Uber and Lyft rides are so far adding to air pollution, Nikola Motor going public

Ride-sharing not helping to cut emissions:  Bad news for those hoping the explosive growth in Uber and Lyft rides in recent years would mean less car ownership, gasoline consumption, and air pollution in crowded cities. It’s actually getting worse. According to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, ride-hailing trips today produce an estimated 69 percent more pollution on average than the trips they displace in the US. In cities, these rides provided by Uber, Lyft, Via, Curb, and other firms, are usually taking away even more low fuel consumption and displacing mobility such as public transportation, biking, or walking. UCS recommends that these companies take efforts to electrify their fleets and increase their pooled rides. “For ride-hailing to contribute to better climate and congestion outcomes, trips must be pooled and electric, displace single-occupancy car trips more often, and encourage low-emissions modes such as mass transit, biking, and walking,” the report says.

But that’s a tough sell for fleets of driver-owned cars and self-employed workers struggling to make a living in ride hailing/sharing. When you take an Uber or Lyft ride, you’ll usually be picked up in a small, fuel-efficient car or crossover utility vehicle. It could be in a Kia Optima or Kia Sportage, a Honda Civic, a Toyota Yaris, a Nissan Rogue, and occasionally in a traditional Prius hybrid. Customers are not going to get a ride in an all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle, unless things change. And group rides of three or more passengers can be very inconsistent for customer satisfaction; such as one passenger in a business suit angry about having to wait until being the last drop-off and maybe miss their flight.

Startup truck maker Nikola going public:  On Tuesday, hydrogen fuel cell truck maker Nikola Motor Co. announced that it’s merging with a publicly listed acquisition company called VectoIQ. The transaction is expected to close sometime in the second quarter of this year, and when it does, Nikola will be listed on the NASDAQ exchange as NKLA. The Phoenix-based truck maker will receive $525 million in new investment as a result, adding to an existing stockpile of that same amount that it previously raised across three rounds of funding; and through a joint venture the company started in Europe. Nikola and its backers see much potential in the zero emission commercial truck market as several countries are implementing greenhouse gas rules that are coming to trucking the same way light-duty vehicles are seeing it happen in several countries.

Nikola has developed three different trucks, with a pickup concept being announced not long ago. Nikola also has a grand plan to deploy a hydrogen fueling station network across America, ideal for commercial truck drivers who wouldn’t be able to find hydrogen fuel pumps otherwise. The company also has versions of its trucks that are battery-powered, too, for end users that don’t need as much long range driving as the hydrogen-powered versions of the trucks can offer.  Editor’s note: I’ll have a second market report coming out soon (see below for more on the first one) entitled Hydrogen is finally here — but there are five hurdles to clear, with more on Nikola and other companies in the field.

Demand and interest in EVs in a few states:  If you take a look at this map created by auto site partcatalog.com, the Ford Bronco had the highest search rating in 19 states by car shoppers looking at vehicle refreshes and introductions set for this year. It’s also interesting to see that the upcoming Tesla Model Y took three states (California, Washington, and Hawaii) and the Rivian R1T took the top spot in two states (Vermont and Delaware). The Ford Mach-E, an electric Mustang SUV, won top interest in Idaho and Rhode Island. Partscatalog.com utilized Google trends data covering January 1 through the first week of February, looking at consumer interest in vehicles set to be released this year.

New Green Auto Market report: Will we see transformation of ground transport by 2030?
Will we be riding to work in electric, autonomous, shared vehicles a decade from now? Will the traditional internal-combustion engine auto manufacturing industry be clearly transformed into a new age? Could we witness steadily declining new vehicles sales; younger consumers moving away from car ownership; electric vehicles becoming more important to automakers and vehicle owners than cars and trucks powered by internal combustion engines; autonomous vehicles clearing regulatory hurdles and starting production; connected car features playing a significant role over the next decade; and mobility services leading the way in traffic- and smog-congested cities. For those of you who may have missed my coverage and analysis of these topics last fall, all of it is explored and updated in a new report, Will we see transformation of ground transport by 2030?  Here’s the link for those who are interested.

Audi eTron beats Model 3:  The Tesla Model 3 got trounced in Norway sales during February, with the Audi eTron doing very well in Europe’s hottest battery electric vehicle market. The eTron sold 1,131 units last month and the Model 3 only had 53 units sold. However, Tesla typically back-ends its quarterly cycle where about 50 percent of the volume takes place in the third month. The company should be doing a lot of catch up in March. The Volkswagen eGolf came in second at 740 units sold. That model will be replaced by the VW ID.3 later this year.

Smart cities meet 5G:  Smart cities will soon become one of the most important testing grounds for 5G technology and business models, according to a new Navigant Research study. The next generation wireless/cellular phone network is expected to much faster and load-intensive than 4G, but there’s been a battle over the technology going into the networks along with government communication regulations affecting the outcome. Carmakers and their tech partners are quite interested in how all this will go. The Navigant study looks at a few key areas that some of the challenges will have to be resolved for full integration of smart cities and 5G: cybersecurity, data privacy, the impact of automation, and issues of digital exclusion. The study also explores the strategies of global carriers and infrastructure vendors that are leading the development and deployment of 5G networks.

