Monthly Archives: June 2021

Automaker factory robotics: What it means for jobs and electric vehicle production

The use of robotics in vehicle manufacturing will continue to grow at a fast enough pace to speed up production — and to remove quite a lot of jobs. Of course, job loss is nothing new in auto manufacturing where downsizing plants and moving some of them overseas has been taking place since the 1980s.

For the auto industry, it all started with General Motors testing out prototype spot welding robots in 1961. By the 1980s, billions of dollars were being spent by automakers worldwide to automate fundamental tasks in their assembly plants. Automation system deployment did decline in the 1990s, but innovative technology did help it to rebound in the next decade.

Today, it’s a common part of factories, and it’s starting to become another revenue source for automakers through providing robotic services to other companies. These companies are selling the advantages of protecting workers from injuries and making factories more efficient and streamlined by bringing in the best of robotics. There’s also the point about making the job less repetitive and boring for workers, which could also help improve retention.

At TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 earlier this month, three auto executives spoke to the issues. Max Bajracharya of Toyota Research Institute, Mario Santillo of Ford, and Ernestine Fu of Hyundai described how their companies are now viewing the technology. It’s not about the auto industry, as much it its for these companies to make names for themselves — and clientele — in the robotics sector.

“I think all automakers are recognizing that there won’t be the automotive business in the future as it is today,” Bajracharya said. “ A lot of automakers, Toyota included, are looking for what’s next. Automakers are very well positioned to leverage what they already know about robotics and manufacturing to take on the robotics market.”

Yet on the factory job front, there still are expectations for machines replacing humans. A 2019 report from Oxford Economics estimates that about 8.5 percent of the global manufacturing workforce stands to be replaced by robots, with about 14 million manufacturing jobs lost in China alone out of the 20 million projected to be displaced by 2030. Over the next decade, the US may lose more than 1.5 million jobs to automation. The number of robots currently in the global workforce, 2.25 million, has multiplied threefold over the past 20 years, doubling since 2010. Of course, these statistics go far beyond automakers with manufacturing including computers, consumer electronics, clothing, parts and components, packaged food, and other segments.

Four companies dominate the general industrial robotics market: Fanuc, Yaskawa, Kuka, and ABB. Automakers sometimes work with more than one of them, and other partners in automation.

There’s a correlation being made by automakers between robotics and EVs — through building and converting more factories into electric vehicle production and robotics playing an integral role. The connection seems to be more about electric autonomous vehicles and mobility. Robotic manufacturing might be included in the campaign they’re describing, at least for a few automakers.

Here’s a look at where all that’s going, starting with the big question: Will robotics take a leap forward, transforming vehicle manufacturing plants and upending the workforce?

BMW: The German automaker is betting on selling autonomous mobile robotics (AMRS) to the logistics sector. That will be through its Industry-Driven Engineering for Autonomous Logistics unit, which abbreviates to IDEAL and has the formal name of IDEALworks (IW). BMW Group started this unit in late 2020. The company has been partnering with Nvidia to develop mobile robots for internal use in their factories, primarily around automated material handling at the last mile, for a number of years. IW builds on this internal development and expands the scope to include autonomous robots in the logistics sector, and that could expand to couriers, 3PLs (third-party logistics), retailer stores, and online retailers.

The robot deployed is referred to as the small transport robot (STR) and is equipped with a Lips 3D camera and Sick sensors for safety. All robots rely on the Nvidia AGX hardware and makes significant use of NVIDIA’s SDK. BMW hopes to relieve employees from mundane and repetitive tasks so they can do better in their core competencies.

A year ago, the company confirmed it will cut about 6,000 jobs in Germany in an effort to cut costs as the automotive sector continues to struggle to recover from the Covid-19 outbreak. The German automaker and its works council agreed the workforce reduction will be achieved via a mixture of redundancies, early retirements, and not renewing temporary contracts, along with not filling new vacancies. It’s the first time since the financial crisis of 2008 that the company has had to cut staff. The company also tied the cuts to expanding focus on electric mobility and autonomous driving while boosting corporate efficiency.

