Inside Tesla’s Attack on Germany’s Auto Establishment

Inside Tesla’s Attack on Germany’s Auto Establishment(Bloomberg) — German rangers stand guard to shoo away visitors from a nondescript stretch of forest near Berlin, where a sign nearby warns of “Lebensgefahr” (mortal danger).The precautions are part of the frantic activity underway to set up Tesla Inc.’s latest assembly plant, Elon Musk’s most daring attack on the German auto establishment. Workers wielding metal detectors have started combing through an area covering some 200 football fields to search for errant ammunition lurking beneath the sandy surface of tiny Gruenheide.It’s the first stage to prepare a site that could churn out as many as 500,000 cars a year, employ 12,000 people and pose a serious challenge to Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG and BMW AG. Once deemed free of World War II explosives, harvesters and trucks will roll in to clear thousands of trees in the first stage of development. The work needs to be done by the end of February to meet Tesla’s aggressive timetable. The project represents a second chance for the quiet town, nestled between two lakes on the edge of a nature reserve southeast of Berlin.Gruenheide lost out on a similar factory two decades ago, when BMW opted for Leipzig. That missed opportunity helped town officials to move quickly when Tesla expressed interest in building its first European factory in Germany, with a plot set aside for industrial use and offering easy access to the Autobahn and rail lines.Read More: Elon Musk’s German Factory Started With Love Letter From Berlin“The investment is a unique opportunity,” Mayor Arne Christiani said in his office, where a map of the Tesla project hangs on the wall. “It gives young people with a good education or a university degree the possibility to stay in our region—an option that didn’t exist in past years.”If it clears Germany’s red tape, the plant will make batteries, powertrains and vehicles, including the Model Y crossover, the Model 3 sedan and any future cars, according to company filings. The factory hall will include a pressing plant, paint shop and seat manufacturing in a building that will be 744 meters (2,440 feet) long—nearly triple the length of the Titanic. There’s space for four such facilities.Musk is taking his fight for the future of transport into the heartland of the combustion engine, where the established players long laughed off Tesla as an upstart on feeble financial footing that couldn’t compete with their rich engineering heritage. He casually dropped the news at an awards ceremony in Berlin in November, leaving the top brass of Germany’s car industry shell-shocked.“Elon Musk is going where his strongest competitors are, right into the heart of the global auto industry,” said Juergen Pieper, a Frankfurt-based analyst with Bankhaus Metzler. “No other foreign carmaker has done that in decades given Germany’s high wages, powerful unions and high taxes.”Building a factory in Europe’s largest car market is a major test of Musk’s global ambitions. Demand in the region is flat, and buyers are more loyal to local brands. Meanwhile, labor costs in Germany’s auto sector are 50% higher than in the U.S. and five times what they are in Poland, just an hour’s drive away from Gruenheide.Gruenheide TimelineEnd February: Finish tree logging before migrant birds nest March 5: Deadline for comments from nearby residents March 18: Public meeting to discuss the project Mid-2020: Construction expected to begin July 2021: Targeted start of productionOn the positive side, electric cars require less labor to build, and Germany has a deep reserve of auto experts. The location also offers the soft-power advantage of proximity to the country’s leaders.Under pressure for being slow to pick up on the electric-car shift, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government extended a welcoming hand to Musk. Economy Minister Peter Altmaier offered to try to ease regulatory hurdles that may snag construction. “There’s a lot at stake” in Tesla’s plan, he said soon after the project was announced.Musk’s incursion comes at a strategically opportune time. Riding a wave of optimism after successfully starting deliveries of its China-built Model 3 sedans a year after breaking ground on a factory there, Tesla’s stock has doubled in the past three months.Meanwhile, German peers are struggling with the costly shift away from combustion engines. Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler announced thousands of job cuts last year, when German car production fell to its lowest level in almost a quarter of a century. For Gruenheide, the planned investment has suddenly transformed the town of 8,700 people into a sought-after location. Local officials receive development proposals on a daily basis: anything from 22-story apartment towers to U.S.-style shopping malls, said Christiani, who hopes the plant will help unlock financing for public transport, schools and medical facilities.In the town hall, five thick binders are available for locals to peruse the project’s details, including 463 trucks expected to roll into the plant each day, a rail spur for train deliveries and an on-site fire brigade.Tesla still has to jump through a number of hoops. Residents have the chance to raise objections, and some have bemoaned that they’ve seen little from the company since its blockbuster announcement. Meanwhile, the local water utility warned it won’t be able to supply the site in time and raised concerns over its location in a zone meant to help protect drinking water supplies.And then the company has to carry out initiatives to protect wildlife—including scaring off any wolves in the area, relocating hibernating bats and removing lizards and snakes until construction is finished. The U.S. carmaker also has to replace felled trees.The mayor expects these hurdles to be cleared so that the first made-in-Gruenheide Teslas can roll out in July 2021.“The forest is classified as a harvest-ready, inferior pine forest,” Christiani said. “It was never supposed to be a rain forest.”—With assistance from Hayley Warren  (Adds criticism from water utility in 17th paragraph.)To contact the author of this story: Stefan Nicola in Berlin at [email protected] contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Reiter at [email protected], Craig TrudellChad ThomasFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


Cherry goes downmarket with its new Viola mechanical keyboard switches

Cherry has long been the de facto standard for mechanical keyboard switches. Since mechanical keyboards are, almost by default, significantly more expensive than membrane or dome-switch keyboards, that has kept the company out a large part of the market. Now, on the last day of CES 2020, the company is launching its new Viola switch, the company’s first fully mechanical switch for the value market, meant for keyboards that will cost somewhere between $50 and $100.

As the Cherry team told me ahead of today’s announcement, its engineers spent well over a year on designing this new switch, which only has a handful of parts and which moves some of the complexity into the circuit board on the keyboard itself. A lot of the work went into the design new self-cleaning contact system (which the company quickly patented) and to ensure that the switches’ materials would be able to handle regular use despite the simplicity of the design.

Because of this new design, the new Viola switches are now hot-swappable, so if one ever goes bad, swapping in a new one shouldn’t take more than a few seconds. And because the company stuck with the same industry-standard cross-stem design for attaching keycaps, keyboard manufacturers can reuse their existing designs, too.

Like most new switches, the Cherry Viola supports LED lighting, which in the case of this new design, can be mounted right on the circuit board of the keyboard.

If you’re a keyboard aficionado, you won’t confuse the new Viola switch with any of Cherry’s high-end MX switches. For a lot of users who want a mechanical keyboard at a value price, this looks like it’ll be a great option.

I didn’t get a chance to spend a lot of time with the new switches, but as best as I could tell, the current version resembles a quiet MX Brown switch. Cherry itself discourages any comparison’s, though. Even the name is clearly meant to remove any confusion that this switch is part of the MX series and while Cherry has plans to offer similar switch variants as the MX Black, Brown, Blue, Red, it won’t recycle those colors for those switches either. While the company tells me it isn’t all that worried about the new switches cannibalizing the MX market, it’s not leaving that to chance either.

One major difference with the Viola switches is that Cherry isn’t giving any guarantee for how many keystrokes they will withstand — at least not yet. The company tells me it may give some guidance at a later point.

Like all other Cherry switches, the Viola switches are built in the company’s factory in Germany and all of its suppliers, too, are building their products in the country as well.

For the MX switches, though, the company is now raising its guarantee from 50 million keystrokes (which was already a lot) to 100 million. Some pro-gamers actually reach those numbers (and the switches usually continue to function well beyond that), but for everybody else, it’s just an assurance that the company stands behind its products. To achieve this, the team made some minor adjustments to switches and especially the guide rails on the inside of the switch housing. That won’t change the actual typing experience, though.

The first keyboards with the 100-million MX switches are already available and the first Viola keyboards will become available soon.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Lowkey.gg is an esports tournament platform for adult gamers

It’s tough to be a competitive gamer once you’re an adult. Simply fitting tournament time into a busy schedule is challenge enough, but even if you can make the time, where do you go to find other adults who are competitively playing the games you love?

That’s where Lowkey.gg comes in. Lowkey.gg is a tournament platform for adult gamers. The company is particularly focused on helping professional organizations set up their esports squads just like company basketball or softball teams.

One of the challenges here is that it’s incredibly difficult for adult gamers to find each other. Most of them don’t usually broadcast their affinity for video games. Searching for other competitive gamers who are above the age of 18 is a bit of a lost cause.

The hope for Lowkey is that they can connect adult gamers with one another to get the most out of their gaming experience. Everyone playing through Lowkey must be 18 years of age or older and have a full-time job.

Users can register as a solo gamer for $39, plus a subscription fee of $13/month, and get automatically matched with a team. Lowkey takes into account things like location, job, alma mater and other bits of information (all shown on your public Lowkey profile) to create teams with like-minded players. The company says this transparency reduces the toxicity around teammates. Conversely, users can also form a squad in real life and sign up as a pre-made team for $195/month.

Thus far, Lowkey has signed up teams from Google, Apple, Robinhood and Twitch.

Lowkey is launching with League of Legends as its first game, and Season 1 starts on January 13.

Seasons last a minimum of 8 weeks, with players scheduled to play for one hour one night a week. Lowkey has also built a relatively sophisticated Discord chatbot that lets users check-in to say they’re ready for a game and automatically puts the teams in a chat together to coordinate the match.

Like many startups, Lowkey is actually the result of a pivot. The company was originally called Camelot.

In March of 2017, Camelot launched out of YC to allow YouTube and Twitch audiences to pay to see what they want. Users could submit bounties to see their favorite YouTuber play a game with pistols only, or to play a game while standing on a skateboard.

Turns out, there were two big issues. Cofounder Jesse Zhang explained that it wasn’t sustainable to build a platform on top of a platform, particularly a platform that is incredibly top heavy and potentially overhyped.

“Sometimes hype can be misaligned with the size of the market, and it felt like streaming was one example of that,” said Zhang. “Even after we organically got several really large streamers using it, and the product performed almost perfectly, the volume is still not nearly the scale that you could turn into a real business.”

Which brings us to the second issue. The money that flows through Twitch from viewers to streamers is almost always based on altruism and emotion. It’s exciting to hear your favorite streamer thank you for a $5 donation or gifted sub. Viewers aren’t paying for the content; they’re paying for a connection.

So Camelot quickly went back to the drawing board and came out on the other side as Lowkey.gg.

Lowkey has raised capital but declined to share the amount. After the launch of League of Legends, the company plans to launch seasons for other titles including Overwatch, TFT, DotA, and Smash Ultimate.

Lowkey.gg is an esports tournament platform for adult gamers

It’s tough to be a competitive gamer once you’re an adult. Simply fitting tournament time into a busy schedule is challenge enough, but even if you can make the time, where do you go to find other adults who are competitively playing the games you love?

That’s where Lowkey.gg comes in. Lowkey.gg is a tournament platform for adult gamers. The company is particularly focused on helping professional organizations set up their esports squads just like company basketball or softball teams.

One of the challenges here is that it’s incredibly difficult for adult gamers to find each other. Most of them don’t usually broadcast their affinity for video games. Searching for other competitive gamers who are above the age of 18 is a bit of a lost cause.

The hope for Lowkey is that they can connect adult gamers with one another to get the most out of their gaming experience. Everyone playing through Lowkey must be 18 years of age or older and have a full-time job.

Users can register as a solo gamer for $39, plus a subscription fee of $13/month, and get automatically matched with a team. Lowkey takes into account things like location, job, alma mater and other bits of information (all shown on your public Lowkey profile) to create teams with like-minded players. The company says this transparency reduces the toxicity around teammates. Conversely, users can also form a squad in real life and sign up as a pre-made team for $195/month.

Thus far, Lowkey has signed up teams from Google, Apple, Robinhood and Twitch.

Lowkey is launching with League of Legends as its first game, and Season 1 starts on January 13.

Seasons last a minimum of 8 weeks, with players scheduled to play for one hour one night a week. Lowkey has also built a relatively sophisticated Discord chatbot that lets users check-in to say they’re ready for a game and automatically puts the teams in a chat together to coordinate the match.

Like many startups, Lowkey is actually the result of a pivot. The company was originally called Camelot.

In March of 2017, Camelot launched out of YC to allow YouTube and Twitch audiences to pay to see what they want. Users could submit bounties to see their favorite YouTuber play a game with pistols only, or to play a game while standing on a skateboard.

Turns out, there were two big issues. Cofounder Jesse Zhang explained that it wasn’t sustainable to build a platform on top of a platform, particularly a platform that is incredibly top heavy and potentially overhyped.

“Sometimes hype can be misaligned with the size of the market, and it felt like streaming was one example of that,” said Zhang. “Even after we organically got several really large streamers using it, and the product performed almost perfectly, the volume is still not nearly the scale that you could turn into a real business.”

Which brings us to the second issue. The money that flows through Twitch from viewers to streamers is almost always based on altruism and emotion. It’s exciting to hear your favorite streamer thank you for a $5 donation or gifted sub. Viewers aren’t paying for the content; they’re paying for a connection.

So Camelot quickly went back to the drawing board and came out on the other side as Lowkey.gg.

Lowkey has raised capital but declined to share the amount. After the launch of League of Legends, the company plans to launch seasons for other titles including Overwatch, TFT, DotA, and Smash Ultimate.

It’s The Jons 2019!

Happy New Year! It’s been another wild and wacky ride of a year in the tech world: breakthroughs and disgraces, triumphs and catastrophes, cryptocurrencies and starships, the ongoing rise of utopian clean energy and dystopian cyberpunk societies, and most of all, the ongoing weirding of the whole wide world.

In other words it was another perfect year for The Jons, the annual award which celebrates dubious tech-related achievements, named, in an awe-inspiring fit of humility, after myself. We’ve got quite a lineup for you this year, folks. So let’s get to it! With very little further ado, I give you: the fuftg annual Jon Awards for Dubious Technical Achievement!

(The Jons 2015) (The Jons 2016) (The Jons 2017) (The Jons 2018)

THE CATLIKE FINANCIAL REFLEXES AWARD FOR LANDING ON YOUR FEET AFTER UNMITIGATED DISASTER

To Adam Neumann, who presided over the spectacular rise and even more spectacular fall from grace of WeWork, which proudly launched its proposed IPO this year and promptly saw most of its valuation (and its cash) disintegrate in a sea of eyebrow-raising stories about delusional irresponsibility and the harsh realities of actual business. However, give Neumann credit: stories may have made him sound like a potsmoking surfer dude who lived in a hallucinatory fantasyland, but — unlike his employees, whose dreams of IPO wealth were suddenly and completely shattered — he managed to walk away from the business he drove nearly into the ground with a reported $1.7 billion windfall.

THE EVERYBODY’S BEST FRIEND AWARD FOR INSPIRING NOSEBLEED VALUATIONS AND ASPIRATIONAL POSTERS EVERYWHERE

To Masayoshi Son, whose widely announced dreams of a $108 billion Vision Fund II turned into the relative nightmare of something “far smaller” — but still has his surreal, dreamlike slide decks to fall back on. After all, “SoftBank works to comfort people in their sorrow.”

THE WE MAY AS WELL JUST GIVE HIM A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD FOR ELON DOING HIS ELON THING

To — obviously — Elon Musk, who actually had a really good year: Tesla stock got ‘so high‘ it brushed the price at which he previously announced he would take it private (he didn’t); SpaceX launched Starlink, a “very big deal“; and he was acquitted of defamation for calling a complete stranger a pedophile on twitter. OK, so he also announced Starship should reach orbit by this coming March, and smashed the Cybertruck’s allegedly unbreakable windows onstage at its unveiling, but still, a good year! See you in 2020, Elon.

THE IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T CONVINCE, TELL AN EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS TALE AWARD FOR RISIBLE SATOSHI NAKAMOTO CLAIMS

To Craig Wright, who has long claimed in the face of mocking industrywide disbelief to be Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin, and especially for his claims that, now work with me here, the keys 1 million of Satoshi’s bitcoin were put in a “Tulip Trust” by a long-deceased collaborator and will be delivered to him by a “bonded courier” on January 1st 2020, i.e. a few days from now. The judge he told this to was, unsurprisingly, spectacularly unconvinced, saying “Dr. Wright’s demeanor did not impress me as someone who was telling the truth” and also reproached him for his “willful and bad faith pattern of obstructive behavior.” You don’t say.

THE DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, BUT ONLY IF THEY’RE ACTUALLY DEAD AWARD FOR LEAVING A TRAIL OF CRYPTOCURRENCY CHAOS IN ONE’S WAKE

To my fellow Canadian Gerald William Cotten, the founder of QuadrigaCX, who apparently stole and/or lost essentially all of his customers’ money, spending much of it on “luxury goods and real estate,” before his death in Mumbai last year. “But Jon,” you say, “how does this quality for a 2019 Jon Award?” Because the many thousands who lost money are now demanding an exhumation to determine that the body in Cotten’s grave is, in fact, Cotten. As for the surviving founder, he’s “a reported ex-con who served 18 months in a federal U.S. prison for identity theft, bank fraud and credit card fraud.” Is this the end of this crazy story? …Well, probably yes. But in the world of cryptocurrencies, which reliably gives us the most jawdropping Jons, who can say for sure?

THE I’VE SEEN THE FUTURE BABY AND IT’S PRETTY CRAZY AWARD FOR EPITOMIZING OUR CYBERPUNK PRESENT

To Lil Nas X, a previously unknown queer black American teenager who made a country-trap song with a beat he purchased for $30 from a Dutch producer, which sampled an obscure Nine Inch Nails deep cut, recorded it in less than an hour for $20, crafted a hundred memes to publicize it on a new Chinese-owned video-snippet social network, and then saw it go viral courtesy of a Yeehaw Challenge meme, hit first country and then crossover success, and become the longest-reigning Billboard No. 1 single of all time. Does it even get more postmodern cyberpunk than that? Lil Nas X, this is your world (well, and Billie Eilish’s) — we just live in it.

THE POWER TO DRIVE BABY BOOMERS COMPLETELY MAD AWARD FOR BEING SENSIBLY UPSET ABOUT THINGS

To Greta Thunberg, another teenager, who is an angry advocate of doing something about climate change and for some reason frequently drives a whole lot of apparently lucid people, as well as the President of the United States, completely insane, prompting them to level ludicrous and deeply attacks at a sixteen-year-old autistic girl. It is truly mystifying, and yet revelatory. Maybe they’re just upset that she’s so good at Twitter?

THE SOMEONE MUST BE TO BLAME, THIS IS SOMEONE, THEY MUST BE TO BLAME AWARD FOR LASHING OUT IN THE WRONG DIRECTIONS

To the mass media, for the techlash: the backlash against tech in which they blame the tech industry not only for its actual sins and problems, which are admittedly not hard to find, but also for essentially everything that is wrong with the world’s political and financial systems. Politics is somehow the fault of Facebook, rather than venal politicians and their ability to manipulate, er, the mass media like a Stradivarius. Inequality is somehow the fault of the tech industry, rather than City / Wall Street parasitism, regulatory capture, and, again, the politicians who actually write the laws which enact inequality. Again, the tech industry has real problems — but the fact that it has devoured the advertising and classifieds income that long propped up the media seems to have caused otherwise sober and thoughtful journalists to instinctively knee-jerk blame it for every ill, while letting their actual architects off lightly. Sadly I fear this one is going to be a perennial.

THE WHO NEEDS HUMAN FACES OR WORDS AWARD FOR SIMULATING THE DEEP INSIGHTS OF INTERNET DISCOURSE

To StyleGAN 2 and GPT-2, neural networks from Nvidia and OpenAI respectively, which generate fully convincing fake human faces, and close-enough-for-the-Internet convincing fake human comment sections, respectively. I feel certain that somewhere out there on the Internet, bots with StyleGAN avatars and GPT-2-sourced texts are already waging war against one another in befuddling comment sections: battles which have no end, no point, and no room for any actual humanity. The more things change, eh?

