Who Is The Theranos of Mobility?

13 Dec

Theranos

Theranos is a classic tale of hubris and schadenfreude, a blood-testing tech company that generated massive press, with a female CEO straight out of Gattaca who attracted hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, that is now imploding because its technology never worked.

Every sector gets its Theranos—so, who is the Theranos of the mobility space?

The answer starts with “mobility,” a word that bores me to tears. What does mobility mean? I’m already mobile; Americans are among the most mobile in the world, but in transportation, mobility ≠ “Mobility”, the new buzzword for companies that don’t have clear strategies in a world of increasing connectivity, autonomy, and electrification. (Case in point: BMW has for the last few years been beating the drum that they are no longer a car manufacturer, but a “mobility provider”—whatever that means.)

Mobility is used so broadly that it has become meaningless, and yet billions of dollars are flowing into disparate companies converging on what they hope will be a pot of gold, but will more likely be an expensive grave.

Bubble, thy name is Mobility. The criteria? Big fundraising, big name investors, beaucoup press, and the high expectations that come with big promises.

Let’s take a look at our candidates, courtesy of a flood of suggestions that came in when I posed the question online. Let’s start with the ride-hailing business, dominated by what are called TNCs, or Transportation Network Companies.

Read the rest over at The Drive

What Happens When Software Based Car Companies Die?

12 Dec

Software

The death of Pebble, one of the better known smartwatch brands, highlights a looming problem not just for early adopters of the latest technology, but for any adopters. What happens when a software based car company dies?

The same thing that happens when any software based company goes under.

You’re screwed. Or are you?

The degree of screwing depends on you. A Pebble watch that retails for $50-$150? Charge it and it will still tell the time. Those extra fitness features you paid for? Watch wearers lived without them for 99% of the history of watchmaking. I know lots of healthy people who’ve never heard of a Pebble, or a Fitbit, or any of the technologies supposed to “help” you get and stay fit. You know what else works? When your Pebble dies, go get a $10 Timex, a pencil and some paper.

Let’s apply this logic to software-based cars.

Every car on the road today has tons of software. Mountains. Exponentially more than the Space Shuttle and the Apollo moon missions. Most of that software is irrelevant to the basic purpose of cars. We’ve been building cars that get from A to B for 100 years, 75 of which required little to no software. Some software is useful, like the software behind Anti-Lock Brakes. Some of it is really useful, like that behind distance-sensing cruise control, but guess what? You don’t need any of it to get from A to B. Sure, it might get you from A to B more safely—and in some cases more conveniently—but none of it is essential.

Read the rest over at The Drive

An Open Letter to the Tesla Saboteurs

23 Nov

Tesla

I woke this morning to news of the alleged sabotage of the Tesla Supercharger in Barstow, California. Sad! But is it sad? Yes, but not for the reasons you think. A rising tide of Tesla hate—the sabotage, the fake news, the tireless trolls—got me thinking. If you’re judged by your enemies, Elon Musk should have Secret Service protection. By that standard, Musk should be President. Whatever their motive, the saboteurs have Tesla all wrong, as do all of Tesla’s enemies.

Even if you hate Tesla, you must love Tesla.

It’s true. Literally everything the critics hate about Tesla is in fact a strength. Kool-Aid? Here’s a vat of it, for even if everything Tesla’s critics say is true, Tesla has made the American automotive industry great again, and for that every American should all be proud.

Let’s deconstruct the arguments of those who would rather see the Fremont factory crushed between tectonic plates, with Musk tied down spreadeagled to a Space X landing platform during rocket testing.

Read the rest over at The Drive

What Tesla’s Paid Supercharging Announcement Really Means

7 Nov

Tesla Supercharging

It couldn’t last forever. Tesla will begin charging for use of its Supercharging network, according to a statement released this morning. Free charging was one of Tesla’s big selling points, but it wasn’t the only one. Tesla possesses the largest high-speed EV charging network in the world, but with wait times climbing and the Model 3 inbound, Tesla needs a lot more infrastructure, and someone has to pay for it.

But there’s a lot more going on here than just charging.

Here’s what we know:

“Teslas ordered after January 1, 2017, 400 kWh of free Supercharging credits (roughly 1,000 miles) will be included annually so that all owners can continue to enjoy free Supercharging during travel. Beyond that, there will be a small fee to Supercharge which will be charged incrementally and cost less than the price of filling up a comparable gas car.”

“These changes will not impact current owners or any new Teslas ordered before January 1, 2017, as long as delivery is taken before April 1, 2017.”

Now let’s read between the lines, and also pose some questions:

Read the rest over at The Drive

What Automotive Must Learn From Aviation: What is an Autopilot?

7 Oct

Autopilot

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Guess what? Words can hurt us, when life or death decisions are made on false assumptions. I’m talking, of course, about the language of Self-Driving Cars, that seemingly inevitable panacea into which Silicon Valley and the car industry are pouring billions to save us from ourselves. If technology is only as good as our understanding of it, then the automotive industry has a long way go.

The problem isn’t limited to Tesla’s branding of the word “autopilot”, but it certainly starts there, especially now that the California DMV has threatened to stop Tesla from using Autopilot as a brand name. Add the recurring debate over whether Tesla Autopilot was defective in the Joshua Brown crash, and obvious questions emerged:

What is an autopilot? Is Tesla Autopilot actually an autopilot? What does “autopilot” imply? Where does Tesla’s system fall short of real or perceived autopilots? Is the problem the “auto” prefix? The “pilot” suffix? For those who object to Tesla’s choice of branding, I bring you Audi’s Piloted Driving, the yin of implication to Autopilot’s yang. What does “Piloted Driving” imply? What about Volvo’s Pilot Assist?

