March 13, 2018 News of the Day: Google Co-Founder's Secretive Flying Taxi Project Revealed, Former BMW & Faraday Future Execs Raise $1 Billion For a New Stealth EV Startup

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【Summary】March 13, 2018 News of the Day: Google co-founders flying taxi revealed, new EV startup raises $1 billion, GM gets in on car-sharing and more.

Eric Walz    Mar 13, 2018 6:21 PM PT
author: Eric Walz   

Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page's flying taxi company unveiled its autonomous plane called Cora late on Monday. Page's company, Kitty Hawk, has been secretly working in New Zealand, flight testing its two-person, battery-powered flying taxi.

In 2016, Page invested in two flying car start-ups. One of those was Kitty Hawk, which is developing Cora. Kitty Hawk is run by Sebastian Thrun, the former head of Google's early self-driving car program.

Last year, the company released footage of a prototype aircraft that flew over water and was all-electric. However, the early prototype looks nothing like the pictures released yesterday. The new flying taxi looks like a small airplane and has a 36 foot wingspan.

Now the company is pushing forward with making the flying cars a reality. In the video in which Kitty Hawk unveiled Cora, the company said it is working with the New Zealand government to commercialize its air taxis.

Cora is completely autonomous, with no pilot required. The aircraft is designed for two passengers, with one of them sitting where the pilot would normally be. Cora can travel at 150 kmh (93 mph), and is all-electric with a range of 100 kilometers (62 miles). It also takes off and lands vertically like a helicopter, so does not need a runway to operate.

Megan Woods, minister for research, science and innovation for New Zealand, said that Kitty Hawk's Cora fits in with the country's aim of having net zero emissions by 2050.

Kitty Hawk is operating in New Zealand as Zephyr Airworks.

"New Zealand's Central Aviation Authority has the respect of the worldwide regulatory community. A people who embrace the future. And a dynamic economy that could serve as a springboard for Cora," Kitty Hawk explained in a press release Monday.

The company did not give a timeline for when the autonomous taxi service could be running, but Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun told CNBC in an interview earlier this year, that they could take to the skies within five years.

New Zealand is seen as being one of the most progressive when it comes to the future of aviation. Dubai is also looking into the idea of flying taxis.

Kitty Hawk is not the only company developing flying taxis however. Chinese firm EHang is developing an all-electric passenger drone, Airbus launched its first successful flight of its self-piloted flying car in February, and Uber is working with NASA on it own quest to make its own flying project a reality.

Former BMW & Faraday Future Execs Raise $1 Billion For a New Stealth EV Startup


A new Los Angeles-based startup has emerged from stealth mode. EVelozcity, is an electric vehicle startup founded by three BMW veterans who also briefly worked at Faraday Future. The news was first reported by Forbes.

Each of the co-founders have extensive experience in global finance, automotive development and vehicle design. EVelozcity has another advantage. The startup raised $1 billion in funding and is committed to getting its vehicles on the road by 2021.

"That's the ballpark you normally have to have, around a billion dollars, plus or minus. We have investment or commitments for this kind of amount of money," Stefan Krause, EVelozcity's CEO told Forbes, without elaborating further. "We have a global group of financially oriented investors" from China, Europe and the U.S., whom he declined to identify.

The $1 billion in funding suggests the EV startup has some impressive technology, and shows that investors have strong confidence in Krause and his co-founders, technology chief Ulrich Kranz and design chief Richard Kim.

Krause is a 20-year BMW veteran who became its CFO and held that role at Deutsche Bank. Kranz spent more than three decades with BMW's R&D team and helped create models including its plug-in i3 hatchback and i8 supercar. Kim also helped design the i3 and i8, worked on VW and Audi designs, as well as Embraer business jet interiors and luxury yachts. Support for EVelozcity may also come from what Krause calls its "asset-light" philosophy.

Rather than building and operating its own auto-assembly plant, which has required billions of dollars of capital expenditures for Tesla, EVelozcity is in talks with U.S. and Chinese companies for contract production, Krause said. Also unlike Tesla, it will source batteries, motors and components for autonomous driving capability from outside suppliers.

"Over time battery packs and electric motors will not offer a potential for differentiation anymore," Krause said. "The technology is evolving and that will be a commodity over time."

The brand's value will come from unique design and engineering, just like Apple has done with its products.

"If you look at Apple, they are designers and engineers, they don't necessarily manufacture themselves," Krause said. "We want to develop an American boutique, native EV brand. That's what we're all about. We believe that the engineering and design skills are going to be the core ones, not the manufacturing ones."

To hold down costs and simplify production, EVelozcity plans to have its three core models—a personal commuter car, a last-mile urban delivery vehicle, and a dedicated ride-share vehicle. All three using a shared flat floor pan, or skateboard, a concept that's been kicking around the auto industry for more than a decade.

"You build all of the lower part of the car and the top part of the car, the top head, at the same time, and then merge them at the end of the line," Krause said. "We estimate that this produces a 30% reduction in assembly time."

No images of the EVelozcity models are being made public yet, but they'll come off a platform that's in between mid-size and compact category vehicles. The company already has 100 engineers and developers and intends to have at least 300 on staff by the end of this year.

There's one additional issue EVelozcity needs to resolve. Faraday Future sued Krause and Kranz in January alleging intellectual property theft. Krause declined to discuss the suit with Forbes, though EVelozcity is reportedly seeking to have the matter resolved through arbitration.

It's too early to tell how EVelozcity will fare in the crowded field of EV startups looking to compete with Tesla. However, EVelozcity has a talented core team and $1 billion in cash, which is a good start for any EV startup.

GM to Launch Service Peer to Peer Car Rental Service


Most of the time your car not being driven—it's parked. What if you could rent your car to someone when it's not being used? General Motors thinks this is a viable business model. As first reported by Bloomberg, the company plans to start a pilot program this summer that will enable car owners to rent out their vehicles when they aren't using them, according to people familiar with the matter.

The tests will begin in early summer through GM's Maven car-sharing unit, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren't public yet. GM vehicle owners will be able to list their cars on Maven's platform for other drivers to rent and share the revenue with the automaker.

GM is looking to grow the pilot program into a full-fledged business, and if it's successful could mark another step forward in GM's transition from manufacturer to mobility provider. After GM's stock stagnated for years as investors fretted over peaking car sales and Silicon Valley's offensive on the auto industry, the shares rose to a record high in October as its self-driving car plans and services like Maven gained traction with investors.

GM's Maven unit already rents vehicles to individual drivers, including customers looking for short-term rentals as they have through services such as Zipcar. Maven Gig also lends cars to drivers working for ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft, as well as for food-delivery businesses.

Up to this point, GM has owned those cars. By launching a peer-to-peer service, Maven would get access to more vehicles without its parent having to carry more hard assets on its balance sheet.

Other companies already allow drivers to lend out their vehicles to defray the cost of ownership or make extra income. Startups Turo and Getaround are two bigger names in the space, though GM dwarfs both startups with its $53 billion market value.

While peer-to-peer car sharing is a relatively new, niche business, the number of people signed up on Turo's site has grown fivefold to almost 5 million and its car listings has tripled to 200,000 in the last two years. The company raised $92 million in a September funding round led by Germany's Daimler AG and South Korea's SK Holdings Co., which valued Turo at about $700 million. Getaround raised $45 million last April, with Toyota Motor Corp. among the companies buying in.

Peer-to-peer businesses could make more sense than car-sharing services that require owning and maintaining vehicles, said Alexandre Marian, a director in the automotive and industrial practice at consultant AlixPartners LLP. Carmakers can make this model work because they have huge networks of vehicle owners, he said.

"Carmakers are preparing for disruption, so they are experimenting with different models," Marian said by phone.

Tesla Inc. has hinted at a future peer-to-peer sharing network, though the vision Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk laid out in July 2016 alludes to a service using fully self-driving cars.

"You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost," Musk wrote at the time. "This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla."

The peer-to-peer sharing model does have its challenges. The American Car Rental Association, a lobbying group for major car rental companies including Enterprise and Hertz, is pushing lawmakers to eliminate what it sees as unfair loopholes from taxes that its members have to pay and that car-sharing companies have avoided.

Turo is also battling a lawsuit involving the city of San Francisco that seeks to regulate ride-sharing businesses like rental-car companies and keep Turo out of its airport.

As GM looks to grow its Maven unit, it continues working with self-driving technology at its Cruise Automation unit in San Francisco, the startup it purchased for $1 billion.

Cruise has developed driverless versions of the electric Chevrolet Bolt, plus an app to use the cars as robotaxis in a ride-hailing fleet starting next year. GM hasn't yet decided whether to use Cruise's app, a new invention or a partner like Lyft for the planned autonomous-ride business or if they would use Maven or another marketing name, the people said.

Tesla Files Permit for Los Angeles Supercharger Drive-In Restaurant


In a throwback to the car culture of the 1950's and 1960's in the U.S, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is seeking to build a retro-themed, drive-in restaurant, where Tesla owners can order food, watch classic movies, and relax while their electric cars recharge.

Although the plans are preliminary, Tesla has applied for building permits in the southern California city of Santa Monica for a "Tesla restaurant and supercharger station." Electrek has reported. The restaurant would be located on Santa Monica Boulevard on the site of what currently appears to be a used-car lot for Volvo of Santa Monica.

The permit is listed as "pre-submittal," and there's no information about when they might be approved or construction would begin. Musk added more details to his original announcement, saying that there would be an outdoor screen playing a highlight reel of scenes from classic movies and that the menu could integrate with the touchscreen inside Tesla vehicles for easy ordering—from right inside the vehicle.

Tesla opened a Supercharger station in Kettleman City, Calif. last year, its largest with 40 charging stations, that features a lounge with a coffee shop, and that Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel spoke at a food-service trade show about how its Supercharger locations are becoming more like convenience stores.

The Kettleman City Supercharger is located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles allowing Tesla drivers to travel between both cities. It is one of 1,130 Supercharger stations with located across Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East.

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