In his short story ‘Let There Be Light’, the science-fiction author Robert A Heinlein introduced the energy source that would power his Future History series of stories and novels. First published in Super Science Stories magazine in May 1940, it described the Douglas-Martin sunpower screens that would provide (almost) free and inexhaustible energy to fuel the future in subsequent instalments of his alternative timeline. It was simple, robust and reliable technology. ‘We can bank ’em in series to get any required voltage; we can bank in parallel to get any required current, and the power is absolutely free, except for the installation costs,’ marvelled one of the inventors as they worked out the new technology’s potential for rupturing the social order of the future.
As the world’s largest automaker, Volkswagen in some ways better resembles an army or a country than a mere corporation. Its flagship factory in Wolfsburg, Germany—a city built from scratch by the Nazis for the express purpose of manufacturing vast numbers of automobiles—spreads over an expanse the size of Monaco and produces more than 3,000 vehicles every day. It is electrified by not one but two Volkswagen coal plants. It is fed by a 3,400-person Volkswagen catering brigade and a sausage-making operation so comprehensive it sells to supermarkets. Here and at more than 100 other factories worldwide, the company’s 12 brands make 355 models in millions of color and trim combinations, employing more than 600,000 people who generate $284 billion in annual revenue.
It’s hard to imagine that such a robust corporate edifice could ever be at risk of collapse, as it was less than three years ago, when Volkswagen AG was consumed by one of the largest scandals in automotive history. The revelation of a systematic effort to cheat on emissions tests—employees wrote software that made diesel cars appear cleaner than they were—brought the company to its knees, ended the career of its long-standing chief executive officer, and shattered a 70-year reputation for engineering-led competence. For a time it looked like Volkswagen might not survive, at least not recognizably, a prospect so alarming in Germany that Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped in to do damage control for what is arguably the country’s most important industrial giant
The standard way to talk about autonomous cars, shown in this diagram, is to talk about levels. L1 is the cruise control in your father’s car. L2 adds some sensors, so it will try to slow down if the car in front does, and stay within the lane markings, but you still need to have your hands on or near the wheel. L3 will drive for you but you need to be ready to take over, Level 4 will drive for you in some situations but not others, and Level 5 doesn’t need a human driver ‘ever’ and doesn’t have a steering wheel.
Much of the success of the electric vehicle will come down to the performance and price of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, the costliest and heaviest component of the car.
Just seven years since its founding, one Chinese company has emerged as a rising star in the battery industry, backed by strong support from Beijing.
Fujian-based CATL was the center of attention at “Battery Japan,” a trade show held in Tokyo in March. Liang Chengdou, head of CATL’s research center, spoke with confidence. “Batteries produced by CATL for EVs will become as competitive as internal-combustion engines through technological innovation,” he promised.
Opinions differ on the exact nature of Tesla, ranging from struggling car manufacturer to tech pioneer to something akin to the second coming. Regardless, it is undoubtedly one thing: a money machine.
I don’t mean that in the sense of Tesla making a lot of money; more that it is a machine for the raising and consumption of money.
All companies are this to one degree or another, of course; it’s just that Tesla Inc. is more at the “another” end of things. Reliably negative on free cash flow, Tesla depends on a smorgasbord of external funding, from equity raising to vehicle deposits to high-yield bonds to securitized leases to negative working capital. And that smorgasbord rests, of course, on Tesla’s famously gravity-defying stock price and faith in CEO Elon Musk.
Which is why these four charts deserve more than a glance from even the most ardent Muskovite:
I have a serious interest in how we get around. Currently the tech press seems entirely focused on car sharing and self-driving cars as THE FUTURE, but those approaches are problematic. I’ve spent a fair amount of time highlighting those issues, but rather than drone on for pages and pages I’ll recommend a new book from a friend – Elements of Access by David Levinson .. essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of cities and suburban areas. It’s non-technically, fascinating and humorous. From the about:
Bike-sharing via smartphone apps is on a roll in Japan, with flea market app Mercari, messaging app Line and Yahoo Japan having entered the market in the last six months.
So why are online technology companies so keen on bike-sharing?
Analysis suggests that it is a prelude to a “payment war” like the one that took place in China, where bike-sharing was used as a marketing tool by internet companies to boost online payment services.
Mercari launched a bike-sharing service on Feb. 27, choosing Fukuoka in southern Japan as its pilot city. It set up 22 “ports,” or bases, where customers rent and return bikes.
Currently, 120 bikes are available, with the company planning to increase ports to 50 and bikes to 400 by the end of March. By the end of summer, the company hopes to have a fleet of 2,000 bikes.