BYD: On March 2, Beijing Horizon Robotics Technology R&D Co., Ltd. (Horizon Robotics), an AI chip supplier, held a strategic cooperation signing ceremony with BYD Co., Ltd., at BYD’s Shenzhen headquarters.
Horizon Robotics, a five-year-old company specializing in AI chips for robots and autonomous vehicles, sees huge potential in automotive partnerships. Horizon’s OEM and Tier 1 auto partners, according to the firm, include Audi, Bosch, Continental, SAIC Motor and BYD. Based on its own deep chip and intelligent technology accumulation, BYD says it will be cooperating with Horizon’s leading artificial intelligence chips and algorithms. It gives BYD a leverage point for adding AI, robotics, and automated vehicles, into its catalogue tied to electric vehicles and advanced batteries.

FCA: Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s robot unit Comau was spun off before the merger with PSA, for the benefit of all shareholders of the combined company. The Jan 19, 2021, $52 billion merger between FCA and PSA Group created Stellantis, now the fourth-largest automaker in the world. Comau is an Italian industrial automation company specializing in processes and automated systems that improve corporate manufacturing production through four core offerings: Controls; Teach Pendant with its ergonomic human robot interface; Auxiliary Equipment enabling equipment for increased functionality; and Software, offering digital tools to enhance processes.

Comau considers itself to be a leading company in the industrial automation field on the global playing field. The full portfolio includes: joining, assembly and machining solutions for traditional and electric vehicles, robotized manufacturing systems, a complete family of robots (including collaborative and wearable robotics) with extensive range and payload configurations, autonomous logistics, and asset optimization services with real-time monitoring and control capabilities. Tesla just because one of its clients this year.

Ford: In April, the company announced that at its transmission plant Livonia, Mich., where robots help assemble torque converters now includes a system that uses AI to learn from previous attempts how to make the production process more efficient. Inside a large safety cage, robot arms wheel around grasping circular pieces of metal, each about the diameter of a dinner plate, from a conveyor and slot them together.
Ford uses technology from a startup called Symbio Robotics that looks at the past few hundred attempts to determine which approaches and motions appeared to work best. A computer sitting just outside the cage shows Symbio’s technology sensing and controlling the arms. The enhanced automation allows this part of the assembly line to run 15 percent faster, a significant improvement in automotive manufacturing where thin profit margins depend heavily on manufacturing efficiencies, Ford said.

General Motors: General Motors announced late last year that Factory ZERO, Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center, the company’s all-electric vehicle assembly plant, is the first automotive plant in the US to install dedicated 5G fixed mobile network technology. Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service is operating now at Factory ZERO, with its exponential increases in both bandwidth and speed supporting the ongoing transformation of the plant as it prepares to begin producing EVs in 2021.

It offers considerably faster download speeds and greater bandwidth than 4G networks. Factory ZERO is being completely retooled with a $2.2 billion investment, the largest ever for a GM manufacturing facility. Once fully operational, the plant will create more than 2,200 good-paying U.S. manufacturing jobs, the company said.

General Motors embraced smart manufacturing in 2018 through its Zero Down Time robot program in partnership with Japan’s Fanuc. Dan Grieshaber, GM’s director of global manufacturing integration, recently told Automotive News that the program includes 13,000 robots across GM’s 54 global manufacturing plants. The robots upload their data to Fanuc where the results are measured against GM’s performance expectations.

GM is using the system to troubleshoot maintenance issues and other quirks before they become serious. Another goal: helping prevent fatigue for workers that use repetitive motion. The sensors, actuators and tendons — comparable to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand — increase dexterity for the worker. GM also uses collaborative robots or “cobots” that can operate around the human workforce without a safety cage.

Hyundai: In December, Hyundai Motor Group and SoftBank Group Corp. agreed on a transaction that placed Hyundai at an 80 percent controlling interest in Boston Dynamics in a deal that values the mobile robot firm at $1.1 billion. The deal came as Hyundai Motor Group envisions the transformation of human life by combining world-leading robotics technologies with its mobility expertise.

The two owners hope it will establish a leading presence in the field of robotics, and it will mark another major step for Hyundai toward its strategic transformation into a Smart Mobility Solution Provider. The Korean company said that it has invested substantially in development of future technologies, including autonomous driving technology, connectivity, eco-friendly vehicles, smart factories, advanced materials, artificial intelligence (AI), and robots.

