Bringing forth the EV revolution is one of the greatest challenges yet presented to the global automotive industry.
Nissan has been selling the Leaf for almost a decade, the BMW i3 just turned six, and Tesla is now a household name, and yet electric vehicles remain small fry in the exceptionally large global automotive pond.
That’s because lead times required to develop new EV platforms, plus the issue of reorganizing supply chains, rapidly developing infrastructure to support charging, and a host of other issues means that the revolution feels like it has been stuck somewhere beyond the horizon for years.
But, finally, 2019 seems like the year that mainstream competition is finally going to bring the EV to the forefront of the car market for good. First we had the VW ID3, launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and due to hit the road in March 2020. And now Ford has just unveiled its intriguing Mustang Mach-E.
Ford has made a number of significant partnerships on the topic of EV platforms recently. It made a deal with VW to use the firm’s MEB matrix that will yield more than 600,000 Ford EVs – likely to be two different models – for Europe over a six-year period starting in 2023.
In addition to developing its own electric F-150 truck, coming soon, Ford also signed a $500m deal with Rivian to channel its EV expertise.
In an interview, Ford CEO Jim Hackett told Motor Trend that the deal means: “You shouldn’t go down the path of assuming it’s a pickup.” It’s likely that instead, the heavy-duty e-motor and electronic architecture being developed by Rivian for its trucks and the vans it’s developing for Amazon will be used for an SUV larger than the Mustang Mach-E.
The Mach-E itself is part of the third element of Ford’s EV strategy – developing its own EVs in-house. As a result, the car uses Ford’s Global Electrified 2 (GE2) platform, which is a heavily-revised version of its C-segment platform used under the Focus and Kuga/Escape.
The alterations to the platform allow either a single eMotor to be fitted to each axle, giving rear or all-wheel drive, and for the liquid-cooled battery to be located under the passenger compartment, and within the wheelbase.
Two battery versions will be offered – a standard-range 75.7kWh unit made up of 288 lithium-ion cells, and an extended-range 98.8kWh battery, made up of 376 lithium-ion cells. All batteries are warrantied for eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes soonest.
Ford hasn’t officially claimed a range yet, but estimates using the US EPA methodology range from 210 miles for a standard-range battery, rear-drive Mach-E, to 300 miles for an extended-range, rear-drive car.
As for charging, Ford hasn’t fully clarified the specs, but the standard battery charges at up to 115kW and the larger one at up to 150kW at a DC fast-charging station like those offered by Ionity. Ford does say that 57 miles of range can be added with a 10-minute fast charge of the larger battery, while a 10 percent to 80 percent top-up takes 38 minutes.
Ford has worked out that 80 percent of Mach-E drivers will charge at home, so will also offer a Connected Wallbox solution for home charging that runs at the equivalent of 38 per charging hour, while plugging the car into a standard European domestic wall socket gives you nine miles per charging hour.
All models use the same rear motor that develops between 255 and 282hp, depending on the battery version, and 415Nm. All-wheel drive models use a smaller motor up front, except the GT model, which arrives later in 2021, and uses the larger rear motor on its front axle too, giving a combined maximum power figure of 459hp and 830Nm.
The motors all drive their respective axles through a single-speed transmission. Torque vectoring is done by braking only – no clever e-diff action here. On the topic of brakes, the Mach-E also uses Brembo’s new compact Flexira fixed calipers, which explains how the car’s platform seems to limit it to a maximum of 20-inch wheels – whereas the VW MEB can use a 22-inch wheel – and yet GT models run a 19-inch brake rotor front and back.
The GT also gets Delphi’s MagneRide dampers like the rest of the regular performance Mustang line-up.
Other interesting tech
Safety and security is an interesting one with the Mach-E as it launches Ford two-feet into the world of OTA updates, Smartphone as a Key, and a new generation of the firm’s SYNC system that includes a cloud-based assistant.
Reports from the unveil event seem to paint a picture of software that’s still having the bugs ironed out – also a concern – but we’ll give Ford the benefit of the doubt for now as the car doesn’t hit the road for a year or so.
