Is Mother Nature telling us to stop making cars? Automakers were already idling plants in response to a shortage of microchips before a once-in-a-century blizzard shuttered one of America’s largest semiconductor facilities in Texas and an equally unusual drought began to impact Taiwan, a major global chip manufacturing hub. But in good news, the march towards more climate-friendly transportation continues, whether that’s the new Hyundai electric SUV, a sub-compact EV in China that only costs $4,500 or an unusually fast and affordable Taiwanese e-moped. And DOTs across the country are breathing a sigh of relief, as the embattled Mobility Data Specification notches a big win in court.
Taiwan’s drought threatens chip supply: Semiconductor manufacturers in Taiwan are buying truckloads of water to keep their factories running amidst a severe drought and government-imposed water restrictions. Potentially very bad news for the auto industry, looking to major chip-makers in Taiwan to help address a global chip shortage that’s forced car-makers to shutter plants and reduce output. So far the biggest Taiwanese chip-makers say they haven’t been forced to cut production yet, but there is little rainfall forecast in the coming weeks…
…while snow in Texas shut down Samsung: Samsung’s massive semiconductor fabrication facility in Austin was still idle ten days after being forced to stop production due to widespread power outages in Texas. Shutting down the factory, which typically runs 24/7, could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
Japan Inc and Tesla the latest hit by chip shortage: Tesla is reducing production of the Model 3 in response to the chip crunch. Workers on the Model 3 line in Tesla’s plant in Fremont, Calif. have been told their line will be temporarily shut down from Feb. 22 to March 7, but company officials are not yet exhibiting deep concern over the production disruption. Meanwhile, Japanese auto output is down 4.5%, as Toyota, Nissan and company grapple with shortages.
Biden hopes to help: The U.S. president issues an executive order to review the semiconductor supply chain in the hopes of finding long-term changes (regulations, incentives) that can prevent a future shortage from occurring. There is little hope that the action will resolve the immediate issue.
Freedom isn’t free: A Wall Street Journal analysis finds that the deregulation of Texas’ electricity market two decades ago has not resulted in lower prices for residential ratepayers. In fact, the 60% of Texas residents who were forced to buy their power from retail electricity providers paid significantly more than the 40% who live in areas of the state that are still served by local monopolies. The analysis finds that the first group has paid $28 billion more than they would have if they were still served by traditional utilities. This has important implications for the growth of the EV (and e-bike) market. Beyond merely regulated utilities, we’ve seen impressive innovation from municipally-owned power-generators. It’s no coincidence that Los Angeles has emerged as an EV capital, with reliable and affordable electricity supplied by city-owned LADWP. Back in Texas, Austinites have seen their own municipal utility offer customers rebates for e-bikes, while Seattle’s utility has led the way in setting up critical EV infrastructure.
Now that’s a budget EV: Last week we talked about how Chevy’s $30,000 Bolts were giving Tesla a scare, but that’s nothing compared to SAIC’s Hong Guang Mini EV, selling like crazy for only $4,500. The Chinese state-owned automaker is building the sub-compact cars, marketed as “the people’s commuting tool,” through a joint venture with GM. After finishing second behind Tesla in EV sales last year, Hong Guang outperformed its U.S. rival 2-to-1 in January. The Hong Guang can barely fit four people, it tops out at 62 mph and its range is nothing special. But for millions of middle-class Chinese consumers looking for convenient urban transportation, it may be just what they’re looking for. How ’bout some for L.A., too?
Court ruling upholds LA’s Mobility Data Specification: A U.S. district judge rejects arguments from the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation that Los Angeles’ collection of micromobiilty user data violates privacy rights. The city transportation department has a “legitimate and substantial” interest in requiring mobility companies to provide real-time data on how their devices are being used, including the start and end-point of trips, the judge ruled. If the ruling is not successfully appealed, it will represent a big victory for cities, many of which want access to user data not just to police micromobiilty operators but to better understand how people are getting around the city and where to prioritize infrastructure improvements.
Workhorse stumbles: Workhorse Delivery Group, a Cincinnati-based startup that makes electric delivery vans, sees its value plummet by more than half after falling short in a bid for a $482 million contract with the U.S. Postal Service. Winning the deal was Oshkosh Defense, which will deliver between 50,000-165,000 new vehicles over the next decade. The contract leaves the door open to EVs but does not mandate them, requiring only that the new vans be “either fuel-efficient internal combustion engines or battery electric powertrains” and that be “retrofitted to keep pace with advances in electric vehicle technologies.”
…but signs of life at StreetScooter: StreetScooter, the electric van division of German delivery giant Deutsche Post, is attracting interest from a number of investors. This comes a year after the company gave up on efforts to sell the unprofitable subsidiary and instead announced plans to wind down EV manufacturing entirely. However, there are at least four deep-pocketed investors — two from China, one from Germany and one from the U.S. –– who believe the company can be a winner.