Daimler launching electric truck test project:  Daimler Trucks North America is launching the Freightliner Customer Experience (CX) Fleet for its electric truck program. The fleet of all-electric pre-series trucks includes six heavy-duty Freightliner eCascadias and two medium-duty eM2 106 trucks. Fourteen of Daimler’s commercial customers will be participating in the test project. Data collection will take place over the next 22 months/ DTNA will analyze data and feedback from the CX Fleet to continue to improve upon future vehicle design and assist customers navigating a transition to electric fleets. “It’s critical that we collaborate with customers across multiple segments to further our understanding of how commercial battery electric trucks will be part of a long-term solution in CO₂-neutral transportation,” said Richard Howard, senior vice president, On-highway sales and marketing, DTNA.


Electric vehicle tax credit revived, Uber loses major lawsuit in Europe

EV tax credit continues:  While still awaiting signature by the president, the comprehensive tax bill does keep the current tax credit alive. Electric vehicle owners will still be able to claim a tax credit up to $7,500 on the purchase. The 200,000 unit cap will still be in place with Tesla, General Motors, and Nissan expected to hit that ceiling sometime next year. Automakers and organizations such as CALSTART and Plug In America had been lobbying for inclusion of the tax credit, which had been initially cut from a House tax bill.

Musk’s accidental tweet:  Tesla CEO Elon Musk received a wave of phone calls yesterday when he accidentally sent out his phone number to his 16.7 million Twitter followers. He’d been intending to send out the number to John Carmack, chief technology officer at Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality division. Several people tried calling his phone number and reported hearing a voicemail message from Musk stating, “By the Gods you’ve done it. Somehow you’ve found your way here to me. I offer you my congratulations and my respect.”

Uber loses big lawsuit in Europe:  Uber is legally defined as a transport company, according to a ruling this week by the European Court of Justice. The ride-hailing giant had argued that it merely provides a mobile app linking riders to car owners, and not a taxi or livery company. The case had come out after Barcelona ruled that Uber was to obey local taxi rules in that city. Uber downplayed the court ruling, saying that the company already operates under transportation laws in most European Union countries. Analysts say the ruling will have serious implications for Uber and other similar companies operating in the new gig economy. Uber and its new management team have a set of challenges to face after going through a difficult year.

Lyft raises $1.5 billion, GNA profiled as 25 year anniversary approaches

Newsworthy:  Lyft continues to see a very strong year, now finding that its initial plan to raise $1 billion has gone up to $1.5 billion from a group of investors. Backers include Fidelity Management & Research Company and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. AllianceBernstein, Baillie Gifford, KKR, Janus Henderson Investors, and Rakuten. CapitalG led the billon-dollar round. The ride-hailing firm’s valuation is now at $11.5 billion. Alphabet, the Google parent company, played a key role in bringing in more investors for Lyft during October – after pulling away from financial support for arch-competitor Uber and filing its intellectual property theft lawsuit affecting its Waymo division……………..

A Morgan Stanley analyst expects that Tesla Inc. could lose attention from CEO Elon Musk, who may be devoting more time to his SpaceX intergalactic travel company. Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas wrote in a report Tuesday that we may see more of an alliance between Tesla and SpaceX in the future. “Investors widely expect Elon Musk to, over time, devote increasing amounts of his time and talents to SpaceX, raising the very real question of who could replace him at Tesla,” Jonas wrote. “A combination of efforts between the two firms could address this important issue.” The two companies will play on the alliance during an commercial in January. A SpaceX rocket will carry a Tesla Roadster sports car owned by Musk as payload when it travels toward Mars………….

Gladstein, Neandross & Associates was profiled in a newsletter article this week by California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition. Along with putting on ACT Expo and other clean transportation events, GNA has played a key role in raising millions of dollars in grant funding for clients during its history. The consulting firm will celebrate its 25 year anniversary next year. The company has effectively supported the use of renewable fuels, and has provided research and analysis for all parts of the clean transportation industry. GNA also does emissions modeling, assists with technical fleet planning, monitors government affairs, and provide communications and media services to clients, CNGVC said.

For Today: Car Charging Group brings Blink brand name to corporate identity, Lyft doing well enough to expand to 32 more states

Blink Charging Co. new corporate name:  Car Charging Group, Inc. is tapping into the Blink electric vehicle charging network’s market identity by changing its corporate name over to Blink Charging Co. The company had taken over the network after founder ECOtality filed for bankruptcy in 2013. Car Charging Group began operating thousands of Blink charging stations, and the software that manages, monitors, and tracks these stations and stores charging data. Blink Charging Co. also started a 1 for 50 reverse stock split, effective two days ago. After a period of 20 business days from then, the company’s stock symbol will be CCGID and will then revert to CCGI. The company’s website has switched over to www.BlinkCharging.com. “Changing the name of the Company to Blink Charging continues our integration efforts and corporate rebranding, which allows us to unify our identity and illustrates the company’s primary products and services,” stated Mike Calise, Blink Charging’s CEO. “The reverse split is also another step in the right direction towards achieving a listing on a national stock exchange and to build additional shareholder value.”

