Tesla email reveals two employees have tested positive for COVID-19

Two Tesla employees, who had been working at home for nearly two weeks, have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an internal email sent Thursday morning by the company’s head of environmental, health, and safety department and viewed by TechCrunch .

The employees were not symptomatic in the office, and both are quarantined at home and recovering well, according to the email from Tesla’s EHS department head Laurie Shelby. Their co-workers, who were already working from home for nearly two weeks as well, were notified so they can quarantine, the email read. The email did not disclose what locations the employees were working at.

“In both cases, interactions with the individuals had a low likelihood of transmission based on the minimal staff onsite and social distancing measures we took earlier this month,” Shelby wrote in the email.

Tesla could not be reached for comment. Business Insider previously reported on the same internal email.

The email has heightened concern among several Tesla employees that TechCrunch has spoken to, as they weigh the risk of coming into work or using paid-time off or unpaid leave to stay at home. Tesla employs more than 48,000 people at its headquarters, factories, sales and service centers and delivery hubs throughout the U.S. While some employees are able to work from home, the company still has workers at its delivery and service centers as well as an estimated 2,500 people at its Fremont, Calif. factory.

Tesla suspended production at its Fremont factory beginning March 23, days after a shelter-in-place order went into effect in Alameda County due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some basic operations that support Tesla’s charging infrastructure and what it describes as its “vehicle and energy services operations” have continued at the factory, which under normal circumstances employs more than 10,000 people.

The decision to suspend production at Fremont came after a multi-day public tussle between the automaker and local officials in Alameda County over what was considered an “essential” business.

Tesla has also suspended operations at its factory in Buffalo, N.Y., except for “those parts and supplies necessary for service, infrastructure and critical supply chains,” the company said in a statement. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Wednesday that he plans to reopen the Buffalo factory to produce ventilators, a critical piece of medical equipment used in severe cases of COVID-19.

The email comes just two days after reports of at least two positive COVID-19 cases at SpaceX, another company headed up Musk. The positive cases at SpaceX sent some employees into quarantine, CNBC reported. The company is making hand sanitizer in house and taking other steps to protect nervous workers, according to CNBC. TechCrunch could not reach SpaceX for comment.

COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has rippled through corporate and industrial America. Manufacturers have suspended production of vehicles, tech companies have ordered employees to work from home and city, county and state governments have issued a variety of orders to try and slow the spread of COVID-19.

For instance, California Gv. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home directive that ordered all nonessential businesses to close and for residents to only leave their homes for essential needs like groceries or to visit the pharmacy. Other states where Tesla has operations such as New York are also under a stay-at-home order.

Musk’s actions during the pandemic have caused a variety of reactions among employees, critics and his millions of Twitter followers. He has appeared dismissive of COVID-19 in emails to employees and on Twitter, where he has spread a misinformation on the disease, including that children are “essentially immune,” a statement that contradicts with information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In one internal email sent to SpaceX employees, Musk noted that they were more likely to die in a car crash than from the disease. 

Even as Musk seemed to downplay the disease, he has also stepped up to donate medical supplies needed by hospitals and has directed employees to not come to work if they feel ill or are uncomfortable. Tesla employees have received emails from human resources head Valerie Workman that if they could not or were reluctant to come to work they could use PTO or take unpaid time off after they exhaust their PTO. The email told one employee (who spoke to TechCrunch on condition of anonymity) that they would be not be penalized for their decision or face disciplinary action for attendance based on health or impossibility to come to work.

Musk has also donated essential personal protective equipment to hospitals that are facing a shortage of these supplies and has committed to trying to help ramp up production of ventilators.

Ford won’t restart North American plants March 30

Ford said Tuesday won’t restart its factories in the U.S., Canada and Mexico on Monday, March 30 as the automaker had originally planned.

The company, which suspended production at its North American factories due to the continued spread of COVID-19, has decided not to restart operations in light of various governments’ orders to stay and work from home, Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s president of North America said in a statement.

“We are assessing various options and working with union leaders – including the United Auto Workers and Unifor – on the optimal timing for resuming vehicle production, keeping the well-being of our workforce top of mind,” Galhotra added.

