Consumer Reports puts Tesla Model 3, Model S back on its recommended list after reliability improves

Tesla gained ground and moved up four spots in the latest Annual Auto Reliability Survey from Consumer Reports, thanks largely to improvements with the Model 3.

Reliability has improved in the Model 3 and Model S enough that Consumer Reports can now recommend the two models.

Consumer Reports announced Thursday the results of its Annual Auto Reliability Survey, which is based on data collected from the organization’s members about their experiences with more than 400,000 vehicles. The survey covers more than 300 models.

CR does not recommend the Model X. The Model X continues to rank among the least reliable models in the survey.

The reversal is good news for Tesla. In February, Consumer Reports said it could no longer recommend the Model 3 because issues with the paint, trim and body hardware raised reliability questions.

Lexus took the top spot, followed by Mazda, Toyota, Porsche and Genesis. Tesla is still ranked in the bottom third of the survey. It now is ranked 23 out of 30 brands reviewed in the annual survey.

“The Tesla Model 3 struggled last year as the company made frequent design changes and ramped up production to meet demand,” Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at CR, said in a statement. “But as the production stabilized, we have seen improvements to the reliability of the Model 3 and S that now allow us to recommend both models.”

While Tesla has improved, Fisher said he expects Tesla’s reliability rankings will fluctuate, given its track record to date.

Cadillac came in last place. Audi, Acura and Volkswagen are among the brands that saw sharp drops, following the introduction of troublesome redesigned vehicles. Volkswagen, which is ranked 27th, dropped nine spots from last year due to reliability issues with the Atlas and Tiguan. The Consumer Reports survey noted that the two SUVs had problems with power equipment, in-car electronics and the emissions/fuel system.

 

Consumer Reports-reliability 2019

Dodge posted one of the most improved reliability scores in the annual survey, gaining 13 places to round out the top 10 after years as a lower-ranked brand.

Audi also fell seven spots in its ranking. CR said the number of new or redesigned 2019 models that shared similar powertrains and the new infotainment system caused the fall in ranking. The A6 and Q8 had well-below-average reliability, CR said.

Convoy raises $400 million to expand its on-demand trucking platform

Convoy, the digital freight network that connects truckers with shippers, has raised $400 million in a Series D funding round as it aims to scale its business amid an increasingly competitive market.

The funding round brings Convoy’s post-money valuation to $2.75 billion.

The round was co-led by Generation Investment Management and previous Convoy investor T. Rowe Price Associates. Asset management firm Baillie Gifford, which has fondness for pre-IPO tech companies, Fidelity and Durable Capital Partners as well as Series C investors CapitalG and Lone Pine Capital also participated in the round.

Convoy has managed to attract a slew of high-profile investors— and their capital — such as Jeff Bezos, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and even U2’s Bono and the Edge. In the four years since its founding, Convoy has raised a total of more than $668 million. Early investors include Greylock Partners, Y Combinator, Cascade Investment (the private investment vehicle of Bill Gates) and  Code.org founders Hadi and Ali Partovi.

And that money has been put to work. Convoy co-founders Dan Lewis and Grant Goodale set out in 2015 to modernize freight brokerage, a fragmented and oftentimes analog business that matches loads from shippers with truckers.

The company has gone from hundreds of loads per week in 2016 to tens of thousands per week across the U.S. Notably, Convoy’s platform handles 100% of the matching, as opposed having humans complete the task.

Convoy also has about 100 routes, many of them concentrated around economic hubs such as Chicago. Michigan and California, Lewis told TechCrunch.

The 850-person company wants to accelerate those efforts with capital raised in this latest round. Although it’s bound to face more competition. Uber Freight, Loadsmart and Flexport are just a few online marketplaces that are targeting freight.

Convoy has added new features to its platform as part of its scaling strategy. The company launched in 2019 an automated reloads feature that allows truckers book multiple loads at a time. It also added Convoy Go, which allows drivers to bring their truck cab and hook up to a trailer pre-filled with cargo.

