It’s not often you see a U.S. president behind a wheel, which is why the video of Joe Biden driving the all-electric F-150 Lightning in Dearborn, Mich. is the big news this week. The Michigan trip was all part of the White House’s ongoing efforts to promote its proposed infrastructure package, which still appears unlikely to attract support from Republicans, despite a cordial bipartisan meeting in the Oval Office. On the tech side, other interesting news includes Kia’s new fast-charging EV6, a German startup that tracks the health of EV batteries, a series of unfortunate events for a Waymo robo-taxi in Arizona and TuSimple’s autonomous truck test which it says cut 10 hours off a 950-mile trip.
“This sucker’s quick”: So said President Biden after test-driving an electric F-150 Lightning at Ford’s driving course in Dearborn, MI, on a stop to promote his infrastructure plan. The automaker used the visit to officially unveil the electric version of America’s most popular truck — and racked up 20,000 reservations in the first 12 hours. No sales commission for the President, we’re guessing.
…for a sense of just how far EVs have come in recent years, consider that in 2012 it was a big deal that Barack Obama tried out a Chevy Volt that only went 38 miles on a charge before its gas motor kicked in. Ford claims the new F-150 has a range of 300 miles.
Detroit’s gain is Lordstown’s loss: As the traditional auto giants begin to deliver on EVs, investors are growing skeptical of EV startups — particularly SPACs — promising to disrupt the industry.
Infrastructure talks continue: In hopes of attracting Republican support for his wide-reaching infrastructure package, President Joe Biden met with a group of GOP senators and later cut the price for his plan from $2.25 trillion to $1.7 trillion.
And yet, the prospects of a bipartisan bill still appear dim, even if some of the GOP senators described their meeting with the president as “productive.” There are still big disagreements about the size and scope of the bill and how it should be paid for. Biden’ broad package includes major spending on traditional transportation projects (roads, bridges, transit), EVs, broadband, renewable energy and social programs, such as child care and elder care. He has proposed covering the bill mostly by raising corporate taxes. Senate Republicans have countered with a much narrower $568 billion plan focused on physical infrastructure and have rejected talk of tax increases, instead proposing unspecified “user fees.” A recent analysis found that an EV fee equivalent to the gas tax would only raise $1 billion over five years, so they’ll probably need some other ideas. Remember, Biden doesn’t technically need any Republican votes to pass a bill, but he needs every single Democrat in the Senate and at least one of them has said he wants a bipartisan deal. It’s going to be a bumpy ride…
Sacramento mandates EVs for Uber/Lyft: The California Air Resources Board approves a rule requiring 90% of miles driven by ride-hailing services to be EV by 2030. Members of the board nevertheless voiced concerns about just who will cover the cost of EV adoption. Right now the best bet would be the drivers: they’re the ones responsible for buying and maintaining the vehicles now and in California their status as independent contractors, as opposed to employees, was enshrined in law by state voters in November. Uber and Lyft are urging the state to provide incentives to drivers to switch to EVs.
Paris pushes pollution out: Just as Mayor Anne Hidalgo pushes for a radical plan to close off much of the central city to car traffic, a new study finds that a five-year-old policy to reduce pollution by discouraging car use has likely failed (article in French). Shutting down a section of the Georges Pompidou freeway, which runs along the Seine and bisects the city, has not reduced car use across the metro area, say researchers from l’Institut des Politiques Publiques. They found the closure has simply pushed more traffic onto the city’s already crowded ring road. Hidalgo’s efforts to make the central city “greener” may result in making the city’s poorer outskirts “grayer.”
…granted, there are big differences between shutting down one section of a freeway and making whole neighborhoods off-limits to cars. The former encourages drivers to find alternative routes, while the latter encourages them to find alternative modes of transportation.
Promising start for French car rental startup: Virtuo, a Paris-based startup that offers customers an all-digital approach to short and long-term car rentals, raises $96 million in a Series C round. The company, with 150,000 users in France, Spain and the U.K., plans to expand into other countries.
Kia gets to 300: In New York City’s Times Square the Korean automaker unveils its latest electric car, the EV6, boasting a range of 300 miles. It’s the first car released under the company’s $25 billion “S” plan, which stands for a shift to electrification. Oh, and car’s 800-volt system means it can charge up to 80% in just 20 minutes.
