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Investors Hit the Brakes on Automotive Startups

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Last year, Ted Serbinski called his accelerator, TechStars Detroit, the “‘comeback city’s’ startup ecosystem.” Since 2015, the accelerator had supported and mentored 54 transportation-related companies, with funding from some big transportation names, like Ford, Honda, AAA, and Nationwide. Success stories included Cargo, a startup that helps ride-hail drivers make supplemental income by running rider-friendly “convenience stores” out of their cars; Splt, a ride-share company acquired by Bosch in 2018; and Acerta, which applies machine learning to automotive manufacturing.

But this year, Techstars Detroit won’t take on new startups. Instead, it’s shutting down, as earlier reported by TechCrunch. “Right now, there is no funding,” says Serbinski, the accelerator’s managing director. Part of the organization’s collapse is due to internal issues within TechStars, a global network of accelerators and itself a startup, Serbinski says. But the venture capitalist also blames trade winds within the automotive sector: a shift away from autonomous vehicle investment and towards electrification, and a drive (no pun intended) towards less experimental businesses that can actually make money.

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Figures from the data and research company Pitchbook released last week are revealing. Companies in the “mobility” sector, which includes those working on autonomous and electric vehicles, ride-hailing, auto commerce, transportation logistics, and micromobility, are still humming, raising $33.5 billion in venture capital from 756 deals in 2019. But that’s $25.2 billion less, and 130 fewer, than the year previous.

Automakers, inspired by government regulations in China and Europe and the promise of easier-to-build and cheaper-to-maintain electrics, continue to pour billions into electrifying their offerings, the data shows. But they pulled back from “mobility-as-a-service” offerings, like car-share.

Last year’s giant investments in autonomous vehicle companies like Aurora and Nuro kept the total amount pouring into the robot car sector at record levels. But there were fewer deals, and early- and seed-stage investment in AVs tapered off—a sign that the industry is getting less buzzy and more mature.

Autonomous vehicles “are definitely in that ‘trough of disillusionment,’” says Tarek Elessawi, a senior ventures associate at the early stage investor Plug and Play, referring to the stage in the consultancy Gartner’s “hype cycle” when interest ebbs in a once-hot technology. “We were pretty optimistic about where autonomy was going in 2016 and 2017. Then in 2018, pragmatism started to set in.” By late 2018, even the putative industry leaders at Waymo acknowledged that they were not ready to let totally driverless cars loose on the roads.

Global auto sales fell 4.4 percent last year, according to forecasting service LMC Automotive. The slump was especially pronounced in China, where sales of light vehicles fell by 8.3 percent, the biggest drop in at least 20 years.

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Partly as a result, venture capitalists say, automotive companies and suppliers are more interested in focusing on what they do best—manufacturing vehicles, building out new hardware—than wild experiments in ventures that may or may not turn a profit. Last year, Ford shut down its recently acquired shuttle service, Chariot, and General Motors, Daimler, and BMW wound down their US-based car-sharing services. Those projects were vestiges of excitement around mobility—and some fear of upstarts like Uber, which once threatened to rewrite the automotive game but now struggle with questions of profitability.

Now, “the experimental money and access to easy money is gone” in the automotive industry, says Serbinski. He says he’ll continue to advise the companies that emerged from the local TechStars, and invest in the transportation space.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/investors-hit-brakes-automotive-startups

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Airbus’ Blended Wing Maveric Hits the Skies

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Since commercial air travel took off in the 1950s, much has changed—tighter seats, safer flights, the rise and fall of seat-back screens—but not the nature of the planes themselves. The tube-and-wing design, after all, is reasonably efficient and structurally sound. And what other shapes would fly? Cubes?

Probably not. But one idea that’s been in the air since the 1990s is catching a second wind, thanks to a new effort by Airbus. This week at the Singapore Air Show, the European planemaker revealed a little model of an aircraft it says could slash fuel consumption by 20 percent compared to today’s single-aisle jets. The Maveric—the name is an acronym for “model aircraft for validation and experimentation of robust innovative controls”—is the latest incarnation of the blended-wing body.

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As the name suggests, the triangular Maveric blurs the distinction between wing and body. The airfoil design generates lift across the entire fuselage rather than just the wings—meaning more power goes further—and reduces drag. In an industry where efficiency improvements generally come from tweaks to engine and aircraft design that provide 1 or 2 percent bumps, a 20 percent improvement would be massive. With engines above the fuselage, the Maveric would create less noise for those on the ground, and it could accommodate new propulsion systems, including hybrid and electric power plants. For passengers, the design would mean fewer window seats (boo!) but more possibilities for alternative seating configurations and more creative space allocation.

Airbus launched the design program in 2017, and the Maveric, which is 6.5 feet long with a 10.5-foot wingspan, first took flight last year. The rapid progress isn’t too surprising, as the design challenges of the blended-wing body are largely understood. The remotely piloted X-48 Hybrid Wing Body completed more than 100 flights before NASA and Boeing wrapped their joint project in 2012. And the Northrop B-2 bomber has been flying for nearly 30 years.

The interior of a Maveric-like plane would have fewer window seats but would allow for new seating configurations.

Courtesy of Airbus

But making the design viable for commercial use is a much different proposition than making it work as a military bomber, where concerns over cost and comfort are less pressing. The plane’s structure, with a larger interior, would need to accommodate different pressurization requirements, says University of Toronto aerodynamics researcher Thomas Reist. The trick will be making the plane strong enough to do that without adding weight and reducing efficiency. Stability is also an issue. “Without the horizontal and vertical tails that tube-and-wing aircraft have, maintaining a stable and controllable aircraft is much more challenging,” Reist says. The B-2 is notoriously difficult to fly, requiring constant computerized stabilization to keep it safely in the air. That’s why Airbus says controllability is the primary interest area for the Maveric program.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/airbus-maveric-blended-wing-jet

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Volkswagen’s Parking Tech Takes On Professional Stunt Driver

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THE ART OF PARKING: VOLKSWAGEN COMMERCIAL VEHICLES PITS PARK ASSIST AGAINST STUNT DRIVER IN ULTIMATE TEST

  • 30% of van drivers rank small parking spaces as their biggest annoyance
  • Innovative Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles Park Assist technology designed to help drivers navigate tight spaces and avoid fines
  • Park Assist technology goes head-to-head against parking world record holder, Alastair Moffatt. Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i6A-kPoFQE

Milton Keynes, UK – A third of UK van drivers rank small parking spaces as their biggest annoyance, according to Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles*. To help van drivers navigate these tight spaces, the brand offers innovative Park Assist technology.

But how good is Park Assist? Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles enlisted the help of parking world record holder and professional stunt driver, Alastair Moffatt, to put it to the test. To watch the full video, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i6A-kPoFQE

Finding a suitably sized parking space for vans is more than just a frustration, with UK van drivers being fined an average of £24 million a year for parking incorrectly**.

To help customers overcome tight parking spaces and tough parking regulations, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles offers Park Assist technology across its van range, with the aim of reducing stress and enabling the driver to easily and safely park the van in its designated space.

To see if Park Assist can really park perfectly every time, professional stunt driver and parking world record holder, Alastair Moffatt, put it to the test, pitting more than 25 years of experience against the technology in the ultimate parking challenge.

Both Alastair and Park Assist were tasked with completing a parallel park within a space of 7.5-metres – just a little larger than the 5.9-metre length of the Volkswagen Crafter – with an added twist that Alastair would be completing his manoeuvre as a handbrake turn. The result was impressive with both successful mastering the Art of Parking, although Park Assist was certainly the more relaxing option.

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles’ Park Assist technology uses ultrasonic sensors in the front bumper which scan the space to see whether it is big enough. After reverse gear has been selected, the technology then puts the van into the best starting position and steers automatically into the space. The driver does not need to steer at any point but remains in control of the vehicle working the accelerator, brake and clutch.

Sarah Cox, head of marketing at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles commented: “Our Working With You brand promise is designed to help Volkswagen customers in all aspects of owning a van and part of that is offering class-leading technologies such as Park Assist.

“We want to help our customers park their vans in the safest and most accurate way so that they can avoid parking fines and reduce stress. The Park Assist technology was a perfect match for Professional Stunt Driver, Alastair Moffatt, and a slightly less hair-raising manoeuvre!”

Alastair Moffatt, who owns the world record for tightest single, double, triple and reverse parallel park, said: “I was really impressed with how nimble the Volkswagen Crafter proved to be – handbrake turning such a big vehicle isn’t always easy. I’ve spent years mastering the art of parking but taking on Park Assist was still a real challenge because it was 100 per cent accurate every time. I really had to be on the top of my game to match it.”

For more details on Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles’ award-winning range of products and services, or to find your nearest Van Centre, please visit www.volkswagen-vans.co.uk.

Source: https://www.motor1.com/news/398912/vw-parking-tech-stunt-driver/?utm_source=RSS&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=RSS-category-

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New Tesla Model S and X Long Range Plus vehicles get big range boost

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A Tesla Model S charges at a station in an Arby's parking lot in Topeka, Kansas.
A Tesla Model S charges at a station in an Arby’s parking lot in Topeka, Kansas.
Image: mark reinstein / Corbis via Getty Images

New iterations of the Tesla Model S and Model X are boasting some pretty impressive new travel ranges, Tesla revealed on Friday.

The pages for the Model S and Model X claim that the Long Range Plus versions of these two electric vehicles can now hit ranges of 390 and 351 miles respectively, which is a healthy bump up from the previous estimated ranges of 373 and 328 miles.

What changes were made that allow for the bump in ranges? Tesla doesn’t specify, but we do know that the Model S will be getting a new style of 19-inch wheels, which probably doesn’t hurt the mileage.

The more powerful Performance models of both vehicles did not get a bump in range, so whatever the company is doing it only seems to be benefiting the Long Range Plus models. Currently, the Performance Model S lasts 348 miles and the Model X can go about 305 miles. That’s the price you pay for increased acceleration.

Source: https://mashable.com/article/tesla-long-range-model-s-model-x/

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