Chinese EV startup Xpeng Motors raises $400 million, takes on Xiaomi as strategic investor

Xpeng Motors, the Chinese electric vehicle startup backed by Alibaba and Foxconn, has raised a fresh injection of $400 million in capital and has taken on Xiaomi as a strategic investor, the company announced.

The Series C includes an unidentified group of strategic and institutional investors. XPeng Motors Chairman and CEO He Xiaopeng, who also participated in the Series C, said the received strong support from many of its current shareholders. Xiaomi founder and CEO Lei Jun previously invested in the company.

“Xiaomi Corporation and Xpeng Motors have achieved significant progress through in-depth collaboration in developing technologies connecting smart phones and smart cars,” Xiaomi’s Jun said in a statement. “We believe that this strategic investment will further deepen our partnership with Xpeng in advancing innovation for intelligent hardware and the Internet of Things.”

The company didn’t disclose what its post-money valuation is now. However, a source familiar with the deal said it is “better” than the 25 billion yuan valuation it had in its last round in August 2018.

The announcement confirms an earlier report from Reuters that cited anonymous sources.

XPeng also said it has garnered “several billions” in Chinese yuan of unsecured credit lines from institutions such as China Merchants Bank, China CITIC Bank and HSBC. XPeng didn’t elaborate when asked what “several billions” means.

Brian Gu, Xpeng Motors Vice Chairman and President added that the company has been able to hit most of its business and financing targets despite economic headwinds, uncertainties in the global markets and government policy changes that have had direct impact on overall auto sales in China.

The round comes as XPeng prepares to launch its electric P7 sedan in spring 2020. Deliveries of the P7 are expected to begin in the second quarter of 2020.

Xpeng began deliveries of its first production model the G3 2019 SUV in December and shipped 10,000 models by mid-June. The company has since released an enhanced version of the G3 with a 520 km NEDC driving range.

The company plans to launch the P7 sedan in the spring 2020 and will start delivery in 2Q 2020.

XPeng has said it wants to IPO, but it’s unclear when the company might file to become a public company. No specific IPO timetable has been set and a spokesperson said the company is monitoring market conditions closely, but its current focus is on building core businesses.

Elon Musk picks Berlin for Tesla’s Europe Gigafactory

Elon Musk said Tuesday during an awards ceremony in Germany that Tesla’s European gigafactory will be built in the Berlin area.

Musk was on stage to receive a Golden Steering Wheel Award given by BILD.

“There’s not enough time tonight to tell all the details,” Musk said during an on stage interview with Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess. “But it’s in the Berlin area, and it’s near the new airport.”

Tesla is also going to create an engineering and design center in Berlin because “I think Berlin has some of the best art in the world,” Musk said.

Musk took to Twitter after the ceremony and provided a bit more detail, including that this factory will build batteries, powertrains and vehicles, beginning with the Model Y.

Diess thanked Musk while on stage for “pushing us” towards electrification. Diess later said that Musk and Telsa is demonstrating that moving towards electrification works.

“I don’t think Germany is that far behind,” Musk said when asked about why German automakers were behind in electric vehicles. He later added that some of the best cars in the world are made in Germany.

“Everyone knows that German engineering is outstanding and that’s part of the reason we’re locating our gigafactory Europe in Germany,” Musk said.

Uber CEO stokes #boycottuber fire with ‘mistakes happen’ comment

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s comments during an interview with Axios — and his subsequent apology — have done more than hand the company’s critics more ammunition in the renewed #boycottUber campaign. (Although, mission accomplished on that front.)

They also exposed a weakness that if left uncorrected threatens to bring back the toxic culture Khosrowshahi promised he would eliminate when he took over as CEO in 2017.

First, a recap. During an interview, Khosrowshahi called the murder of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia a “serious mistake” and compared it to the death of pedestrian Elaine Herzberg who was struck and killed by an Uber self-driving car. And then he added, “People make mistakes, it doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven.”