Ford’s closures in North America follows a decision to shutter factories in Cologne and Saarlouis in Germany as well as its Craiova facility in Romania. Earlier this week, Ford asked all salaried employees — except those performing business critical roles that can’t be done off site —to work remotely until further notice.

On March 15, the UAW along with GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles formed a coronavirus task force to work on ways to protect worker and lessen the spread of the disease.

GM and FCA also suspended operations last week. Those automakers haven’t said if they will restart production March 30.

Lyft to offer medical supply and meal delivery during coronavirus pandemic

Lyft is expanding the types of services it provides through its on-demand transportation network in an effort to boost efforts to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The company announced that it will be offering delivery of critical medical supplies to individuals who need them during this time, including the elderly and those living with chronic diseases, and that it will be delivering meals to students who ordinarily get subsidized lunches through school, as well as seniors.

The new efforts are detailed in a blog post by the ride-hailing company, and also include expanding its existing medical transportation services for anyone that needs to get to critical healthcare appointments and treatments, while dealing with the extra strain put on the healthcare system by the coronavirus pandemic. It had already been offering non-emergency medical transportation, for people (especially those with lower income) who don’t need an ambulance but otherwise benefit from on-demand transportation options for care.

Lyft’s new meal delivery option is beginning with just a small pilot in the San Francisco Bay Area, and will focus on picking up meals from centralized distribution centers facilitated by government agencies to provide food for specific home-bound seniors and low-income students who rely on state-sponsored meal options. This isn’t a meal delivery service like Uber Eats, but rather a triaged means of providing an essential service, and Lyft hopes to eventually scale the program to address more of California, and eventually possibly markets across the U.S.

These measures definitely send like they will increase access to crucial services for the groups and individuals most impacted by the current shelter-in-place, quarantine and isolation measures enacted in light of the coronavirus pandemic. On the driver side, there are naturally concerns that come into play since they’ll be at increased risk due to greater exposure vs. people who are sheltering at home, but Lyft says that it’s taking advanced precautions to help ensure the safety of its driver community, including offering funds to any drivers diagnosed with COVID-19, or put into formal quarantine as a result of their exposure by a public health agency.

Lyft and Uber are continuing to offer their regular ride-hailing services as well, though Uber has said that ride volume is down as much as 70 percent in the cities most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Both companies have also suspended their shared ride options as a way to ensure that their services adhere to CDC guidelines regarding social distancing as much as possible.

Waymo suspends all self-driving services in light of coronavirus pandemic

Waymo has extended the partial suspension of its autonomous vehicle service pilots to include fully driverless vehicle testing, the company confirmed on Friday. While Alphabet-owned Waymo had already stopped operation of the autonomous driving vehicles in its fleet that have safety drivers on board, in the interest of minimizing the potential spread of coronavirus, it was still going to go ahead with rides in its fully driverless test vehicles.

These fully driverless vehicles are used in it Phoenix pilot program for public ride-hailing customers, as well as for its local delivery services. The company’s decision to cease even these operations likely reflects the consistently heightened nature of the COVID-19 situation in the U.S., which has resulted in increasingly strict travel and working restrictions across various states since Waymo made its original decision on Tuesday.

Along with Waymo, other companies that have paused their AV testing include Cruise, Argo AI, Pony.ai, Uber and others.

Waymo suspends robotaxi service except for its truly driverless vehicles

Waymo said Tuesday it is pausing operations of Waymo One, a service in the Phoenix area that allows the public to hail rides in self-driving vehicles with trained human safety operators behind the wheel, in in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Waymo is also halting testing on public roads in California.

However, Waymo will keep some operations up and running, notably its truly driverless vehicles, which don’t require a human safety driver, according to an announcement on its website Tuesday. These driverless vehicles are used in the Phoenix area as part of Waymo’s early rider program that lets vetted members of the public to hail a ride.

