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Chinese startup Pony.ai plans to launch a driverless robotaxi service in California in 2022

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Pony.ai, the robotaxi startup that operates in China and the United States, has started testing driverless vehicles on public roads in California ahead of plans to launch a commercial service there in 2022.

The company said the driverless vehicle testing, which means the autonomous vehicles operate without human safety drivers behind the wheel, is happening daily on public roads in Fremont and Milpitas, California. Pony.ai is also testing its driverless vehicles in Guangzhou, China.

Pony.ai said it also plans to resume a rideshare service to the public in Irvine this summer using AVs with a human safety driver. Its goal is to roll out the fully driverless service to the public in 2022.

“Going completely driverless is key to achieving full autonomy and an indispensable catalyst to realizing our ambitious vision,” said James Peng, CEO and co-founder of Pony.ai.

Pony.ai still has some regulatory hurdles to clear before it can operate commercially. Autonomous vehicle companies that want to charge the public for driverless rides need both the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Public Utilities Commission to issue deployment permits. In early June, Cruise became the first company to receive a driverless autonomous service permit from the California PUC that allows it to test transporting passengers. The final step with the DMV, which only Nuro has achieved, is a deployment permit.

Pony’s driverless testing milestone in California comes a month after the state issued the company a permit to test a fleet of six driverless vehicles in a geographic area that spans about 39 square miles. While dozens of companies — 55 in all — have active permits to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver, it is less common to receive permission for driverless vehicles. Pony was the eighth company to be issued a driverless testing permit in the state, a list that includes Chinese companies AutoX, Baidu and WeRide as well as U.S. businesses Cruise, Nuro, Waymo and Zoox. Only Nuro has been granted a so-called deployment permit, which allows it to operate commercially.

Pony.ai, which was founded in 2016 by former Baidu developers Peng and Lou Tiancheng, has been allowed to test autonomous vehicles with safety drivers since 2017.  The driverless permit issued in May by the California DMV expanded upon Pony’s existing activity in the state.

Pony has tested ridesharing in Fremont and Irvine, California. In 2019, a fleet of electric, autonomous Hyundai Kona crossovers equipped with a self-driving system from Pony.ai and Via’s ride-hailing platform began shuttling customers on public roads. The robotaxi service, called BotRide, wasn’t a driverless service, as there was a human safety driver behind the wheel at all times. The BotRide pilot concluded in January 2020.

The company then started operating a public robotaxi service called PonyPilot in the Irvine area. Pony shifted that robotaxi service from shuttling people to packages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pony.ai also partnered with e-commerce platform Yamibuy to provide autonomous last-mile delivery service to customers in Irvine. The delivery service was launched to provide additional capacity to address the surge of online orders triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pony.ai said at the time.

As the pandemic eases and California returns to normal operations, Pony is preparing to launch a commercial robotaxi service. It has already amassed a number of partners and more than $1 billion in funding, including $400 million from Toyota, to help it achieve that goal. Last November, the company said its valuation had reached $5.3 billion following a fresh injection of $267 million in funding. Pony has several partnerships or collaborations with automakers and suppliers, including Bosch, Hyundai and Toyota.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/15/chinese-startup-pony-ai-plans-to-launch-a-driverless-robotaxi-service-in-california-in-2022/

Automotive

Automakers have battery anxiety, so they’re taking control of the supply

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Battery joint ventures have become the hot must-have deal for automakers that have set ambitious targets to deliver millions of electric vehicles in the next few years.

It’s no longer just about securing a supply of cells. The string of partnerships and joint ventures show that automakers are taking a more active role in the development and even production of battery cells.

Automakers are taking a more active role in the development and even production of battery cells.

And the deals don’t appear to be slowing down. Just this week, Mercedes-Benz announced its $47 billion plan to become an electric-only automaker by 2030. Securing its battery supply chain by expanding existing partnerships or locking in new ones to jointly develop and produce battery cells and modules is a critical piece of its plan.

