Tesla’s new Supercharger slashes charging times

Tesla is rolling out a third generation Supercharger that is designed to dramatically cut charging times for its electric vehicles as it seeks to keep its edge over new competitors.

The V3 Supercharger, which was unveiled Wednesday at the company’s Fremont, California factory, supports a peak rate of up 250 kilowatts on the long range version of the Model 3. At this rate, the V3 can add up to 75 miles of range in 5 minutes, Tesla said.

Improvements to charging times are critical for the company as it sells more Model 3 vehicles, its highest volume car. Wait times at some popular Supercharger stations can be lengthy. Early adopters might have been content to wait, but as new Tesla customers come online that patience could dwindle.

Tesla says its improvements will allow the Supercharger network to serve more than twice as many vehicles per day at the end of 2019 compared with today.

The V3 is not a retrofit of the company’s previous generations. It’s an architecture shift that includes a new 1 MW power cabinet, similar to the company’s utility-scale products, and a liquid-cooled cable design, that enables charge rates of up to 1,000 miles per hour. Tesla uses air-cooled cable on V2 Superchargers.

The new power cabinet will provide a dedicated 250 kW to four Superchargers. This means that vehicles will no longer power share when charging.

Tesla announced other improvements in a blog post, including ones aimed at improving charging rates for its Model S and Model vehicles. When combined with the V3 Supercharger, the time spent charging is slashed by an average of 50 percent, Tesla said.

A new software feature called “On Route Battery Warmup” will also be released for all vehicles. This update prepares the battery pack to accept that vehicle’s peak power for the longest possible time, reducing average charge time by 25 percent, the company said.

Tesla plans to open thousands of V2 and V3 Superchargers in 2019. The V3 stations, which Tesla will begin installing in April, will be placed where there’s the highest use. Tesla has more than 12,000 Superchargers across North America, Europe, and Asia, according to the company.

Tesla plans to update its V2 Superchargers as well to provide a new peak charge rate of 145kW for single-vehicle charging.

Tesla will roll out V3 Supercharging to the wider fleet of vehicles — meaning beyond the long range Model 3s — to all owners in the second quarter. The company plans to ramp up V3 installations in North America in the second and third quarters. The V3 installations will begin in Europe and Asia-Pacific in the fourth quarter.

Audi’s new Q4 e-tron concept is a compact electric crossover with 280 miles of range

Audi provided Tuesday an advanced look at what will be its fifth production electric vehicle, a compact crossover concept that is expected to come to market at the end of 2020.

The all-electric Q4 e-tron SUV concept, which was revealed at the Geneva International Motor Show, is equipped with dual motors with a power output of 225 kW and a 82 kWh battery provides 280 miles of range. The vehicle is smaller than the e-tron that debuted in September. The first e-tron vehicles will be delivered to customers before the end of March, Audi said.

The Q4 e-tron is an all-wheel drive vehicle that can travel from 0 to 100 km/h (62 miles per hour) in 6.3 seconds and reaches a maximum speed at an electronically limited 180 km/h (112 mph).Audi Q4 e-tron concept

Inside the Q4 e-tron is the virtual cockpit. A digital display showing speed, charge level and navigation is located behind the steering wheel. A large-format head-up display with an augmented reality function is a new feature and display important graphical information, such as directional arrows for turning, directly on the course of the road, Audi said.

The steering wheel has toggles that a driver can use to control some functions. A 12.3-inch touchscreen located above the center console. caps off the whole infotainment system. Meanwhile, the center console is designed as a stowage compartment that  includes a cell phone charging cradle.

Audi Q4 e-tron concept

Interior

There are details about the Q4 e-tron that remain mystery. For instance, there’s no word on the price. But expect the Q4 to be cheaper than the $74,800 e-tron.

 

Audi is working towards electrifying its portfolio, a commitment that was borne out of parent company VW Group’s diesel emissions scandal that erupted in 2015. Audi plans to have 12 all-electric vehicles by 2025.

Like other electric vehicles under the VW Group umbrella, the Q4 e-tron has a modular electric drive toolkit chassis, or MEB. The MEB, which was introduced in 2016, is a flexible modular system for producing electric vehicles that VW says will make it more efficient and cost-effective.

Later this year, Audi will introduce the e-tron Sportback and the first Audi Q2L e-tron, which was designed specifically for the Chinese market, will roll off the assembly line.

