Elon Musk says Tesla Semi is ready for production, but limited by battery cell output

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on the company’s 2020 Q4 earnings call that all engineering work is now complete on the Tesla Semi, the freight-hauling semi truck that the company is building with an all-electric powertrain. The company expects to begin deliveries of Tesla Semi this year, the company said in its Q4 earnings release, and Musk said the only thing limiting their ability to produce them now is the availability of battery cells.

“The main reason we have not accelerated new products – like for example Tesla Semi – is that we simply don’t have enough cells for it,” Musk said. “If we were to make the Semi right now, and we could easily go into production with the Semi right now, but we would not have enough cells for it.”

Musk added that the company does expect to have sufficient cell volume to meet its needs once it goes into production on its 4680 battery pack, which is a new custom cell design it created with a so-called ‘tables’ design that allows for greater energy density and therefore range.

“A Semi would use typically five times the number of cells that a car would use, but it would not sell for five times what a car would sell for, so it kind of would not make sense for us to do the Semi right now,” Musk said. “But it will absolutely make sense for us to do it as soon as we can address the cell production constraint.”

That constraint points to the same conclusion for the possibility of Tesla developing a van, Musk added, and the lifting of the constraint will likewise make it possible for Tesla to pursue the development of that category of vehicle, he said.

Tesla has big plans for “exponentially” ramping cell production, with a goal of having production capacity infrastructure in place for a Toal of 200 gigawatt hours per year by 2022, and a target of being able to actually produce around 40% of that by that year (with future process improvements generating additional gigawatt hours of cell capacity  in gradual improvements thereafter).

Porsche and Axel Springer increase investment into their APX accelerator to €55M

Berlin-based early-stage fund APX today announced that its two investors, European publisher Axel Springer and sports car maker Porsche, have increased their investment in the fund to a total of €55 million.

With this, APX, which launched in 2018, is now able to deploy up to €500,000 in pre-Series A seed funding per company. That’s up from up to €100,000 when the fund launched. So far, the group has invested in more than 70 companies and plans to increase this number to close to 200 by 2022.

When APX launched, the fund didn’t disclose the total investment from Porsche and Axel Springer. Today, the team said that the new investment “more than doubles APX’s total amount for investing in new and current companies.” APX also stressed that the total volume of the fund is now “at least” €55 million, in part because the investors can always allocate additional funding for outliers.

In addition to the new funding, APX also today announced that it is doing away with its 100-day accelerator program and instead opting for a long-term commitment to its companies, including participation in future rounds.

“We will try and invest into 50 or more companies this year — and we were at 35 last year. So this is quite some growth,” APX founding managing director (and folk music aficionado) Henric Hungerhoff told me. “We think that our deal flow systems and our entire operations are settled in well enough that we can have quality founders in our portfolio. That’s our goal — and that might even increase to 70 the year after. […] We see really nice synergies or network effects within our portfolio, with founders helping other founders and learning from each other.”

Image Credits: APX

Hungerhoff tells me that the team is quite confident in its ability now to identify quality deal flows. The team is using a data-driven approach. And while it leverages its own network and that of its founders, it has also set up a scout program at leading European universities to identify potential founders, for example.

As APX founding managing director, and the former CEO of Axel Springer’s Plug and Play accelerator, Jörg Rheinboldt noted, APX never asks its founders to pitch. Instead, the team has multiple conversations with them about the product they want to build, how they came up with the idea — and how it changed over time.

“And then, we do multiple things simultaneously,” Rheinboldt said. “One is, we look at team dynamics. How do the founders interact? We also stress them a little bit — in a friendly way — where someone asks very fast questions, or we focus a little bit on one person and see how the others rescue them. We want to know about the team dynamics and then we want to understand the strategy, how we can help them best?”

The idea here is to be able to invest quickly. In addition, though, with the new funding, the team isn’t just able to invest into more companies but also invest more into the individual companies.

