It’s another week of mixed news for mobility tech. Amidst increasing political pressure to dial back its robo-taxi operations, Cruise announces its driverless cars have now driven 1 million miles. Will this help make up for the embarrassing mishaps that have stopped traffic on San Francisco streets? Meanwhile, Motional will expand its robo-taxi operation in Las Vegas into the night, although with a safety driver present.
Sono, the once-promising German startup, abandons plans to build an EV embedded with its solar panel technology and will make do selling its tech to other automakers. It might be the right call, but it has already cost 300 employees their jobs. Speaking of solar, renewable energy generators in the U.S. are having a hard time finding electric grids that are willing and able to plug them in.
Wisk and Archer try to settle their trade secrets dispute in mediation, luxury EV maker Lucid is struggling to find buyers for its expensive electric sedan, and Elon Musk appears to warm up to California again, describing a new engineering facility in Palo Alto as one of the company’s two “headquarters.”
Also, some good news from the cities: Chicago’s downtown has grown significantly since the pandemic. And some familiar bad news from the suburbs, where hostility to public transit and dense housing often make it difficult for urban areas to make “regional” transportation work.
Cruise hits 1 million: Cruise, GM’s autonomous driving subsidiary, announces it has logged 1 million miles without a safety driver behind the wheel. Most of that driverless driving took place in San Francisco, where Cruise operates a fleet of robo-taxis. Its San Francisco experience has included a number of embarrassing malfunctions and has prompted political leaders to question whether the company should be allowed to operate without drivers on public streets. Whatever San Francisco does about robo-taxis, the data Cruise has collected so far will prove extremely valuable to its global AV ambitions.
Sono gives up on EV – but not solar tech: Sono Motors, the German company that went public at $15 a share in November 2021, abruptly abandons its long-awaited EV and will instead focus on selling its technology, which embeds solar panels into EVs, to other automakers. The pivot, which the company attributed to depleted capital, will cost 300 employees their jobs.
Vegas expands robo-taxis into the night: Uber and Lyft users in Las Vegas will soon be able to request a nighttime ride in an autonomous Hyundai IONIQ 5 operated by Motional, the Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture. As has been the case with the daytime rides that Motional has been offering since August, the nighttime service will feature a safety driver.
Ireland increases bike tax credit: The Irish government has revised its existing tax credits for bikes in an effort to encourage families to buy electric cargo bikes. The maximum price eligible for the credit has been upped to 3,000 euros. Depending on your tax bracket, the credit will chop between 855-1,455 euros off the cost of a bike that retails at or above the maximum price.
Wisk and Archer try to talk it out: eVTOL air taxi rivals Wisk Aero and Archer Aviation are trying to settle an ongoing trade secrets dispute through mediation. Wisk sued Archer in April 2021, accusing the fellow Silicon Valley startup of stealing its intellectual property. Archer then counter-sued, asking for $1 billion in damages. Good luck, you two!
Tesla just can’t quit California: Elon Musk has repeatedly butted heads with political leaders and regulators in California over Covid restrictions, labor regulations and autonomous driving, but he and California Gov. Gavin Newsom had nothing but nice things to say about each other at the unveiling of Tesla’s new engineering headquarters in Palo Alto. Although Musk relocated the company’s official headquarters to Austin, Tex. in 2021, he described the Palo Alto site as “effectively a headquarters for Tesla” and that the company is “kind of dual headquartered.” We hope Austin isn’t too disappointed to discover that its relationship with Tesla isn’t exclusive.
Lucid’s demand problem: After struggling to get production underway, the luxury EV maker is now confronting another issue: low demand. In November it reported 34,000 reservations for its $87,000 Air sedan, but since then reservations have dropped to 28,000, even though the automaker has only delivered 2,000. Now the company says it plans to deliver just 10,000 to 14,000 vehicles this year, about half what Wall Street had projected.
Why suburbs are tough transit partners: One of the reasons “regional” transportation is such a challenge in major metro areas is that suburban communities simply aren’t interested in participating. Sometimes they don’t want a train station connecting them to a big city, but in other cases they want the transit but they don’t want the housing necessary to support it. In Bloomberg CityLab, veteran transit planner Klaus Philipsen describes how NIMBYism in the Baltimore suburbs has bedeviled the 30-year-old light rail system.
Wait, why do we want flying cars again? Frontier Group’s Tony Dutzik argues that the drive for flying cars reflects a misguided effort to redeem the “broken promises” of the automobile. Just like highways three generations ago, he argues, flying personal vehicles will fail to liberate us from congestion.
A new tool that projects the infrastructure costs of new development: The province of British Columbia has developed a software tool to help local governments calculate the “lifecycle costs” of different types of development. For instance, how much tax revenue will a new single-family subdivision generate and how much will it cost to build and maintain the new infrastructure to serve it? And how does that compare to a new apartment complex built downtown?
Where do we plug in all this new wind and solar? The good news is that the public and private sector are making unprecedented investments in clean energy projects. The bad news, as described by Brad Plumer of the New York Times, is many completed wind turbines and solar panels are having to wait years to plug into the electric grid. For instance, PJM Connection, which operates the largest regional grid in the U.S., has been so overwhelmed by requests from new generators that it has announced a freeze on new applications until 2026.
Downtown Chicago flips the pandemic script: Like many other downtowns, Chicago’s inner loop saw droves of people leave in the early days of the pandemic. It has since quickly rebounded, and now its population is 9% greater than pre-Covid. The resurgence of downtown, in Chicago and elsewhere, undermines the narrative that Covid has prompted a wide scale shift to the suburbs.
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