In the second half of 2020, the company will unveil the production version of the four-door high-performance coupé Audi e-tron GT, which is being developed at Audi Sport GmbH. The compact Audi Q4 e-tron is expected to make its production debut at the same time.

Mercedes Concept EQV delivers an all-electric luxe vision of van life

Mercedes-Benz revealed Tuesday the Concept EQV, an all-electric premium van designed to travel up to 249 miles on a single charge.

Concepts often times never become production vehicles. But this one will.

The EQV, which was unveiled at the Geneva International; Motor Show, will go into series production. The automaker plans to produce an electric van based off of the EQV concept. The production version will debut at the Frankfurt International Motor Show later this year.

This isn’t the typical “van life” vehicle.

The EQV, which can seat up to 8 people, is designed to appeal to customers seeking a more luxurious ride.  Mercedes is marketing this towards families, upscaled adventurers and corporate clients who might be looking for a shuttle vehicle. The vehicle’s seating can be configured in a numerous ways to meet various customers’ needs.

The EQV comes with a compact electric drivetrain on the front axle that produces 150 kW or 201 horsepower. The vehicle is also capable of rapid charging that enables a range of 62 miles within just 15 minutes, according to Mercedes.

The company’s EQ brand is supposed to represent a tech-forward approach, including the EQV. The vehicle is equipped with Mercedes new MBUX infotainment system, which boasts a self-learning voice control system with connectivity features. The navigation system has been modified to take into account the charge level of the battery. The system will also include apps that can enable control of the pre-entry climate control or allow for cashless payments at public charging stations, the company said.

This concept is part of Mercedes’ “EQ” technology brand that the automaker kicked off in 2016. A few “EQ” related concepts have been introduced since then, including the first “Concept EQ” and later the Concept EQA.

In September 2018, the company introduced the first series-production vehicle, the EQC electric drive SUV. The company plans to invest more than $12 billion to produce a line of battery-powered models under its new EQ brand and spend another $1.2 billion in global battery production.

VW’s futuristic all-electric dune buggy embraces its 1960s’ roots

Volkswagen has added another member to its ever-expanding I.D. line of concept electric vehicles that’s meant to showcase the automaker’s electric future. This time it’s the I.D. Buggy, an all-electric dune buggy with some 1960s California subculture flair.

The I.D. Buggy, which made its global debut Monday at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show, is meant to show the versatility of the automaker’s modular electric drive toolkit chassis, or MEB. The MEB, which was introduced in 2016, is a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.

For instance, the two-seater buggy can be converted to a 2+2-seater and an additional electric motor can be added to the front axle in order to make four-wheel drive possible, the company said. The modular design allows for the composite upper body to be detached from the MEB chassis, which VW argues will open up a “world of possibilities for third-party manufacturers, as the original Meyers Manx kit did for the first buggies.” The Meyers Manx kit was the creation of California engineer, boat builder and surfer Bruce Meyers who modified the original Volkswagen Beetle to make it suitable for desert racing. 

The I.D. Buggy is equipped with a a 62kWh lithium-ion battery and a 201-horsepower electric motor in the rear to give it an expected range of 155 miles on the WLTP cycle, the company said. There are no doors or a roof in the two-seater, which VW says gives drivers the “purest experience of classic beach cruising.”

The vehicle has three-dimensional oval LED headlights and taillights and an LED VW logo. The automaker also touts the buggy’s body that seems to “float above the chassis,” an effect achieved by how its painted.

Volkswagen has been showing off its I.D. line of concept electric vehicles for several years now.  And some of them are even going into production. There is the electric all-wheel drive microbus called I.D. Buzz, a futuristic take on the family camper van that VW introduced as a concept in 2017, the I.D. Vizzion self-driving sedan concept, and of course, the I.D. Crozz SUV concept that was first shown at the North American International Auto Show  last year.

The I.D. Crozz and I.D. Buzz are going into production. It’s not clear if the I.D. Buggy will ever be anything more than concept.

Earlier this year, VW announced plans to spend $800 million to expand a U.S. factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., that will produce the automaker’s next generation of electric vehicles.

VW’s Chattanooga expansion is just a piece of the automaker’s broader plan to move away from diesel in the wake of the emissions cheating scandal that erupted in 2015. The company is also building a European facility in Zwickau, Germany, set to begin EV production in 2019 and adding EV-production at facilities in Anting and Foshan, in China, in 2020, and in the German cities of Emden and Hanover by 2022.

