Lots of significant EV news last week. Researchers at Harvard believe they’ve achieved a major breakthrough in battery technology. Over in China, Tesla is hoping to keep its existing battery supplier honest by inking a deal with EVE Energy to become its second provider of lithium iron phosphate batteries. And embarrassed by New York’s lackluster EV adoption rate, state legislators are trying to boost the nascent industry by allowing direct-to-consumer sales. Hyundai and Kia are getting very serious about EVs, announcing a more than $7 billion investment just in the U.S. over the next four years. Last but not least, you can no longer buy a Tesla with Bitcoin. Darn.
On the autonomy front Alphabet-backed Waymo and GM-backed Cruise are laying the groundwork for future robo-taxi services, with each company seeking permits to charge for rides in San Francisco and Cruise’s CEO saying that he expects to enter production on its autonomous shuttle by 2023. In Germany VW is also beginning to test autonomous vans with an eye towards driverless car-pooling by 2025.
Battery breakthrough at Harvard: Researchers at Harvard develop what they describe as a “long-lasting, stable solid-state lithium battery.” A team led by Xin Li, a professor of materials science at the school of engineering, has created a battery that Li says can be charged and discharged 10,000 times. The researchers say the innovation should significantly extend the lifetime of EVs and allow them to be charged in 10-20 minutes. Nice work.
Elon Musk rethinks Bitcoin: The eccentric entrepreneur says concerns about the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining have prompted Tesla to no longer accept payments in the cryptocurrency. Musk’s personal advocacy of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is widely credited with driving up their values over the past year. The environmental concerns, which many highlighted in the wake of Tesla’s $1.5 billion Bitcoin purchase earlier this year, relate to the massive amount of energy consumed by computers that “mine” the currency. Unsurprisingly, Bitcoin’s value tumbled 12% after Musk’s reversal last week.
GOP draws red line on infrastructure: A meeting between President Joe Biden and GOP Congressional leaders hasn’t led to a breakthrough in negotiations over Biden’s proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure package. Republicans say they won’t support any tax increase and they want a bill that only focuses on physical infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and broadband, as opposed to the wide-ranging list of physical and “human” infrastructure priorities, including a $400 billion expansion of in-home care. If Republicans remain united in opposition, Biden will need the support of all 50 Senate Democrats, some of whom may have concerns about the price tag.
No drive to drive: As the U.S. emerges from the pandemic, ride-hailing services are struggling to meet surging demand due to a lack of drivers. Things that may be keeping many drivers from returning include higher gas prices, generous pandemic unemployment benefits and competition for labor from newer gig economy services that actually benefited from the pandemic, such as DoorDash.
Japan looks to ropeways: Japanese company Zip Infrastructure Inc is touting ropeways –– otherwise known as zip cars –– as a cheap, flexible way to expand mass transit in Tokyo and other notoriously congested Japanese cities. The company is already testing a system in the mid-size mountain city, Odawara. Its aim is to have a system in place in major cities by 2025 in which autonomous zip cars that carry up to 12 people arrive every 12 seconds, moving up to 3,000 people an hour. Hmm, OK.
Tesla talks with EVE: The automaker is in talks with EVE Energy Co., the Chinese battery-maker, to provide it with lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries as it seeks to ramp up production and deliver lower-cost vehicles to the burgeoning Chinese market. A source says Tesla wants to bring on EVE as a “check and balance” against its existing Chinese LFP provider, Contemporary Amperex Technology Co.
New York considers direct EV sales: State legislators in New York have proposed allowing EV manufacturers to sell directly to consumers. It is already getting pushback from car dealerships as well as the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group for car manufacturers, which argues that the change will unfairly benefit some car-makers but hurt others.
Masks remain on planes and trains: Even after the CDC tells vaccinated Americans that they are free to go maskless in most indoor and outdoor situations, the federal government is not yet lifting masking requirements on public transit, in planes and at airports.
Fisker & Foxconn team up on EVs: EV startup Fisker Inc signs a deal with Taiwanese contract-manufacturing giant Foxconn to make electric vehicles priced under $30,000. Their goal is to enter production in 2023 and to reach a global capacity of 250,000 units a year. Foxconn says it is deciding between Mexico and Wisconsin for its first plant, but the deal with Fisker includes a commitment for at least one factory to be U.S.-based.