Khosrowshahi has tried to reel back those murder-is-forgivable comments. He’s issued an apology and Axios editor Dan Primack noted that the CEO called his cell soon after taping the show to express regret for the “language he used” about Khashoggi.

Khosrowshahi’s comments had a familiar ring to them. And that’s because he has applied this people-can-change-and-mistakes-happen attitude to serious infractions before.

During an interview in 2018 at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Khosrowshahi defended Uber COO Barney Harford, who had reportedly made insensitive comments about women and racial minorities. Khosrowshahi described Harford as “an incredible person” and “one of the good people” as it relates to diversity and inclusion.

“I don’t think that a comment that might have been taken as insensitive and happened to report by large news organizations should mark a person,” Khosrowshahi said at the time. “I don’t think that’s fair. And I’m sure I’ve said things that have been insensitive and you take that as a learning moment. And the question is, does a person want to change, does a person want to improve? Does a person understand when they did something wrong, and then change behaviors? And I’ve known Barney for years and that’s why I stand 100 percent behind him.”

This people-make-mistakes stance might not seem like a dangerous position to take. After all, people do make mistakes and forgiveness is supposed to be a virtue, not a vice.

But in a company where toxicity and bad behavior reigned for years, applying the equivalent of “oops!” to serious infractions risks undoing any progress Khosrowshahi has made. If progress was made at all.

This latest incident, as well as concerns around Uber’s treatment of its drivers and a new NTSB report that found the company’s self-driving system design did not include a consideration for jaywalking pedestrians, begs the question of whether the culture has indeed changed for the better?

Elon Musk will reveal Tesla’s ‘Cybertruck’ all-electric pickup on Nov. 21

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday that the company will unveil its all-electric “cyber truck” Nov. 21 in Los Angeles near the serial entrepreneur’s other company SpaceX.

The date just so happens to coincide with the LA Auto Show. However, this is a Tesla event and not associated with the auto show in downtown Los Angeles.

Instead, it appears Musk is tying the reveal to the same date that’s listed in the opening title for Blade Runner. Hmmm … perhaps Musk wants us to walk away mumbling to ourselves, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”

Musk has talked about producing an all-electric pickup truck for years now. In December, Musk resurrected the idea saying that Tesla might have a prototype to unveil in 2019.

Musk mentioned on Twitter the desire to produce a pickup truck way back in April 2017, before the first Model 3 sedans had been handed over to customers and the CEO had entered production hell. At the time, Musk tweeted that a pickup truck would be unveiled in 18 to 24 months.

Musk had hoped to unveil the truck this summer, but it was pushed back to fall.

Little is known about what this cyber truck will look like, although there has been plenty of speculation. In an earnings call in January, Musk said it will be “unique.”

Last month, Musk said the cybertruck doesn’t look like anything he’s seen on the Internet, a reference to the numerous speculative renderings out there.

Ford built an electric Mustang with a manual transmission. And we’re mad.

Ford wants the world to take notice of its plans for electric vehicles. And what better way than to build an all-electric Mustang fastback with a six-speed manual transmission?

And that has us angry over here because it’s a gigantic tease of a prototype that will never make it into production. Or least that’s what Ford is saying.

Ford and Webasto revealed Tuesday the “Mustang Lithium” high-performance battery electric vehicle at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show in Las Vegas. The vehicle is a one-off, meaning this won’t hit the marketplace anytime soon, if ever.

Ford does say this electrified Mustang is more than just a prototype. It’s also a testbed for battery and thermal management technologies Webasto and Ford are creating for the growing e-mobility automotive segment. So maybe there is a chance?

The vehicle has a Phi-Power dual-core electric motor and dual power inverters powered by an 800-volt Webasto battery system. The package produces 900 horsepower and 1,000 pound-feet of torque, ensuring its muscle car status. The vehicle has custom carbon fiber body components, a 1.0-inch lowered stance and 20-inch staggered fitting forged wheels, according to Ford.

