Big news on the EV front this week. China’s Xpeng unveils the first mass-market vehicle to be equipped with LiDAR –– the technology that Elon Musk has long dismissed as a “fool’s errand.” We’ll see! Meanwhile, Daimler finally jumps into the EV game, unveiling an electric sedan with a yet-to-be-disclosed price — rumored to be in six figures. Fellow German luxury automaker Audi is heading in the other direction, revealing a new EV priced to compete with Tesla’s Model Y. Also, Apple looks like it is, yes, yet again in talks with a potential partner to make the Apple Car. A few weeks after President Biden made public his $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, it’s still not clear what the public thinks about it, complicating the calculations of members of Congress trying to decide what they are willing to support. And in other mobility news…U.S. bike imports are through the roof, New York City reveals the winners of its greatly desired e-scooter permits and France bans short airplane rides.
LiDAR of the pack: Chinese EV manufacturer Xpeng unveils the first mass-produced passenger vehicle equipped with LiDAR, the technology that Elon Musk has pilloried as a “fool’s errand.” The P7 will retail in China for around $35,000 –– about three grand cheaper than a Tesla Model 3. It will include the company’s updated driver assistance system, XPILOT 3.5, which it says will allow the cars to perform a variety of driverless functions on highways and city streets, such as recognizing traffic lights and increasing or limiting speed to align with surroundings. The car should be available in Chinese showrooms in the second half of this year.
Mixed opinions on infrastructure: A spate of polls give mixed messages on how America feels about President Joe Biden’s proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan. One survey by NPR/PBS/Marist finds 56% in support, while a New York Times poll shows 66% in support. However, Quinnipiac shows only a 44% plurality in favor and a CNBC poll pegs support at 36%, just a tad above 33% who oppose the bill. What explains the divergence? It’s likely based on how the questions were framed and whether respondents who weren’t familiar with the plan were offered an explanation of it. While the CNBC poll showed relatively low awareness and support for the bill, for example, it found majority support for many of the bill’s elements, such as funding roads, long-term care and broadband. What does this all mean: public opinion on Biden’s package, as well as on his proposed means of funding it by raising corporate taxes, is still very much up for grabs. Most people aren’t going to dig into the details of this bill –– it’s up to proponents and opponents to make a clear-cut case that will resonate with voters, particularly independents.
France takes aim at planes: As part of a wide-ranging climate agenda pushed by President Emmanuel Macron, the French parliament votes to ban domestic flights if the same trip could be made by train in under two-and-a-half hours. The proposal Macron submitted would have barred flights that could be substituted with a direct four-hour train ride, but that proved too radical for parliament. Great news, of course, for the highly-indebted national rail service, SNCF.
The first Mercedes EV: The German luxury icon comes out with its first EV, the Mercedes-Benz EQS. The car, available in 2022, does not have an official price tag yet, but Edmunds has projected that it could retail for around $110,000 –– about $30,000 more than Tesla’s Model S or Model X.
GM & LG commit to new battery plant: The automaker is teaming up with the Korean chemical manufacturing giant on a $2.3 billion battery plant in Tennessee. Construction on the 2.8 million square foot factory is kicking off right away, with plans for it to be operational by 2023.
Audi goes low: In what might be an even greater threat to Tesla, Audi unveils its lowest-cost EVs yet: the Q4 E-Tron and the Q4 E-Tron Sportback, both of which will be available for just under $45,000. That’s 20 grand less than the original E-Tron ($66,000), which is slightly larger. And it’s only a bit more expensive than the Tesla Model Y ($40,000). The cars will become available in the U.S. at the end of the year.
Paris takes a big step toward paperless: Beginning next year, Parisians will no longer be able to buy carnets of 10 or 20 metro tickets, a move the regional transit authority is taking to encourage paperless payment. Although customers will still be able to buy single cardboard tickets, prohibiting bulk (and discounted) purchases will presumably push more to adopt the more modern Navigo passes, which look like credit cards and can be paid for via mobile app.
Drones for drugs: All Nippon Airways, Japan’s largest airline, partners with German eVTOL manufacturer Wingcopter to deliver medicine and other consumer goods to people’s doorsteps. Wingcopter’s drones will first be deployed in the Gotō Islands, where many residents otherwise have to travel long and far to get prescription drugs and other necessities.