The Mach-E also includes Ford’s latest driver assist tech on higher-grade models. Building on the AEB and lane-keeping assist functions of its Co-Pilot 360 tech, the Mustang gets lasers and cameras that monitor the driver, allowing the car to take over provided it feels like the driver is alert.
The news was confirmed by Dave Pericak, global director of Ford’s icon vehicles, although he did not state when the feature would activated, nor whether owners would need to pay extra.
Mainstream electric cars certainly feel like they’ve been a long time coming. However, while that’s true, particularly in the minds of consumers, the feature content that’s likely to find the Mach-E homes around the world appears deep, well considered, and befitting of a new generation of car.
Competitive range, high performance, decent looks and some useful tech innovations appear to give the car an on-paper edge, and being priced in a similar ballpark to a Tesla Model Y can’t hurt either. If only it wasn’t another year to wait before the Mach-E hits the road…
Tesla refutes Elon Musk’s timeline on ‘full self-driving’
What Tesla CEO Elon Musk says publicly about the company’s progress on a fully autonomous driving system doesn’t match up with “engineering reality,” according to a memo that summarizes a meeting between California regulators and employees at the automaker.
The memo, which transparency site Plainsite obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and subsequently released, shows that Musk has inflated the capabilities of the Autopilot advanced driver assistance system in Tesla vehicles, as well the company’s ability to deliver fully autonomous features by the end of the year.
Tesla vehicles come standard with a driver assistance system branded as Autopilot. For an additional $10,000, owners can buy “full self-driving,” or FSD — a feature that Musk promises will one day deliver full autonomous driving capabilities. FSD, which has steadily increased in price and capability, has been available as an option for years. However, Tesla vehicles are not self-driving. FSD includes the parking feature Summon as well as Navigate on Autopilot, an active guidance system that navigates a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and making lane changes. Once drivers enter a destination into the navigation system, they can enable “Navigate on Autopilot” for that trip.
Tesla vehicles are far from reaching that level of autonomy, a fact confirmed by statements made by the company’s director of Autopilot software CJ Moore to California regulators, the memo shows.
“Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ,” according to the memo summarizing the conversation between regulators with the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ autonomous vehicles branch and four Tesla employees, including Moore.
The memo, which was written by California DMV’s Miguel Acosta, states that Moore described Autopilot — and the new features being tested — as a Level 2 system. That description matters in the world of automated driving.
There are five levels of automation under standards created by SAE International. Level 2 means two primary functions — like adaptive cruise and lane keeping — are automated and still have a human driver in the loop at all times. Level 2 is an advanced driver assistance system, and has become increasingly available in new vehicles, including those produced by Tesla, GM, Volvo and Mercedes. Tesla’s Autopilot and its more capable FSD were considered the most advanced systems available to consumers. However, other automakers have started to catch up.
Level 4 means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention and is what companies like Argo AI, Aurora, Cruise, Motional, Waymo and Zoox are working on. Level 5, which is widely viewed as a distant goal, would handle all driving in all environments and conditions.
Here is an important bit via Acosta’s summarization:
DMV asked CJ to address from an engineering perspective, Elon’s messaging about L5 capability by the end of the year. Elon’s tweet does not match engineering reality per CJ. Tesla is at Level 2 currently. The ratio of driver interaction would need to be in the magnitude of 1 or 2 million miles per driver interaction to move into higher levels of automation. Tesla indicated that Elon is extrapolating on the rates of improvement when speaking about L5 capabilities. Tesla couldn’t say if the rate of improvement would make it to L5 by end of calendar year.
Portions of this commentary were redacted. However, Plainsite was able to copy and paste the redacted part, which shows up as white space on a PDF, into another document.
The comments in the memo are contrary to what Musk has said repeatedly in the public sphere.
Musk is frequently asked on Twitter and in quarterly earnings calls for progress reports on FSD, including questions about when it will be rolled out via software updates to owners who have purchased the option. In a January earnings call, Musk said he was “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of a human this year.” In April 2021, during the company’s first quarter earnings call, Musk said “it’s really quite, quite tricky. But I am highly confident that we will get this done.”
The memo released this week provided other insights into Tesla’s push to test and eventually unlock greater levels of autonomy, including the number of vehicles testing a beta version of “Navigate on Autopilot on City Streets,” a feature that is meant to handle driving in urban areas and not just highways. Regulators also asked the Tesla employees if and how participants were being trained to test this feature, and how the sales team ensures that messaging about the vehicle capabilities and limitations are communicated.
As of the March meeting, there were 824 vehicles in a pilot program testing a beta version of “city streets.” About 750 of those vehicles were being driven by employees and 71 by non-employees. Pilot participants are located across 37 states, with the majority of participants in California. As of March 2021, pilot participants have driven more than 153,000 miles using the City Streets feature, the memo states. The memo noted that Tesla planned to expand this pool of participants to approximately 1,600 later that month.
Tesla told the DMV that it is working on developing a video for the participants and that the next group of participants will include referrals from existing participants. “The new participants will be vetted by Tesla by looking at insurance telematics based on the VINs registered to that participant,” according to the memo.
Tesla also told the DMV that it is able to track when there are failures or when the feature is deactivated. Moore described these as “disengagements,” a term also used by companies testing and developing autonomous vehicle technology. The primary difference worth noting here is that these companies only use employees who are trained safety drivers, not the public.
Elon Musk says SpaceX might refly Starship after historic landing
Update: CEO Elon Musk says that SpaceX “might try to refly SN15 soon” after it became the first Starship to ace a high-altitude launch and survive the landing. In other words, SpaceX might be about to kick off what’s bound to be a long and fruitful future of Starship reusability.
Less than six months after high-altitude flight testing began, SpaceX has successfully landed a full-size Starship prototype in one piece, giving the company its first real opportunity to inspect a flown vehicle with flaps, a nose, and three Raptor engines.
That spectacular success will simultaneously give SpaceX a wealth of data from any onboard cameras and data recorders, as well as the physical condition of Starship itself – including three Raptor engines with several minutes of flight time. While SpaceX likely already managed to determine a great deal from over-the-air telemetry and wreckage taken from Starships SN8 through SN11, it now has a virtually unharmed, full-scale, full-fidelity prototype to truly compare and contrast with more theoretical engineering and flight performance models.
Perhaps most importantly, though, SN15’s success also raises the question: what’s next for SpaceX and its Starship program?
The reality is that things could go any number of directions depending on Starship SN15’s condition and just how successful SpaceX determines the flight really was. If Starship SN15 and its tanks, flaps, and Raptors are all in impeccable condition, it’s not impossible to imagine that SpaceX could do what it did after Starship SN8’s near-total success and scrap Starship prototypes SN17, SN18, and SN19 before work really begins. While unlikely, SN15 could even fly a second time in that scenario.
Starship SN16 is already more or less complete could easily be ready to roll to the launch pad within the next week. Odds are good that SpaceX will use SN16 to (hopefully) replicate Starship SN15’s spectacular success and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the vehicle’s current design has fixed the issues that doomed SN8 through SN11. With SpaceX’s Starship program, though, just about anything is possible – especially at a point that CEO Elon Musk appears to be seriously considering a giant tower with arms as a replacement for landing legs.
Meanwhile, Musk himself confirmed that SpaceX is working towards a goal of launching Starship into orbit for the first time by July 2021. Beginning with Starship SN20, those initial orbital flight tests will use Starship prototypes with still more upgrades beyond the “hundreds of improvements” present of SN15. It’s unclear how significant the upgrades needed to move from SN15’s design to an orbit-capable Starship are but at minimum, SpaceX will need to outfit orbital ships with a full heat shield and three new vacuum-optimized Raptors on top of the three sea-level engines already flown on SN8 through SN15.
Musk has implied that recovering a Starship prototype from orbit could take several failed attempts before the first success. Along those lines, SpaceX has its work cut out for it given that Starship will be the heaviest orbital spacecraft ever launched by a large margin. Unlike the ~100 metric ton (220,000 lb) Space Shuttle orbiter, though, SpaceX won’t be gambling the lives of astronauts on Starship’s initial orbital flight tests, leaving far more room for uncertainty and risk-taking.
Beyond Starship itself, SpaceX has yet to complete or test a flightworthy Super Heavy booster prototype and the company’s orbital-class Starship launch facilities are far from complete. Many parts of Super Heavy boosters BN2 and BN3 have been completed and are waiting for integration to begin and SpaceX has made a huge amount of progress on said orbital launch site over the last six months, but months of work almost certainly remain before either crucial component will be ready for orbital launch attempts.
For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to Starship SN15 and SN16.
Tesla raises Model 3 and Model Y prices anew after selling out Q2 production capacity
Amidst reports that Tesla has already sold out its full second quarter production capacity, the electric car maker implemented a new round of price increases for the Model 3 and Model Y, its two most popular vehicles. The latest round of price adjustments adds $500 to the cost of the Model 3 Standard Range Plus, Model 3 Long Range Dual Motor AWD, and Model Y Long Range Dual Motor AWD.
As per Tesla’s updated website, the Model 3 Standard Range Plus now costs $39,490 before options, and the Model 3 Long Range Dual Motor AWD now costs $48,490 before options like white seats and the Full Self-Driving suite. Similar to the previous round of price adjustments initiated near the end of April, the Model 3 Performance’s price remains unchanged at $56,990 before options.
The same is true for the Tesla Model Y. With the recent round of price increases, the Model Y Long Range Dual Motor AWD now starts at $51,490. The Model Y Performance, on the other hand, kept its starting price of $60,990.
Tesla has implemented several price adjustments for the Model 3 and Model Y over the past months. In April alone, the company implemented two price increases of $500 each. But in February, Tesla rolled out a price reduction for the entry-level vehicles, with variants such as the Model 3 Standard Range Plus and the Model Y Long Range Dual Motor AWD receiving a $1,000 discount.
While Tesla tends to keep its vehicles’ prices volatile, it is quite understandable why the company has implemented its most recent round of price adjustments to its most popular cars. Reports have indicated that Tesla has sold out its second quarter production capacity, after all, which suggests that the company would likely have its hands full this Q2 2021 with just its existing vehicle orders.
The price increases also highlight the need for Tesla to launch its next two EV production facilities as soon as possible. Currently, Tesla is only meeting the demand for its vehicles with the output of the Fremont Factory and Gigafactory Shanghai, whose Model Y ramp is only beginning. With Giga Texas and Gigafactory Berlin joining the fray, Tesla’s overall production capacity per quarter would likely see a notable improvement.
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NIO announces Norway delivery & service center for Europe expansion
NIO plans to expand its automobile business to Europe, starting with a delivery and service center in Norway. The company revealed details about its plan at the NIO Norway press conference.
“From its founding, NIO’s vision is to be a global brand with high-quality products and services to the users worldwide. Norway is a sustainable and innovative country and resonates with our vision,” said William Li, founder, chairman, and CEO of NIO.”
NIO plans to break the ice in Norway by introducing the ES8, its’ smart electric flagship SUV to the country first. In 2022, NIO will introduce Norway to the ET7, the company’s flagship sedan. In September, the Chinese automaker plans to open a delivery and service center in Oslo as well. Then in 2022, NIO plans to expand its’ after-sales service network in Norway nationwide. As part of its premium service experience, NIO offers mobile service and car pickup-and-delivery services.
The China-based EV automaker plans to bring its holistic charging and swapping system to customers in Europe by establishing a charging map throughout the region and introducing NIO Power Swap stations. Norway will have the first NIO battery swapping station, connecting five major cities and freeways.
NIO wants to support its burgeoning community of ES8 and ET7 owners by establishing several physical and virtual spaces—where they can meet and mingle. For instance, NIO will be launching an app for Europe in Q1 2021.
The first NIO House outside of China will be located in Oslo, Norway’s capital. A NIO House can be described as more than a showroom for its cars since it also provides recreational spaces for NIO vehicle owners. The first NIO House in Norway will officially open its doors to the public in the third quarter of this year in Karl Johans Gate, a business center and cultural hub in Oslo. The company plans to build four NIO Spaces next year in Bergen, Stavanger, Trondheim, and Kristansand.
“NIO will bring its joyful lifestyle to local users by building a community starting with vehicles. We will all share joy and grow together,” said Marius Hayler, general manager of NIO Norway.
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