The Tennessee factory (along with the other new facilities) will produce EVs using Volkswagen’s MEB chassis. Volkswagen of America says it will offer the first EV based on the MEB platform to customers in 2020. Electric vehicle production at the Tennessee site will begin in 2022.

Transportation Weekly: Polestar CEO speaks, Tesla terminology, and a tribute

Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch . This is the fourth edition of our newsletter, a weekly jaunt into the wonderful world of transportation and how we (and our packages) move.

This week we chat with Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath, dig into Lyft’s S-1, take note of an emerging trend in AV development, and check out an experiment with paving. Oh, and how could we forget Tesla.

Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up here, here and here. As I’ve written before, consider this a soft launch. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week. (An email subscription is coming). 


ONM …

There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers. (Cymbal clash!) This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation lives.

This week, we’re featuring excerpts taken from a one-on-one interview with Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath.

On February 27, Volvo’s standalone electric performance brand Polestar introduced its first all-electric vehicle, a five-door fastback called the Polestar 2. The EV, which has a 78 kWh battery pack and can travel 275 miles (estimated EPA guidance) on a single charge, will be manufactured at a new factory in Chengdu, China. Other notable specs: The infotainment system will be powered by Android OS, Polestar is offering subscriptions to the vehicle, and production starts in 2020.

yellow-jacket-polestar

Here is what Ingenlath had to say to me about …

EV charging infrastructure

To be very unpolitical, I think it would be totally stupid if we were to aim to develop electric charging infrastructure on our own or for our brand specifically. If you join the electric market today, of course, you would see partnerships; that’s sensible thing to do. Car companies together are making a big effort in getting out a network of necessary charging stations along the highway. 

That’s what we’re doing; we’re teaming up and have the contracts being designed and soon signed.

On the company’s approach to automation 

The terminology is important for us. We very clearly put that into a different picture, we’re not talking about, and we clearly do not ever want to label it, anautopilot.” The focus of this system is a very safe distance control, which brakes for you and accelerates for you, and of course, the lane keeping. This is not about developing an autopilot system, it is about giving your safety. And that’s where we don’t want to provoke people thinking that they have full rollout autopilot system there. But it is a system that helps you being safe and protected on the road.

I also reached out to Transportation Weekly readers and asked what they wanted to know and then sent some of those questions to Ingenlath.

TW Reader: How did it feel taking one of your personal styling elements – the C shaped rear lamps – from your previous brand over to Polestar?
Ingenlath: It’s an evolutionary process. Polestar naturally builds on its “mothers” DNA and as a new branch develops its own personality. Thor’s hammer, the rear light signature -—with each new model launch (Volvo and Polestar) those elements diverge into a brand specific species.
TW Reader: How much do you still get to do what you love, which is design?
Ingenlath: Being creative is still my main job, now applied on a broader scope — trying to lead a company with a creative and  brand building mindset. Still, I love the Fridays when I meet up with Robin and Max to review the models, sketches and new data. We really enjoy driving the design of both brands to new adventures.

Dig In

Tesla is finally going to offer customers a $35,000 Model 3. How the automaker is able to sell this electric vehicle at the long-awaited $35,000 price point is a big piece of that story — and one that some overlooked. In short, the company is blowing up its sales model and moving to an online only strategy. Tesla stores will close or be converted to “information centers” and retail employees will be laid off.

But this is not what we’re going to talk about today. Tesla has also brought back its so-called “full self-driving” feature, which was removed as an option on its website last year. Now it’s back. Owners can opt for Autopilot, which has automatic steering on highways and traffic-aware cruise control, or FSD.

FSD capability includes several features such as Navigate on Autopilot that is supposed to guide a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including navigating interchanges and making lane changes. FSD also includes Advanced Summon, Auto Lane Change, and Autopark. Later this year, the system will recognize and respond to traffic lights in more complex urban environments, Tesla says.

All of these features require the driver to be engaged (or ready to take over), yet it’s called “full self-driving.” Now Tesla has two controversially named automation features. (The other is Autopilot). As Andrew Hawkins at The Verge noted in his coverage, “experts are beginning to realize that the way we discuss, and how companies market, autonomy is significant.”

Which begs the obvious question, and one that I asked Musk during a conference call on Thursday. “Isn’t it a problem that you’re calling this full self-driving capability when you’re still going to require the driver to take control or be paying attention?” (I also wanted to ask a followup on his response, but the moderator moved onto the next reporter).

