TuSimple adds another $120 million to its self-driving trucks war chest

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple has added another $120 million to a Series D funding round led by Sina, operator of China’s biggest microblogging site Weibo, bringing the total haul to $215 million as it seeks to expand.

The company, which launched in 2015 and has operations in China, San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, hit unicorn status in February when it raised $95 million in the Series D round with a post-money valuation of $1.095 billion. This additional funding includes investment from UPS, which announced in August that it had taken a minority stake in TuSimple just months after the two companies began testing the use of autonomous trucks in Arizona.

TuSimple’s total funding is $298 million. New participants in the round include CDH Investments, Lavender Capital, and Tier 1 supplier Mando Corporation.

The company plans to use the funds to continue developing its autonomous vehicle technology and expand its long-haul routes in Arizona and Texas.

TuSimple is working on a “full-stack solution,” an industry term that means developing and bringing together all of the technological pieces required for autonomous driving. TuSimple is developing a Level 4 system, a designation by the SAE that means the vehicle takes over all of the driving in certain conditions.

In late 2017, TuSimple raised $55 million with plans to use those funds to scale up testing to two full truck fleets in China and the U.S. By 2018, TuSimple started testing on public roads, beginning with a 120-mile highway stretch between Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona and another segment in Shanghai.

The company has more than 50 trucks and 18 contracted customers, according to TuSimple CFO Cheng Lu.

One of those customers is UPS, which initially tapped TuSimple to help it better understand how Level 4 autonomous trucking might function within its network. That relationship expanded in May when the companies began using self-driving tractor trailers to carry freight on a freight route between Tucson and Phoenix to test if service and efficiency in the UPS network can be improved. UPS and TuSimple conduct daily testing between Phoenix and Tucson.

Waymo’s robotaxi pilot surpassed 6,200 riders in its first month in California

Waymo transported 6,266 passengers in self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans in its first month participating in a robotaxi pilot program in California, according to a quarterly report the company filed with the California Public Utilities Commission.

In all, the company completed 4,678 passenger trips in July — plus another 12 trips for educational purposes. It’s a noteworthy figure for an inaugural effort that pencils out to an average of 156 trips every day that month.  And it demonstrates that Waymo has the resources, staff and vehicles to operate a robotaxi pilot while continuing to test its technology in multiple cities and ramp up its Waymo One ride-hailing service in Arizona.

But Waymo’s data — along with quarterly reports from three other companies that hold permits with the CPUC — provides just a hint at what demand could be for commercial robotaxis and how these services might reshape cities.

Waymo’s pilot program, for instance, isn’t open to the public. Waymo or Alphabet employees and their guests can take rides within its geofenced South Bay territory, which currently includes Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. This is only a few of the cities where Waymo is currently testing in California.

And because companies in this pilot program cannot charge for rides, it’s difficult to determine what the demand will be for robotaxis, Dr. Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, noted in a recent interview.

Robotaxis and the CPUC

The CPUC authorized in May 2018 two pilot programs for transporting passengers in autonomous vehicles.  The first one, called the Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program, allows companies to operate a ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles as long as they follow specific rules. Companies are not allowed to charge for rides, a human safety driver must be behind the wheel and certain data must be reported quarterly.

The second CPUC pilot would allow driverless passenger service — although no company has yet to obtain that permit.

The CPUC programs shouldn’t be confused with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which regulates and issues permits for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads — always with a safety driver. The DMV has issued 63 autonomous vehicle testing permits since 2014. Companies that want to participate in the CPUC program must have a testing permit with DMV.

And for those companies that might want to someday get a permit from the CPUC for the driverless pilot, they must first obtain a driverless permit from the DMV. In 2018, the DMV issued rules to allow for autonomous vehicle driverless testing on roads.

Only Waymo holds a driverless testing permit from the DMV, although it does not have driverless vehicles on public roads in California yet.

AutoX, Pony.ai, Zoox and Waymo have received permits to participate in the CPUC’s Drivered Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service Pilot program. Zoox scored the first permit from the CPUC in December. Pony.ai and AutoX, which started as an autonomous delivery company, followed.

Last quarter’s numbers

But Waymo, which received its permit on July 2  — two months into the second quarter — is already the leader, in terms of rides.

