Notable reads and other tidbits
Cruise, the self-driving unit under GM, is rolling out its custom-built Origin robotaxi on Austin’s public streets in the next several weeks, CEO Kyle Vogt said while onstage at SXSW 2023. The Origin vehicles won’t be accessible to the public — at least for a while. For now, Cruise will be testing the Origins on public roads in Austin. But Cruise said the vehicles will be open to customers in a “matter of months.”
The first Origin vehicles are already rolling off the production line at GM’s Factory Zero in Detroit and Hamtramck, Michigan.
Gatik has signed a multi-year deal with Kroger to deliver customer orders within the company’s Dallas distribution network. Operations of the cold chain-capable 20 foot box trucks will commence in Q2 with a safety driver onboard to start.
Kodiak Robotics signed a deal for an ongoing partnership with Forward Air Corporation to operate autonomous freight 24/6 between Dallas and Atlanta.
TuSimple and drama seem to go hand in hand. We us summarize.
Earlier this week, TuSimple filed an 8-K saying that co-founder Xiaodi Hou had resigned from his position on the board before an internal investigation into him could be concluded. The investigation sought to verify claims that Hou was approaching TuSimple staffers about leaving the company and joining his new venture.
Recall that Hou had a brief stint as CEO last year before being fired from that post, as well as president and CTO, amid U.S. federal investigations into the company for its ties to Chinese hydrogen-powered trucking company Hydron. One of Hydron’s founders is Mo Chen, who is also a co-founder at TuSimple and remains on the company’s board.
Hou responded to this 8-K with a letter to TuSimple’s board, which was also posted on LinkedIn, defending himself. His two main points:
1) Hou didn’t agree with CEO Cheng Lu’s generous pay package, which was agreed upon by a suspiciously small board, days before TuSimple then cut 25% of its staff. Sources familiar with the matter worry that Lu’s severance package ($15 million if fired without cause or if there’s a change in control, like if someone buys the company) might not incentivize the CEO to keep TuSimple up and running in the long run.
2) Hou protested what he says is a shift in focus away from L4 autonomy and towards L2. Developing L2 ADAS for the Chinese market has been on TuSimple’s roadmap since 2022, but Hou says this shorter-term goal is being prioritized, and he’s worried L4 will continuously get pushed out.
TuSimple has since responded to this with yet another 8-K that includes a response from Chen. He accuses Hou for not being transparent about disagreements with the company. Chen also went on to deny TuSimple’s shift in focus and generally call Hou’s claims false, misleading and written with the intent to hurt the company.
Whew! OK, all caught up now?
Electric vehicles, batteries & charging
The Biden Administration provided more details on how the $2.5 billion Charging and Fueling Infrastructure (CFI) Discretionary Grant Program will be dispersed over the next five years. The grants will help to deploy tens of thousands of EV charging stations throughout the U.S., particularly in communities most vulnerable to climate change and air pollutants. The first round of funding will provide up to $700 million in FY2022 and FY2023.
BMW’s first Neue Klasse models will feature a head-up display called Panoramic Vision, which will go into production in 2025. Not many details were shared, but some hints were dropped earlier this year at CES.
Lightship finally showed off to the world — or at least those attending SXSW in Austin this week — a prototype of the L1, an all-electric RV designed to remove a barrier for owners of all-electric SUVs and trucks who want to haul a travel trailer on long road trips. I took a tour and took lots of photos!
Porsche will add a full-sized all-electric SUV to its lineup — slotting above several other upcoming EVs — as part of its goal for 80% of all new sales to be EVs by 2030.
Rivian is in discussions with Amazon to dissolve the exclusivity piece of their commercial EV van deal. Speaking of Rivian, the company’s chief engineer Charles Sanderson has returned to McLaren as CTO.
Tesla is being sued in a pair of proposed antitrust class actions that accuse the company of unlawfully curbing competition for maintenance and replacement parts for its vehicles, making owners pay more and wait longer for repair services.
In other Tesla news, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that version 11 of the company’s full self-driving technology will see a widespread rollout this weekend. Tesla has delayed v11 for months. And … California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD) must provide Tesla with the details of the investigation it conducted prior to suing the automaker for racial discrimination, a judge has ruled. The ruling might give Tesla the chance to narrow the scope of the lawsuit, which the CRD filed after hearing several reports that Tesla’s Fremont factory was a racially segregated workplace.
Volkswagen Group and its battery company PowerCo have picked Canada for its first overseas battery cell factory. The plant, located in St. Thomas, Ontario, will produce battery cells beginning in 2027, according to the German automaker.
Waze is adding a new feature that helps EV owners find compatible chargers en route. All they have to do is enter their vehicle model and plug type into the app. The app, which relies on crowdsourcing traffic and road data from users, also hopes to avoid outdated and unreliable information about chargers — many EV owners have the common problem of driving up to a charging station only to find that the plugs are busted.
Future of flight
Volocopter is working with Nepalese airline SITA to collaborate on IT infrastructure for vertiports.
Zipline unveiled its new electric autonomous drone platform for last-mile logistics, which includes: 1) An updated drone, the P2 Zip, with four propellers that allow for vertical takeoff and landing, as well as hovering; 2) a new autonomous “droid” to replace parachuting packages to the ground, and should provide more accurate drops; 3) charging and docking infrastructure that’s easy for businesses to set up.
Bolt is expanding to Nepal to launch its on-demand ride-hailing service in Kathmandu.
In a win for app-based gig economy companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart, a California appeals court on Monday reversed a lower-court ruling that found Proposition 22 to be illegal. That means those companies can continue to treat their drivers like independent contractors, rather than employees, in the state, dodging financial employer responsibilities like minimum wage, unemployment insurance, sick leave and other business expenses. The decision is expected to be appealed and may go up to the California Supreme Court.