His response:

“We are very clear when you buy the car what is meant by full self driving. It means it’s feature complete, but feature complete requiring supervision.

As we get more — we really need billions of miles, if not maybe 10 billion sort of miles or kilometers on that order collectively from the fleet — then in our opinion probably at that point supervision is not required, but that will still be up to regulators to agree.

So we’re just very clear.  There’s really three steps: there’s being feature complete of full self driving that requires supervision, feature complete but not requiring supervision, and feature complete not requiring supervision and regulators agree.

In other Tesla news, the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating a crash, that at first glance seems to be similar to the fatal crash that killed Tesla owner Joshua Brown.


A little bird …

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.

blinky-cat-bird

It’s no secret that Pittsburgh is one of the hubs of autonomous vehicle development in the world. But what’s not so widely known — except for a group of government and company insiders — is that Mayor William Peduto is on the verge of issuing an executive order that will give more visibility into testing there. 

The city’s department of mobility and infrastructure is the central coordinator of this new executive order that aims to help guide testing and policy development there. The department is going to develop guidelines for AV testing, we’re told. And it appears that information on testing will be released to the public at least once a year.

Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.


Deal of the week

Daimler and BMW are supposed to be competitors. And they are, except with mapping (both part of the HERE consortium), mobility services (car sharing, ride-sharing), and now the development of highly automated driving systems. The deal is notable because it illustrates a larger trend that has emerged as the AV industry hunkers down into the “trough of disillusionment.” And that’s consolidation. If 2016, was the year of splashy acquisitions, then 2019 is shaping up to be chockfull of alliances and failures (of some startups).

Also interesting to note, and one that will make some AV safety experts cringe, both companies are working on Level 3 driving automation, a designation by the SAE that means conditional driving automation in which multiple high levels of automation are available in certain conditions, but a human driver must be ready to take over. This level of automation is the most controversial because of the so-called “hand off” problem in which a human driver is expected to take control of the wheel in time.

Speaking of partnerships, another deal that got our attention this week involved New York-based mapping and data analytics startup Carmera and Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development. TRI-AD is an autonomous drive unit started by Toyota with Denso and Aisin. TRI-AD’s mission is to take the research being done over at the Toyota Research Institute and turn its into a product.

The two companies are going to test a concept that will use cameras in Toyota test vehicles to collect data from downtown Tokyo and use it to create high definition maps for urban and surface roads.

TRI-AD considers this the first step towards its open software platform concept known as Automated Mapping Platform that will be used to support the scalability of highly automated driving, by combining data gathered from vehicles of participating companies to generate HD maps. AMP is new and has possible widespread implications at Toyota. And TRI-AD is full of A-listers, including CEO James Kuffner, who came from the Google self-driving project and Nikos Michalakis, who built Netflix’s cloud platform, and Mandali Khalesi, who was at HERE.

Read more on Khalesi and the Toyota’s open source ambitions here.

Other deals:


Snapshot

Snapshot this week is a bit untraditional. It’s literally a snapshot of myself and my grandmother, months before her 100th birthday. Her memorial service was held Saturday. She died at 101. She loved cars and fast ones, but not so much driving them. And every time I got a new press car, we’d hit the road and she’d encourage me to take the turns a bit faster.

She also loved road trips and in the 1920s, her father would drive the family on the mostly dirt roads from New Jersey to Vermont and even Canada. In her teens, she loved riding in the rumble seat, a feature found in a few vehicles at the time including the Ford Model A.

She was young at heart, until the very end. Next week, we’ll focus on the youngest drivers and one automotive startup that is targeting that demographic.


Tiny but mighty micromobility

Lyft’s S-1 lays out the risks associated with its micromobility business and its intent to continue relying on third parties to manufacture its bikes and scooters. Here’s a key nugget about adoption:

“While some major cities have widely adopted bike and scooter sharing, there can be no assurance that new markets we enter will accept, or existing markets will continue to accept, bike and scooter sharing, and even if they do, that we will be able to execute on our business strategy or that our related offerings will be successful in such markets. Even if we are able to successfully develop and implement our network of shared bikes and scooters, there may be heightened public skepticism of this nascent service offering.”

And another about seasonality:

“Our limited operating history makes it difficult for us to assess the exact nature or extent of the effects of seasonality on our network of shared bikes and scooters, however, we expect the demand for our bike and scooter rentals to decline over the winter season and increase during more temperate and dry seasons.”