Pony.ai didn’t provide any rides in the last quarter, according to its CPUC report. Zoox’s report indicates that its 10 vehicles transported 134 passengers on more than 70 trips last quarter. The Zoox fleet traveled 352 miles during those trips.

Meanwhile, Waymo’s fleet completed 4,678 trips and logged 59,886 miles during the final month of the quarter.

As impressive as the numbers are, Shaheen and others in the industry wonder if the data being collected will help state regulators and companies determine the value and challenges of commercial robotaxi services.

“Is this data they’re collecting actually helpful and how are they going to use it?” Shaheen asked.

Under the program, permit holders must submit anonymized data about each autonomous vehicle in operation. Waymo and other companies participating in the pilot have to provide total vehicle miles traveled during passenger service, as well as total miles in electric vehicles (if applicable) every quarter. Other data requirements for each quarter include miles traveled to the pickup point, idling time, vehicle occupancy and data about accessible rides.

The data is meant to help the CPUC develop a framework for full, permanent deployment of paid autonomous vehicles passenger service in California. And yet, the data might not fully capture what a commercial service might look like. For instance, Waymo’s total miles traveled from the vehicle’s starting location to a pickup point — a term known as deadhead miles — were 48,137 miles out of the total 59,916. Waymo notes in its report to the CPUC that it is continuously testing in between rides, implying that this could drive up the deadhead miles.

Autonomous vehicle companies have largely supported the CPUC’s two pilot programs. However, many companies, including Waymo as well as others such as Lyft and Cruise, which aren’t participating in the pilot, submitted written comments in 2018 arguing against some of the reporting requirements and in support of charging for rides.

Waymo has previously stated in public comments to the CPUC that tracking deadhead miles “would not appear to provide any valuable data” because the vehicles used for testing purposes will be vastly different and may not accurately reflect the efficiencies that can be gained through a more expansive fleet during full deployment.

Without the ability to charge for rides, companies are treating the pilot as another means to dial in their eventual commercial service.

AutoX is treating the pilot as one way to gain a better understanding of the consumer’s experience, including ordering and waiting for the ride, said Hugo Fozzati, AutoX’s director of business operations.

“Before we scale out and really deploy this, we want to make sure that we’re doing everything right,” Fozzati said.

Now, two questions remain: What will happen next and which agency will have the greatest influence in shaping future regulations? The CPUC and DMV are the most likely candidates, but the California Highway Patrol, which has historically been involved in some DMV rule-making, as well as the California Air Resources Board, could also play a role.

With the 2020 Cadillac CT4, GM begins to expand its hands-free Super Cruise driving system

GM’s high-end brand unveiled Thursday the 2020 Cadillac CT4, a sporty and small sedan that is designed and priced to attract younger buyers looking to enter into the luxury car market.

The vehicle’s debut also marks an important expansion for GM’s hands-free driver assistance system, Super Cruise. The hands-free driving system has been lauded for its capabilities; it’s also been criticized because of its severe limitations. Today, Super Cruise is available in just one Cadillac model, the full-size CT6 sedan. And even in the CT6, the system is restricted to certain highways.

Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

GM is finally starting to expand where the system can be used and bringing it to more models. Earlier this year, the company said it will add another 70,000 miles of compatible divided highways in the United States and Canada to the existing system via a software update. By the end of the year, Super Cruise will be available on more than 200,000 miles of highways.

The automaker plans to bring SuperCruise to other GM brands such as Chevrolet, GMC and Buick after 2020.

The expansion follows other improvements rolled out in 2018, including adding a dynamic lane offset so that a CT6 with Super Cruise activated can adjust slightly over in its lane for driver comfort when passing large vehicles. Gauge cluster messages were also added, to inform drivers why Super Cruise may not be available in certain instances.

Super Cruise isn’t the only feature of note in the 2020 Cadillac CT4 model. Cadillac is offering the CT4 in a few trim levels, all of which will have turbo engines. The standard version will have a an eight-speed transmission and a 2.0 turbo-4 engine that generates 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

The CT4-V, and the premium luxury version the CT4, have a 2.7-liter turbo-4 engine with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

The CT4 will come with unique grilles and bright exterior accents to distinguish the CT4 luxury and premium luxury models. The Sport and V-Series models are differentiated by darker accents and “performance-inspired” details, including unique grilles, fascias, rocker extensions, rear spoiler and exclusive performance design wheels, Cadillac said.

