Is there actually a deal on infrastructure? While there may be 60 senators who have agreed to a vague framework for $600 billion in new spending on roads, transit, broadband and other physical assets, some Republicans are balking over concerns about how to pay for the package –– and Democrats are pushing for a vote this week. A few days after Richard Branson makes a trip into space, China sends a reusable spacecraft to the edge of the atmosphere and back — and Chinese EV maker Xpeng shows off a flying car. GM tells some Chevy Bolt owners to keep their cars outside…in case they catch on fire. Volkswagen, as part of its penance for Dieselgate, aims to double the number of EV chargers in the U.S. in the next four years. Germany is setting itself apart from the rest of the western world with a new law enabling the widespread use of commercial AVs. And Tesla has finally released a subscription for Full Self Driving, its controversially-named driver assistance software.
Waiting on infrastructure: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has scheduled a vote this week on a still-vague bipartisan infrastructure agreement. However, some Republicans who have voiced support for the framework say they may not be comfortable voting so soon due to still-unresolved questions over how the nearly $600 billion in new spending will be funded.
The physical infrastructure deal also faces obstacles in the House of Representatives. Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the lower chamber will not approve the deal until the Senate passes the much more controversial $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” plan that Republicans uniformly oppose.
China’s reusable space shuttle: China sends a spacecraft to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere and back in one day, landing horizontally on its home planet. Reusable space shuttles are key to making space travel cheaper and more common. The journey symbolized “China’s transition from a ‘big’ space-faring nation to a ‘powerful’ space-faring one,” said the China Aerospace, Science and Technology Corporation, the main contractor for the country’s space program. This is the real space race, folks: Beijing vs Washington.
Another Bolt bummer: First GM recalls tens of thousands of 2017-19 Chevy Bolts for repairs. Now it’s telling those who got their cars repaired that they may be at risk of catching on fire, and is urging customers not to leave their cars charging overnight and not to park them indoors.
The burden of utility regs on EVs: One of the major obstacles to the development of EV charging infrastructure in the United States are regulations that prohibit businesses from selling electricity for more than they paid for it. Experts say if we want to start seeing chargers alongside pumps at service stations, we need to change many of the rules that are largely aimed at utilities.
LG Chem’s big battery investment: The Korean chemical company will invest $5 billion over the next four years into developing EV battery technology. Among its ambitions is to boost its anode production from about 40,000 tons now to 260,000 tons by 2026.
A scandal’s silver lining: Electrify America, an entity VW set up as part of its Dieselgate settlement, announces plans to double the number of EV fast charging stations in the U.S. over the next four years. It plans to deploy 800 charging stations with 3,500 chargers by the end of this year and 1,800 stations and about 10,000 chargers by the end of 2025.
An airport station, but not at the airport: Some leaders in Charlotte, N.C. are frustrated with the light rail that the regional transit agency has proposed: the station meant to service the airport is a mile away, requiring riders to get on a separate shuttle to get to the terminal. Agency leaders, however, say the headache involved with laying tracks down at the airport (including FAA security rules) outweigh the benefits, and argue that most airport-bound rail passengers won’t be people catching flights, but airport workers who already take shuttles into work after parking their cars.
Hello V2G: Zūm, the Bay Area child transportation startup, unveils plans to send power back to the grid when they’re not transporting youngsters to and from school. The company hopes to have 10,000 electric school buses in service by the end of 2025, at which point they believe they’ll be able to send 1 gigawatt of electricity back to the grid. School buses are typically not in use when power demand is highest, creating an opportunity for them to send power to the grid either during the school day, on weekends or in the evening. President Biden and lawmakers have proposed billions of dollars to electrify school bus fleets. Perhaps utilities and school districts will start to explore mutually beneficial partnerships to deliver relief to school budgets and electric grids.
The scent of a PR stunt: In response to a survey showing that a fair number of drivers say they’ll miss the smell of gasoline if they go electric, Ford has created a fragrance to remind people of the good old days when you had to burn gas to burn rubber. Mach-Eau, according to a Ford press release, is a “high-end fragrance that fuses smoky accords, aspects of rubber and even an ‘animal’ element to give a nod to the Mustang heritage.” And yet…for all the trouble the company went through to make it, the new fragrance will apparently not be available for purchase. Instead, it’s simply “a part of Ford’s ongoing mission to help dispel myths around electric cars and convince traditional car enthusiasts of the potential of electric vehicles.” Wait, what myths about EVs did this new perfume dispel?
Xpeng shows off flying car: The Chinese EV-maker releases a minute-and-a-half video of its flying car prototype in action.
Deutsch ya want AVs? The Germans are racing ahead with uniform AV regs that essentially give businesses, including ride-hailing firms, the go-ahead to use AVs but under strict conditions: there must be a remote operator able to take control of the car at any time and they can only travel in designated areas approved by regulators. The ability to make money with AVs, potentially at a large scale, may make Germany a magnet for AV research and investment.
Full Self Driving for all: Full Self Driving, Tesla’s controversially-named driving assistance software, is now available to all Tesla owners for $199 a month. Until now, you had to pay a $10,000 one-time fee. Although it may be more advanced than Autopilot, Tesla’s other driving assistance system, the company has conceded that FSD is still only “Level 2” autonomy and, despite what its name suggests, the system requires the driver to be alert and be ready to intervene at all times.
Aurora’s SPAC: The Pittsburgh-based AV hardware and software startup is set to go public by via SPAC at a valuation of $11 billion. It will merge with Reinvent Technology Partners and aims to have $2.5 billion of cash to play with before the end of the year. Aurora is working with a number of different companies, including Toyota, Uber, Volvo. Its stated goal is achieving Level 4 autonomous vehicles.
Another big buy for Toyota: Woven Planet Holdings, the Toyota entity focused on autonomous driving, buys HD mapping startup Carmera for an undisclosed sum. This follows Woven Planet’s recent acquisition of Lyft’s AV division, Level 5, for $550 million.
The 10-minute island: Fenix, a micromobility operator based in the United Arab Emirates, launches a new grocery delivery service on Reem Island, a mixed-use 1,600 acre development just off the coast of Abu Dhabi. By tapping into their own fleet of e-scooters, Fenix promises that customers will get their groceries in 10 minutes.
Equitable scooting: 2,000 e-scooters and bikes, provided by Bird and Veoride, are coming to the streets of Newark, New Jersey’s largest city as part of a six month pilot. Announcing the pilot, Mayor Ras Baraka acknowledged that scooters are often associated with “gentrification” but said that the program is designed to help those who would benefit most from affordable last-mile transportation, including the 50% of city residents who don’t own a car. The Newark program allows those who qualify for certain state or federal assistance programs to pay $5 a month for unlimited 30-minute rides. Not bad…
Revel helps out the grid: The moped-sharing service is seeking to align its charging schedule with the needs of New York’s electric grid. With the help of GridRewards, an app by software company Logical Buildings that helps consumers lower their energy consumption in exchange for cash rewards. Revel will use the app’s “virtual power plant” function to lower its consumption when demand on the grid is high.
Bloomberg CityLab looks at 16 U.S. cities that are effectively putting public data to use.
The Financial Times wonders whether Google and Amazon have erred in their “go big or go home” approach to commercial AVs.
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