The big theme this week is chips. Not the tons that made their way into American bellies on Super Bowl Sunday, but the critical shortage of microchips that has car-makers shuttering plants and the Biden administration scrambling to help. Meanwhile, an allegation of corporate malfeasance threatens America’s supply of EV batteries, an awkward obstacle for an administration that wants to do everything it can to green the auto industry. But as this excellent piece in CityLab reminds us, a green future can’t just be about families replacing their ICE cares for EVs. That’s why initiatives like the 30% tax credit that two members of Congress are proposing for e-bikes can make sense. Meanwhile, transit agencies in Seoul are tinkering with fare hikes, VW is partnering up with Microsoft, and much more – all below..
GM’s 2021 hangover: The auto industry in general and GM in particular performed surprisingly well in 2020. But now the group is paying the price for exceeding its own expectations. Specifically, it doesn’t have nearly enough microchips. Why? Because the bigwigs in Detroit cancelled orders in the early days of the pandemic, leaving the booming consumer electronics industry to gobble them up. GM says the chip shortage could cost it between $1.5-2 billion this year. Ouch.
Can Biden get the chips? The new president seeks to address the auto industry’s semiconductor woes by ordering his administration to review any supply chain bottlenecks or regulatory roadblocks that might be contributing to the microchip shortage. There’s also talk of incentives to bring chip manufacturing stateside…
South Korean spat threatens EV market: The U.S. International Trade Commission accuses South Korean battery-maker, SK Innovation, of stealing trade secrets from fellow Korean manufacturer LG Chem, and proposes restricting the company’s ability to import certain materials. If the Biden administration affirms the independent agency’s ruling, it could seriously disrupt the U.S. EV supply chain. However, the agency is apparently wary enough of the implications of its decisions that it is carving out a huge exception, allowing SK to continue making enough batteries to serve Ford’s needs for four years and VW’s North American operations for two.
A Toyotal tease: Japanese giant Toyota tells us that its first mass-market EVs are coming to the U.S., but the world’s largest OEM won’t say when they’re coming or offer any details about the types of car. It just says that we should expect two new EVs and one new hybrid…
Kia ramps up EV line: The Korean automaker has announced that it will come out with 11 new EVs by 2026, supplementing its two existing ones: the Soul EV and Niro EV. The company’s goal: have EVs and hybrids account for 40% of its sales by 2030. That doesn’t grab quite the attention of GM’s all-EV-by-2035 pledge, but it’s certainly heading in a similar direction…
Seoul’s less bad problem: The coronavirus has claimed relatively few lives in South Korea, but it has complicated operations of Seoul’s public transit system. Bus ridership in Seoul was down about 24% and subway ridership was down 27%, forcing the city to consider fare hikes. That’s tough — but nothing compared to the drop experienced by New York’s MTA, where bus ridership is down 50% and subway ridership is down 75% from pre-pandemic levels.
Baidu’s hungry for chips too: Perhaps learning from the problems the chip shortage has caused major automakers, Chinese search giant Baidu is talking to VC firms about taking a majority stake in an AI chip-maker. This follows Baidu’s announcement of a partnership with Chinese automaker Geely to make “intelligent and connected vehicles.”
LA looks at congestion pricing: Los Angeles County’s transit agency kicks off a two-year study to explore putting in place tolls at several locations throughout the city. The price of the tolls would vary based on traffic conditions. There are a number of possible locations, including on major freeways or at key entry points to downtown, where the city is most eager to discourage driving in favor of public transit, biking and walking.
MTA ignores mandate: In hopes of cleaning up the MTA’s notorious profligacy, New York lawmakers in 2019 mandated that America’s largest transit agency publish an annual report comparing its costs to those of other major transit systems around the world. Fittingly, the MTA is now feeling some heat as it has now blown past a second (already extended) deadline for producing the report.