Every version of the CT4 will have LED exterior lighting including headlamps, tail lamps and signature vertical lights at all four corners.

Cadillac 2020 CT4 Sport 023

The interior of the 2020 Cadillac CT4.

Inside the car, drivers will find an 8-inch touchscreen that is mounted prominently in the center of the instrument panel. GM’s new digital platform, which can handle over-the-air software updates, is integrated into the CT4 as well.

“We developed CT4 to appeal to youthful buyers in the luxury market who may be new to the Cadillac brand,” said Andrew Smith, executive director of global Cadillac design. “The vehicle was intended to draw attention, using a combination of great proportions, taught surfacing and Cadillac family details that hint at the athletic driving experience this vehicle offers.”

Voyage raises $31 million to bring driverless taxis to communities

Voyage, the autonomous vehicle startup that spun out of Udacity, announced Thursday it has raised $31 million in a round led by Franklin Templeton.

Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land-Rover’s InMotion Ventures, and Chevron Technology Ventures also participated in the round. The company, which operates a ride-hailing service in retirement communities using self-driving cars supported by human safety drivers, has raised a total of $52 million since launching in 2017. The new funding includes a $3 million convertible note.

Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron has big plans for the fresh injection of capital, including hiring and expanding its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which always have a human safety driver behind the wheel.

Ultimately, the expanded G2 fleet and staff are just the means towards Cameron’s grander mission to turn Voyage into a truly driverless and profitable ride-hailing company.

“It’s not just about solving self driving technology,” Cameron told TechCrunch in a recent interview, explaining that a cost effective vehicle designed to be driverless is the essential piece required to make this a profitable business.

The company is in the midst of a hiring campaign that Cameron hopes will take its 55-person staff to more than 150 over the next year. Voyage has had some success attracting high-profile people to fill executive-level positions, including CTO Drew Gray, who previously worked at Uber ATG, Otto, Cruise and Tesla, as well as former NIO and Tesla employee Davide Bacchet as director of autonomy.

Funds will also be used to increase its fleet of second-generation self-driving cars (called G2) that are currently being used in a 4,000-resident retirement community in San Jose, Calif., as well as The Villages, a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in Florida. Voyage’s G2 fleet is 12. Cameron didn’t provide details on how many vehicles it will add to its G2 fleet, only describing it as a “nice jump that will allow us to serve consumers.”

Voyage used the G2 vehicles to create a template of sorts for its eventual driverless vehicle. This driverless product — a term Cameron has used in a previous post on Medium — will initially be limited to 25 miles per hour, which is the driving speed within the two retirement communities in which Voyage currently tests and operates. The vehicle might operate at a low speed, but they are capable of handling complex traffic interactions, he wrote.

“It won’t be the most cost effective vehicle ever made because the industry still in its infancy, but it will be a huge, huge, huge improvement over our G2 vehicle in terms of being be able to scale out a commercial service and make money on each ride,” Cameron said. 

Voyage initially used modified Ford Fusion vehicles to test its autonomous vehicle technology and then introduced in July 2918 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, its second generation of autonomous vehicles. But the end goal has always been a driverless product.

Voyage engineers Alan Mond and Trung Dung Vu

TechCrunch previously reported that the company has partnered with an automaker to provide this next-generation vehicle that has been designed specifically for autonomous driving. Cameron wouldn’t name the automaker. The vehicle will be electric and it won’t be a retrofit like the Chrysler  Pacifica Hybrid vehicles Voyage currently uses or its first-generation vehicle, a Ford Fusion.

Most importantly, and a detail Cameron did share with TechCrunch, is that the vehicle it uses for its driverless service will have redundancies and safety-critical applications built into it.

Voyage also has two deals in place with Enterprise rental cars and Intact insurance company to help it scale.

“You can imagine leasing is much more optimal than purchasing and owning vehicles on your balance sheet,” Cameron said. “We have those deals in place that will allow us to not only get the vehicle costs down, but other aspects of the vehicle into the right place as well.”

Sidewalk Labs spins out urban data-gathering tool Replica into a company

Replica, the data-gathering tool created within Sidewalk Labs that maps the movement of people in cities, is now a company.