Bosch offering extended range:  Global auto supplier Bosch just released e-axle, a new electric axle combining three powertrain components into one unit – that will bring longer range to electric vehicles and hybrids and more torque and speed to these vehicles – and to compact cars, SUVs, and pickups. It’s capable of delivering between 50 and 300 kilowatts. Torque at the axle can cover a range of about 1,000 to 6,000 Newton meters (737 to 4,425 foot-pounds). EVs will be able to travel further on each charge, and they won’t have to draw more power from the battery with the new e-axle system in place. It’s being tested now with a few Bosch customers, and the supplier company says it will go into mass production starting in 2019. The German supplier says it has already provided components to over 500,000 hybrids and EVs out on roads.

Lift spreading across country:  Ride-hailing company Lyft is making a big move in its U.S. presence, expanding from eight states up to 40. The Uber competitor has been able to see growth in riders and revenue and recent years, and can now tap into chaos that the global ride-hailing giant entered into earlier this year. Lyft has been able to bring over a lot of customers and drivers from Lyft. An upgraded smartphone app has helped, along with a new marketing campaign that’s helping Lyft grow from serving 160 more cities for a total of about 350. Lyft is an ideal situation, with its General Motors partnership and recent deals with other companies on autonomous vehicle test projects. Uber’s excessive market valuation and ability to raise about $14 billion in private equity since its inception is causing a huge shakeup as investors want to see transparent, professional management of the company. Uber this week hired Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to take the place of ousted and controversial founder Travis Kalanick. The new CEO is also known for being outspoken, and is expected to bring the company forward to an initial public offering within 18 to 36 months. Lyft co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer work on keeping the company simple and direct. They say they haven’t done beyond asking employees and drivers to make sure passengers are treated like guests at a fine hotel.

For Today: Volvo starts Polestar electric brand, Reflecting on Uber CEO leaving

Polestar electric brand:  Volvo Cars just started a high-performance electric car brand, called Polestar. Volvo acquired Polestar Performance in 2015. Polestar Performance had been a business that Volvo hired to jointly develop high-performance versions of its vehicles. The two companies will tap into economies of scale and other resources Volvo offers. Polestar will reveal its business plan this fall. Thomas Ingenlath to be CEO at Polestar. He previously had helped Volvo increase sales of several vehicles including the XC90. Polestar will challenge Tesla and BMW i subbrand as a global brand.

Putting restrictions on influencing biofuels policy:  U.S. Democratic lawmakers have been concerned about the influence of billionaire Carl Icahn, head of oil refiner CVR Energy, on biofuels policy. Members of Congress have sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt asking him to clarify procedures that would prevent Icahn from influencing biofuels policy for personal gain. Icahn would like to see the federal government reconfigure the Renewable Fuels Standards for blending ethanol in gasoline. He’d like to see biofuels producers and blenders take on more of the cost – and that oil refiners and oil companies be relieved of some of the burden.

Uber CEO leaves: There’s been a lot of reflection lately on how Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has left his company, and how the world’s largest ride-hailing company has taken a dive since early 2017. Since starting up in May 2010, Uber invented a new segment of mobility – a business model adopted by Lyft, food delivery companies like Postmates and DoorDash, and dozens of other startups; and that’s put several taxi companies out of business. Uber became the most valuable private company in the world with Kalanick able to bring several venture capital backers onboard. The CEO was known for his aggressive style and for leading a workplace that hasn’t been good for women to work in; or many of the other male executives who’ve left in recent weeks. No matter what happens, the Uber brand name is likely to be carried forward as it’s become the icon of mobility services; maybe by another group of owners.


For Today: NRDC and Blue Green Alliance study on jobs in clean vehicles, INRIX surveys drivers on autonomous vehicles

Clean vehicle job creation:  Manufacturing clean vehicles directly supports 288,000 jobs in the U.S. economy, according to a new study released by Natural Resources Defense Council and the Blue Green Alliance. These are manufacturing and engineering jobs at more than 1,200 factories and engineering facilities in 48 states who produce technologies designed to improve vehicle fuel efficiency. Nine of these stats have 10,000 or more workers employed in these jobs, with the five of them – Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky – have plants building cleaner vehicle technologies supporting nearly 160,000 manufacturing jobs.

Tesla going to India?:  Earlier this year, news came out about Tesla getting ready to enter the India market. Going to China has produced very strong sales results for the carmaker, and India has been seeing a growing auto sales market overall. Last week, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Tesla would not be going to India due to the government’s requirement that 30% of the parts in Tesla cars would have to be sourced within that country. Tesla tends to do things its own way, so it may be holding off on entering the country until that can be worked out; or not entering at all. The electric carmaker recently denied that it will be forging a joint venture with the Chinese government after Musk met with a high-ranking government official. Tesla has wanted to build its own factory in China, and that may not happen if the government requires a joint venture with one of its government-owned companies. Both governments would like to see more electric cars sold locally to hit targets on vehicle emissions.

Rebates from utilities:  Southern California Edison announced yesterday that it’s offering a $450 rebate to customers who own an all-electric or plug-in electric hybrid vehicle. The utility has been receiving state funds coming from California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard program. Several electric utilities around the country are offering special rate programs for vehicle owners, including time-of-use (TOU) rates, to reduce the cost of powering an electric car or plug-in hybrid. In January, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) launched the Clean Fuel Rebate for residential, electric customers who are electric vehicle drivers. It’s one-time $500 rebate for eligible EV owners can receive one rebate per owned or leased EV.