Canadian cash call: In happier transit news, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proposes permanent funding for public transportation. Transit operators across the Great White North can look forward to an additional 14.9 billion CAD over the next eight years should the bill go through. Would be nice to see some of that vision south of the border, eh!
Apple’s many suitors: After much waffling, it looks like Hyundai and Apple were not meant to be. That’s hardly a fatal blow to Apple’s pursuit of an AV — though convincing well-established OEM brands to be a contract manufacturer is a tough sell for the computer giant. The Silicon Valley giant has a variety of prospective partners in its pursuit of an autonomous electric vehicle. Firms to keep an eye on include Nissan, Foxconn, Magna and Stellantis.
VW finds a partner: A week after signaling that it was not seeking a tech partner in its pursuit of AV technology, the German automaker announces an AV collaboration with Microsoft. The two companies have been working together on cloud capabilities, but now VW is hoping to take the relationship to the next level…whether that’s Level 5 is another question…
As does Toyota: The Japanese giant is working with Aurora Innovation, the $10 billion AV startup, to mass-produce AVs for ride-hailing. The first vehicle they’re collaborating on will be an autonomous version of the Toyota Sienna, the popular minivan.
E-bike tax credit: If there are already major federal subsidies for electric cars and motorcycles, why shouldn’t Uncle Sam also support the most affordable and cleanest form of electric transportation? Reps. Earl Blumenaur, D-Ore., and Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., have introduced a bill to create a 30% tax credit for e-bikes. We like.
A novel approach to free bike parking: Oonee, a Brooklyn-based startup, believes it has a profitable way to offer free, secure bike parking: pods! Specifically, metal pods about the size of a car that sit in a space on the street that would normally be reserved for a parked vehicle. Somewhere in New York (it’s not yet clear where), the company will deploy two such pods, each fitting six or seven bikes, that users can lock and unlock for free with an app. Oonee aims to generate revenue via advertising, although neither of these two initial units will have ads.
Don’t park the car in Harvard Yard: Complete streets come to Massachusetts, as MassDOT reworks two car-oriented routes to better support biking, scooting, and walking. After all, Paul Revere didn’t make his seminal ride in an SUV!
Helbiz means business: The Italian-American micromobility operator is going public via a SPAC, merging with GreenVision Acquisition Corp for a valuation of just over $400 million — the first microbility company on the NASDAQ. The New York-based company is led by Italian entrepreneur Salvatore Palella and is particularly strong in Italian cities. It’s now seeking to distinguish itself from competitors with a geofencing platform allowing city governments to easily regulate where its electric scooters, bikes and mopeds can operate. However, the word is that the company plans to use some of its new capital to expand into delivery-only “ghost kitchens” — where margins may be much more attractive…
Voi pilots e-bikes for wheelchair users: The Swedish micromobility startup is partnering with Austria’s Klaxon Mobility to provide “electric handbikes” that can hitch onto wheelchairs. The device can provide a 10 mph boost to wheel chair users, allowing them to keep up with others in the bike lane.
The New York Times looks at how GM’s gas guzzlers are footing the bill for the automaker’s massive EV push.
The Associated Press wonders what the future holds for autoworkers, fewer of whom are needed to make EVs.
Bloomberg CityLab explains that making vehicles cleaner isn’t good enough: there needs to be less vehicle use, period.
Green media in the red: It’s been a tough week for journalists on the green-tech and emerging mobility beat. We’re sad to see Greentech Media shut down, and on top of that – Bloomberg is reshuffling some of its verticals, so look out for changes to the Hyperdrive, ESG, Green and Auto beats.
Hawaii Drive-No: Fancy a break from the winter weather? Honolulu Transit has a number of job openings, including a few that look to get the agency’s troubled under-construction rail system back on track.
Get busy with Helbiz: You saw above that Helbiz is going public; now this could be your opportunity to go to Helbiz! The company is hiring at all its offices across the globe, so take a gander at career options in Milan, Belgrade, NYC, and more.
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