The newly formed company, which is headed by Nick Bowden, also announced Thursday it has raised $11 million in a Series A funding round from investors Innovation Endeavors, Firebrand Ventures, and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund. The capital will be used to accelerate Replica’s growth through new hires beyond its existing 13-person staff, expansion to new cities and investment in its technology.

Replica will remain connected to Sidewalk Labs, the smart city technology firm owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet. Both Sidewalk Labs and Innovation Endeavors will be on the company’s board.

Replica, which is headquartered in Kansas City with an engineering office in San Francisco, plans to launch in several new regions. Replica is already working with Kansas City, Portland, Chicago and Sacramento, with more cities to come this year.

The Replica tool, which has drawn the ire of some privacy advocates, grew out of Model Lab, a project  started two years ago to investigate modeling as a way to address urban problems. Early work focused on meeting with public agencies throughout the world to learn more about the data, processes and other tools they used.

The Replica planning tool was born out what they discovered: public agencies don’t have all the information needed to understand the link and interdependence between transportation and land use. The upshot is a an incomplete picture of how people move within cities, leaving public agencies ill-equipped to make decisions about how land is used and what transportation is needed and where, the company says.

“Answering questions like who uses the street, in which way and why, are critical for city planners as they work to make transit and land use more efficient and sustainable,” Bowden wrote. “But current resources available to city planners to analyze people’s travel in urban areas are less than satisfactory.”

The Replica modeling tool uses de-identified mobile location data to give public agencies a comprehensive portrait of how, when, and why people travel. Movement models are matched to a synthetic population, which has been created using samples of census demographic data to create a broad new data set that is statistically representative of the actual population. The result, Bowden says, is a model that is both privacy-sensitive and extremely useful for public agencies.

Bowden tried to quell privacy worries Thursday in a blog post emphasizing that the data has been “de-identified,” meaning that an individual’s location data would be identifiable. The company says it’s not interested in the movement of individuals. Instead, the modeling tool is used to see and understand patterns of movement.

“For this reason, we only start with data that has been de-identified,” Bowden wrote Thursday. “This data is then used to train a travel behavior model — basically, a set of rules to represent the movement in a particular place.”

Elon Musk promises to take Tesla Model S to ‘Plaid’ with new powertrain

Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised a more powerful powertrain option in future Model S, Model X and the next-generation Roadster sports car that will push acceleration and speed beyond the current high bar known as Ludicrous mode.

Musk tweeted Wednesday evening “the only thing beyond Ludicrous is Plaid,” a teaser to a higher performing vehicle and a nod to the movie Spaceballs.

 

These new higher performing versions of the Model S, Model X, and Roadster will contain what Musk describes as a Plaid powertrain and is still about a year away from production. This new powertrain will have three motors, one more than the dual motor system found in today’s Model S and X.

This Plaid powertrain has already seen some action. Tesla revealed Wednesday that a Model S equipped with a Plaid powertrain and chassis prototype had lapped Laguna Seca racetrack in 1:36:555, a second faster than the record for a four-door sedan.

 

The “Plaid” powertrain will not be offered in the lower cost Model 3 or Model Y, which isn’t expected to go into production until late 2020. Musk also promised that this plaid powertrain will cost more than “current offerings, but will be less than competitors” without explaining what that means.

Cclose followers of the automaker might recall hints of a three motor powertrain in the past.

When Tesla unveiled a new Roadster prototype in November 2017, Musk said it would have three motors and be able to travel a whopping 0 to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds and a top speed of 250 mph or even more. The Roadster isn’t expected to go into production until 2020.

What is new are Tesla’s plans to make this more powerful three-motor powertrain available in the Model S and Model X. And it stands to be an important option, if it does in fact materialize. The Model S has been around since 2012 and since the introduction the cheaper Model 3, sales have dipped.

And yet, Musk has said the X and S won’t be getting a major refresh. If Tesla hopes to maintain demand for either of its higher margin luxury vehicles, new trims like this plaid powertrain will be essential.

Tesla first announced Ludicrous mode in its Model S vehicles way back in July 2015. As shareholders and customers awaited the Model X to arrive, Musk unveiled several options for the company’s Model S sedan, including a lower priced version, longer battery range and “Ludicrous mode” for even faster acceleration.

Ludicrous mode, which improved acceleration by 10% to let drivers go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, came about as a result of an improved battery fuse. This new fuse, Musk explained in a blog post at the time, has its own electronics and a tiny lithium-ion battery that monitors current and protects against excessive current.