Boston Dynamics produces mobile robots with advanced mobility, dexterity and intelligence, enabling automation in difficult, dangerous, or unstructured environments. The company launched sales of its first commercial robot, Spot, in June of 2020 and has since sold hundreds of robots in a variety of industries, such as power utilities, construction, manufacturing, oil and gas, and mining.

Nissan: As Nissan prepares to build a new generation of electrified, intelligent and connected cars, the company is making a series of investments to upgrade its production technologies and facilities, but the company is emphasizing the benefits that will come to employees more than cutting costs. Nissan’s mission is improving efficiency in terms of preventing mistakes, maintaining quality, ensuring that workers are freed from monotonous tasks, and reducing strain and fatigue from work.

One way to make improvements will be choosing when to automate. Certain assembly line processes are best suited for robots, particularly if they’re simple and repetitive yet relatively strenuous for humans. Another area of focus will be on industrial robots that work on things like welding and assembly are ordinarily kept in cages for safety reasons, due to their size, strength and speed of movement. Cobots (collaborative robots) seem to the answer here, for manufacturing processes where people and machines need to work closely together. Cobots offer robotic arms with limited strength and speed of movement. In addition to being extremely nimble, they can be easily reprogrammed to learn new tasks, Nissan said.

Tesla: Tesla and Stellantis-owned Comau are setting up a new series of automation equipment for manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont Factory in Northern California. According to permits submitted by Tesla to the City of Fremont, Tesla will begin to anchor and install Comau’s products that entail highly automated and effective manufacturing techniques that are designed for electric vehicles.

Before Tesla started building its Model 3 compact sedan in 2017, CEO Elon Musk laid out a vision for its Fremont, Calif., assembly plant to become the factory of the future. But Musk had to learn similar lessons that what General Motors tried in the 1980s. GM saw its efforts backfire, as robots sprayed paint on each other and welding machines damaged vehicle bodies. Tesla’s efforts met a similar fate, as Model 3 production got off to a much slower start than the company had predicted. The delays were severe, and Musk later admitted he was wrong for trying to lean so heavily on automation. But the challenges persist, according to current and former Tesla employees. Mechanical problems are continuing at the Fremont plant, but this time are not cutting off production targets.

Toyota: Toyota has been developing industrial robots since the 1970s and has been bringing them into their manufacturing systems to improve quality and reduce costs. Robots are primarily used in their welding, painting, and assembly processes. In recent years, everything has been shifted over to Toyota Research Institute (TRI). Most recently, TRI has been refining its technology and service to be applied to the home. As societies age, there will be huge demand for increased caregiving, systems that enable us to live independently longer, and assistance for an increasingly aging workforce, the company said. Robots and automation can play a key role in freeing up people to spend more time with family, assisting people with tasks they enjoy, or helping them perform work for their jobs.

It will be drastically different than the machines Toyota has set up to make its factories more efficient. Here’s where machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) methodology come to play. To address the diversity a robot faces in a home environment, TRI teaches the robot to perform arbitrary tasks with a variety of objects, rather than program the robot to perform specific predefined tasks with specific objects. In this way, the robot learns to link what it sees with the actions it is taught. When the robot sees a specific object or scenario again, even if the scene has changed slightly, it knows what actions it can take with respect to what it sees.

Volkswagen: Speaking of the aging global population, Volkswagen plans to use robots to cope with a shortage of new workers caused by retiring baby boomers. According to the company, the move to a more automated production line would ensure car manufacturing remains competitive in high-cost Germany. Similarly to other manufacturing outlets, VW predicts many of its workers will retire between now and 2030. Plus, a lack of skilled employees joining the business is forcing the company to look for alternative solutions.

The German automaker is also moving forward on automation at its electric vehicle plants. VW Passenger Cars and VW Commercial Vehicles divisions have ordered more than 2,200 new robots for the planned production of EVs at the German plants and the US plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. The company ordered more than 1,400 robots from the Japanese manufacturer Fanuc for their production facilities in Chattanooga, and from Emden in Germany. Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is purchasing 800 or more robots from the Swiss manufacturer ABB for the carmaker’s Hanover, Germany, plant. The robots will be primarily used in body construction and battery assembly.

