Tesla’s robot strategy is inextricably tied to its Autopilot strategy, for better or for worse

Tesla unveiled its first actual prototype of its Optimus humanoid robot on Friday — an actual robot this time, by the strictest definition, instead of a rreal flesh and blood human clad in a weird suit. The robot performed some basic functions, including walking a little bit and then raising its hands — all for the first time without supports or a crane, according to Tesla founder Elon Musk.

The company may be taking its first early steps into humanoid robotics, but it has a lot riding on the business. Musk has said that the Optimus bot will eventually be more valuable “than the car business, worth more than FSD [Tesla’s add-on ‘Full Self-Driving’ feature which does no such thing].”

What was apparent at the event on Friday night is that Tesla is making the economically wise, but strategically questionable decision to yoke together the destinies of both Optimus and its Autopilot (and by extension, FSD) ambitions.

Tesla suggested that the reason it’s been able to move so quickly in the robotics world is that it has already laid a lot of the groundwork in its work attempting to develop autonomous driving for vehicles.

“Think about it. We’re just moving from wheels to our legs,” explained one of the company’s engineers. “So some of the components are pretty similar […] It’s exactly the same occupancy network. Now we’ll talk a little bit more details later with Autopilot team […] The only thing that changed really is the training data.”

It was a recurring theme throughout the presentation, with various presenters from Tesla (the company trotted out many, as is maybe to be expected for an event billed primarily as a recruiting exercise) bringing up how closely tied the two realms of research and development actually are.

In truth, what Tesla showed with its robot on stage at the event was a very brief demo that barely matched and definitely didn’t exceed a large number of humanoid robot demonstrations from other companies over the years, including most famously Boston Dynamics. And the linkage between FSD and Optimus is a tenuous one, at best.

The domain expertise, while reduced to a simple translation by Tesla’s presentation, is actually quite a complex one. Bipedal robots navigating pedestrian routes is a very different beast from autonomous vehicle routes, and oversimplifying the connection does a disservice to the immense existing body of research and development work on the subject.

Tesla’s presenters consistently transitioned relatively seamlessly between Optimus and its vehicles’ autonomous navigation capabilities. One of the key presenters for Optimus was Milan Kovac, the company’s Director of Autopilot Software Engineering, who handed off to fellow Autopilot director Ashok Elluswamy to dive further into Tesla vehicular Autopilot concerns.

It’s very clear that Tesla believes this is a linked challenge that will result in efficiencies the market will appreciate as it pursues both problems. The reality is that there remains a lot of convincing to do to actually articulate that the linkages are more than surface-deep.

Not to mention, Autopilot faces its own challenges in terms of public and regulatory skepticism and scrutiny. A robot you live with daily in close proximity doesn’t need that kind of potential risk.

Tesla may have turned its man-in-a-suite into a real robot with actual actuators and processors, but it still has a ways to go to make good on the promise that it’s a viable product with a sub-$20,000 price tag any of us will ever be able to purchase.

Tesla’s robot strategy is inextricably tied to its Autopilot strategy, for better or for worse by Darrell Etherington originally published on TechCrunch

Tesla’s robot is a real robot now, not just a guy in a suit

Tesla CEO Elon Musk kicked off its Tesla AI Day 2022 with a quick level set on expectations — “we’ve come a long way” — and then stepped aside to allow the first iteration of its robot walk out onto the stage.

The robot wasn’t a human dressed in a robot costume like last year.  Instead, Tesla introduced a functioning robot, albeit with exposed cables and a bit wobbly, at its second annual event. According to Musk, it was the first time it was working without “any support, cranes, mechanical mechanisms or cables.”

Tesla Robot in action

Tesla Robot moving and waving

After a brief turn about the stage, the robot left the stage before the rest of the presentation continued, which included several short videos of the robot (now tethered for stability) carrying a box in an office, watering a plant and lifting a small piece of metal in the Tesla factory in Fremont, California.

The aim of the demo and ensuing presentation, in which a number of Tesla employees gave what can only be described as a bipedal robotics 101 course, was to show more progress. (After all, anything beyond a human in a costume could be considered progress). Instead, the event aimed to telegraph where Tesla is headed, shore up confidence in its trajectory and (hopefully) recruit the talent it needs to further the program.