Tesla also upgraded the main pack contactor with a high-temperature space-grade superalloy instead of steel. This enabled the battery pack to remain “springy” under the heat of heavy current. In the end, the max pack output increased from 1300 to 1500 Amps.

Ludicrous was a $10,000 add on for new buyers. Tesla did reduce the price for existing Model S P85 owners for the first six months following the announcement and sold them the pack electronics upgrade needed for Ludicrous Mode for $5,000.

Musk joked in this 2015 blog post that there is “one speed faster than ludicrous, but that is reserved for the next generation Roadster in 4 years: maximum plaid.”

Elon Musk promises to take Tesla Model S to ‘Plaid’ with new powertrain

Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised a more powerful powertrain option in future Model S, Model X and the next-generation Roadster sports car that will push acceleration and speed beyond the current high bar known as Ludicrous mode.

Musk tweeted Wednesday evening “the only thing beyond Ludicrous is Plaid,” a teaser to a higher performing vehicle and a nod to the movie Spaceballs.

 

These new higher performing versions of the Model S, Model X, and Roadster will contain what Musk describes as a Plaid powertrain and is still about a year away from production. This new powertrain will have three motors, one more than the dual motor system found in today’s Model S and X.

This Plaid powertrain has already seen some action. Tesla revealed Wednesday that a Model S equipped with a Plaid powertrain and chassis prototype had lapped Laguna Seca racetrack in 1:36:555, a second faster than the record for a four-door sedan.

 

The “Plaid” powertrain will not be offered in the lower cost Model 3 or Model Y, which isn’t expected to go into production until late 2020. Musk also promised that this plaid powertrain will cost more than “current offerings, but will be less than competitors” without explaining what that means.

Cclose followers of the automaker might recall hints of a three motor powertrain in the past.

When Tesla unveiled a new Roadster prototype in November 2017, Musk said it would have three motors and be able to travel a whopping 0 to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds and a top speed of 250 mph or even more. The Roadster isn’t expected to go into production until 2020.

What is new are Tesla’s plans to make this more powerful three-motor powertrain available in the Model S and Model X. And it stands to be an important option, if it does in fact materialize. The Model S has been around since 2012 and since the introduction the cheaper Model 3, sales have dipped.

And yet, Musk has said the X and S won’t be getting a major refresh. If Tesla hopes to maintain demand for either of its higher margin luxury vehicles, new trims like this plaid powertrain will be essential.

Tesla first announced Ludicrous mode in its Model S vehicles way back in July 2015. As shareholders and customers awaited the Model X to arrive, Musk unveiled several options for the company’s Model S sedan, including a lower priced version, longer battery range and “Ludicrous mode” for even faster acceleration.

Ludicrous mode, which improved acceleration by 10% to let drivers go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, came about as a result of an improved battery fuse. This new fuse, Musk explained in a blog post at the time, has its own electronics and a tiny lithium-ion battery that monitors current and protects against excessive current.

Tesla also upgraded the main pack contactor with a high-temperature space-grade superalloy instead of steel. This enabled the battery pack to remain “springy” under the heat of heavy current. In the end, the max pack output increased from 1300 to 1500 Amps.

Ludicrous was a $10,000 add on for new buyers. Tesla did reduce the price for existing Model S P85 owners for the first six months following the announcement and sold them the pack electronics upgrade needed for Ludicrous Mode for $5,000.

Musk joked in this 2015 blog post that there is “one speed faster than ludicrous, but that is reserved for the next generation Roadster in 4 years: maximum plaid.”

Elon Musk promises to take Tesla Model S to ‘Plaid’ with new powertrain

Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised a more powerful powertrain option in future Model S, Model X and the next-generation Roadster sports car that will push acceleration and speed beyond the current high bar known as Ludicrous mode.

Musk tweeted Wednesday evening “the only thing beyond Ludicrous is Plaid,” a teaser to a higher performing vehicle and a nod to the movie Spaceballs.

 

These new higher performing versions of the Model S, Model X, and Roadster will contain what Musk describes as a Plaid powertrain and is still about a year away from production. This new powertrain will have three motors, one more than the dual motor system found in today’s Model S and X.

This Plaid powertrain has already seen some action. Tesla revealed Wednesday that a Model S equipped with a Plaid powertrain and chassis prototype had lapped Laguna Seca racetrack in 1:36:555, a second faster than the record for a four-door sedan.

 

The “Plaid” powertrain will not be offered in the lower cost Model 3 or Model Y, which isn’t expected to go into production until late 2020. Musk also promised that this plaid powertrain will cost more than “current offerings, but will be less than competitors” without explaining what that means.

Cclose followers of the automaker might recall hints of a three motor powertrain in the past.

When Tesla unveiled a new Roadster prototype in November 2017, Musk said it would have three motors and be able to travel a whopping 0 to 60 miles per hour in 1.9 seconds and a top speed of 250 mph or even more. The Roadster isn’t expected to go into production until 2020.

What is new are Tesla’s plans to make this more powerful three-motor powertrain available in the Model S and Model X. And it stands to be an important option, if it does in fact materialize. The Model S has been around since 2012 and since the introduction the cheaper Model 3, sales have dipped.

And yet, Musk has said the X and S won’t be getting a major refresh. If Tesla hopes to maintain demand for either of its higher margin luxury vehicles, new trims like this plaid powertrain will be essential.

Tesla first announced Ludicrous mode in its Model S vehicles way back in July 2015. As shareholders and customers awaited the Model X to arrive, Musk unveiled several options for the company’s Model S sedan, including a lower priced version, longer battery range and “Ludicrous mode” for even faster acceleration.

Ludicrous mode, which improved acceleration by 10% to let drivers go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, came about as a result of an improved battery fuse. This new fuse, Musk explained in a blog post at the time, has its own electronics and a tiny lithium-ion battery that monitors current and protects against excessive current.

Tesla also upgraded the main pack contactor with a high-temperature space-grade superalloy instead of steel. This enabled the battery pack to remain “springy” under the heat of heavy current. In the end, the max pack output increased from 1300 to 1500 Amps.

Ludicrous was a $10,000 add on for new buyers. Tesla did reduce the price for existing Model S P85 owners for the first six months following the announcement and sold them the pack electronics upgrade needed for Ludicrous Mode for $5,000.

Musk joked in this 2015 blog post that there is “one speed faster than ludicrous, but that is reserved for the next generation Roadster in 4 years: maximum plaid.”

Audi’s off-roading electric concept would be perfect for Tatooine

Concept vehicles are a staple of the auto show circuit. And while most will never end up as a production vehicle, they can provide insight into an automaker and clues to where it’s headed.

Over at Audi, designers and engineers might have had a distant planet in mind. Or at least an expanse of wilderness.

The German automaker unveiled Tuesday at the Frankfurt Motor Show the Audi AI: TRAIL quattro, a concept electric vehicle designed for the “future of off roading.” The “Trail” off roader is one of four concept vehicles that Audi has presented at various auto shows since 2017. Other concepts included a sports car, luxury vehicle and one designed for megacities.

Audi argues that these concepts aren’t efforts of futility. Instead, the company says it these four vehicles show how Audi vehicles in the future will be designed for specific use cases.

“In the future, customers will be able to order any of these specialist Audi models from an Audi on-demand vehicle pool to suit their personal preferences and requirements and to lease them for a limited period,” the company said in its announcement.

Audi takes this idea of the on-demand subscription further by noting that vehicles will be configured to suit individual preferences of customers who use this still non-existent and totally conceptual on-demand product. All the essential customer information would be stored in the myAudi system and accompanying app, the company said.

In the video below, Audi’s head of design Marc Lichte explains the thinking behind these concepts.

 

In the case of the Audi AI: TRAIL, designers put an emphasis on exploration and seeing the surrounding environment. It even comes with five drones, which aside from replacing the headlights, can provide other tasks such as lighting up your camping area or picnic spot.

The all-electric concept, which has a range of up to 310 miles, is about 13.5 feet long and 7 feet wide and is outfitted with beefy 22-inch wheels. And because it’s a vehicle meant to off road, designers gave it ground clearance of 13.4 inches. This concept, if it really existed beyond the showroom floor, can ford through water more than half a meter deep. The range of the vehicle does drop on rough roads to about 155 miles, which would theoretically (if this vehicle actually existed) make wilderness travel more difficult.

[gallery ids="1880216,1880211,1880220,1880215,1880212,1880213,1880210,1880221,1880214,1880207"]

The battery unit is integrated into the floor providing a spacious interior that sits four people. Glass surrounds the cabin to provide unrivaled views of the environment, whether it’s an earthly vista or the binary sunset over the fictional Tatooine desert.

The remaining exterior body is made of a mixture of high-tech steel, aluminum and carbon fiber, giving it a total weight of 3,858 pounds.

The concept vehicle is equipped with four electric motors, systems for assisted and automated driving and all-wheel drive. What you won’t find are any screens for streaming video. This concept was designed for viewing the outside world.

The interior, which uses recycled materials, is scant. There are pedals, a yoke for a steering wheel, a few buttons, and a smartphone attached to the steering column as a display and control center for vehicle functions and navigation.

The second row features seats that are designed to function like hammocks — and can be removed and used as mobile outdoor chairs.

Drones as headlights!

Perhaps the most interesting feature is the inclusion of five rotorless electrically operated drones, which serve a variety of purposes. The drones, which have matrix LED lighting, can dock on the roof to get more power with the inductive charging elements.

Audi calls these drones Audi Light Pathfinders because of their ability to fly and illuminate the path ahead. These drones, Audi says replace headlights altogether. When the vehicle is parked, the drones can be used ti light up the surrounding area.

Occupants control the drones through their smartphones in this theoretical use case. The on-board cameras can generate a video image that can be transmitted to the display in front of the driver via Wi-Fi, turning the Pathfinders into “eyes in the sky,” Audi says.

Ford unveils lineup for Europe to outpace gas and diesel vehicle sales by 2022

Ford unveiled a range of hybrid vehicles Tuesday at the Frankfurt Motor Show as part of its plan to reach sales of 1 million electrified vehicles in Europe by the end of 2022.

Ford introduced hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the Mondeo wagon, Puma compact crossover, Kuga (shown below) and Explorer SUVs, as well as the new Tourneo “people mover.”

FORD KUGA SIDE CHARGING

But more are coming. Ford said earlier this year it plans to bring eight electrified vehicles to market this year and another nine that will be produced by 2024. One of those, an all-electric Mustang-inspired SUV, will come to market in 2020. The electric SUV with Mustang styling has a targeted range of 600 km (more than 370 miles) calculated using the World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), and fast-charging capability.

Ford expects that electrified vehicles will account for more than 50% of its car sales in Europe by 2022, surpassing combined sales of conventional petrol and diesel models.

Ford’s upcoming portfolio is part of its broader plan to make its Europe division leaner and more profitable. The company said in June it will cut 12,000 jobs and consolidate its manufacturing footprint to a proposed 18 facilities by the end of 2020. Most of the job cuts, 2,000 of which are salaried position, will occur through voluntary separation programs.

The automaker on Tuesday also announced partnerships with six energy suppliers in Europe, including Centrica in the U.K. and Ireland, to install home charging wall boxes and provide green energy tariffs. A partnership with NewMotion aims to help drivers locate and pay for charging more easily at more than 118,000 charging points in 30 countries.

“With electrification fast becoming the mainstream, we are substantially increasing the number of electrified models and powertrain options for our customers to choose from to suit their needs,” Ford of Europe President Stuart Rowley said in a statement.

Electrified doesn’t mean every vehicle will be solely powered by electricity. The term means the vehicles can use hybrid, plug-in hybrid or battery-electric technology. The showcase Tuesday supports the automaker’s earlier commitment that every new Ford passenger vehicle will include an electrified option.

Ford Europe plans

While some automakers have stuck to an all-electric strategy, Ford plans to produce a range of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to electrification — every customer’s circumstances and travel needs are different,” said Joerg Beyer, executive director of engineering at Ford of Europe. “Our strategy is to pair the right electrified powertrain option to the right vehicle, helping our customers make their electrified vehicle experience easy and enjoyable.”

Ford isn’t doing this alone. The automaker announced in July a partnership with Volkswagen Group that covers collaboration on electric vehicles and development of autonomous technology via a $2.6 billion investment by VW into Argo AI.

Under the EV part of the tie-up, Ford will use VW’s MEB platform, the underlying architecture for its upcoming line of passenger electric vehicles, to develop at least one fully electric car for Europe. VW debuted Monday the ID.3, the first model with MEB platform.