Ford highlights the manual transmission as the “unique” twist. And it is. Electric vehicles have single-speed gearboxes. There is really no logical reason to have a manual gearbox. For those who still love the three-pedal action though, an electric vehicle with a manual gearbox makes all the sense in the world.

Ford-Mustang-lithium-top

The 800-volt battery system is also worth noting. The Porsche Taycan is considered the first production vehicle equipped with a system voltage of 800 volts as opposed to the usual 400 volts found in most electric cars.

Ford’s use of 800 volts might hint at which battery systems might turn up in its production electric vehicles. This more robust system should allow for faster charging. For instance, Porsche credits its 800-volt system in the Taycan for allowing it to charge from 5% to 80% in 22.5 minutes with a maximum charging power of up to 270 kw.

Ford didn’t reveal battery range. But it offered up a few other specs, including that it has four modes that apply a controlled amount of torque for different driving modes. The modes are Valet, Sport, Track and Beast. The vehicle also has an in-dash 10.4-inch touchscreen display.

Ford-mustang-lithium interior-23

“Ford has made no secret of the fact that we are electrifying our most popular nameplates,” Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s vhief product development and purchasing officer, said in a statement. “This one-off Mustang prototype is a great opportunity for us, together with Webasto, to showcase to our customers what a new electrified powertrain can do for performance in a car they already know and love.”

Ford historically backed hybrid technology. And while hybrids are still part of the mix, Ford has placed more emphasis on the development and production of all-electric vehicles. In 2018, the company said it will invest $11 billion to add 16 all-electric vehicles within its global portfolio of 40 electrified vehicles through 2022. That portfolio will include an all-new Mustang-inspired fully electric SUV in 2020 with a range of 300 miles, and an all-electric F-150 in a few years, according to Ford.

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

Battery tech startup Sila Nano lands $45 million and Tesla veteran Kurt Kelty

Sila Technologies, the battery materials company that has partnered with BMW and Daimler, landed $45 million in new funding and hired two high-profile executives, including Kurt Kelty, who led the battery cell team at Tesla for more than a decade.

Kelty, who was on Sila Nano’s advisory board, has been appointed vice president of automotive, according to Sina Nanotechnologies. The company also hired Bill Mulligan, the former executive vice president of global operations at SunPower, as its first COO.

Kelty was most recently senior vice president of operations at indoor vertical farming company Plenty . But he was best known for his time at Tesla, where he was a considered a critical link between the automaker and battery cell partner Panasonic.

“As part of Sila Nano’s advisory board, I’ve seen the results of the breakthrough battery chemistry firsthand and I could not pass up the opportunity to take it a step further and lead the company’s automotive partnership efforts,” Kelty said in a statement.

The company said Monday that additional $45 million in investment came from Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, bringing its total funding to $340 million. Earlier this year, Sila Nano secured $170 million in Series E funding led by Daimler AG.

This latest investment and expanded leadership team comes as the company, which is valued at more than $1 billion, aims to bring its first batteries to market.

Sila Nanotechnologies has developed a drop-in silicon-based anode that replaces graphite in lithium-ion batteries without requiring changes to the manufacturing process. The company claims that its materials can improve the energy density of batteries by 20% and has the potential to reach 40% improvement over traditional li-ion.

Here’s what that all means.

A battery contains two electrodes. There’s an anode (negative) on one side and a cathode (positive) on the other. An electrolyte sits in the middle and acts as the courier that moves ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging. Graphite is commonly used as the anode in commercial lithium-ion batteries. However, a silicon anode can store a lot more lithium ions.

The basic premise — and one that others are working on — is this: by replacing graphite in the cell with silicon, there would be more space to add more active material. This would theoretically allow you to increase the energy density—or the amount of energy that can be stored in a battery per its volume—of the cell.

Using silicon also helps reduce costs. In the end, the battery would be cheaper and have more energy packed in the same space.

