Tesla calls claims of unintended acceleration in NHTSA petition “completely false”

Tesla pushed back Monday against claims that its electric vehicles may suddenly accelerate on their own, calling a petition filed with federal safety regulators “completely false.”

Tesla also questions the validity of the petition, noting that it was submitted by a Tesla short-seller.

Last week, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration said it would review a defect petition that cited 127 consumer complaints of alleged unintended acceleration of Tesla electric vehicles that may have contributed to or caused 110 crashes and 52 injuries.

The petition, which was first reported by CNBC, was filed by Brian Sparks, an independent investor who is currently shorting Tesla’s stock. Sparks has hedged his bets and has been long Tesla in the past, according to the CNBC report.

At the time, Tesla didn’t respond to requests for comment. Now, in a blog post, the company said that it routinely reviews customer complaints of unintended acceleration with NHTSA.

“In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly,” Tesla wrote in a blog post on its website.

The automaker argued that its vehicles are designed to avoid unintended acceleration, noting that its system will default to cutting off motor torque if the two independent position sensors on its accelerator pedals register any error.

“We also use the Autopilot sensor suite to help distinguish potential pedal misapplications and cut torque to mitigate or prevent accidents when we’re confident the driver’s input was unintentional,” the company wrote.

Here is the complete response from Tesla:

This petition is completely false and was brought by a Tesla short-seller. We investigate every single incident where the driver alleges to us that their vehicle accelerated contrary to their input, and in every case where we had the vehicle’s data, we confirmed that the car operated as designed. In other words, the car accelerates if, and only if, the driver told it to do so, and it slows or stops when the driver applies the brake.

While accidents caused by a mistaken press of the accelerator pedal have been alleged for nearly every make/model of vehicle on the road, the accelerator pedals in Model S, X and 3 vehicles have two independent position sensors, and if there is any error, the system defaults to cut off motor torque. Likewise, applying the brake pedal simultaneously with the accelerator pedal will override the accelerator pedal input and cut off motor torque, and regardless of the torque, sustained braking will stop the car. Unique to Tesla, we also use the Autopilot sensor suite to help distinguish potential pedal misapplications and cut torque to mitigate or prevent accidents when we’re confident the driver’s input was unintentional. Each system is independent and records data, so we can examine exactly what happened.

We are transparent with NHTSA, and routinely review customer complaints of unintended acceleration with them. Over the past several years, we discussed with NHTSA the majority of the complaints alleged in the petition. In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly.

Tesla surpasses 2019 goal and delivers 367,500 electric vehicles

Tesla said Friday that it delivered 367,500 electric vehicles in 2019 — 50% more than the previous year — a record-breaking figure largely supported by sales of the cheaper Model 3.

More than one-third of those deliveries — about 112,000 vehicles — occurred in the fourth quarter.

The electric automaker reported production also grew 10% from the previous quarter to 105,000 vehicles.

The results pushed shares up 3.8% in trading Friday morning.

The fourth quarter caps a year that started poorly for Tesla. The company delivered just 63,000 vehicles in the first quarter, nearly a one-third drop from the previous period. The low first-quarter delivery numbers signaled what was to come: wider-than-expected loss of $702 million driven by disappointing delivery numbers, costs and pricing adjustments to its vehicles.

However, the company then rebounded, delivering 95,200 vehicles in the second quarter and then 97,000 electric vehicles in the third quarter.

The positive report comes as Tesla ramps up production of Model 3 vehicles at its new factory in China. Earlier this week, more than a dozen Tesla employees took delivery of the Model 3.

The first public deliveries of Model 3 sedans produced at its Shanghai factory will begin January 7, one year after Tesla began construction on its first factory outside the United States.

Tesla said that it has produced “just under 1,000 customer salable cars and have begun deliveries” in China. “We have also demonstrated production run-rate capability of greater than 3,000 units per week, excluding local battery pack production which began in late December,” the company added in its report.

Made in China: Tesla Model 3 deliveries to Chinese customers to begin January 7

The first deliveries of Tesla Model 3 sedans made in China will begin January 7, one year after the U.S. automaker began construction on its first factory outside of the United States.

The deliveries to customers — which Reuters was first to report the news based on confirmation from a Tesla representative — is a milestone for Tesla as it tries to carve out market share in the world’s biggest auto market as well as lessen the financial pain caused by tariffs. Deliveries to customers will occur at the Shanghai factory. Earlier this week, more than a dozen Tesla employees took delivery of the Model 3.

“We believe China could become the biggest market for Model 3,” the company said in its third-quarter earnings report.