Volkswagen had been doing a lot of business with Kuka, bringing in thousands of robots to its plants all over the world. There’s been speculation that since Kuka was taken over by the Chinese technology group Midea in spring 2016, Volkswagen has been trying to become more independent of the robot specialist based in Germany. But the company has rekindled its relationship, including giving part of the production duties over to Kuka for its ID Buzz electric vehicle.

And in other news……….
Supercharger network opening up: Tesla will be breaking one of its golden rules: don’t let anybody beyond Tesla owners use its charging network. The company has told Norwegian officials that it plans to open the Supercharger network to other automakers by September 2022. A decade after deploying the first Supercharger, Tesla now has over 25,000 Superchargers at over 2,700 stations around the world. But opening it up has been in the works. Last year, CEO Elon Musk said that Superchargers are now being used “low-key” by other automakers.

A German official recently announced that they have been in talks with Tesla to open up the network to other automakers. In Norway, Tesla wants incentives from the government to open up its Supercharger network. Government officials confirmed that
Tesla told them that it plans to open the Supercharger network to other automakers by Sept. 2022, and they will approve the incentives as long as Tesla goest through with the initiative.

It would be viable for Tesla to open its chargers throughout Europe, where its Supercharger network uses the CCS connector, which is standard in the region. However in North America, Tesla would have to offer an adapter since it uses a proprietary plug on its vehicles and charging stations in that market.

Ford and Argo report on AV improvements: Ford just released more details on its self-driving vehicle development, the first time since its 2018 safety report to the US Dept. of Transportation. In addition to working with Argo AI to advance the development of a robust Automated Driving System to guide Ford vehicles on roads, the automaker continued to research and develop an improved customer experience, fleet management capabilities, behind-the-scenes transportation-as-a-service software, and more.

In addition to Miami, Ford plans to launch its self-driving service in Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas. In all three of these cities, Ford established robust testing and business operations, including terminals and command centers to manage these fleet of vehicles as they transport people or deliver goods. Ford’s newest self-driving test vehicles are built on the Escape Hybrid platform, taking advantage of increased electrification capabilities and featuring the latest in sensing and computing technology. The Escape will be utilized to initially launch the service with.

Alongside testing in Miami, Austin and Washington, D.C., Argo AI continues to test the Automated Driving System in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Palo Alto, Calif. These projects have helped the company integrate self-driving test vehicles directly into its business pilots, offering real-world insights into what is required to run an efficient self-driving business.

Ford hopes to be a part of city transportation systems and provide a service that helps make people’s lives better. An example is the collaboration in Miami that created a Ford-designed smart infrastructure. Ford worked closely at the city, county, and state level to begin researching complex intersections. The data will help Ford and transportation officials better understand how autonomous vehicles can better navigate through busy or tricky intersections.

Argo continues to make significant advances toward enabling commercialization — including the recently announced Argo Lidar sensor with sensing range capability of 400 meters. This new technology enables Ford and Argo to test vehicles on highways and help connect vehicles to warehouses and suburban areas, expanding potential service areas for ride-hailing and goods deliveries.

EV sales incentives coming out of the shadows, and options for car shoppers look good

With the onslaught of Covid-19 last year, concern over climate change and air pollution was set aside. The Trump administration had already pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord, and there was no support for clean vehicle incentives and renewable energy.

What’s the latest on incentives and public education drives? Two vehicle manufacturers have been bumped from federal tax incentives after crossing the cap placed per automaker, but all the other automakers have access to it (and one more is approaching the cap.) This year, clean vehicles and energy are coming back. While it seems like cryptocurrency has become the hot topic, there’s been a lot of movement on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, demand for renewable energy, and serious moves by automakers to get back on track. Perhaps losing 15 months has inspired many stakeholders to revive their commitment to hitting targets set in recent years.

But the federal legislature is considering more incentives that could go even higher than the $7,500 tax incentive. There’s also a move being made for medium- and heavy-duty EVs that being considered in Washington.

Don’t forget that EV sales get a lot of support at several states across the country. It does require a bit of study and analysis to tap into.