Mobility & Innovation:  INRIX study says consumers trust tech giants more than Uber for autonomous vehicles 
INRIX, a leading provider of traffic information, has released a survey report on what U.S. and European drivers think about the future of autonomous vehicles – and who should be doing it. The survey interviewed 5,054 drivers in the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, and U.K., to find that major automakers and tech giants should lead the way over ridesharing firms or Tesla.

“A new battleground is emerging between automakers, tech companies and ridesharing companies in the race to develop connected and autonomous vehicles,” explained Bob Pishue, senior economist at INRIX. “With hundreds of millions of connected cars expected to be on the roads within the next 15 years, the market share will be owned by companies that can educate drivers and gain consumer trust.”

The U.S. respondents preferred companies like Google and Apple providing self-driving cars., with 1.4 of them preferring tech giants over automakers. For those surveyed in the four European countries 1.5 times prefer major automakers (not including Tesla) over tech giants.

Ridesharing leaders Uber and Lyft had the smallest level of support as makers of autonomous vehicles. Following in a close second in the study is the category of newer carmakers that the study identifies as Tesla and “Fisker Motors.” That could mean the former Fisker Automotive, which is now split off into two companies – Henrik Fisker’s Fisker, Inc. startup and Wanxiang Group’s Karma Automotive.

For current connected car features and upcoming autonomous vehicles, many taking the survey believe that these technologies are bringing in a new era of vehicle safety. In the U.S., blind spot warning is the most desired new car feature; that’s followed by stolen vehicle warning/tracking, night vision, road incident alerts and re-routing, and rear/front collision alerts.

Millennials have less concern over their privacy through over their vehicle data than do Baby Boomers. That generation is also less convinced about how trustworthy autonomous vehicles with ll be, with 73 percent of Baby Boomers reporting in the study that they don’t believe autonomous vehicles will be safer than cars on the road today.

For today: Lift joins up with Waymo, Musk boring underground LA

  • Lyft partners with Waymo: Ride-hailing firm Lyft has forged a partnership with the Waymo self-driving car firm. The partners will work on pilot projects and product development in self-driving car technology, with the end goal of bringing needed transportation to fast-growing cities. The timing of the deal comes about as Waymo has taken ride-hailing giant Uber to court over allegedly stealing that technology. Uber had acquired the Otto startup, which led Waymo filing the lawsuit based on claims of intellectual property theft. Yesterday, the federal judge ruled that Uber must return Waymo documents. The judge also said that Uber can continue working on self-driving car technology, but Anthony Levandowski must be removed from any work relating to a key automated technology called lidar. Levandowski had been a leader in Google’s self-driving car research and a founder of the Otto self-driving truck firm.
  • Boring in LA: In a set of photos and video on his Instagram page Friday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk showed what’s been happening with The Boring Company concept. What started in late 2016 as a set of Twitter posts about his frustrations being stuck in traffic while driving to Hawthorne (SpaceX HQ and Tesla service center), shows an “electric sled” that can go up to 125 mph through an underground tunnel somewhere in Los Angeles. The word “Boring” has to do with boring a tunnel underground. Musk has been secretive about where it’s located, and how much ground it covers. The tunnel has got to be at least a mile long, if you watch the videos. Musk said that the tunnel will run from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Culver City, Santa Monica, Westwood, and Sherman Oaks. There will be more tunnels, and they’ll cover all of the greater Los Angeles area, he said. No word yet on whether Musk has regulatory approval to continue the track – or Boring Machine 1, which he’s nicknamed Godot.
  • Chinese EV plant: Guangzhou Automobile Group, or GAC Group, has started building a vehicle assembly plant in China’s southern Guangdong province that will have the capacity to product up to 200,000 electric cars a year by the end of 2018. It should cost the company about $700 million to get there. The company’s first electric car, the GE3, was introduced at the 2017 Detroit auto show in January. Its new plug-in hybrid sedan, the GA3S, and plug-in hybrid SUV, the GS4, were unveiled at the Shanghai auto show in April.
  • Propane fueling acquisition: Agility Fuel Solutions’ Powertrain Systems unit has acquired the assets of CleanFUEL USA and some of its employees. The company will add business locations in Wixom, Mich., to focus on fuel systems, and Georgetown, Texas to focus on refueling equipment. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Powertrain Systems will be able to offer complete propane fuel systems for commercial vehicles based on patented liquid propane injection technology. The company said it will be able to offer “turnkey propane fueling packages for both private fleet and retail locations, enabling a complete propane solution for commercial fleets globally.”
  • Renewable diesel station: Ryder System has begun to offer renewable diesel (RD) fuel at its San Francisco fueling facility, located at 2700 3rd Street. With this implementation, Ryder customers will be better able to address their sustainability goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while still utilizing diesel vehicles. Based on production levels and availability of RD, Ryder will continue to monitor other markets with plans for expanding this offering. The company also plans to analyze market opportunities that would benefit its customers to have RD available for their fleets.
  • GM’s sustainable tires: General Motors Co. is taking on another corporate sustainability drive by changing over to tires made from sustainable natural rubber. The automaker is working several tire suppliers to create an industry first. The definition of sustainable tires includes that the natural rubber “did not lead to deforestation,” was harvested to aid an area’s economic and social development, and is “managed in a transparent and traceable manner.” This will apply to about 49 million tires that the Detroit automaker buys each year. GM is also known for its going “landfill-free” at its facilities around the world, with all waste from daily operations recycled, reused or converted to energy.