Tesla robot specs display

Image Credits: Tesla robot specs display

Eventually, Musk said the first-gen prototype, which he referred to as Bumble C, will evolve into Optimus. This eventual robot will be able to walk efficiently and stay balanced, carry a 20-pound bag, use tools and have a precision grip for small robots. The Bumble C prototype is outfitted with 2.3 kilowatt hour battery pack, which one Tesla employee said was “perfect for about a full day’s worth of work.”

Some of the specs of the robot have changed since last year. For instance, the weigh of the bot has moved up from 125 pounds to 160 pounds.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Tesla bot roadshow, was the repeated reference and crossover with Tesla vehicles. The company said it is leveraging its energy products and using those components for the bot, including battery management. The supercomputer used in Tesla vehicles is also in the Tesla bot. And Tesla is tapping the hardware and software used in its advanced driver assistance system Autopilot for the bot as well. The Tesla bot is also equipped with wireless connectivity as well as audio support and hardware level security features, which the company said are “important to protect both the robot and the people around the robot.”

The big looming question is whether all of these efficiencies, once combined in the bot, will result in a scalable robot that works. Of course, Musk thinks it’s possible, going as far to say that he envisions the Optimus will be just $20,000.

Tesla’s robot is a real robot now, not just a guy in a suit by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch

How Volvo is leaning on software to drive its next great safety revolution

Volvo is one of those brands with a core identity so firmly cemented that no amount of marketing can counter it. Volvo is safety first.

Even if you don’t know the details of their involvement with the three-point seatbelt (they invented it) or the airbag (one of the first to bring them to market in the ’80s), even if you haven’t checked the company’s cars’ crash test ratings lately (five-stars across the board), you know that if you have to be in a crash, you probably want to be in a Volvo.

But with other manufacturers deploying hyperbolic technologies that promise to avoid collisions altogether, seatbelts and airbags seem like crude solutions.

How can Volvo maintain its reputation in this era? Software, according to new Volvo CEO Jim Rowan.

Rowan believes that the company’s coders and the tightly integrated stacks they develop will not only maintain Volvo’s leadership in the rather important task of keeping you alive, but will drive innovations and sales with even broader implications to vehicular safety than we’ve ever considered.

Volvo Cars CEO Jim Rowan

Volvo Cars CEO and President Jim Rowan Image credit: Volvo

With silicon and sensors coming from suppliers, ostensibly available to any OEM, software will be a critical tool to unlock more safety features. In other words, Volvo will need to leverage software as more and more components of the car become, well, componentized.

If successful, Volvo will be able to add new features like more advanced threat alerts outside the car and even detect intoxicated driving within the car, all powered by proprietary algorithms that evolve and grow the car over time.

While Rowan is keen to double down on software, the company had already started to ramp up its efforts before his arrival in spring 2022. Volvo announced in June 2021 it would take software development in-house and that its next-generation of EVs would run on its own operating system called VolvoCars.OS. The operating system, which will be supported by a core computing system, aims to bring the company’s various operating systems such as Android Automotive OS, QNX, AUTOSAR and Linux all under one roof.

Now, under Rowan, the company is beefing up its talent pool and continuing to work with a number of hardware and software companies that it previously invested in such as imaging and optics startup Spectralics and lidar Luminar.

Take a look at Volvo’s job site and one can see where software and safety land on its priority list.

Of the 1,527 open roles on Volvo’s job site, a whopping 384 are software-related, with about 20% of those specifically relating to vehicle safety. Does Volvo have the talent it needs to drive innovation in that space? Rowan, who said Volvo does have the talent to drive innovation in this area, added that the company will continue to expand its teams in Stockholm, Shanghai, Bangalore, and elsewhere, fighting the “talent war” that has all manufacturers scrambling.

Software is what Volvo needs to tie it altogether and make the most out of the tech.

New CEO, new priorities

Rowan, a 57-year-old Scot, took the reins of Volvo in March of this year, inheriting leadership from Håkan Samuelsson.