A prototype of the car, the LSEV, is currently on display at Shanghai’s China 3D-printing Culture Museum, before being exhibited at Auto China 2018 in Beijing next month.
The company claims it is the world’s first mass-produced 3D-printed electric vehicle, and that it has received 7,000 orders from companies including postal service providers.
Nearly all its visible parts are 3D-printed except for its windows, tyres and chassis.
3D printing is a manufacturing process where materials are joined or solidified under computer control to create three-dimensional objects.
Technically, the manufacturing process often shortens research and development time and can offer customers tailor-made products.
The average person still spends one hour commuting in a car in major cities. Good on you, Prof. Marchetti.
2. Are cities ~25 miles in diameter (8 times larger than Old Venice)?
Here’s where Marchetti needs some updating.
US cities seem to be significantly larger than Marchetti’s Wall would imply.
Jim Chanos, the short seller famous for betting against Enron, has said he thinks Tesla Inc.’s stock is “worthless.” Chanos got some new evidence this week that may support his short sales against Elon Musk’s car company. A string of executives have headed for the exits, including a surprising number from the company’s finance team, as Tesla is dogged by questions about whether it can meet its production targets.
The chief financial officer left abruptly last year in a curious turn of events, where he was replaced by his predecessor: Deepak Ahuja served as Tesla’s CFO from 2008 to 2015 and then took over the job again in March 2017, according to his LinkedIn. Then late last year, one of Tesla’s audit committee members, Steve Jurvetson, went on leave from the board (following accusations of misconduct, which he has denied). The vice president of business development and director of battery technology both left in the past year. Jon McNeill, one of Tesla’s most senior executives, went to take the chief operating officer job at Lyft Inc. last month. Eric Branderiz, Tesla’s chief accounting officer, departed last week. And Bloomberg reported this week that Susan Repo, the corporate treasurer and vice president of finance, is out.
The success of German manufacturers, whose volumes more than trebled from 4m units in 1990 to 15m last year, was largely based on “platform sharing” that let multiple models use the same design underpinnings. VW Group, the world’s largest carmaker, uses common building blocks under “the Lego principle” to share engines, transmissions and components across its 12 brands.
These progressive changes were all based on superior methods of producing cars, forcing rivals to adapt or die. “Efficiency was always the cornerstone of success in the automotive industry,” says Oliver Zipse, head of production at BMW. “As soon as you were not able to produce in a particular cost frame, you were out of the market.”
Carmakers are today investing in production plants that integrate reams of data with processes across the supply chain. Assembly times are being accelerated and downtime is being cut by fixing problems before they occur.
“The whole system is becoming enormously complex all of a sudden,” Mr Zipse says. He refers to the need for carmakers to incorporate new drive trains and autonomous technology, while keeping the speed of production cycle at just 60 seconds. “If you’re not able to [keep] this complex system working 100 per cent faultless, you will never do 60 second [manufacturing] cycles, and if you’re not doing 60 second cycles, you’ll never build 300,000 cars.”
“For most of human history, maps have been very exclusive,” said Marie Price, the first woman president of the American Geographical Society, appointed 165 years into its 167-year history. “Only a few people got to make maps, and they were carefully guarded, and they were not participatory.” That’s slowly changing, she said, thanks to democratizing projects like OpenStreetMap (OSM).
OSM is the self-proclaimed Wikipedia of maps: It’s a free and open-source sketch of the globe, created by a volunteer pool that essentially crowd-sources the map, tracing parts of the world that haven’t yet been logged. Armed with satellite images, GPS coordinates, local community insights and map “tasks,” volunteer cartographers identify roads, paths, and buildings in remote areas and their own backyards. Then, experienced editors verify each element. Chances are, you use an OSM-sourced map every day without realizing it: Foursquare, Craigslist, Pinterest, Etsy, and Uber all use it in their direction services.
When commercial companies like Google decide to map the not-yet-mapped, they use “The Starbucks Test,” as OSMers like to call it. If you’re within a certain radius of a chain coffee shop, Google will invest in maps to make it easy to find. Everywhere else, especially in the developing world, other virtual cartographers have to fill in the gaps.
The paradigm shift from the age of information to the age of reputation must be taken into account when we try to defend ourselves from ‘fake news’ and other misinformation and disinformation techniques that are proliferating through contemporary societies. What a mature citizen of the digital age should be competent at is not spotting and confirming the veracity of the news. Rather, she should be competent at reconstructing the reputational path of the piece of information in question, evaluating the intentions of those who circulated it, and figuring out the agendas of those authorities that leant it credibility.