Both the Waymo early rider program and Waymo One service use self-driving Chrysler  Pacifica minivans to shuttle Phoenix residents in a geofenced area that covers several suburbs, including Chandler and Tempe. Until last fall, all of these “self-driving rides” had a human safety driver behind the wheel.

In October, Waymo started to invite members of its early rider program to take driverless rides with no human safety operator behind the wheel.

Waymo says that it has stepped up efforts to clean its driverless vehicles. The vehicles will be cleaned and sanitized several times throughout the day. The company said it has also added sanitizing products to every Waymo car for rider use.

Here’s the entire statement:

In the interest of the health and safety of our riders and the entire Waymo community, we’re pausing our Waymo One service with trained drivers in Metro Phoenix for now as we continue to watch COVID-19 developments. We’ve also paused driving in California in line with local guidance. 

Our fully driverless operations in Phoenix will continue for now within our early rider program, along with our local delivery and trucking efforts.

We can carry out driverless, delivery, and trucking services for our riders and partners while respecting the important social distancing and hygiene guidelines shared by the CDC and local authorities. Removing the human driver holds great promise for not only for making our roads safer, but for helping our riders stay healthy in these uncertain times.

We’ll continue to monitor COVID-19 developments carefully, and we’ll reach out to our riders if there are any further service changes. Until then, our Rider Support team will be available to answer any questions. 

Stay healthy and thanks from all of us at Waymo.

The move follows guidance from the federal government to take special efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. It also comes after at least one incident of a human safety driver in a Waymo One vehicle refusing to pick up someone at Intel’s campus in Chandler, Arizona because they had heard a case of COVID-19 had been reported.

Waymo’s partnership with UPS, which involves delivery trips and truck testing outside of California will continue.

Ford, Daimler to suspend production at European factories due to COVID-19

Ford said Tuesday it will temporarily shutdown vehicle and engine production at its factories in Europe in response to the spread of COVID-19, a disease caused by coronavirus.

The shut down will begin Thursday and is expected to continue for a number of weeks, Ford said without providing a specific timeline. Ford said it hopes the closure will only be required for a short period, but the duration depends on a number of factors, including the spread of the coronavirus, government restrictions, supplier constraints, and the return of customers to dealerships, many of which are now closed.

Ford’s manufacturing sites in Cologne and Saarlouis in Germany, and its Craiova facility in Romania will halt production beginning Thursday. The company’s assembly and engine facility in Valencia, Spain has been closed since Monday, after three workers were confirmed with coronavirus over the past weekend.

The automaker made the decision following the World Health Organization’s designation of Europe as the new epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic.

“While the impact of coronavirus at our facilities so far has been limited thankfully, its effects on our employees, dealers, suppliers and customers, as well as European society as a whole, is unprecedented,” said Stuart Rowley, president, Ford of Europe. “Due to the dramatic impact this ongoing crisis is having on the European market and the supplier industry — together with the recent actions by countries to restrict all but essential travel and personal contact — we are temporarily halting production at our main continental Europe manufacturing sites.”

Ford said it will continue to provide essential maintenance and service across Europe.

Other automakers are also shuttering factories in Europe, including Volkswagen and Daimler. Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess announced plans to suspend production at factories in Spain, Portugal and Italy before the end of this week. VW’s native Germany and other European countries getting ready to follow suit.

Daimler Group announced Tuesday it will suspend the majority of its production in Europe, as well as work in selected administrative departments, for an initial period of two weeks.

The suspension applies to Daimler’s car, van and commercial vehicle plants in Europe and will start this week.

Uber suspends Uber Pool shared rides in the U.S. and Canada to help limit coronavirus spread

Uber has suspended its shared ‘Uber Pool’ class of rides, the company announced on Tuesday. The Uber Pool option would match up to three passengers together in one vehicle based on their destination, and Uber said in a statement from Uber Rides and Platform Vice President Andrew Macdonald that the company’s “goal is to help flatten the curve on community spread in the cities we serve” through suspension of the service.

