The Specialty Equipment Market Association show, better known by its acronym SEMA, is currently underway at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The annual event is open only to trade visitors, and presents an annual excuse for the world’s top aftermarket and tuning firms to show off their skills, with seemingly unlimited creativity funded by similarly unrestricted budgets.
Essentially a petrolhead nirvana, the OEMs are in on the act, too, with factory-developed 1,200hp Dodge Challenger drag cars, 725hp Nissan Frontier desert runners and endless variations of aftermarket accessories for your Acura SUV making their debuts. SEMA’s increasing popularity with fans has led to OEMs like Ford operating open-air drift demos that the public can view, too.
But what his this got to do with the future of the car?
Take a look at the recent Tokyo Motor Show, or the LA Auto Show taking place later this month and you see events that are being dramatically rebranded to meet the needs of connected consumers , and the potential future mobility solutions they need to be persuaded to adopt.
SEMA is deliberately further behind the curve, meeting the needs of car enthusiasts at their level, which is a key driver of its popularity.
However, even this bastion of car culture isn’t immune to the evolving nature of the car industry, and the seeds of EV change are being planted, particularly by the OEMs on whose future it depends.
What’s more, the signs of what can be done by the OEMs in a short time and with relatively modest budgets are extremely positive, even if you’re the sort of person who will require a huge amount of convincing in order to swap the petrol for electricity pumping through your veins.
Ford and Webasto join forces with the Mustang Lithium
Ford has been pretty vocal with its EV strategy, announcing investments of over $11.5bn in EVs over the next three years, including the launch of a Mustang-inspired SUV EV and an electric F-150 pick-up.
However, to begin turning the heads of enthusiasts, Ford partnered with supplier Webasto to create the Mustang Lithium. Using the current Mustang coupe as a base, albeit with bespoke carbon bodywork, the car uses a Webasto-sourced 800V electrical system that delivers electricity to a single Phi-Power e-motor with an output of over 900hp and almost 1,400Nm.
Interestingly, especially if you’re an enthusiast, the e-motor drives the rear wheels through a drag-race-spec six-speed manual gearbox, rather than a single-speed unit. Battery capacity isn’t mentioned, and neither is performance or vehicle weight.
According to Ford, the car is currently a one-off, but it being used as a testbed for high-performance EV tech. Amid a sea of high-horsepower cars, it’s actually the addition of the manual gearbox that’s likely to turn heads, reminding car guys and gals that just because a car is an EV, it doesn’t have to lose that crucial level of interaction provided by good old fashioned engineering.
Chevrolet E-10 Connect and Cruise electrifies history
Although Ford has already confirmed an electric F-150, GM hasn’t made much noise about its future e-truck plans. However, it did give a SEMA debut to its one-off Chevrolet E-10 concept truck hot rod.
The truck started life as a 1962 C-10, but went through an 18-week conversion process where its gas engine was swapped for a pair of Chevrolet Performance electric crate motors, two 400-volt batteries and a conventional SuperMatic 4L75-E automatic transmission.
The eCrate motors and transmission sit under the hood, looking a lot like a gas V8 in the process, driving the rear wheels, while power comes from a truck bed full of two battery packs and two lots of power electronics taken from the current Chevrolet Bolt EV, each offering 60 kWh of usable energy.
GM claims that the system provides an estimated 450hp to the rear wheels, making the truck capable of a benchmark 0-60mph time of around five seconds. The concept also includes a three-speaker sound emulator, so you can make it at least pretend to sound like a V8.
Although the sound emulator is a bit gimmicky, the eCrate motor – essentially an EV powertrain you will be able to buy off the shelf, just as you can with a performance GM V8 now – is the bigger news.
Buying EV powertrains ready to install
Interesting project cars, particularly from the restomod scene, are already emerging where ICE-powertrains are removed and swapped for that of an EV – often a Tesla that has met an early end.
A powerful eCrate motor from a known source like GM seems like another smart way of gently encouraging enthusiasts to see electric vehicles not as inflexible devices, but as something that can be customized or rethought in a new or novel way.
For example, fitting electric powertrains to classic cars – giving a desirable blend of historical design with modem, environmentally aware underpinnings – appears to be an emerging tuner trend. In fact, the OEMs have also been exploring this idea, with Aston Martin, Jaguar and Volkswagen all showing old models revitalized with EV underpinnings.
The latter has been met with some controversy, too, with some classic car owners clubs lamenting the removal of an original powertrain – no matter how damaged – at the cost of originality. However, while controversial, the move is very much aligned with the tuner scene, which has made a habit of transplanting engines across vehicle types and manufacturers.
Why all the effort to get enthusiasts on side?
The bigger picture therefore becomes a little clearer. The type of person who attends a show like SEMA is in the minority, and sits right at the extreme end of car culture, and likely has quite specific ideas about what should power a car.
However, by gently nudging the enthusiast community with the promise of restomods, huge horsepower, and even keeping the manual gearbox alive, there’s a good chance that some of the biggest opponents of the switch to EVs could become its biggest fans and evangelists.
While SEMA is hardly awash with EV debuts, it’s likely that the cars shown above will be noticed, spark an interest, and allow some of the automotive industry’s most creative minds to run free. We await next year’s show with interest to see what they come up with.
SpaceX’s first flight-proven Starship heads back to launch pad for round two
Defying most expectations, SpaceX has moved the first full-size flight-proven Starship back to the launch pad less than a week after the prototype survived a high-altitude launch and landing.
Two days after that spectacular launch and four days ago, CEO Elon Musk revealed that SpaceX “might try to refly [Starship] SN15 soon,” indicating that the rocket landed in spectacularly good condition. While Starship SN15’s ~10 km launch was far less stressful than those experienced by orbital-class Falcon boosters, reusing the first successfully recovered Starship prototype mere weeks after that first landing would be an extraordinary achievement given that SpaceX took more than 15 months to reuse a Falcon booster after the rocket’s first landing.
Early on Tuesday, May 11th, Starship prototype SN15 began to move for the second time since its May 5th launch and landing. Carried by a custom transporter designed to secure landed Starships without the need for a crane, SN15 was carefully rolled a few hundred feet from the landing zone to “Suborbital Mount B” – one of two identical launch mounts. Used by Starship SN15 throughout its test and launch campaign, Mount A is in the process of being refurbished.
While SpaceX has yet to actually install Starship SN15 on Mount B, the prototype has been attached to a crane and said installation is imminent – possibly just waiting for winds to die down. As of publishing, SpaceX has removed SN15’s six ‘used’ landing legs but hasn’t replaced them – a necessary step before the Starship can fly again.
It’s unclear if legs can be installed after a Starship is affixed to a launch mount, meaning that SpaceX might also be waiting for winds to die down so it can lift SN15 off its transporter and replace its legs – an understandably sensitive process given the need for workers to clamber under and around a 100+ metric ton rocket hanging in the breeze.
It’s worth noting that even after SpaceX reinstalls Starship SN15 on a launch mount, there’s no guarantee that the prototype will fly again. Before any reflight, SpaceX will almost certainly put the rocket through at least one additional tank proof test and static fire its Raptor engines. Issues or damage that escaped initial post-flight inspections could easily arise during that process and it’s more likely than not that one or more of SN15’s three Raptors will be removed for detailed inspection or replaced outright.
For now, stay tuned as SpaceX prepares to install Starship SN15 on a launch mount for the second time and the company’s next steps hopefully come into focus.
Tesla Giga Texas ‘Bobcat Project’: What we know so far
Tesla recently purchased another plot of land to the East of the Giga Texas facility that the company is currently working on constructing. Documents from the Austin, Texas Public Database show that Tesla purchased another slice of land, but what are the company’s plans for it? Here is what we know so far.
According to documents from the Austin, Texas Public Database, Tesla has purchased another plot of land that is 150.21 acres in size and measures to be 6,543,147.6 square feet. It was purchased by the Colorado River Project, Tesla’s subsidiary in Texas that also purchased the land under the same name for what eventually became known as the Giga Texas facility. Sources in Texas told Teslarati that the property sits directly to the East of the main Giga Texas property, so it’s almost directly connected to Tesla’s main vehicle production operation.
According to the filings, Tesla has submitted Site Plans and an Environmental Review, but several other documents are waiting for submittal.
Currently, there are no plans in place, nor is there any confirmation from Tesla regarding what the facility could be used for. However, there is plenty of speculation regarding what could be going on.
Rumors circulating through the Tesla community seem to point toward a battery cell production facility. It makes sense considering the automaker is set on producing its own 4680 cells in-house. Currently being produced at Tesla’s Kato Road facility in Northern California, the 4680 cells were unveiled by Tesla last year at the company’s Battery Day event in September. Interestingly, Tesla has had battery projects in the past that have used code names of cats, as Project Tiger was used for the Gigafactory Nevada plant in Sparks, Nevada. The facility, known as the Tesla Gigafactory, produces electric motors for the Model 3, along with battery packs. Tesla’s Powerwall and Powerpack energy products are also produced at the site.