Whenever we are at the point of accepting or rejecting new information, we should ask ourselves: Where does it come from? Does the source have a good reputation? Who are the authorities who believe it? What are my reasons for deferring to these authorities? Such questions will help us to get a better grip on reality than trying to check directly the reliability of the information at issue. In a hyper-specialised system of the production of knowledge, it makes no sense to try to investigate on our own, for example, the possible correlation between vaccines and autism. It would be a waste of time, and probably our conclusions would not be accurate. In the reputation age, our critical appraisals should be directed not at the content of information but rather at the social network of relations that has shaped that content and given it a certain deserved or undeserved ‘rank’ in our system of knowledge.
These new competences constitute a sort of second-order epistemology. They prepare us to question and assess the reputation of an information source, something that philosophers and teachers should be crafting for future generations.
It was during Kotka’s tenure that the e-Estonian goal reached its fruition. Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. Estonia’s system is keyed to a chip-I.D. card that reduces typically onerous, integrative processes—such as doing taxes—to quick work. “If a couple in love would like to marry, they still have to visit the government location and express their will,” Andrus Kaarelson, a director at the Estonian Information Systems Authority, says. But, apart from transfers of physical property, such as buying a house, all bureaucratic processes can be done online.
ROAD TRIPS. DRIVE-THROUGHS. Shopping malls. Freeways. Car chases. Road rage. Cars changed the world in all sorts of unforeseen ways. They granted enormous personal freedom, but in return they imposed heavy costs. People working on autonomous vehicles generally see their main benefits as mitigating those costs, notably road accidents, pollution and congestion. GM’s boss, Mary Barra, likes to talk of “zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.” AVs, their champions argue, can offer all the advantages of cars without the drawbacks.
In particular, AVs could greatly reduce deaths and injuries from road accidents. Globally, around 1.25m people die in such accidents each year, according to the WHO; it is the leading cause of death among those aged 15-29. Another 20m-50m people are injured. Most accidents occur in developing countries, where the arrival of autonomous vehicles is still some way off. But if the switch to AVs can be advanced even by a single year, “that’s 1.25m people who don’t die,” says Chris Urmson of Aurora, an AV startup. In recent decades cars have become much safer thanks to features such as seat belts and airbags, but in America road deaths have risen since 2014, apparently because of distraction by smartphones. AVs would let riders text (or drink) to their heart’s content without endangering anyone.
Evidence that AVs are safer is already building up. Waymo’s vehicles have driven 4m miles on public roads; the only accidents they have been involved in while driving autonomously were caused by humans in other vehicles. AVs have superhuman perception and can slam on the brakes in less than a millisecond, compared with a second or so for human drivers. But “better than human” is a low bar. People seem prepared to tolerate deaths caused by human drivers, but AVs will have to be more or less infallible. A realistic goal is a thousandfold improvement over human drivers, says Amnon Shashua of Mobileye, a maker of AV technology. That would reduce the number of road deaths in America each year from 40,000 to 40, a level last seen in 1900. If this can be achieved, future generations may look back on the era of vehicles driven by humans as an aberration. Even with modern safety features, some 650,000 Americans have died on the roads since 2000, more than were slain in all the wars of the 20th century (about 630,000).
In Brooklyn, Uber is now bigger than taxis
October 12, 2015 marked the first day that Uber made more pickups in Brooklyn than yellow and green taxis combined. As of June 2016, Uber makes 60% more pickups per day than taxis do, and the gap appears to be growing. Lyft has also surpassed yellow taxis in Brooklyn, but still makes fewer pickups than green boro taxis.
The city of Portland has tapped into an unexpected stream of revenue: Uber and Lyft. A 50-cent surcharge, which is paid by passengers for every ride-hailing trip or taxi, has raised $6.7 million since 2016, according to data obtained through a public records request.
By law, the revenue can only be used for enforcement and regulation of the ride-hailing and taxi industries, which puts the city in an unusual position. The 50-cent surcharge is currently bringing in more money than the city needs to run the program.
“The program is not designed to make money,” said Dave Benson, a senior manager for the Portland Bureau of Transportation. “Right now we have about 3 million in excess dollars.”
As ride-hailing services increase in popularity, the city expects to generate even more revenue.
Last year, Uber, Lyft and taxis recorded a record 10 million rides in Portland, according to PBOT.
“Ten million rides is enough for 15 rides for every man, woman and child in the city of Portland,” said Benson. “I thought we would have hit the ceiling by now. Every quarter we see the numbers going up.”
Rather than building and operating its own auto-assembly plant, which has required billions of dollars of capital expenditures for Tesla, EVelozcity is in talks with U.S. and Chinese companies for contract production, Krause said. Also unlike Tesla, it will source batteries, motors and components for autonomous driving capability from outside suppliers.