This applies in the U.S. and Canada for now, and the company is evaluating enacting similar measures in other countries where pooled rides are an option. Meanwhile, regular Uber on-demand rides for individual bookings, as well a Uber Eats delivery services, will still be operating as before. Uber did institute a new persistent in-app message for its ride-hailing app for riders, however, labelled “Flatten the Curve” and advising users to “travel only if necessary,” and to “exercise caution for your safety and the safety of our community.”

Uber also announced that its Uber Eats program will waive the delivery fee for local restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, as well as allowing requests for food to be left at the doorstep by delivery couriers. It’s also committing to deliver over 300,000 meals to healthcare workers and first responders working on the front line of the epidemic.

In addition to these measures, Uber is also offering financial assistance to drivers on its platform t hat are infected by COVID-19 and put into quarantine by a public health authority, with a a payment structure based on the average earning of the driver over the past six months.

Princess Cruises, hobbled by coronavirus, admits data breach

Princess Cruises, the cruise liner forced to halt its global operations after two of its ships confirmed on-board outbreaks of coronavirus, has now confirmed a data breach.

The notice posted on its website, believed to have been posted in early March, said the company detected unauthorized access to a number of its email accounts over a four month period between April and July 2019, some of which contained personal information on its employees, crew, and guests.

Princess said names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and government IDs — such as passport numbers and driver’s license numbers — may have been accessed, along with financial and health information.

But, the cruise liner said, that the potentially impacted data is “not specific” to each guest.

Princess said it discovered the suspicious activity on its network in May 2019. It’s not known why it took almost a year for the cruise liner to disclose the breach.

A company spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Carnival, which owns the Princess brand, saw its shares tank by more than 30% this week after the cruise liner said it would suspend its fleet of 18 ships following the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company was at the center of two separate incidents involving its ships carrying dozens of patients infected with the coronavirus strain in Japan and more recently California.

The cruise liner did not say under which jurisdictions it reported the breach. Companies can be fined up to 4% of their annual turnover for violations of European data protection rules.

EV startup Bollinger targets commercial industry with its new chassis

Bollinger Motors, the Michigan-based startup known for its rugged electric SUV and pickup truck, unveiled Thursday a chassis designed for a Class 3 commercial vehicle that has the potential to expand its customer base.

The move reflects a broader trend among EV startups to at least consider commercial applications for its vehicles in an effort to generate more revenue in this capitally intensive business. Rivian, for instance, has struck a deal with Amazon to provide electric vans for the e-commerce company.

Now, Bollinger Motors is jumping in. The company’s CEO Robert Bollinger said they saw potential for commercial applications when the company first built its B1 SUV.

Bollinger Motors Patent-Pending E Chassis Top

“When we first built our Class 3 B1, we knew there was a commercial aspect to the platform,”  Bollinger said in a statement. “Not only cab-on-chassis, but entirely new truck bodies can fit on our E-Chassis, and help propel the world to all-electric that much faster.”

This E-Chassis is the same platform shared with Bollinger’s B1 SUV and the B2 Pickup. It will also accommodate future models and other trucks developed by Bollinger Motors, the company said. The E-Chassis can be customized to meet customer requests and will include 120 kWh battery pack or an optional 180 kWh battery pack, all-wheel drive, dual motor, portal gear hubs, hydraulic anti-lock power brakes and the ability to carry a 5,000-pound payload.

The E-Chassis will be built along its B1 and B2 vehicles and will be available to commercial customers in 2021, the company said.

Electric vehicles are changing the future of auto maintenance

Moving from internal combustion to electric power does more than reduce tailpipe emissions: it will fundamentally shatter today’s auto maintenance and service sector.

The decline is mathematical. With one-fifth the number of powertrain parts and an almost total elimination of oil (a), the typical automotive dealer will suffer 35% declines in maintenance and service revenue, or roughly $1,300, for an EV versus an internal combustion engine vehicle over a five-year period (b).

But this disruption is not even. Two of the top three maintenance items — oil changes and brake service (24% and 5%, respectively, of all maintenance transactions in the U.S. market) — are reduced or eliminated entirely by the move to EVs (c).