In the spirit of unpacking this mess, I signed up for flying lessons and began a deep dive into the history of autopilots and automation. I also decided to reach out to a wide variety of pilots — from private owners of single-engined turboprops to professionals flying Boeing 757’s and Airbus A380’s — and take them out in a variety of cars, starting with Teslas.

This is Part 1 of what I learned. Read the rest over at The Drive…

Tesla, Michigan, and How To Save The American Car Industry

3 Oct

Keith Crain

I shall now explain how to save the American car industry.

We begin with Keith Crain — Editor-In-Chief of Automotive News and Autoweek — who is simply wrong.

So wrong that I’ve written 2000+ words in response to his 419.

I don’t normally read The Onion for political commentary, nor do I read anything published by Crain’s for comedy, but it’s an election year. Traditional roles, expectations, acceptable language and even the definitions of words have been wildly subverted, and all of this is on display in the latest op-ed by Crain, whose latest “column” highlights everything that is contemptible about journalism and politics in this country, and why “wisdom” such as his spells doom for the American car industry.

Crain’s latest piece “Elon Musk is Simply Wrong” is so hilariously transparent and inept in its shilling for friends and neighbors who own car dealerships and sit in state government, it is actually unworthy of The Onion. Crain is writing at a Mad Magazine level here. Lower, in fact, for his ultra-protectionist, fill-in-the-blanks “column” more closely resembles Mad Libs: The Car Dealer Association Party Edition.

Crain’s bias is so obvious, and his arguments so lazy, that the FTC should probably check whether it should be labeled “sponsored content.” That’s just my opinion, of course. Don‘t take my word for it. I’m going to let him speak for himself, with line-by-line commentary.

Read the rest over at The Drive

 

Watch This Time-Lapse Footage of the Tesla Cannonball Run Finish in Manhattan

26 Sep

Cannonball Run

Only two kinds of dashcam videos are any fun: 1) an expert lap of the Nurburgring and 2) the end of a Cannonball Run-type drive cross country. The biggest difference between them? The best Nurburgring videos are all under eight minutes, but the last eight minutes of any record run always depict two breathless men stopped at a series of red lights, looking for a bathroom.

Those days are over.

In a world where people claim such records without video, I present to you the final leg of our latest (ahem) achievement: the new Electric & Autonomous Cannonball Run records, as depicted in a gorgeous high resolution time lapse, compressed into less than 60 seconds.
This clip depicts the end of our journey, from Eastern Pennsylvania across New Jersey, through the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan, then our battle through downtown traffic to reach the Red Ball Garage.

Watch the video over at The Drive

How We Broke The Electric & Semi-Autonomous Cannonball Run Records

23 Sep

Cannonball Run

Two days ago, Franz Aliquo, Warren “Mr. X” Ahner, and I announced that we broke both the electric and autonomous vehicle Cannonball Run records, covering 2,877 miles from Redondo Beach, California to the Red Ball Garage in 55 hours—97.7 percent of that time with Tesla’s Autopilot in operation. A lot of people asked about how we did it.

This is the first part of that story.

Why do this?

Who doesn’t want to? California is the finish line of the Western world. It’s part of the American mythos, going back to the settlers. “Go west” is both exhortation and rallying cry, and I’ve done it dozens of times. After breaking the old Cannonball record in 2006 in 31 hours and 4 minutes, I thought “Cannonballing” was over; I was wrong. Regular gas cars don’t have a lot of room for improvement, but with electric and self-driving cars, the sky’s the limit. The next 20 years are going to see a lot more of this—done more safely—than ever before.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Alex Roy Tests Tesla’s Autopilot 8, Part 1

22 Sep

Autopilot 8

Tesla Autopilot 8 is finally here. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the world’s most famous Beta software and test it around New York City, and my first impressions suggest my earlier predictions were fairly spot-on. Autopilot 8 is a modest step forward in user interface and functionality, but a major step forward in safety and effectiveness.

The obvious changes are cosmetic, but the biggest change—improved radar signal processing—won’t become apparent for weeks or months, after which the breadth of improvements should be incontrovertible.

Fleet Learning Is Everything

The release of Autopilot 8 within 48 hours of the DOT’s new guidelineshighlights the growing chasm between Tesla’s Level 2 semi-Autonomous suite and rivals’ deliberate pause at Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, or ADAS.

While legacy OEMs hope to reach, via localized testing, Level 4 autonomy within 3 to 5 years, Tesla’s combination of Fleet Learning and OTA updates has yielded more (and more significant) software improvements in the 11 months since Autopilot’s initial release than most manufacturers achieve in a traditional 3-5 year model cycle.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Teslas Can Use Chargepoint, But Non-Teslas Can’t Use Superchargers, Ergo…

20 Sep

Chargepoint

Last week Forbes published one of the shoddiest articles I’ve ever read in that once-vaunted publication. Noted Tesla foe Bertell Schmitt — former VW insider whose whose coverage of Dieselgate got my attention — showed an outrageous lack of intellectual honesty in his story “Who Has The World’s Biggest Charging Network? Trigger Warning: It’s Ain’t Tesla.”

His claim? That Tesla’s 4,359 Superchargers are outnumbered by Chargepoint’s 30,200 charging locations.

That’s still like calling water fountains and waterfalls equivalent as water sources. Tesla Superchargers charge at up to 120kW, or up to 170 miles of range within 30 minutes. Chargepoint “Fast Chargers” charge at up to 50kW, or less than half that of Tesla’s. Once Tesla’s “Destination Chargers” were factored in, the Tesla network comes to 9,659, of which slightly less than half are Superchargers, but the story doesn’t end there.

Read the rest over at The Drive