Producing vehicles in China for Chinese customers allows Tesla to bypass tariffs, but it’s no guarantee that this will be the revenue-generating boon the company needs to push itself into sustained profitability. EV sales have been sluggish for other automakers in China over the past several quarters as the government has rolled back subsidies on new energy vehicles.

The company and its CEO Elon Musk are jumping into the market with gusto, despite gloomy EV sales. Tesla has said the production line at the factory in China will have a capacity of 150,000 units annually and will be a simplified, more cost-effective version of the Model 3 line at its Fremont, Calif. factory.

Tesla China Model 3 parking lot

Aerial photo of Tesla factory in New Lingang District, Shanghai. The number of Model 3 cars in the parking lot is about 500.

Tesla also said this second-generation Model 3 line will be at least 50% cheaper per unit of capacity than its Model 3-related lines in Fremont and at its Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada.

Tesla struck a deal in July 2018 with the Chinese government to build a factory in Shanghai. It was a milestone for Tesla and CEO Elon Musk, who has long viewed China as a crucial market. And it was particularly notable because China agreed for this to be a wholly owned Tesla factory, not a traditional joint venture with the government. Foreign companies have historically had to form a 50-50 joint venture with a local partner to build a factory in China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pushed forward plans to phase out joint-venture rules for foreign automakers by 2022. Tesla was one of the first beneficiaries of this rule change.

The opening of the China factory comes at a time of rising trade tensions between China and the United States. Tesla has been particularly exposed to relations between China and the U.S., and the resulting rising tariffs. Tesla builds its electric sedans and SUVs at its factory in Fremont, Calif. and ships them to China, which subjects the vehicles to an import tariff.

Tesla to begin delivering China-built Model 3 cars next week

Tesla will start making the first deliveries of its Shanghai-built Model 3 sedans on Monday, Bloomberg reports. The cars are rolling off the assembly line at the new Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory, which is operational but which will also be expanding in future thanks to a fresh $1.4 billion injection in local funding reported earlier this week.

The Shanghai gigafactory’s construction only began earlier this year, and its turnaround time in terms of construction and actually producing vehicles is impressive. The Model 3 vehicles built in China will provide a price break vs. imported vehicles, since cars made in-country enjoy exemption from a 10% tax applied to imported cars. Tesla Model 3s build in China will also get a government purchase incentive of as much as $3,600 per car, which should drive even higher sales.

Tesla’s Shanghai factory is its first manufacturing facility outside of the country, though there’s also a gigafactory in the works in Germany just outside of Berlin, and Tesla has teased plans for at least a fifth gigafactory with a location to be revealed later.

Tesla’s production capacity in Shanghai probably isn’t ver high-volume to begin with, although the company has said previously it was targeting a production rate of around 1,000 cars per week by year’s end, with potential to ramp up to around 3,000 cars per week. Tax breaks and incentives have helped demand for the Model 3 in China grow significantly in 2019, so any progress on production in-country is bound to help lift global vehicle sales.

Elon Musk says Tesla will add Disney+ to its vehicles “soon”

Elon Musk spent some time over this past holiday week answering questions posed by fans on Twitter, and one addressed the growing catalogue of entertainment options available in-car via the Tesla Theater software feature: Musk said that Disney+ will be “coming soon” to the list of available streaming services drivers can access in their cars. Tesla Theater was introduced in the V10 software update that went out in September via over-the-air-update, and added streaming media from Netflix and YouTube, as well as Tesla vehicle feature tutorials.

Tesla also issued a new software update that began rolling out just before Christmas, which included the addition of Twitch to Tesla Theater, as well as support for popular farming sim game Stardew Valley, the ability to set dashcam video clips to automatically save whenever you honk the horn, support for voice commands and much more.

Tesla has put a lot of effort into its continuous software updates for vehicles, which are available to all cars in the fleet regardless of generation and which really do add a lot of post-purchase value, especially when compared to the traditional automaker practice of gating new features and improvements to only current and recent model year releases.

Tesla Theater’s streaming media options are only available when the car is in park and not driving, but it’s a feature that is more valuable to Tesla owners than you might think – especially when you consider that Tesla cars require time to charge at charging stations, meaning even at a high-speed Supercharger you’ll likely be looking at a wait of half-an-hour or more depending on how much you’re looking to charge up.

Via Teslerati

Tesla Cybertruck reservations hit 146,000

Tesla has received 146,000 reservations to order the Tesla Cybertruck, pulling in some $14.6 million in deposits just two days after the company’s CEO Elon Musk unveiled the futuristic and angled vehicle.

