The big news this week comes from Honda, which brings us the first mass-produced Level 3 autonomous vehicle. It’s only available for lease on a very limited basis in Japan, but it’s an important glimpse at what might be the new normal in the not-so-distant future. Meanwhile, recent sales data in the U.S. show how Tesla’s quasi-monopoly in the EV market is beginning to erode as traditional automakers try their luck with electric. Other interesting stories include German eVTOL startup Lilium hitting the public markets at a lofty $2B+ valuation, new subway cars in London, gondolas in Mexico City, government funding for more freight trains in Germany and a push for electric taxis in Chile. Finally, a big question: Can America’s aging electric grids handle an all-EV future?
Tesla losing market share to Detroit: Tesla’s share of the U.S. EV market stands at 69% in February, down from 81% a year ago. The biggest challenge thus far comes from Ford, which in February sold 3,739 units of the new Mustang Mach-E — representing fully 40% of all of the EVs sold by companies besides Tesla. The arrival of the two new models of Chevy Bolt this summer will also likely reduce Tesla’s market dominance. It’s important to note that these new vehicles aren’t necessarily coming at Tesla’s expense –– they may just be expanding the universe of EV owners due to lower price or different style. That said, if Ford continues to struggle with on-time delivery of its new EVs, the scales might tilt back in Tesla’s favor.
Volvo one ups GM: The Chinese-owned Swedish car-maker says it will exclusively sell electric vehicles by 2030. That’s the boldest transition timeline yet from a legacy automaker. In contrast, GM says it will be done with gas engines by 2035 and Ford says it will be all-electric in 2030 –– but only in Europe.
GM eyes second battery plant: America’s #1 automaker says it’s considering another manufacturing facility for EV battery cells. The rumor is that it will be somewhere in Tennessee. Like its existing $2.3 billion plant in Ohio, the new plant will be built by a joint venture between GM and LG Chem. Yet another sign that GM is getting serious about the car-maker’s planned two-decade transition to zero emissions, and that the transition to a green economy need not mean job losses for blue collar workers. As we’ve been, uh, saying all along.
Chile tries to get cabbies into EVs: In an effort to combat persistent smog in its capital city, the Chilean government is offering generous subsidies to Santiago’s 22,400 cab drivers to help them go electric. In a deal with Chinese EV-maker BYD, Santiago cabbies can get $11,000 towards the purchase of a new $30,000. The government points to studies showing that the ROI from reduced health costs will more than justify the expense.
Mexico City debuts cable cars: The Mexican capital launches the first of several planned gondola networks aimed at serving low-income neighborhoods in the hills surrounding the city. It’s not the first cable car in Mexico –– a neighboring state operates a line serving one of the city’s northern suburbs –– and it follows similar projects elsewhere in Latin America, where governments have turned to cable cars as a more efficient way to link people in hilly terrain to the rest of the public transit network.
Tube upgrade: Transport for London reveals the design of the 94 new trains that will serve the Piccadilly Line of the London Underground. The new trains, which will debut in 2025, will use 20% less energy and have 10% greater capacity than the 70s era trains in use today. The line will deliver 27 trains per hour during peak times, up from the current 24. Finally, they’ll have air conditioning! While London isn’t exactly known for hot weather, that AC may come in handy if we don’t get serious about tackling global warming…
Is battery-swapping the way of the future? To power up the EVs in its fleet, Uber has turned to San Francisco startup Ample, which operates a fully autonomous modular battery swapping system compatible with existing EVs. In under 10 minutes, the system simply swaps out the car’s batteries and replaces them with fully-charged ones. It’s a system that is already widely used in China and that many other U.S. startups are exploring — even if Elon Musk dismissed it as “too expensive” after Tesla’s own failed experiment with the technology.
Amtrak goes to the dogs: America’s national rail system is now allowing caged animals at all times on its famed Acela line between D.C. and Boston –– the same one that Joe Biden took to work during his 36 years in the Senate. Previously, pets were only allowed on weekend trips. Unfortunately for the president, the policy change does not mean he can bring his two German Shepherds, Champ and Major, on his next visit to his home state: there’s a 20 pound limit.
…meanwhile, a private rail operator says it can improve Acela: AmericaStarRail, an LLC led by rail industry veterans, proposes an ambitious plan to increase the capacity of Amtrak’s northeast corridor. It is proposing more service, 30 new stops and faster trains, all backed by private financing. The group insists it can do so without hiking prices for customers by reducing inefficiencies in the current system. You can bet unions representing Amtrak workers will be wary…
And Germany tries to boost rail freight network: Over in Deutschland, officials unveil a €200m plan to boost rail’s mode share for cargo, with the goal of hitting a 25% share by 2030. While Europe has a very robust passenger rail market, it actually moves a smaller share of its freight by rail than the U.S.