In Samuelsson’s 10-year-tenure, the stoic Swede led and navigated Volvo from Ford ownership and oversight to its current Geely parentage — all the while deploying a completely new and thoroughly Scandinavian portfolio of cars. Rowan served most recently as CEO at Dyson until 2020, overseeing that company as it experimented with its own, ultimately failed EV aspirations.

The goal, for Dyson at the time, was to disrupt the automotive industry: “We’d like to go into industries that already had a known need for that product, be that vacuum cleaners or hair dryers or whatever, and then go in with disruptive play,” Rowan told me, saying that his position as an automotive outsider helped him learn a lot very quickly. “You learn a whole bunch because you ask a whole bunch of dumb questions that otherwise you probably wouldn’t ask if you came from the industry.”

Those learnings didn’t help Dyson overcome a significant barrier of entry: “If you already have the manufacturing, the supply chain, the engineering talent, the design studios, it’s much, much easier for those incumbent car companies like ourselves to transition into next-gen mobility than it is a brand new startup.”

For Volvo, the road has fewer obstacles.

“The decision had already been taken, as we went through the IPO, that we would be an electric car company by a certain date, by 2030. And that really made it easy for me to come as CEO because that decision had been taken. So, every investment decision we made, every hiring decision that we made, every design decision that we made was geared towards becoming an electric car company.”

Still, one speed bump remains. As the market rapidly skews towards electrification, a big battery and a couple of motors in a car will be less of a distinguishing factor. The table stakes are higher than ever for companies to find new ways to attract customers.

Volvo has already experienced what can happen when software doesn’t meet expectations. In 2021, some Volvo vehicles became inoperable after an over-the-air software update inadvertently triggered an anti-theft mode and a batch of Volvo XC40 Recharge electric SUVs, which left the factory without its Volvo On Call software activated, were stuck in U.S. ports awaiting an software update.

Next-gen mobility

As Volvo evolves into what Rowan calls the era of “next-gen mobility” — an idyllic future where ride-sharing is the norm and autonomy is limited only by local regulations and not technologies — safety will become an even more important factor.

Early implementations of next-gen safety systems will not come cheap, thanks to expensive sensor packages and also development of complicated software to control them.

In time, industry trends suggest next-gen safety systems will become ubiquitous, much like airbags and three-point seatbelts are today. Until we get to that point, business opportunities abound.

Volvo believes its next big gains will come by enabling the car to see more, both inside and out.

On the outside, Lidar from Luminar will enable far better perception than possible given Volvo’s current, optics- and radar-based active safety suite, identifying threats 250 meters down the road.

“What that lidar image sees is the digital image of ones and zeros, and our perception software then translates that to say: Is that a bike? Is that a child? Is that a deer or is it another car? Is it a tree? And being able to take that software so that it can very quickly compute that and tell the car: ‘There’s danger ahead. Let’s take evasive action,'” Rowan said.

This is very much the same as many other lidar-equipped concepts that we’ve seen over the past decade.

Luminar LiDAR Volvo

Luminar lidar integrated into the roofline of a Volvo. Image Credits: Volvo

The difference is that Volvo will build this technology into its upcoming EX90, a real car. This is the company’s next model, a fully-electric SUV set to debut before the end of the year. It won’t be the first lidar-equipped car to hit the market but it will be one of the very few.

The EX90 is Volvo’s successor to the venerable XC90, the big, flagship SUV that, with its 2014 redesign, kicked off the post-Ford era for Volvo. While a plug-in hybrid powertrain was an option, gasoline and diesel were the XC90’s primary sources of power. The EX90, meanwhile, will be fully electric from the beginning, again marking the beginning of a new phase for Volvo.

“It’s actually designed so that it can take us all the way through to full AD,” Rowan said, echoing autonomous driving promises made by Elon Musk about Tesla’s current sensor suite, which lacks not only lidar but is now making do without radar.

Driver monitoring

Volvo Driver Monitoring Camera in a Volvo research vehicle

Driver Monitoring Camera in a Volvo research vehicle. Image credit: Volvo

But there’s another, potentially even larger blind spot in Tesla’s sensing suite that Rowan says Volvo is doubling down on: driver monitoring.