As for public education campaigns, Plug In America has made a big difference here, including starting to break through the wall between dealers and consumers. A new study by an EV advocacy group brings even more hope for the retail and fleet markets.

Edmunds looks at federal tax credits
Federal tax incentives are still in place, but they will run out in their current state. The current federal tax incentives are applied to each manufacturer and continue until the automaker sells 200,000 qualified vehicles, with most going up to $7,500 tax credits for plug-in electric vehicles. Tesla hit the milestone first in July 2018. As a result, there are no federal tax credits for Tesla now.

In the last quarter of 2018, GM became the second carmaker to sell 200,000 qualified plug-in vehicles, Edmunds reported. Nissan is next in line for a credit phaseout, but Edmunds analysts think it could go into 2022 before the sales benchmark is hit. All other makers are trailing far behind in plug-in vehicles.

The incentive is based on the electric vehicle’s battery size. For example, the Toyota Prius Prime only qualifies for a $4,502 tax credit.

New incentives being considered in Washington
The federal tax incentives for EVs might be replaced with new legislation in Washington. A new bill called “Clean Energy for America” that passed the U.S. Senate Finance Committee this week would raise that to $12,500.

The legislation would keep the $7,500 level in place but would then add $2500 if the EV was assembled in the U.S., and another $2500 if it was made at plants represented by a labor union. The bill also sets a maximum MSRP for qualifying EVs at $80,000. The current EV tax credit has no price limits.

The bill now moves to the full U.S. Senate for consideration and approval.

Fleets operating medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are asking for more incentive from the federal government. CALSTART’s zero-emission transportation coalition is tapping into the Biden Administration’s FY22 Budget Request proposal for an upfront cash payment option in a zero-emission tax credit.

A broad coalition of 60 organizations called for congressional action on the option in a letter. Partners who co-signed include leaders in truck manufacturing, technology partners, and charging and fueling infrastructure companies. Tailoring a tax incentive amount to offset a large portion of the incremental cost with the option to monetize the credit, as the FY22 Budget proposal does, will help aggressively knock down this barrier to deployment, CALSTART said.

What Fisker thinks about it
Henrik Fisker, CEO, Fisker Inc., has asked the federal government to consider his plan, called “75 and more for 55 and less.” It would be a point-of-sale rebate of $7,500 plus $10 per mile of certified driving range for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) priced at $55,000 and less.

With a $7,500 rebate plus the range incentive, access to battery electric vehicles become more widespread by becoming a reduced transaction price, especially when received at the time of sale, and not as a delayed tax credit, he said.

“That driver of demand is magnified when applied to vehicles with a sticker price of less than $55,000. According to Cox Automotive, the average selling price of a new vehicle in the United States is $41,000, and over 80% are transacting under $55,000,” Fisker wrote.

The base price of the 2022 Fisker Ocean will be $37,499. Many buyers will qualify for the $7,500 federal EV tax credit, bringing the price down to less than $30,000.

State incentives available around the country
Forty-five states and the District of Columbia provide an incentive for certain EVs and/or PHEVs, either through a specific utility operating in the state or through state legislation.

Several states have a dozen or more programs; some of them are designed for fleet and transport operators using medium- and heavy- duty vehicles. Many of the incentives are geared only to businesses and not individual personal vehicle owners. Some credits come in the form of exemptions from fees and inspections. Others are non-monetary incentives such as carpool lane access and free parking.

California offers plug-in hybrid (PHEVs) and zero emission light-duty vehicle (ZEV) rebates through its Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP). It offers rebates for the purchase or lease of qualified vehicles. Qualified vehicles are those light-duty ZEVs and PHEVs that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has approved or certified. Under the program, CARB offers rebates of up to $4,500 for fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), $2,000 for BEVs, $1,000 for PHEVs, and $750 for zero-emission motorcycles.

California’s Hybrid and Zero Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) and Low NOx Engine Incentives, CARB provides vouchers to eligible fleets to reduce the cost to purchase qualified electric and hybrid trucks and buses at the time of purchase. Vouchers are available on a first-come, first-served basis and range from $2,000 to $315,000 depending on vehicle weight and type. Only fleets that operate vehicles in California are eligible. Voucher amounts vary depending on whether the vehicles are located in a disadvantaged community. 

