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NHTSA urges some Chevy Bolt owners to park their car away from home, citing fire risk

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Chevrolet Bolts are back in the news — this time for another consumer alert issued by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, less than a year after the agency issued a recall for a similar issue.

NHTSA is recommending owners of Model Year 2017-2019 park their Bolts away from homes due to the risk of fire. Those are the same vehicles that were recalled in November 2020, due to the possibility of fire from the battery pack underneath the backseat’s cushion. The recall affected 50,932 2017-2019 Chevy Bolt vehicles.

But this recall seems to have been triggered by two recent fire incidents in vehicles that were supposedly remedied as part of that previous safety recall, General Motors said on its website.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are asking owners of 2017-2019 Chevrolet Bolt EVs who were part of the recall population to park their vehicles outdoors immediately after charging and not leave their vehicles charging overnight while we investigate these incidents.”

GM says it has potentially identified a remedy to the battery anomalies, which customers can access by visiting a participating Bolt dealer. Customers of 2019 Bolts were able to access this remedy from April 29, and owners of 2017 and 2018 Bolts were eligible from May 26. The diagnostic software GM used to identify the anomalies will be standard in 2022 Bolts, and other future GM vehicles, the automaker said.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/14/nhtsa-urges-some-chevy-bolt-owners-to-park-their-car-away-from-home-citing-fire-risk/

Automotive

Drivers for Elon Musk’s Loop get a script about their ‘great leader’

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Drivers for Elon Musk’s underground Loop system in Las Vegas have been instructed to bypass passengers’ questions about how long they have been driving for the company, declare ignorance about crashes, and shut down conversations about Musk himself.

Using public records laws, TechCrunch obtained documents that detail daily operations at the Loop, which opened in June to transport attendees around the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) using modified Tesla vehicles. Among the documents is a “Ride Script” that every new recruit must follow when curious passengers ask questions.

The script shows just how serious The Boring Company (TBC), which built and operates the system, is about controlling the public image of the new system, its technology and especially its founder, Elon Musk.

“Your goal is to provide a safe ride for the passengers, not an entertaining ride. Keep conversation to a minimum so you can focus on the road,” advises the document. “Passengers will pepper you with questions. Here are some you may be asked and the recommended responses.”

If riders ask a driver how long they have been with the company, they are instructed to respond with: “Long enough to know these tunnels pretty well!” The document goes on to note: “Passengers will not feel safe if they think you’ve only been driving for a week (even though that could mean hundreds of rides). Accordingly, do not share how long you’ve been employed here, but instead, find a way to evade the question or shift the focus,” the document advises drivers.

When asked how many crashes the system has experienced, drivers are told to respond: “It’s a very safe system, and I’m not sure. You’d have to reach out to the company.” Riders should expect similarly vague responses if they wonder how many employees or drivers TBC has, or how much the tunnels cost to dig. (About $53 million in total).

The use of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system that is branded “Autopilot” is clearly a sore point at TBC. Clark County does not currently permit the use of the various driver assistance features anywhere within the Loop system, including automatic emergency braking or technologies that make the vehicle aware of obstacles and keep the vehicle in lane.

Officials even require mechanics to check the vehicles to ensure these are not activated.

“In addition to completing the actions under the initial inspection checklist, maintenance staff will verify that the automatic features of the vehicle, such as steering and braking/acceleration/deceleration assist (commonly known as Autopilot) are disabled for manual loop operation,” the document reads. The following checks will be conducted on a daily basis by CWPM technicians, according to the Vehicle Maintenance plan viewed by TechCrunch.

If a passenger should ask whether the Loop’s Tesla vehicles use Autopilot, drivers will give a response. However, this content was marked “Public Safety Related Confidential” in the documents TechCrunch received and was redacted, as were many other technical details.

TechCrunch’s repeated requests to officials to explain this decision went unanswered.

He who shall not be named

The script also covers responses to questions about Musk himself: “This category of questions is extremely common and extremely sensitive. Public fascination with our founder is inevitable and may dominate the conversation. Be as brief as possible, and do your best to shut down such conversation. If passengers continue to force the topic, politely say, ‘I’m sorry, but I really can’t comment’ and change the subject.”

Nevertheless, the script provides a number of replies to common Musk questions. Ask what Musk is like and you should expect the answer: “He’s awesome! Inspiring / motivating / etc.”

Follow up with: “Do you like working for him?” and you’ll get a response that could have come straight from North Korea: “Yup, he’s a great leader! He motivates us to do great work.”

Should a customer wonder how involved Musk is in the business, the driver will tell them: “He’s the company founder, and has been very involved and supportive.” Questions about Musk’s erratic tweets will be brushed off: “Elon is a public figure. We’re just here to provide an awesome transportation experience!”

One question, however, seems to hint that not everyone is happy working for Musk: “Is it true what I’ve read about him in the papers that he [is a mean boss / smokes pot / doesn’t let employees take vacations / etc.]?” Your driver’s rather equivocal response will be: “I haven’t seen that article, but that hasn’t been my experience.”

On a side note: While the hundreds of pages of training documents and operational manuals that TechCrunch obtained detail strong policies against drug use and harassment at the Loop, the word “vacation” does not otherwise appear.

Tech that’s allowed

Because Clark County currently forbids the use of automated driving features in the Loop, human drivers could be part of the system for some time. But the system is home to plenty of other advanced technologies, according to design and operational documents submitted to Clark County. Each of the 62 Teslas in the underground Loop has a unique RFID chip — as used in contactless payment systems — that pinpoints its location when it passes over one of 55 antennas installed in the roadway, stations and parking stalls.

Each vehicle also streams data to 24 hotspots through the system, sharing its speed, state of charge, the number of passengers in the car, and whether they are wearing seatbelts. Riders should be aware that every car is also constantly streaming real-time video from a camera inside the passenger cabin. All this data, along with video from 81 fixed cameras throughout the Loop, is fed to an Operations Control Center (OCC) located a few blocks away from the Convention Center. Video is recorded and stored for at least two weeks.

In the OCC, an operator is monitoring the camera feeds and other sensors for security threats or other problems — such as a driver using their own cellphone or speeding. The OCC can communicate with any driver via a Bluetooth headset or an in-car iPad that displays messages, alerts and a map of the car’s location in the tunnels. Vehicles have strict speed limits, ranging from 10 mph within stations to 40 mph on straight tunnel sections, and must maintain at least 6 seconds of separation from the car in front.

During testing this spring, the documents reveal that Clark County officials found some drivers were not following all the rules. “When asked about the speed limitations, several drivers replied with wrong straightaway and/or curved tunnel speeds. None provided at station, express lane, or ramp speeds,” reads one document. “Drivers were not announcing to the passengers to buckle their seatbelts. When asked, [some were saying] that they are optional or not required.”

Several drivers were also failing to maintain the 6-second safety margin with cars in front. TBC told Clark County that it would provide refresher training in those areas.

TBC, Clark County, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which oversees the LVCC, did not reply to multiple requests for comment for this story.

The LVCVA recently signed a contract with Alphabet’s spin-out urban advertising agency, Intersection Media, to sell naming rights to the Loop system, which it hopes will net it $4.5 million.

TBC is currently building two extensions to the Loop to serve nearby hotels and ultimately wants to build a transit system covering much of the Strip and downtown Las Vegas with more than 40 stations. That system would be financed by TBC and supported by ticket sales.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/read-the-script-every-driver-for-elon-musks-las-vegas-loop-must-learn/

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Redwood Materials raises $700M to expand its battery recycling operation

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Redwood Materials CEO JB Straubel shared his aspirations last year to turn the startup he co-founded in 2017 into one of the world’s major battery recycling companies. Now, the former Tesla co-founder and CTO has the money to accelerate those plans.

Redwood Materials said Wednesday it raised $700 million from high-profile institutional investors and venture firms, providing the capital needed to expand its existing operations well beyond its Carson City, Nevada, home base to locations throughout North America and even into Europe.

The Series C round was led by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates and included Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Baillie Gifford, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Fidelity. Previous investors — Capricorn’s Technology Impact Fund, Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund — returned to put more capital into Redwood. Valor Equity Partners, Emerson Collective and Franklin Templeton also participated, the company said.

Redwood previously raised $40 million in a Series B and some seed money, which brings its total raise under $800 million, according to the company.

The company’s post-funding valuation is $3.7 billion, according to a source familiar with the investment round. Redwood declined to comment on the figure.

Redwood Materials is aiming to create a circular supply chain. This closed-loop system, Straubel said, will be essential if the world’s battery cell producers hope to have the supply needed for consumer electronics and the coming wave of electric vehicles.

Redwood recycles scrap from battery cell production and consumer electronics like cell phone batteries, laptop computers, power tools, power banks, scooters and electric bicycles. It then processes these discarded goods, extracting materials like cobalt, nickel and lithium that are typically mined, and then supplies those back to its customers, which today includes Panasonic at the Gigafactory in Nevada that it operates with Tesla and Envision AESC’s battery plant in Tennessee. Redwood has also partnered with Amazon to recycle EV and other lithium-ion batteries and e-waste from parts of their businesses.

“In our view, the need for these materials will grow exponentially over time as we enter the era of de-carbonization,” Joe Fath, portfolio manager of the T. Rowe Price Growth Stock Fund, said in a statement, adding that “Redwood is well-positioned to be at the forefront of tackling this emerging and critically important problem.”

Straubel sees a bottleneck coming as the whole supply chain seeks to access critical materials. That will affect the growth rate and challenge automakers like Ford, GM and Volkswagen that have laid out ambitious plans to electrify their portfolios.

That problem is likely to compound as more automakers go down the electric path. Last week, Mercedes-Benz said it will spend €40 billion ($47 billion) to become an electric-only automaker by the end of the decade. The German automaker determined it will need battery capacity of more than 200 gigawatt-hours. To meet those needs, Mercedes plans to set up eight battery factories with existing partners and one new partner to produce cells.

Straubel said it’s time for Redwood to scale more aggressively.

Those plans were already well underway even before it closed the $700 million round, Straubel noted. The company announced in June it had purchased 100 acres of land near the Gigafactory that Panasonic operates with Tesla in Sparks, Nevada. Redwood now has some operations at the site.

Redwood is also in the process of nearly tripling the size of its existing 150,000-square-foot facility in Carson City, Nevada. The new 400,000-square-foot addition onto the recycling facility is expected to be operational by the end of the year.

To support the growth, Redwood started hiring more employees, with plans to add more than 500 jobs over the next two years. Redwood employs more than 130 people today.

The company has expanded in other ways as well, including the launch of a program that allows consumers to send in personal electronics such as smartphones to be recycled.

“This additional equity to some extent helps us finish all those things, but it’s not really the primary purpose for all of it,” Straubel said.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/redwood-materials-raises-700m-to-expand-its-battery-recycling-operation/

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Redwood Materials raises $700M to expand its battery recycling operation

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Redwood Materials CEO JB Straubel shared his aspirations last year to turn the startup he co-founded in 2017 into one of the world’s major battery recycling companies. Now, the former Tesla co-founder and CTO has the money to accelerate those plans.

Redwood Materials said Wednesday it raised $700 million from high-profile institutional investors and venture firms, providing the capital needed to expand its existing operations well beyond its Carson City, Nevada, home base to locations throughout North America and even into Europe.

The Series C round was led by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates and included Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Baillie Gifford, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Fidelity. Previous investors — Capricorn’s Technology Impact Fund, Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund — returned to put more capital into Redwood. Valor Equity Partners, Emerson Collective and Franklin Templeton also participated, the company said.

Redwood previously raised $40 million in a Series B and some seed money, which brings its total raise under $800 million, according to the company.

The company’s post-funding valuation is $3.7 billion, according to a source familiar with the investment round. Redwood declined to comment on the figure.

Redwood Materials is aiming to create a circular supply chain. This closed-loop system, Straubel said, will be essential if the world’s battery cell producers hope to have the supply needed for consumer electronics and the coming wave of electric vehicles.

Redwood recycles scrap from battery cell production and consumer electronics like cell phone batteries, laptop computers, power tools, power banks, scooters and electric bicycles. It then processes these discarded goods, extracting materials like cobalt, nickel and lithium that are typically mined, and then supplies those back to its customers, which today includes Panasonic at the Gigafactory in Nevada that it operates with Tesla and Envision AESC’s battery plant in Tennessee. Redwood has also partnered with Amazon to recycle EV and other lithium-ion batteries and e-waste from parts of their businesses.

“In our view, the need for these materials will grow exponentially over time as we enter the era of de-carbonization,” Joe Fath, portfolio manager of the T. Rowe Price Growth Stock Fund, said in a statement, adding that “Redwood is well-positioned to be at the forefront of tackling this emerging and critically important problem.”

Straubel sees a bottleneck coming as the whole supply chain seeks to access critical materials. That will affect the growth rate and challenge automakers like Ford, GM and Volkswagen that have laid out ambitious plans to electrify their portfolios.

That problem is likely to compound as more automakers go down the electric path. Last week, Mercedes-Benz said it will spend €40 billion ($47 billion) to become an electric-only automaker by the end of the decade. The German automaker determined it will need battery capacity of more than 200 gigawatt-hours. To meet those needs, Mercedes plans to set up eight battery factories with existing partners and one new partner to produce cells.

Straubel said it’s time for Redwood to scale more aggressively.

Those plans were already well underway even before it closed the $700 million round, Straubel noted. The company announced in June it had purchased 100 acres of land near the Gigafactory that Panasonic operates with Tesla in Sparks, Nevada. Redwood now has some operations at the site.

Redwood is also in the process of nearly tripling the size of its existing 150,000-square-foot facility in Carson City, Nevada. The new 400,000-square-foot addition onto the recycling facility is expected to be operational by the end of the year.

To support the growth, Redwood started hiring more employees, with plans to add more than 500 jobs over the next two years. Redwood employs more than 130 people today.

The company has expanded in other ways as well, including the launch of a program that allows consumers to send in personal electronics such as smartphones to be recycled.

“This additional equity to some extent helps us finish all those things, but it’s not really the primary purpose for all of it,” Straubel said.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/redwood-materials-raises-700m-to-expand-its-battery-recycling-operation/

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Onto raises $175 million in Series B to expand EV subscription service in the UK

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Onto has raised $175 million in a combined equity and debt Series B round, capital the U.K.-based electric vehicle subscription startup plans to use to expand within the country as well as move into new markets. 

This latest round brings Onto’s total funding to $245 million. Swedish VC Alfvén & Didrikson is leading the round on the equity raise, and British investment company Pollen Street Capital is providing a senior-secured asset-backed debt facility. The company says it plans to double its fleet size every three to six months, and that any new vehicles will be used as collateral. Onto did not disclose how much of the round came from equity versus debt. 

The car-as-a-service company is finding that sweet spot between society’s growing adoration for subscription services and EV adoption driven by legislation. The U.K., like many other countries, is banning internal combustion engine new car sales by 2030, so more people are looking for ways to make the switch to electric.

That shift from gas to electric is accelerating. New registrations of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles had a market share of 10.7% in the UK in 2020, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. That’s up from 6.6% in 2019. The organization noted that battery and plug-in hybrid electric cars together accounted for more than one in 10 registrations, up from around one in 30 in 2019.

Buying a car is often considered one of the worst investments you can make; it’s an asset that both depreciates and costs money the moment a customer buys it through financing. Yet there are millions of new car sales each year in the U.K. With a market size that large, Onto founder and CEO Rob Jolly thinks there’s plenty of room to make the subscriptions business a sustainable and profitable one.  

“Our total cost of ownership is very comparable with having your own car but you don’t have to worry about charging fees or servicing,” Jolly told TechCrunch. “The ballpark cost is £330 (~$450) per month. There’s no upfront deposit, which is huge. What we’re trying to do is remove all the barriers and actually make it easier for people to recognize that having a car on subscription is actually easier and more affordable than having a petrol or diesel car.” 

A brief glance at Onto’s website shows that the £330 ballpark is only accurate for certain cars at the lower range of the company’s fleet of 3,000 vehicles. The middle range could be a Peugeot at £450 (~$622) or a Hyundai at £560 (~$775), and high range could be a Jaguar or Tesla at £1299 (~$1,800).

If we crunch the numbers for leasing a Hyundai Kona, for example, the price is comparable depending on the lease length, which determines the monthly rate. Longer leases tend to have less monthly payments than shorter leases, and different sites have either exceedingly cheap or curiously expensive lease quotes, so let’s settle somewhere in the middle at £384 per month over a three year lease. This would be an annual cost of about £13,824 with a down payment of £3,456. The average cost of insurance for EVs in the U.K. is £2,264. The average person travels 35 miles by personal car per day, and the Hyundai Kona has a range of about 245 miles, so you really only need to fully charge it once a week. The average cost of charging the battery is about £10, so you’re looking at about £520 per year on charging. Maintenance for electric vehicles is minimal and usually included in a lease agreement. Tally it up and you get a number in the ballpark of £20,538 (~$28.304) over three years. At £560 per month, Onto’s service would cost a customer £20,160 (~$27,783) over the same three year period. When factoring in U.K.’s plug-in car grant, you could buy the car for £27,950 (~$38,620). 