Two cameras, monitored by proprietary Volvo algorithms, will monitor the driver at all times, Rowan said. “You have certain patterns, your head starts to nod, you start to jerk the steering wheel, and immediately the software can say, ‘This guy looks like he’s falling asleep, let’s wake them up.’ Or, if he’s inebriated, let’s pull to the side of the road.”

Detecting drunk drivers? Yes, Rowan says Volvo’s software can identify eye patterns indicative of inebriation, though the software isn’t finalized enough to be “definitive.” Distracted driving detection, however, is much further along: “The big one really for us is are they distracted on their phone. We find that a lot of, a lot of these accidents happen because these people are texting on their phone, and that’s a very distinct pattern that you can see when someone’s trying to text and trying to drive at the same time.”

Rowan declined to say whether and how Volvo’s cars in the future would actually intervene when a drunk driver is detected. While the EX90 will be able to safely pull itself over in the case of a driver falling asleep or suffering some sort of a medical emergency, whether it will do so in the case of simple inattention or inebriation remains to be seen.

Another way the EX90 will protect its occupants is a whole-car, internal radar system, capable of detecting movement and preventing the doors from being locked. The Occupant Sensing Technology will be standard, with the primary goal of preventing the tragic death of children locked in cars on hot days.

Like the three-point safety belt all those years ago, this will be a true industry first.

Solving supply

Volvo’s core computing system, is made up of three main computers. Volvo is working with Nvidia on the system. Image credits: Volvo

If all this talk of new sensors inside and out has you thinking about little chips and the massive supply chain woes they can bring, your head is in the right place. I asked Rowan about this, whether Volvo was considering getting in the silicon game like Tesla and building its own chips.

When it comes to hardware, sensors, and the silicon that powers them, Rowan is a buy vs. build kind of CEO: “We’ve made the choice that we are going to buy our silicon, because we think that people like Nvidia and Qualcomm are, you know, they have the infrastructure, they have the know-how, and they will progress quickly.”

Sensors too, whether lidar, radar, or other, will be brought in from suppliers. “What we’re really interested in doing is writing the software that takes you from the silicon to the application layer.”

So the future of Volvo is electric, obviously, but it’s also riddled with sensors and loaded up with stacks of software, all translating masses of raw data from hundreds of sensors into meaningful information.

It’s enough information, theoretically, for these cars to predict risky situations. Over the past decade we’ve seen an evolving focus from passive safety, things that save your life in a crash, to active safety, technologies that help to prevent that crash that’s only seconds away. With lidar looking farther down the road and sensors monitoring for problems inside the cabin, the next step increasingly feels a little like pre-crime: Preventing situations that might have cost lives in the first place.

How Volvo is leaning on software to drive its next great safety revolution by Tim Stevens originally published on TechCrunch

How to watch Tesla AI Day 2022

Tesla AI Day is here — the company’s second-annual event designed to show off its progress in AI and robotics.

Viewers should expect demos and updates on the Optimus robot, the Dojo supercomputer as well as its “Autopilot” advanced driver assistance system, along with the $15,000 upgrade known as FSD, or “Full Self Driving.” (Tesla vehicles are not self-driving.)

CEO Elon Musk has billed Tesla AI Day as a recruitment event. And what better way to reach the 80-hour workweek ride-or-die for Tesla crowd than scheduling this for a Friday evening?

Tesla AI Day is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. PT September 30 (that’s today). If past is prologue then Tesla AI Day will not start promptly at 5 p.m. — Elon tends to run late. Like the company’s other events, Tesla AI Day 2022 should be livestreamed on the Tesla YouTube channel.

Last year, Tesla AI Day covered computer vision, the Dojo supercomputer and the Tesla chip. But it was the dancing human dressed in a white body suit with a shiny black mask as a face that got the most attention. That stunt introduced the world to Musk’s plan to build a humanoid robot called the Tesla Bot or Optimus.

The Tesla bot was described as a non-automotive robotic use case for the company’s work on neural networks and its Dojo advanced supercomputer.