LG Magna may build Apple Car: After talks with other automakers failed to yield a manufacturing partner in its pursuit of an Apple-branded autonomous EV, the tech giant may be close to a solution. A joint venture between Korean tech giant LG and Canadian mobility company Magna International could oversee the first generation of Apple’s passenger vehicles. A final deal may still be a ways off, however: the LG Magna joint venture hasn’t been finalized yet.
Another Tesla crash: Police say nobody was in the driver’s seat of a Tesla that crashed into a tree Saturday in a suburb of Houston, killing both passengers. It’s not yet clear whether the passengers were relying on Tesla’s widely-available “autopilot” driver assistance program or its newer Full Self Driving software that has been made available to a limited number of Tesla owners. Experts have called Full Self Driving a misleading misnomer and have criticized Tesla for exaggerating its autonomous capabilities. This comes a few weeks after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed that it was investigating 23 other Tesla crashes involving autopilot.
Walmart takes a Cruise: Cruise, the San Francisco-based robotaxi startup controlled by GM, is revealing new details about a January funding round that brought in $2.75 billion. Perhaps the most notable news is that Walmart was one of the big investors, along with Honda, Softbank and Microsoft, that helped Cruise get to a $30 billion valuation. This isn’t Walmart’s first foray into autonomy –– the retail giant is already using AVs on a limited basis to transport products between warehouses and stores.
Driverless Domino’s: A Domino’s in Houston will begin delivering pizza to some customers via Nuro’s autonomous robots. This is a year after Nuro, a Silicon Valley-based startup founded by former Google engineers, partnered with grocery chain Kroger to deliver groceries to customers in Houston.
Lackluster IPO for TuSimple: Autonomous trucking startup TuSimple raised more than $1 billion from its IPO Thursday but saw its shares fall 19 percent at one point, before finishing its first day of trading flat. The lackluster performance hints at investor doubts that the VW-backed startup can meet its goal of having autonomous freight trucks on the road by 2024.
The big winners in the Big Apple: Bird, Lime and Veo get permits to participate in New York City’s first-ever scooter-sharing program. The pilot, which is expected to kick off this summer, will be very limited at first, with each operator allowed to deploy 1,000 scooters in neighborhoods in the northeast Bronx. A second phase, in which the operators will be allowed to unleash thousands of more scooters into other areas of the Bronx, is already envisioned — but officials say it won’t be until at least 2023 that Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island get considered. A state law authorizing scooters in the city specifically excludes Manhattan. The NYC Dept. of Transportation says the three companies triumphed in a “competitive selection process” due to pricing plans that will “allow most rides for under $5.” Among the companies losing out were Spin and Superpedestrian.
10,000 Niu stores: Electric moped-maker Niu announces plans to add 10,000 stores in China over the next five years, up from 1,600 now. After selling more than 600,000 vehicles in China last year –– an increase of over 40% –– the Shanghai-based manufacturer is aiming to sell 6 million in 2025. The company believes there is significant demand in smaller cities and even rural areas for the low-cost vehicles.
Bike imports way up: The U.S. imported 74% more bikes in February than during the same month last year. Interestingly, the $119 million value of the 1.38 million units was only 25% greater than those imported last year, likely illustrating that most of the new buyers who have emerged during the pandemic bike boom are opting for lower-cost options.
The Washington Post looks at Japan’s focus on hydrogen power, and the mixed response it has received from environmentalists.
Bloomberg dives into the mysterious, secretive world of QuantumScape, the company led by billionaire Jagdeep Singh aiming to produce an EV battery that promises to dramatically decrease charging time and increase range.
The New Yorker dives into the arrival of e-scooters in the Big Apple, wondering whether it’s a “tech hustle” or a “transit revolution.
Ferrari almost over the finish line: Ferrari Chairman John Elkann says the iconic Italian automaker has a “very strong” shortlist of potential new CEOs. The company has been on the hunt since last December, when Louis Camilleri stepped down for personal reasons after just two and a half years on the job.
Truck troubles: Freight carrier Yellow Corp. announces the departure of COO T.J. O’Connor, VP of Operations Don Hinkle, and Chief Network Officer Scott Ware. Daniel Harris, who has 25 years of logistics and transportation experience, will step up as the company’s new President.
Roll on: Micromobility giant Lime is on a hiring tear, looking to fill positions across North America, Europe, and Asia. Aspiring business development heads, engineers, and product designers should squeeze on through to their jobs board
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