THE POP GOES THE IPO AWARD FOR MAKING LOCKUP PERIODS MEANINGFUL AGAIN

To Slack, Lyft, and Uber, all of whom went public this year and, despite being extremely high-profile tech companies, promptly saw their stock prices crater and stay there, while their most recent employees presumably saw their lockup period come and go while remaining resolutely underwater. All this while big, boring tech companies like Google and Microsoft saw their stock climb to new highs nearly every week. Maybe joining a rocket ship isn’t always such a great idea after all…

THE WHAT’S A FEW BILLION DOLLARS BETWEEN FRIENDS AWARD FOR JAM YESTERDAY, JAM TOMORROW, BUT NEVER JAM TODAY

To Ron Abovitz of Magic Leap, whose technology demos over the last decade have been, by all accounts, truly breathtaking and mindboggling, but whose actual shipped technology, despite ten years and nearly $3 billion in funding, has been, by all accounts, deeply disappointing. Now Magic Leap is hemmorhaging high-profile board members, signing over patents as collatoral to JP Morgan Chase while desperately trying to raise funding, and it next headset is reportedly still years away from launch. But look, those demos were amazing.

THE A SINGLE SACRIFICIAL LAMB FRANKLY ISN’T ENOUGH AWARD FOR A DEEP AND SYSTEMIC CATASTROPHE

To Boeing and its 737 MAX debacle, in which, among numerous other stunning derelictions of fundamental engineering duties, crucial safety features were sold as profitable optional extras — and yet it took not one but two crashes, killing hundreds, for them to admit any problems. Their CEO has resigned, but the company’s failures are clearly deep and systemic rather than individual; their once famously engineer-driven corporate culture is clearly no more. Their example of the decline of American capitalism in general is almost a little too on-the-nose, but then, that’s 2019 for you.

Congratulations, of a sort, to all the winners of the Jons! All recipients shall receive a bobblehead of myself made up as a Blue Man, as per the image on this post, which will doubtless become coveted and increasingly valuable collectibles. (And needless to say, sometime next year they will become redeemable for JonCoin.) And, of course, all winners shall be remembered by posterity forevermore.


1Bobbleheads shall only be distributed if and when available and convenient. The eventual existence of said bobbleheads is not guaranteed or indeed even particularly likely. Not valid on days named after Norse or Roman gods. All rights reserved, especially those rights about which we have reservations.

2019: the year podcasting broke

Like any burgeoning art form, podcasts have a complicated relationship with corporate America.

The form’s appeal has long been its accessibility; for years, it’s been open to anyone with an idea, a little free time and a computer. The results haven’t always been stellar, but the medium’s potential is seemingly limitless.

The exact beginnings of podcasting are difficult to pinpoint — that, naturally, has been the nature of plenty of IP lawsuits, as those involved early on lay claim to the rapidly expanding industry. For the sake of brevity, let’s call 2004 the birth of podcasting, as that’s when the term was coined, at the pre-iPhone apex of iPod popularity. Conveniently, that arbitrarily chosen date puts pegs the medium at about 15 years old.

It also affords us the opportunity to borrow a tongue-in-cheek title from “1991: The Year Punk Broke,” a documentary that arrived roughly 15 years after the broadly acknowledged birth of a once-subversive music genre which found then-Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore sneering about “modern punk — as seen in Elle magazine.” While it’s true corporate America has long toyed with and circled podcasting, it seems likely that 2019 will be regarded as the year that podcasting had its “modern punk” moment, per Mr. Moore.

In other words, podcasting is an overnight success 15+ years in the making.

The numbers certainly bear it out. Spotify’s spending is probably the most commonly-cited flashpoint — and understandably so. While the music streaming service hasn’t given exact numbers, it announced plans to spend between $400 million and $500 million on the genre in hopes of catching up with Apple’s decade-and-a-half long head start.