“Over time battery packs and electric motors will not offer a potential for differentiation anymore,” Krause said. “The technology is evolving and that will be a commodity over time.”
The brand’s value will come from unique design and engineering, taking a page from Apple.
“If you look at Apple, they are designers and engineers, they don’t necessarily manufacture themselves,” Krause said. “We want to develop an American boutique, native EV brand. That’s what we’re all about. We believe that the engineering and design skills are going to be the core ones, not the manufacturing ones.”
Volkswagen AG secured 20 billion euros ($25 billion) in battery supplies to underpin an aggressive push into electric cars in the coming years, ramping up pressure on Tesla Inc. as it struggles with production issues for the mainstream Model 3.
The world’s largest carmaker will equip 16 factories to produce electric vehicles by the end of 2022, compared with three currently, Volkswagen said Tuesday in Berlin. The German manufacturer’s plans to build as many as 3 million of the cars a year by 2025 is backstopped by deals with suppliers including Samsung SDI Co., LG Chem Ltd. and Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. for batteries in Europe and China.
A local city council member is beginning to float the idea of taxing ridehailing companies like Uber and Lyft as a possible way to raise millions of dollars and help pay for local public transportation and infrastructure improvements.
If the effort is successful, Oakland could become the first city in California—Uber and Lyft’s home state—to impose such a tax. However, it’s not clear whether Oakland or any other city in the Golden State has the authority to do so under current state rules.
Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan told the East Bay Express that she wants the city council to put forward a ballot measure that would tax such rides.
“The power to tax is a separate power regardless of whether or not you can regulate something,” said Kaplan in an interview with the alt-weekly. “They’re using our streets to do business, and we don’t currently have any revenue from it.”
For now, no California city taxes on a per-ride basis—although airports are allowed to impose a pickup and drop-off fee. That fee at Oakland International Airport, for instance, is $3.70, paid by the passenger.
Other American cities, such as Seattle and Chicago, currently impose add-on fees ranging from 14 cents to 40 cents per trip. Since 2016, Massachusetts has imposed a five-cent fee to subsidize the state’s taxi industry.
Stephan Schaller, the BMW Motorrad MD isn’t one to mince words. When he launched the electric Concept Link at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa in 2017 he and the mammoth motorcycle manufacturer already stated that he believed that vehicles that ‘move in the city’ would be the focus for the company’s electric future; referring directly to scooters such as the C-Evolution or the Concept Link.
Now, in an interview with Italian publisher Motociclismo, he speaks with even more clarity when discussing placing batteries into larger, motorcycle-shaped frames.
“Building an electric motorcycle isn’t an impossible, technical challenge, and you can solve every problem. But can you imagine supplying electricity in the desert?”, he continues, referring to putting batteries into a GS Adventure.
As Southern California continues to embrace ‘dockless’ bike sharing, a new player in the app-based mobility market has picked up considerable momentum — electric scooters.
These motorized scooters have created a challenge for local authorities as riders of all ages from beach communities to urban centers have in recent weeks and months been riding illegally on sidewalks and without helmets.
Like dockless rental bikes, users can unlock the scooters using a smart phone and then drop them anywhere. The business comes in contrast to the docked model, where users must pick up and return bikes to a fixed station.
Most recently, the city of San Diego seems to have been caught flatfooted enforcing state laws on the increasingly popular motorized scooters.
The problem with the city’s argument for regulating Bird is that it’s claiming that Bird should be governed by current ordinances that cover… food trucks. It’s the benefit (for Bird) of operating in a legally grey area with a service that lawmakers could never have predicted when writing regulations — something, again, that VanderZanden is familiar with from his days in the wild world of ride-sharing.
What’s also familiar is the phenomenon that taking a Bird (flipping a Bird?) has become. It’s a legitimate phenomenon in Los Angeles — with investors and customers alike excited about the potential of a low-cost, last-mile solution providing fast rides for an initial cost of $1 and 15 cents per minute traveled.
One executive from Sidewalk Labs visiting Los Angeles from New York couldn’t stop talking about the transformative potential of last-mile mobility solutions like Bird when I spoke to them weeks ago (Sidewalk Labs has not been mentioned as an investor in the latest financing for the company).
Wednesday, 9pm, raining. You just finished watching Bergman’s latest movie and you really want to be home soon, without having to walk around in the rain. You open your car2go app, only to find that the nearest car is good 20 minute walk from you. Well, the öffi it is, then.