Onto’s pricing is certainly comparable to other EV subscription businesses, like Steer in North America. Flux, in San Francisco, is markedly cheaper, offering Teslas for $600 per month, but it doesn’t include the “all-inclusive” services like road tax and insurance that Onto does. Granted, in the U.K., EV owners don’t actually have to pay for road tax.

Among other things Onto says are included in a subscription are home delivery on its vehicles and access to free charging via network partners like BP Pulse, Tesla Supercharger, InstaVolt and as of earlier this year Shell Recharge. The company has partnerships with 10 car brands and rents out 12 different EV models, and is in the process of firming up more automaker partnerships. Jolly wouldn’t share specifics on future partnerships. However, updates to the company’s website, which shows most recent additions of car models to book, suggest Volkswagen and its 2021 e-Up! will be the latest.

Jolly said it might take a while for the masses to catch on to both EVs and subscriptions, but he’s confident that offering customers a white-glove service that can be canceled anytime makes the choice as easy as possible. In fact, Jolly said Onto is very nearly profitable.

Onto’s lead investor, Alfvén & Didrikson (A&D), which usually invests in more SaaS businesses, has a long term investing structure. This has allowed the VC to take bigger bets on businesses like Onto’s that requires large upfront costs, according to Tiyam Afshari, partner at A&D.

“We’re happy to take those bets that we see are transforming an industry,” Afshari told TechCrunch. “Subscription as a form of ownership when it comes to cars is just a no-brainer if you look at all the hassle that comes from owning a car. So we feel quite strongly that the subscription model should and will grow to quite a significant part of the financing industry, and Onto is in a prime position to capitalize on that.”

Given its lead investor’s long term bet on Onto, it’s perceivable that the company might look towards Sweden as it seeks to expand outside the U.K. After all, the Scandinavians have taken to EVs faster than other countries, and another EV subscription service in Norway, imove, recently raised $19 million in a Series A.

For many users, the EV subscription service isn’t just about not having to worry about things like road tax, auto insurance and servicing. It’s about the flexibility of keeping up with the latest EV models. 

“The iPhone has updates every year because the tech is improving and the battery life gets slightly better,” said Jolly. “The same thing is going to happen and already is happening with EVs. We’re seeing that this is car ownership now for millennials. They can swap in for the latest and greatest car when it comes out, even if it’s just a car with 30 miles extra range. And that’s hugely prevalent within our customers.”

For Simon Smith of East Devon, 32, it’s never been about trying out the newest car. He joined Onto’s service in 2019 for ethical and financial reasons, and has found the different iterations of the Renault Zoe ZE40 to suit his needs entirely. 

“It’s still the most affordable way for me to drive electric,” Smith told TechCrunch. “I really wanted to go electric, but there wasn’t any obvious way of doing that or making that happen in 2019, and I would say it’s still fairly limited in the U.K. If you wanted to go electric, you’d probably have to save up a good deal of money even to buy second hand, and then you just wouldn’t have the flexibility.”

Smith says using Onto is a good approach for people who want to try before they buy, as well, which is no doubt at least partly why automakers like Tesla, Hyundai, Jaguar, Audi and Peugeot are interested in partnering up.

“Again, it’s an enormous market, of which we can kind of sit hand-in-hand with the car manufacturers and dealerships and the other aspects where we are one of a number of methods people have of acquiring the car now,” said Jolly.

Existing investors Legal and General, Campden Hill Capital and JamJar also participated in the equity round, alongside new investments from TotalEnergies Ventures, Vlerick Group, Dutch insurer Achmea Innovation Fund and the family office of Jim O’Neill. Lazard acted as financial advisor to Onto.  

This article was updated to reflect new information regarding car leases in the U.K. 

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/27/onto-raises-175-million-in-series-b-to-expand-ev-subscription-service-in-the-uk/

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