Image Credits: APX

“We want to invest deeper per startup at a very early stage,” Hungerhoff said. “So far, […] our typical approach was a non-dilution, pro-rata follow-on strategy with most of our portfolio companies. And this is something we want to pledge in the future. Looking at the past, 100% of the times in equity rounds, we do the pro-rata follow-on or more, but now, we have developed a strategy that we will, for the fastest-moving of fastest-growing companies, we want to deploy significantly more cash in a very early phase, which means an amount of up to €500,000.”

What the team saw was that the companies in its portfolio would raise a small pre-seed round from APX and other investors, with APX typically taking a 5% stake in the startup. Most founders would then go on and raise extended pre-seed or seed rounds soon thereafter.

“We more felt like we missed out when we saw these companies raising really nice financing rounds and we did our investment,” Rheinbolt said. “We felt very good that we can do a pro-rata investment. but we looked at each other and said: we knew this, we knew that they would do this 12 weeks ago. We could have given them a check and maybe the round would have been done in eight weeks and maybe [our stake] wouldn’t be 5% but 7%.”

Given this new focus on supporting startups throughout their lifecycle, it’s no surprise that APX did away with the 100-day program as well. But the team still expects to be quite hands-on. With a growing network, though, the partners also expect that founders will be able to learn from each other, too. “We now see the value that is coming from this,” Hungerhoff said. For example, a team that we’ve invested in two months ago, they’re now thinking about the angel round. They can actually get the best advice on this — or just experienced sharing — from another team, rather than talking to Jörg who did this maybe 30 years ago — no offense.”

The team also spends a lot of time thinking about its community, which now includes founders from 20 countries. The COVID pandemic has obviously moved most of the interactions online. Before COVID, APX often hosted events in its offices, which helped create the kind of serendipity that often leads to new ideas and connections. Looking ahead, the team still believes that there is a lot of value in having face-to-face meetings, but at the same time, maybe not every company needs to move to Berlin and instead visit for a few days every now and then.

Bonus: Here is Hungerhoff’s latest album with St. Beaufort.

BMW previews its next-gen iDrive infotainment system

At CES 2021, BMW today provided us with a first glimpse of the future of its iDrive system, twenty years after it first launched in the 2001 7 Series. Today’s announcement mostly focuses on the past, with a look back at the history of BMW’s infotainment platform, but the company did provide a bit more context and images of the new system that will make its official debut on the sizable displays in its upcoming iX soon.

Obviously, we’re looking at a refreshed and more colorful design here. Based on what we can glance from the materials that BMW did make available, current BMW drivers shouldn’t have too high a learning curve as the overall layout still looks familiar.

Despite the addition of BMW’s own personal voice assistant and gestures in recent updates, the iDrive knob in the center console isn’t going away, though it looks like it will be getting some design tweaks, too. Clearly, though, BMW isn’t planning to do away with physical controls anytime soon.

Image Credits: BMW

The overall philosophy behind the update, BMW says, is to offer a system that is better able to utilize the potential of a connected car in order to “make the mobility experience even safer, even more comfortable and convenient, and even richer in variety.”

The argument here is that the car, thanks to its myriad of sensors and connectivity, now often has access to far more information than the driver. That, BMW says, has influenced the new iDrive’s design, but the company isn’t quite ready to delve into any details yet, it seems. Based on what we can glance from the materials that BMW did make available, though, current BMW drivers won’t have too high a learning curve as the overall layout still looks somewhat familiar.

Image Credits: BMW

“The next generation of BMW iDrive takes the burgeoning relationship between a BMW and its driver to a new level,” the company writes in today’s announcement. “The new system neatly bridges the gap between analogue and digital technology. And this, in turn, heralds another paradigm shift, as the number of available functions in a car and their complexity continue along a constant upward curve.”

Elon Musk claims he tried selling Tesla to Apple but Tim Cook wasn’t interested

Tesla stock’s miraculously bizarre 2020 might have a gone different way had Apple’s Tim Cook agreed to a meeting in recent years, or so says Elon Musk.