Uber’s new partnerships and Pittsburgh test project revealing the next phase of autonomous vehicle technologies

Uber autonomous vehicle test projectHave you ever wished you could ride in a passenger seat during a self-driving car test? You might want to go to Pittsburgh and skip Mountain View, Calif.

You can ride in an autonomous Ford Fusion as part of Uber’s self-driving car test project in Pittsburgh; and that will soon include a Volvo plug-in hybrid. Google has kept its test runs in its corporate hometown of Mountain View controlled to allow for only employees and strategic partners to participate.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told the press last week that development of autonomous vehicles is essential to the future of the six-year-old ridesharing company. Much of it has to do with eventually eliminating the cost of paying drivers, which would allow Uber to drop the cost of a ride down and make it even more attractive to customers who don’t want to make a car payment or pay for a taxi ride.

“We’ve got to be laser-focused on getting this to market, because it’s not a side project for us,” Kalanick said. “This is everything. This is all the marbles for Uber.”

Uber is no longer involved with Carnegie Mellon University’s self-driving car research for reasons that were never explained. That alliance with the Pittsburgh-based university, which is considered to be the leading university R&D center for autonomous vehicles, ended in the spring after being formed a year earlier. Uber did hire away four faculty members and 36 researchers and technicians, but Uber never collaborated with CMU on a single project. The ridesharing company did provide the $5.5 million gift to the university that it committed to.

Uber does have its own drivers behind the wheel to reduce the risk factor and protect passengers and other vehicles on the streets; and the company is working with authorities in Pittsburgh and the state of Pennsylvania to make sure safety rules are followed in the test cars. Tesla Motors is continuing to back its semi-autonomous Autopilot system even after a fatality and several collision incidents related to the Autopilot system. Safety will continue to be the key issue to be addressed by all parties rolling out self-driving car technologies.

Last week was significant for the next phase of autonomous vehicles with announcements from Uber and two major automakers. Plug-in electrified and hybrid vehicles have typically been used in self-driving test projects.

Purchases of plug-in electrified vehicles are expected to reach the 10%-to-20% of U.S. new vehicle sales mark, from their current less-than-1% level, in the next 15 years, according to a few industry analysts. Being connected to self-driving technologies and mobility services is expected to support that sales increase.

Uber will be adding Volvo cars to its test project. The companies will be investing $300 million to put 100 self-driving Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrid SUVs on the streets of Pittsburgh in less than four months.

Self-driving hardware and software will be added jointly, and tech support will be provided by Volvo. Uber will be adding Lidar, radar, additional cameras and sensors. Uber will allow customers to summon the self-driving vehicles from their phones. The fleet will be supervised by Uber staff in the driver’s seat for the time being.

Uber said it is buying the XC-90s from Volvo and is adding the self-driving hardware and software for the specific needs of its ride-hailing service. Uber is developing the technology in its Pittsburgh tech center, opened just 20 months ago. Volvo will provide technical support.

Sherif Marakby, Uber’s vice president of global vehicle programs, is leading the project. He joined Uber in April after a 25-year career at Ford in numerous senior engineering management positions. In his most recent role with Ford, Marakby served as the automaker’s director of global electronics and engineering, a position where he was responsible for electrical components on all Ford vehicles globally, including infotainment, driver assist, and connectivity.

He said that Uber’s deal with Volvo isn’t exclusive. The ridesharing company will roll out the test project to other cities and there could be other automakers and technology suppliers joining in. As for now, working with Volvo makes a good deal of sense for Uber.

“The foundation of the collaboration is Volvo’s strength in safety and vehicle development, and Uber’s strength and commitment to autonomy and autonomous technology,” Marakby said. “A significant part of that is the software. All of that is developed in house.”

Uber also announced last week that it had acquired Otto, a 90-person start-up company providing self-driving truck systems that could bring more of that technology to shipping and cargo transport. The acquisition is taking place for an undisclosed cost.

Uber plans to open a 180,000-square-foot facility in Palo Alto, Calif., to house the trucking tech company. Otto will operate as a stand-alone company focused on upending the long-distance trucking industry. Otto had previously hired former Google and Carnegie Mellon engineers. After the acquisition is complete, Otto engineers will also work out of offices in San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

Uber’s chief said the strategic alliance will team up with hardware manufacturers, Otto’s software expertise, and Uber’s large network of more than 50 million monthly riders as potential customers for a wide range of delivery services. It places Uber in the best position to be competitive with Silicon Valley giants like Google, Kalanick said.

Ford Motor Co. is tapping into Silicon Valley talent as well, said CEO Mark Fields, last week while visiting the automaker’s Palo Alto research facility. Fields announced that the company will offer a fully automated driverless vehicle for ridesharing services in 2021.

Fields said Ford is increasing its investments in Silicon Valley technology firms, tripling its investment in semi-autonomous systems, and more than doubling the size of its Palo Alto research team while expanding its campus in Silicon Valley.