Reservations require a $100 refundable deposit. How many of those deposits will convert to actual orders for the truck, which is currently priced between $39,900 and $69,900, is impossible to predict. And there will likely be plenty of speculation over the next two years. Production of the tri-motor variant of the cybertruck is expected to begin in late 2022, Tesla said.

Musk tweeted Saturday that 146,000 Cybertruck orders have been made so far. Of those, 41% picked the most expensive tri-motor option and 42% of future customers chose the dual motor version. The remaining 17% picked the cheapest single-motor model.

The Tesla Cybertruck, which Musk unveiled in dramatic fashion at the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, Calif., has been polarizing with skeptics heaping on the criticism and supporters pushing back in kind. Even Tesla fans at the Cybertruck event, which TechCrunch attended, seemed torn with some praising it and others wishing Musk had created something a bit more conventional.

The vehicle made of cold-rolled steel and features armored glass that cracked in one demonstration and an adaptive air suspension.

Tesla said it will offer three variants of the cybertruck. The cheapest version, a single motor and rear-wheel drive model, will cost $39,900, have a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds and more than 250 miles of range. The middle version will be a dual-motor all-wheel drive, have a towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds and be able to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge. The dual motor AWD model is priced at $49,900.

The third version will have three electric motors and all-wheel drive, a towing capacity of 14,000 pounds and battery range of more than 500 miles. This version, known as “tri motor,” is priced at $69,900.

Four must-haves for the Tesla ‘Cybertruck’ all-electric pickup truck

Tesla is set to unveil its pickup this week and it needs to be widely different from its current lineup. The current line of Tesla vehicles share a lot of parts, and, logically, the Tesla pickup will do the same. However, a truck has different demands than a passenger car or sport utility vehicle. It has to be more robust and able to stand up to more abuse. It has to tow and haul and scale more than a mall flowerbed.

The Tesla pickup is launching as Rivian’s electric pickup is nearing launch. The Rivian R1T looks and feels like an electric pickup. It’s also built off of a purpose-built platform designed to haul and tow. Tesla does not have a similar platform as the Model X SUV is more car than a truck.

Eventually, more automakers will offer electric trucks. Ford has confirmed it’s building an electric F-150 and recently showed it off pulling a train. The upsides are profound. An electric truck will, in theory, offer improved toque (better towing), high payload capacity (due to better weight distribution), and improved performance numbers (electric motors are quick). A truck platform is also, by nature, larger and stronger allowing automakers to stuff more batteries into the frame.

Here’s what we want to see in a pickup from Tesla:

Twice the towing capacity of the Model X

The Tesla Model X is incredible and by most measures, the fastest production SUV available. But it cannot tow much. That’s not because of the powertrain but rather the vehicle platform. A Tesla pickup needs to be able to tow and haul.

According to the Model X owners manual, the vehicle can tow 5,000 pounds. That’s good enough for a couple of jet skis or a tiny trailer, but not much else. For comparison, most Ford F-150 models can tow over 10,000 pounds with some models topping off at 13,000 lbs. Rivian projects its electric pickup can tow over 11,000 pounds. The difference comes from the frame design and vehicle length.

The design of the vehicle often limits towing. The rear suspension needs to be able to support the weight, and the vehicle needs to be long enough to reduce trailer sway. Short vehicles have a hard time towing trailers, and the Model X, built on a version of the Model S, is a compact vehicle. There’s nothing worse than looking out the driver-side window and seeing your trailer racing you down the hill.

In the name of safety alone, a Tesla pickup must have improved towing capacity over the Model X. It should have an integrated trailer brake controller, too — something missing from the Model X.

The Model X platform is not built for hauling either. According to the owner’s manual, when two passengers are in the vehicle, it can only hold an additional 654 lbs. That’s just eight bags of Quickrete cement. To make matters worse, the rear deck of the Model X can only support 285 lbs somewhat saying the rear axle cannot hold that much weight, and the additional weight needs to be spread between the two axles.

A pickup needs to be able to take a load of wood mulch or a couple of major appliances, and Tesla’s current platforms are not designed for such.

Most light-duty pickups, from the Honda Ridgeline to the F-150, can support from 1,500 lbs to 2,000 lbs in the bed. And it’s easy to exceed that rating, too. An open truck bed is an invitation to load it up, but unless you’re using a heavy-duty pickup, don’t get a pallet of landscaping bricks.

Robust Serviceable Parts

Even if a pickup is only used for monthly Home Depot runs, it sustains more abuse than passenger vehicles due to its size. Brakes wear out quicker, and tires need more attention. If it has a light-duty suspension, bushings and joints wear out faster than in cars or SUVs.

Tesla makes it difficult for owners to repair the vehicles they purchased. I don’t expect that to be any different with the Tesla pickup. Tesla is not going to want owners wrenching on the truck. Since that’s the case, the pickup must come with improved parts.

The serviceable parts (brakes, suspension, and tires) that come on the Tesla pickup needs to be more robust and reliable than that used on the Tesla passenger vehicles.

Electric vehicles feature much fewer parts that can go wrong than internal combustion vehicles. It’s great. Owners do not have to change a timing belt or engine oil. But there are still items that will wear out, and most pickup buyers need assurances that they can go the distance.

Off-roading capabilities (or the ability to add off-roading capabilities)

The electric Rivian R1T is currently racing across South America to demonstrate its off-roading chops. Here’s the company’s blog post about it. This excites the truck guy in me. Now that’s a truck, I yell!

I don’t have the data, but I suspect most light-duty pickups are hardly used to their potential. I have a well-equipped F-150 that is used to tow a trailer twice a year.

Trucks are often aspirational purchases where buyers shop for potential lifestyles. Sure, you must have a truck, because one day, you’re going to buy that travel trailer and drive through Yellowstone. To fulfill this dream, a pickup should be able to run the desert or climb rocks.

The Rivian R1T gets a lot of things right, and I hope Tesla is following Rivian’s lead. It’s longer than a Ford Ranger and exceeds the Toyota Tacoma’s bed capacity rating. The wheel wells are large, seemingly saying it can support larger tires than the original from the factory. The R1T has an imposing stance. It looks the part, and the Tesla pickup needs to look the part, too.

Even if the Tesla looks like a weak truck, it’s essential to be able to modify the truck. Add-ons are a big part of the truck culture. My F-150 has become a money pit as I’ve thrown cash into buying accessories. Rivian knows this and has shown off its pickup with a handful of adds-on from tents to kitchens.

Power output

A Tesla pickup could have a unique selling point by allowing owners to use it as a high-output generator.

Right now, a lot of trucks have plenty of power ports, both 12v and 110v. They’re found throughout the cab and bed but cannot power serious tools. The 12v system used in internal combustion vehicles will not power much more than a drill or small saw, let alone a house by acting as a whole house generator.

The functionality would be well received. Homeowners would appreciate the ability to power parts of their homes during blackouts. Campers could use it when taking the pickup on an adventure. Construction works could use it to power and recharge tools.

Right now, there isn’t a way to output the full power of a Tesla vehicle. Owners can use an inverter, but that’s also limited and requires extra parts. Tesla would need to build safeguards and regional power ports into the battery platform to ensure safety and compatibility.

A word about the price.

There’s no way around this. A Tesla pickup will be more expensive than its internal combustion counterparts. It will be an upscale pickup, aimed at those that wear Arc’teryx instead of Carhart.

Rivian is pricing its pickup with a starting price of $69,000 and a Tesla pickup will likely start in the same range. If it’s a new platform built for hauling or towing, Tesla will have a lot of engineering and manufacturing hours to recuperate, which will drive the price north. Until more are available, Tesla and Rivian will be able to set the market price.

It’s a lot for a truck. That’s the price of a fully-spec’d out Ford F-150 that’s more comfortable or capable than it has any right to be. It’s also the same price as a beefy F-350 with Ford’s most potent engine and a towing capacity of 37,000 lbs.

Check back later this week as TechCrunch will be on hand later when Tesla unveils its pickup.

Ford Mustang Mach-E: 5 Tech and Design Details That Stood Out

Ford finally showed the world its highly anticipated all-electric crossover, the Mustang Mach-E. The vehicle, which was unveiled Sunday at the Hawthorne Airport and in Tesla’s backyard, marks a series of firsts for Ford and the Mustang badge.

It’s the first vehicle to come out of Team Edison, the automaker’s dedicated electric vehicle organization. It’s not only the first electric Mustang, it’s also an SUV. 

TechCrunch has had an up close look and ride in the Mach-E, the first variant of which will become available in fall 2020. While there’s a lot to highlight, here are some of the details that stood out.

Door handles

Ford went an entirely new direction with the door handles on the Mustang Mach-E. You won’t find any Tesla lookalike door handles here. The doors seem to be lacking handles at all. A closer look though reveals illuminated buttons on the B and C pillars. The front doors also have a small, protruding handle located just under the button to grab onto.