Lyft, which bought bike-share company Motivate back in July, also released some data about its electric pedal-assist bikes this week, showing that the pedal assist bikes are, unsurprisingly, more popular than the traditional bikes. They also traveled longer distances and improved winter ridership numbers. Now, Lyft is gearing up to deploy 4,000 additional electric bikes to the Citi Bike system in New York City.

One more thing …

Google Maps has added a feature that lets users see Lime scooters, pedal bikes and e-bikes right from the transit tab in over 80 new cities around the world. Users can click the tab to find out if Lime vehicle is available, how long it’ll take to walk to the vehicle, an estimate of how much their ride could cost, along with total journey time and ETA.


Notable reads

If take the time to read anything this week (besides this newsletter), spend some time with Lyft’s S-1. The ride-hailing company’s prospectus mentions autonomous 109 times. In short, yeah, it’s something the company’s executives are thinking about and investing in.

Lyft says it has a two-pronged strategy to bring autonomous vehicles to market. The company encouraging developers of autonomous vehicle technology to use its open platform to get access to its network and enable their vehicles to fulfill rides on the Lyft platform. And Lyft is trying to build its own autonomous vehicle system at its confusingly named “Level 5 Engineering Center.”

  • The company’s primary investors are Rakuten with a 13 percent stake, GM with 7.8 percent, Fidelity with 7.7 percent, Andreessen Horowitz with 6.3 percent and Alphabet with 5.3 percent. GM and Alphabet have business units, GM Cruise and Waymo respectively, that are also developing AV technology.
  • Through Lyft’s partnership with AV systems developer and supplier Aptiv, people in Las Vegas have taken more than 35,000 rides in Aptiv autonomous vehicles with a safety driver since January 2018.
  • One of the “risks” the company lists is “a failure to detect a defect in our autonomous vehicles or our bikes or scooters”

Other quotable notables:

Check out the Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State report, a newly released report from Volvo Car USA and The Harris Poll called  The State of Electric Vehicles in America.


Testing and deployments

Again, deployments doesn’t always mean the latest autonomous vehicle pilot.

On Saturday, Sidewalk Labs hosted its Open Sidewalk event in Toronto. This is part of Sidewalk Toronto, a joint effort by Waterfront Toronto and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to create a “mixed-use, complete community” on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront

The idea of this event was to share ideas and prototypes for making outdoor public space the “social default year-round.” One such prototype “hexagonal paving” got our attention because of its use case for traffic control and pedestrian and bicyclist safety. (Pictured below)

These individual precast concrete slabs are movable and permeable, can light up and give off heat. The idea is that these hexagonal-shaped slabs and be used to clear snow and ice in trouble spots and light up to warn drivers and pedestrians of changes to the street use or to illuminate an area for public uses or even designate bike lanes and hazard zones. And because they’re permeable they can be used to absorb stormwater or melted snow and guide it to underground stormwater management systems.

Sidewalk Labs tell me that the pavers have “plug and play” holes, which allow things like bike racks, bollards, and sign posts to be inserted. Sidewalk Labs initially built these with wood, and the new prototype is the next iteration, featuring modules built from concrete.


On our radar

There is a lot of transportation-related activity this month.

The Geneva Motor Show: Press days are March 5 and March 6. Expect concept, prototype and production electric vehicles from Audi, Honda, Kia, Peugeot, Pininfarina, Polestar, Spanish car company Hispano Suiza, and Volkswagen.

SXSW in Austin: TechCrunch will be at SXSW this coming week. Here’s where I’ll be.

  • 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. March 9 at the Empire Garage for the Smart Mobility Summit, an annual event put on by Wards Intelligence and C3 Group. The Autonocast, the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, will also be on hand.
  • 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. March 12 at the JW Marriott. The Autonocast and founding general partner of Trucks VC, Reilly Brennan will hold a SXSW podcast panel on automated vehicle terminology and other stuff.
  • 3:30 p.m over at the Hilton Austin Downtown, I’ll be moderating a panel Re-inventing the Wheel: Own, Rent, Share, Subscribe. Sherrill Kaplan with Zipcar, Amber Quist, with Silvercar and Russell Lemmer with Dealerware will join me.
  • TechCrunch is also hosting a SXSW party from 1 pm to 4 pm Sunday, March 10, 615 Red River St., that will feature musical guest Elderbrook. RSVP here

Self Racing Cars

Finally, I’ve been in contact with Joshua Schachter who puts on the annual Self Racing Car event, which will be held March 23 and March 24 at Thunderhill Raceway near Willows, California.