The idea to use a cat in Tesla’s plans could ultimately derive from Li-ion, a common abbreviation for Lithium-Ion battery cells, which are used in electric vehicles. Li-ion, or Lion, may have been the inspiration for Tesla’s Project Tiger, which ultimately culminated in the Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. Now, if consistency means anything, the Bobcat Project could point toward the same use, just in Texas where Musk, along with other Tesla executives, have moved to after vacating California.
Terafactory Texas posted a breakdown of the current progress of the Bobcat Project on YouTube on May 5th.
Elon Musk polls nearly 54 million people: Should Tesla accept $DOGE?
Tesla CEO Elon Musk polled his nearly 54 million Twitter followers last night to ask one important question: “Do you want Tesla to accept Doge?”
At around 1:15 PM EST, the poll had accumulated over 3.06 million submissions, with 77.5% of the participants voting “Yes.” Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency, has gained notoriety over the past few months due to its meteoric rise in value amid a rise in popularity. Musk has been a vocal supporter of Dogecoin and other cryptos like Bitcoin. The self-proclaimed “Dogefather,” Musk now is asking whether the crypto should be utilized to purchase Tesla products.
Do you want Tesla to accept Doge?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 11, 2021
Tesla recently started accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment for its cars in late March, but it wasn’t the automaker’s first venture with the crypto. In fact, Tesla had disclosed in its 2020 10-K filing with the SEC that it had invested $1.5 billion in Bitcoin in December. Upon the release of the Q1 2021 Earnings Call in April, Tesla had sold part of its investment and had made over $100 million in profit. Musk said that Tesla will accept Bitcoin in other regions later this year.
Dogecoin has surged over 10,000% so far this year but encountered some pullback over the weekend. Despite Musk’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, where he spoke freely about Doge in a positive tone, the coin managed to fall significantly from its .75 peak, hitting a low of 42.04 cents in the past 24 hours. Currently, Doge is up on the day and has gained around 3 cents total. Currently, it is trading at around .50 per coin.
Musk has put his money where his mouth is when it comes to Doge and its public acceptance and subsequent use to purchase consumer goods. He spoke highly about Bitcoin earlier this year, stating that he believes the crypto will eventually become widely accepted by the traditional financial people.” I do at this point think Bitcoin is a good thing, and I am a supporter of Bitcoin. I think Bitcoin is really on the verge of getting broad acceptance by conventional finance people,” Musk said.
Musk also opened the possibility of Dogecoin being used for SpaceX missions, as the DOGE-1 Mission to the Moon could come in Q1 2022.
SpaceX is going to put a literal Dogecoin on the literal moon
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 1, 2021
Tesla appoints a director for its operation in India
Tesla has appointed a Director for its operation in India. The company has chosen Prashanth R. Menon, who has been with Tesla for four years, to oversee the company’s introduction into the Indian market.
Menon’s LinkedIn was updated recently, and his job title now indicates that he is the Director of Tesla’s India operation. Previously, he acted as the Director Advisory of Cost, Process, and Regulatory measures in the United States. The in-house hire will be advantageous to Tesla for several reasons, but the most notable is that Menon already knows the company very well from his previous experience. He shares some experience prior to Tesla with Elon Musk, as the two both attended the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School of Business.
The new job title for Prashanth Menon was found by @TeslaClubIN on Twitter.
BREAKING : Tesla India now seems to have a Country Director.
— Tesla Club India® (@TeslaClubIN) May 11, 2021
Menon will join Tesla’s already-established group of executives who are in charge of the company’s entrance into India. Earlier this year, Tesla named David Feinstein, Vaibhav Taneja, and Venkatrangam Sreeram as the three employees who would oversee the introductory and subsequent operations in the country. While the India project has been speculated for several years, it seems Tesla is making adequate progress so far in 2021 to get the operation up and running.
Details regarding Tesla in India remain relatively sparse, and new updates occur every few months, it seems. Tesla is currently attempting to get its Giga Texas and Giga Berlin factories up and running by the end of the year. CEO Elon Musk says that volume production for both factories is expected to begin in 2022, but limited production will occur at both factories this year.
Meanwhile, Tesla continues to make minor strides with India. Although there were rumors that Tesla would launch the India Design Studio in January, there have been no indications that the automaker is opening up the possibility of ordering a vehicle through its website. However, this could be because Tesla has not yet officially finalized plans for a production facility, although it does list its address in Bangalore, the capital of the Indian State of Karnataka. There have been several rumors regarding where Tesla plans to open up its initial production facility in India. Karnataka has been mentioned as the choice for Tesla’s manufacturing plant by the State’s Chief Minister. The automaker has not yet confirmed or denied these reports.
Tesla’s executive team continues to build out into an impressive stack of company employees and automotive industry veterans. More details are sure to come in the coming months as Tesla gears up to continue its expanding outreach of EVs globally.
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