PlugStar Program bridges the EV sales gap Plug In America’s PlugStar Program has really taken off and is bridging a wide gap between dealers and advocates of EVs, including automakers ramping up production of these vehicles and needing a proactive dealer network to sell them through. The non-profit EV advocacy group began its PlugStar EV dealer training and certification program in 2018. Since then, thousands of dealer sales staff and hundreds of dealerships across the country have been trained in the program.

Plug In America just conducted a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Key findings include: 

–PlugStar trained sales staff sell four times more EVs than their untrained counterparts.
–PlugStar certified dealers sell 20 percent more BEVs than non-PlugStar dealers.
–PlugStar dealers are two times more likely to get 5-star customer ratings than non-PlugStar dealers. 

The study also explored the major batteries that exist in getting through to EV shoppers and given them the service level they need — bridging what’s called the “EV Sales Gap.” Barriers in getting through to consumers include: consumer awareness of the varying aspects and benefits of EV ownership, including EV fueling and incentives.

Barriers for making it work with franchised auto dealers include finding ongoing support in a rapidly changing EV ecosystem, confidence in selling a new technology, and alignment of automotive dealership incentives for selling EVs.

And in other news……….
ID.4 AWD details come out: The new Volkswagen ID.4 AWD electric SUV revealed on June 17 will offer Americans yet another reason to embrace sustainable driving. With two electric motors, max 295 horsepower and an estimated 0-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds for the AWD Pro model, the ID.4 AWD offers performance and all-weather traction at a starting MSRP that no other all-wheel-drive electric vehicle for sale in the U.S. can beat. It’s MSRP is $43,675 and has an estimated range of 298 miles on the European WLTP test cycle.

“We’re committed to making EVs the default choice for Americans,” said Scott Keogh, President and Chief Executive Officer of Volkswagen of America. “The all-wheel-drive ID.4 merges the utility and zero-emissions driving delivered by the rear-wheel-drive vehicle with the performance from our sporty vehicles.”

Ford brings in charging management partners: Ford announced June 17 it is acquiring Electriphi, a California-based provider of charging management and fleet monitoring software for electric vehicles. This puts Ford in a solid position to resolve a hurdle for fleets attempting to adopt electrification — managing charging for efficiency. Electriphi’s team and services will be integrated into Ford Pro – a new global business within Ford committed to commercial customer productivity and to developing the most advanced charging and energy management experiences. “As commercial customers add electric vehicles to their fleets, they want depot charging options to make sure they’re powered up and ready to go to work every day,” said Ford Pro CEO Ted Cannis. “With Electriphi’s existing advanced technology IP in the Ford Pro electric vehicles and services portfolio, we will enhance the experience for commercial customers and be a single-source solution for fleet-depot charging.”

Mercedes partnering for US charging expansion: Mercedes-Benz USA, together with its charging partners, is committed to raising the bar on EV charging with Mercedes me Charge – the official charging ecosystem of the EQS and other future electric mobility products. Mercedes me Charge offers important innovations and convenient charge management services for the groundbreaking new all-electric EQS Luxury Sedan including a partnership with ChargePoint that simplifies the process of finding, using and paying for charging sessions on all major networks in North America. Through the Electrify America program, Mercedes me Charge enables complimentary 30-minute charging per session for the first two years from account activation and allows customers to simply “Plug & Charge” at all Electrify America DC fast chargers.

Mobility and delivery sector surviving pandemic, but is that really good for the economy and workforce?

As the fog starts to lift and we all head out more without face masks, what will be retained from our past 15 months of experience? Some businesses and sectors are poised to grow, while small businesses and age-old brands may continue to shut down.

Mobile-app based services were in place by 2015 with Uber and Lyft driving a lot of taxis out of the market. Food delivery and grocery shopping and delivery followed close behind with brands like Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart becoming known and tried out by consumers — mostly Millennial and Generation Z at first, followed by their parents.

Those that have thrived during the pandemic have been clearly in demand by people stuck in their homes, according to a few economists, analysts, and business publications.