Pressing the button for the backdoor immediately pops it open just slightly. Then the passenger reaches into the ajar door to hit the latch. This might sound dangerous and apt for a crushed finger. Except there’s an immediate safety in place that doesn’t allow the door to close. TechCrunch tested it out.

Owners will be able to also use their smartphone to unlock the Mustang Mach-E. This phone as a key technology is new to Ford.

Tech tray

It’s a seemingly small detail, but so many automakers ignore that their customers have smartphones and want to put these devices somewhere other than a cup holder. Behold the tech tray, which has wireless charging pad.

The cup holders, located just below the tech tray, can be used to hold actual cups.

Infotainment system

The 15.5-inch screen will get a lot of attention, perhaps because its location and vertical placement is reminiscent of the Tesla Model S. But then there’s the physical dial placed on the bottom of the screen to control the volume.

Ford Mustang Mach-E screen

While not everyone will love this feature, it’s interesting how this dial came to be. Team Edison was assembled in 2017 to do more than create a new electric vehicle. It was created to do it differently and much faster than a typical vehicle program.

How the look and functionality of the infotainment system was developed is an example of this newfound nimbleness. A group of just over a dozen people with minimal oversight started with a research trip to China. Further customer research revealed that people wanted native apps in their car’s infotainment system and they didn’t want to learn anything new, Philip Mason, who is on Team Edison’s user experience, said during a backgrounder event prior to unveiling.

A prototype of physical dial was put together quickly — no fancy prototypes — and research groups responded positively.

The infotainment system is also cloud connected, allowing it to show traffic in real-time in navigation feature, has natural language, activated by one of four “wake words” like OK, Ford, and allows users to create personal profiles. The system learns the behavior and likes of the user over time.

And the entire system will be updated and improved via over-the-air software updates.

Vegan interior

Ford is hardly the first to move away from leather for its interior. Tesla has dropped leather and the Porsche Taycan is also vegan. Now the interior of the Mustang Mach-E also qualifies.

The synthetic material is among the better faux leather materials TechCrunch has come across. Even the steering wheel, a challenging area for synthetics, feels good.

Ford Mustang Mach-E interior

Frunk

A front trunk in an all-electric vehicle is nothing new. The Mustang Mach-E doesn’t have the biggest frunk on the market; it’s not the smallest either.

But there is something interesting about this 4.8-cubic-inch frunk. It’s drainable and plastic lined. Josh Greiner, senior interior designer on the Mach-E, was quick to note during a backgrounder prior to the unveiling that the frunk could be packed with ice and used while tailgating.

One more bonus item

Right above the steering wheel is a driver monitoring system. This might come in handy for the automaker’s eventual plans to offer a hands-free driver assist system in Mach-E.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Consumer Reports-reliability 2019

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

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

Elon Musk predicts Tesla energy could be ‘bigger’ than its EV business

Tesla CEO Elon Musk forecast that the company’s energy business will eventually be the same size as— or even bigger than — its automotive sector, the latest sign that the company plans to put more time and resources to scaling up its solar and storage products.

It could be bigger, but it will certainly be of a similar magnitude,” Musk said during an earnings call Wednesday. The company surprised Wall Street by reporting a return to profitability in the third quarter.

The bulk of Tesla’s revenue is generated from sales of its Model S, Model X and Model 3 electric vehicles. In the third quarter, automotive revenues were $5.35 billion. The company doesn’t break out revenue generated from solar, energy storage or other products and services. However, the total revenue in the third quarter was $6.3 billion, which gives some indication of the size of automotive compared to its other businesses.

Tesla’s energy and solar businesses languished for nearly two years as attention and resources were directed to the Model 3. That diversion of resources included redirecting battery cell production lines meant for its home Powerwall and commercial Powerpack energy storage products to the car because the company didn’t have enough cells.

“We had to do it because if we didn’t solve the Model 3, Tesla wouldn’t survived,” he said.So, unfortunately that shorted other parts of the company.”

Now, the company is committed scaling up energy storage and solar. Kunal Girotra, who initially joined Tesla in 2015 as a senior product manager for Powerwall, was promoted to senior director of the company’s energy operations.

In the third quarter, Tesla installed 43 megawatts of solar, a 48% increase from the previous quarter. Solar installations are still 54% lower than the same period last year.

Energy storage deployments have continued to grow, reaching an all-time high of 477 MWh in the third quarter, according to earnings posted Wednesday.

Part of this new effort includes its solar roof tile product, which was originally unveiled in 2016. Musk said that a new, third iteration of its solar roof tile will debut Thursday afternoon.