Volkswagen launches WeShare all-electric car sharing service

Making good on plans revealed last year to debut an EV-exclusive car sharing service, Volkswagen is actually launching its fleet for customers – debuting WeShare, a new shared service similar to Car2Go or GM’s Maven, but featuring only all-electric vehicles. Initially, WeShare will be available only in Berlin, where it’s launching today with 1,500 Volkswagen e-Golf cars making up the on-demand rental fleet.

The plan is to add 500 more cars to the available population by early next year, specifically the e-up! electric city company car, and then it’ll also play host to the brand new ID.3 fully electric car when that’s officially launched. VW is still targeting the middle of next year for a street date for that vehicle, which is part of its all-new ID line of vehicles designed from the ground-up based on its next-generation electric vehicle platform. In terms of new geographies, WeShare will look to launch In Prague (in partnership with VW Group sub-brand Skoda) and also in Hamburg, both some time in 2020.

WeShare has a coverage area that includes the Berlin city centre and a little bit beyond the Ringbahn train line that encircles it. The cars are available in a “free-floating” arrangement, meaning they’ll be free to pickup and park wherever public parking is available. This one-way model, which is the one used by competitor Car2go, is distinct from the round-trip style rentals preferred by Zipcar, for instance. It’s more convenient for customers, but more of a headache for operators, who have to worry about ensuring cars remain in the rental zone and are parked appropriately and legally.

WeShare will also take responsibility for recharging the vehicles as needed, and will do so using the public charging network that’s available in Berlin, but later on it will seek to incentive actual users of the system to charge up when vehicles need it.

Car sharing, especially one-way, has had a hit-and-miss track record to date. Car2go shuttered operations in Toronto and Chicago, for instance, due to incompatibility with city operations regarding parking in the case of Toronto, and rampant cases of fraud in Chicago that resulted in cars being used to commit crimes. VW notes in a release that in Berlin, however, the number of car sharing users has grown from 180,000 people in 2010 to 2.46 million in early 2019.

Volkswagen also owns and operates a fully-electric ridesharing service called MOIA, which has built its own fit-for-purpose vehicle and which currently operates in Hamburg and Hanover. Last year, VW said the two mobility service operations, which offer very different service models, will work together in future.

Here is BMW’s new electric motorcycle concept

BMW has a long history of building motorcycles, but it hasn’t done all that well in the electric motorcycle department. Clearly, though, this is something the company is thinking hard about and today, at its inaugural NextGen event, the company showed its newest electric concept bike, the BMW Motorrad Vision DC Roadster.

As usual, there’s no guarantee that this concept will ever come to market. Indeed, it’s likely that it won’t, but it will provide the inspiration for what will eventually go into production.

Going electric is a hard move to make for a company and that has been associated with its 2-cylinder boxer engine for ages. If it wants to produce a successful electric motorcycle, then it needs to be able to offer buyers not just performance (something they get by default with an electric engine and the torque it produces), but also something that retains the brand image buyers associate with BMW motorcycles.

Edgar Heinrich, the Head of Design for BMW Motorrad, argues that the Vision DC Roadster does just that. “The boxer engine is the heart of BMW Motorrad – an absolute stalwart of its character,” he said. “But BMW Motorrad stands for visionary zero-emissions vehicle concepts, too. In view of this, one question that arises is: what would happen if we were to replace the boxer engine with an electric motor and the required battery? The Vision Bike shows how we’re able to retain the identity and iconic appearance of BMW Motorrad in distinctive form while at the same time presenting an exciting new type of riding pleasure.”

Where a typical BMW motorbike would usually have its engine, the Vision roadster has a battery pack with coolers. Throughout the concept, the company’s designers used familiar design elements fro previous generations of the brand’s motorcycles.

In addition to the motorcycle, BMW also today showed off a new concept vehicle, the BMW Vision M Next, a new electrified sports car. The idea here is to provide a counterpart to the existing iNEXT concept that focuses more on performance than ease of use.

“Where the BMW Vision iNEXT illustrated how autonomous driving is set to transform life on board our vehicles, the BMW Vision M NEXT demonstrates how state-of-the-art technology can also make the experience of driving yourself purer and more emotionally engaging,” said Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design. “In both models, the focus is firmly on the people inside. Design and technology make the ‘EASE’ and ‘BOOST’ experiences more natural and more intense.”