Will this year’s event give us another human dressed in a robot costume, or an actual working humanoid robot?

How to watch Tesla AI Day 2022 by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch

Chinese automaker Geely snaps up 7.6% stake in Aston Martin

Geely Holding Group acquired a 7.6% share of British luxury automaker Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings, helping cement the Chinese company’s stake in luxury and European brands.

Geely will not get a board seat in the deal, but that hasn’t seemed to matter in its past dealings. Geely, which owns Lotus and its the largest shareholder of Polestar and Volvo Cars, took a 10% stake valued at $9 billion in Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler in 2018. Geely didn’t have a board seat either, but managed to exert its influence over the company, including a joint venture with the German automaker that gave it partial control of the Smart car brand.

Geely Holding Group CEO Daniel Donghui Li said in a statement that the company’s well-established track record and technology offerings will be able to contribute to Aston Martin’s future success.

Aston Martin or Geely did not provide a value of the transaction.

Aston Martin also announced that it raised $732 million from investors that included Mercedes-Benz and Saudi’s Public Investment Fund participating. Yew Tree Consortium holds 19% of Aston Martin following the raise. The Public Investment Fund has become a new anchor shareholder with a 18.7% stake in the company.

“I am delighted that we have successfully completed this transformational capital raise which significantly strengthens our financial position and enhances our pathway to becoming sustainably free cash flow positive,” executive chairman Lawrence Stroll said in a statement. “Along with Amedeo and the leadership team, we are fully focused on unlocking the significant shareholder value creation potential of this ultra-luxury British performance brand.”

Chinese automaker Geely snaps up 7.6% stake in Aston Martin by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch

Arrival produces long-awaited battery-electric commercial van

EV startup Arrival said Friday it has produced its first battery-electric van, a significant step toward its goal to deliver the vans to commercial customers at scale.

The Arrival van is the first vehicle built at the company’s Microfactory in Bicester, U.K., which uses autonomous mobile robots instead of a traditional assembly line. The remaining vans built this year will be earmarked for testing, validation and quality control, rather than customer delivery.

“Although we have not yet achieved serial production, we are focused on making it happen,” Arrival founder and CEO Denis Sverdlov said in a statement. “We will continue to produce vehicles in our Microfactory in order to master at-scale production.”

The van arrives almost two months after the U.K.-based publicly traded company said it would shelve its plans for an electric bus to focus on developing the van. The move forced the company to cut its 2022 delivery target by 95%, from 400 vehicles to 20.

Arrival also announced at the time that it no longer expected to generate revenue in 2022, after reporting widening losses for the second quarter.

The company has faced several production delays since going public in March 2021 through a $660 million SPAC deal with CIIG Merger. That includes a class-action lawsuit against the company and cost-cutting measures that included widescale layoffs.

“We are switching from the mode where we have two products, two shifts and two micro factories to the mode where it’s one factory, one shift, one product,” Sverdlov said in August during the company’s second-quarter earnings call with analysts. “We believe that this opportunity to switch gives us better chances to be successful.”

Arrivals plans to open a second factory in Charlotte, North Carolina, next year.   

 

Arrival produces long-awaited battery-electric commercial van by Jaclyn Trop originally published on TechCrunch

New York follows California mandating zero-emissions vehicles by 2035

All new passenger cars, pickup trucks and SUVs sold in New York state must be zero emissions by 2035, Governor Kathy Hochul announced Thursday.

“By revving up our clean transportation transition and making major investments to make EVs more accessible, we’re supercharging our fight against climate change,” Hochul tweeted.

To reach the 2035 goal, Hochul said 35% of new cars will need to be zero-emission by 2026 and 68% by 2030. New school buses have until 2027 to meet these standards, with the entire fleets required to be zero-emissions by 2035, according to Hochul.

The new legislation, which will require new cars to be either electric or hydrogen, comes a month after California’s Air Resources board voted to also phase out the sale of new gas-powered cars in the state. New York is the second state to make such a mandate, and signals that others will soon follow.

“We had to wait for California to take a step because there’s some federal requirements that California had to go first — that’s the only time we’re letting them go first,” the governor said in a press conference Thursday, according to The Hill.