Markets and companies that have done well during Covid 19

  1. Streaming services led by Netflix, and those seeing fast growth such as Disney+
  2. Online courses
  3. Video game sales
  4. Amazon
  5. Walmart
  6. Zoom
  7. Hand-sanitizing products
  8. Tesla
  9. Instacart
  10. DoorDash

Tesla continues to boom with consumers who have retained their jobs and personal wealth, and need to get out of their original Tesla vehicle or add another one. That includes markets outside the US.

You’ll notice that Uber and Lyft are not on this list, as the two companies were hit hard with riders not wanting to take the risk of getting in a car possibly driven by someone who’d tested positive for the virus; and vice versa. But they’re expected to come back, and Uber is pleased to see that it’s food delivery unit, Uber Eats, has been doing very well lately.

Bloomberg Second Measure reported that in April, DoorDash had 56 percent of the US market for restaurant/fast food delivery, Uber had 26 percent with UberEats at 21 percent and Postmates at 5 percent, and GrubHub had 18 percent. Postmates was in a much stronger position about five years ago, but has steadily been losing share in part by trying to delivery anything — groceries, auto parts, pharmacy drugs and over the counter medications, meals, and specialized wine and beer/ale stores. Some observers wonder if Uber did that acquisitions to diminish competition on the food delivery side.

On the grocery delivery side, Instacart has the lead, but Walmart is at a close second. The two companies have also entered into a marketing alliance to get more customers to shop online at Walmart using Instacart for the delivery. Shipt, which is owned by Target, had a good run two years ago after it launched, taking share from Instacart in a few cities but that’s been in decline for a while.

What could come out of all this? It’s still getting worked out. Last year, Uber took steps on organizing meal delivery through buying Postmates and beefing up Uber Eats, which is on its own app separately from Uber rides. Uber drivers are getting better paid now as more of it gets transferred over from what Postmates used to serve.

Uber is pushing Eats Pass, a $9.99 per month subscription service that charges $0 delivery fee at eligible restaurants, though you’ll still get charged service fees. The other benefit is 5 percent off orders over $15 at eligible restaurants. Unlike TV subscription services like Paramount+ where you have to subscribe or you won’t get to see The Daily Show, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, or many other programs unless you pay, you can take the Eats Pass plan or stick with what gets charged for individual orders. Amazon is creeping along with its Whole Foods Markets chain and its own Amazon Fresh grocery deliveries. Amazon.com offers free two-hour delivery and one-hour pickup of Whole Foods Market items with a Prime membership. But its one of many services Amazon would like you to try out for its all-encompassing, multi-tier strategy. Amazon doesn’t seem to be clearly committed to dominating healthy and organic grocery shopping, pickup, and delivery; but that could happen in the years ahead.

Consumers are depending more on grocery shopping services. For those of us who’ve had our grocery shopping done and delivered by Instacart, Shipt, or in-house services for grocery store chains, we’re likely to stay with it in some format. For many consumers using Instacart in recent years, that experience has been tarnished by shoppers replacing missing items with something else, whether the customer requested it or agreed to the choice. Shoppers might speed through and pack their shipping carts, deliver the groceries, and jump into the next order. Dissatisfied customers are tapping into alternative delivery or pickup options that are being run in-house by Kroger and its grocery stores, natural and organic grocery store Sprouts, Amazon’s Whole Foods subsidiary, and others. They don’t want to be dependent on Instacart, Shipt, or any other third-party service that may cause them to lose customers.

Market growth is expected to continue long after the pandemic. US gross merchandise value (GMV) sales will more than double to $27.33 billion at Instacart and $27.58 billion at Uber Eats by 2025, surpassing Target.com, whose GMV sales are forecast to climb to $24.44 billion in 2025 from $14.87 billion in 2020, according to a new study by Edge Retail Insight. Target is counting on its Shipt grocery delivery subsidiary taking off, and having more of its customers pull into its parking lots to pick up their online orders made with Target.com.

Will Instacart really bring in robotics? Instacart is making moves in that direction and has been in league with Uber and Lyft committing to get rid of drivers for autonomous vehicles. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that it gained access to documents that involve building automated fulfillment centers around the US, where hundreds of robots would collect dry and canned goods while humans could retrieve produce and deli products. Some facilities would be attached to existing grocery stores while larger standalone centers would process orders for several locations, according to the documents.

Instacart would be essentially duplicating Amazon’s model — if it gets carried out. The company has fallen behind schedule, according to people familiar with the situation. And though the documents mention asking several automation providers to build the technology, Instacart hasn’t settled on any, said the sources. Workers will be furious over this move if it rolls out, with many of them depending on Instacart income during a period of time when it’s quite difficult for most people to find a good job.

It got ugly after California ballot proposition: Mobility and food delivery giants rigged the election — Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates spent over $200 million campaigning for Proposition 22, the most expensive ballot measure in California history, successfully convincing voters to back it. The argument they made — speaking for independent operators to adjust their work lives around their time restrictions. The mother who has to pick up her kids at 3:30, a young man who has to take care of his grandparents, and other sympathetic stories, were told. They might have to disappear from the market if they had to pay workers more and give them benefits. Voters bought into it and passed it into law.

But these companies didn’t attempt to stay in that likable business model. Prices started going up in mid-February with Uber, Grubhub, Lyft, and Instacart, leading the way.

The good times of tapping into these businesses is long gone. It used to be fun to take shared Uber and Lyft rides and chat with drivers and fellow riders. You could get wonderful deals and great service from food delivery services and from Instacart. That’s all changed. If you’ve taken an Uber ride recently, you became distracted and annoyed hearing the bings aimed at getting drivers’ attention — enticing them with another attractive ride right after that customer gets dropped off. But they’re not impressive. Is it really worth it to speed off for another ride when you’re going to make $4 on the short trip? The good times are over for independent contractors.

As for the US economy, these mobile app services are raising the bar on the level of choices and service that consumers can expect for rides, meals, and groceries. But for real economics, there’s little to be gained from investment in the economy and supporting a stable workforce.

And in other news…………

Watching TV and looking for news varies greatly depending on how old you are
Here’s my Time Capsule 21st Century website exploring what it’s like to live in this century. The latest piece looks at a disturbing lack of news and public information accessed by those in Generation Z, along with some of the Millennials. Gaming is very big (much bigger than watching TV, reading, etc.), but somebody in their 20s is more likely to have their opinions shaped by somebody with a YouTube talk show than with traditional media sources on TV, print, and radio/podcasts. Beyond fake news, conspiracy theories, and QAnon, here’s my thoughts on addressing it if we’re interested in continuing the democracy we live in. Good timing for me, as I head into a graduate program in journalism/communications aimed at becoming a college instructor.

Attention Fleet Operators! With the growth of electrified fleets, the subject of infrastructure and especially charging capabilities and management has become increasingly important. CALSTART and member organization AMPLY Power have partnered to assess market knowledge of managed charging strategies across industry. You can follow the link to complete the first of two brief surveys, with the second coming later in the year. Thank you in advance for your participation!

CALSTART Releases Automated Transit Vehicle Readiness Guidelines. Transit agencies across the US are planning for how best to roll out Automated Vehicles (AVs). CALSTART, with support from more than 17 connected- and automated-cohort transit provider members, have developed detailed guidance to planning for and deploying AVs into transit operations. These simple steps can help interested transit agencies successfully deploy transit AVs.

Goodbye Keystone: Canada’s TC Energy Corp. and the Albertan provincial government are bringing the Keystone XL pipeline controversy to an end. The decision had been expected after President Biden used his first day in office to revoke a key permit for the pipeline to cross the country’s northern border, shutting down construction. t marks a historic victory for environmentalists who for a decade have made Keystone XL, which would have run from Alberta to Texas, the focus of a campaign to block new pipeline construction as a way to limit oil consumption that contributes to global warming.

Solar power takes off: The US solar market surpassed 100 gigawatts (GWdc) of installed electric generating capacity, doubling the size of the industry over the last 3.5 years, according to the US Solar Market Insight Q2 2021 report, released today by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie. Solar had a record-setting Q1 2021 and accounted for 58% of all new electric capacity additions in the United States. Renewable energy accounted for nearly 100% of all new electric capacity in Q1.