There is still room for participants to test or demo their autonomous vehicles, drive train innovation, simulation, software, teleoperation, and sensors. Hobbyists are welcome. Sign up to participate or drop them a line at [email protected].

Thanks for reading. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] to share those thoughts, opinions or tips. 

Nos vemos la próxima vez.

Tesla closing retail stores in shift to online-only sales strategy

Tesla is moving all of its sales online, a dramatic shift in its sales strategy that will result in the closure of stores and some layoffs as the automaker looks for ways to reduce costs in order to bring a cheaper Model 3 to market.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk didn’t say how many stores would close. He noted that some stores would remain and turn into information centers and showrooms. The company didn’t provide specific numbers on how many retail employees might be affected.

“We will be closing some stores and that will be some reduction in head count as a result; there’s no question about that,” Musk said. “There’s no other way for us to achieve the savings required to provide this car and be financially sustainable. I wish there was another but unfortunately, it will entail reduction in workforce on the retail side, no way around it.”

The shift to online-only sales, plus other cost efficiencies, allowed the company to lower all vehicle prices by about 6% on average and finally offer $35,000 Model 3.

Meanwhile, Tesla plans to hire more service technicians, or mechanics, Musk noted during a call with reporters Thursday. Tesla didn’t provide details on how many mechanics it plans to hire.

In order to mitigate the need for a test ride, Tesla is extending the return policies on its vehicles. New customers will be able own a car for a week and driver for 1,000 miles and still return it for a full refund if they don’t like it, Musk said. 

“That’s why we’re going to essentially allow somebody to use the car for free for a week, and return it for a full refund,” Musk said. “And we’re going to make it super easy to get a refund like one click refund.”

Tesla announced Thursday that it was offering a $35,000 version of the Model 3, that will have a 220 miles of range and be able to reach a top speed of 130 miles per hour. 

The company also said it’s introducing a Model 3 Standard Range Plus version, which offers 240 miles of range, a top speed of 140 mph, and 0-60mph acceleration of 5.3 seconds as well as most premium interior features at $37,000 before incentives.

The $35,000 Tesla Model 3 has arrived

The long-awaited $35,000 Tesla Model 3 has finally arrived, three years after CEO Elon Musk promised to bring the electric vehicle to market at that price point. But that cheaper Model 3 comes with a dramatic shift for Tesla. 

Tesla said that to achieve this lower price it will shift all sales globally to online only, meaning the company will be closing many of its stores over the next few months. The stores that remain, in high-traffic locations, will be turned into information centers, Musk said on a call with reporters.

“Shifting all sales online, combined with other ongoing cost efficiencies, will enable us to lower all vehicle prices by about 6% on average, allowing us to achieve the $35,000 Model 3 price point earlier than we expected,” the company wrote in a post.

Tesla announced Thursday that the $35,000 version will have a 220 miles of range and be able to reach a top speed of 130 miles per hour. 

The company also said it’s introducing a Model 3 Standard Range Plus version, which offers 240 miles of range, a top speed of 140 mph, and 0-60mph acceleration of 5.3 seconds as well as most premium interior features at $37,000 before incentives.

“I’m excited to finally meet this goal, which has been insanely difficult,” Musk said on a call with reporters.

This is a developing story.

Just hours before the announcement, the “order” webpages for the Model 3, Model S and Model X vehicle redirected to show message that read “The wait is almost over.” Below the main message, it read “Great things are launching at 2 pm.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Feb. 27 “Some Tesla news,” followed by equally vague tweets “2 pm” and “California.”

The tweets had led to widespread speculation of what Musk would announce. Others argued that the teasing tweets were merely a tactic to distract investors and the media from his recent scuffle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission .

The SEC asked a judge Feb. 25 to hold Musk in contempt for violating the settlement agreement reached with the agency last year. The SEC argued that a tweet sent by Musk on February 19 violated their agreement. Musk is supposed to get approval from Tesla’s board before communicating potentially material information to investors.

A U.S. judge issued an order Feb. 26 that gives Musk until March 11 to explain why he should not be held in contempt for violating a settlement agreement with the SEC.

This is a developing story.