In line with this idea, the new concept vehicle promises to be able to go from 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in three seconds and offer a range of about 62 miles (which isn’t all that much). To get access to more power, drivers can also hit a BOOST+ button.

With the M Next, BMW is also showing off some new user interface designs. The interface now adapts to the speed you are driving at, for example, and will automatically give you less information as you drive faster, in order to let you focus as you head down the autobahn at 120 mph.

Is your product’s AI annoying people?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is allowing us all to consider surprising new ways to simplify the lives of our customers. As a product developer, your central focus is always on the customer. But new problems can arise when the specific solution under development helps one customer while alienating others.

We tend to think of AI as an incredible dream assistant to our lives and business operations, when that’s not always the case. Designers of new AI services should consider in what ways and for whom might these services be annoying, burdensome or problematic, and whether it involves the direct customer or others who are intertwined with the customer. When we apply AI services to make tasks easier for our customers which end up making things more difficult for others, that outcome can ultimately cause real harm to our brand perception.

Let’s consider one personal example taken from my own use of Amy.ai, a service (from x.ai) that provides AI assistants named Amy and Andrew Ingram. Amy and Andrew are AI assistants that help schedule meetings for up to four people. This service solves the very relatable problem of scheduling meetings over email, at least for the person who is trying to do the scheduling.

After all, who doesn’t want a personal assistant to whom you can simply say, “Amy, please find the time next week to meet with Tom, Mary, Anushya and Shiveesh.” In this way, you don’t have to arrange a meeting room, send the email, and go back and forth managing everyone’s replies. My own experience showed that while it was easier for me to use Amy to find a good time to meet with my four colleagues, it soon became a headache for those other four people. They resented me for it after being bombarded by countless emails trying to find some mutually agreeable time and place for everyone involved.

Automotive designers are another group that’s incorporating all kinds of new AI systems to enhance the driving experience. For instance, Tesla recently updated its autopilot software to allow a car to change lanes automatically when it sees fit, presumably when the system interprets that the next lane’s traffic is going faster.

In concept, this idea seems advantageous to the driver who can make a safe entrance into faster traffic, while relieving any cognitive burden of having to change lanes manually. Furthermore, by allowing the Tesla system to change lanes, it takes away the desire to play Speed Racer or edge toward competitiveness that one may feel on the highway.

However, for the drivers in other lanes who are forced to react to the Tesla autopilot, they may be annoyed if the Tesla jerks, slows down, or behaves outside the normal realm of what people expect on the freeway. Moreover, if they are driving very fast and the autopilot did not recognize they were operating at a high rate of speed when the car decided to make the lane change, then that other driver can get annoyed. We can all relate to driving 75 mph in the fast lane, only to have someone suddenly pull in front of us at 70 as if they were clueless that the lane was moving at 75.

For two-lane traffic highways that are not busy, the Tesla software might work reasonably well.   However, in my experience of driving around the congested freeways of the Bay Area, the system performed horribly whenever I changed crowded lanes, and I knew that it was angering other drivers most of the time. Even without knowing those irate drivers personally, I care enough about driving etiquette to politely change lanes without getting the finger from them for doing so.

Post Intelligence robot

Another example from the Internet world involves Google Duplex, a clever feature for Android phone users that allows AI to make restaurant reservations. From the consumer point of view, having an automated system to make a dinner reservation on one’s behalf sounds excellent. It is advantageous to the person making the reservation because, theoretically, it will save the burden of calling when the restaurant is open and the hassle of dealing with busy signals and callbacks.

However, this tool is also potentially problematic for the restaurant worker who answers the phone. Even though the system may introduce itself as artificial, the burden shifts to the restaurant employee to adapt and master a new and more limited interaction to achieve the same goal – making a simple reservation.

On the one hand, Duplex is bringing customers to the restaurant, but on the other hand, the system is narrowing the scope of interaction between the restaurant and its customer. The restaurant may have other tables on different days, or it may be able to squeeze you in if you leave early, but the system might not handle exceptions like this. Even the idea of an AI bot bothering the host who answers the phone doesn’t seem quite right.