Why are brakes impacted? EVs often use a process called regenerative braking, which slows vehicles down while also saving energy. The reduced wear on pads and rotors is striking: some Toyota Priuses are still operating on their first set of brake pads after more than 100,000 miles of use, whereas you’d normally assume pads would be replaced after about 30,000 miles.

EVs eat tires faster

One of the beneficiaries of electrification will be tires, with multiple positive tailwinds: cars are driven more each year. Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is 3.25 trillion annually in the U.S. and is growing at about 1% year over year. Because consumers are keeping cars longer (11.1 years on average), this results in more replacement tires consumed throughout the ownership period (d,e).

The other significant growth lever for tires is the secondary effect of the powertrain: EVs consume tires at a much higher rate than internal combustion vehicles. They’re heavier and create near-instant torque off the line. You don’t need to hunt for long to find a Tesla owner who’s replaced their tires after a mere 10,000 miles. One of our portfolio companies, Zohr, an on-demand tire replacement service, sees its EV customers coming back for tire replacements 30% more frequently than traditional internal combustion vehicle owners. While EVs have less of a need to visit a service shop, they’ll need tire replacement more often.

Tires are also a key line of defense in maintaining high fleet uptimes. Aperia Technologies, another of our tire investments, can auto-inflate commercial tires from inside the wheel itself. Keeping a tire optimally inflated reduces heating and flexing in the sidewall, a primary cause for blowouts. This prevents severe accidents, expensive road service calls ($600+) and fines for late delivery.

For opportunities in the tire market, we are keeping an eye on convenience and efficiency. But we’re also interested in how that impacts the tire distribution ecosystem. This could translate into a service business (like Zohr, or Costco) white labeling its own tires, offering them on a subscription model or offering a guaranteed uptime policy. We believe this will take hold in both commercial and passenger vehicles, although possibly on different time horizons.

Glass and visibility

The core growth drivers of the glass category are similar to tires (increased VMT and vehicle age). We include all visibility products (windshield glass, wipers, cleaning fluids, headlights and bulbs) in this grouping, as they are increasingly tied to on-board technology like sensors and cameras. As more vehicles add sensors for advanced driver assistance features (ADAS), they won’t operate unless they’re kept clean. One of our companies, Seeva, was designed around visibility and sensor cleaning as a core enabling technology of tomorrow’s vehicles.

Electric vehicles also have more demanding cooling needs. They need to be incredibly efficient when cooling the cabin, careful not to impact vehicle range. The first line of defense against these thermal losses are more efficient glass structures and materials. Coupled with the increasing trend of larger windshields and moonroofs — note Tesla’s Model X panoramic glass costs $2,300 to replace — we’re entering an era of big, beautiful and expensive visibility.

Visibility is one of the most exciting areas for innovation and investment. Frankly, it’s always been a profit center for suppliers like Valeo (which makes things like wiper arms, blades and motors) and chemical companies that sell consumables like washer fluids. Technology is likely to drive down the profits of those traditional areas — consider how a thin film or hard coating might mean fewer sprays of fluid and fewer passes of a wiper blade — but will increase overall the total amount of profit potential across the whole vehicle.

This is due to the far greater surface area we now consider to be the domain of visibility — what used to only mean the windshield and headlights will soon mean dozens of sensors and surfaces that require clear, machine-verified visibility.

The automobile business is highly interdependent, and no more so is this felt than the $500 billion after-service market (f). We expect more big investments across tires and visibility in the years to come. And you can bet that entrepreneurs who previously found fortune in quick lube shops will shift to tires and glass as the market moves beneath them.

Citations:

a) Parts comparison ICE vs EV (P115)
b) AlixPartners
c) NPD study
d) Moving 12-Month Total Vehicle Miles Traveled, U.S. Department of Transportation Traffic Trends
e) IHS Market study on car ownership length
f) Size of after-service market

Reilly Brennan, founding general partner of Trucks VC, will join TechCrunch onstage for TC Sessions: Mobility, a one-day conference on May 14, 2020 at the California Theater in San Jose, Calif. that brings together the best and brightest engineers, investors, founders and technologists to talk about transportation and what is coming on the horizon.