Per the 1970 Clean Air Act, California was authorized by Congress to set its own emissions standards for vehicles. Other states are allowed to adopt California’s policies, but they can’t implement their own standards. As a result, California has to lead the way for any state-led enforcements of stricter emissions rules.

The governor also announced Thursday a $10 million investment in the state’s Drive Clean Rebate Program. The program offers New Yorkers a rebate of up to $2,000 for the purchase of over 60 electric car models that, coupled with a federal tax rebate of $7,500, could make the switch to electric significantly more affordable. The state has already issued almost 80,000 rebates and spent more than $92 million on the program, the governor said.

“Adopting this program sends a loud and clear message to carmakers that New Yorkers want electric vehicles,” said Leah Meredith, principal at Advanced Energy Economy, a trade association. “With electric vehicles in high demand but currently in short supply, carmakers are prioritizing the states that speak up, and the Governor’s announcement helps ensure that New Yorkers will have the full range of electric vehicle models to choose from. And by increasing the number of new electric vehicles in New York, this program will also quicken the development of a robust market for used electric vehicles.”

Last week, the New York Power Authority announced its 100th high-speed charger installation in the EVolve NY statewide EV charging network. These charging stations can be found along major travel corridors, like from Buffalo to Albany or from the Adirondacks to Long Island. EVolve NY has committed up to $250 million through 2025 to expand its network of chargers.

New York State will also get $175 million from the infrastructure bill’s $5 billion total allocation for EV charging networks across the country, according to Hochul. The governor said the expansion of widely available charging infrastructure will help increase the sale of EVs in the state.

New York follows California mandating zero-emissions vehicles by 2035 by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Tesla’s mythical Cybertruck will also be a temporary boat because why not

The Tesla Cybertruck is not yet in existence thanks to multiple delays. But when it does come, Elon Musk promises it will also have the ability to “briefly” act as a boat — if the need arises.

“Cybertruck will be waterproof enough to serve briefly as a boat, so it can cross rivers, lakes & even seas that aren’t too choppy.” the tweet reads.

Musk’s reasoning behind the waterproof functionality is that the Cybertruck will need to be able to travel from Starbase — a SpaceX’s facility located at Boca Chica, Texas — to South Padre Island, which requires crossing the channel.

Musk did not expound upon what “briefly” means. And some Tesla owners may scoff at the waterproof claims. Tesla Model Y vehicles have been criticized by owners and reviewers for their leaky front trunks.

There are examples of other EVs, including Tesla vehicles being able to drive through several feet of water. For instance, Rivian recently posted a video on Twitter showing the R1T truck driving through a deep lap pool as part of a test.

Tesla first unveiled the Cybertruck in November 2019.  Consumers had a mixed reaction to the Cybertruck, with some hailing it as a triumph and others highly critical of its size and design. Even the harshest criticism didn’t prevent thousands of people plopping down the $100 reservation fee for truck.

At the time, Musk said production would begin in late 2021. A tri-motor AWD version was expected go into production in late 2022. Neither one has yet to be produced. While prototypes have been spotted on public roads since 2019, details have been scant and production has been repeatedly delayed.

Musk said in July during Tesla’s second-quarter earnings call that the Cybertruck was on track to go into production mid-2023.

Tesla’s mythical Cybertruck will also be a temporary boat because why not by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch

Finally. Lordstown Motors, Foxconn begin Endurance EV production

Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn has begun production of Lordstown Motors’s electric pickup truck.

The news, which Bloomberg grabbed first, is a milestone for both companies: Foxconn as it diversifies from manufacturing consumer electronics like iPhones to electric vehicles, and Lordstown as it finally gets its much-anticipated Endurance truck off production lines and, hopefully, into customers’ hands.

Ever since going public via a special purpose acquisition (SPAC) merger in 2020 — a move that, in hindsight, is spelling doom for most EV SPACs — Lordstown has struggled to get to production. Last summer, the company issued a growing concern warning that it might not have enough funds to bring its EV to market, but was bailed out by an investment firm that agreed to purchase $400 million worth of shares over a three-year period.