Ford’s chief said he was not concerned that rival General Motors had made a high-stakes play in ride services with its $500 million investment in Lyft in January. “We’re not in a race to be first,” Fields said.

Ford does not yet know whether it will partner with Uber, Lyft, or other ride-hailing and ridesharing service providers. Fields said Ford may choose not to partner, and roll out such services on its own. The automaker has been rolling out carsharing and ridesharing in Europe and the U.S. in test projects in recent years. Fields does see Ford going toward fully autonomous vehicles, similar to the strategy Google has taken.

Ford Chief Technical Officer Raj Nair said the company likely will not offer a fully autonomous car without steering wheels or pedals to consumers until 2025 or later. Launching a self-driving car first for ridesharing is a better way to reach the mass market and make the cars more affordable, he said.

Uber CEO Kalanick isn’t speculating on when Uber might be ready to dispense with the human driver, saying that full automation can only be used now in limited places light in traffic. Uber and Lyft riders are anticipated to be more open to using driverless cars. Studies show that younger, Millennial consumers make for most of the Uber and Lyft customers. They’re less interested in car ownership and want to tap into the most efficient, advanced technologies to meet their mobility needs. Many of them have taken ridesharing trips and enjoy the reduced cost and socializing. They prefer it over driving their own car home from work, being absorbed and stressed out over getting through congested traffic at slow speeds. Whether it’s a human or machine driving the car, their main purpose for using Uber and Lyft is accomplished.

Electrified vehicles are expected to play a role in the future of self-driving, shared rides in urban settings. Their cost efficiency is valued, and growth in the charging infrastructure is expected to take away fear of being stranded in an electric car. Evercar, a provider of shared EVs for on-demand drivers (like Uber and Lyft), reported in the spring that it has been growing quickly in Los Angeles. By applying innovations in electric vehicles and carsharing technology, the company is making it possible for nearly anyone to access a vehicle to drive for the on-demand economy, Evercar said.

Navigant Research sees a global trend developing with on-demand mobility programs sprouting up, which indicates that transportation is moving toward a future that is both shared and electric. Automakers and tech partners are testing projects to examine its potential.

BMW recently announced that it will be expanding its ReachNow carsharing program to cover Portland, Ore., after successfully bringing the service to Seattle earlier this year. The service attracted more than 13,000 members within its first month of operation. BMW uses a mix of vehicles for the program that includes Mini Coopers and the BMW i3.

Nissan recently announced its collaboration with San Francisco-based electric scooter-share company Scoot Networks. The two companies will deploy 10 mobility concept cars (the Renault Twizy) in the Bay Area.

On August 2, startup company Green Commuter launched a carshare and vanpool fleet in Los Angeles using Tesla Model X SUVs. And there are several other two-wheel and four-wheel electrified vehicles being used in demonstration projects around the world.

Navigant says that companies looking to capitalize on this rapidly evolving business will need to offer high levels of vehicle accessibility, affordable hourly usage rates, and differentiating product options. As for autonomous vehicles, a recent Navigant leaderboard rating placed Daimler, BMW, Audi, and General Motors as the top automakers in the field. Ford, Volvo, Toyota, and Honda followed in the leaderboard ratings. All of these companies are investing heavily in connected, electrified, advanced technologies.

This Week’s Top 10: Uber hands over China market to Didi in acquisition deal, Tesla and SolarCity greenlight $2.6B merger