BMW continues to bet on the (Azure) cloud

Earlier this week, at MWC Barcelona, BMW announced its newest in-car AI initiative: BMW Natural Interaction. The idea here is to use cameras, microphones and other sensors in the car to allow you to have more natural interactions with the car, either through voice or gestures. The marquee feature here is the ability to point at something outside the car and get more information about it or, if it’s a restaurant, have the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant (IPA) make a reservation for you. These systems will work by combining in-car AI with cloud technologies — and for those, BMW continues to bet on Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

After the announcement, I sat down with Christoph Grote, BMW Group’s senior VP for electronics. I admit that a lot of what I saw in the demo felt a bit futuristic, but Grote noted that everything he showed off during his presentation is more or less production-ready. “I don’t think I would’ve dared to stand up there if any of the things I showed today were a utopia,” he told me. “All of this is in series production and some of it is already available as part of the BMW OS 7 release. But the major work we are doing, looking ahead to the iNext [electric SUV], is about gaze, head pose and gesture tracking and combing those with the other modalities. But everything we showed today is going to go into production.”

In practice, this means that BMW will use two cameras: a wide-angle camera behind the rear-view mirror that can track the gestures of both the driver and front-seat passenger and one behind the dashboard that only looks at the driver through the steering wheel and recognizes when their eyes blink, where their eyes look and their head pose.

As Grote noted, figuring out where you are looking is not exactly easy. The camera sees your hands in relation to the car. That’s pretty straightforward. But the car, too, is situated somewhere in space, and for this to work, that localization has to be very precise, and the digital map has to be very detailed, too. “GPS isn’t enough for this,” Grote said, and noted that the company plans to use the car’s forward-facing camera to gather additional information that helps localize the car in space based on comparing the image to the digital map. The AI smarts that power these mapping features run right in the car — and in many ways, these features also lay the groundwork for self-driving cars, which obviously need highly detailed maps, too.

In many ways, this work is a continuation of BMW’s work on its IPA in-car assistant. “There, we use Azure Cognitive Service and we plan to integrate these new modalities (like gaze and gesture tracking) with the same technology. And that’s important for these multi-modal systems. […] We have a great partnership with Microsoft and we expect that’ll continue.”

Grote also noted that BMW has a long history of working in the cloud, thanks to many years of experience in offering its connected car services. “We don’t think of the car as an isolated client that connects to some service in the cloud, but that we also see these connected cars as a swarm that has collective intelligence.”

Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity is one of the hot topics in the car industry right now — especially given the advent of 5G with its low-latency connectivity — and BMW does have its own point of view here. For Grote, V2X systems that use the cellular network and connect to the cloud have major advantages over those that try to connect cars directly. These cloud-connected systems, he argues, are easier to maintain and they are able to translate between different standards or — in the long run — integrate different generations of this system to ensure that cars from different manufacturers can talk to each other.

“A cellular-based system is forward-looking, maintainable, secure and the better foundation that guarantees future development efforts versus a standard that’s 20 years old, from a time when the carriers were not interested in machine-to-machine traffic at all.”

BMW continues to bet on the cloud for many of its newest tech developments. Among car manufacturers, it’s obviously not alone here. Daimler recently announced that it has moved its big data platform to the cloud, for example. And in many ways, that move makes sense. Running online services isn’t a core competency for many of these companies, and even if they are experienced at running their own data centers by now, this isn’t what allows them to differentiate their cars in a highly competitive market. That energy is better spent on building applications, not managing them. The large cloud providers also offer global coverage, and redundancies are hard and expensive to build.

BMW makes interacting with you car’s AI systems more natural

Even after years of using systems like the Google Assistant or Siri, talking to inanimate objects can still feel weird. In cars, the early voice recognition systems were typically close to unusable, with a user experience that was often eclipsed by the worst of customer service phone trees. Nowadays, though, AI has made for a far better experience and now BMW now wants to take this one step further for its drivers by combining data from its voice recognition systems with better AI tools, gesture control and even gaze recognition.

This new system, dubbed BMW Natural Interaction, will launched in the 2021 BMW iNEXT electric SUV.

The company promises that this technology will allow for more intuitive interactions with the car’s systems. If you’re in a conversation, for example, you may want to use a gesture and gaze control to turn down the volume, open the sunroof or adjust air vents. But if you are driving down the autobahn at 220kmh, you may want to use your voice instead.

“People shouldn’t have to think about which operating strategy to use to get what they want,” said Christoph Grote, Senior Vice President,
BMW Group Electronics. “They should always be able to decide freely– and the car should still understand them. BMW Natural Interaction is also an important step for the future of autonomous vehicles, when interior concepts will no longer be geared solely towards the driver’s position and occupants will have more freedom.”