As an avid user of car-sharing services I found myself in a similar situation quite often, staring at an empty screen, hoping for at least one available car to appear in a reasonable vicinity. Every time I thought whether it’s just bad luck, or whether I am literally in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is there a pattern to the availability of car sharing cars? Where (and when) do you have the highest chance of getting a car?
Zhu’s e-bike, which he bought for around $1,000, is his lifeline. When he spoke to Fast Company, he was getting over a cold, but the extra boost from his motor allowed him to keep pedaling without exhausting himself. If he stopped making deliveries, even for a day, he would fall behind on rent and supporting his family. He tries to fit as many deliveries in as possible during a shift; there’s no other way for him to earn enough in tips to supplement his low hourly pay. And for that, the quicker bike is essential. “It would be impossible to make all those deliveries without it,” he says.
But under a revamped policy recently implemented by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, Zhu could face fines, or even confiscation, for riding his e-bike in the city. Technically, due to a mismatch in the law, electric bikes are legal to own but illegal to operate, in New York. (Federal law treats motorized bikes like regular bikes. New York state law considers them vehicles, but there’s no way for riders to register them.) The New York Police Department has variably enforced this law over the years; there have been previous incidences of crackdowns on people who ride e-bikes, but this one is different: It was declared as official policy by the mayor.
It’s also been received with total silence from delivery companies like GrubHub, which have facilitated the massive boom in delivery work in cities like New York. The company issued a statement to Fast Company stating that all workers and restaurants that use the platform are obliged to follow local laws, but GrubHub has largely skirted commentary on the e-bike ban, particularly its effect on workers (the company did not respond to multiple attempts for further comment). This silence testifies to a fundamentally untenable problem within the gig economy–the distance between the big tech companies at the top, and the often vulnerable workers that power them on the bottom. While immigrant and bike advocates push for e-bike legalization, de Blasio’s crackdown should serve as a reckoning for gig economy companies regarding how they protect their workers, and under what terms.
In this report, we examined more than 13.9 million vehicle transactions to delve deep into what drives buyer loyalty at both the segment and the brand level. We uncover the reasons why shoppers have made such a dramatic pivot away from passenger cars toward SUVs. We call out the specific man- ufacturers that are managing to attract buyers to their passenger cars, and how that’s giving them an edge in overall buyer loyalty. We name the spe- cific brands, both mainstream and luxury, that are doing the best job at keeping car shoppers in their brand family — and call out exactly what they’re doing right.
GERMAN carmakers have much in common with the self-confident roadhogs who favour their vehicles. The cars they produce, with sleek design, doors that close with a satisfying thunk and roomy interiors swagged with leather and technology, are the dominant force at the upper end of the car market worldwide. At home, too, they are the purring engine of the economy; carmaking is by far Germany’s biggest industrial sector.
But cars are changing. Electric power and autonomous vehicles will alter radically the way they are used (see special report). The difficulty in adapting threatens not only future revenues and profits at the big three—Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen (VW)–but also Germany’s status as a mean economic machine.
It’s only a matter of time before American roads are filled with self-driving cars. In fact, it is quite likely that within the next decade or so, all the vehicles we see on the road will be self-driving, making the cars of today a thing of the past.
Already, the race to develop these vehicles is well underway, as major companies from Volvo to Alphabet Inc, the parent company of Google, are competing to have the first line of autonomous cars to obtain government approval.
We’ve said for some time that Uber and Lyft are exploiting the fact that their drivers don’t understand their own economics and don’t factor in the wear and tear on their vehicles. One former Uber driver did a back of the envelope work up and argued that you’d make more than minimum wage only if your car was more than six years old. The fact that only 4% of Uber drivers continue for more than a year suggests that working for these ride-sharing companies is an unattractive proposition.
A large-scale study confirms these doubts about driver pay, and then some. A team from Stanford, Stephen M. Zoepf, Stella Chen, Paa Adu and Gonzalo Pozo, under the auspices of MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research obtained information from 1100 Uber and Lyft drivers using questionnaires and information about vehicle-specific operating costs, such as insurance, maintenance, repairs, fuel and depreciation.
Their main finding:
Results show that per hour worked, median profit from driving is $3.37/hour before taxes, and 74% of drivers earn less than the minimum wage in their state. 30% of drivers are actually losing money once vehicle expenses are included. On a per-mile basis, median gross driver revenue is $0.59/mile but vehicle operating expenses reduce real driver profit to a median of $0.29/mile.
If you gross up the median hourly profit to gross revenue, using the same ratio for gross revenue versus net profit per mile, median gross revenue is only $6.86 an hour, still below minimum wage. These drivers would be better off doing almost anything else. Consider the safety risks. From Wired: