Elon goes to China, Rivian is selling stock for $3 billion, and Fiat’s cutest tiny EV

Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.

Rebecca Bellan here, and yup, I’m still steering the ship.

The biggest news this week has been Elon Musk’s visit to China, a move that has the potential to strengthen Tesla’s ties with the world’s largest auto market. It’s Musk’s first visit since the COVID-19 pandemic, and his commitment to China isn’t surprising given how much China’s vehicle sales carry the automaker’s global sales. In Q1, China accounted for over half of Tesla’s deliveries.

Even though Twitter is banned in China, Musk has still managed to make himself something of a legend to the Chinese people, reports Rita. The CEO has over 2 million followers on Weibo, where Musk shares his admiration for China, his opposition to cutting off supply chains and his plans to expand his business in China.

“The China space program is far more advanced than most people realize,” wrote Musk on Weibo.

His sweet-talking has earned him the nickname “Iron Man.”

The pieces of Musk’s visit to China are still falling, and we’ll keep updating, but here’s what we know so far. Musk kicked off his trip by dining with Zeng Yuqun, chairman of CATL, one of the largest battery manufacturing companies. There have been talks lately of CATL and Tesla partnering to build cheaper batteries in the U.S., but there’s nothing solid yet.

Musk also paid a visit to the Shanghai Gigafactory, where he met the staff behind Tesla’s popular Model 3 and Model Y.

We’re keeping our eyes out for more news of Musk’s happenings in China. And with that, onto the rest!

Want to reach out with a tip, comment or complaint? Email Kirsten at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com. You also can send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec. Or you can reach Rebecca at rebecca.techcrunch@gmail.com or follow her at @rebeccabellan.

Reminder that you can drop us a note at tips@techcrunch.comIf you prefer to remain anonymousclick here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps.


the station scooter1a

Cake is expanding into India via a partnership with Pepfuels under the brand name CollarEV.

Cowboy is being sued by eBikeLabs, a French startup that builds embedded software for e-bikes, for patent infringement and copying eBikeLabs’ tech in its latest feature, AdaptivePower. Cowboy has refuted the claims and accused eBikeLabs of running a smear campaign. As Romain Dillet reports, “This is a messy story about a business relationship that fell apart between a small startup that doesn’t have deep pockets and a popular consumer brand that wants to protect its reputation.”

Zoomo will start offering Urban Arrow’s electric cargo bikes on its e-bike subscription platform.

Residents of Santa Barbara can check out e-bikes on a weekly basis from a new e-bike lending library.

Honda filed patents for two new moped-style electric scooters called Dax:e and Zoomer:e. Both are poised to enter the Indian market.

Zeus launched a solar panel charging pilot program in Regensburg, Germany. Under the pilot, scooters parked at the company’s three “Zolar stations” will get a charge from the sun. Maybe they should be called Helios stations, amiright?!

Porsche has launched two new e-bike cross-performance models that look like they can absolutely shred mountains.

City Spotlight: Atlanta

On June 7, TechCrunch is going to (virtually) be in Atlanta. We have a slate of amazing programming planned, including the mayor himself, Andre Dickens. If you are an early-stage Atlanta-based founder, apply to pitch to our panel of guest investors/judges for our live pitching competition. The winner gets a free booth at TechCrunch Disrupt this year to exhibit their company in our startup alley. Register here to tune in to the event.

Deal of the week

money the station

Lucid Group plans to raise $3 billion through a stock offering, the majority of which will come from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). PIF already owns more than 60% of the company, and it’s agreed to buy 265.7 million shares in a private placement for about $1.8 billion, which suggests a price of about $6.80 per share. The rest will be raised from a public offering of 173.5 million shares of common stock, according to the company.

Shares immediately dropped 9% after-hours on the news as investors considered how much more money Lucid would need to surmount its rising losses and diminishing available capital. And all of this amid a looming recession, a Tesla-sparked price war, and the aftertaste of large-scale layoffs in March.

Sure, Lucid can bring in more cash, but the company really needs to cure its spending problem. In the first quarter, Lucid’s cash and cash equivalents dropped to $900 million, down from $1.74 billion at the end of Q4 2022.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Boeing has fully acquired eVTOL startup Wisk Aero. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Boeing already owned part of Wisk and had committed $450 million in capital back in January.

A British consortium that includes mining company Glencore will invest $9 billion in Indonesia’s mining and EV battery sectors. Indonesia has the world’s biggest nickel reserves.

General Motors and South Korea’s Posco Chemical are getting C$150 million from Canada’s federal government and Quebec to build a battery materials facility. The companies aim to have the C$600 million project up and running by 2025.

Loewi, a Paris-based e-bike refurbishment startup, raised €1 million in funding to help it reach 300 refurbishments per month and expand globally.

Ola Electric, an Indian manufacturer of electric two-wheelers, is said to be preparing for an initial public offering before the year’s end. The company achieved a valuation of $5 billion during its most recent fundraising round in 2022.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

A California bill that would require a trained human safety operator to be present anytime a heavy-duty autonomous vehicle operates on public roads passed the state’s Assembly floor. It’ll go to the Senate now and, if passed, to the governor’s desk. The AV industry argues the bill stifles California’s competitiveness and defeats the whole purpose of self-driving trucks. The bill’s authors are concerned about safety on highways and job security for truckers.

Cruise is expanding hours of operation in San Francisco for certain riders who have access to its free service. For some, rides will start at 9 p.m. and go until 5:30 a.m.

Einride announced a partnership with the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure to deploy 2,000 EVs, 200 autonomous vehicles, eight charging stations and Einride’s SaaS product Saga across 550 km of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. The partnership is expected to play out over the next five years. Einride did not share the financial terms.

Serve Robotics and Uber have expanded their existing partnership. Over the next couple of years, about 2,000 of Serve’s little autonomous sidewalk delivery robots will deliver food via the Uber Eats platform in multiple markets across the U.S.

Electric vehicles, batteries and charging

Arcimoto unveiled its new tiny, three-wheeled flatbed truck called the MUV. It has a customizable rear storage space, top speed of 75 mph, and about 102 miles of city range. The MUV is available now for $23,500, and Arcimoto is aiming to sell fleets.

Select 2024 Audi and other VW Group cars will have Webex available to download from the automaker’s in-app car store. Webex is also available on the 2024 Mercedes-Benz E-Class and in Ford vehicles.

Fiat’s new Topolino tiny EV is so cute we could scream. The remade Citroen Ami is a retro-looking quadricycle with a convertible top and ropes instead of doors, and aside from a teaser image, that’s really all we know about it. It probably won’t go any faster than the Ami, which hits around 28 mph, so it’ll be a no-go for the States. Which is sad because, again, it’s super cute and better for the environment and urban landscapes than an electric Hummer.

Ford’s CEO Jim Farley said the automaker might not break even on its EVs until 2030.

Geely is preparing to enter Thailand’s electric vehicle market.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV is a practical, luxurious car with top-notch tech in the form of a Hyperscreen and a handful of driver-assist features. It’s great for tech-forward families who like the finer things in life and plenty of space. Only downside? The exterior is a bit meh. As Tim Stevens describes it, “The result is a bit of a blob that absolutely disappears into any parking lot.”

Polestar’s latest software update includes YouTube. Like other similar iterations, users can stream video while stopped, like if they’re waiting for a pickup or charging their vehicles. The Polestar 2 software update also includes an updated version of Apple CarPlay that lets you project Apple Maps onto the instrument cluster.

Rivian has teased its smaller, lower-cost R2 SUV design over the Memorial Day weekend during an Instagram Q&A. CEO RJ Scaringe stood in front of a clay model of an R2 covered with a black cloth, outlining a boxy-looking compact vehicle.

Tesla says all of its Model 3 sedans now qualify for the full $7,500 EV tax credit.

Toyota has committed another $2.1 billion to its battery factory in North Carolina. The automaker also said its first U.S.-made electric SUV will be built at its Kentucky factory.

Volkswagen has finally debuted its U.S. version of the Volkswagen ID.Buzz minivan after years of teasing. The specs on the U.S. van are, unsurprisingly, much bigger than the European bus. The whole feel of it is retro-meets-cool, and indeed, we have ourselves asking, Can VW make minivans cool? Once factoring in the nostalgia aspect, the answer is undoubtedly yes. And VW will need that as it coasts into EV-land.

Volvo revealed some details about the interior of its new EX30. From what we can tell, that good old Scandinavian design is really pulling through to optimize space in the small SUV.


Attending Apple’s WWDC this month? Check out this new website from flight tracking tool Flighty to find others who are traveling to the event and connect with them, maybe even en route!

Delta Air Lines is being sued in a class action lawsuit for allegedly greenwashing. The company made a $1 billion pledge in 2020 to become carbon neutral, but the plan relied on carbon credits to offset the airline’s pollution.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a new rule that would require all new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. to be equipped with automatic emergency braking systems.

Tesla has been given the all-clear by NHTSA after the agency closed an investigation into Tesla for allowing in-dash gaming while its vehicles were moving.

Bored of the standard navigation voice on Waze? Now you can have Roger Federer give you turn-by-turn directions, because why not?

Wingcopter and Siemens have signed an MoU to develop and roll out an integrated drone delivery solution to transport lab diagnostics and other medical supplies in Africa.


Ford launched a new pilot called Ford Drive that will give Uber drivers in San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles access to flexible leases on Mustang Mach-Es.

Revel is diversifying its all-Tesla ride-share fleet with about 50 Kia Niro EVs.

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other app-based ride-hail and delivery companies will have to reimburse California gig workers potentially millions of dollars for unpaid vehicle expenses between 2022 and 2023. The backpay comes from a provision in Prop 22 that gives low-earning drivers a vehicle reimbursement fee of $0.30 per active mile driven. That fee was meant to increase with the rate of inflation, but for the past year and a half, it has remained stagnant.

Uber is dropping the 5% discounts on rides that it used to offer members of its Uber One subscription service. Instead, riders can now earn 6% Uber Cash on rides that can be spent on more Uber stuff. It’s a bold move, and one that might see the instant gratification seekers among us ditch their memberships. But if it works out for Uber, the company might see even more spend coming from its subscribers.

* A previous newsletter inadvertently had some missing words in the following write-up. Here is the complete sentence. QuantumScape, the solid-state battery company, is (sort of) pivoting. The company said it is planning to focus more on the consumer-electronics sector in an effort to bring in the capital it needs to commercialize automotive-grade cells.

Elon goes to China, Rivian is selling stock for $3 billion, and Fiat’s cutest tiny EV by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Tesla says all new Model 3s now qualify for full $7,500 tax credit

All new Tesla Model 3 vehicles will now qualify for the full $7,500 federal EV tax credit, according to a change in Tesla’s website.

The EV tax credits were mandated by Congress last August as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, with the goal of ending U.S. reliance on China for batteries. The full $7,500 tax credit is broken into two parts. EVs can qualify for half, or $3,750, if 50% of the value of battery components were produced or assembled in North America; the other half requires 40% of the value of critical materials be sourced from the U.S. or another free trade agreement country.

When the tax credits kicked in on January 1, the Treasury Dept. held off on publishing the battery sourcing guidance in order to give EV-makers time to meet the requirements. On April 18, the department began enforcing the critical material sourcing requirement, which led to many vehicle models losing the full tax credits they had been eligible for in the first quarter of the year.

Tesla’s Model 3 saw its full credit slashed in half, but many other automakers — like BMW, Rivian, Volvo and Hyundai — lost their credits entirely.

Now, it appears that all Tesla vehicles will be eligible for the full $7,500 credit. Previously, the only Model 3 that qualified for the full tax credit was the Model 3 Performance. Now, the Model 3 long-range all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive will also qualify. The Model 3 rear-wheel drive now starts at $32,740 when the tax credit kicks in.

Tesla didn’t say what changed, but CEO Elon Musk retweeted a screenshot of the website that displays the tax credits available for each vehicle. Crucially, the Treasury Dept.’s website has not yet updated to reflect Tesla’s newfound eligibility for tax credits. The department did not yet respond to TechCrunch’s request for comment.

list of tesla vehicles and the federal tax credits they qualify for

Image Credits: Internal Revenue Service

Tesla says all new Model 3s now qualify for full $7,500 tax credit by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Inside Volkswagen’s big ID.Buzz bet

Volkswagen is betting big on the upcoming ID.Buzz electric van. With availability of the vehicle still a year out, the automaker is counting on years of pent-up anticipation to not only sell the bus shrouded in nostalgia, but to have it act as a halo product to bring customers to the brand’s entire EV lineup.

With the vehicle already out in Europe, it’s now — almost — time for the United States to flock to showrooms and fawn over an electric minivan that transcends the label. The Volkswagen ID.Buzz is meant to pull you in, to appeal to the part of your brain that daydreams about beach adventures. Volkswagen will most certainly sell out of the Buzz for the first few years, but that’s fine for the automaker. The electric bus is the bait to get you excited about the rest of the ID lineup. Customers might come for the ID.Buzz, but they’re likely going to leave with an ID.4.

A hero’s welcome

Volkswagen ID.Buzz

Image Credits: Volkswagen/James Lipman

With the capacity to only build about 100,000 ID.Buzzs a year for the entire globe, getting your hands on one of these coveted vans is going to be tough. But it’s not a volume car; it’s an EV gateway drug for Volkswagen. The automaker is betting that customers will come to drool over the ID.Buzz whether in showrooms or online and leave with another VW EV.

The question is whether this strategy will pay off. VW executives say early signs suggest it will.

After the world premiere last year in Europe, Volkswagen saw interest in the following months increase in its other EV vehicles by more than 200%, according to the automaker.

“They came to the dealers and they came on our website. So the idea was really to branch out. So it’s not a question of volume.” VW’s head of global passenger car R&D Kai Grünitz said during a roundtable discussion with media.

The automaker is hoping to recreate that in the United States, Volkswagen North America CEO Pablo Di Si told a group of journalists ahead of the unveiling.

“I consider myself to be very, very lucky to be right here, right now,” Di Si said. “This is a very exciting moment for our brand. Bringing the ID.Buzz to the U.S. next year brings the halo effect to our brand.”

The CEO continued, “The love relationship with this vehicle with U.S. consumers, it’s incredible.”

“As the Volkswagen brand is transitioning to full electrification, it needs electric vehicles that captivate and engage American consumers. The ID.4 is a worthy electric vehicle, but ultimately it’s a pragmatic vehicle that doesn’t try to appeal on an emotional level,” Ed Kim, president and chief analyst of AutoPacific, told TechCrunch in an email.

“The ID. Buzz aims to be exactly that. Like the New Beetle of 1998, the ID. Buzz is an unabashedly retro-futurist take on a brand icon, in this case, the original Volkswagen Bus.” Kim continued. “Not only will it draw attention to Volkswagen as an EV maker, but it will also mark the return of fun and whimsical styling to a brand whose design has become quite conservative as of late. In this sense, the ID. Buzz will serve as a halo not just for Volkswagen’s EV efforts, but for the brand as a whole.”

Minivans are cool now? Minivans are cool now.

Volkswagen ID.Buzz

Image Credits: Roberto Baldwin

Minivan sales have been in decline for decades. Even a slight bump in popularity can’t bring the masses to a van. But while other automakers have to struggle to convince consumers about the joys of a vehicle with sliding doors and tons of cargo space for humans and stuff, VW seems to have shrugged off the lame factor by pivoting hard toward the past.

“The ID Buzz comes to America at an interesting time with the minivan segment down significantly from its highs and other OEMs restyling their minivans to make them look more SUV-like such as the Kia Carnival.” Sam Abuelsamid, principal research analyst at Guidehouse Insights’ told TechCrunch.

“The challenge that VW has is will the retro style of the ID.Buzz remain appealing to customers and fans of the old Bus longer than other retro models like the New Beetle? I think it might be less of a problem for the Buzz. Coming as a three-row, it also has an opportunity to attract people that wanted a three-row SUV but prefer something a bit different,” Abuelsamid noted.

Di Si sees potential ID.Buzz owners as free-spirited and young at heart. Again, not really a group known to be drawn to the utility of a minivan.

Combating price gouging

Volkswagen ID.Buzz

Image Credits: Volkswagen/James Lipman

All that cool means demand, and Volkswagen only plans to build the entire world’s supply of ID.Buzz vans at a single factory in Hanover, Germany. The facility has a manufacturing capacity of 100,000 vehicles a year. “I think we’re going to be overwhelmed next year with orders,” Di Si told TechCrunch.

That’s typically bad news for customers trying to purchase a high-profile vehicle. When demand for the Ford Bronco quickly outstripped supply, dealerships started tacking on outrageous markups. Di Si and Volkswagen want to combat that.

Di Si said that he was talking to dealers about this issue. He’s not sure what the solution is just yet, but he told journalists, “We need to respect the consumers.” He later said the one thing that should strike fear into the hearts of dealerships: “We can not have markups on this vehicle.”

One of the solutions the CEO floated was an online order system that had a set price that couldn’t have a markup added and was delivered by a dealer. Some Bronco owners dealt with surprise markups above what they thought they were paying when they ordered their SUVs online. The customer would receive a noye that their new SUV was at the dealership but now with a higher price tag. Volkswagen doesn’t want that to happen.

Di Si did say that the ID.Buzz is going be a huge vehicle for after-market accessories and that could appease the dealer networks. They might not get the big pile of markup cash up front, but they’ll be able to upsell items to new owners hoping to trick out their new van as they drive whimsically into a bygone era of VW microbuses in a fancy new EV.

That said, don’t expect to be able to pick one up in the showroom. With demand as high as they predict, the only real way to get one is via an online order — and even then, it’s going to be tough.

Which puts VW in a weird position. It doesn’t want to take a customer’s money and then deliver the van two years later. It would rather end sales once the allotted vehicles are all spoken for. But that means money left on the table if demand is more than double what the company can build. Di Si did say that they might consider building the Buzz at an additional facility if it made sense financially.

There will be other variants of the Buzz coming in the near future. This likely includes the coveted camper van. VW wants to keep the interest going. The automaker knows it has a hype machine on its hands and it’s trying to keep the Buzz in the minds of potential customers for as long as possible. Sure, they might not all want to wait for an electric minivan, but while they’re poking around Volkswagen’s site, they might find themselves building an ID.4 or ID.7 — and to VW, the weird nostalgia van has done its job.

Inside Volkswagen’s big ID.Buzz bet by Roberto Baldwin originally published on TechCrunch

Volkswagen targets cool with a new American-sized ID.Buzz

It’s been far too long and yet you’re going to have to wait a bit longer.

After years of impatient waiting, the U.S. version of the Volkswagen ID.Buzz finally made its debut Thursday in Huntington Beach, California. When pitted against the European spec bus — which is already on sale — everything about this version of the automaker’s electric van is bigger.

America loves nostalgia and big vehicles and this vehicle has both.

Bigger and bigger

Volkswagen ID.Buzz

Image Credits: Volkswagen/James Lipman

The most notable “bigger” thing on the vehicle, is the wheelbase. The U.S. three-row Buzz is 10 inches longer than its European counterpart at 192.4 inches to accommodate the removable third row. That’s 16 feet of electric bus. Why is the U.S. getting a super-sized vehicle instead of a two-row version? Because that’s what we want, according to VW.

“The consumer feedback was very clear” Volkswagen Group CEO of the Americas Pablo Di Si said in an interview at the event. When polled, U.S. consumers overwhelmingly preferred a third-row bus over the shorter wheelbase version currently on sale in Europe, he added.

This pits the Buzz up against not only the traditional vans on the market but also large three-row SUVs. Without an electric van competitor on the horizon, Kia’s EV9 (available in the fall of 2023) could be what potential owners are cross-shopping in the future.

That future is going to stretch out a bit more though. The long-wheelbase ID.Buzz is expected to go on sale in the U.S. market sometime in the third quarter of 2024. That’s all we know. When asked about reservations, Di Si said the company was still figuring that out as it wanted to have a system that was fair as possible to consumers. The CEO and automaker are also mum on pricing details.

When it does arrive, the U.S.-spec ID.Buzz will sport a more significant 91 kWh capacity battery pack than what is available in Europe. The range will be dependent on the drivetrain and the ID.Buzz will be offered in two configurations at launch.

A rear-wheel drive single motor variant will output 282 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque and has a targeted EPA range of about 260 miles. The all-wheel drive version will kick up the power to 330 horsepower. Adding a second motor will diminish the range by about eight miles with an EPA target of 252 miles. Again, these are targets and by the time the EPA tests the ID.Buzz they could fluctuate slightly.

Helping the ID.Buzz potentially exceed the 250 miles of range mark is the drag coefficient of 0.29 making it a surprisingly slippery bus. So while it looks like a box, it moves through the air nearly as smoothly as the more aerodynamic-looking Toyota Sienna with its 0.28 drag coefficient.

While the battery chemistry is the same for the U.S. and European-spec vehicles, Volkswagen notes that the motors in the American vehicle are an update to what we’ve seen in the European-spec vehicles with improved thermal management.

For charging, the vehicle supports up to 200kW at a compatible DC fast charging station and 11kW for at-home AC charging. That’s a nice upgrade over the ID.4’s peak charging rate of 125kW.

Flashback to the future interior

Volkswagen ID buzz

Image credit: Roberto Baldwin

Inside we’re seeing additional updates over the European model. Notably the inclusion of two powered rear sliding windows in the back and the addition of rear HVAC vents.

The removable third row opens up the seating to seven (six if you go for the optional captain’s chairs in the second row). Meanwhile, the second row tilts and moves forward four inches to assist ingress and egress into the back seat. Once seated, the second row can move forward or back 7.9 inches giving those in the second row either more leg room, increasing leg room for those in the third row, or increasing cargo space behind the second row.

Up front, the Buzz continues the retro design of the exterior while offering plenty of storage space and nods to the past and concept vehicle. Easter eggs fill the interior including VW adding the play and pause symbols to the accelerator and brake as we saw on the concept way back in 2017.

Volkswagen ID.Buzz

Image Credits: Volkswagen/James Lipman

The infotainment system has a new architecture with more memory and a new CPU to reduce the latency that was experienced in the ID.4 at launch. It sits behind a 12.9-inch touchscreen. The latest version of VW’s infotainment system also supports true over-the-air software updates and according to the automaker instead of taking up to a minute to set a navigation route, it should now only take a few seconds. (If that proves to be accurate, it would be a huge improvement from VW’s previous forays into software.)

While we were unable to take the vehicle for a spin, it’s clear that Volkswagen has taken what it’s learned from the ID.4 and the launch of the short wheelbase ID.Buzz in Europe to enhance the U.S. version headed to the States in 2024.

Now we just need to wait. Again. Which is sort of the theme of the ID.Buzz at this point. Still, if they get it out in time for summer, it’ll hit all those nostalgia vibes for owners and their six closest friends.

That is if you can get one because even with all the waiting, it’s still one of the most hotly anticipated vehicles in years.

Volkswagen targets cool with a new American-sized ID.Buzz by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch

Gig workers in California to receive millions for unpaid vehicle expenses

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other app-based ride-hail and delivery companies will have to reimburse California gig workers potentially millions of dollars for unpaid vehicle expenses between 2022 and 2023.

The back payments come from a provision in Proposition 22, the controversial law that classifies gig workers as independent contractors rather than employees and promises them halfhearted protections and benefits. For example, gig workers get a minimum earnings guarantee, rather than a guaranteed minimum wage, for the time they spend “engaged” in a gig, and not the time spent between rides.

Part of Prop 22 stipulates that drivers making the bare minimum get a reimbursement for vehicle expenses. Starting in 2021, when Prop 22 went into effect in California, drivers began receiving $0.30 per mile driven while “actively engaged.” The law also states that the rate should be raised to keep up with the pace of inflation. So, 2022’s 6.8% inflation raise should have bumped those payments to $0.32 per mile; and in 2023 it should have gone up another $0.02 to $0.34 per mile.

A couple of cents may not seem like a big deal, but drivers clock thousands of miles every year, so it can really add up. Especially when you consider that there are roughly 1.3 million gig drivers in California, according to industry reports.

(By the way, in line with the lackluster benefits afforded to gig workers under Prop 22, their vehicle mileage deduction rate is half the standard rate for business owners and employees, which in 2023 is $0.655 per mile.)

Pablo Gomez, a full-time Uber driver since 2019, noticed that his payments never went up past $0.30, according to The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the discrepancy. Now we know that no drivers received the increased payments, because none of the app-based companies implemented the adjustment.

Uber, DoorDash, Lyft and Grubhub all told TechCrunch that they didn’t adjust driver reimbursement fees because they were waiting for the California treasurer’s office to publish adjusted rates. According to Prop 22, the treasury is indeed tasked with calculating and publishing the adjusted rate each year and failed to do so in a timely manner.

After studying the language of Prop 22, Gomez tried reaching out to the state treasurer’s office on April 13 and was brushed off. He then tweeted directly at Fiona Ma, the California treasurer, asking why the rate hadn’t been changed yet. Sergio Avedian, a gig worker and senior contributor at The Rideshare Guy, boosted the tweet. On May 10, Ma replied saying the rate adjustment had finally been published. Uber and DoorDash immediately started sending backpay to drivers, lest they face a class-action lawsuit.

For his part, Avedian said he was ready to file suit if the companies didn’t agree to retroactively pay. “I had the law firm ready, and I was gonna be the lead plaintiff,” he told TechCrunch.

Lyft told TechCrunch it has now begun issuing backpay. Grubhub said it will start retroactively paying drivers, and Instacart didn’t reply in time to comment.

The state’s treasury did not respond in time to explain why it took so long — 18 months for 2022’s rates — to provide adjusted vehicle reimbursement rates. According to Avedian, the treasury had been holding off due to the uncertain status of Prop 22. The ballot measure had been ruled unconstitutional in August 2021, but in March, a California appeals court overturned that decision. Industry experts say that despite the lower court ruling saying Prop 22 unconstitutional, it was still the law of the land, and the treasury should have treated it as such.

I asked the app-based companies if they had reached out to the department in the past year and a half to push for an updated rate. Uber said it reached out once in January 2022, and DoorDash said it had made repeated requests for updated mileage rates “dating back to January 2022.” Lyft also said it reached out to the treasury for information, but didn’t specify when or how many times. I also asked the companies if they had alerted gig workers to the treasury’s delay to reassure them that they’d be reimbursed eventually. None of them had.

And that’s not surprising. App-based gig companies have yet to achieve true measures of profitability, even as they find new and exciting ways to extract as much work for as little pay as possible from workers. (See: algorithmic wage discrimination, tip hiding and tip stealing.) When I asked an Uber spokesperson why the company didn’t just make its own calculations for workers, he responded that “it’s up to the treasurer’s office to mandate that rate.”

It’s not quite a “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” argument, but it’s along the same lines. Better to hope that no one notices you’re not paying workers properly, than to proactively pay them properly.

Not every driver will end up receiving backpay. Many ride-hail drivers exceed the minimum rate, so they aren’t eligible for vehicle reimbursement fees. However, those who mainly drive for Uber Eats, DoorDash and other food delivery platforms tend to rely more on tips for income, so they should begin to see payments show up in their accounts.

Avedian, who drives part-time and cherry picks his gigs, said he got around $85 from Uber. His wife, who also works part-time, got more than $200 from DoorDash.

But what about the workers who drive full-time?

“If you’re a full-time DoorDash, Uber Eats, GrubHub driver, you’re driving a solid 5,000 miles a month. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “They’re gonna end up owing a few hundred million. It’s gonna be a lot of money.”

None of the companies I spoke to shared how much money they expect to doll out to drivers, but some back of the envelope math suggests that, collectively, companies could end up paying in the millions.

Aside from Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Grubhub and Instacart, other relevant companies that employ gig workers include Amazon Flex, Target’s Shipt and Walmart’s Spark.

Lack of transparency

Avedian has gathered screenshots of his own, his wife’s, and his podcast listeners’ backpay reimbursements. One of his major gripes is the complete lack of transparency from the companies regarding the calculation of these amounts. None of the companies provide drivers with a mileage breakdown.

Uber is the only company to even stipulate that the payment is a result of California Prop 22 benefits. DoorDash drivers just see a random payment appear.

“Everybody’s getting money, and these drivers are like, ‘Oh, I got 400 bucks. I got 800 bucks,’ but they don’t all know what it’s for.”

Avedian actually keeps a spreadsheet where he logs all his net earnings, miles driven, number of trips and Prop 22 adjustments. Per his calculations, Uber’s back payment to him was actually off by $3.

“I call this nickel and diming of the gig economy,” said Avedian. “$3 times a million people is 3 million more dollars. I mean, I’m not bitching and moaning that people are getting money, but all I’m saying is, why not be transparent?”

In May, a bill in Colorado that aimed to make gig worker platforms more transparent for workers was shut down.

“Millions of people are driving for these companies, and while they’re doing it, they’re getting ripped off because of a lack of transparency,” said Avedian. “You must have something to hide, otherwise you wouldn’t be afraid of transparency.”

Gig workers in California to receive millions for unpaid vehicle expenses by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Ford pilot program offers Uber drivers in California flexible Mach-E leases

Ford has launched a pilot that will give Uber drivers access to flexible leases on Mustang Mach-E models in three California cities.

The pilot program, called Ford Drive, launched Thursday in San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s an initiative of Ford Next, a division within Ford that incubates and launches new business that align with Ford’s goals.

The partnership is in line with Uber’s $800 million commitment to helping drivers on its platform switch to zero-emissions vehicles in North America and Europe by 2030. Uber has already partnered with car rental companies like Hertz, Zevvy and Hive to offer affordable and flexible EV leases to its ride-hail drivers, but this is the first time the company is working directly with an automaker.

The upshot? With this pilot, Ford and Uber are effectively trialing cutting out the middle man.

The pilot is launching in California, the state that represents Uber’s biggest market. It’s also the only state to pass legislation mandating that ride-hail trips must be performed in zero-emissions vehicles by 2030. Uber appears to be making some headway in that vein, at least in California. By the end of 2022, close to 10% of on-trip miles in California were completed in fully electric vehicles, according to Uber. In the U.S. and Canada, that number is around 4.1%, according to Uber’s sustainability report.

Uber and Ford first trialed a similar lease program in San Diego last year. Uber drivers ended up leasing over 150 Mach-Es, and today over 80% are rolling over into Ford Drive. Ford didn’t share how many vehicles it will make available to Uber drivers as part of the extended pilot.

Participating drivers will be able to choose between one and four-month leases, depending on the location. Rates will vary by city, but they’ll look something like $199 per week for 500 miles or $249 per week for 1,000 miles, according to a Ford spokesperson. If drivers end up using more miles, they’ll pay $0.20 per mile. Uber drivers can also qualify for the company’s zero emission incentive, which pays them $1 per trip performed in an EV, up to $4,000 annually.

The Ford Drive team will work with local dealers to purchase a fleet of Mach-Es specifically for leasing to Uber ride-hail drivers. Upon placing an order, drivers can expect delivery of the vehicle within two weeks. They’ll use the Ford Drive app to handle payments and servicing, while local dealers handle service and maintenance of the cars.

There is no set end date or public expansion plans to other cities or customers. Although the program is exclusively accessible through the Uber Marketplace, it doesn’t restrict Uber drivers from using the Mach-Es for Lyft rides. Since many ride-hail drivers operate on multiple platforms, they often switch between Uber and Lyft.

Ford pilot program offers Uber drivers in California flexible Mach-E leases by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

California lawmakers and AV industry battle for future of self-driving trucks

A California bill that would require a trained human safety operator to be present any time a heavy-duty autonomous vehicle operates on public roads in the state is getting traction. The bill, first introduced in January, passed the state’s Assembly Wednesday and will now face a committee review and vote in the Senate.

Advocates of the bill want to ensure both the safety of California road users and the job security of truck drivers. AV companies and industry representatives say the move is unreasonable, threatens California’s competitiveness in the AV and trucking space, and hinders the advancement of a technology that can save lives.

AB 316 is a preemptive technology ban that will put California even further behind other states and lock in the devastating safety status quo on California’s roads, which saw more than 4,400 people die last year,” said Jeff Farrah, executive director of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, in a statement. “AB 316 undermines California’s law enforcement and safety officials as they seek to regulate and conduct oversight over life-saving autonomous trucks.”

If the legislation passes in the Senate, it’ll go to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk to be signed into law, unless Newsom decides to veto. While Newsom has received huge donations from big tech companies and recently buddied up to tech billionaire Elon Musk, the politician has also been known to crack down on technology that puts his constituents at risk.

Risk and safety is what the conversation around AB 316 comes down to. Bill authors and supporters have pointed to instances when robotaxis malfunctioned on city streets in San Francisco and Teslas operating under the automaker’s advanced driver assistance systems like Autopilot have caused fatal accidents.

“California highways are an unpredictable place, but as a Teamster truck driver of 13 years, I’m trained to expect the unexpected. I know to look out for people texting while driving, potholes in the middle of the road, and folks on the side of the highway with a flat tire. We can’t trust new technology to pick up on those things,” said Fernando Reyes, Commercial Driver and Teamsters Local 350 member, in a statement. “My truck weighs well over 10,000 pounds. The thought of it barreling down the highway with no driver behind the wheel is a terrifying thought, and it isn’t safe. AB 316 is the only way forward for California.”

The bill does not ban companies from testing or deploying self-driving trucks on California’s public roads. It only insists that a trained human driver be present in the vehicle to take over in case of an emergency.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency tasked with providing testing and deployment permits for AVs in the state, still has a ban on autonomous vehicles weighing over 10,001 pounds in the state. In anticipation of the DMV soon lifting that ban, AB 316 effectively limits the DMV’s future authority to regulate AVs, power the agency has held since 2012. If passed, the DMV would not be able to sign off on autonomous trucking companies removing the driver for testing or deployment purposes unless the legislature is convinced that it’s safe enough to do so.

Additional language was added to AB 316 to outline the role the DMV will play in providing evidence of safety to policymakers.

By January 1, 2029, or five years after the start of testing (whichever occurs later), the DMV will need to submit a report to the state that evaluates the performance of AV technology and its impact on public safety and employment in the trucking sector. The report will include information like disengagements and crashes, as well as a recommendation on whether the legislature should “remove, modify or maintain the requirement for an autonomous vehicle with a gross weight of 10,001 pounds or more to operate with a human safety operator physically present in the vehicle,” according to the bill’s language.

Once that report is handed over, the legislature will conduct an oversight hearing. If the legislature and the governor approve of removing the human safety operator requirement, the DMV will still need to wait another year after the date of the hearing to issue a permit. That means California might not see autonomous trucks operating with no human in the front seat until 2030 at the earliest.

“If enacted, AB 316 will make California an outlier by prohibiting autonomous trucks from operating on their own unless approved by the [California Legislature] through a convoluted process,” said Safer Roads for All, a coalition of AV advocates. “Let’s hope other states are more sensible and let road safety experts do their jobs.”

California lawmakers and AV industry battle for future of self-driving trucks by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Toyota adds $2.1B to its US battery factory expansion plans

Toyota will spend an additional $2.1 billion to build a new battery plant in North Carolina, the latest sign that the automaker is attempting to catch up with an industry that has embraced the move to electric vehicles.

The Japanese automaker also announced Wednesday it will build its first U.S.-made electric SUV at its Kentucky factory from 2025. The three-row car will use batteries supplied by Toyota’s North Carolina factory.

At the outset, the news suggests that Toyota is strengthening its commitment to EVs. Historically, the company has lagged behind other automakers in announcing new EV models, instead supporting hydrogen-based vehicles. But earlier this year, Toyota said it plans to introduce 10 new battery-powered vehicles, with a target of 1.5 million EVs sold per year by 2026.

The battery plant in North Carolina is part of the company’s renewed pledge towards electrification — albeit it’s not one committed to only all-electric vehicles. Of the six production lines slated to go live when production begins in 2025, only two will be dedicated to all-electric EVs. The other four will be for hybrid EVs.

Toyota hasn’t yet shared the expected gigawatt-hour capacity of its plant. In the past, the company has said it could produce enough batteries for 1.2 million vehicles per year.

The increased capital spend into a U.S. battery factory signals that the government’s incentives to boost battery manufacturing nationally is working. The Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law in August 2022, includes incentives to produce batteries in the U.S. The result has been a slew of commitments from automakers domestic and international — from Ford and General Motors to BMW and Hyundai — to get production up and running on U.S. soil in the next few years.

Toyota initially announced its commitment to building a U.S.-based factory in 2021. At the time, the Japanese automaker earmarked $1.8 billion for a factory near Greensboro. Last September, Toyota tripled that investment to $3.8 billion. The latest capital injection brings Toyota’s total commitment to $5.9 billion.

Toyota adds $2.1B to its US battery factory expansion plans by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

U.S. cars and trucks could soon be required to brake for you in an emergency

All new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. could soon be equipped with automatic emergency braking systems designed to prevent crashes with other vehicles and pedestrians, under a rule proposed Wednesday by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

If adopted as proposed, nearly all U.S. light vehicles (gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less) will be required to have AEB technology three years after the publication of a final rule. Under the proposal, the AEB system would have to be capable of stopping and avoiding contact with a vehicle at speeds of up to 62 miles per hour, according to NHTSA Chief Counsel Ann Carlson.

The DOT said the proposed rule is a key part of a national strategy the agency launched in January 2022 that is aimed at reducing the number of traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

Consumer safety advocates, who have long pushed for such a rule, agree.

“This strong rule would save lives, prevent costly crashes, and dramatically raise the bar for safety on our roads,” William Wallace, associate director of safety policy at Consumer Reports, said in a statement. “It’s desperately needed at a time when more than 100 people in the U.S. die in vehicle crashes every single day. This has been a long time coming, and auto safety advocates have been calling for this for years—but this proposal meets the moment. ”

Automatic emergency braking systems, or AEB, is available on many modern vehicles today. Some vehicles come standard with AEB, while others require the customer to pay for the safety feature. The system uses sensors and software to detect when a vehicle is close to crashing and then automatically applies the brakes if the driver has not yet done so. Even if the driver has hit the brakes, the system will step in and apply more force.

Industry and government officials agreed in 2016 to make AEB standard in dozens of models. Toyota, and its luxury brand Lexus, were leaders in this effort. But the technology still isn’t widespread. Consumer Reports has seen in increase in the number of vehicles that offer the technology, but Wallace said “federal requirements would ensure every new car comes with this proven safety feature—without consumers being forced to pay extra for an expensive option package.”

U.S. cars and trucks could soon be required to brake for you in an emergency by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV adds practicality to big-time electric luxury

When it comes to the calm, cosseting feeling of luxury, it’s hard to imagine any better powertrain than something electric. And, when it comes to electric luxury, Mercedes-Benz is on a roll.

The EQE sedan is an excellent choice for those looking for a small, slightly anonymous, but undeniably posh package. However, it isn’t really suited to those with families, dogs or hobbies that require lots of accessories. They could step up to the EQS sedan, but its trunk isn’t much of an improvement.

The solution is to go taller. And Mercedes’ answer is the EQS SUV, which might just be the sweet spot for tech-forward families who need a little more luxury and a lot of room.


Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

In the EQE sedan review, I made it clear I wasn’t a fan of that car’s styling. I’m equally ambivalent about the Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV, which very much takes the same cues and stretches them vertically and horizontally.

The result is a bit of a blob that absolutely disappears into any parking lot. That’s a problem made worse by the thoroughly anonymous palette of nine colors on offer, more than half of which are various shades of black and gray.

At night, all the puddle and fanfare lighting plus the swelling sounds of the future emanating from beneath the car make for quite a showcase as you approach. But, during the day, the EQS SUV is simply an extremely forgettable affair.


Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

Interior of Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV. Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

What the EQS SUV lacks in exterior personality it more than makes up for on the inside. The car I tested came configured with the sweeping Hyperscreen, which replaces virtually the entire dashboard with three OLED displays tidily integrated beneath a single pane of glass.

The effect is visually stunning, as are the flowing sections of gray Alcantara bordered by strips of dynamic lighting on the AMG Line interior. The subtle Burmester branding on the silver speaker grilles signifies that you’re in for an aural delight.

There are acres of headroom up front and, unlike the sedan, plenty out back as well. Legroom is likewise in abundance, even in the heated rear seats, both of which fold up or down at the touch of a button.

No rear-seat infotainment here to speak of, but most folks bring their own these days anyway.

If you have a lot of cargo to haul, up to 31 cubic feet of stuff can fit behind the rear seats. Or, fold those seats down and capacity balloons to 71 cubic feet. Need to haul more people than stuff? For $1,250, the EQS SUV can be outfitted with a third row of seats, but only tick that box if your way-back passengers are of the small and nimble sort.

Tech and safety

Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

When it comes to the EQS SUV’s tech, far and away the star of the tech show is the Hyperscreen. On the left is the 12.3-inch gauge cluster, completely reconfigurable with a whopping six visual styles on offer. That’s managed via two rows of touch-sensitive thumb controls on the steering wheel. They’re surprisingly easy to use without looking down.

In the middle of the dash is a 17.7-inch infotainment screen, through which Mercedes-Benz’s comprehensive MBUX infotainment screen is accessed. MBUX can be a little overwhelming when you dig into the menus, but it does a great job of presenting what you need when you need it. It’s also reasonably responsive and, with both wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay on tap, you can easily bring your own media to the party.

On the far right is another display, 12.3 inches here, for the passenger. Through that they can pair their own phone should they want to serve up their own media, change the climate settings in the car and even set navigation.

It all feels a bit redundant given they can do all that and more on the main display. Stunning as Hyperscreen is, I’d stick with the standard 12.8-inch display myself. But, if you find yourself swatting at the hands of your passenger frequently as you try to change this or that, perhaps Hyperscreen is a good investment.

On the safety front, the EQS SUV has a wealth of driver assistance systems standard, including comprehensive adaptive cruise plus automatic lane-changing (indicate the change with the turn signal and the car takes care of the rest) and about the best active headlights in the business. Benz’s Digital Light Intelligent Lighting System not only has auto high-beams but can paint warnings on the road if you’re wandering out of the lane. It also puts on the aforementioned light show when you’re approaching the car at night.

There’s even a fingerprint sensor in the center console you can use to lock your profile settings, perfect for keeping your significant other from messing with your perfect seat configuration.

Driving dynamics and range

Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

The EQS sedan offers something of a relaxed drive, and the SUV flavor just takes that another step softer. Body roll is unsurprisingly magnified and the overall response to steering inputs is on the slow side. Surely a lot of that can be blamed on the extra weight here — about 400 pounds greater than a comparable EQS sedan.

But, any handling detriments here versus the sedan are more than made up for by this one’s additional ground-clearance, off-road performance and cargo space.

Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

Image Credits: Kirsten Korosec

With between 355 and 536 horsepower on tap, even the base, rear-drive EQS 450+ SUV feels quick and fun when scooting from intersection to intersection. I only wish the EQS had a proper, one-pedal driving mode. The high-regen is great, but not quite enough to bring you cleanly to a stop at an intersection.

All flavors of the EQS SUV use the same 108.4 kWh battery pack, so as the power and number of motors increase the range necessarily goes down. Maximum range comes from the rear-drive 450+ version, which is EPA-rated for 305 miles. Both the 450 4MATIC or 580 4MATIC are rated for 285 miles, which feels like a minor loss in exchange for the extra winter capability that all-wheel-drive affords.

You are giving up a fair bit compared to the smaller, slipperier EQS sedan, though, which tops out at 350 miles.

A premium choice

The base, rear-drive Mercedes-Benz EQS 450+ SUV starts at $104,400, stepping up to $107,400 for the EQS 450 4MATIC and $125,950 for the 536-horsepower EQS 480 4MATIC SUV. Interestingly, those prices are exactly the same for the sedan so, while you will give up some range and performance, you at least won’t have to pay more for extra room.

That said, none of those prices can be considered a bargain. If you can get away with the smaller, slower, but still quite posh EQE SUV you can save upwards of $25,000. Or, if you really feel the need for tweed, the upcoming Mercedes-Maybach EQS SUV will raise the luxury stakes to another level with bespoke wood paneling, ultra-plush seating and 649 horsepower from the AMG-derived powertrain. These haven’t started shipping yet but will probably cost somewhere around $200,000 when they do.

So, it’s up to you how much luxury and volume you need, and how much your budget can manage, but if it fits your budget and your life, the Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV is a stellar machine. You’ll look forward to climbing into that driver’s seat every time and wafting your way toward even the most tedious of chores.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV adds practicality to big-time electric luxury by Tim Stevens originally published on TechCrunch