Florida demands Brightline pay for reducing car use: Before it gets state approval to extend its passenger rail line to Tampa, Brightline, the private rail operator, must estimate how much toll revenue the state will lose as people opt for the rail over the roads. It must then offer compensation for that loss. Talk about perverse incentives…
LA Metro considers free transit for the needy: Fare-free transit takes a major step forward in America, as the transit agency serving Los Angeles County’s 10 million plus residents is looking at an 18-month pilot program, starting in 2022, that would make buses and rail free for low-income customers. The median income of bus riders is $17,995, while the median for rail passengers is $27,723, so it’s safe to assume that a large share of Metro customers would be eligible for the program. This comes several months after Metro began studying an even more radical idea: eliminating fares for everyone. No word on what happened to that…
Traders lose everything on Hertz: Day traders who drove up the price of the troubled car rental company’s stock nearly 900% a few months ago are left with nothing, while a number of major lenders are making big bucks off the company’s post-bankruptcy restructuring. Looks like the GameStop fun money phenomenon has come for the world of mobility…
Gird the grid: Given the week’s news, it’s more clear than ever before that the EV revolution is happening, and it’s happening fast. But it’s not enough to simply roll out vehicles to consumers, countries need to have the right infrastructure in place too. A new report details what sort of investments governments and utilities will need to make, including a dramatic estimate that America’s electrical generation capacity will need to double by 2050.
Honda hits Level 3: The Japanese government has recognized Honda’s just-released Legend Hybrid EX as Level 3 autonomous –– the first such designation for a mass-produced car. The automaker also gets the OK to start leasing the car; it is starting with a very limited rollout of 100. What sets it apart from other self-driving systems is its “Traffic Jam Pilot,” which supposedly allows drivers to zone out entirely even in congested urban environments. An important milestone in the march toward autonomy. Of course, if Elon Musk is to be believed, this will soon look like small potatoes when Tesla goes all the way from Level 2 to Level 5 by the end of this year. We’ll believe that only when we see it.
Musk teases FSD subscription: In addition to his bold claims about Tesla’s future AV capabilities, Elon Musk suggested that Full Self Drive, the problematically-named driver assistance software that has been released to a small number of Tesla owners, will soon become more widely available. He also said it would be available for subscription, rather than purchase at its current $10,000 price. This is a concept worth following –– will other car-makers follow the subscription model?
Lilium takes off: German eVTOL startup Lillium is the latest company to jump on the SPAC bandwagon. The company is reportedly in talks to merge with Qell Acquisition Corp. at a $2 billion plus valuation. We wonder if the fresh cash infusion will speed up the company’s timeline for autonomous flight, which had previously been pegged for roughly 2030, a less ambitious goal than some of its competitors.
The state of scooting: In the latest CoMotion NEWS Mobility Perspective, Bird’s Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer Rebecca Hahn analyzes the company’s massive trove of data to shed light on major trends in e-scooter use during the pandemic. In the past year, more than 3 million new people have used Bird. The micromobility operator argues the data debunk common myths about e-scooters, including that they are largely driven by tourists and that they undercut public transit. On the contrary, the vast majority of riders are local and the rise of partnerships between micromobility providers and transit authorities display the potential for the two to complement one another.
E-bikes for under a grand: Electrek offers a rundown of the top five affordable e-bikes on the market. The list includes three for under $1,000, two of which are under $900. These low prices are a radical shift from only a few years ago and raise the prospect of mass e-bike adoption in the near future. It’s not as if an elite niche won’t persist –– Porsche just released two new e-bikes, one for $10,700 and one for $8,549.
Jax opens up to dockless: Jacksonville, Fla. kicks off a one-year pilot allowing dockless e-bikes and e-scooters. The program is much more restricted, however, than those in many other cities: people are only allowed to pick up and drop off their vehicles in 35 geofenced locations.
The New York Times compares the environmental impacts of EVs compared to traditional cars.
Richard Hall of The Independent talks about what he learned about America’s railroads on an 17-hour Amtrak trip to Pete Buttigieg’s hometown of South Bend, Ind.
Smart Cities Dive explains why cities need more infrastructure for bike and scooter users.
On Medium, Ford’s Alex Buznego shares three years’ of progress for the company’s AV ambitions in Miami.
Lab work: Our friends at LA’s Urban Movement Labs are growing up! The organization has a number of new staffers, including a just hired Program Director, Rogelio Pardo, who comes to UML after a long stint at Nelson\Nygaard.
More lab work: On the other side of the country, NYC’s Transit Tech Lab has a great opportunity. It’s looking for a new Director of Innovation Programs, to help plan and execute new high-tech endeavors.
Locate yourself at TransLoc: Down in North Carolina, our friends at TransLoc have a number of job openings, including roles in engineering, client services, and sales.
Have a job listing that’s perfect for the CoMotion community? Please send it to email@example.com.
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