In many ways, this new system builds upon the work that the company introduced with the BMW OS 7.0 and the launch of the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant in 2018. Gesture control, too, has been available in BMW cars since 2015. Combining all of these into a single system is a logical next step.

For this new system, the gaze recognition camera is now built directly into the dashboard and the overall system then uses machine learning models to evaluate what the driver is trying to do.

Some of the niftier features that BMW Natural Interaction enables are actually about what’s happening outside of the car. BMW says that you will be able to point at something outside, for example, and ask for opening hours and customer ratings. The company also promises that you’ll be able to point at a restaurant to make a reservation (though hopefully you thought about that before you drove all the way there).

The canned demo the company showed at MWC Barcelona was impressive, of course. It remains to be seen what the experience will look like in reality, though. Since a production launch isn’t imminent, it’ll be a while before we’ll be able to actually give it a try.

Tesla Model 3 loses Consumer Reports recommendation over ‘reliability problems’

Consumer Reports has placed the Tesla Model 3 into that fun-to-drive, terribly unreliable category where brands like Alfa Romeo, Land Rover and Masterati also live.

Consumer Reports, which has a complicated relationship with Tesla, says it can no longer recommend the Model 3 because issues with the paint, trim and body hardware raises reliability questions. CR members reported the results in an annual reliability survey that includes data on about 470,000 vehicles.

The report caused Tesla shares to fall more than 2.7%.

The Model 3 is arguably Tesla’s most important vehicle. Tesla’s survival hinges on Model 3. It’s no longer just about being able to produce and deliver the vehicle cost effectively — although those are biggies. If more consumers turn to other electric vehicles, the sales momentum that helped Tesla have two consecutive quarters of profits could falter.

Owners appear to like, even love, the Model 3. It received top marks in CR’s recent owner satisfaction survey and also earned a positive road-test score. It’s a weird duality — and one the even CR acknowledges — that other aspirational, lifestyle and luxury vehicles share. Owners love the vehicles, despite persistent issues with the components inside them.

“While Teslas perform well in Consumer Reports’ road tests and have excellent owner satisfaction, their reliability has not been consistent, according to our members, which has resulted in changes to their recommended status,” Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, said in statement.

Tesla has asked Consumer Reports for more details about the issues customers reported. According to Tesla, CR said they had no more specific information to share.

“Not only are our cars the safest and best performing vehicles available today, but we take feedback from our customers very seriously and quickly implement improvements any time we hear about issues,” a Tesla spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “That’s just one of the reasons why, in this very same survey from Consumer Reports, Model 3 was rated as the #1 most satisfying car, and why Tesla vehicles have topped Consumer Reports’ Owner Satisfaction survey every year since 2013 – the first year Tesla was included in it.”

The question of reliability has persisted for all of Tesla’s vehicles. CR doesn’t recommend the Model X or Model S either due to reliability issues. The Tesla Model X was included in CR’s top 10 least reliable vehicles list for 2019.

The CR survey revealed problems with the suspension, particularly in the 2017 Model S and hardware issues in the Model X. Owners in the survey cited numerous reliability problems with the Model 3.

Tesla noted that it has made “significant improvements” to correct any issues that Model 3 customers may have experienced that are referenced in this report. The automaker also cited that its return policy allows any customer who is unhappy with their car to return it for a full refund.

“This new data from Consumer Reports comes from their annual Owner Satisfaction survey, which runs from July through September, so the vast majority of these issues have already been corrected through design and manufacturing improvements, and we are already seeing a significant improvement in our field data,” the spokesperson said.

Tesla has the capability, which it uses often, to roll out software updates to fix bugs, improve performance, and treat customers to fun surprises. Paint and trim issues are a different matter, of course.

And despite this ability to fix and improve the vehicle over time, the CR reliability survey might be enough to turn potential customers away from Tesla and towards another electric vehicle brand.

It’s possible that Tesla’s fan base is strong enough to keep the sales momentum. Plenty of other brands and models, have a fervent following despite problems with the vehicle.

“In most cases, reliability issues will undermine satisfaction,” Fisher said. “But when a vehicle has an enthusiastic following, like with Tesla, owners may overlook some issues. We’ve seen this with other vehicles such as the Jeep Wrangler and Chevrolet Corvette.”