Reacting to Reuters’ recent news that Apple has not abandoned its electric car program and is still pursuing plans to build a physical vehicle, Musk tweeted that in “the darkest days” of scaling Model 3 production, he reached out to Apple CEO Tim Cook and raised the possibility of the Cupertino company acquiring Tesla. Musk says that Cook refused to take the meeting.

TechCrunch has reached out to Apple for comment.

Musk’s short tweet did not clarify exactly when this timeline was, though given public information about Tesla’s Model 3 production, it was likely between 2017 and 2019. In regards to Musk’s proposed sales price, 1/10th of Tesla’s current market capitalization is about $60 billion, which isn’t too far from the stock’s public value last year before it reached stratospheric heights in recent months.

Though Tesla is now worth more than $600 billion on the public markets after joining the S&P 500 this week, most Wall Street analysts seem perplexed by the stock’s recent growth which has been owed to young and first-time investors rallying behind Tesla’s products and its CEO.

After release of Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ beta, Elon Musk promises roughly $2,000 price hike

In a tweet posted early Thursday morning, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said that prices for the Full Self-Driving (“FSD”) upgrade to Tesla vehicles would increase by roughly $2,000.

It’s potentially an indication that the company is realizing that it needs to find new ways to make up for the rapidly diverging cost of the company’s electric vehicle hardware and the suite of software and services that are the ingredients for much of the secret sauce that make Tesla’s vehicles so popular.

To be clear, Tesla’s definition for fully self-driving cars is different from a fully autonomous vehicle. As TechCrunch reported last year when the company unveiled the plans for the latest version of its autonomous driving package, Musk described multiple levels of Tesla’s assessment of self-driving tech, and specified that this meant cars are “able to be autonomous but requiring supervision and intervention at times.”

Musk announced in a tweet that Tesla would be rolling out a beta version of its self-driving mode late Tuesday night, several hours before the company reported its third quarter earnings.

The long-delayed deployment of more robust autonomous capabilities from Tesla comes nearly a year later than Musk had anticipated. It was on the company’s third quarter earnings call in 2019 that Musk first talked about the fully self-driving system. At the time, he’d said that the initial beta deployment could come as soon as the end of the year.

“While it’s going to be tight, it still does appear that will be at least … in [an] early-access release of a feature complete self-driving feature this year,” Musk said at the time.

The FSD system, an upgrade from Tesla’s early experiments in autonomy that went under its Autopilot package, will cost an additional $10,000 after the price hike. The features will include “Summon” as well as “Navigate on Autopilot,” a system that navigates a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and making lane changes.

Tesla has been fine-tuning the Autopilot and broader FSD system through constant updates to the vehicle’s software via over-the-air transmissions and the company said that the nav system should soon respond to traffic lights, stop signs and other traffic inputs when driving on city streets.

Tesla to begin production on 7-seat Model Y in November, with deliveries in early December

Elon Musk has shared some updated info about the timeline for the seven-seat version of the Model Y, Tesla’s more affordable electric SUV. The Model Y began deliveries to customers in March of this year in the U.S., but Musk said in June that he anticipated the company would start shipping seven-seat variants of the vehicle by sometime in the fourth quarter of this year.

A seven-seater Model Y would up the total passenger capacity of the vehicle by two, and we’ve known that it supports such a configuration ever since its official unveiling in 2019. The seven-seat version will include a third row, though it isn’t yet entirely clear what that will look like in the vehicle. The larger Model X offers a third row, but there’s less space to work with in the Model Y. There’s also a seven-seat Model S design for the Plaid variant that Tesla showed off last year.

Still, additional seats could be a key addition for anyone looking for a premium, but lower-priced SUV that can handle the whole family — including a couple of young kids. And if production sticks to Musk’s timeline, it won’t be long before we start to see the seven-seat version of the Model Y on roads. Typically, his timing projections have been overly optimistic, but the Model Y actually started being delivered earlier than anticipated, so maybe these dates will stick.

Tesla says its battery innovations will deliver its goal of a $25,000 mass market electric car

Tesla held its ‘Battery Day’ event on Tuesday to discuss a variety of innovations it has developed and is pursuing in battery technology for its vehicles. At the event, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and SVP of Powertrain and Energy Engineering Drew Baglino detailed new anode and cathode technology it’s working on, as well as materials science, in-house mining operations and manufacturing improvements it’s developing to make more more affordable, sustainable batteries – and they said that taken together, these should allow them to make an electric vehicle available to consumers at the $25,000 price point.

“We’re confident we can make a very, very compelling $25,000 electric vehicle, that’s also fully autonomous,” Musk said. “And when you think about the $25,000 price point you have to consider how much less expensive it is to own an electric vehicle. So actually, it becomes even more affordable at that $25,000 price point.”

This isn’t the first time that Musk has talked about the $25,000 price point for a Tesla car: Two years ago in August 2018, he said that he believed the company would be able to reach that target price point in roughly three years. Two years on, it seems like the goal posts have been pushed out again – fairly standard for an Elon-generated timeline – since Musk and Baglino acknowledged that it would be another two or three years before the company could realize the technologies it presented in sufficient quantities to be produced effectively at scale.

Tesla detailed a new, tablets battery cell design that would help it achieve its goal of reaching 10 to 20 terawatts of global battery production capacity per year. The design offers five times the energy density of the existing cells it uses, as well as six times the power and an overall 16% improvement in range for vehicles in which it’s used.

Virtual Mobility startup pitch night applications open

TechCrunch is on the hunt to feature 10 early-stage mobility startups at our virtual TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 pitch night. The pitch-off event, originally set for May, will now be held October 5th – the evening before Mobility 2020. 

The top five companies from pitch night will take the stage at the main event with industry heavy hitters like  Boris Sofman of Waymo and Nancy Sun of Ike to Trucks VC’s Reilly Brennan. Now we are shining a light on game changing startups – hardware and software breaking the mobility mold. From battery advancements to mapping, fuel processing to micromobility, TechCrunch wants the next generation of mobility’s brightest on stage. The process is simple:

ApplyTechCrunch editorial will review every application and demo video submitted. Companies will be reviewed based on innovation, scope of impact, uniqueness of product idea and potential for exit – IPO or acquisition. Selected companies will get to pitch on stage, receive two complimentary event tickets, an hour training with the Startup Battlefield Editor and a spot in CrunchMatch: TC’s meeting matching program.

Pitch Part I. The top ten startups from around the world will be selected to pitch live to the TC audience on the virtual stage. After a private pitch coaching session, founders will have one minute to pitch, followed by a Q&A with our expert panel of investor and industry expert judges.

Pitch Part II. The top five companies from pitch night will get a prime slot to pitch and demo their product on the main stage at Mobility 2020 in front of thousands of TC viewers – press, industry leaders and VCs.

The deadline to apply is September 15th. Selections will occur on a rolling basis so get your application in ASAP!

Radio Flyer teams up with Tesla to launch a tyke-sized Tesla Model Y

If, like me, you can’t afford a full-sized Tesla because your life has been a series of bad investments (one day my early Fyre Festival backing will pay off) then Radio Flyer’s newest product might be just the thing for you. It’s a scaled down Model Y, designed for use by kids aged 18 months to four years old – but I can play pretend and yell ‘vroooommm’ just as well, if not better, than they can.

Dubbed ‘My First Model Y,’ this is a collaborative effort between the Tesla Design Studio and Radio Flyer’s product team. It’s a ride-on version, which is not true of the standard Model Y, and it includes a honking horn, as well as black induction wheels (an upgrade option on the real car) and a functional steering wheel, with a price point of $99. There’s only one trim level.

[gallery ids="2033122,2033123,2033125,2033126,2033128,2033130,2033131,2033133,2033134,2033135,2033136,2033137,2033138,2033140,2033141,2033143,2033144"]

Unlike the first collaboration between Radio Flyer and Tesla, the Tesla Model S for Kids, this one doesn’t have a built-in battery – it requires kid power to function. That means a lot more affordability, and makes it suitable for much younger kids.

I might pick up one of these instead of just continuing to scrawl “Tesla” in block letters on the rear window of my 1998 Toyota Camry in grease pencil.

Security bugs let these car hackers remotely control a Mercedes-Benz

Few could ever forget back in 2015 when security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek remotely killed a Jeep’s engine on a highway with a Wired reporter at the wheel.

Since then, the car hacking world has bustled with security researchers looking to find new bugs — and ways to exploit them — in a new wave of internet-connected cars that have only existed the past decade.

This year’s Black Hat security conference — albeit virtual, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic — is no different.

Security researchers at the Sky-Go Team, the car hacking unit at Qihoo 360, found more than a dozen vulnerabilities in a Mercedes-Benz E-Class car that allowed them to remotely open its doors and start the engine.

Most modern cars are equipped with an internet connection, giving passengers access to in-car entertainment, navigation and directions, and more radio stations than you can choose from. But hooking up a car to the internet puts it at greater risk of remote attacks — precisely how Miller and Valasek hijacked that Jeep, which ended up in a ditch.

Although vehicle security has gotten better over the past half-decade, Sky-Go’s researchers showed that not even one of the most recent Mercedes-Benz models are impervious to attacks.

In a talk this week, Minrui Yan, head of Sky-Go’s security research team, said the 19 security vulnerabilities were now fixed, but could have affected as many as two million Mercedes-Benz connected cars in China.

Katharina Becker, a spokesperson for Mercedes’ parent company Daimler, pointed to a company statement published late last year after it patched the security issues. The spokesperson said Daimler could not corroborate the estimated number of affected vehicles.

“We addressed all findings and fixed all vulnerabilities that could be exploited before any vehicle in the market was affected,” said the spokesperson.

After more than a year of research, the end result was a series of vulnerabilities that formed an attack chain that could remotely control the vehicle.

To start, the researchers built a testbench to reverse-engineer the car’s components to look for vulnerabilities, dumping the car’s software and analyzing the car’s internals for vulnerabilities.

The researchers then obtained a Series-E car to verify their findings.

At the heart of the research is the E-Series’ telematics control unit, or TCU, which Yan said is the “most crucial” component of the car, as it allows the vehicle to communicate with the internet.

By tampering with the TCU’s file system, the researchers got access to a root shell — a way to run commands with the highest level of access to the vehicle’s internals. With root shell access, the researchers could remotely open the car’s doors.

The TCU file system also stores the car’s secrets, like passwords and certificates, which protect the vehicle from being accessed or modified without proper authorization. But the researchers were able to extract the passwords of several certificates for several different regions, including Europe and China. By obtaining the vehicle’s certificates and their passwords, the researchers could gain deep access to the vehicle’s internal network. The car’s certificate for the China region had a weak password, Yan said, making it easier to hijack a vulnerable car in the country.

Yan said the goal was to get access to the car’s back end, the core of the vehicle’s internal network. As long as the car’s back-end services can be accessed externally, the car is at risk of attacks, the researchers said.

The way the researchers did this was by tearing down the vehicle’s embedded SIM card, which allows the car to talk to the cell networks. A security feature meant the researchers couldn’t plug the SIM into a router without freezing access to the cell network. The researchers modified their router to spoof the vehicle, effectively making the cell network think it was the car.

With the vehicle’s firmware dumped, the networking protocols understood and its certificates obtained and cracked, the researchers say they could remotely control an affected vehicle.

The researchers said the car’s security design was tough and able to withstand a number of attacks, but it was not impervious.

“Making every back-end component secure all the time is hard,” the researchers said. “No company can make this perfect.”

But at least in the case of Mercedes-Benz, its cars are a lot more secure than they were a year ago.


Send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849 or send an encrypted email to: [email protected]