As you think about making the lives of your customers easier, consider how the assistance you are dreaming about might be more of a nightmare for everyone else associated with your primary customer. If there is a question regarding the negative experience of anyone related to your AI product, explore that experience further to determine if there is another better way to still delight them without angering their neighbors.

From a user experience perspective, developing a customer journey map can be a helpful way to explore the actions, thoughts, and emotional experiences of your primary customer or “buyer persona.” Identify the touchpoints in which your system interacts with innocent bystanders who are not your direct customers. For those people unaware of your product, explore their interaction with your buyer persona, specifically their emotional experience.

An aspirational goal should be to delight this adjacent group of people enough that they would move towards being prospects and, eventually, becoming your customers as well. Also, you can use participant ethnography to analyze the innocent bystander in relation to your product. This is a research method which combines the observations of people as they interact with processes and the product.

A guiding design inspiration for this research could be, “How can our AI system behave in such a way that everyone who might come into contact with our product is enchanted and wants to know more?”

That’s just human intelligence, and it’s not artificial.

Tesla’s in-car touchscreens are getting YouTube support

Tesla has consistently been adding software to its in-car touchscreen infotainment displays – including sometimes things that probably leave a lot of people scratching their heads. During a special Q&A today at annual gaming event E3 in LA, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Tesla’s in-car display will support YouTube someday soon.

This isn’t the first time that the Tesla CEO has suggested YouTube might one day have a home in the company’s cars: In response to a fan’s question on Twitter last August he noted that ‘version 10’ of the company’s in-car software would provide support for third-party video streaming. The company debuted its ‘Software Version 9.0’ last year.

Musk specifically said YouTube would be coming to cars during the E3 event today, at which he revealed that Bethesda’s Fallout 3 would be coming to the infotainment displays, and unveiled a demo video of Android game Beach Buggy Racer running on a display in a Tesla Model 3.

On a recent podcast, the Tesla CEO also said that the company would consider opening the platform more broadly to third-party developers for both apps and games. The company has done a lot on its own to add software ‘Easter Eggs’ to the dash display, but turning it into a true platform is a much more ambitious vision.

On its face, adding attention-heavy apps like streaming video services to a car definitely seems counterintuitive, but to be fair to Tesla, a large number of drivers today use their phones for in-car navigation and those can also all technically display YouTube at any time. It does seem like a case of Musk’s mind racing ahead to a day when his cars are fully autonomous, something he recently reiterated he expects to happen within the next couple of years.

Tesla completing ‘small acquisition’ which will help launch its insurance product

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that the company is in the process of completing a “small acquisition” that will help it release its own insurance product, something it said in April that it was only around “a month” away from bringing to market. One month is at least two months when translated from Musk time to rest-of-us time, so that tracks.

Musk made the remark at Tesla’s Annual Shareholders Meeting, adding that the company is “pretty close to being able to release [its insurance product],” and that in addition to this acquisition in progress, Tesla also has “a bit of software to write” to make it ready for market.

Insurance for Tesla vehicles can be expensive when sourced from traditional insurance providers (it ranked 15th highest in the U.S. in a recent third-party survey) but Tesla says it has a key advantage when compared to third-parties that will help it price insurance for its customers correctly – ample and detailed information about their driving habits.

No word yet on who the acquisition target is, but it makes sense that Apple might seek to pick up a small insurer to supplement its own driving and user data, rather than trying to build an insurance business in-house from scratch.

Tesla says solar roof is on its third iteration, currently installing in 8 states

Tesla is currently installing its solar roof product in eight states, according to Elon Musk speaking at the Tesla Annual Shareholders Meeting on Tuesday. The solar roof tile project has had a relatively long genesis, since being first unveiled three years ago in 2016.

In 2017, the company claimed its first ever installations of the Tesla solar roof, after opening up orders for the product in the second quarter of that year. Musk noted during the company’s Q2 2017 earnings call that both himself and Tesla CTO JB Straubel had the tiles installed and operating on their homes

The company also announced last year that it had entered into a partnership with Home Depot to sell its solar panels along with its PowerWall home battery, but that was about its traditional panels specifically, not the new tile product. The tiles are designed to look like high quality home tiles people use currently, with integrated solar panels that are not easily identified from ground level, in order to provide a more aesthetically pleasing solution.

In addition to having installations run in eight states, Musk also said that the solar roof product is currently on version three, and that this version is very exciting to him because it offers a chance of being at cost parity with an equivalent entry-level cheap traditional tile, when you include the cost of utilities you’d be saving by generating your own power instead.

Timelines for wider roll-out of the solar roof products at the costs he anticipates, his own words probably say it best: “I’m sometimes a little optimistic about timeframes – it’s time you knew” he joked at the meeting.

Elon Musk calls it ‘financially insane’ to buy a car that isn’t an EV capable of full self-driving

During the Tesla Annual Shareholder Meeting that took place on Tuesday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk didn’t mince words when he talked about what he thinks of the value proposition of traditional fossil fuel vehicles. He called it “financially insane” to buy any car that isn’t an electric car capable of full autonomy — which, conveniently, currently is the type of vehicle that only Tesla claims to sell.

Musk reiterated a claim he’s made previously about Tesla vehicles, that all of its cars manufactured since October 2016 have everything they need to become fully autonomous — with those built before the release of its new autonomous in-car computer earlier this year needing only a computer swap, replacing the new Tesla-built computer for the Nvidia ones they shipped with.

The Tesla CEO also reiterated his claim from earlier this year that there will be 1 million robotaxis on the road as of next year, noting that it’s easy to arrive at that number if you consider that it includes all Teslas, including Model X, Model S and Model 3 sold between October 2016 and today.

Regarding Tesla’s progress with self-driving, Musk noted that by end of year, Tesla hopes to deliver autonomy such that while you’ll still have to supervise the driving in-car, it’ll get you from your garage to your workplace without intervention. He said that by next year, their goal is the same thing but without requiring supervision, and then some time after that, pending regulatory cooperation, they’ll be able to do full autonomy without anyone on board.

Musk ended this musing with a colorful metaphor, likening buying a car that’s powered by traditional fossil fuel and without any path to self-driving to someone today “riding a horse and using a flip phone.”

Ferrari’s first plug-in hybrid is here. And it’s faster than ever.

Ferrari has finally cracked open the door for electrification. The Italian supercar manufacturer unveiled the SF90 Stradale, its first plug-in hybrid.

Purists might turn their noses up to Stradale’s mere 15.5 miles of all electric range. But it’s a milestone for Ferrari nonetheless and marks a shift in the company’s views and portfolio.

Now, some of the important nuts and bolts. The Stradale has a V8 turbo engine that produces 780 cv (or about 769 horsepower), which the company says is the highest power output of any 8-cylinder Ferraris in its history. Another 216 hp is produced by three electric motors. The motors are located between the engine and 8-speed dual clutch transmission on the rear axle, and two on the front axle.

When combined, the vehicle can travel from 0 to 62 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds.

You can check out the video below to see the supercar in action. Wait — and listen — for the moment when the driver switches to electric power.

The driver can place the Stradale in eDrive mode — Ferrari’s branding for all-electric mode. When the internal combustion engine is turned off, the two independent front motors can deliver a maximum speed of about 83 mph. That’s slow compared to car’s top speed of 211 mph, which is achieved when the combustion engine is activated. Reverse only uses eDrive mode.

The default setting for the Stradale is to run as a hybrid. The vehicle can also has a performance setting, a mode that keeps the internal gas engine running because the priority is more on charging the battery than on efficiency. This mode gives the driver instant and full power.

Then there’s the tech inside the vehicle. The aeronautically cockpit has a head-up display unit that projects information on the front windscreen and in driver’s field of view. Ferrari has adopted a “hands on the wheel” philosphy in its design. The touch controls are on the steering wheel, which includes a small touch pad on the right hand. Voice and cruise controls are on the left-hand spoke of the wheel.

Ferrari has also taken design cues from Formula 1. For instance, the rotary switch for cruise control is a solution derived directly from the Formula 1 car

Ferrari hasn’t released details on the price yet, nor has it provided information on when the Stradale is coming to market.

The all-electric Honda e is bringing its side view mirrors inside

Honda e, the compact electric vehicle that’s coming to market in spring 2020, is bringing its side view mirrors inside. The company confirmed Tuesday that its side camera mirror system, which was on the prototype version, will be a standard feature when the car enters production. 

The side camera mirror system includes two six-inch screens, situated on the left and right sides of the dashboard, provides live images of traffic. Honda argues that the tech reduces aerodynamic drag by 90 percent compared to conventional door mirrors for an overall 3.8 percent improvement for the entire vehicle. This, in turn, can help with the battery’s efficiency and range.

The mirrors also improve visibility, Honda says, adding that the camera unit housings are shaped to prevent water drops on the lens. The lens has a water-repellent coating to prevent residual water build up.

You can check out how it works in the video below.

The driver can choose two views, normal and wide, via the vehicle settings. The two views extends the field of vision and helps reduce blind spots by about 10 percent in normal and about 50 percent when using the wide option, Honda claims.

If the driver, puts the vehicle in reverse, guidelines appear on the side view screens. As lighting conditions change, the brightness levels on the interior displays adjust.

Honda also has confirmed that the pop out door handles will be in the production version.

Honda e Prototype

The automaker has big plans for the Urban EV, officially named the Honda e, and more broadly electric vehicles. The Honda e is expected to have a battery range of more than 124 miles and come equipped with a “fast charge” capability that will provide a 80 percent change in 30 minutes.

Way back in 2017, Honda Motor Co. president and CEO Takahiro Hachigo emphasized that the Urban EV wasn’t some “vision of the distant future.”

Honda plans to bring electrification, which can mean hybrid, plug-in or all-electric, to every new car model launched in Europe. The automaker is aiming for two-thirds of European sales to feature electrified technology by 2025.

The production version of the Honda e will be unveiled later this year.  Customers can make a reservation for priority ordering online in the UK, Germany, France and Norway or register their interest in other European markets on the Honda national websites.

China’s Tesla wannabe Xpeng starts ride-hailing service

There’re a lot of synergies between electric vehicles and ride-hailing. Drivers are able to save more steering an EV compared to a gas vehicle. Environmentally conscious consumers will choose to hire an electric car. And EVs are designed with better compatibility with autonomous driving, which is expected to hit the public road in the coming decades.

Indeed, Tesla is eyeing to launch its first robotaxis in 2020 as part of a broader ride-sharing scheme. Over in China where Tesla has a few disciples, EV startup Xpeng Motors, also known as Xiaopeng, just started offering a ride-hailing app powered by its own electric fleets.

Screenshot of Xpeng’s ride-hailing app ‘Youpeng Chuxing’

The company is the latest in a clutch of carmakers flocking to introduce their own ride-hailing platforms. Didi Chuxing’s massive loss has not deterred their ambitious plans. Rather, this may be a prime time to crack a market long dominated by Didi, which is prioritizing safety over growth following two high-profile incidents and a series of new government regulations.

Xpeng’s ride-hailing app is currently only available in a limited area within Guangzhou where it’s headquartered, shows a test conducted by TechCrunch’s on Thursday.

The company’s coffer is probably large enough to fund its newly minted venture. It’s one of the most-backed EV upstarts alongside rival Nio, which raised $1 billion from a New York initial public offering last year.

Xpeng has to date banked $1.3 billion from Alibaba, IDG Capital, Foxconn, UCAR and other big-name investors, according to disclosed funding data collected by Crunchbase. Founder He Xiaopeng, a serial entrepreneur who made a fortune selling his mobile browser company UCWeb to Alibaba, told CNBC in March that Xpeng may also try an IPO down the road but wants to focus on building the business first.

When it comes to sources of inspiration for the business, Xpeng told local media that it sees Tesla as its “benchmark”. The company has never been shy about its admiration for its American peer. In an interview with Quartz in 2018, He said one of the reasons he founded Xpeng “was because Elon Musk made Tesla’s patents available. It was so exciting.”

But the affection might have gone a little far. In March, Tesla sued an ex-employee for allegedly stealing Autopilot’s proprietary technology before taking a job at Xpeng.

Xpeng started shipping to its first owners in March and was founded five years ago against the backdrop of Beijing’s aggressive electric push in the transportation sector. The sprawling city Shenzhen, just north to Hong Kong, has turned all its public buses and almost all of its taxis electric.