Energy secretary under fire for Proterra stocks: U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s stake in Proterra, the electric bus manufacturer, has prompted Republicans to accuse the former Michigan governor of a conflict of interest. President Biden, pushing for hundreds of billions of dollars in federal support for EVs, including electric buses, recently toured a Proterra facility. Although Granholm, in accordance with federal ethics laws, stepped down from the Proterra board after being confirmed as energy secretary, she has not yet divested from the company. The law says she has six months after confirmation to do so.
Big EV push by Hyundai & Kia: Korean auto giant Hyundai and its subsidiary Kia announce plans to invest $7.4 billion in the U.S. over the next four years in an effort to become a major EV player. Hyudai says its first EVs will go into production next year.
Is it worth giving up buckwheat? Botanists worry that the rapidly-growing lithium industry in Nevada may drive a recently-discovered flower, Tiehm’s buckwheat, to extinction. Relatively little is known about the plant but some scientists believe that mankind much could be learned from the plant’s ability to thrive in inhospitable conditions. Who knew?
The first small city to go contactless: Monterey-Salinas Transit becomes the first U.S. transit agency outside of a major metro area to adopt tap-to-pay fares.
How much parking is there, really? Nexar, the Israeli dash cam company, equipped 50 taxis in Milan with its dash cams in an effort to survey the congested Italian city’s available parking. Nexar then fed the images collected by the taxis to an AI program to identify free parking spaces. The outcome was far from perfect; the program delivered a number of “false positives,” such as curb space that was free but not legal for parking due to a nearby bus stop or ongoing construction work. Nevertheless, the vision data generated more than 30 spaces per hour, suggesting that with a little optimization, a vision-based system could revolutionize curb management, a welcome development for cities seeking to ease traffic and cut down on the time (and carbon) consumed by commuters looking for parking spaces.
Setting the stage for robo-taxis: Alphabet-backed Waymo and GM-backed Cruise are both seeking permits in San Francisco to begin charging for autonomous ride-hailing. Although Waymo has already been offering paid rides in Chandler, Ariz. since 2019, it has not expanded operations as much as anticipated, a fact that it attributes to the relatively low population density in the Phoenix suburb. It sees much greater potential in a dense environment like San Francisco. Both Waymo and Cruise outlined a number of restrictions in their applications, such as having a safety driver behind the wheel, limiting speeds to 30 mph and even switching over to driver-operated in certain weather conditions.
Cruise says driverless shuttles in 2023: Driverless ride-hailing won’t really heat up for Cruise until its autonomous shuttle, the Origin, goes into production, says Dan Ammann, the chief executive of the GM’s AV subsidiary. He expects that will happen in 2023.
VW says 2025: The auto giant announces plans to begin testing driverless vans in Germany this summer. The vehicles will be equipped with hardware and software from Argo AI, the Pittsburgh startup backed by VW and Ford. VW says the plan is to have the vans offering ride-pooling and commercial delivery services by 2025.
Bird to go public: The e-scooter pioneer is poised to go public via SPAC at a valuation of $2.3 billion. The Santa Monica-based firm announced last week that it will merge with blank-check company Switchback II, confirming a news story by our friends at dot.LA. The infusion of capital should help Bird pay off debts and ramp up operations after the pandemic prompted the company to scale back operations and lay off staff last year. Similar to other major sharing economy companies, Bird has never turned a profit and there are some who believe that scooter-nomics will never work.
Betting on BodaBodas: Uber and Bolt face stiff competition as they try to get a piece of the thriving motor-taxi market in major African cities. The ubiquitous bicycles and motorcycles that typically carry one passenger in the back are called boda bodas in Uganda, okadas in Nigeria and piki pikis in Kenya. It’s an industry that is ripe to be transformed by app-based ride-hailing, but so far the ride-hailing giants are way behind Uganda-based startup SafeBoda, which claims to have an 85% market share across both countries.
France to subsidize bike deliveries: The French government rolls out a new pilot program aimed at encouraging delivery services to use cargo bikes instead of vans. Beginning next month, companies in four major cities will get paid 2 euros for every bike delivery. As the program becomes more popular, the per-delivery subsidy will decrease.
The New York Times looks at formerly hot EV startups that have since fallen from grace among investors, including Lordstown and Nikola.
Bloomberg CItyLab considers the implications of a long-term shift to remote work for America’s struggling public transit agencies.
Jobs at Joby: The promising eVOTL startup has jobs galore available at its three California sites in Santa Cruz, Marina and San Carlos.
Fly high with Bird: Now that it’s gone public via SPAC, micromobility operator Bird is poised to spend heavily to ramp up operations that were powered down during much of the pandemic. The company has scores of available positions in 25 different locations around the world, as well as plenty of jobs that can be done remotely.
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