The company further shed some weight by selling off its Lordstown, Ohio factory, which it had previously purchased from General Motors, to Foxconn for $230 million. Foxconn agreed to make Lordstown’s EVs for it, but the company will also use the Ohio factory to produce EVs for Fisker, another EV SPAC.

The production volume of the Endurance pickup will ramp slowly, with a slight crescendo in November and December, because of those pesky supply chain constraints, according to a statement from Lordstown. Very slowly, it seems. So far, two commercial release production vehicles have rolled off Foxconn’s production line, with the third “expected to be completed shortly.” Three almost down, 47 to go — Lordstown intends to deliver about 50 units to customers beginning in the fourth quarter, and the rest of the first batch of 500 units in the first half of 2023, if it can raise more money.

That caveat is key, and is possibly one of the reasons why, despite this milestone, Lordstown’s shares are down 7.18% at 12:00 p.m. ET. Turns out building electric vehicles from the ground up is incredibly difficult and expensive, a hard truth that fellow EV SPACs Nikola and Lucid Motors are also coming to grips with as they, too, try to raise additional capital.

Lordstown said it will end the quarter and the year with about $195 million and $110 million in cash and cash equivalents, respectively. But that’s likely not enough to scale production. To make it past 50 pickups, the company is looking to its old pal Foxconn, as well as other strategic partners, to get the cash it needs to keep this business going. As part of Foxconn’s purchase of the Ohio factory, the two companies entered into a joint venture to co-develop EV programs, and it’s this spring that Lordstown will attempt to tap. Foxconn, which owns 55% of the JV, already loaned Lordstown $45 million to support the EV-maker’s own capital commitment to the JV.

It’s worth noting that Foxconn’s reputation for delivering isn’t exactly pristine, either. The company has struggled to get a planned $10 billion LCD factory in Wisconsin off the ground — a project that former U.S. President Donald Trump once called “the eighth wonder of the world.” Earlier this month, Foxconn reduced its planned investment in the factory to a measly $672 million and cut the number of new jobs to 1,454 from 13,000.

Finally. Lordstown Motors, Foxconn begin Endurance EV production by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Treepz founder Onyeka Akumah on how to succeed in transportation tech

In sub-Saharan Africa, only 33% of the urban population has access to public transportation, compared to 75% in Europe and North America, according to UN statistics. That means that most of the continent faces challenges chasing new job opportunities, going to school, accessing healthcare and just having a night on the town.

This lack of access to transportation is in stark contrast to other upward metrics on the African continent, like its growing access to equitable education and healthcare. In fact, Africa has the largest return on education of any continent, with each year of schooling raising earnings by 11% for boys and 14% for girls. The combination of an increasingly educated workforce and still-sucky public transportation means the way people move is ripe for disruption. Treepz, the Nigerian startup that’s scaling its bus-hailing service across the continent, might be one of the main drivers of that disruption.

“We can’t continue to complain about the downturn. I’d say it’s helping us become sturdier.” Treepz CEO Onyeka Akumah

Since Treepz, formerly Plentywaka, was founded in 2019 in Lagos, the startup has expanded west into Ghana and east into Uganda. Co-founder and CEO Onyeka Akumah said those locations will serve as launchpads for further expansion across the sub-Saharan region.

We caught up with Akumah, whom we first interviewed a year ago, to check in on Treepz’s progress and discuss why a conservative funding environment makes for better business, how the African startup scene is maturing, and what it takes to succeed in transportation technology.

The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: You last closed a $2.8 million seed round in November. I’m assuming you’re currently raising for your Series A. How are you finding the funding environment amid the economic downturn?

Onyeka Akumah: We are preparing to raise our Series A, and we already have some interest. Some of our current investors want to invest, but they’re waiting for us to go to market. We were about to go to market before the downturn in the economy hit.

The funding environment has changed, certainly, with the downturn. The funding cycle used to be around six months for a round to pull through, and now we’re seeing it take 12 to 18 months to close. You’re seeing investors make a lot more time for due diligence.

Treepz founder Onyeka Akumah on how to succeed in transportation tech by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch