Tesla has submitted a building application for a new warehouse in the Oder-Spree district, where Gigafactory Berlin is located. Sascha Gehm, the district’s Head of Construction, noted in a statement to media outlet rbb that the warehouse would be the size of about three soccer fields.
Gehm noted that the application for the new warehouse, which spans 22,000 square meters or about 236,800 square feet, could be expedited. While Tesla’s permits for the Gigafactory Berlin complex have been quite complicated, the Head of Construction noted that the process would be simpler for the new location. Gehm stated that approvals for the project should realistically be completed in about three months.
The community in Grünheide will also have the opportunity to express their opinions on Tesla’s plans for the warehouse. Mayor Arne Christiani, for his part, has noted that Grünheide has not received any requests about Tesla’s new warehouse yet.
Even though Tesla has not provided any details about its plans for the new warehouse, speculations are abounding that the site may be used to store vehicles that are produced at Gigafactory Berlin. Other rumors have suggested that the site may be a potential location for Tesla’s local battery factory, though the Brandenburg Ministry of the Environment has noted that no permits for a battery facility have been filed by Tesla yet.
Tesla Gigafactory Berlin is poised to emerge as one of the electric car maker’s most advanced vehicle factories to date. As per Elon Musk, the vehicles that will be produced onsite, such as the Made-in-Germany Model Y, will be manufactured using the company’s latest technologies. Tesla Giga Berlin’s start of operations will also see the debut of its advanced paint shop, which should result in vehicles from the factory sporting unique colors and shades. Musk has also noted that Tesla will be building a battery plant in the area, which will provide 4680 cells for cars produced in Giga Berlin.
Tesla is expected to start the production of the Made-in-Germany Model Y in Gigafactory Berlin sometime this year.
Ornikar raises $120M as its driving school marketplace goes up a gear with car insurance
A French startup that set out to bring a new approach to driver education and road safety, and then used that foothold to expand into the related area of car insurance, is today announcing a big round of funding to continue building its service across Europe.
Ornikar, which prepares people for driving tests by providing online drivers education courses, lets those users organize in-person lessons with driving instructors, provides a booking system for taking their written and practical examinations, and finally provides them with competitive rates for getting car insurance as new drivers, has raised €100 million ($120 million).
The company intends to use the funding to expand its business. Drivers education services are live today in France and Spain, while insurance is offered today only in France: the plan will be to expand both of those to more markets.
The Series C is being led by KKR, with previous investors Idinvest, BPI, Elaia, Brighteye, and H14 also participating. Benjamin Gaignault, Ornikar’s CEO who co-founded the company with Flavien LeRendu (who also jointly holds the title of CEO), said the startup is not disclosing its valuation, but we understand from a source that it is around $750 million. The company has raised $175 million to date.
Ornikar has been around since 2013 and was founded, in Gaignault’s words, “to disrupt driving education.”
Coming into the market at a time when most of the process of organizing, learning and booking your driving education was not only very fragmented but completely offline, Ornikar’s internet-based offering represented a step change in how French people learned to drive: the process not only became easier, but on average about 40% cheaper to arrange.
Ornikar’s driving education business today includes not just online course materials and booking services, but a network of instructors across 1,000 towns and cities in France, and a business that launched last year in Spain, under the Onroad brand. Some 1.5 million people have taken Ornikar’s driving education courses to date, with another 2 million using its driving school, with growth accelerating: 420,000 new customers signed up with Ornikar in the last year alone.
Last year was a tricky one for companies in the business of transportation. People were generally staying put and not traveling anywhere, but when they were getting around, they wanted plenty of their own space to do so.
Translating that to markets like France and Spain where many towns will have solid public transportation and taxi services, people might have opted to use these less, looking instead to private vehicles in their place. And translating that to Ornikar, Gaignault said that people being at home more, and looking to use the time productively with a view to driving more in the future, the startup saw business growing by 30% each month last year.
Interestingly, it was in the middle of the pandemic that Ornikar launched its car insurance product, which came out of the same impetus as the driver education services: it was built to fill a hole in the market rethought with Ornikar’s users in mind.
Car insurance in France — a €17 billion ($20 billion) market annually — is dominated by big players, and when it comes to first-time drivers and looking for competitive rates, “the bigger companies are not comfortable with user experience,” said Gaignault. “It’s pretty poor and not aligned with expectations of the customers.”
The car insurance product — sold as Ornikar Assurance — is now on track to hit some 20,000 users by August (when it will have been in the market for a year).