Keeping tabs on your battery: German startup Twaice, behind “digital twin” technology that tracks the health of EV batteries, raises $26 million in a Series B round led by Chicago-based Energize Ventures. It is currently very expensive to monitor the progressive degradation of an EV battery when it’s in operation. Understanding the state of the battery is an important piece of information, particularly for those looking at buying a used EV.
Ford + SK = BlueOvalSK: BlueOvalSK is the name of the new joint venture between the Detroit automaker and Korean battery-maker SK Innovation to manufacture battery cells at two SK plants under construction in Georgia. SK, which also has a deal to provide cells to VW, is able to move forward with Ford after settling a trade secrets dispute with rival Korean battery-maker LG Chem (a GM supplier) that threatened to prevent SK from importing key battery materials for its U.S. operations. But BlueOvalSK is a mouthful of a name.
More cops at MTA: Despite pushing back on what he has described as an unfair narrative of surging crime in New York City’s subways, Mayor Bill de Blasio adds 250 cops to patrol the Big Apple’s mammoth public transit system. That’s on top of the 3,000 officers who work directly for MTA. Ridership is still down 63% from pre-pandemic levels and transit advocates worry that a number of high-profile violent incidents have deterred former riders from returning.
An autonomous all-nighter: TuSimple, the San Diego-based autonomous trucking startup, claims one of its driverless freight vehicles made a 951-mile trip between Nogales, AZ. and Oklahoma City in only 14 hours and 6 minutes. That’s 10 hours less than it typically takes a human-operated freight truck. There was a safety driver behind the wheel at all times and humans operated the truck at the very beginning and very end of the journey. What’s not clear yet is why the AV was able to make the trip that much faster — is it just because we’re assuming the driver will pull over for a full night’s sleep after eight hours on the road? And no bathroom stops for AVs, of course.
California DMV joins the Tesla pile-on: The state agency is investigating whether Tesla violated state regulations by describing its latest driver assistance software as “full self driving capability.” FSD, which Tesla has made available to a limited number of car owners, has been widely panned by experts as dangerously misleading. Separately, federal authorities are investigating 23 crashes involving “autopilot,” the driver assistance program available in a number of Tesla vehicles. On Monday, a Tesla in autopilot mode crashed into a parked police car in Washington state. Not a good look.
Waymo loses its way: One of Waymo’s robo-taxis in Chandler, Ariz. was caught on camera making a series of baffling errors — with a passenger on board. Among other things, it stopped in the middle of a lane for four minutes, blocking traffic. The trouble appears to have been prompted by orange construction cones, which may have confused the AV.
Spinning off Spin?: Word on the street suggests Ford may be considering divesting its e-scooter unit as CEO Jim Farley seeks to narrow the company’s focus on what he sees as its core future profit centers: EVs and AVs.
E for exercise: Subjects who took part in a simulated 5 km commute on an electric bike exerted less energy than those on traditional pedal bikes but still achieved the “moderate intensity exercise level.” Public health organizations have generally determined that 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise a week correlates strongly with reduced risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Cycling champion killed in crash: Gwen Inglis, the reigning U.S. road race champion for women 45-49 was in the bike lane on a road near her home in Lakewood, Colo., when she was struck and killed by a car. The driver is suspected of being under the influence.
Science takes a deep dive into the question of EV battery recycling, which may soon become a major environmental issue.
The Washington Post explores the idea of free public transit, a concept that has picked up steam among transit advocates as agencies struggle to recover from plummeting ridership during the pandemic. Progressives in Congress have even proposed federal dollars to make it a reality in cities throughout the country.
Orsay Consulting offers a concise overview of how hydrogen’s future role in mobility.
Bloomberg CityLab takes a look at transportation technology that cities have resisted, from steam carriages to e-scooters.
TuSimple’s 200 jobs: The autonomous trucking startup has over 200 positions open, mostly in three warm-weather spots: San Diego, Dallas and Tucson, Ariz.
Work is Twaice as fun in Munich: The startup focused on EV battery monitoring has a number of positions open in design, sales, marketing and engineering at its Munich headquarters.
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