The company says its innovative approach can be used in consumer electronics like wireless ear buds and smartwatches as well as electric vehicles and even energy storage for the grid.

The company started building the first production lines for its battery materials in 2018. That first line is capable of producing the material to supply the equivalent of 50 megawatts of lithium-ion batteries, Sila Nanotechnologies CEO Gene Berdichevsky, an early employee at Tesla who led the technical development of the automaker’s Roadster battery system, told TechCrunch back in April.

Sila Nanotechnologies said Monday that it will continue to ramp up production volume and plans to supply its first commercial customers in consumer electronics within the next year. The company said it also plans to go to market with battery partner Amperex Technology Limited and automotive partners BMW and Daimler.

TC Sessions: Mobility Returns In 2020

TC Sessions: Mobility is returning for a second year on May 14 in San Jose — a day-long event brimming with the best and brightest engineers, policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators, all of whom are vying to be a part of this new age of transportation.

Companies are racing to deploy autonomous vehicles and flying cars, scale their scooter operations and adjust to headwinds in the vehicle subscription and car-sharing businesses. At the center of the mobility maelstrom is TechCrunch. 

TechCrunch held its inaugural TC Sessions: Mobility event in summer 2019 with a mission to do more than highlight the next new thing. We aimed to dig into the how and why, the cost and impact to cities, people and companies, as well as the numerous challenges that lie along the way, from technological and regulatory to capital and consumer pressures.

We met our goal and now we’re back to push further with TC Sessions: Mobility 2020.

Attendees of TC Sessions: Mobility can expect interviews with founders, investors and inventors, demos of the latest tech, breakout sessions, dozens of startup exhibits and opportunities to network and recruit.

If you’re wondering what to expect, take a look at some of the speakers we had on stage at the first event:

  • Amnon Shashua, Mobileye, Co-Founder, President and CEO
  • Dmitri Dolgov, Waymo, CTO
  • Summer Craze Fowler, Argo AI, Chief Security Officer
  • Katie DeWitt, Scoot, VP of Product
  • Karl Iagnemma, Aptiv, President
  • Seleta Reynolds, Head of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation
  • Caroline Samponaro, Lyft, Head of Micromobility Policy
  • Ted Serbinski, Techstars, Founder and Managing Director Of The Mobility Program
  • Ken Washington, Ford, CTO
  • Sarah Smith, Bain Capital Ventures, Partner
  • Dave Ferguson, Nuro, Co-Founder and President
  • Michael Granoff, Maniv Mobility, Founder and Managing Partner
  • Jesse Levinson, Zoox, CTO and Co-Founder

TechCrunch will announce in the coming weeks and months the participants of TechCrunch Mobility’s fireside chats, panels and workshops.

Tickets are on sale now

Early-Bird Tickets are available now for $250— that’s $100 savings before prices go up. Students can book a ticket for just $50. Book your tickets today.

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Airbnb to ban ‘party houses’ in wake of Halloween shooting that left 5 dead

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said Saturday the company will ban “party houses” and take other steps to safeguard hosts and guests after five people died at a Halloween party hosted at California home that was rented on the service.

Chesky made the announcement via a series of tweets Saturday. “What happened on Thursday night in Orinda, CA was horrible,” Chesky wrote. “I feel for the families and neighbors impacted by this tragedy — we are working to support them.”

Chesky then announced that party houses would be banned and that the company is “redoubling” efforts to combat unauthorized parties.

Chesky announced several other measures to increase safety, including the expansion of manual screenings of high-risk reservations flagged by Airbnb’s risk detection technology and creating a dedicated “party house” rapid response team

Margaret Richardson, from Airbnb’s executive team, has been tasked to accelerate the review process to enact these new policies as soon as possible, he added.

 

Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office said the party had been advertised on social media as a mansion party, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Police were headed to the home Oct. 31 over noise complaints when the gunfire began around 10:50 p.m. Several people died at the scene. The fifth victim died Friday night.