While it accounts today for a small fraction of Ornikar’s revenues compared to its driver education platform, that take up — not just from alums of Ornikar’s drivers ed, but from those who had never used an Ornikar service before — is a good sign that it’s on to something big, Gaignault said.
“In October we noticed that 80% of our new insurance customers were not coming from Ornikar but from social media, Google ads and other outside sources,” he said. “That’s why we decided to create a new business unit and explore a business as an insuretech.”
But, he added, that will not be at the expense of the driving education: the two go hand in hand for a common goal of improving how people drive and improving road safety. Indeed, Gaignault said he envisions a time when one will feed into the other: not only will the driving school serve as a way of bringing in new insurance customers, but insurance rates can be impacted by how many driving courses a person takes to keep their knowledge of the driving code and best practices fresh.
“Ornikar has done a tremendous job creating a great experience for students and driving instructors through engaging online education courses and a well-designed marketplace,” said Patrick Devine, director at KKR and member of the Next Generation Technology Growth investment team. “We are thrilled to invest behind Benjamin, Flavien, and their talented team as they expand internationally and accelerate their insurance offering following the successful launches of Onroad in Spain and Ornikar Assurance.”
US military wants SpaceX to create a miniature, battery-powered Starlink dish
The US Department of Defense wants to find out if SpaceX can make a miniature, wireless version of the antennas currently used to connect to Starlink satellite internet.
The US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) announced its interest in miniaturized Starlink terminals as part of a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) soliciting proposals for dozens of small research and development projects under the US Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. At this stage, just hours after the round of SBIR proposal requests was published, it’s unclear if the US military is already coordinating with SpaceX on the topic of human-portable Starlink antennas or if the request is open to proposals from anyone.
Still, said request [PDF] does provide some intriguing details about its primary goals.
Hat-tip to Michael Sabo for spotting the SBIR.
In short, the purpose of the research topic is to “conduct a feasibility study to assess” whether it’s possible to “develop a small form factor system that enables reliable access to the Starlink commercial internet system.” In essence, as increasingly capable radio, data, and internet links have become a virtual necessity for a majority of people in the modern world, the same is true for military operations – connectivity is more useful and strategically essential than ever before.
Along those lines, US SOCOM wants to determine if it’s possible to develop an antenna that can connect to SpaceX’s vast Starlink satellite constellation while still being small and efficient enough for individual soldiers to carry – and operate – while on the move. Of note, the SBIR would necessarily be open to virtually any American business or individual capable of meeting its goals – not just SpaceX, in other words. As of today, SpaceX has never mentioned an interest in or willingness to allow third-party suppliers to develop Starlink-compatible antennas – a move that would undoubtedly make waves. As such, it seems safe – but perhaps not entirely safe – to assume that SOCOM is releasing this proposal request under the implicit assumption that only proposals from SpaceX itself will be considered.
Simultaneously, a miniature, battery-powered antenna capable of connecting to Starlink and providing a “reliable internet connection” would obviously be of immense commercial interest to both SpaceX and competing low Earth orbit internet constellation companies like OneWeb and Amazon. It’s unclear if accepting government funds and performing development under an SBIR grant – particularly for US military special forces – would interfere with SpaceX’s ability to commercialize the same wireless antenna for civilian use.
Of note, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has already stated that a miniature mobile Starlink antenna “sounds like a good idea,” though there has been no sign of any work on such a device.
Regardless, the DoD will accept proposals for the latest batch of SBIR contracts between May 19th and June 19th. If SOCOM ultimately chooses to award a Phase I contract and the resulting feasibility study concludes that human-portable Starlink antennas are within the realm of possibility, SpaceX (or unlikely third-party offerors) could move from theoretical or laboratory research to prototype development through a Phase II proposal. A hypothetical Phase III proposal would follow up Phase II with a focus on building and testing a substantial number of prototypes in the field, possibly resulting in an operational procurement contract.
Micromobility’s next big business is software, not vehicles
The days of the shared, dockless micromobility model are numbered. That’s essentially the conclusion reached by Puneeth Meruva, an associate at Trucks Venture Capital who recently authored a detailed research brief on micromobility. Meruva is of the opinion that the standard for permit-capped, dockless scooter-sharing is not sustainable — the overhead is too costly, the returns too low — and that the industry could splinter.
Most companies playing to win have begun to vertically integrate their tech stacks by developing or acquiring new technology.
“Because shared services have started a cultural transition, people are more open to buying their own e-bike or e-scooter,” Meruva told TechCrunch. “Fundamentally because of how much city regulation is involved in each of these trips, it could reasonably become a transportation utility that is very useful for the end consumer, but it just hasn’t proven itself to be a profitable line of business.”