Mercedes, like other automakers, is also focused on developing and deploying advanced battery technology. In addition to setting up eight new battery plants to supply its future EVs, the German automaker said it was partnering with Sila Nano, the Silicon Valley battery chemistry startup that it has previously invested in, to increase energy density, which should in turn improve range and allow for shorter charging times.

“This follows a trend that we’ve seen of automakers realizing how critical the battery is and taking more control of the production of the cells in order to ensure their own supply,” Sila Nano CEO Gene Berdichevsky said in a recent interview. “Like if you’re VW, and you say, ‘We’re going to go 50% electric by whatever year,’ but then the batteries don’t show up, you’re bankrupt, you’re dead. Their scale is so big that even if their cell partners have promised them to deliver, automakers are scared that they won’t.”

Tesla, BMW and Volkswagen were early adopters of the battery joint-venture strategy. In 2014,Tesla and Panasonic signed an agreement to build a large battery manufacturing plant, or a gigafactory as everyone is now calling it, in the U.S. and have worked together since. BMW began working with Solid Power in 2017 to create solid-state batteries for high-performance EVs that could potentially lower costs by requiring less safety features than lithium-ion batteries.

In addition to its partnership with Northvolt, VW is also in talks with suppliers to secure more direct access to supplies like semiconductors and lithium so it can keep its existing plants running at full speed.

Now the rest of the industry is moving to work with battery companies, to share knowledge and resources and essentially become the manufacturer.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/23/automakers-have-battery-anxiety-so-theyre-taking-control-of-the-supply/

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Peer-to-peer car rental startup Getaround fined nearly $1M by DC’s attorney general

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Getaround was fined nearly $1 million by the Washington, D.C. Office of the attorney general for operating without a license and other violations, part of a settlement of what the peer-to-peer car rental startup calls “politically motivated allegations.”

The AG’s office started investigating the company early last year, after it received reports of vehicle thefts of cars listed on the Getaround platform. The settlement, released Friday, requires the company to pay the city $950,000, in addition to implementing other changes, including paying restitution to customers whose vehicles were stolen or damaged while listed for rent on Getaround’s platform.

Getaround, the winner of TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at Disrupt NYC in 2011, lets individual car owners rent their vehicles by the hour or day via its website and app. The site, much like competitor Turo or home rental analog Airbnb, mediates this exchange (and takes a cut off the top). The company’s attracted a lot of interest from investors, most recently raising a $140 million Series E that brought its total venture funding to $600 million.

The settlement is what’s known as an “assurance of voluntary compliance,” and it’s not an admission of guilt. The settlement document makes clear that Getaround denies it violated any consumer protection or tax laws.

“Gig economy companies must abide by the same rules as their brick-and-mortar counterparts,” Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement. “They must provide clear and accurate information to consumers, especially about the safety of their services, and they must pay their fair share of taxes like everyone else does.”

The AG’s office claims that Getaround operated without a license in the district, misrepresented its service and made “untrue or misleading representations” about the safety of its car rental services. As part of the settlement, the company must create a written policy for user complaints regarding vehicle damage or theft, including a way for users to report any issues. It also must clearly disclose limitations of its safety features, such as its “Enhanced Security” software feature, which Getaround says on its website can immobilize your car when it’s not being used. Getaround must also more clearly state the terms and conditions for insurance coverage.

The AG’s office also claimed that Getaround misled consumers by creating fake owner profiles for vehicles that it owned and operated. The company must now disclose its fleet cars clearly in listings.

A Getaround spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company “categorically disagrees” with the AG’s allegations.

“With regard to safety and security, as the attorney general acknowledges, as soon as Getaround was notified of security issues affecting certain cars in the District, the company took immediate corrective action,” the spokesperson said. “As is its practice, Getaround will continue to compensate car owners who have filed valid claims for loss or damage. Finally, Getaround never disputed liability for the taxes it is paying pursuant to this settlement. Getaround will continue to pay applicable taxes to the District and in every jurisdiction in which it operates.”

The company spokesperson went on to say that “while the attorney general is focused on scoring political points, Getaround remains focused on connecting safe, convenient and affordable cars with District residents who need them to live and work.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/23/peer-to-peer-car-rental-startup-getaround-fined-nearly-1m-by-dcs-attorney-general/

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Rivian raises another $2.5B, pushing its EV war chest up to $10.5B

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Rivian announced Friday that it has closed a $2.5 billion private funding round led by Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, D1 Capital Partners, Ford Motor and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates Inc.

Third Point, Fidelity Management and Research Company, Dragoneer Investment Group and Coatue also participated in the round, according to Rivian.

“As we near the start of vehicle production, it’s vital that we keep looking forward and pushing through to Rivian’s next phase of growth,” Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe said in a statement. “This infusion of funds from trusted partners allows Rivian to scale new vehicle programs, expand our domestic facility footprint, and fuel international product rollout.”

D1 Capital Partners founder Dan Sundheim said the firm is excited to increase its “investment in Rivian as it reaches an inflection point in its commercialization and delivers what we believe will be exceptional products for customers.”

Rivian has raised roughly $10.5 billion to date. The company did not share a post-money valuation.

The electric automaker, which now employs 7,000 and is preparing to deliver its R1T pickup truck in September, last raised funds in January. That round brought in $2.65 billion from existing investors T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., Fidelity Management and Research Company, Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Coatue and D1 Capital Partners. New investors also participated in that round, which pushed Rivian’s valuation to $27.6 billion, a source familiar with the investment round told TechCrunch at the time.

The news comes just a day after Rivian confirmed it plans to open a second U.S. factory. It also follows Rivian’s decision to delay deliveries of its R1T truck and R1S SUV from this summer to September due to delays in production caused by “cascading impacts of the pandemic,” particularly the ongoing global shortage of semiconductor chips.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/23/rivian-raises-another-2-5b-pushing-its-ev-war-chest-up-to-10-5b/

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GM Super Cruise Upgrade Adds Towing Support, Automatic Lane Changes

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General Motors is expanding the availability of its Super Cruise advanced driving assistance system to more models and upgrading the tech with more abilities. The improvements are coming to vehicles via an over-the-air update.

The improved tech will be available on the 2022 Cadillac EscaladeCadillac CT4Cadillac CT5, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Hummer EV Pickup, and GMC Sierra. To be clear, the 2022 Cadillac XT6 and 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV still have Super Cruise, but they don’t get these upgrades

There’s great news for people who tow because the upgraded Super Cruise now works when hauling a load. Cadillac previously advised owners not to do this on the Escalade when using the advanced driving tech.

Super Cruise also gains the ability to perform automatic lane changes. However, GM says that these maneuvers are not possible while towing a trailer.

On the inside, there’s a revised navigation display for the system that shows compatible roads. It can also indicate routes capable of hands-free driving when entering a destination.

2022 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Super Cruise Interior

GMC already teased the look of the Super Cruise system display on the 2022 GMC Sierra Denali. The truck has a digital instrument display with the speedometer on the left, the tachometer on the right, and navigation in the center. The steering wheel gains the illuminated strip at the top like other Super Cruise-equipped vehicles.

We are expecting the 2022 Silverado with Super Cruise to have a similar instrument display. Other than trim changes, the Chevy and the GMC Sierra are largely the same vehicle and share many of the same components.

Looking further into the future, GM also confirms that the 2023 Cadillac Lyriq and 2023 GMC Hummer SUV are also getting Super Cruise. The company intends to offer the tech on 22 vehicles by 2023.

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Source: https://www.motor1.com/news/522096/gm-super-cruise-expanded-models/?utm_source=RSS&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=RSS-category-technology

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