reasonable timetable for self-driving cars. Speaking to a conference in suburban Detroit, Mr. Holman said now most people see that technology being deployed by 2020, if not sooner.
 Mr. Holman noted companies like GM and its rivals have been working on autonomous vehicles for several years, and said tech giant Google and electric-car maker Tesla deserve get credited for moving the industry along.

The Robot Revolution in Caregiving

Geoff Watts:

In truth my reaction to Charlie, far from being odd or childish, is pretty typical. Robots, of course, are hardly new. Over the last few decades we’ve had industrial devices that assemble cars, vacuum our floors, and shunt stuff around warehouses. But the 2010s have seen a rise in the attention paid to robots of the kind that most of us still think of as robots: autonomous machines that can sense their surroundings, respond, move, do things and, above all, interact with us humans. We all recognize R2-D2, WALL-E and scores of their lesser-known kin. The unnerving thing is that their nonfictional counterparts are extremely close at hand. Some press stories are exotic—those about ‘sexbots’ being among the more sensational—but many have featured robots at the less hedonic end of social need: disability and old age.
 This has set me wondering how I might cope with the experience—not for an hour or a day, but for months, years. Not tomorrow, but very soon, I will have to get used to the idea of living with robots, most likely when I’m elderly and/or infirm. Contemplating this, my line of thought has surprised and disturbed me.

As Pollution From Online Shopping Grows, London Funds a Solution

Jessica Shankleman:

companies are experimenting with electric vehicles to curb the smog spewed by vans distributing parcels packed with goods purchased on the Internet.
 The U.K. capital’s transport authority is catalyzing the transition from diesel to battery-powered vehicles by funding Gnewt Cargo Ltd., which operates London’s largest all electric delivery fleet. Gnewt is part owned by shipping DX Group Ltd, counting TNT Express NV and Hermes Parcelnet Ltd. among its customers.
 With their emissions-free electric motors silently navigating 20,000 packages a day through London streets, Gnewt could also deliver a breath of fresh air to Europe’s biggest city. The government says London’s pollution levels will probably breach European Union limits until at least 2030, a problem the Royal College of Physicians estimates causes 40,000 people a year to die early.

Uber drivers, if employees, owed $730 million more: U.S. court papers

Dan Levine and Heather Somerville:

Drivers who worked for ride-hailing service Uber [UBER.UL] in California and Massachusetts over the past seven years would have been entitled to an estimated $730 million in expense reimbursements had they been employees rather than contractors, according to court documents made public on Monday.
 Uber and smaller rival Lyft are attempting to settle lawsuits by drivers who contend they should be classified as employees and therefore entitled to reimbursement for expenses, including gasoline and vehicle maintenance. Drivers currently pay those costs themselves.
 According to attorneys for Uber drivers, the total potential damages in the case are $852 million, when including a claim to recover tips. The figure is based on rates for mileage reimbursement set by the U.S. government and on data provided by Uber Technologies Inc.

End to End Learning for Self-Driving Cars


We trained a convolutional neural network (CNN) to map raw pixels from a sin- gle front-facing camera directly to steering commands. This end-to-end approach proved surprisingly powerful. With minimum training data from humans the sys- tem learns to drive in traffic on local roads with or without lane markings and on highways. It also operates in areas with unclear visual guidance such as in parking lots and on unpaved roads.
The system automatically learns internal representations of the necessary process- ing steps such as detecting useful road features with only the human steering angle as the training signal. We never explicitly trained it to detect, for example, the out- line of roads.

How Our Deep Learning Tech Taught a Car to Drive


For many of us, learning to drive is a rite of passage to adulthood. At first, you’re jittery and overly cautious, but as the miles pass you get better. You learn to understand the nuances, how the elements affect your trajectory and how to adjust.
 A team of engineers from NVIDIA based in our New Jersey office — a former Bell Labs office that also happens to be the birthplace of the deep learning revolution currently sweeping the technology industry — decided that they would use deep learning to teach an autonomous car to drive. They used a convolutional neural network (CNN) to learn the entire processing pipeline needed to steer an automobile.

The connected car may be the dumbest idea ever, but it’s not going away

Jonathan Gitlin:

You might think connecting your car to your phone is the dumbest thing ever, but neither the tech nor auto industries are giving up on it any time soon.
 As you might imagine, we at Ars get bombarded with PR pitches about connected cars. Devices that plug into your car’s OBDII port. Smartwatch integration with new models direct from the factory. Cars that alert you if you’ve left your keys behind. These are just the tip of the iceberg, and more ideas like them are coming from both the tech and auto industries. LTE modems are becoming widespread in new models and not just in luxury cars—try buying a Chevrolet without embedded 4G.
 There’s just one problem: most Ars readers, in my experience, think connecting a car to the internet is the dumbest thing you can do on four wheels. Who can blame them? Last year saw a litany of car hacks that affected aftermarket devices but also security flaws direct from the factory—1.4 million Fiat Chrysler vehicles had to be recalled as a result.

How Tesla Is Shaking Up Metals Markets

Stephanie Yang:

Tesla Motors is starting to shake up the auto industry with its sleek electric cars. Now some say it’s only a matter of time until it helps reshape the metal industry, too.
 As demand for Tesla’s cars grows, some market participants are starting to anticipate long-term changes in the consumption of metals within the auto industry. The individual metals needed to manufacture an electric car are numerous, but potential beneficiaries range from obscure materials such as lithium to beleaguered commodities like copper.

Tesla Needs More Than Elon Musk

Edward Niedermeyer:

Ever since Tesla Motors’ initial public offering, a debate has raged between bears and bulls over whether the company is a highly overvalued automaker or a potentially undervalued tech company. The bulls’ case — which holds that the maker of electric cars would be better compared to companies such as Apple and Amazon than automakers such as GM and Ford — has propelled Tesla to market valuations that have titans of the car game both baffled and envious. But as Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk tries to guide his company through a critical transition from maker of small-batch luxury cars to producer of mainstream volumes, he appears to have had an epiphany: Tesla needs to become a lot more like the automakers his investors can’t stop deriding.
 “Thus far, I think we’ve done a good job on design and technology of our products,” Musk told analysts during Tesla’s quarterly earnings call this week. “The key thing we need to achieve in the future is to also be the leader in manufacturing.” This characteristically immodest goal isn’t new according to Musk, who says “we take manufacturing very seriously at Tesla,” but the company has a long way to go.

Uber picks up ex-EU digital chief Neelie Kroes—after cooling-off period

Jennifer Baker:

Europe’s former digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes has landed a senior role with ride sharing app, Uber.
 The appointment is significant, given that the company faces a legal backlash in several countries across the EU.
 Uber has had difficulty retaining higher-ups in recent years. Last year, French authorities arrested two executives after Uber failed to comply with draconian new taxi laws that were widely viewed as targeting Uber and its ilk.
 Uber has also had difficulty in retaining staff in the commission’s backyard: Brussels. The European Commission—which is the executive wing of the EU—has been mulling whether Uber qualifies as a tech firm, or a transport outfit. Uber has argued that it’s simply a service platform that brings together drivers and passengers.

Billions Are Being Invested in a Robot That Americans Don’t Want

Keith Naughton:

Brian Lesko and Dan Sherman hate the idea of driverless cars, but for very different reasons.
 Lesko, 46, a business-development executive in Atlanta, doesn’t trust a robot to keep him out of harm’s way. “It scares the bejeebers out of me,” he says.
 Sherman, 21, a mechanical-engineering student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, trusts the technology and sees these vehicles eventually taking over the road. But he dreads the change because his passion is working on cars to make them faster.
 “It’s something I’ve loved to do my entire life and it’s kind of on its way out,” he says. “That’s the sad truth.”

Tesla’s Wild New Forecast Changes the Trajectory of an Entire Industry

Tom Randall:

Tesla just took the most ambitious automotive production timeline since the Ford Model T and moved it up two years.
 The company now plans to produce 500,000 electric cars every year starting in 2018. That’s 10 times the number of vehicles it produced in 2015, and enough to ensure that all 400,000 customers who put down a $1,000 deposit on the forthcoming Model 3 will qualify for a significant U.S. subsidy.