As dockless e-scooters, e-bikes and e-mopeds expand their footprint while consolidating under a few umbrella corporations, companies might develop or acquire the technology to streamline and reduce operational costs enough to achieve unit economics. One overlooked but massive factor in the micromobility space is the software that powers the vehicles — who owns it, if it’s made in-house and how well it integrates with the rest of the tech stack.
It’s the software that can determine if a company breaks out of the rideshare model into the sales or subscription model, or becomes subsidized by or absorbed into public transit, Meruva predicts.
Vehicle operating systems haven’t been top of mind for most companies in the short history of micromobility. The initial goal was making sure the hardware didn’t break down or burst into flames. When e-scooters came on the scene, they caused a ruckus. Riders without helmets zipped through city streets and many vehicles ended up in ditches or blocking sidewalk accessibility.
City officials were angry, to say the least, and branded dockless modes of transport a public nuisance. However, micromobility companies had to answer to their overeager investors — the ones who missed out on the Uber and Lyft craze and threw millions at electric mobility, hoping for swift returns. What was a Bird or a Lime to do? The only thing to do: Get back on that electric two-wheeler and start schmoozing cities.
How the fight for cities indirectly improved vehicle software
Shared, dockless operators are currently in a war of attrition, fighting to get the last remaining city permits. But as the industry seeks a business to government (B2G) model that morphs into what companies think cities want, some are inadvertently producing vehicles that will evolve beyond functional toys and into more viable transportation alternatives.
The second wave of micromobility was marked by newer companies like Superpedestrian and Voi Technology. They learned from past industry mistakes and developed business strategies that include building onboard operating systems in-house. The goal? More control over rider behavior and better compliance with city regulations.
Most companies playing to win have begun to vertically integrate their tech stacks by developing or acquiring new technology. Lime, Bird, Superpedestrian, Spin and Voi all design their own vehicles and write their own fleet management software or other operational tools. Lime writes its own firmware, which sits directly on top of the vehicle hardware primitives and helps control things like motor controllers, batteries and connected lights and locks.
Ford to open Mustang Mach-E GT ordering, pricing details on April 26
Ford is reportedly preparing to launch the ordering and pricing details of its Mustang Mach-E GT variant. The GT version of the Mustang Mach-E is Ford’s most performance-savvy variant of its introductory electric car.
According to sources who are familiar with the matter, Ford is communicating to dealers and EV Leads that the order bank, order guide, and pricing list for the Mach-E GT will open during the afternoon of Monday, April 26. This is the same day that Tesla plans to have its Q1 2021 Earnings Call.
According to user “Sitdown” on the Mach-E Forum, Ford’s corporate office is communicating the following message to dealers:
“Hello EV Leads and Dealer Principals, The 2021 Mustang Mach-E Job 2 (including Mustang Mach-E GT) order bank, order guide, and price list will launch on the afternoon of Monday, April 26th*. Customers will be invited to convert Mustang Mach-E GT Reservations on April 28th. There are two actions required of EV Certified dealers that will ensure a smooth transition to Job 2:
Action 1: Revisit Mustang Mach-E pricing rules in VL Plus. Please reference the attached letter and guide for more details.
Action 2: Accept any outstanding customer Orders Requiring Attention in the Online Order Acceptance Portal. (go to WBDO > Useful Links > Online Order Acceptance Portal > Customer Handling > Orders Requiring Attention > Accept)
*For Mustang Mach-E GT Reservation customers: Some customers may believe that they can ensure an earlier build date by placing a new retail order and canceling their reservation. This is not true. New retail GT orders will likely be scheduled into the ‘22MY. The best way for customers to get their vehicle as soon as possible is to follow the intended reservation-to-order process.”
The GT variant of the all-electric Mustang Mach-E packs 480 horsepower, 600 pounds of ft. torque for the introductory version, and 634 pounds for the GT Performance configuration. The range is expected to be 250 and 235 miles for the two builds, respectively. Both cars will get from 0-60 in 3.8 and 3.5 seconds, respectively.
Other users on the Mach-E Forum confirmed that they had also received the email regarding the order and pricing details. It appears EV enthusiasts and Ford enthusiasts alike will have more information regarding the Mach-E’s GT variants in the coming week.
The Mach-E has received favorable reviews from nearly everyone who has driven it. It packs a punch that is synonymous with the Mustang name, but also the sustainable approach that comes with an EV. To date, Ford hasn’t experienced too many setbacks with the Mach-E, but a recent report indicates that some owners are having trouble with software. Ford plans to repair this issue with service visits but has also hinted toward a potential Over-the-Air software update that could solve the problem.
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