Another challenge to Model Y: Hyundai unveils the 2022 Ioniq 5, a crossover SUV that boasts a range of just under 300 miles and is just a tad smaller than Tesla’s Model Y and VW’s ID.4. No price or release date have been announced yet, but we’re told to start seeing the car available in “select regions” of the U.S. in the first half of 2021…
It’s only very expensive: You no longer have to be a 1 percenter to buy a Karma. For a cool $83,900 — hey, just a few grand above the U.S. median family income — a person who is merely well-off can buy the GS-6, the new hybrid sedan unveiled last week by the Irvine, Calif.-based manufacturer. That’s about half what you’d pay for the ultra-luxury Revero GT. At this lower price point, and with a full-electric version on the way, Karma is now competing for a similar target market as Lucid.
Fisker + Foxconn: In hopes of expanding its reach into Asian markets, Fisker is joining forces with Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer best known for producing Apple devices, to deliver a new EV by the end of 2023. There aren’t many details yet on what the car will look like or how it will be priced, but Foxconn says it wants to make 250,000 a year and that they’ll be manufactured at its facility in Wisconsin. And in a not-so-subtle allusion to Foxconn’s existing relationship with Apple, the initiative has been codenamed “Project PEAR.”
Investors diss on Lucid: Shares of Churchill Capital Corp plummet after the blank-check company announces plans to bring Lucid, the luxury AV maker, public via a SPAC at a $24 billion valuation. The irony is that Churchill saw its stock skyrocket in January in response to rumors of the Lucid deal.
…meanwhile, shares of Reinvent Technology Partners temporarily surge but later drop to its lowest point in a month after it announces plans for a SPAC deal with Joby Aviation, the innovative eVTOL startup, which will get $1.6 billion and a $6 billion valuation. To celebrate, Joby released its first ever video of one of its aircraft in flight.
Where to charge those pricey EVs: Whether it’s $4k or $80k, an EV is only as good as its charging infrastructure. But there’s good news on that front, as a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy highlights the rapid growth in EV infrastructure over the past few years. In 2019, over 20,000 new EV charging outlets were installed, nearly 100 times greater than the number installed in 2009. That leaves the U.S. with about 78,000 outlets at roughly 26,000 charging stations. Meanwhile, due to a number of factors, including more fuel-efficient cars, the number of gas stations has declined in recent years and now stands at 115,000.
Geely gets the nod to make satellites: The Chinese government approves Geely’s bid to make a constellation of satellites that will help their AVs navigate and communicate. Observers suggest the Chinese company is likely eyeing thousands of satellites in an effort to provide navigation precision that dwarfs GPS and other conventional technologies. The car-maker unveiled a $326 million budget for the project a year ago and plans to begin production towards the end of this year.
VW gets into robo-taxis: The German auto giant’s commercial division announces plans to begin testing a self-driving van designed for ride-sharing. Testing on the ID.Buzz, which strongly resembles the VW vans that have become synonymous with hippie road-tripping, will begin this year but the company says it doesn’t expect to deploy them commercially until 2025.
Aurora acquires lidar company: The AV startup based in Pittsburgh buys Ours Technology, a Santa Clara, Calif-based manufacturer of lidar sensors. Aurora describes Ours’ offering as “lidar on a chip” and boasts that it is smaller and easier to scale.
Getting developers on board with micromobility: The Urban Land Institute, the influential land use think tank, calls on developers to make their properties micromobility-friendly, by including, for example, charging stations or drop off zones for scooter or bike-sharing. The report also offers policymakers tips for incentivizing commercial development that aligns with micromobilty. Here’s an easy one: stop mandating car-parking…
Go, go Gogoro: The Taiwanese e-moped manufacturer takes things to another level with its recently-released VIVA MIX, which can go up to 55 mph and offers 93 miles (150 km) of range. Despite the increased oomph, its snazzy FLO Drive drivetrain apparently results in a ride that is 40% quieter. For only $2,155, this vehicle is stretching the definition of moped beyond something reserved for short-distance urban mobility. OK, we want one. Badly.
Voi looks to AI to prevent crashes: After a few months of testing out AI aimed at reducing collisions with pedestrians, Swedish e-scooter operator Voi says the results are encouraging. Since November it has been experimenting with cameras and sensors provided by Dublin-based Luna that either warn users of oncoming pedestrians or force the vehicles to slow down. Voi says so far the technology has accurately recognized foot traffic 90% of the time.
Bloomberg CityLab looks at one major transportation sector that is not getting any pandemic bailout: motorcoaches.
Wolf Street examines the unprecedented decline in vehicle miles driven in 2020 due to the pandemic.
In Slate, David Zipper talks about the many ways lawmakers can keep the pandemic bike boom going through incentives and infrastructure changes even after the pandemic ends.
Heading up at HDR: Engineering giant HDR has a new head of its transportation division, as Tom McLaughlin makes the jump from his current role as Executive Vice President, to a new position: President, Global Transportation. He has some big weight on his shoulders, as the HDR team is working on iconic mobility projects like Austin’s Project Connect, LAX’s people mover, a subway line in Toronto, and more.
Spin is in: The last year or so has been a wild ride for micromobiliy operators, but with COVID numbers starting to recede, many are once again in a hiring mood. Case in point: Spin, owned by Ford, has nearly 100 corporate job openings, either in cities like SF and Taipei, or remote.
Wander to Wunder: Looking to relocate to Germany? (OK, maybe once winter is over…) Wunder Mobility, makers of the software that powers all sorts of shared mobility services, has a number of job openings, including in sales, engineering, and finance. Best of all, they’re open to international candidates.
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