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. Didi in ChinaDidi buying Uber’s China business: Uber’s arch-rival in China, Didi Chuxing, will be acquiring Uber’s Chinese business unit. It will effectively halt a fierce competitive battle and price war for the Chinese ridesharing and ride-hailing market. Didi will take over all of Uber China and will operate it as a separate brand. Uber will receive a stake in Didi and Uber founder Travis Kalanick will join the Chinese company’s board, according to news coverage. Uber has already lost $2 billion in China in two years there, people familiar with the matter have said, prompting Uber investors to pressure the company to cut a deal. As part of the arrangement, Didi will invest $1 billion in Uber’s global company, sources said. Business has been profitable in the U.S. and Canada, but losses in developing markets like China have undercut progress for Uber. The huge losses in China have been one of the main sticking points holding up Uber’s potential initial public offering (IPO), according to people familiar with the matter. Didi has received backing from more investors, including the recent announcement of $1 billion coming from Apple.
  2. Tesla merging with SolarCity: Independent board members of both Telsa Motors Inc. and SolarCity Corp. have approved a $2.6 billion all-stock deal. SolarCity stockholders would receive 0.11 Tesla shares for each SolarCity share they own. The deal still requires approval by a majority of shareholders at both companies, including Elon Musk, who is the largest investor at both companies. SolarCity is still open to bids over the next 45 days to see if any other bidder can top Tesla’s offer. Tesla and SolarCity shares were down after the announcement. Tesla shares dropped after the initial announcement in June, but have since come back. Wall Street has been concerned over whether combining the companies will be the best way to go.
  3. Volt passes 100K mark: Chevrolet has sold over 100,000 Volts in the U.S. since the plug-in hybrid’s launch in December 2010. In its current version, the Volt can go 53 miles on a charge and travel a total of 420 miles on electricity and gasoline. “The Chevrolet Volt delivers not just a fun driving experience behind the wheel, but has become the first vehicle with plug-in electrification technology to truly become mainstream,” said Steve Majoros, director of marketing, Chevrolet Cars and Crossovers. “Not only is the Volt a class-creator, it serves as the foundation of a Chevrolet electric family that will soon add the first long-range, affordable EV available to customers across the U.S., the Chevrolet Bolt EV.”
  4. Model X vanpooling: Green Commuter is rolling out a Tesla Model X fleet in carsharing and vanpooling services in the Los Angeles market. The company says that the Model X was chosen because it’s the only all-electric vehicle currently able to seat seven. Its official launch date is today, August 2, and coincides with an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign offering its services at discounted rates. Packages start at $10 an hour and $150 per weekend rental.
  5. Details from Gigafactory tour: During the media tour last week at its Nevada-based Gigafactory, Tesla announced its Model 3 will start production about six months earlier than anticipated. Instead of late 2017, the Model 3 will start being built in the summer of next year, CEO Elon Musk said. Musk is confident the company will reach a price of $100 kilowatt hours by 2020, down from an average price of $1,200 in 2010. That will play a big part in keeping the Model 3 cost competitive, as batteries can make up about a third of the price of an electric car. Tesla and Panasonic will be building components in-house instead of the usual costs shipping and repackaging – keeping supply chain costs down.
  6. Changes in store for electric racer series: Formula E will be adopting changes to electric racers allowed to enter the global racing competition. Power output will remain at 200 kW and rise next season to 220 kW and 250 kW in season five; the regenerative braking level will increase to 150 kilowatt (up from 100 kW), and the weight drops from 888 kilograms to 880 kg. The design is starting to change with “unique visual identify” that will be displayed later this month during test days at Donington Park in the UK. The organizer says that “the new two-tier wing makes the fully-electric single-seater look more aggressive and unlike any other racing car in the world.”
  7. Mission E scheduled for launch: The Porsche Mission E is due to go into production in 2020 as a rival to the Tesla Model S. Codenamed J1, the electric car will be built on an all-new platform developed specifically around its electric drive system, which is different from the structure being developed by parent company Volkswagen for its new range of electric cars. Porsche revealed the 600-horsepower Mission E concept at the Frankfurt auto show in September. The German automaker has raised the number of new jobs it will create to more 1,400 from more than 1,000 already announced for the Mission E. More than 1,200 of the new positions will be created at the brand’s base in Zuffenhausen, near Stuttgart, Germany
  8. Elio lobbies for “autocycle” category: Elio Motors has been seeing positive results in its efforts to lobby for allowing licenses for driving its three-wheel vehicle in states across the U.S. Elio vehicle owners are benefiting from the new state laws including the “autocycle” category; this has brought the number up to 41 states that say you don’t need a motorcycle to drive the three-wheeler. Elio Motors says that its vehicle will have a targeted base price of $6,800 that will get up to 84 mpg.
  9. VW top seller: Volkswagen became the top-selling global automaker during the first half of 2016, even after being absorbed in the “dieselgate” scandal since September of last year. Toyota lost first place following a series of production stoppages in the first half of the year. While sales of its mass-market VW brand have suffered, sales have been more than offset by strong demand for luxury Audi and Porsche models as well as Czech brand Skoda.
  10. Wastewater to hydrogen: Fukuoka, Japan, now has a hydrogen fueling station in place fueled by biogas coming from a combination of methane and carbon dioxide produced by the breakdown of wastewater from a central sewage plant. Fuel cell car owners can fuel up at what’s being called a “toilet-to-tank filling station.” It’s now the second of its kind, following a demonstration facility that used similar technology at a Fountain Valley, Calif., wastewater plant that is no longer in operation.

UberMan learns firsthand about the new age of mobility, ridesharing, and the on-demand sharing economy

Uber driver movieHave you ever taken an Uber ride to the airport, work, concert, or out on a date? Not only have I taken a few Uber rides, I’ve put in quite a few hours and miles on the road as an Uber driver. I’ve also written a non-fiction book about it that was published Friday on Kindle, Tales of UberMan: An auto journalist shares his Prius with savvy riders.

As some of you reading this newsletter may remember from five years ago, I wrote a feature about another driving gig I was doing for side income. I’d been a chauffeur on weekends for a company called Econation, taking people to LAX in a Toyota Prius or a natural-gas powered Town Car. In Tales of UberMan, I bring a broad perspective on the battle between the taxi and limo industry versus Uber and other ridesharing companies. Uber is taking business away from traditional vehicle-for-hire services – and bringing confrontation and debate to court rooms, city councils, airports, and state governments. Uber is becoming a bad word for taxi drivers and other businesses losing ridership. It’s also raising the flag on whether Uber should be doing more extensive background checks to avoid catastrophes like the Uber driver, in February 2016, killing six people in Kalamazoo, Mich., in between Uber rides.

The word “Uber” is becoming pervasive and omnipresent all over the media and internet – similar to “Elon Musk” and “Tesla” in cleantech and automotive. Riders might say they’re going to be “Ubering” across town to hang out with friends on a Saturday night. This month, a parody trailer has been streaming on the internet suggesting that a sequel to the 2011 film, “Drive” starring Ryan Gosling had been released. In the humorous video, a look-alike comedian portrays Gosling driving for Uber in the sequel, “Drive 2: The Uber Years.”  He has to deal with working for less than minimum wage and cleaning up after vomiting passengers. (The photo used in this article comes from the trailer on YouTube.) My experience has been making a bit more than minimum wage, and having a near-miss with a drunk passenger nearly vomiting in my Prius. Uber is becoming so pervasive as to inspire this parody video – and to be commonly mentioned by stand-up comedians, on TV shows, and in conversations people are having with friends and colleagues.

Automakers predict that within the next 10-to-20 years, the auto industry will look completely different as OEMs become mobility service providers. General Motors has made some big moves in the direction this year, and has nudged competitors in that direction. In January 2016, GM announced a $500 million investment in Lyft and acquisition of the technology and most of the assets of Sidecar Technologies Inc. Sidecar had been the third largest ridesharing firm after Uber and Lyft. Before the end of that month, GM announced the launch of Maven, a “personal mobility” brand. Within months, other automakers moved forward to break into the mobility marketplace. In late May 2016, Toyota and Uber announced a funding program for drivers. The Japanese automaker began offering new leasing options in which car purchasers could lease their vehicles from Toyota Financial Services and cover their payments through earnings generated as Uber drivers. At that same time, German carmaker Volkswagen announced a $300-million investment in Uber rival Gett, a service that is available in 60 cities and connects passengers with taxis and black town cars. In another move, BMW AG said its BMW iVentures venture capital arm had invested in California-based Scoop Technologies, which offers a smartphone-powered carpooling service called Scoop.

Automakers typically announce new investments in the future of mobility, eventually integrating autonomous vehicles into their new vehicle lineups. GM and Lyft will be testing out autonomous vehicles soon utilizing the all-electric Chevy Bolt. Tech giants Apple and Google are investing in these new technologies as well. I typically see a strong correlation between autonomous, electrified vehicles and mobility services like ridesharing, carpooling, and carsharing shaping the future of transportation.

In my new book, I wrote about being 52 years old and typically driving Millennials (18 to 35) around L.A. and Orange counties. Uber is cool for Millennials, who enjoy paying only about half as much for an Uber ride as they would for a cab ride; they also like that they can do everything on their smart phone and have the driver show up within five minutes once the trip is started. This book explores the revolutionary impact that Uber (and other ridesharing companies such as Lyft) will likely have on transportation in the future – where young consumers are putting off getting their drivers licenses and buying a car and would prefer to take Uber, ride their bike, take bus or rail, or to try out Airbnb, Zipcar, and other mobile services in the “sharing economy.” As cities become more popular to live in, and increasingly more crowded and congested with traffic, Uber is rapidly growing in ridership and its ubiquitous brand name. Many Uber riders and drivers are proud to be part of it, and think it’s critical for reducing traffic congestion and air pollution.

The title of the book came from the “UberMan” nickname that my girlfriend, Susan, started calling me last year after me sharing yet another colorful story from an Uber ride; and that I should write a book about it. A few days later while telling a passenger about it during a ride from an airport, the title Tales of UberMan was suggested. I started driving for Uber in early May 2015, and since then have put in a few hours also driving for Lyft and on-demand food delivery company, Postmates.

Here are some of the chapters in the book:

  • Top 5 worst and best Uber experiences
  • Ridesharing might be the buzzword, but it has a long way to go
  • What Uber means to urban mobility
  • Employees or independent contractors?
  • Dealing with stress and safety
  • Taking drinkers off the roads and listening to their sad tales
  • San Francisco startups race for worldwide No. 1
  • Driving for UberEats didn’t go so well
  • My suggestions to Uber
  • Theatre of the Absurd
  • What I love/hate about Uber, Lyft, and Postmates
  • The future of mobility, Uber et al

The book was written from my own experience, and perspectives gained through interviews with Uber drivers and passengers. It’s challenging to be an Uber driver and use your own car as it builds up wear and tear, and the driver pays for everything. Drivers, also known as Uber Partners, need to put in several hours each week for the payback to show up – at least 15 hours and usually much more. Than can mean working late into the evening and early morning hours on weekends, as passengers leave bars and parties and don’t want to get a DUI. There’s always the threat of having to pay for traffic citations, increased insurance, parking, toll roads, and damage to their car. Uber prides itself on a partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to take a few drinkers out of driver’s seats – and for alleviating some of the traffic congestion and air pollution in fast-growing cities around the world. Through UberPool, the company strives to make ridesharing a common experience.

Uber drivers tend to take pride in bringing cost effective, convenient transportation to riders – and for having flexibility and decision making in their work. They decide when they’re ready to go online and start driving, and when it’s time to turn it off and go home.

Tales of UberMan offers a mix of colorful stories on what happened during trips, blended with a look at the global issues behind Uber becoming the buzzword for ridesharing services. One of the book’s chapters contemplates whether Uber and one of its major investors, Google, will partner on creating a fleet of self-driving cars in the near future. It seems like every day, there’s media coverage of a controversy, victory, or business deal with Uber at the very center of it.

For now, Tales of UberMan is available as a Kindle e-book. Later on, I will release a print-on-demand version through Amazon’s CreateSpace, and an audio version through Amazon’s Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX).