GM’s car-sharing service Maven to exit eight cities

GM is scaling back its Maven car-sharing company and will stop service in nearly half of the 17 North American cities it operates in.

A spokesperson who confirmed Maven was shutting down in some cities, without identifying the location or number that will remain, said the company plans to focus on markets that have the strongest demand and growth potential.

The WSJ, which was the first to report the impending shutdown, said Maven will continue to operate in Detroit, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Toronto. However, TechCrunch has received information from Maven customers that Washington D.C. was also shutting down.

TechCrunch will update the article with more details about what markets Maven plans to exit.

Maven’s car-sharing service is available in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, San Francisco and Washington D.C. as well as Toronto, according to its website. Maven Gig, a service it launched in 2017 that rents out vehicles to rideshare and delivery drivers who use apps like Uber, Lyft and UberEATS, operates in Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, NYC and Washington D.C. 

GM conducted a market-by-market analysis to determine which cities it would exit, according to the spokesperson.

When Maven first launched in 2016 it helped bring (and expand) several of GM’s existing test programs under one brand. The mobility division initially launched as a car-sharing service akin to Zipcar.

At the time of its launch, Maven was essentially three car-sharing services in one that included a city-based service that rented GM vehicles by the hour through an app and another for urban apartment dwellers in Chicago and New York.

A smartphone app, which is central to Maven’s business, is used by customers to search for and reserve a vehicle, unlock the door, and remotely start, cool, or heat the car.

But Maven has had its share of challenges. Demand was lackluster in some markets and the team tweaked, added or removed programs altogether in an effort to figure out what would work.

Maven CEO Julia Steyn left GM in January. TechCrunch has also received tips from users complaining about the service, the platform, even being locked out of the vehicles in areas with limited cellular service.

The company launched in 2017 Maven Reserve in Los Angeles and San Francisco to allow customers to rent its GM-branded vehicles for a month at a time. It also started Maven Gig in hopes of tapping into a growing demand from ride-share and delivery app drivers.

In July, the automaker launched a service in Chicago, Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich. that let owners rent out their personal GM-branded vehicles through its Maven car-sharing platform. The peer-to-peer car rental service was designed to operate in a similar fashion to how Turo and Getaround work.

The creation of Maven was an important milestone for the automaker. GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra, used a study commissioned in the wake of the ignition switch engineering scandal, to accelerate her plans to transform the culture and operations at the automaker. Dozens of executives participated in transformational leaders programs. And Maven was one of the fruits that spun out of that.

Maven was part of a wave of initiatives and investments announced by GM in early 2016 that illustrated its new interest in unconventional transportation that moved past the traditional core business of producing, selling and financing cars, trucks and SUVs to consumers.

That year, GM invested $500 million into ride-hailing startup Lyft, bought the remaining assets and tech of ride-hailing company Sidecar, and most famously acquired self-driving car startup Cruise.

Maven was notable because unlike the other pursuits, this was its own commercial business.

Quadric.io raises $15M to build a plug-and-play supercomputer for autonomous systems

Quadric.io, a startup founded by some of the folks behind the once-secretive bitcoin mining operation “21E6,” has raised $15 million in a Series A round that will fund the development of a supercomputer designed for autonomous systems.  

The round was led by automotive Tier 1 supplier DENSO and its semiconductor products arm NSITEXE, which will also be one of Quadric.io’s customers for future electronic systems in all levels of autonomous driving solutions. Leawood VC also participated in the Series A round.

The company says it will use the injection of capital to build out its product, hire more people and business development. Quadric’s supercomputer will be assembled by an outsourced company.

PearUncork CapitalSV AngelCota Capital, and Trucks VC are seed investors in Quadric.io.

The roots of Quadric.io grew from a seemingly disconnected mission to produce an agricultural robot designed to transform the way vineyards were managed. The company launched in 2016 by CEO Veerbhan Kheterpal, CTO Nigel Drego and CPO Daniel Siru — all co-founders of 21 Inc. The bitcoin startup, once known as 21E6, would later rebrand as Earn.com before being acquired by Coinbase for $100 million.

Quadric’s original plan was stymied by some real-world fundamentals. The power-hungry ag robot was weighed down by batteries that became too unwieldy to move amongst vineyard rows and the processing time to turn loads environmental data into actual actions based on algorithms were too slow.

Quadric was looking for a chip designed for processing on the edge and that supported decision-making in real time — all while crunching data faster and sipping, not slurping power. That need grew into Quadric’s core product today: a supercomputer that the company says hits that sweet spot of increased computational speed and reduced power consumption.

Kheterpal noted in a recent post on Medium that Intel’s CPU’s work “very well for standard computer processing” and Nvidia’s GPU’s have “ushered in astounding new graphics processing for gaming and much more.” But he argued, that Quadric needed something neither of those companies could provide: a chip designed for processing on the edge.

The company created a single unified architecture in the supercomputer that enables high performance computing and artificial intelligence. The supercomputer, which is built around the Quadric Processor, is plug-and-play. This means people can plug in their sensor set and build their entire application to support “near-instantaneous” decision making, Quadric says. The company claims that early testing of Quadric’s system has shown up to 100 times lower latency and a 90 percent reduction in power consumption. 

Quadric argues this underlying technology is a prerequisite for companies developing autonomous systems that will be used in the construction, transportation, agriculture and warehousing industries. The underlying tech that supports autonomous machines used in these industries either lacks the performance or solves only a small part of the full application, according to Quadric.

The startup contends that machines with autonomous functions requires processing speed and responsiveness “on the edge” — meaning at the machine level, not in the cloud.   

Other companies, most recently Tesla, have opted to build their own chips to meet this specific need. But as Kheterpal notes, not all companies have the resources to build the tech from the ground up. 

“ Quadric is a plug and play option that eliminates the need for building heterogeneous systems with significant hardware and software integration costs — thereby taking years off of product development roadmaps,” Kheterpal wrote.

In-car commerce startup Cargo extends Uber partnership to Brazil

Cargo, the startup that brings the convenience store into ride-hailing vehicles, is making its first international expansion through an exclusive partnership with Uber in Brazil.

Uber drivers in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro will now be able to sign up for Cargo and potentially earn additional income by selling products to passengers during their ride.

Cargo, which launched in 2017, provides qualified ridesharing drivers with free boxes filled with the kinds of goods you might find in a convenience store, including snacks and phone chargers. Riders can use Cargo’s mobile web menu on their smartphones (without downloading an app) to buy what they need.

The expansion into Brazil includes a relationship with am/pm convenience stores. In Brazil, about 2,500 am/pm stores are operated and located in Ipiranga gas stations. Uber drivers that sign up with Cargo will collect their boxes of products at these stores.

The announcement is an extension of a partnership with Uber that began last July in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Cargo and Uber have added more U.S. cities to the partnership, including Boston, Miami, New York and Washington, D.C.

The move will give Cargo access to the more than 600,000 Uber drivers in Brazil. It also signals the beginning of what will be a broader global expansion for the company. Some 20,000 U.S. drivers have used the Cargo service. 

In October, Cargo announced it had raised $22 million in a Series A round led by Founders Fund. The Series A round included additional investment from Aquiline Technology Growth, Coatue Management and a number of high-profile entertainment, gaming and technology executives such as Zynga founder Mark Pincus, Twitch’s former CSO Colin Carrier, media investor Vivi Nevo, former NBA commissioner David Stern, Def Jam Records CEO Paul Rosenberg, Steve Aoki, Maria Shriver and Patrick and Christina Schwarzenegger.

To date, Cargo has raised $30 million in venture funding.

Ford CTO Ken Washington at TC Sessions: Mobility on July 10

A conference dedicated to transportation and mobility wouldn’t be complete without hearing from Ford, the U.S. automaker with a storied 116-year history.

We’re excited to announce that Ford CTO Ken Washington will participate in TechCrunch’s inaugural TC Sessions: Mobility, a one-day event on July 10, 2019 in San Jose, Calif., that’s bringing the best and brightest minds founders, investors and technologists who are determined to invent a future Henry Ford might never have imagined. Or maybe he did.

If there’s a person at Ford who can provide insight into where the company is head, it’s Washington.

As CTO and vice president of Research and Advanced Engineering, Washington leads Ford’s worldwide research organization, oversees the development and implementation of the company’s technology strategy and plans, and plays a key role in its expansion into emerging mobility opportunities.

Prior to joining Ford, he was vice president of the Advanced Technology Center at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, where he led a team of scientists and engineers in performing research and development in space science and related R&D.

TC Sessions: Mobility has a jam-packed agenda, overflowing with some of the biggest names and most exciting startups in the transportation industry. With Early-Bird ticket sales ending soon, you’ll want to be sure to grab your tickets after checking out this agenda.

Throughout the day, you can expect to hear from and partake in discussions about the future of transportation, the promise and problems of autonomous vehicles, the potential for bikes and scooters, investing in early-stage startups and more.

We’ll be joined by some of the most esteemed and prescient people in the space, including Dmitri Dolgov  at Waymo Argo AI Chief Safety Officer Summer Craze Fowler, Nuro co-founder Dave FergusonKarl Iagnemma of Aptiv, Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron and Seleta Reynolds of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up.

Students, you can grab your tickets for just $45.

Ford will slash 7,000 salaried jobs by August

Ford Motor is laying off 7,000 salaried employees as part of CEO Jim Hackett’s restructuring plan to reduce bureaucracy, cut costs and turn the automaker into a more agile company prepared for a future that extends beyond its traditional business of producing and selling cars and trucks.

The cuts represent about 10 percent of the automaker’s salaried employees. Some buyouts and layoffs have already occurred, according to an email sent to employees by Hackett. The contents of the email were initially reported by the WSJ. TechCrunch has since reviewed the email.

Some 1,500 employees opted for voluntary buyouts, which occurred in November 2018, according to a spokesperson. Ford expects to complete the restructuring efforts expect by August globally. Cuts affecting Ford’s North American workforce will be complete by June, a Ford spokesperson told TechCrunch.

This cuts will result in annual savings of about $600 million, Hackett said in the email. “We also made significant progress in eliminating bureaucracy, speeding up decision making and driving empowerment as part of this redesign,” he wrote.

The layoffs were anticipated by employees. Ford informed employees last October that it would be restructuring the company, a move that would likely result in layoffs and voluntary buyouts.

The reorganization is part of a broader strategy to prepare for a future with autonomous vehicle technology, electrification and unconventional ownership models.

The restructuring plan is focused on making the company more agile and less bureaucratic. Each business went through a “Smart Redesign” process, according to Hackett’s email, which notes that 1,000 employees were involved in this activity.

Ford previously announced it would spend $11 billion to add 16 all-electric vehicles within its global portfolio of 40 electrified vehicles through 2022. At the heart of the company’s electrification effort is its Corktown project, a massive 1.2 million-square-foot space dedicated to its electric and autonomous vehicles businesses.

The goal of Corktown is to create a “mobility corridor” — Ford’s version of its own Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley — that ties hubs of research, testing and development in the academic hub of Ann Arbor to Ford’s Dearborn headquarters, and finally to Detroit.

Last year, Hackett revealed several other techcentric plans for the automaker that included the introduction of an open cloud-based platform for cities to use, a partnership with Qualcomm for Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything, or C-V2X, a term that means two-way communication with stoplights, signs and other city infrastructure. The company 

Tesla’s communications chief is leaving the automaker

Dave Arnold, Tesla’s senior director of communications, is leaving the company after two-and-half years, according to sources familiar with the move.

Tesla confirmed to TechCrunch that Arnold was leaving in June.

“We’d like to thank Dave for his work in support of Tesla’s mission, and we wish him well,” a Tesla spokesperson said in a company-issued statement. “Dave will remain with the company for the next month to help transition his responsibilities to Keely Sulprizio, Tesla’s director of Global Communications.”

Arnold became senior director of communications at Tesla in July after the departure of Sarah O’Brien. O’Brien, who was previously at Apple, held the position at Tesla for two years. She later took a position at Facebook.

The top communications job at Tesla is a high-profile and critical role for the company, which unlike other automakers, doesn’t have a traditional advertising strategy. And thanks to the near-frenetic amount of attention that Tesla and CEO Elon Musk receives from investors and the press, it also can be a challenging and exhausting one. 

The typical stint for the role has been about two years.

Musk reaches his fervent fan base — and critics — via Twitter. His account now has some 26.5 million followers. Musk’s tweets, along with other announcements and controversies, translate to constant news coverage of the company.

That coverage has been largely responsible for driving sales. Tesla’s relationship with the media might be rocky at times. However, the attention by the press has also helped drive sales. The company has said in previous regulatory filings that “media coverage and word of mouth have been the primary drivers of our sales leads and have helped us achieve sales without traditional advertising and at relatively low marketing costs.”

Tesla issues battery software update after Hong Kong vehicle fire

Tesla has started pushing out a software update that will change battery charge and thermal management settings in Model S sedans and Model X SUVs following a fire in a parked vehicle in Hong Kong earlier this week.

The software update, which Tesla says is being done out of “an abundance of caution,” is supposed to “protect the battery and improve its longevity.” The over-the-air software update will not be made to Model 3 vehicles.

Tesla has not yet identified the cause of the fire or found any issues with the battery pack. But the company said it will act if it discovers a problem.

“The safety of our customers is our top priority, and if we do identify an issue, we will do whatever is necessary to address it,” Tesla said in a statement.

Here is the company’s statement in its entirety on the software update:

We currently have well over half a million vehicles on the road, which is more than double the number that we had at the beginning of last year, and Tesla’s team of battery experts uses that data to thoroughly investigate incidents that occur and understand the root cause. Although fire incidents involving Tesla vehicles are already extremely rare and our cars are 10 times less likely to experience a fire than a gas car, we believe the right number of incidents to aspire to is zero.

As we continue our investigation of the root cause, out of an abundance of caution, we are revising charge and thermal management settings on Model S and Model X vehicles via an over-the-air software update that will begin rolling out today, to help further protect the battery and improve battery longevity.

A Tesla Model S caught on fire March 14 while parked near a Hong Kong shopping mall. The vehicle was sitting for about a half an hour before it burst into flames. Three explosions were seen on CCTV footage, Reuters and the Apple Daily newspaper reported at the time.

Tesla was onsite to offer support to our customer and establish the facts of this incident, a Tesla spokesperson said. The investigation is ongoing.

Only a few battery modules were affected on the Model S that caught on fire and the majority of the battery pack is undamaged, according to Tesla.

The company noted that the battery packs are designed so that if “in the very rare instance” a fire does occur  it spread slowly and vents heat away from the cabin. The aim is to give occupants time to exit the vehicle.

The Hong Kong fire followed video footage posted in April that appears to show a Tesla Model S smoking and then exploding while parked in a garage in Shanghai.

Musk’s new lawyer fights ‘pedo guy’ defamation lawsuit claims, questions motive

SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s lawyer argued Tuesday in a court filing that the British cave diver who became embroiled in a public spat with his client and later sued for defamation can’t recover damages because his reputation was not harmed.

In court documents filed Tuesday, Musk’s new lawyer Alex Spiro of Quinn Emanuel questioned the motive of Vernon Unsworth, the British cave diver, who filed a defamation lawsuit in September 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The suit was filed after Musk called him a “pedo guy” and made other statements insinuating he was a pedophile in a public attack on Twitter. The fight erupted last summer after the rescue of youth soccer players trapped in a cave in Thailand.

Musk denies the allegations of defamation in the latest response. Spiro became Musk’s lawyer earlier this month.

“One has to question Mr. Unsworth’s motive in turning this into a federal case,” Spiro wrote in a response to Unsworth’s complaint. “The libel laws exist to protect those whose reputations have been harmed by false assertions of fact. In the case of Mr. Unsworth, who made himself a public figure, those assertions have to be made with constitutional malice. Mr. Musk has already retracted what he said publicly. Mr. Unsworth’s claim is thus confined to what Mr. Musk said in private conversation. Regardless, Mr. Unsworth and his reputation are no worse off.”

Musk’s lawyer argues that Unsworth was motivated by a “desire to milk the media coverage over what he instigated to reap a financial windfall from Mr. Musk, despite the absence of any injury.” Musk will fight that, Spiro wrote.

U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson recently denied a motion to dismiss the case and instead scheduled a date for trial. The trial is scheduled to begin October 22. The decision means that Unsworth’s case is strong enough to go to trial.

Musk’s lawyers argued that statements on the internet, and more specifically on unmoderated forums like Twitter, are presumptively opinion, not objective fact. Defamation law doesn’t apply to opinions or insults. But Wilson rejected Musk’s argument, in part because of an email interaction he had with BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac.

The lawsuit alleges that between July 15 and August 30, Musk periodically used Twitter and emails to the media to publish false and defamatory accusations against Unsworth, including accusations of pedophilia and child rape.

The initial “pedo guy” attack came after Unsworth gave a critical interview to the media saying Musk’s mini sub “had absolutely no chance of working.” The diving expert ended an interview segment by suggesting Musk should “stick his submarine where it hurts.”

Uber launches PIN feature to cut wait times at U.S. airports, starting in Portland

Uber is piloting a new PIN feature at the Portland International Airport that will give riders a one-time 6-digit numeric code in an effort to speed up pickup times and reduce traffic congestion.

The PIN, or personal identification number, feature kicks off Monday at the Portland Airport, which can average around 400 Uber rides an hour at peak time.

Uber initially developed the PIN-matching solution in 2016 to serve high-volume, high-density event venues — situations that require moving potentially thousands of people in a constrained area. It’s been used at more than 60 events globally since then, including the Kentucky Derby and a Formula 1 race in Australia, according to Uber.

Uber saw an opportunity to apply the feature at airports as traffic congestion and demand for app-based rides at these locations grew. The company’s Seattle-based airports team adapted the feature and tested it at the Bangalore airport in India. Portland is the first U.S. airport to participate in the pilot.

How it works

Once riders order their UberX, they make their way to the dedicated pickup zone. The app will briefly give riders information on how the PIN feature works. A 6-digit personal identification number is then assigned to the rider, who is instructed to provide it to the first available driver.

Meanwhile, the driver, who has received a pickup opportunity at the airport, heads to the pickup location and will get in a queue, waiting for the next available rider. (Drivers will be allowed to accept or snooze if they’re busy. Four minutes is the snooze duration time.)

The rider PIN is given to the driver, who types in the one-time numeric code into the app. The ride commences as normal, although Uber still recommends the rider go through the standard verification checks before setting off in the vehicle.

What’s next

The PIN feature will likely head to other airports, if the Portland pilot is successful.

“We’ve made quite a big investment in the space,” Sondra Batbold, an Uber product manager, told TechCrunch, referring to building out Uber’s airports team. “If we zoom out and think about how much unprecedented growth airports are experiencing all over the world, it’s an important strategic partnership for us to work really closely with airports.”

In other words, Uber sees a lot of potential at airports.

That doesn’t mean Uber will offer PIN matching at every airport, Batbold said. At some locations, it will be more efficient to retain existing pickup models due to capacity constraints and curb space availability.

Elon Musk’s “pedo guy” defamation case is going to trial

A defamation case filed last year against Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk after he repeatedly called a British cave diver “pedo guy” will go to trial on October 22, a U.S. district judge determined Friday.

Vernon Unsworth, the British cave diver, filed a defamation lawsuit in September 2018  in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California after Musk called him a “pedo guy” and made other statements insinuating he was a pedophile in a public attack on Twitter.

The Verge was the first to report the court decision.

A Tesla spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment

U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson denied a motion to dismiss the case and instead scheduled a date for trial. The decision means that Unsworth’s case is strong enough to go to trial.

Musk’s lawyers argued that statements on the internet, and more specifically on unmoderated forums like Twitter are presumptively opinion, not objective fact. Defamation law doesn’t apply to opinions or insults. But Wilson rejected Musk’s argument, in part because of an email interaction he had with Buzzfeed reporter and ex-TechCrunch journalist Drew Olanoff .

“Considering the totality of the circumstances—including the general context of Defendant’s statements, the specific context of the statements, and the statements’ susceptibility of being proved true or false—a reasonable factfinder could easily conclude that Defendant’s statements, as pleaded in the complaint, implied assertions of objective fact,” Wilson wrote in the decision.

The lawsuit alleges that between July 15 and August 30, Musk periodically used Twitter and emails to the media to publish false and defamatory accusations against Unsworth, including accusations of pedophilia and child rape.

The initial “pedo guy” attack came after Unsworth gave a critical interview to the media saying Musk’s mini sub “had absolutely no chance of working.” The diving expert ended an interview segment by suggesting Musk should “stick his submarine where it hurts.”

Musk lashed out on Twitter and insinuated that Unsworth was a pedophile. He later deleted the offending tweet and tried to backpedal — even offering an apology of sorts on Twitter. And it could have all ended there. But then Musk dug it all up again during a debate with Olanoff — once again on Twitter. Olanoff had brought up the “pedo guy” attack as an example of Musk telling untruths.